Undoubtedly, this was all way before your time. Ancient history. But, as every person who’s lived about a third of a century knows, history has a way of repeating itself.
Today, resting on the desk beside my computer in its definitive cocked-and-locked ready-for-anything condition, is a brand new 1911 that was proudly turned out by a promising young gunsmith just last week.
The computer, which didn’t even exist in anybody’s imagination that many years ago, provides instantaneous communication between just about every gun designer in the world. Everyone has immediate access to virtually all the information amassed since the beginning of recorded history. You can draw a three-dimensional gun on your computer screen, plug it into a powerful CNC machine and watch it carve the gun of your dreams out of solid steel. In this day and age, if there were any improvements to be made in the basic design of the 1911, the guy next door could do it in his garage. There are plenty of those guys turning out new 1911s just the way Browning designed them, because none of them have managed to improve it.
This new 1911 sitting here, other than surface cosmetics, minor variations in the shape of a few external parts, stronger steel perhaps, is the same gun John Browning designed and Colt produced going on a hundred years ago. The gun was modular before the term modular was ever used, so anybody can replace any given part with another of a somewhat different shape, finish, look or feel, but always the same function. The design has not changed in any material way whatsoever in almost a century. There are not many products about which anything like that can be said.
It’s extremely difficult if not patently impossible to improve on the few timeless tools that were designed to perform an essential and fundamental job in the most simple and straightforward manner - the ax, the claw hammer, the plow, the .45 automatic. The march of the 1911 pistol through history is marked, not by major design changes, but by momentous events.
DATES TO REMEMBER
Perhaps you doubt that history repeats itself.
On July 4, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Philippines War officially over. Except, of course, “in the country inhabited by the Moro tribes.” The Moros, so called by the Spanish, were 35,000 fanatical Islamic warriors, Muslim terrorists if you will, who “fought in the way of Allah” and declared a jihad, or holy war, against American infidels. The Moros were a small, fierce people with no fear of dying. One of the few things they feared was that their families would survive them, so they often charged into certain death holding their children in front of them as shields. With almost unstoppable bullet-eating assaults, booby trap warfare as sophisticated and deadly as in Vietnam, and suicidal attacks reminiscent of the Middle East today, the Moros kept more than one-fifth of the entire U.S. Army fully occupied for a decade.
With hair and eyebrows shaved, arteries and genitals bound in leather to slow the flow of blood and deaden the sensation of pain, drugged out of their minds on who-knows-what, and armed mostly with spears, hatchets, daggers and swords, plus a few old Arab matchlocks, ancient flintlocks dating to the American Revolution and the Southern War for Independence, the Moros made superhuman efforts to fulfill their oaths to kill (and eat) Christians in order to assure their places in paradise.
Moro invincibility was legendary. In one instance, a Moro warrior received 14 bullet wounds in five minutes, three of which penetrated his brain, and yet he fought on. As a seasoned Army officer put it, “Even the veteran Indian fighters among [the Army regulars] had to learn that a Moro was more dangerous than a renegade Apache and twice as hard to kill.”
The arrival of the new Colt semiautomatic pistols in 1911 was welcome, as this account of the death of a Moro warrior by an American soldier attends: “He had 32 Krag balls through him and was only stopped by the 33rd bullet - a Colt .45 slug through both ears.”
In 1913 some semblance of peace prevailed, but the Moros were never permanently subdued. In fact, in 1972, they rebelled again when martial law was declared in the Philippines and the government ordered civilians to surrender their guns. The right to keep and bear arms is holy to the Moros, apparently far more holy than it is to Americans, as the Moros are absolutely unyielding in their refusal to trade their holy rights for political convenience. They continue to fight to this day.
One of the things we learned in the 1902-1913 war with the Moros was that revolvers chambered in .38 Long Colt, with ballistic performance in the same class as today’s .38 Special and 9x19mm Parabellum, were inadequate at stopping such a determined enemy. So were the army’s 30-40 Krags, with performance almost indistinguishable from today’s .308 Winchester or 7.62x51mm NATO. Many were the soldiers in that conflict who would have given anything for the trusty old big-bore 45-70 which the Krag had replaced. Many are the American soldiers today who must wonder in amazement that they are once again fighting Islamic militants with guns in the .38 Long Colt and 30-40 Krag class, or with so-called assault rifles which a Moro might find marginally useful for piercing his ears.
Based on the ongoing clashes with the Moros, the U.S. Army came to the painful conclusion that a new military handgun was called for. Extensive ballistic testing on live cattle and human cadavers performed in 1904 (the famous Thompson-LaGarde tests), plus the cavalry’s traditional requirement to shoot horses in battle as well as men, led to the determination by an Army Ordnance Board headed by Col. John T. Thompson and Col. Louis A. LaGarde that the army needed a 45-caliber handgun to provide adequate stopping power. The selection process started in 1906 with firearms submitted by Colt, DWM/Luger, Savage, Smith & Wesson, Knoble, Bergmann, Webley-Scott and White-Merrill.
