Saturday, January 13, 2007


M1911 Colt pistol

United States Pistol, Caliber .45, M1911.

Mid-1945 produced M1911A1 U.S. Army automatic pistol by Remington Rand. This one was re-built by Anniston Army Depot, October 1972, and carries the ANAD 1072 stamp. The cartridges shown are the .45 ACP (left) and 7.65 mm Browning/.32 ACP (right). Confiscated early 2004 in or around Al-Qurna, Iraq, by Dancon/Irak. Destroyed shortly after.
Type Pistol
Place of origin United States
Service history
Used by United States, United Kingdom (.455 caliber, WWI), Malaysia (Malayan Emergency)
Wars World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Malayan Emergency
Production history
Number built Over 2 million
Variants M1911A1, RIA Officers
Weight 2.437 lb (1,105 g) empty, w/ magazine (FM 23–35, 1940)
Length 8.25 in (210 mm)
Barrel length 5.03 in (127 mm), Government model;

4.25 in (108 mm), Commander model;
3.5 in (89 mm), Officer's ACP model

Cartridge .45 ACP
Caliber .45 in (11.43 mm)
Action Recoil-operated, closed bolt
Rate of fire Semi-automatic
Muzzle velocity 800 ft/s (244 m/s)
Effective range 75 yd (62 m) (FM 23–35 of 1940)
Feed system 7 rounds (standard-capacity magazine), +1 in chamber

The M1911 is a single-action, semiautomatic handgun chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. It was designed by John Browning, and was the standard-issue side arm for the United States Armed Forces from 1911 to 1985. It was widely used in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Its formal designation as of 1940 was Automatic Pistol, Caliber .45, M1911 for the original Model of 1911 or Automatic Pistol, Caliber .45, M1911A1 for the M1911A1, adopted in 1924. The designation changed to Pistol, Caliber .45, Automatic, M1911A1 in the Vietnam era. In total, the United States procured around 2.7 million M1911 and M1911A1 pistols during its service life.

The same basic design has also been offered commercially, and has been used by other militaries. In addition to the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol), models chambered for .38 Super, 9 mm Parabellum, .400 Corbon, and other cartridges were also offered. The M1911 was developed from earlier Colt designs firing rounds such as .38 ACP. The design beat out many other contenders during the government's selection period, during the late 1890s and 1900s, up to the pistol's adoption. The M1911 officially replaced a range of revolvers and pistols across branches of the U.S. armed forces, though a number of other designs would see some use over in certain niches.

The M1911 is the most well-known of John Browning's design to use the short recoil principle in its basic design. Besides the pistol being widely copied itself, this operating system rose to become the pre-eminent type of the 20th century and of nearly all modern pistols.



Early history and adoption

The M1911 pistol originated in the late 1890s search for a suitable self-loading (or semi-automatic) handgun to replace the variety of revolvers then in service. The United States of America was adopting new firearms at a phenomenal rate; several new handguns and two all-new service rifles (the M1892/96/98 Krag and M1895 Navy Lee), as well as a series of revolvers by Colt and Smith & Wesson for the Army and Navy were adopted just in that decade. The next decade would see a similar pace, including the adoption of several more revolvers and an intensive search for a self-loading pistol that would culminate in official adoption of the M1911 after the turn of the decade.

Hiram S. Maxim had designed a self-loading pistol in the 1880s, but was preoccupied with machine guns. Nevertheless, the application of his principle of using bullet energy to reload led to several self-loading pistols in the 1890s. The designs caught the attention of various militaries, which began programs to find a suitable one for their forces. In the U.S., such a program would lead to a formal test at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century.

During the end of 1899 and start of 1900, a test of self-loading pistols was conducted, which included entries from Mauser (the C96 "Broomhandle"), Mannlicher (the Steyr Mannlicher M1894), and Colt (the Colt M1900).

This led to a purchase of 1,000 DWM Luger pistols, chambered in 7.65mm Luger, a bottlenecked cartridge. These would go on field trials but ran into some issues, especially in regard to stopping power. Other governments had also levied similar complaints, which resulted in DWM producing an enlarged version of the round, the 9mm Parabellum (known in current military parlance as the 9x19mm NATO), a necked-up version of the 7.65mm round. Fifty of these were tested as well by the U.S. Army in 1903.

In response to problems encountered by American units fighting Moro guerillas during the Philippine-American War, the then-standard .38 Long Colt revolver was found to be unsuitable for the rigors of jungle warfare, particularly in terms of stopping power, as the Moros had very high battle morale and frequently used drugs to inhibit the sensation of pain. The U.S. Army briefly reverted to using the M1873 single-action revolver in .45 Colt caliber, which had been standard during the last decades of the 19th century; the slower, heavier bullet was found to be more effective against charging tribesmen. The problems with the .38 Long Colt led to the army shipping new double-action .45 Colt revolvers to the Philippines in 1902. It also prompted the then-Chief of Ordnance, General William Crozier, to authorize further testing for a new service pistol.

