Military Production at Lithgow SAF

Military weapons

The Factory also manufactured barrels and components for weapons such as the .50 Browning machine gun, 7.62 MAG 58 and the 5.56mm SAC pistols, carbines and rifles. Conversions were carried out on 6.5mm Mannlicher rifles (to .303) and barrel assemblies and magazines were produced for conversion of the .303 Bren to 7.62mm (designated the L4A4).

Weapons repaired or modified at the Factory include the 9mm Owen sub-machine gun (modifications and barrel replacement), .45 Thompson sub-machine gun, .303 Lewis and 30 Browning machine guns, .38 Smith & Wesson revolver, 30mm Aden aircraft guns and the 20mm Hispano canon.


Military Ordnance and stores

  • 2" mortars and bombs
  • 81mm mortar bomb
  • Leopard Tank 105mm Sabot practice rounds
  • .50" Phalanx rounds (projectile only)
  • Aden gun 30mm Defa canon ammunition links
  • Armoured Personnel Carrier Track shoes
  • Track shoes for Leopard Tank
  • Pintal towing hooks
  • Tent pegs
  • Trip flares and wires
  • Bomb lug suspension
  • Stops packaging
  • Bofor gun ammunition clips
  • Ammunition fuses & components
  • Navy sky hooks


Short Magazine Lee Enfield & Variants: 1912 - 1945

SMLE

The Lithgow Small Arms Factory was opened during June 1912 and geared up to produce this rifle at the rate of 15,000 per year. Manufacture was well under way by 1914 when the British Government placed urgent requirements on production in readiness for any shortages upon the outbreak of WWI. All but 10,000 surplus rifles were sent to Britain, this causing a shortage here in Australia until production was increased. Some 30,500 MkIII rifles were produced during the 1915-16 financial year, this the highest rate of production during the Great War. A token 1000 SMLE rifles were produced in 1956, presumably just to prove that it could be done. It is believed that most of these have a reciever date of 1953.

SMLE No.1 MkIII

The Lee Enfield MkIII, known as the 'three-O-three' was the first weapon produced at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory.

Approved in January 1907, this short rifle superseded the Long Lee Enfield and featured a number of improvements over previous Marks in respect to simplified manufacture and battle efficiency.

The barrel is 25.2 inches (640mm) long and the rifling has 5 grooves and left hand twist. Overall length is 44.5 inches (1130mm) and the rifle weight is 8lb 10oz (3.9kg). Magazine capacity is 10 rounds.

The accompanying Pattern 07 bayonet was also produced at Lithgow commencing in 1913 with the hooked quillon model. In 1915 the hook was discontinued and large numbers of the early bayonets had the hook removed to comply with the new specifications.

This rifle was also manufactured in United Kingdom by the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, Birmingham Small Arms (BSA Co) and London Small Arms (LSA Co) and by the Ishapore Arsenal in India.

SMLE No.1 MkIII*

This weapon was approved as a wartime expediency in January 1916, and differs from the MkIII in the omission of the long range dial and aperture sight, windage adjustment on the rearsight, magazine cut-off, lug on the firing pin collar, and swivel lugs at the front of the trigger guard. These swivel lugs were replaced by a small wire loop to secure a fabric action cover.

Soon after the introduction of the MkIII* the brass butt marking disk was also omitted. some MkIII* receivers may be encountered with provision for a magazine cut-off as the slot was reinstated on some rifles between 1923 and 1941.

Most other features are similar to the MkIII rifle, the rear sight is graduated from 200 to 2000 yards. The gunmetal butt plate is fitted with a trap for storage of the oil bottle and pullthrough.

In 1926 nomenclature changed and this rifle was designated Rifle No.1 MkIII*.
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Rifle No.1 MkIII* H and HT

Sniper

These rifles were fitted with a heavy barrel and special heavy furniture (woodwork). Lithgow was the only factory in the British Commonwealth to make the heavy barrel for the SMLE.

The rifles were designated Rifle No.1 MkIII* H for the open-sighted version and Rifle No.1 MkIII* HT for the true sniper version which was introduced towards the end of World War II. The designation “HT” indicates heavy barrelled with telescope - a heavy barrel assisting with accuracy.

The HT was produced in three butt lengths, high or low mounted scope, and with or without a cheek pad. Between November 1944 and February 1946 approximately 1612 were produced. The Australian made detachable telescope fitted to this rifle was 'Sight Telescopic Pattern 1918 (Aust)' and is 3 power.
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Rifle No.2 MkIV*

The .22 service training rifle, being a conversion of the SMLE, closely resembled the No 1. MkIII* in appearance and weight. They were single shot and had a solid barrel rather than a sleeved barrel wherein a sleeve was placed inside the .303 barrel for conversion to .22 calibre.

