The Modern Version Of The Jungle Carbine
Is Embodied In Today’s Scout Rifle
By Dave Anderson
World War II brought changes to military tactics and firearms. In 1939 a typical battle rifle was a bolt action, 44 inches long and weighing 9 to 10 pounds. With troop movement increasingly by truck, tank, or aircraft, such rifles were cumbersome. The value of semi- and full-automatic fire for shoot-and-maneuver tactics and in urban fighting was obvious.
The era of the bolt-action rifle for general military issue was drawing to a close, but there were a couple of last-ditch efforts to adapt it to changing circumstances. One development was a slightly revised version of the Czechoslovakian Vz.33 carbine called the G33/40 (1940-’42) issued primarily to German mountain troops. The second was the Lee-Enfield No. 5 Mk I (1944-’47).
Setting aside the differences between the Lee-Enfield and Mauser designs, the two carbines are remarkably similar. In both cases there were lightening cuts to the receiver barrel lengths of 19 to 20 inches, overall length 39 to 40 inches, and weight of about 7-1/2 pounds. They fired the standard full-power service cartridges of each nation (.303 British and 7.92×57 Mauser).
Neither of these carbines saw more than limited use. Only about 131,000 G33/40 carbines were made. Around 251,000 No. 5 Lee-Enfields were made, including those made between 1946-’47 after WWII had ended. Some No. 5’s are said to have been issued to paratroopers and used in Europe. Others went to the Asiatic theatre, primarily Burma.
Subsequently the No. 5 was used during what the British euphemistically called the “Malayan Emergency” a guerilla war conflict in Malaya lasting from 1948 to 1960. Apparently it was in these actions the No. 5 got its unofficial nickname of “Jungle Carbine” (a term never used by the British military).
For military use, these carbines proved an evolutionary dead end. Making the firearms lighter and shorter were good ideas; chambering them to full-power cartridges was not. A 9-1/2-pound .303 recoils plenty hard for soldiers (who for the most part were not shooting enthusiasts), never mind a 7-1/2-pound carbine. Perhaps even worse was the ferocious muzzle blast from the short barrels. Keep in mind, soldiers in those days seldom had ear protection!
There are obvious differences in terms of materials between the
Lee-Enfield No. 5 Mk I carbine .303 British and Ruger Gunsite Scout,
.308 Win, but the two are virtually identical in terms of size,
weight, power, operation and magazine capacity.
But the story doesn’t end there. A compact, powerful, accurate, rugged and reliable firearm is a very versatile and useful tool. Maybe not for general military issue, but for the individual rifleman, for sport hunting, or for survival and self-defense against predators while traveling in the wilderness, they seemed ideal.
In the post WWII era, the G33/40 actions were prized by custom gunmakers for building light sporting rifles (and still are today, for that matter). The relatively few original G33/40 rifles remaining are highly collectible, far too valuable to cannibalize just for the action.
Lee-Enfields were never much in demand for custom work. On the other hand, if you could do without a scope and with the .303 British cartridge, they served well as inexpensive hunting rifles. Many thousands were sold in the ’50’s and ’60’s both in Canada and the US.
Most were cut-down No. 1 or No. 4 rifles, but the “Jungle Carbines” were the ones everyone wanted. Trouble is, back then they were so darn expensive, costing $25 while a cut-down No. 1 was only about $15. It would be a half-century before I finally acquired my own No. 5.
My carbine has an excellent bore, more than adequate power and accuracy, a fast and reliable action, and it balances and handles beautifully. As with all Lee-Enfields it is incredibly tough and durable. Action components are simple, large, and robust. The sear and its spring, for example, look more like parts for a Jeep than for a rifle. But I gotta have a scope…
Fortunately there are several alternatives sharing the No. 5’s virtues, while adding sighting options and cartridge choices. Examples include the Ruger Gunsite Scout, Savage Scout, Steyr Scout, and Tikka CTR.
It’s too bad the one feature most associated with Jeff Cooper’s “Scout” concept, the forward-mounted scope, is one of the least important. If you dislike such scopes, just don’t use one. All these rifles accept a conventional receiver-mounted scope.
If the rail on the barrel offends you just take it off. Personally I like the rail, as it permits additional sighting options at the modest cost of 1-1/2 ounces of weight.
The Ruger shown here is one I bought at a local gunshop. It’s a bit unusual in having an 18-1/2-inch barrel and no muzzlebrake. The store must have needed some quick cash to pay the light bill as several guns were discounted 35 percent. I paid less for the Ruger than for my No. 5. Though made 70 years apart it is amazing how similar they are (see chart).
More features of the Lee-Enfield No. 5 Mk I include lift-up sight graduated
to 800 yards, hollowed out bolt knob, lightening cuts on bolt body and on receiver.
You hear complaints of heavy recoil and “wandering zero,” but even with the rather s
mall, hard buttpad, how bad can recoil be with a cartridge less powerful than a .300
Savage in a 7-1/2-pound carbine? Dave thinks both issues result from the ferocious
muzzle blast from the short barrel, along with inadequate or no ear protection.
The best features of the Lee Enfield No. 5 live on in the Ruger Gunsite Scout
while adding stainless steel construction, a better trigger pull, and most
importantly, sighting options such as (clockwise from top) a Nightforce 2.5-10×32
in Leupold rings, EOTech reflex sight, Streamlight white light/laser fitted on a
Warne 45-degree base, Leupold 2.5×28 Scout Scope in Warne quick-detachable
rings and an adjustable receiver sight.