General William Crozier became Chief of Ordnance of the Army in 1901
General William Crozier became Chief of Ordnance of the Army in 1901

Following the 1904 Thompson-LaGarde pistol round effectiveness tests, Colonel John T. Thompson stated that the new pistol "should not be of less than .45 caliber" and would preferably be semi-automatic in operation. This led to the 1906 trials of pistols from six firearms manufacturing companies (namely, Colt, Bergmann, Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM), Savage Arms Company, Knoble, Webley, and White-Merril).

Of the six designs submitted, three were eliminated early on, leaving only the Savage, Colt, and DWM designs chambered in the new .45ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge. These three still had issues that needed correction, but only Colt and Savage resubmitted their designs. There is some debate over the reasons for DWM's withdrawal — some say they felt there was bias and that the DMW design was being used primarily as a "whipping boy" for the Savage and Colt pistols [1], though this does not fit well with the earlier 1900 purchase of the DWM design over the Colt and Steyr entries. In any case, a series of field tests from 1907 to 1911 were held to decide between the Savage and Colt designs. Both designs were improved between each testing over their initial entries, leading up to the final test before adoption.

Among the areas of success for the Colt was a 6,000 round test at the end of 1910 attended by its designer, John Browning. The Colt gun passed with flying colors, having no malfunctions, while the Savage designs had 37.

Service history

M1911A1 by Springfield Armory (contemporary remake of WWII G.I. Model, Parkerized)
M1911A1 by Springfield Armory (contemporary remake of WWII G.I. Model, Parkerized)
M15 General Officers was adopted in the 1970s
M15 General Officers was adopted in the 1970s

Following its success in trials, the Colt pistol was formally adopted by the Army on March 29, 1911, thus gaining its designation, M1911 (Model of 1911). It was adopted by the Navy and Marine Corps in 1913. Originally manufactured only by Colt, demand for the firearm in World War I saw the expansion of manufacture to the government-owned Springfield Armory.

Battlefield experience in the First World War led to some more small external changes, completed in 1924. The new version received a modified type classification, M1911A1. Changes to the original design were minor and consisted of a shorter trigger, cutouts in the frame behind the trigger, a curved mainspring housing, a longer grip safety spur (to prevent hammer bite), a wider front sight, a longer spur on the thumb safety, and simplified grip checkering. Those unfamiliar with the design are often unable to tell the difference between the two versions at a glance. No internal changes were made.

World War II

World War II and the years leading up to it created a great demand for the weapon. During the war, about 1.9 million units were procured by the U.S. Government for all forces, production being undertaken by several manufacturers, including Remington Rand (900,000 produced), Colt (400,000), Ithaca Gun Company (400,000), Union Switch and Signal Company (50,000), Singer (500), the Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal. So many were produced that, after 1945, the government did not order any new pistols, and simply used existing parts inventories to "arsenal refinish" guns when necessary. This pistol was favored by US military personnel.

Before World War II, a small number of Colts were produced under license at the Norwegian weapon factory Kongsberg Vaapenfabrikk (these Colts were known as "Kongsberg Colt"). After the German occupation of Norway the production continued, and in 1945 got German Waffenamt acceptance marks; these pistols are highly regarded by modern collectors. Captured 1911 pistols were highly prized by German troops as well due to the necessity of capturing or killing an officer for one. The 1911 pattern also formed the basis for the Argentine Ballester-Molina and certain Spanish Star and Llama pistols made after 1922.

Replacement for most uses

After the Second World War, the M1911 continued to be a mainstay of the United States Armed Forces in the Korean War and the Vietnam War and was even used during Desert Storm in some U.S. Army units.

However, by the late 1970s the M1911A1 was acknowledged to be growing long in the tooth, Under political pressure from NATO to conform to the NATO-standard pistol cartridge, the US Air Force's Joint Service Small Arms Program was run to select a new semi-automatic pistol using the NATO-standard 9mm Parabellum pistol cartridge (a cartridge that had been previously tested by the US Army in 1903 and found wanting). After trials, the Beretta 92S-1 was chosen. This result was contested by the Army which subsequently ran its own competition (the XM9 trials) in 1981 which eventually lead to the official adoption of the Beretta 92F on January 14, 1985. By the later 1980s production was ramping up despite a controversial XM9 retrial and a separate XM10 reconfirmation, which was boycotted by some entrants of the original trials, cracks in the frames of the Beretta-produced pistols, and also despite a dangerous problem with slide separation that resulted in injuries to some US Navy servicemembers. This last resulted in it being updated to the 92FS standard, which includes additional protection for the user.

