2-Gun Action Challenge Match: SMLE vs Kar 98AZ (Video)

In this month’s 2-Gun Action Challenge Match, we decided to both run World War I rifles – Karl with a 1914/1920 Kar 98AZ and I had a 1918 no1 MkIII* SMLE. In the previous enfield/Mauser matchup the outcome was a bit indistinct, because the match did not involve much repeat fire and the Enfield had a few reliability issues. In this match, the stage layouts give the Enfield more room to exploit its faster action and larger magazine – assuming the rifle runs reliably and I can do my part.

This match was also done as a practice run for the big 2-day Tiger Valley team match coming in September, which we plan to shoot with WWI gear. Want to see more about the German Stormtroopers that Karl is studying? Check out Ricardo Cardona’s book, Sturmtruppen: WWI German Stormtroopers (1914-1918).

A few conclusions from the match…

The Enfield really does have a definitive speed advantage over the Mauser because of its smooth cock-on-opening action. Karl was running the Mauser about as fast as he thinks is feasible, and he just couldn’t keep up with me. The Mauser requires a series of discreet and definite steps to cycle (grasp bolt, rotate up, pull back, push forward, rotate down) while the Enfield can be cycled in two much more fluid motions (hand back, hand forward). While Karl has to positively hold the Mauser bolt handle to operate it, I can use the flat palm of my hand to both open and close the Enfield bolt.

The magazine capacity also made a significant difference. In stage 2, for example, I scored 9 to Karl’s 7 almost entirely because he had to reload twice and I had no reload required. These may seem like obvious elements when handling the rifles in a static environment, but it is still necessary to prove them out in more field-like conditions, because those sorts of things do not always translate into real-world advantages.

We do still suspect that the Mauser probably has the advantage in running in dirty conditions – and something like rimlock poking up its ugly head can completely ruin the Enfield’s advantages.

Lastly, just for the record, I have a Webley Mk VI and a set of reproduction Pattern 1908 British web gear coming to use for the Tiger Valley match.


  1. The comparison is meaningless unless the same shooter uses the two different rifles under, as near as possible, identical conditions.

    • Quite meaningful. Ian and Karl demonstrate in real time very close parallels to what the infantryman faced in WW 1. The weather conditions were closer to the Palestine Campaign, but most appropriate. However, if push came to shove and my life were on the line, come rain or shine, I would grab the gewehr98 anytime over the SMLE. But that is my personal bias and belief.

      • Pay no attention to my comment. I only spent 29-years in the business of operational testing.

        • Irrelevant, this video is meant to be entertaining and it is. The fact that we can also learn a little from it is an added bonus.

  2. “Cock on opening”? our hero asked himself. Suddenly uncertain he sneaks into the gun room and quietly operates his SMLE which, just as he had remembered, cocks on closing. Hmmmm. Mayhap theirs was a left handed model? Different hemisphere? Odd numbered year of manufacture? Naw, these guys are Experts. Then it hits him; he owns the ONLY ONE ever made! Calls James D. Julia, who, very politely, breaks his heart. Like Bogie said, “its the stuff that dreams are made of.” Please note: Ian,this is sent with great affection and great admiration. But……I couldn’t resist.

      • “The Enfield really does have a definitive speed advantage over the Mauser because of its smooth cock-on-opening action.”

        As a matter of fact, you did not only said that, but you actually wrote it in the intro 🙂
        Happens all the time – Some time ago I was reviewing the HK VP9 and wrote it has mag release buttons instead of flappers. When it appeared in print, all hell broke loose… 😀

      • Yes, you did say the SMLE cocked on opening and that’s a pretty obvious “slip of the tongue”.
        You also say that the SMLE had reliability problems.
        What were those problems ?
        The Lee has a reputation of being very reliable in combat conditions and having owned and operated the SMLE for over
        30 years I have had zero reliability issues.

  3. You might also check out the most excellent STORMTROOP TACTICS, INNOVATION IN THE GERMAN ARMY, 1914-1918 by Bruce I. Gudmundsson. Also the well written SURGEON FOR THE KAISER has some direct observation of the stosstruppen by a battlefield surgeon.

      • Many of the references in Gudmundsson’s work are available on google books. The contemporary references are fascinating. Pictures are not as necessary for those old enough to remember playing with the WW1 equipment and talking to the veterans as children.

  4. Someone told me – years ago – of a technique for rapid suppressive fire with the SMLE. You keep the right hand on the bolt and trip the trigger with the little finger.

    I’ve never seen this mentioned anywhere else (admittedly I haven’t specifically searched for it). When I tried the technique it felt clumsy, but I could see how a group of experienced soldiers could use it to pour a lot of roughly aimed bullets downrange quickly.


      • The “Mad Minute” was the standard BEF qualification shoot; the middle finger technique was not standard, only being used by those seeking outshoot the 15rpm rate.

