On March 29, 1911 the John Browning-designed pistol went from contender to arguably the greatest service pistol ever fielded. One hundred years ago the Department of the Army officially adopted the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol as the M1911. The .45 ACP caliber gun would serve as the handgun of the United States armed forces until the mid-1980s.
Yet, it's popularity among the military and civilian shooters never waned. A testimony to that fact, the United States Marine Corps has sought the next generation .45 ACP, but it must be the M1911 envelope and both LAPD and FBI SWAT 'go hot' with versions of the M1911.
The path to a .45 ACP semi-automatic pistol for the United States military started during the Spanish American War and U.S. combat in the Philippines. American soldiers went to the jungles of the Philippines armed with .38 caliber revolvers and those handguns, when in close quarters battle, failed to stop guerillas time after time. At one point, revolvers from the Indian Wars were pressed into service. Their caliber, .45 Colt.
And so the search began for a pistol that was reliable but also had stopping power. The man who would provide that design, John Browning, the father of BAR, the .50 caliber machine gun and the Browning Hi-Power.
Browning's design was the perfect match for the military's needs. It had a pair of safeties, one manual and the other on backstrap of the grip; it possessed a reliable box magazine of seven rounds and it was nearly indestructible. When the M1911 went to trials in 1910 it's said that 6,000 rounds were put through the test gun over two days without a single fail or stoppage.
The simplicity of the Browning 1911 method of operation is key. The short recoil system means the barrel is directly linked to the pistol frame. The slide and barrel are locked together when it's in battery, via a pair of lugs on the top rear of the barrel.
When a round is fired the barrel and slide move back a fraction, still locked. However, the link allows the barrel to pivot downwards at the breach, disengaging the slide lugs thus allowing the slide to cycle back, compress the recoil spring, strip a round from the magazine and return to battery.
This short recoil design .45 ACP has since been copied by dozens of firearms manufacturers around the world.
But what of the round that went into the M1911? The .45 ACP, nicknamed the 'flying ashtray' due to its size, was born seven years earlier during Browning's first attempts at garnering a U.S. military pistol contract. Testing on the .45 ACP, a bullet of 230 grains (or 14 grams) with a velocity of 850 ft/sec, would eventually become the caliber and pistol known as the 1911.
The M1911 would see battle in Mexico versus Pancho Villa, in the Banana Wars, through World War I and World II, Korea, Vietnam and beyond. Legends have also borne the pistol into battle, men like Sgt. Alvin York during World War I pushed the pistol to its most. While modern-day heroes like Delta Force Mst Sgt. Gary Gordon wielded his M1911 in defense of fallen comrades in Mogadishu in 1993.
After a century, the M1911 soldiers on and shows absolutely no signs of obsolescence.