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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Here are some questions for someone more knowing of earlier Lee Enfields than I am. I own a Mark I*** made by Enfield in 1905 (presumably as a Mark I) and later upgraded. It has the charger guide on the bolt head, volley sights and a magazine cut-off. All this is normal for the type.

My questions are about the current serial number. The original number on the receiver has been struck-through and a new, big serial number "ER" above "87" applied. This matches the number on the bolt handle, "ER 87" (which looks to have been ground down and so-renumbered), and on the nosecap. I have seen other Mark I***s of similar vintage (1904-1905), made both by Enfield and by BSA, with similar struck-through serial numbers and new ER serial numbers applied (ER 3472 and ER 6677, for two). Some of those have the magazine cut-off or the volley sights removed and some have the distinctive Mark I "hump" behind the rear sight removed, too (as mine does).

This ER renumbering seems to have been applied when a whole lot of Mark I's (presumably, several thousand) were reworked to Mark I*** configuration at some point. Some say this was done for the British Army or for use by Commonwealth troops. Others say that these rifles were reworked for shipment to and use in Ireland (when, I do not know).

Any help in figuring our when this ER serial numbering occurred, or where the reworking was done, or where these reworked rifles were sent or used would be very helpful.

Thanks!

P.S. I know Edward VII was on the British throne from 1901 - 1910 and that "ER" and a crown to indicate that, is stamped on the right wrist of British Army rifles made during his reign (and ER appears in proof marks, too). However, insofar as I am aware, using the sovereign's initials in the serial numbers was generally not done.
 

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They're pretty universally held to have been sent to Ireland. The British sent a lot of military aid to the Free State (pro-treaty) forces early in the 1920s at the beginning of, and during, the Irish civil war...that's likely when they got renumbered, whoever did it. They were upgraded to MkI*** status beginning in 1914 (the month escapes me at the moment), for use by British forces in WWI. The original upgrade mainly consisted of modifying the backsight bed for MkVII ammunition. For reasons unknown (at least to me), the "ER" prefixed rifles tend to have remained in their MkI configuration, while the "CR" prefixed rifles were at some point given the MkIII front end.

There was a gentleman hereabouts not too long ago the claimed to have access to all of the info there was to know about Irish usage of British arms and the various contracts, serial numbers, and other minutae thereunto pertaining...all very hush hush, as there is a book in the works. I'm certainly looking forward to it's publication.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for this interesting information. I have been doing a bit of research myself on the question of when the Mark 1*** conversions were done and found some snippets on that subject in the book titled "The Lee Enfield Rifle" by Major E.G.B. Reynolds (formerly of the Headquarters Staff of the Inspectorate of Armaments), published in 1960. At page 118, Major Reynolds says this:

"With the imminence of war, small arms became high priority (to the British War Office) and, to render as many as possible suitable for the Service Mark VII cartridge, three conversion programmes were launched in quick succession. The first, announced on 22nd April, 1914, was the conversion of S.M.L.E. Mark 1* to S.M.L.E. Mark 1***. To equip the rifle for the Mark VII cartridge the backsight was altered and fitted with a wind-gauge similar to that fitted to rifles in the Naval Service. Blade foresights were also fitted."

On the following page, Reynolds describes a second wave of conversions on 18 August 1915. On that date, a number of Mark 1**, II** and II*** rifles still regulated for the Mark VI cartridge were transferred from the Navy to the Land Service and "Mark I** rifles which were still without the bridge charger-guide, on being altered to take the Mark VII round, were re-named S.M.L.E. Mark I***."

Obviously, this tells us that conversions to Mark 1*** occurred during the first two years of the Great War (no surprise) and that some of the rifles converted to Mark I*** had bridge charger-guides, whilst others did not (and presumably retained bolt-head charger guides).

The only Mark I*** rifles I have seen with ER prefixed serial numbers are of the bolt head charger guide variety (but my sample is small). And Reynolds does not mention specifically the conversion of Mark I rifles to Mark I***. But then, he was writing in 1960 about what happened 45+ years in the (then) past. From our much later vantage point, finding definitive answers may prove even more elusive. For one thing, Reynolds recites that soon after WWII, there was "a wholesale slaughter of old records," which he laments.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
At the risk of seeming to talk to myself (not generally a good thing), I found this entry in Skennerton's "The Lee Enfiield" (2007) at p. 557: "converted and downgraded SMLE rifles were shipped to Ireland where they were again renumbered. These are distinctive with single line ER and CR prefix serial numbers marked above the original serial number(s). For example -- ER 3397 is the 'new' serial number on an original Enfield made 1894 .303 MLM Mk II rifle . . . ." Skennerton cites no source for this information.