    • Stickmaker, If you search for videos of the Norwegian Stangskyting competitions you will see this technique in use and it is very fast and absolutely accurate enough. You will see competitors with Krag Jorgensen’s beating G3 equipped competitors. These matches have a military origin. Sorry would post a link but can’t from my phone and it’s 4.30am here.

          • I think with the Krag it’s a speed loader of sorts that basically lets them drop a full mag in one go. The others are just using their normal types of magazine or stripper clip. This other Stangskyting clip shows it all closer and you can see a Krag and speedloaders in more detail along with the technique. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eC4_g6N3aLA I’m very curious about whether this technique was used with Lee Enfields or if it’s a more recent idea inspired by Norwegian example.
            I must say watching Ian and Karl do this makes me really want to check out whether any similar matches are held down here. I’ve been eyeing off a Lee Enfield at my local shop for a while and this clip has encreased my yearning by a large margin!

  5. Art Alphin has an excellent lecture recorded in the Weapons of West Point series available on you tube directly dealing with trench warfare. WW 1 was not static in thought. The imperial German army system allowed for much more innovation than on the allied side. The French officers at the front, not in the rear, had excellent ideas for innovation. Regrettably, headquarters of the British and French armies allowed for little innovation from the front. The Germans tried a tactical solution, stosstruppen and infiltration tactics, and technical, gas – flammenwerfen etc., to the situation. The Allies used both technical and strategic solutions, tanks and bleeding the starved German army to death. It takes technology, strategy, and tactics all together to win. Ludendorf was actually in a thyroid storm crisis when the dark days of 1918 burst forth. The Germans had not the strategy to win by that time. Now, if the troops from the east and resources from the Ukraine could have been realized and used with the proven defense in depth system developed by the Germans using interior lines of communication, the allies may have decided for peace. The temporary respite of German fortunes for the peace offensive of 1918 could not overcome a lack of a real strategic vision. Ludendorf sacrificed troops and material for tactical use with no permanent gain. He lost sight of the big picture, as Falkenheim had at Verdun. Regrettably, we Americans, save for a few visionaries – Patton and Mitchell, learned very little. American casualties were abysmal because we did not learn the lessons learned by the other allies earlier in the war. But we Americans could shoot and taught the imperial German army a few lessons in long range marksmanship.

    • Yeah it was such a time of innovation. Sniping, storm trooper tactics, following closely behind a creeping barrages to exploit the holes it opened up. Trench raiding, sentry elimination, peaceful penetration (Australian variation on trench raiding that seized ground) and mobile warfare all got developed and that’s before we even get into the technology side of it with tanks and aircraft. Enjoyed the Weapons of West Point suggestion BTW 🙂

  6. I am a big fan of running with the web gear of the era. That makes it really fun. I ran my first 3-gun match last month with the same gear a US Marine would use from late ’42 to end of war. Running a 2-gun with the British web gear sounds like a complete blast!

  7. I am the son of a left handed father, and a right handed mother, so does that make me ambi, or confused?
    Did any nation issue rifles with bolt handles on the other side for whatever percentage of their soldiers who were south paws?

    • No, but Soviet snipers using the Mosin-Nagant 1891 with the telescopic sight often used a rather peculiar left hand technique in which the rested rifle was fired left handed, the forearm supported by the rest and the bolt being worked with the right hand, which did nothing else.

      This permitted very rapid fire, faster than you’d expect from a bolt-action. It was a fatal surprise for many German soldiers.

      AFAIK, the only “left-hand” weapons normally issued have been some types of machine guns which are made in “handed” versions for installation in gun turrets, aircraft wing or fuselage mounts, etc., in which ammunition feeds are of necessity right-handed on one side and left-handed on the other. This is usually done by just designing the feed/bolt system so it can be “turned around” to feed from either side as required. IIRC, the first such machine gun was the French Hotchkiss, but I could be wrong.



      • Actually I can’t remember a dual-feed Hotchkiss (and which one would be ambi? The Mle 1914 Hotchkiss would need mirror-image bolt carrier to turn the feed drum other way around), but the 50-Cal. was ambi since introduction of the M2 model in 1932(?). The left vs. right hand feed situation was interesting in Russia/USSR: their Maxims were right hand feed, while Dushka 38 was a left hand feed gun, and Dushka 38/46 is dual feed. The right hand feed of the Maxim (and Vickers for that matter) is because they lacked belt advancing mechanism coupled to bolt and lacked belt movement from mere cycling the charging handle: you inserted the belt from right side, grasped the belt loop with your left and maintained a steady pull, while using right to cycle the cocking handle (Maxim – forward, Vickers – back), twice to load. You couldn’t possibly load the left-feed Maxim without outside help, having to pull on the belt and cocking the bolt on the same side of the gun. With Brownings it was different, because the S-shaped groove on top of John Moses’ bolt operated the belt advancement mechanism automatically. That’s why you were able to let go of the belt while grasped by feed pawls, and just focus on pulling the handle back – left or right side, didn’t matter, because you didn’t have to maintain pull on the belt and were not bumping one hand into another. Because it was easier for the loader/Assistant Gunner to load the belt prone with a right hand, the left hand feed got world-wide adopted as of the 1920s, while the Russians became the last Mohicans to load from the right. During WW2 their M1938 Dushka 50-Cal. HMG with it’s peculiar Shpagin’s drum feed was the only Russian left-fed MG, causing so much confusion, that in 1946 when the new flat feed module replaced the drum in M1938/46 Dushka-M, it was converted to right-side feed. Actually, the Dushka-M feed was reversible, but the only installation that actually made any use of that feature was the 1950s Czech quad mount, patterned after the US .50-Cal quads, but hand-powered. The only other multiple Dushka mount was the naval 2M3 pedestal dual mount, using two Dushkas in superposition, so the feed direction was mostly irrelevant.

