The venerable .22″ Lee Enfield No.8 rifle will continue in cadet use beyond its retirement date of 30th September – but on a “waste out” basis without spares or refurbishments, sources tell UK Shooting News.
The No.8 safety case – the essential set of documents which underpins the rifle’s suitability to use in Ministry of Defence service – is due to be extended beyond September in order to avoid a “capability gap”, say UKSN’s sources. We understand this means that while the existing fleet will continue in service, refurbishments will no longer take place.
This appears to be a U-turn on the MoD’s previous position, which stated unambiguously that the No.8 safety case would not be extended any further than it already has been.
In effect, if a No.8 breaks it will now be cannibalised for spare parts to keep the remainder serviceable. It is unlikely cadet units will see replacements for rifles condemned under such conditions.
Although procurement of a replacement .22 rifle is currently under way, the winner of the competition has yet to be announced. People familiar with the matter further tell UKSN that the eventual purchase of new rifles will be scaled back heavily due to budget pressures. The original contract, worth about £6m, will not go ahead in full and the original order will be scaled back to around 750 rifles.
On a 2-per-unit basis, as the No.8 was originally issued on, this would barely equip a third of the single service cadet units across the country – let alone school CCF units. Clearly, the No.8 will continue in service for a while yet.
The precise number of No.8s in MoD service is not precisely known but is likely to be in the mid-thousands. Serial numbers of rifles on issue range from the very low (A43 being the lowest your correspondent has seen himself) to the very high (A22742 being the highest number mentioned on the most excellent Historic Arms Resource Centre page for the No.8).
Save the No.8s!
Public pressure continues to have the No.8 fleet released to the public for the use of target shooters and historic collectors. It would be a travesty if these 70-yr-old national treasures were destroyed rather than preserved for posterity.
Although reports on UKSN and elsewhere paint a picture of a rifle fleet on its last legs, this situation arises mainly because the MoD does not let cadet units service their rifles – or make arrangements for gunsmiths to maintain them locally. Instead, defective No.8s must be returned to hard-pressed service armourers, often to remedy problems which judicious application of a screwdriver could solve.
As a single-shot hand fed .22″ rifle, there are few parts on the No.8 rifle which cannot be serviced or replaced by a competent civilian gunsmith. The majority of small spare parts are interchangeable with the .303″ No.4 rifle, for which there is a thriving market in spares, while specialist gunsmiths have begun limited production runs of certain No.8 components to serve those collectors with rare private examples.
Postscript: Do any UKSN readers have a decent photo of a No.8 rifle that they wouldn’t mind this blog using? If you do, please let us know in the comments below.