SMLE Magazine Cut-Off The Receiver and Action of a 1908 RSAF Enfield .303 Calibre Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Mk III rifle, clearly showing the Magazine Cut-Off. The cut-off allowed the option of…
The ‘magazine cut-off’ was a relatively common feature of military rifles before the Great War. It’s an interesting feature, especially for what it says about pre-1914 armies’ priorities and trust in their troops. Basically, what it did was, if engaged, it’d turn a magazine-fed gun into a single-shot weapon - the magazine wouldn’t feed. So, instead, you’d have to go and load each round yourself.
Why would you want this? Well … what if your troops, with their new magazine-fed rifles, can shoot as fast as they can work the bolt? How quickly would they run through their ammo? How many shots would they waste on unaimed fire, rather than hitting their targets as they were trained to? Several armies, including Britain and the US, insisted on this feature for these reasons - on having a means to keep troops from ‘firing too fast’. Plus, if you want to fire organized volleys at the enemy, you can’t have individual undisciplined troopers firing whenever they want - you need everyone in a platoon or a company ready to fire all at once, on the officer’s command!
These devices fell out of favor during World War I - they added complexity to a gun, making it more expensive and more time-consuming to assemble, and the ‘benefit’ they provided wasn’t a benefit at all. It turns out that it’s not a good idea to make a soldier have to reload after every round fired, and ‘volley fire’ is basically useless. On the other hand, rapid fire is incredibly valuable, making it much harder for the enemy to accurately shoot you, or be willing to head towards you, or even keep an eye out for your buddies moving to outflank them.
It strikes me as interesting that modern armies seem to put more trust in the individual soldier. We don’t see armies as a place where society’s scum can be safely kept at bay, nor as a place where the nation’s citizenry come together to be taught what it means to be true Frenchmen or Italians or whatever. Instead, the modern soldier is a professional.