These rifles were still being used by cadets until 1975
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Rifle No.1 Skeletonised (long and short configuraton)

Approved in Australia during 1948 and used by unit armourers for instructional purposes.

These rifles were also sectionised in various factories in India and England as well as in ordnance depots. It will be found that the machining will differ from rifle to rifle, but the Lithgow product was produced from a specific pattern.

The full length rifles are machined so as to be viewed from the right hand side, there are no cuts on the left side. The short models are designed to be viewed from both sides. Dummy cartridges are usually loaded in the magazine.
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Rifle No.1 EY Grenade Launcher and Cup Discharger

Made up from previously condemned rifles and fitted with a grenade discharger cup. To withstand the extra pressure generated when launching a grenade these rifles were strengthened with copper binding around the forewood.

To launch a grenade a blank cartridge was fired with the butt of the rifle on the ground, similar to firing a mortar. By removing the grenade discharger cup it could be used as a conventional rifle.
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Experimental Rifle No.1 Shortened and Lightened

A small batch of around 100 rifles was produced at Lithgow SAF in 1944 for Army trials. Experimentation began with two barrel lengths, 18.2 inch and 20.2 inch, with the 18.2 inch dropped for the 20.2 inch for trials production. The serial numbers are preceded by "XP" and range between 1 and about 100.

Apart from the one-piece top handguard and the two longitudinal grooves on both sides of the shortened fore-end, the furniture and fittings are similar to the service No.1 MkIII*. The rear sight is mounted onto the charger bridge and has two push-pull range settings for 200 and 500 yards.

Army trials did not eventuate which resulted in the rifles being stored at SAF Lithgow.

A new bayonet based on the Pattern 07 with a 10 inch blade was proposed for these rifles. This bayonet design was later introduced and used on the Owen machine carbine, although marked differently.
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Experimental Rifle No.6 MkI and Mk I/1

These proposed variations were produced at Lithgow SAF during 1944-45.

The .303 Rifle No 6 is another experimental shortened and lightened SMLE intended as a jungle carbine. It weighs around 1.2 lb (.55 kg) less than the standard SMLE. Approximately 100 each of the Mk 1 and Mk 1/1 were produced for trials but never went into production, the war finishing before trials were completed.
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Vickers Machine Gun: 1929 - 1943

Vickers

Hiram Maxim invented the first self actuating or machine gun in the early 1880's, but it was the advent of smokeless powder with its prolonged burning rate that unleashed the real potential of the machine gun.

Vickers association with Maxim began in 1888 and by 1912 the Vickers Mk I water-cooled machine gun had evolved, a design that remained virtually unchanged for around 55 years.

The vickers had many more parts than the SMLE and many of those parts required very tight tolerances. Around 4000 drawings were required to describe it. The Factory facilities were inadequate for production of the Vickers in 1922 so manufacture began gradually with replacement parts being made for the Army and Navy. The erection of a three storey building to house Vickers production at Lithgow SAF commenced in 1922. The building and fitout was complete in 1929 and full production began.

When production ceased in 1943 about 12,500 Vickers Mk I, Mk V Aircraft and Mk XXI tank Vickers had been manufactured. Pre-production work was done on the Mk III air-cooled version for aircraft (the G.O. gun), but this was superseded by the Mk V before production could begin.
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Bren Light Machine Gun: 1940 - 1945

Bren

The Bren was based on the 7.92mm rimless ZB-26 light machine gun made by Ceska Zbrojovka at Brno, Czechoslovakia, but was configured for the standard British .303 rimmed cartridge necessitating the need for the curved magazine. The name "Bren" is derived from the first two letters of Brno and Enfield, the original manufacturers of the Bren.

The Bren was officially approved in 1938 and production at Lithgow began in 1940. It was a much more complex weapon to produce than the SMLE - although similar in number, it's parts were much more difficult to manufacture and required tighter tolerances. 4074 different types of tools were needed and 3,341 operations were required as opposed to 2,250 on the SMLE. 16,947 drawings were required to manufacture a Bren gun.

With the introduction of the NATO 7.62mm cartridge in the 1950's the Bren was given a new lease of life and many were converted at Lithgow to the new cartridge that, ironically, was rimless like that used in the original Brno design.

A total of around 17,500 Mk I and MkI(M) Brens were made in Australia. A lightened pattern was also produced for trials but production didn't go any further.