By the early 1990s, most M1911A1s had been replaced by the M9, though many remain in use by special units. The United States Marine Corps in particular resisted the change-over, and they were able to win the right to continue use of the M1911A1, as did many smaller special groups within the armed forces. For its part, the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) issued a requirement for a .45 ACP handgun (the OHWS trials). This resulted in the Heckler & Koch OHWS becoming the MK23 Mod 0 Offensive Handgun Weapon System (beating a Colt OHWS).

Current users

The M1911A1 design is favored by a large number of police SWAT teams throughout the United States. Many military and law enforcement organizations in the United States continue to use (often modified) M1911A1 pistols because they favor the stopping power of the .45 cartridge and the superior handling of the weapon in close fighting[citation needed]. Marine Force Recon, Los Angeles Police Department Special Weapons and Tactics, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team and 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment - Delta (Delta Force) are among them. It is rumored that upon entry into the unit, each delta operator is given a stipend to get a 1911, customized to his liking. The Tacoma, WA Police Department made history in 2001 by becoming the first metropolitan police department in nearly 50 years to adopt the 1911 as its official carry weapon. TPD selected the Kimber Pro Carry II or Pro Carry II HD as optional, department supplied weapons available to its officers.[2]

The M1911 is also extremely popular among the general public in the United States for practical and recreational purposes. The pistol is commonly used for concealed carry, personal defense, target shooting, and competition. Numerous aftermarket accessories allow the user to customize the pistol to his or her liking. There are a growing number of manufacturers of 1911-type pistols and the model continues to be quite popular for its reliability, simplicity, and nationalist appeal. Various tactical, target, and compact models are available. Price ranges from a low end of $250 for an imported model to more than $3,000 for the best competition or tactical models such as those by Wilson, Kimber, Springfield Armory, STI International Inc, Strayer Voigt Inc, Les Baer and Evolution Gun Works.

The Springfield Custom Professional Model 1911-A1 pistol is produced under contract by Springfield Armory for the FBI regional SWAT teams and the Hostage Rescue Team. This pistol is made in batches on a regular basis by Springfield's custom shop, and a few examples from most runs are made available for sale to the general public at a selling price of approximately $2500.00 USD each.

MEU M1911

USMC Marine Expeditionary Units continue to issue M1911s to Force Recon units. Hand-selected Colt M1911A1 frames were gutted, deburred, and prepared for additional use by the USMC Precision Weapon Section (PWS) in Quantico, VA. They were then assembled with after-market grip safeties, ambidextrous thumb safeties, triggers, improved high-visibility sights, accurized barrels, grips, and improved Wilson magazines. These hand-made pistols were tuned to specifications and preferences of end users.

In the late 1980s, USMC Colonel Robert Young laid out a series of specifications and improvements to make Browning's design ready for 21st century combat, many of which have been included in MEU(SOC) pistol designs. However, as the U.S. Marine Corps began its process of hand selecting members from its Force Recon to be submitted to USSOCOM as Marine Corps Special Operations Command - Detachment One, or MCSOCOM Det-1, the selection of a .45 ACP M1911A1-based pistol meant roughly 150 units would be needed, quickly. The PWS was already backlogged with producing DMRs, USMC SAM-Rs, and updating M40A1s to M40A3s, so Det-1 began the search for COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) surrogates to use. Discovering that the Los Angeles Police Department was well pleased with their special Kimber M1911 pistols, a single source request was issued to Kimber for just such a pistol despite the imminent release of their TLE/RLII models. Kimber shortly began producing a limited number of what would be later termed the Interim Close Quarters Battle pistol (ICQB). Maintaining the simple recoil assembly, 5-inch barrel (though using a stainless steel match grade barrel), and internal extractor, the ICQB is not much different from Browning's original design.

The final units as issued to MCSOCOM Det-1 are the Kimber ICQBs with Surefire IMPL (Integrated Military Pistol Light), Dawson precision rails, Tritium Novak LoMount sights, Gemtech TRL Tactical Retention Lanyards, modified Safariland 6004 holsters, and Wilson '47D' 8 round magazines. They have reportedly been used with over 15,000 rounds apiece.

The 1911 is slated to be the issue handgun for all Marine Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable), and should be used well into the second century of the design.

Other Users

Numbers of Colt 1911s were used by the Royal Navy as sidearms during World War I in .455 Webley Automatic caliber. The handguns were then transferred to the Royal Air Force where they saw use in limited numbers up until the end of World War II as sidearms for air crew in event of bailing out in enemy territory.