Since there are noted ER serial numbers as low as 87 and higher than 6,600 (see above), the question is: Why were 6,000+ of these rifles sent to Ireland, and when? Perhaps to arm the Black & Tans in 1920-21?

Any ideas on any of this from any reader would be most welcome. Also, if any reader knows of an ER serialed SMLE with a number above 6,600, please report!

Thanks!
 

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Nothing to do with the Black and Tans, IMO. As I said, the British armed the pro treaty forces up to and during the Irish civil war. Here's a picture of 3 Free State troops searching a train for Repuplicans, scanned out of Coogan And Morrison's excellent "The Irish Civil War", all carrying MkI***s...
 

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CR, ER and G prefix

I have five Mark 1*** rifles and all are a little different. I have an original BSA 1906 that is still with the original serial number s/87176. Some will have the Mark 111 handguard, rear sight leaf, backsight protector, nosecap and butt stock. All of my rifles have the bolt head charger guide.

I have seen some Enfields dated 1904 and 1905 Mark 1** IP rifles converted to Mark 111 and marked R|F and dated 1916 and 1917, these look just like Mark 111 rifles and have a new number(examples 1917 36742 over A)

Besides the CR and ER there is also a G mark, most of the G prefix rifles were wire wrapped but some were converted back . It was my understanding that the prefix was Irish
 

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I have two MkI 'CR' numbered rifles. Unfortunately both are rescued sporters so don't have their original forends. Both do have MKI bolts and barrels (with MKI backsight bases), with MKIII backsights. I've been told that the CRs were in MKIII configuration, so that's how they look now.
 

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For what it is worth, the ER and CR rifles were imported in the early 1960's by Interarms and their outlet advertised them as Irish Shamrock rifles and included a certificate indicating that the rifle came from Ireland. John Sukey has posted in the past an example of the certificate. This is one of those cases where it is nice to collect old magazines as they are windows as to what was happening at that point in time. How ironic that 1960's magazines are full of articles on how to cut up military rifles to make wonderful sporters and now people worry about how to put them back to orginal form.

I have an Irish published small arms manual that specifically mentions ER and CR rifles, confirming Irish use of the CR,ER rifles.
 

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I have a Mark 1*** Enfield 1904 original number 8255 B lined out, second number ER 427 also lined out, third serial is G 839 (bolt is G837). There are very faint marks on the handguard from being wire wrapped. The fore-end was replaced and is a Mark 1*** but only has the single fore-end pin without the two small washers and without any marks from being wire wrapped
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thanks to all of you for this terrific information. What one may learn from experts on this site always amazes me and reminds me of how little I know.

The provision of Mark I***s in ca. 1922-23 to Irish troops supporting the pro-treaty side in the Irish Ciivil War certainly makes sense. And the early 1960s import date would explain why I never have seen one of these with British commeriial proof marks or with post-1968 import marks. I certainly will plan to read Coogan and Morrison's book to learn more about the period.

Here is a related question: What arms did the Black and Tans carry (No. I, Mark III*s, Lewis guns and Webley Mark VIs, perhaps)? And what were the Auxiliaries to the RIC raised by the British about the same time armed with? I presume the "regular" RIC itself would still have been armed with RIC carbines.

I am off to Ireland this evening (Iceland volcano willing) and will report if I learn anything there on this subject. I actually have found two Museums to visit that should have arms displays from 1916-1923 period of conflict.
 

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I envy you your trip, hope you'll get pictures. I'd love to get some museum/research time on the other side of the "pond". From what pictures I've seen of the matter, it would appear that the Auxies/Black & Tans and what regular RIC was left at the time was armed with the current British weaponry (MkIIIs, Webleys, Lewis guns, etc) as you mention. It's certainly likely that some RIC carbines were in the mix too.

Coogan and Morrison's book is a relatively brief narrative outlining the causes and events of the war, with a great many excellent period photos of the events described...I'd certainly recommend it to anyone interested in that time and place.
 

