The year was 1888 and Europe was in an uproar. Two years previously France came out with the Lebel rifle and the revolutionary smokeless powder. For a couple of years France was one up on everyone else and that had the powers to be upset. The advantages of the new propellant weren’t lost on anyone. You could produce ammo with more range and less smoke which made it harder for an enemy to spot you. Greater range and the ability to carry more ammo were also advantages that were looked favorably upon by various nations.
That year 1888 Great Britain introduced the 303 in the Lee Medford bolt action rifle. A bit of a head scratcher was that they introduced it with a charge of 70 grains of black powder and a 215 grain full metal jacketed round nose bullet at an advertised velocity of 1850 FPS. By then countries such as Germany were introducing smokeless powder in their military arms. It was found to be ineffective against various tribes that Great Britain was at war with, at the time, so Capt. Bertie Clay at the Dum Dum arsenal in India developed a better bullet. It was a jacketed bullet that had an exposed lead core that expanded upon contact and that’s where the term Dum Dum bullets came into use.
In 1892 the powder was changed to Cordite which 303 British ammo upped the velocity to about 1950 FPS, a fairly significant improvement. The Cordite powder is in long strands that look like spaghetti. The powder was put in the case before it was formed to its final shape. In 1910 they went to a more modern spitzer bullet weighing 174 grains with a velocity of 2450 FPS which extended their range quite a bit. Some of the bullets had aluminum or fiber filled tips which while stable in flight tended to tumble on impact producing a more serious wound.
The round has been one of the most widely distributed and successful military rounds of the first half of the 20’Th century. Besides England, Canada, Australia and many African countries have used it. It would be equivalent to the American 30-06 in usage making it a useful large game hunting round. It has been chambered in many versions of the Lee Enfield rifle plus the American Enfield. The round saw service in both world wars not to mention many lesser skirmishes and was the official rifle of Great Britain until 1957 when it was replaced by the NATO 308 round. The Lee Enfield is a very highly regarded military rifle as it has rapid fire capability and was reliable. Some historians consider it superior to the great 98 Mauser for military purposes. That will get a lively discussion started. Accuracy was more then adequate for military purposes. They are still common and ammo is easy to find so if you have one it is a worthwhile addition to any collection.