The United States had not yet entered the Great War on this 135th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Commandant John A. Lejeune would not publish his call for the celebration of the birthday of our Corps for another eleven years. Nobody outside of the intimate brotherhood of Marines knew who John Lejeune was in 1910. Nor did they know Smedley Butler, or Wendell Neville, nor Thomas Holcomb. John W. Thomason, Marine Officer and author of the seminal “Fix Bayonets”, was still in high school in Texas. Most of the Marine heroes of the Second World War were small children or not yet born on 10 November 1910.

So, why am I posting about that day, the 135th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps?

Because 10 November 1910 was the day on which convened the Ordnance Officers’ Board to begin testing of two designs for a new pistol. The entries were the Savage Arms .45 caliber Model H, and the Colt .45 Special Army Model of 1910, a design of the legendary firearms genius John M. Browning. The tests were grueling 6,000 round affairs, fired in strings of 100 rounds. In the end, the Colt weapon proved more easily field stripped, more accurate, and more reliable, with 12 malfunctions requiring replacement of 4 components, while the Savage had 43 malfunctions requiring replacement of 13 components.

The tests would be repeated in March of 1911, with each firm able to make repairs and improvements to the respective designs.

In the subsequent tests, the Colt weapon functioned flawlessly, with no malfunctions in 6,000 rounds fired, and no parts requiring replacement. The Savage entry suffered 37 malfunctions, and needed eleven components replaced.

The Colt entry was accepted after the decisive second trial, adopted officially on 28 March 1911, as the Colt Caliber .45 Automatic Pistol, Model of 1911. The designation “Model of 1911” was changed to “M1911” in 1940.

The iconic 1911 in .45 ACP was the sidearm of the United States Armed Forces until 1985 officially, with many units only parting (and grudgingly) with their .45 autos in the 1990s. In fact, the 1911 is still in service worldwide, and with modifications, remains in the USMC MEU(SOC), FBI, and SWAT arsenals. They were in Iraq, and are in Afghanistan, going strong and putting the model’s replacement, the Beretta P92, to shame.

But for all of our military hardware to outlast its designers, prove its rugged durability, and serve well for ten decades.

So, it was one hundred years ago, 10 November 1910, when the Colt .45 Automatic first proved itself legendary. It is, quite simply, the greatest handgun ever made. Its simplicity, reliability, and hitting power have come to make the 1911 synonymous with the word “pistol”.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, History, Marine Corps, Navy

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  • Robbo

    Rockin’ good post, mate.

  • Derrick

    Why then does the US navy possess so many different models of sidearms?

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Not sure the USN has very many. SEALs have a wide latitude, but most SF units do. A lot of those folks carry the M1911 .45 ACP. Standard sidearm for the USN is the Beretta P92 (92FS) which is designated M9 in US service.

    I believe the USCG is transitioning from the M9 to the SIG 229 in .40 cal.

  • Fouled Anchor

    Excellent…thanks for the history lesson URR. I loved carrying and firing the M1911, and wish I had never parted with my own, a version from Thompson Arms.

  • Derrick


    Why was the Colt replaced with the Beretta?

  • David W. Brown

    Apropos Major Smedley Butler, one of his aides de camp, my grandfather. As you can tell by the item on hip, the 1911 hadn’t made it to Cuba 3 years later.

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    I believe the issue was commonality of pistol ammunition with the rest of NATO. There was some desire to go to a double action, vice having to pull back the slide to put a round in the chamber after inserting the magazine.

    Most folks who have used both prefer the reliable, hard hitting Colt. I certainly do.

  • Derrick

    LOL…This gives me the impression the government ordered you to use inferior firearms simply because everyone else was using them. Don’t you love politics and democracy? 🙂

  • Chuck Hill

    Other considerations were that the 9mm loaded more rounds and the kick was less of a problem, particularly for smaller service members.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    I have taught many dozens of people to fire the M1911, including a fair number of women who weighed not much more than 100-120 pounds. Virtually none of them had any problem with recoil once they had enough rounds through the weapon to know they could control it. That number of rounds generally is three or four magazines’ worth.

    The increase in magazine capacity could have been accommodated by a hi-capacity design (staggered magazine) that fits well in the hand and can carry 12-14 rounds. I own two of those, and they also were perfectly manageable by virtually everyone who could handle a single-stack 1911.

  • Mike M.

    Derrick, the problem was that the issue 1911s were all built for the Second World War. After 30+ years of service, they were worn out.

    There was a desire for a more “modern” design, preferably in 9mm both for commonality with NATO allies and for better penetration of body armor.

    Whether the Beretta was the right design or not was beside the point. IIRC, the way the competiton was structured, there was a performance threshold that had to be met, then the final decision would be based on cost. The Beretta 92F and Sig P226 both were satisfactory, the Beretta came in a few dollars cheaper per gun.

    But it’s worth remembering that there was one gun that BEAT the vaunted 1911. The Remington Model 53, which beat out the 1911 for Navy and Marine Corps use…just before World War One started and the 1911 was standardized for the sake of simplicity.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Mike M,

    The Model 53 was comparable, but not nearly so superior as to justify two separate and similar designs of very similar capabilities. The 53 also did not get tested with dirt, sand, field use, like the 1911 excels at. The 53 design is based on the PPK, and has some of the same issues, with tightness of tolerance a potential problem in a dirty/sandy environment.

    No mistake, the Remington Model 53 was a very fine pistol, but not sure it would have endured and been as well-loved as the 1911.

  • I can honestly state without exaggeration that Guns & Ammo magazine, Colonel Jeff Cooper, and my Mark IV Series 70 taught me more about pistol marksmanship than the Army ever did.

    In 1982 US Army aviators had .38 Special 2-inch and 4-inch barrel revolvers on their vests.

    In 1988 US Army MP School was still training female MP’s on .38 Special 4-inch barrel revolvers.

    Don’t remember when the Air Force turned in their Smith & Wesson Combat Masterpieces.

    Point being, proficiency with the M1911A1 was never really expected of all troops. As the 1944 vintage Remington-Rands wore out and had to be replaced, the Infantry Board gave up on the .45 ACP cartridge and the 1911 platform in favor of the 9mm and even less pistol marksmanship training. Come to find out the Beretta was a handful for small-handed troops, and SIG 228’s had to be procured.

  • The .45ACP round was and is great when it hits meat. But, if the round has to go through, say, brush, glass or wood, to hit meat the round is unpredictable (it sucks). The weapon is also to large to fit the hands of many of our female sailors, soldiers and airmen. If I had my druthers, I would have retained the M1911 with an improved round and issued M-4’s to those with small hands.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Actually, Bill, the 1911 is significantly smaller in one’s hand than is the M9. Hence the USCG transition to the SIG.