Turner Semiauto SMLE Conversion (Video)

Russell Turner was a Pennsylvania gunsmith and inventor who developed this semiautomatic conversion of an SMLE bolt action rifle circa 1940. It was intended for trial and potential sale to the Canadian military, as it would allow them to retrofit existing rifles into semiautomatic configuration and still use existing supplies of .303 British ammunition. Rather than try to devise a reliable system to rotate the original Enfield bolt, Turner replaced the bolt entirely, using instead a side-tilting design much like what he used in his M1 Carbine trials rifle for the US military. This was coupled with a long stroke gas piston and a hammer firing trigger mechanism.

Reportedly the rifle was tested by Canadian authorities, and performed quite well, with the adjustable gas system allowing it to function reliably even in temperatures of 25 below zero (where the Garand, tested alongside, experienced problems). However, Turner’s rifle was deemed to complex for military adoption.

That decision against the rifle was probably the right one for Canada, although Turner’s conversion is one of the better semi auto bolt acton conversions I have handled. It was remarkably non-awkward – that may not sound like much to crow about, but it sets a pretty high standard for this type of rifle.


  1. Very interesting! I agree with Ian in that this is most likely a “working prototype”, from which Turner would have made improvements. Was there any way to remove or shift the operating rod before the dust cover?

  2. That little wheel in the trigger group and the forked hammer were a really slick design. I’m surprized no other trigger i can think of uses something similar.

  3. Great video Ian, I know it was getting to be a longer video but it would have been nice to see side by side with a standard SMLE to have a better idea of the changes to the receiver, trigger group etc. For others in the comments below Lot 1411 of this auction was a standard SMLE.

  4. Little bit ‘sweated-out’ but still – as Ian said, phenomenal effort. I bet Canadians secretly wished they had adopted .30cal U.S. round instead of .303 British. In that case, ‘Canadian’ designed M1 would be a straight deal.

    I just wonder how would it look like if clean sheet of paper was used instead of this ‘pruning’ onto existing rifle.

    One note to ranges stamped on rear sight – Canada has not become metric until mid of 1970s.

    • Adopting the 30.06 would have been a logistical nightmare plus Canada already had large stock of .303 ammo so it would have been smarter to convert Garands to .303 as the .30-06 had no advantage in performance

    • I think Canada was in lockstep with the rest of then Commonwealth when it cam to 303, any differences in the performance ( battle conditions ) was minimal.
      Canada and the UK changed to metric weapon wise in the late 50’s with Ci and L1A1. The Garand ??? maybe if the Combat and theater scenario were to exclude sub teen temps …. you notice that many countries in Northern climes were slow to convert to Semi/full Auto battle Rifles until the nuances were worked out. I know we had problems with L1A1 and some units the Armalite ( Me ) when working close handed with US mountain troops in Norway (1973). The Garand worked .. the LE worked. RE: sights, I suspect that many squaddies did not realise that the early L1A1 sights were in yds all LE sights were in yds.

  5. During WW 2 when Canada had a chance- the 1st Special Service Force or the division that trained to invade Japan- it adopted US weapons and equipment. The only down side would have been swapping Brens for BARs.

    • The Browning M1918’s chief problem was the relatively low magazine capacity. It was a machine rifle rather than a machine gun. Could not the Bren be modified to accept .30-06?

      • “Bren”
        Canadian Inglis made 7.9×57 Mauser Bren guns, but it must be noted that .30-06 is longer than 7.9×57 cartridge (85mm vs 82mm) so I’m not sure whatever it would fit.

        • Providing there was sufficient action overtravel (which apparently was the case) – yes.
          It might however affect rate of fire in negative way though and life of the weapon. Certainly different receiver machining would be necessary.

      • I’m sure you could make a .30-06 Bren if you had to but since the 1st SSF’s Canadian portion was only a battalions worth of troops (the two nations troops were mixed up across the three battalions) and the Canadian Division for Japan would be part of a US Corps why bother?

        As an aside the other main Commonwealth forces- the Brits and Aussies were so exhausted by 1945 that they were to play a minimal role in the invasion. The Canadian Army had kept three of it’s six infantry divisions in Canada and avoided sustained ground combat until mid 1943 so it was relatively fresh in 1945.

        • “The Canadian Army had kept three of it’s six infantry divisions in Canada and avoided sustained ground combat until mid 1943 so it was relatively fresh in 1945.”

          Very interesting piece of information. Btw., was service in CDN forces during WWII compulsory? I believe it was based on primarily voluntary service (namely after WWI experience and some separatists tendencies).

          • Conscription was not used until the last year of war in Canada and even then it was only 20,000 men, the rest of the 1 million men was volunteers ( staggering considering Canada only had 7 million inhabitnts at the time)

          • Canada introduced conscription. Most were kept in Canada but more conscripts were eventually sent overseas than in WW 1. In both wars the tendency to join was inversely proportional to how long your family had been in Canada. The further east you lived the less likely you were to join regardless of language.

