Rifle No.5

Rifle .303” No.5 Mk.I & No.5 Mk.II


With the impending deployment of Canadian troops to the Kola Peninsula, the Canadian General Staff, looked to deeper implications of operating in Northern Russia. Being Canadian they had a pretty good grasp of the climatic conditions, and while the Canadian Army had not actually fought an Arctic/Sub-Arctic campaign in the modern era, or done much fighting at all since 1918, it didn’t take a genius to get a broad outline of the issues. One of the points to come up was operating over deep snow, particularly patrolling, and this naturally threw up skis and snowshoes.

The Staff Sub-Committee looking into all this was reluctant to set anything in stone before a measure of practical experience had accumulated, but something needed to be in place before Canadian troops met ‘General Winter’ for the first time. So the initial choice settled on snowshoes as the cheaper and less troublesome to implement of two options. However skis remained on the table and in any case operating on skis or snowshoes imposed similar operational demands on other equipment.

Key among these was weight, since 1914, first trench warfare and then the wider provision of motor transport had seen the soldier’s load evolve away from purely pedestrian operations. Under the prevailing Pattern 37 regime full ‘Marching Order’ was more for administrative movement, and the other fighting orders were scaled for fighting rather than supporting a soldier on his own two feet for extended periods.

The 37 Pattern webbing was flexible enough to meet most problems at least half way, and with the addition of a rucksack and a few other odds and ends the Canadians found a workable arrangement. However the result was still seen as heavier than ideal, and amongst the other weight saving measures called for was a lighter, handier rifle. The committee was well familiar with the service rifle, many had personal experience with hunting under similar winter conditions and the consensus view held that the two were not an ideal mix. His weapon was the single greatest mass a rifleman carried and the his worst encumbrance, the 44.5” length of a No.4 was acceptable when carried in the hands, but slung across the back of a man on skis or using ski-stocks with snowshoes in a forest it would be a pain in the neck.

The committee made three initial recommendations in regards to the rifles for snow troops. Firstly that the present sling arrangement, that is from the toe of the butt to the middle band, be revised to the old Long-Rifle pattern running from the nosecap down to the front screw on the trigger guard. This would greatly reduce the protrusion of the rifle beyond the soldier’s shoulders. The second recommendation was for the trigger guard to be enlarged to accept a gloved finger. It was hoped that as simple modifications both these could become standard features and be implemented quickly. The last recommendation was for a proper ‘Carbine’ version of the No.4, with the weapon reduced to its smallest and lightest practical form in keeping with a reduced acceptable range of 750 yards. All of these suggestions were endorsed, resulting in the No.4 Mk.II* rifle, and Long Branch we set to reinventing the wheel yet again with a new carbine. How much knew of Enfield’s work during the 1930’s has not been recorded, but they must have been familiar with the original cavalry carbines. In any case it was hardly rocket science and within a week of receiving the order Long Branch delivered 5 prototype ‘carbines’ retrospectively designated the No.4 Mk.I*(CT1).

No.4 Mk.I*(CTx) Series

No.4 Mk.I*(CT1) to No.4 Mk.I*(CT3)

The No.4 Mk.I*(CT1) was not meant to be more than an initial ‘suck it an see’ effort, but it was also an honest example of the most economical carbine Long Branch could produce, being a No.4Mk.I*with the barrel cut back 5” the fore-end shorted to suit and fitted with re-calibrated two position sights. It was received positively enough, but still thought to be too heavy. In reply Long Branch sent off a single No.4 Mk.I*(CT2), that is still in the School of Infantry collection, this version chopped the fore-end back to the middle band, dispensed with hand guard and nose cap altogether, and was fitted with a short butt that had additional lightening holes bored in it. The CT2 also came with a warning from Long Branch, this was about the limit of what they could do with standard components on the existing line. Anything more would require some detail design work and manufacturing costs if ordered into production. The trails staff asked for the hand guard to be reinstated, but approved of the weight reduction and asked for more of the same, suggesting a still shorter barrel. The General Staff agreed and instructed the factory to continue.

Long Branch took a little longer to come back with a new version, the No.4 Mk.II(CT3). The major change with CT3 was the use of the Mk.II action body and a series of cuts taken out action and woodwork in various strategic locations to save weight, along with the use of an 18.2” barrel. This time the trials staff were not quite so happy, complaining that while the weapon was light and delightfully handy, recoil and muzzle blast were excessive and accuracy was poor.

By this stage the first Canadian troops were landing in Russia, and Long Branch was furiously busy adapting the No.4 Mk.II to No.4 Mk.II* standard and converting it and the Bren to 7.62mm Russian at the same time. Given there was little hope of seeing any carbine in service that winter and the CT3 had some issues, it was decided that Long Branch’s tool room would keep working on refining the carbine as best they could without compromising more urgent work. But that the developed carbine should be in service for limited issue within a year, in time for the winter of 44-45.