        • Russian guns are right-fed until today: the PK has a swinging-lever-powered belt transfer mechanism, that also takes belt from the right, so is the NSV .50, replacing the Dushka. Neither of them needs the belt pulled with a left hand, while the right advances the cocking handle – but Maxim legacy is still going strong in Russia.

  8. Having target shot the SMLE during the 1960’s using the open iron military sights I remember that I could toggle the bolt by ‘waving’ my hand. With the bolt between my forefinger and thumb a quick wave would extract and load very smoothly. For match shooting we would prepare our stripperclips with graphite so that loading was ‘effortless’. Also the final empty clip could be expelled by simply closing the bolt (this bit may be a false memory- but it is worth a try if you can load and rapid fire more quickly).

    • Steve:

      Your memory is not playing tricks, a Lee-Enfield will automatically eject its charger when you close the bolt, no need for the shooter to do it.

    • Fiocchi of Italy, one of the site sponsors, is again making .455 Webley Mk II ammo – along with many other obsolete calibers.

      • Not anywhere I have been able to find. I can get it on the auction sites for like $6 a pop or use the .45 ACP cylinder shooting wimp loads but other than that, no place I can find has it in stock.

  9. Just need to change to an Indian 2A or 2A1- no rims! Perfect Enfield bliss! I love all of my 2A’s and shoot them as much as I can. IMHO the best SMLE’s ever made, although that is definitely not the prevailing opinion. But hey, I like shooting Carcano’s too, so…;)

  10. Comparison of vintage Mauser vs SMLE in a practical rifle match is interesting. Ian’s shooting of a turn-bolt as a left-handed shooter is impressive, and shows how the short bolt throw of the Lee is also a more Lefty-friendly right-handed-bolt-action design. I think that Ian would like to know that his speed on the “SMELLY” is on par with my Canadian Reserve Army trained friend Mike B. (also a Lefty, and uses the same left-handed bolt throw in all positions as Ian used in his prone position). One would have to observe Commonwealth Army trained individuals old enough to have been trained on the “SMELLY” and young enough to still competitively charge through a practical rifle course against AR’s/Garand’s/M1A’s with their SMLE! It is educational. One sees the SMLE shooting, scoring and placing on par with those of the fast competitors using the Garand’s/M1A’s although naturally not catching up with top-placing AR-type racegun competitors. It is humbling watching a practiced SMLE shooter leaving slower competitors using AR’s eating their dust. In comparison, the Mauser 98 really falls far behind right-handed Commonwealth-Army-trained and practiced shooters.

  11. On the discussion thread of fast bolt throw techniques…Commonwealth Army trained soldiers / competitors trained me on a SMLE bolt throw along the lines of the “hand wave” mentioned by Steve Oz. From the normal fired wrap-around hand position, pivoting the hand upward on the thumb and sliding back on the top of the stock with the thumb in a back wave motion– the trigger finger joining into a four fingered curl with the trigger finger hooking and carrying along the bolt knob during the back wave motion. At the rear limit of motion the four fingers straighten and in the flattened hand forward wave motion the trigger finger pushes the bolt knob forward and down. At the fully closed bolt position the index finger slides off over the bolt knob and curls into the trigger, the three lower fingers curling again under the stock. This gives a very fast and accurate aimed rapid fire string of shots in target competitions at the Army base ranges. This technique can be used with the Winchester Model 70 rear-angled bolt handle in spite of the Model 70’s long Mauser-design bolt throw (but move your head aside). But I cannot make it work with a straight down-turned Mauser 98 bolt handle.
    I must admit though that many, myself included, use Michael and Johnathan’s previously mentioned “forefinger / thumb grip on the bolt knob, middle finger on the trigger” method for practical rifle matches when competing with our SMLE’s.

  12. Really enjoyed that comparison. It’s obvious to see that the Enfield is faster than the Mauser. However, the Mauser’s action continues to be made in sporting guns today. Thank you for taking the time to do this. Very interesting to see.

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