Asking for a .45 caliber automatic pistol was a tall order that few manufacturers or inventors attempted successfully in the early 20th century. To accomplish this, Browning settled on a design that is so timeless, it has been changed little in nearly 100 years of production. The basic principle of the pistol is recoil operation. As the bullet and combustion gasses travel down the barrel, they give momentum to the slide and barrel which are locked together during this portion of the firing cycle. After the bullet has left the barrel, the slide and barrel continue rearward a short distance.

At this point, a link pivots the barrel down, out of locking recesses in the slide, and brings the barrel to a stop. As the slide continues rearward, a claw extractor pulls the spent casing from the firing chamber and an ejector strikes the rear of the case pivoting it out and away from the pistol. The slide stops and is then propelled forward by a spring to strip a fresh cartridge from the magazine and feed it into the firing chamber. At the forward end of its travel, the slide locks into the barrel and is ready to fire again.

The military mandated a grip safety and a manual safety. A grip safety, sear disconnect, slide stop, half cock position, and manual safety (located on the left rear of the frame) are on all standard M1911A1s. Several companies have developed a firing pin block safety. Colt's 80 series uses a trigger operated one and several other manufacturers use one operated by the grip safety.

Despite being challenged by more modern and lightweight pistol designs in .45 caliber, such as the Glock 21, the SIGARMS P220 and the aforementioned Heckler & Koch Mk 23, the original 1911 design shows no signs of decreasing popularity. Despite its large size, the M1911 has a very flat profile owing to its single-stack magazine design, easing concealment.


  • Cartridge: .45 ACP;
  • Other commercial and military derivatives: Other versions offered include .38 ACP, 9 mm Parabellum, .40 S&W, 10 mm Auto, .400 Corbon, .22 LR, .50 GI, and probably many others. The major ones were 9 mm Parabellum (9 x 19 mm), .38 Super, 10 mm Auto, .455 British.
  • Barrel: 5 in (127 mm) Government, 4.25 in (108 mm) Commander, and the 3.5 in (89 mm) Officer's ACP. Some modern "carry" guns have significantly shorter barrels and frames, while others use standard frames and extended slides with 6 in (152 mm) barrels
  • Rate of twist: 16 in (406 mm) per turn, or 1:35.5 calibers (.45 ACP)
  • Operation: Recoil-operated, closed bolt, single action, semi-automatic
  • Weight (unloaded): 2 lb 7 oz (1.1 kg) (government model)
  • Height: 5.25 in (133 mm)
  • Length: 8.25 in (210 mm)
Memory groove grip safety
Memory groove grip safety
  • Capacity: 7+1 rounds (7 in standard-capacity magazine +1 in firing chamber); 8+1 in aftermarket standard-size magazine; 9+ in extended and hi-cap magazines/frames guns chambered in .38 Super and 9 mm have a 9+1 capacity. Some models using double-stacked magazines, such as those from Para Ordnance, Strayer Voigt Inc and STI International Inc have significantly larger capacities.
  • Safeties: A grip safety, sear disconnect, slide stop, a half cock position, and manual safety (located on the left rear of the frame) are on all standard M1911(A1)'s. Several companies have developed a firing pin block. Colt's 80 series uses a trigger operated one and several other manufacturers use one operated by the grip safety.
  • Grip safety deactivation: A problem for some shooters is that they have trouble deactivating the grip safety when they hold the gun. This primarily affects shooters who have small hands. It can also occur when a shooter places their thumb on top of the thumb safety, which tends to reduce pressure on the grip safety. To rectify this problem, a number of grip safety manufacturers have designed safeties with a bump on it, so that when a shooter grips the gun, their hand will come into contact with the bump and deactivate the safety (i.e., allowing the gun to fire).


  1. ^ Hallock, Kenneth R., Hallock's .45 Auto Handbook, Kenneth R. Hallock, 1980.
  2. ^ December 2001 Shooting Industry article

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
United States infantry weapons of World War II and Korea
Side arms
Colt M1911/A1 | M1917 revolver | Smith & Wesson "Victory" revolver
Rifles & carbines
Springfield M1903 | M1 Garand | M1 Carbine | M1941 Johnson | Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR)
Submachine guns
Thompson ("Tommy Gun") M1928/M1/A1 | M3 "Grease Gun" | Reising M50/M55 | United Defense M42
Machine guns & other larger weapons
Browning M1917 | Browning M1919 | Johnson LMG | Browning M2 HMG | Bazooka | M2 flamethrower
Cartridges used during World War II and the Korean War
.45 ACP | .38 Special | .30-06 Springfield | .30 Carbine | 9 mm Luger | .50 BMG

External links