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L1A1 Self Loading Rifle: 1959 - 1986

L1A1

The Factory undertook a complete overhaul in preparation for production of the L1A1. New machinery was acquired and new technology and methods were introduced. The L1A1 required 20,000 drawings, 25,000 pieces of tooling, 1,300 machining operations, 900 other operations, and was a complex weapon of very fine tolerances.


The rifle took 60 hours to produce when production started in 1959. Due to improvements in machinery, refinement of processes and the introduction of scientific management philosophies this was reduced to 23 hours per rifle by 1963. 222,773 rifles in total were produced. Not included in this figure were 588 sectioned L1A1's for demonstration and instruction purposes, a special run of 34 commemorative rifles to celebrate Australia's Bicentennial, approximately 200 drill purpose rifles per year, a production run of approximately 200 rifles made specially for the American market and 460 L1A1 F1's made for Papua New Guinea.

L2A1 automatic rifle

Although Britain decided that an automatic version of the L1A1 was not required, both Australia and Canada developed these versions. Total production was 9,557 rifles

Production of the L2A1 commenced in 1962 and just under 10,000 were manufactured. It featured a heavy barrel, a folding bipod complete with wooden inserts which served as a fore-wood when the bipod was in the folded position, selector lever for single-shot or automatic fire and a 30 round magazine. The carrying handle was relocated to allow for a different point of balance.

L1A1 F1 PNG Model

Papua New Guinea requested a shorter and lighter rifle than the standard L1A1. This was accomplished by redesigning and shortening the flash eliminator and fitting a shorter stock.

These PNG contract rifles were designated 'Rifle 7.62mm L1A1/F1'. Records indicate less than 500 were produced. Another 500 standard L1A1's were returned from Papua New Guinea to Lithgow for FTR (factory thorough repair) and these were also fitted with the shorter flash eliminator at this time. It appears these rifles kept their original markings and did not get the F1 designation.

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F1 Sub-machine Carbine

9mm F1 Sub-machine Gun

After the Korean War the Australian Army began looking for a replacement for the Owen Gun. The first prototype developed, the "Kokoda", contained many of the Owen's features. The Kokoda became excessively hot under trials and was modified to become the MCEM (Machine Carbine Experimental Model) which proved in trials to be inferior to the Owen and was scrapped.

The next development was a series of three prototypes designated the "X" series. The final result of this experimentation was the F1, essentially the last of the experimental models, the X3.

Full scale production began at Lithgow in 1962 and by 1973 approximately 25,000 had been manufactured. To facilitate production a number of its parts, including the trigger assembly and part of the stock, were common with the L1A1. The F1 was capable of single shot or full automatic fire, with selection by trigger pressure rather than a built-in selector lever. Its magazine was interchangeable with the British Sterling.

The F1 never gained popularity with those using it and was phased out by the advent of the Assault Rifle.
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Austeyr F88 Assault Rifle

Austeyr (F88)

The F88 was originally based directly on the Austrian Aug Steyr (translated to 'Army Universal Gun') and has gone through a number of modifications. It is a 'bullpup' style rifle with the magazine and breech behind the trigger assembly, and has a combined carry handle and sight.

The furniture is made from a composite carbon fibre material. The translucent magazine allows for visual verification of the remaining rounds. Selective fire capability is controlled by trigger pressure.

It is the current Australian Service weapon and is still manufactured at Lithgow, although it has been developed into a much more high-tech weapon than when production began in 1988.
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Minimi F89 light support weapon

5.56mm minimi

The Minimi light automatic weapon was designed by the Belgian company Fabrique Nationale, and has been produced in Lithgow under license since 1989.

The feed system can use either belt or M16 type detachable box magazine that holds 30 rounds. It is interesting to note that a higher rate of fire is achieved with the box magazine.
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FAQ

Can you give me the history of my SMLE rifle?

The Factory did not keep records of weapons after they left Factory store. Sometimes markings on the rifle will give you an indication of the Unit or Division it was used in. The Museum Shop stocks a number of books that include descriptions of military markings. "The Broad Arrow" by Ian Skennerton contains a wealth of information on markings.

Can you supply spare parts for my rifle?

The museum does not keep gun parts for sale. We suggest you try a gun smith or a gun show in your area.

Does the Museum accept donations of weapons?

The museum may accept donations of firearms. Significant donations may be eligible for a tax deduction under the Cultural Gifts Program. For donation enquiries please contact us

Is the Factory still operating? And are tours available?

The Factory is still operating and making and refurbishing weapons for the Australian Military. The museum does not organise tours of the Factory and the present owners, Thales Australia, do not offer tours.