May 12, 2021
By Jeff John
The No. 5 Enfield in .303 British is almost the perfect bolt-action rifle. For once designers delivered a rifle with the right weight, length, balance and power for almost any task a World War II infantryman might encounter. But the No. 5 came too late because the bolt action itself was already obsolete, and two serious flaws consigned it to the scrap bin.
For one, its zero sometimes wandered inexplicably, and while the short rifle that was perfectly capable in the jungles of Southeast Asia, it lacked the longer-range performance the Western Front of Europe demanded. Since the self-loading rifle was ascendant and fixes for the No. 5 were too slippery—not to mention plenty of No. 4 rifles still in inventory—it was scrapped in 1947 and the old, tried-and-true No. 4 stayed in service a while longer.
The full-size Enfield No. 4 was 44 inches long and heavy at almost 10 pounds loaded—both burdens in hot, humid jungle fighting. By 1942, the British began work on a shortened, lightened rifle, especially for troops in Southeast Asia fighting the Japanese. The final result in March 1944 became the No. 5 Mk 1, unofficially nicknamed “Jungle Carbine.” Weight fully loaded with sling was eight pounds even and overall length a handy 39.5 inches. The new rifle was well regarded by the troops receiving them.
But the persistent zero problem became an annoyance. Chief suspects were the many lightening cuts, especially to the receiver and barrel. Tests on the flash hider proved it possibly a culprit. Southeast Asia armorers discovered just replacing the No. 5 receiver body with a No. 4’s usually eliminated the problem. Taken together though, these problems caused the decision in 1947 to yank the Jungle Carbines after completion of only about 260,000 guns.
One thing unchanged on the No. 5 was the reliable 10-shot magazine. Soldiers were still issued ammunition in five-round sheetmetal chargers and the rifle loaded from the top of the receiver bridge. While the ammo load is greater and more compact this way, the value of a pre-charged magazine change elicits little argument today. But one reason the Enfield remained so reliable was its magazine, which was fitted and numbered to the rifle.
However, for the civilian today, the simple fact the gun may not have its original magazine (magazines were yanked for importation in 2014) and may balk at running properly is a concern.
This was the case with my test rifle. I wound up buying several magazines—mags are catch-as-catch-can at Gun Parts, Apex Gun Parts and BRP Gun Parts, and Sarco offers reproductionsand—and did a maypole dance to discover which ones worked where (I have several such rifles).
Serendipitously, this rifle runs well with its new/old magazine. The rifle must be worked briskly and prefers ammunition loaded to maximum overall length. Run it slow and especially softpoint rounds will balk going up the feed ramp, but even they run well when the action is worked with authority.
The Enfield Vernier rear sight has a smaller aperture when you raise the staff. I was able to cut an inch off the 100-yard group in daylight with it. True Jungle Carbines have a staff marked from 200 to 800 yards. Set to the bottom below the “200” mark, my sample shot right to the point-of-hold at 100 yards. The one downside to the sight is windage is at the front and drift-adjustable only.
The slenderized buttstock unique to the No. 5 ends in a thin, rubber buttpad. Today they are usually fossilized and have a reputation for increasing felt recoil, although I think gun weight is the actual culprit. Gun Parts offers reproductions for buttpads decayed beyond use.
Oddly, the sling fits into a loop on the side of the buttplate and into a conventional loop under the barrel. It doesn’t feel awkward slung muzzle up or down despite the turns. The Enfield sling—quiet, comfortable and easy to adjust—is a simple, useful item still available at reasonable cost.
My World War II-vintage No. 5 has seen some use. Dated “9/44” means it is one of the first made when the final configuration was accepted. It could’ve “seen the elephant” in the fight against Japan, but more likely it got its knocks and dents in the hands of troops of another country long after the conflict for which it was created.
The three loads chosen included Greek surplus 174-grain full-metal jacket surplus, Hornady 150-grain softpoints and Winchester 180-grain softpoints. In my case, the wandering zero was due to a loose nut behind the trigger, not something lurking within the gun.
My four-shot groups ran in the two- to 2.5-inch range, with the fifth shot pulling the group out an inch or so with all loads. The best Hornady (2,488 fps) three-shot group was 1.63 inches, four into 2.5 inches and a five-shot of 3.75. Winchester (2,292 fps) produced a four-shot of 2.25 inches and a five-shot of 4.38. Greek surplus (2,294 fps) delivered five-shot groups that ranged from 3.75 to 4.5 inches with a nice three- or four-shot cluster within.
Collectors beware: Entrepreneurs like Golden State, Navy Arms and Gibbs Rifle Co. have been making up No. 5 carbines by cutting down No. 4 rifles from the post Korean War era until as late as the early 2000s. But if you don’t care about collector value, these No. 5s usually sell for less than an original—which still cost less than many other World War II collectibles—and should make a great utility rifle.
While today’s models are better suited to field use, the No. 5 Mk 1 embodies all that is good in a “Scout” rifle—offering power, capacity, range, speed and general overall handiness. Sure, it won’t accept a scope, but the Jungle Carbine is still an excellent little rifle, and I wouldn’t feel undefended with one, or any Enfield for that matter. Heck, the Canadian Rangers were using No. 4 .303 Enfields in the frozen North until a few years ago.
Enfield No. 5 Mk 1 Specs:
- Type: bolt-action centerfire
- Caliber: .303 British
- Capacity: 10
- Barrel: 18.5 in.; 20.5 in. w/flash hider
- Overall Length: 39.5 in.
- Weight: 7 lb. 2 oz.
- Finish: blued or paint
- Sights: Vernier rear adjustable to 800 yards; blade front drift-adjustable for windage
- Price: $400–$900 (about $400 for sample discussed)
- Manufacturer: Royal Ordnance Factory (Fazakerley)