No.4 Mk.II* CT4 to CT8

In developing the CT3 into an acceptable weapon, the staff at Long Branch saw they had two distinct problems; first to produce a light handy rifle that was robust enough for service use, and secondly to make it shoot. As the latter problem came down to the barrel, they concentrated their efforts on the ‘back end’ of the gun, supposing that if they got the action and furniture right, they could then figure out the barrel.

They started this process at the butt, the standard ‘Short’ length butt was cut back by another inch and fitted with a new sheet metal butt-plate that had a 7/16” rubber pad bonded to it and a slotted tab off the left side bent into a stock recess acted as the rear sling loop. All this saved weight and the pad reduced felt recoil. The new butt plate didn‘t have a trap thus eliminated the cleaning kit, which saved even more weight, although this was a bit of a cheat as the oil bottle, pull through and 4x2 flannel would still have to be carried by the soldier. The butt itself was then lightened as much as possible, with the existing lightening holes bored as deeply as possible without compromising strength, and the stock bolt was also shortened, which allowed its hole to be longer as well. Then a Mk.II action body was attacked with a milling machine, taking the process even further than CT3 had but with more science. The web inside the butt socket was ‘skeletonised,’ the bolt rib was gouged out and the receiver walls had scoops cut from anywhere they though the metal would not be missed. Even the bolt knob was drilled out. Then the fore wood came under the cutters. The insides of the hand guard and barrel channel were scooped out, finger grooves cut down the sides and the web through the trigger compartment replaced by a hefty aluminium rivet.

Some consideration was also given to replacing the trigger guard with aluminium. But as the trigger hung off it and the woodwork underneath have been compromised any lack of strength or rigidity in the trigger guard would have dire consequences to accuracy, reliability and longevity. The similar concerns applied to the magazine too and with production and interchangeability prevented any changes there.

With the rest of the rifle settled, attention turned back to the barrels. While the Army had expressed a clear preference for the 18” barrel, if it could be made to shoot, Long Branch favored the original 20” tube. Their thinking was that curbing the muzzle blast issues with the short barrel would call for some form of flash hider or a muzzle brake if they needed to address recoil too. Such an accessory couldn’t be much less than an inch and a half long, perhaps even two, so there would be no real saving in length. Worse the existing bayonet and grenade discharger cup for the No.4 fitted to lugs on the barrel just behind the muzzle, and any sort of flash hider was bound to complicate matters there. Were as the 20” barrel didn’t need a flash hider, and posed no problems to fitting the standard accessories.

Then there was the question of profile, they could save a lot of weight be reverting to a slimmer barrel, say that used on No.1 rifle, but such a tube would be inherently less accurate and flimsier. In the No.1, the majority of mechanical loads on the front of the rifle, from the bayonet, grenade discharger and so on, passed directly to the woodwork of the fore-end. This new carbine would be ‘naked’ and the barrel would need to take care of itself.

As a result they draw up three schemes based on profile; ‘A’ was based on the standard No.4 mating the first 6” from the breech end with the 12” or 18” back from the muzzle, ‘B’ was a new profile drawn up in house that still matched the No.4’s muzzle but saved a couple of ounces, and ‘C’ was based on the old No.1 profile. Scheme C could use a mixture of accessories form earlier weapons. From these came the CT4, CT5 and CT6, with 40 of each produced, half 18.2” barrels and the other half in 20.2”. In addition half the rifles were fitted with the two position flip flop sight, the other half with a recalibrated CNo.2 adjustable ladder sight, split equally across all the types.

Long Branch experimented with three different muzzle fittings for the short barrels, eventually settling on a simple cone type flash hider, which as predicted added 1.5” to the barrel, needed a new bayonet and added almost as much weight (cumulatively) as cutting the barrel by 2” had saved. It didn’t do anything for the recoil issue either, but unlike any of the more sophisticated muzzle brakes examined, it did not make life harder for anyone standing to either side of the shooter either and it was simplest and cheapest option to produce. The accuracy issue was thought to come down to bedding, that is how the wood of the fore-end met the barrel, experience with Lee – Enfield family had shown certain arrangements worked best, others could ruin the whole show, and the only way to sort things out was by empirical testing. Being short of time the factory decided to simply free float the barrel from one inch forward of the breech ring on the assumption that if it might not be the best set up, it would be the most consistent.

The 120 new carbines were dispatched for trial in May 1944. The results were disappointing.