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I have a Mark 1*** Enfield 1904 original number 8255 B lined out, second number ER 427 also lined out, third serial is G 839 (bolt is G837). There are very faint marks on the handguard from being wire wrapped. The fore-end was replaced and is a Mark 1*** but only has the single fore-end pin without the two small washers and without any marks from being wire wrapped
Well your pickle is spoiling the broth. I have no doubt the the ER and CR are Irish for the reasons I have already metioned. The period ads do not mention the wire wrapped guns but we, "the older fart collectors." were fairly comfortable that the G series grenade launcher rifles came in with the Irish batch. At lease no sleep was lost in the matter. But, this always did not set well with me for several reasons:

1. Ireland did not have that much money to buy things and their army was relatively small. How could they support over 800 grenade launchers? The were batched and sold together based on my having G1 from the period and I have handled G2. Was everybody in the bloody army a grenadier?

2. I have grenade launcher wrapped rifles done by Australia, India and Pakistan done in cord, steel wire, copper wire and sheet metal. I have only one British rifle a No.4 with very nicely done copper wrap that I can say I believe is of British origin and of course the NO.5 set up as a launcher sans wire wrap. Where are the British grenade launchers---scrapped??? I was working on the thought that the G series was British with some transfserred to Ireland and the whole batch surplused at the same time. But your pickle of an Irish ER rifle made into a G series dents the theory unless Bitiain did not transfer all ER/CR rifle to Ireland--keeping the overruns and later converting to grenade launchers. We certainly don't have answeres on this stuff. Thanks to you all for stirring the pot.
 

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Well your pickle is spoiling the broth. I have no doubt the the ER and CR are Irish for the reasons I have already metioned. The period ads do not mention the wire wrapped guns but we, "the older fart collectors." were fairly comfortable that the G series grenade launcher rifles came in with the Irish batch. At lease no sleep was lost in the matter. But, this always did not set well with me for several reasons:

1. Ireland did not have that much money to buy things and their army was relatively small. How could they support over 800 grenade launchers? The were batched and sold together based on my having G1 from the period and I have handled G2. Was everybody in the bloody army a grenadier?

2. I have grenade launcher wrapped rifles done by Australia, India and Pakistan done in cord, steel wire, copper wire and sheet metal. I have only one British rifle a No.4 with very nicely done copper wrap that I can say I believe is of British origin and of course the NO.5 set up as a launcher sans wire wrap. Where are the British grenade launchers---scrapped??? I was working on the thought that the G series was British with some transfserred to Ireland and the whole batch surplused at the same time. But your pickle of an Irish ER rifle made into a G series dents the theory unless Bitiain did not transfer all ER/CR rifle to Ireland--keeping the overruns and later converting to grenade launchers. We certainly don't have answeres on this stuff. Thanks to you all for stirring the pot.

The Irish Free State Army ("National Army") was fairly large during the Irish Civil War, someplace in the neighborhood of 55,000-58,000 soldiers. The forces were cut dramatically after end of fighting, to about 20,000 soon after, and then eventually to around 10,000 by the late '30s.

It was also primarily an infantry army: very little artillery, only a handful of armored cars, etc. Grenade launchers would have been some of the heaviest ordnance available to the average company.

Britain supplied arms and ammunition to the Free State largely out of British self-interest: primarily to prevent the anti-Treaty faction of the IRA from gaining control of the Free State and renouncing the Anglo-Irish Treaty, thus re-starting the Anglo-Irish war; but also to enable the Free State government to defend Ireland against invasion as part of its obligation to make available the "Treaty ports" to the British Royal Navy.

The cost to Britain was also to some degree offset by the continuing land annuity payments that the Treaty required the Irish Free State to make to Britain. These continued until unilaterally renounced by de Valera in 1932, which precipitated the "Economic War" with Britain that shrank the Free State Army even further.

The "ER" "CR" and "G" prefixes likely served two purposes: one being to simplify the inventory and paperwork for both the British and Irish forces. The other being that even as Britain supplied arms to the Free State forces, many members of the Free State government were opposed to the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland. The new serial numbers provided a simple and effective way of determining if British arms were being funneled to nationalists in Northern Ireland. In the end, that didn't work: Michael Collins, as head of both the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the new Irish Free State's army, arranged for new British-supplied arms to be provided to pro-Treaty and neutral elements of the IRA in trade for their existing weapons, and was thus able to send "sterile" weapons to the nationalists in the North.
 
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