The 1911 Pistol - U.S. Military Sidearm for 75 Years
Size Really Does Matter
It was the turn of the millennium, 1899. The Spanish-American War of 1898 left us in possession of the Philippine Islands. The natives didn’t like the idea of being a US Territory and they revolted. The ensuing war lasted from 1899 to 1902. The military sidearm of the time was the Colt M1892 Army & Navy six shot revolver chambered in .38 Long caliber.
Being a revolver, the M1892 was slow in reloading. Hiram Maxim had discovered that by using a sliding bolt and spring, the recoil of bullet could be harnessed to expel the shot round and then chamber another. Hugo Borchardt used Maxim’s idea in a pistol design called the C93. It added a new facet to the design – a removable box style magazine with spring and follower that would store multiple rounds in a stack to be loaded and fired quickly. Though bulky and expensive, the innovation started a revolution in handgun design.
The other problem with the M1892 was that the .38 Long caliber was woefully insufficient to stop a determined foe – reports of six rounds being shot into a single attacker and the attacker killing the serviceman with a knife before dying were commonplace. Trials to find a new cartridge were started in 1904. The recommendation of the Trial was that the military’s new sidearm should be chambered in a caliber of at least .45 inches. It was also recommended that the sidearm be a semi-automatic with detachable box magazine.
Trials were held in 1906 between 6 different pistol designs. Three were eliminated and Colt, Savage and DWM were left to submit revisions to improve their designs. DWM dropped their Luger from the competition and it was down to Savage and Colt. John Moses Browning was the designer for Colt and the rest, as they say, is history.
Field trials were held between 1907 and 1910. In one test in 1910, Colt’s Browning design shot 6,000 rounds in a two day period. When the pistol got hot, it was dunked in a bucket of water to cool down. Not a single malfunction. Savage’s design, meanwhile, had 37 malfunctions during the testing. The Colt Browning design was formally adopted March 29, 1911, and the sidearm was designated the Model of 1911 or M1911.
The 1911 served our country faithfully for the next 75 years. World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and countless smaller military actions were the proving grounds for John Moses Browning’s genius in firearm design. The rest of the world could use 9mm and 7.65mm for their pistols, but the sheer stopping power and reliability of the M1911 proved its mettle every time. The ability of the .45 ACP caliber to neutralize an attacker was legendary and it still proves true today. Size really does matter.