What Makes the SMLE Conducive to the “Mad Minute?”

Capture

Prior to the advent of service semi-automatic weapons, the SMLE or “Lee-Enfield” rifle was the king of rapid fire. In fact, soldiers of the Crown practiced the “Mad Minute” which involved firing well-aimed shots as fast as possible. Results were remarkable, almost up to semi-automatic performance.

Per Wikipedia:

The first Mad Minute record was set by Sergeant MajorJesse Wallingford in 1908, scoring 36 hits on a 48 inch target at 300 yards (4.5 mils/ 15.3 MOA).[1] Allegedly another world record of 38 hits, all within the 24 inch target at 300 yards (2.25 mils/ 7.6 MOA), is said to have been set in 1914 by Sergeant Instructor Alfred Snoxall,[2] but there is little documentation and it is unsure whether it was actually accomplished or British propaganda. There has been major discussion whether it is actually possible to shoot that fast and accurate with a bolt rifle.

In order to pull off such feats, a weapon needed to be readily and easily manipulated for both working the action and loading. Few weapons of the day possessed such attributes like positive primary extraction, cock on close, ideal bolt handle placement, and others. But, one did, the SMLE or “Lee Enfield” action.

Bloke on the Range took the time to break it down elementary style, focusing on the individual attributes that made the weapon so absolutely quick.

To me, its shocking how many of these features are not present on modern bolt actions. While yes, its common for modern guns to rely on optics, the fact of the matter is that these lessons were learned all those years ago.



Nathan S.

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

Nathan can be reached at Nathan.S@TheFirearmBlog.com

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • Rick O’Shay

    “I can work the bolt without punching myself in the face…” (proceeds to work the bolt and immediately punches himself in the face)
    I’m not trying to be mean. That just struck me as incredibly hilarious.

    • ExMachina1

      Technically he hit his hat and/or glasses. But you’re right, it couldn’t have been better timing

    • roguetechie

      As a lefty I just thought bolt action face punching was a feature not a bug!

      Sorta one of those, the beatings will continue until morale improves things…

      Except somehow involving self flagellation (face punchination?) to encourage marksmanship and ammunition conservation.

      Kinda like steel butt plates on m44 carbines, sure they SAY it’s for melee combat but we all know it’s really just to punish you into using the bayonet so you don’t use as much ammunition!!

      • Rick O’Shay

        As a lefty, I’m very partial to the Mosin bolt. I don’t know why, but it’s just so much fun to work the bolt left-handed.

        • Evan

          I’m a lefty as well, I like the Lee-Enfield bolt. Can’t quite do a mad minute, but I like the Lee-Enfield bolt better than the Mauser’s. Not a fan of the Mosin at all. I also really like that Swiss rifle that I can never remember what it’s called, but my experience with those is very limited and I’ve never been able to bring myself to buy one.

          • Rick O’Shay

            I believe you’re referring to the K31.

    • Riot

      But he didn’t have to.

      • QuadGMoto

        Maybe he didn’t want to. 😃

  • roguetechie

    There’s definitely a certain amount of truth to the saying that going into world war 1 the Germans brought a hunting rifle, the Americans brought a target rifle, and the British brought a battle rifle.

    This said, it actually explains pretty thoroughly on it’s own why we really don’t see the combination of features present on the Enfield on commercial bolt action rifles now.

    The age of the semiautomatic and automatic rifles was coming, and the major powers all had people within their ordnance departments who knew it.

    Once they came into play, the age of the bolt action battle rifles was over.

    • Rick O’Shay

      I think what Nick was getting at though, is that some of the features of the Lee Enfield’s bolt action (short throw, positioned behind but close to the trigger, etc.) would still be quite beneficial to modern bolt actions. In states where you’re pretty much limited to bolt actions when hunting game, designing a rifle with those types of features that make the LE so fantastic for the “Mad Minute,” would translate well for rapidly setting up for a follow up shot if necessary.

      • Tassiebush

        I completely agree it’s something that should be integral to all mainstream designs. I found the Weatherby Vanguard pretty decent. My Tikka is too. The Europeans are well into that zone with a lot of their really popular straight pull rifles like blaser R8 or Merkel helix although far from cheap. This video shows some very impressive speed.
        https://youtu.be/92W9co11dng

    • Brick

      I’ve also heard this:

      The Germans brought a hunting rifle, the Americans brought a target rifle, the British brought a battle rifle, and the Russians brought a rifle.

      • gusto

        and the one rifle that has survived to this day is the mauser

        sure the others are sold as surplus but the mauser is still being made

        • Anonymoose

          Our current sniper rifles are spiritually descended from our “target” version of the German’s hunting rifle.

          • iksnilol

            The “target” version being a factory Mauser with some messed up internals to avoid royalties and some admitedly nice sights.

          • Anonymoose

            Have you seen the Forgotten Weapons episode about the WWI 1903 sniper rifles?

        • Tim

          ..as a hunting rifle.

          • iksnilol

            Plenty of sniper or target rifles are based on it though. Even today many of the “modern” actions show plenty of Mauser DNA.

      • Anonymoose

        *the Russians brought a garbage rod.

        • Killed a whole lotta fascists with those garbage rods, though. Probably also hammered a lot of nails and pounded in a lot of fenceposts, and retracked a lot of armored vehicles and pried open a lot of doors as well.