Not to be confused with Long Branch’s three letter scheme, the Army identified all the short barrels as ‘A’ models and all the long ones as ‘B’ models. Thus the No.4 Mk.II(CT4)A had an 18” barrel and the No.4 Mk.II(CT4)B a 20” tube. Testing though the first weeks of May showed the CT6-B as the most accurate of the six types, but it was only judged as acceptable, the rest put up results that varied from dreadful to just shy of the CT6-B. It is one thing to say they couldn’t shoot accurately, but there was rather more to it than that. In fact they weren’t too bad at all in terms of the groups they could put on a target. While hardly tack drivers, all the variants could shoot single groups as tight as the CT1 or CT2, some were better. The problem was utter lack of consistency. The same rifle that outshot a CT2 one day would be printing its shot on the opposite side of the target the next, and somewhere else on the third. This ‘Wandering Zero’ puzzled everyone, particularly as free floating the barrels was supposed to improve consistency not destroy it, as appeared to be the case. A closer examination of the trials range records seemed to show all the rifles were extremely sensitive to muzzle velocity, in that the batch of ammunition used looked to be a key factor.

With hindsight and a greater depth of knowledge than was available to Long Branch at the time, we know today that the real problem was the lightening cuts made in the receiver. This had been found at Enfield ten years earlier, but the information had not made it across the Atlantic. In effect cutting into the receiver undermined the action’s stiffness and so it twisted with every shot. This distortion was consistent in itself, but subject to so many external variables as to be totally unpredictable. Muzzle velocity was the major factor, but temperature, bedding around the receiver and the tightness of action screws all influenced the outcome. The Canadian’s error in this case was simply one of method, in an incremental process they skipped a stage and introduced two changes at the same time, then lost the even money bet on picking the cause of their problems.

While the factory scratched its collective head over the accuracy problem, the trials continued and a report delivered in the first week of June 1944. Unfortunately the CT6-B was eliminated, its slender barrel not standing up to vigorous bayonet work and some of the other torture tests that concluded the trials. With the CT6-A as the worst offender in the accuracy department, the lightest of the field were out. For the rest, the Army still liked the A series, appreciating every half inch of length they could save, but frightened by the accuracy drama, they waved any length preference in favour of whatever Long Branch could get to shoot. Opinion was divided between the CT4 and CT5’s, the CT5’s were fractionally lighter a little less robust and kicked harder, the CT4’s were heavier, stronger and easier on the shoulder. The choice of rear sight came down overwhelmingly in favour of the CNo.2 as the most accurate and easiest to use, but it was also the heaviest and the hardest to use with gloved fingers. The final recommendation suggested the CT4 with the flip sight as the best compromise.

As Long Branch had already started tooling up for common components, their attention focused on the barrels, and given the Army were no longer being awkward about length they stuck with the 20.2” tube. Various bedding schemes were tried, along with different profiles and internal adjustments to lead and throating. Eventually they settled on the heaviest profile yet seen, with a spring loaded inner band under the middle band, an idea borrowed from the old No.1. The result was still far from perfect, but on average it was the equal or slightly better than the CT6-B and was offered up as the No.4 MkII*(CT7).

With time fast running out the CT7 was accepted by the Army as the Rifle No.5 Mk.I and production put on overtime to get sufficient weapons into service for the coming winter. However events had moved on the No.5 was already verging on obsolete, or at least awkwardly out of step, and so once they had the .303 weapon settled, Long Branch turned their hands to making a new version in 7.62 Russian as the CT8, which eventually became the Rifle .31” No.2 Mk.I.

Rifle .303” No.5 Mk.1

After their first winter in Russia the Canadian Army had bowed to the inevitable, issuing skis and broadened the provision of snowshoes across all arms and services. The aim for their second winter was to have snowshoes for every infantryman, with enough skis to equip a ‘patrol platoon’ for every battalion. Given all this with the No.5’s delayed production and dubious accuracy, the original plan to issue the new weapon to all troops moving over snow was no longer realistic and the No.5 reserved for ski troops only – in theory. As with any army what is laid down on paper is something that can be a well removed from reality in the field. Along with the Capsten sub-machinegun the No.5 proved very popular with those who had less need of its special features for engaging the enemy, but a deep appreciation of a lighter and more compact weapon to carry about. Much as the American M1, 2 & 3 Carbines and drifted forward from the service troops to the front line, the No.5 filtered back from the Ski platoons to their front line compatriots and then as an high value fashion accessory into the rear areas.

In its intended role the No.5 did just what was intended, giving the soldier on skis a more portable rifle. As the Patrol Platoons normally engaged in reconnaissance, and in forests of Northern Russia ranges seldom exceeded 300 or 400 yards, the No.5 showed at its best. The No.5 did however display one serious failing, it broke – a lot.

Small Arms Index - Weapons - Welcome

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License