Charlton Automatic Rifle

The Charlton Automatic rifle was a fully automatic conversion of the Lee–Enfield rifle, designed by New Zealander Philip Charlton in 1941 to act as a substitute for the Bren and Lewis gun light machine guns which were in severely short supply at the time.

Charlton Automatic rifle
Charlton Automatic Rifle.jpg
Charlton Automatic rifle at Waiouru Army Museum
TypeSemi-automatic rifle/Light machine gun
Place of originNew Zealand
Service history
In service1942–1945
Used byNew Zealand
Production history
DesignerPhilip Charlton
VariantsElectrolux SMLE Model
Mass16 lb (7.3 kg), unloaded
Length44.5 in (1150 mm)

Cartridge.303 British
Calibre0.3125 inch (7.938 mm)
ActionGas-operated semi-automatic
Rate of fire600 rounds/minute
Muzzle velocity2,440 ft/s (744 m/s)
Effective firing range1,000 yards (910 m)
Maximum firing range2,000 yards (1830 m)
Feed system10-round magazine or modified (?) 30-round Bren gun magazine
SightsSliding ramp rear sights, fixed post front sights


The original Charlton Automatic rifles were converted from obsolete Lee–Metford and Magazine Lee–Enfield rifles dating from as early as the Boer War,[1] and were intended for use as a semi-automatic rifle with the full-automatic capability retained for emergency use.[2] It used the 10-round Lee–Enfield magazines and modified 30-round Bren magazines. The weapon was never intended for use as a frontline combat weapon, instead being designed and adopted primarily for the New Zealand Home Guard.[3]

There were two versions of the Charlton: the New Zealand version, as designed and manufactured by Charlton Motor Workshops in Hastings, and a version produced in Australia by Electrolux, using the SMLE Mk III* for conversion.[4] The two designs differed markedly in external appearance (amongst other things, the New Zealand Charlton had a forward pistol grip and bipod,[5] whilst the Australian lacked this making it lighter and cleaner in appearance[6]), but shared the same operating mechanism.

Approximately 1,500 Charlton Automatic rifles were manufactured in New Zealand,[7] and nearly all of them were destroyed in an accidental fire at the Ordnance Depot located at the Palmerston North Show Grounds shortly after World War II.[8][4]

As a result, very few Charlton Automatic rifles are known to survive. Examples are found in the Imperial War Museum in London and the National Firearms Centre at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds in the United Kingdom;[3] the Waiouru Army Museum and the Auckland War Memorial museum in New Zealand; and the Army Museum (Bandiana) in Australia.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Skennerton (1993), p.183.
  2. ^ Skennerton (1993), p. 184.
  3. ^ a b McCollum, Ian, "From Bolt Action Lee to LMG: The Charlton Automatic Rifle", Forgotten Weapons, retrieved 2019-09-18
  4. ^ a b Skennerton (1993) p.185.
  5. ^ "Charlton Automatic Rifle". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2010-05-30.
  6. ^ "Charlton Semi-auto Rifle". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2010-05-30.
  7. ^ Skennerton (2001), p.33.
  8. ^ McKie, Robert (2017-06-19). "No 2 Sub Depot -Palmerston North, 1942-46". "To the Warrior his Arms". Retrieved 2019-03-25.


  • Skennerton, Ian The Lee-Enfield Story (1993). Arms & Militaria Press, Australia. ISBN 1-85367-138-X
  • Skennerton, Ian Small Arms Identification Series No. 13: Special Service Lee-Enfields; Commando & Auto Models (2001). Arms & Militaria Press, Australia. ISBN 0-949749-37-0

External linksEdit