          • Evan

            I wonder how many Germans they actually killed with the Mosins. I imagine that it’s relatively few, and that the machine guns (and especially artillery) did far more damage. I have no actual statistics or anything on this, it’s just speculation, but I can’t imagine that mostly poorly trained troops with crummy rifles were particularly effective.

          • Jacob Peters

            The Russian winter probably killed more Germans than the Russians ever could.

    • Vhyrus

      The Americans were the only ones smart enough to bring a better rifle the second time around.

      • Jrggrop

        More like they were the only ones with sufficient resources and time. Both France and the Soviet Union had plans of mass adoption of semi-automatic rifles before circumstances compelled them to cancel said plans.

  • gordon

    Some of these comments seem lifted out of the comments on the video. From the comments there – “I can work the bolt without punching myself in the face” proceeds to punch himself in the face. lol” and “WWI the Americans brought a target rifle, the British a battle rifle, the Germans a Hunting rifle, and the Russians…well they brought a
    rifle” for instance. To the commenters, “plagiarize much? or do you post in different places under different names.”

    • iksnilol

      More like different people think same thing.

    • It’s not “plagiarism” to repeat a timeworn aphorism that almost everyone watching has heard before.

  • A.WChuck

    Want. I may be the only who would buy a slightly scaled down version in a pistol caliber as well.
    Also, this video was posted on TFB before. The writers really should have a central database of previous postings and check against it to prevent these duplicate posts.

    • Anonymoose

      Was it? I watched it last week, and I’ve been watching a lot of his videos since then.

    • iksnilol

      Check out the Armalon PC Gallery rifle 🙂

  • gusto

    the lee-enfield is a nice rifle as any other from that era

    many others could probably be used for the mad minute to but the mm was not part of those armies/countries cultures/training regimes

    check out som norweigan stangskyting on youtube and tell me those guys couldn’t do it… with krags and other older rifles to

  • The standard of fifteen aimed shots per minute is credited to Major Norman Reginald McMahon, Chief Instructor of the British Small Arms School at Hythe from 1905 to 1914. Some attribute the creation of this standard to McMahon’s Boer War experience, while
    others point to McMahon’s early advocacy of machinegun usage. In either case, the standard was formalized in the Musketry Regulations of 1909 and earned McMahon the moniker “Musketry Maniac.” To support the standard, 15-shot exercises were conducted. These eventually became known as the “Mad Minute.” By 1912, failure in the exercise could be sufficient for a discharge due to “inefficiency.” By 1914, it was reportedly not uncommon for many troopers to exceed twenty hits per minute.

    With the British entry in the First World War, McMahon, now a Lt. Colonel, took command of 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. His unit took part in the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914, attempting to hold a pair of bridges at Nimy. During the battle, German forces first mistook the accurate, rapid fire of British troops as the work of machineguns. (The first two Victoria Crosses of the war were awarded as result of the Nimy bridge action, but ironically, to a pair of machinegunners. The 4th Battalion’s defense of the bridges didn’t fail until after the unit’s machineguns were permanently knocked out of action.) McMahon was soon after promoted to Brigadier. However, prior to taking command of the 10th Infantry Brigade, McMahon was killed in action at Ypres on 11 November 1914.

    • Spade

      It’s also interesting how fast this changed. Prior to this sudden shift British Army marksmanship was really bad and not taken seriously by the officers (this was when officer’s were still buying their commissions).

      A very interesting book on all the Victorian and Edwardian British Army (Pre-WW1) is “Mr. Kipling’s Army”. It is hilarious and bizarre at times. He talks about the poor state of British marksmanship (outside of when officers were hunting, of course).

      • Holdfast_II

        Well, the Boers took marksmanship, and camouflage, very seriously. Thus, a great learning experience for the Brits.

  • Jonathan Ferguson

    You don’t mean SMLE, you mean Lee-Enfield. The SMLE is a type of Lee-Enfield like the AKM is a type of AK, or lager is a type of beer.

  • How many times could a Garand ring the 300yd gong in one minute?

    • Rasq’uire’laskar

      Probably three times as many, but the shots are going to land thirty years later.

    • iksnilol

      Less times considering it’d foul and warp to all get 😉

  • The_Champ

    I’m pretty convinced the 36 or 38 hits in a “mad minute” as described in this article are a myth. Anyone have sources on this? That’s less then two seconds per shot to hit a 300m target with open sights, never mind the time it takes to reload with clumsy Lee Enfield chargers. If the competitive shooters in the various modern Euro rapid fire rifle contests can’t pull off this feat today, I doubt the good Sergeant did back in the day.
    Which isn’t to take away from the appreciable skills those soldiers had. Again that being said, there is a lot of myth making around the British armies early encounters in WWI as well.

  • Scott Connors

    The last bolt action rifle issued to a modern military was the Ishapore 2A1, which is essentially a No. 1 Mk III SMLE in 7.62mm NATO. It was manufactured during the 1960s as a stop-gap for their pirated version of the L1A1 FAL. I have both an Ishy and a FAL, and I love them both, but being stuck behind enemy lines the Ishy is the one that I feel comfortable taking out to shoot.

  • Scott Connors

    Are there any other Yanks who would love to have a LE that has been worked over like the one in this video? Between using AK mags and a free-floated front handguard, I’d love me some No. 4 goodness! 🙂

    • Evan

      I wouldn’t. I think it’s sacrilege.

      • Before you grab your pitchfork, you should know it’s not an original rifle.