If you are a fan of another combat pistol produced by the United States or anyone else for that matter, you may wish to click and go elsewhere. For 75 years the U.S. had the monopoly on fielding the best combat pistol for its troops. It was simple, powerful and quite easy to shoot.
The M1911 pistol chambered in .45 ACP is one of the most iconic firearms ever built. Like the M16 and the AK-47 as well as their variants, it is an easily recognizable and one of the most successful military weapons ever produced.
It went to war with the United States in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. It was the standard US, military sidearm from March 29, 1911, until a dark day in 1986 when it was replaced by the Beretta M-9.
Designed by John Browning, the M1911 is the best-known and successful of his designs to use the short recoil principle in its basic design. The pistol has been widely copied and is still one of the most popular choices for law enforcement personnel, security professionals as well as sporting and casual gun owners in the world today.
Pistol Design: The U.S. Army was looking for a heavier combat pistol at the turn of the century. The recent Moro insurrection in the Philippines had proven the .38 too light to be effective as a man stopper. The Army wanted the companies vying for the government contract to go thru a test trial but as a prerequisite, the pistol must fire the 230-grain bullet in a modern semi-automatic design. Note we didn’t say (fully semi-automatic) whatever that heck that is.
Browning based the 1911 on his earlier M1900 design. He simplified his design to make it a more attractive option for the government’s contracting officers.
The overall weight of the pistol was 2.4 lbs without a magazine. Overall length was 8.25 inches with the standard 5-inch barrel. The detachable seven round box magazine loaded thru the wide pistol grip that was covered with a checkered wood design. Browning placed the levers that controlled the slide, safety and magazine release in easily controllable and comfortable places for the shooter.
Muzzle velocity for the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) M1911 was 830 feet per second which provided plenty of stopping power. The recoil was much more manageable than the average person would think. The slide would eject the spent cartridge and feed the next into the barrel. It could be safely carried with a round in the chamber and seven more rounds in a full magazine with the weapon on safe.
The design was extremely reliable, easy to maintain and would stand the test of time.
Military Service: As we mentioned above, the M1911 was adopted for service on March 29,1911. So today is the pistol’s 117th anniversary of service. The M1911 served in World War I where a total of 68,533 pistols were produced by Colt and the government’s Springfield Armory. The government also gave out a contract to Remington Arms to produce them as well.
One of the best-recorded episodes of using an M1911 pistol was from Alvin C. York in the 328th Infantry, in the 82nd Infantry (All-American) Division. During York’s action where he was awarded the Medal of Honor, he was picking off German troops that had pinned down his unit with a Springfield rifle.
The Germans sent a squad of six men to get him with a bayonet charge. Starting at the back of the line, York coolly picked off the last man in line with an M1911 and worked his way forward. After he got the final one, the German commander surrendered 132 men and 30 machine guns to York.
After the first World War, Colt made a few changes that were minor but experience on the battlefield led to a few modifications that made the pistol a better weapon for the troops. The minor modifications led to the pistol after 1924 being designated the M1911A1.
The M1911A1 changes to the weapon consisted of a shorter trigger, cutouts in the frame behind the trigger, an arched mainspring housing, a longer grip safety spur, a wider front sight, a shortened hammer spur, and simplified grip checkering (eliminating the “Double Diamond” reliefs). The manufacturer specified in 1926 that pistols with the serial number beginning with 700,000 and over would be designated as M1911A1 and a pistol with a serial less than that would be an M1911.
World War II put the pistol in great demand and saw the largest boost in production. During the war, about 1.9 million pistols were purchased by the U.S. Government for all forces. The largest manufacturers included Remington Rand which produced 900,000, Colt 400,000, Ithaca Gun Company 400,000, Union Switch & Signal 50,000, and Singer 500. New M1911A1 pistols did away with the blue finish and were given a parkerized metal finish. The wood grip panels were replaced with panels made of brown plastic.
The M1911A1 remained the mainstay of the US military during the Korean and Vietnam wars. However, political pressure was brought to bear on the military by Congress to standardize the pistol design and use the NATO standard 9mm Parabellum cartridge. The military settled on the Beretta 92F pistol which they dubbed the M9.
The M9 began replacing the M1911A1 in 1986 and by the early 1990s, the military had switched over.
The only units still using M1911A1s were the Special Operations Command units, the Army’s Delta Force and the US Navy SEALs. The Marine Corps MEU units also stuck with the .45. Special Operations Command decided to procure their own pistol, one chambered for .45 ACP. They later chose the Heckler & Kock (MK23 Mod 0).
The robust M1911A1 has had very few changes in its production life, which is a testament to its longevity, simplicity, and excellence of design. It remains one of the most popular pistols on the market. While the military and law enforcement are flush with newer designs by Sig Sauer, Glock, H&K among others, the M1911A1 remains the standard by which everything else is judged.