British Combat Rifles Through the years
Weapons and Kit

The Evolution Of A Rifle: Which Ones Have You Used?

British Combat Rifles Through the years


The first rifle that used a box-magazine was the Lee-Metford rifle.

It began trials in 1879 and was adopted in 1888.

Smokeless powder was invented and used in French rifles in the late 1880s.

The invention meant that rifles did not produce smoke, but also made them more powerful and accurate.

The Lee-Metford was not adapted for use with smokeless powder but elements of its design can be seen in its successor.

Lee-Metford Rifle


One of the most iconic rifles of all time, the Lee-Enfield was actually a redesign of the earlier Lee-Metford.

It was officially adopted in 1895 and a shortened version of this rifle is still being used by military and police around the world today.

The rifle was the standard issue weapon to British Army and Commonwealth infantry during both World War I and World War II and was still being used in the British Army into the 1960s.

A sniper variant named the L42A1 was in use by the British Military until 1985.

Whilst other countries upgraded to semi-automatic rifles in the Second World War, the British did not.

This was because the Lee Enfield was seen as being able to fire fast enough, partly because of its unique bolt design but also because British soldiers were trained to fire at least 15 rounds a minute in an exercise dubbed the 'mad minute'.

Lee Enfield SMLE

EM2 Janson Rifle

This experimental rifle was designed to fire a new British .280 round.

The United States refused to adopt this calibre as it was not seen as powerful enough.

The bullpup design was, of course, revisited for the SA80 L85.

EM2 Bullpup Rifle


The British version of the popular FN FAL – one of the most widespread rifles in history. This rifle was adopted over the EM2 as it fired the 7.62 NATO round.

Whilst other countries adopted fully automatic weapon systems, Britain opted for a semi-automatic-only rifle.

The L1A1 saw frontline use in Malaysia, Northern Ireland and the Falklands War.

It was still in use by second line British Army units in the First Gulf War.


SA80 L85

The current standard weapon system used by the British military.

After an introduction in 1985 plagued by reliability issues, the L85A1 rifle was eventually upgraded to the A2 model in the early 2000s.

The rifle has seen use in Northern Ireland, the Gulf War, Kosovo, Operation Veritas, Op Telic, Op Granby, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq.

A further upgrade is planned (see L85A3 picture below).


Which one is your favourite? Let us know in the comments.