            The people who joined often did so “until Germany was defeated” which resulted in a cruiser (HMCS Uganda)in the Pacific having to replace ~ 600 sailors at the time of Okinawa.

            It was the Canadian government’s policy to avoid sustained ground combat, particularly in France and Belgium. The aim was to avoid the casualties that would make conscription necessary and potentially rip the country apart. They thought putting a effort into the air force (especially training Commonwealth air crew) and small naval ships would keep casualties down. The reality of the bomber offensive put paid to that notion. They also insisted the army fight as a whole which kept it out of North Africa, Syria, Crete etc. while it guarded the UK. The Dieppe fiasco was partially due to the desire to be seen to be doing “something”. Ditto for sending troops to garrison Hong Kong in late 1941.

            In 1942 the Brits declared the threat of invasion was over so the Canadian government had no reason not to send troops to Sicily which they did in July 1943. They later sent an (unwanted) Corps HQ, armored division and a tank brigade to Italy with the idea that the casualties there would be less than in France. It did and also used up a load of rear area people on maintaining a second LOC.

            The policy worked. Fatal casualties were 50% of WW 1 during a war that lasted two years longer and with an armed forces 40% larger. There was a “conscription crisis” but it was contained.

          • Very well written J Harlan; thank you!

            I recall speaking to one survivor of Italian campaign in WWII; it is long time ago. He was reflecting to hardship of that undertaking; it was tough going for Canadians. Further I recall that Quebeckers (before war) were not very keen to serve ‘in interest of GB’.

          • “Further I recall that Quebeckers (before war) were not very keen to serve ‘in interest of GB’.”

            Canada didn’t become independent in 1931 not 1867 as is commonly believed and as such automatically went to war with Germany in 1914. It’s parliament wasn’t even consulted and of course as was soon evident the war was a colossal waste. The Canadians who considered themselves “British” rallied to the colors. A disproportionate number of infantrymen were British born who had moved to western Canada and saw signing up as a way to get home.

            What’s most curious is that in 1904 when Canada asked the Brits for help against the US over the Alaska Boundary dispute the Brits said not a chance.

            By the late 1890s the Brits knew they needed “dominion” manpower to match Germany so when the 2nd Boer War came along they used it as a rehearsal to get Canadians, Kiwis and Aussies accustomed to sending troops to save the empire.

            After WW 1 the Brits were soon at it again- wanting Canada’s help to fight Turkey to enforce it’s treaty. The Canadians were smarter this time and told them to pound salt.

            Clearly the smartest thing to do was to avoid WW 1 but there was no chance of that given the decades of public indoctrination into God, King/Queen and Empire and the fear of the pols of being thrown out of office if they didn’t support the war.

        • The BAR is severely limited by its fixed barrel, I doubt its possible to get any more firepower out of it, the only option was to have multiple BAR’s firing alternately, to avoid burning the barrels out.

  6. I always wonder when I see these auction videos, do you have any idea if the people that buy these guns ever fire them, Ian? Would be a shame for all these rare and expensive firearms to never be used whatsoever.

  7. Not much of the SMLE is used in the Turner, so why do a conversion of an already fast firing bolt action? If you want more firepower, use the money saved to buy more Bren lmg’s.

  8. Ian, you are a far braver man than I taking that clever but horrifyingly complicated gun apart..If it were mine into grease it would go and in the safe it would go except for high days and holidays.. truly cringeworthy

  9. I fail to see why the bolt was changed to side locking, when a fully functional rear locking bolt was already there, and only needed a cam path to operate it. Why , we will never know ?

  10. Extraordinary even if a bit over-complex, to say the least! Thanks for showing this remarkable prototype, Ian. I guess it wouldn’t make much sense, economically-wise, to convert even large numbers of SMLE rifles this way, even if Turner had managed to somehow simplify the whole concept and its manufacture.
    By the way Ian, I browsed through the catalogue of this auction and found a fascinating Hungarian semi-auto rifle prototype made by FEG. I think it is worth some attention!

  11. I have heard rumors for years; that NZ tried to convert No.1 Mk. III enfields to light MG’s. Is there any truth to this or is it so much hot air? If the rumor is true I’d really like to see a photo of one. Thank you.

  12. Ian. a minor question. Why is the flag on the video splash page that of the USA? The 48 stars are period correct but still, why not the Canadian Red Ensign?

  13. Ian,

    I’d bet you either put it on safe and push in bolt release or briefly rotate safety to fire push in release let bolt move forward and pop side plate then pull back and relock bolt.

    You should be able to can the lever off after this. Just a thought from watching you working with the gun.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.