John Browning, who was working for Colt at the time, had already developed a semiautomatic pistol around his .38 Colt Automatic cartridge (almost identical in performance to the 9mm, later improved in the .38 Super) that he knew he could re-engineer to accommodate a more effective 45-caliber cartridge of his own design.
Browning’s new pistol worked in an entirely different way than the paragons of semiautomatic pistols at the time, which were the Model 1896 broomhandle Mauser and the 1902 Luger which was Georg Luger’s improvement of the German-manufactured pistol designed by American Hugo Borchardt in 1893.
Browning’s pistol was a radical, yet simple, recoil-operated, locked-breech, tilting barrel design. The barrel, slide, magazine and frame were separate components. The barrel was attached to the frame by means of pins which passed through pivoting links. The slide was fitted into channels in the frame. Ridges and grooves were machined into the top of the barrel at the chamber to match ridges and grooves on the inside of the slide. With the action closed, these ridges and grooves interlocked, the slide covered virtually the entire barrel, and the firing pin housing closed off the chamber. Lock-up was complete. Upon firing, recoil forced the slide and barrel to travel rearward together for about a quarter of an inch. The links caused the barrel to pivot downward at the same time, freeing the slide and barrel from their interlocking grooves. The slide then continued rearward to full recoil, extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case and re-cocking the hammer. With the slide at full travel and the recoil spring fully compressed, the spring then took over and pushed the slide closed again as it stripped a fresh cartridge from the magazine and loaded it into the chamber. The operation of almost every semiautomatic pistol manufactured since has been based directly on this breakthrough design.
Browning and Colt had developed the new .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge in 1905, chambering it in a scaled-up pistol they called the Model 1905. The new .45 ACP round was loaded with a 230-grain FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) bullet, and matched the performance requirements the Moro-weary army officers were looking for. It was a further improved model of this pistol that Colt entered in the 1906 trials.
Only Colt and Savage survived those first trials. A series of further tests and experiments were called for by the Ordnance Department, and a final selection committee was appointed in 1911.
The official birthday. March 29, 1911. After the most exhaustive test regimen in history, including subjecting the pistol to war-environment abuse and firing 6,000 rounds through it without a single jam or failure, the U.S. Army adopted the Automatic Pistol, Caliber .45, Model of 1911 as its official sidearm. The Navy and Marines quickly followed. Increased production capacity was set up at the government’s Springfield Armory to meet the demand.
We’ve called that pistol the 1911 ever since. Colt simply calls it the O-frame. It has earned many more names over the years, some less than flattering. Some call it the .45 automatic, though this name is more accurately applied to the Thompson submachine gun, which John T. Thompson of the aforementioned Army Ordnance Board was quick to design around Browning’s .45 ACP cartridge. The full-automatic Thompson was first publicly demonstrated in 1920, was an immediately hit, and was widely used by American civilians, the Irish Republican Army, the U.S. Post Office, the U.S. Marines and the FBI, who issued Thompsons to their field offices until 1974.
Hollywood hack writers placed a Tommy gun in the hands of every 30s-era gangster real or invented. But it was a .45 automatic pistol that Machine Gun Kelly was armed with during his last standoff with the Memphis Police. It was a .45 automatic that John Dillinger kept under his pillow at night. It was an unfired .45 automatic that was found in Bonnie Parker’s lap (and an unfired sawed-off 10-gauge shotgun that was found in Clyde Barrow’s hand) when their bullet-riddled bodies were pulled from what was left of their car. And it was a brace of unfired .45 automatics that went down with Pretty Boy Floyd.
The .45 automatic is, of course, actually a .45 semiautomatic. A lot of full-auto conversions of the 1911 were made, and Star of Spain went into production with its fine 1911-pattern MD/PD machine pistols. Serious developmental work in the full-auto area was being done in this country up until 1934 when quintessential Democrat Frank Roosevelt, Communist totalitarian Joe Stalin’s great friend and political ally and Bill Clinton’s lifetime hero, defied the U.S. Constitution and everything this country previously stood for with his National Firearms Act. At that time, the $200 federal tax attached to all automatic weapons transfers was the equivalent of about 10 weeks of wages for a working man, something like $10,000 today. The penalty for not paying the $200 tax was 10 years in prison, the equivalent of 10 years in prison even today.
At any rate, a one-hand weapon that fires big-bore bullets as fast as you can pull the trigger is hard to beat. However, as Bonnie Parker, Pretty Boy Floyd and others found out, you do have to have the opportunity to pull the trigger.
When somebody used one of Browning’s little 7.65x17mm (.32 ACP) Model 1900 FN pistols to shoot the Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria, World War I was not long in coming. But it was Browning’s big .45 auto that entered World War I on the hips of American amateur and professional soldiers alike, privates and generals and everyone in between. It was estimated that 2.7 million pistols would be required for the war effort, and contracts were let out to several manufacturers besides Colt and Springfield Armory to meet the demand, including Remington/UMC , Winchester, Burroughs Adding Machine Co., Lanston Monotype Machine Co., National Cash Register Co., A.J. Savage Munitions Co., Savage Arms Co., and two Canadian firms, with Remington/UMC actually going into production and turning out about 22,000 pistols before war’s end.
More than 10 million people were killed in that war, 21 million wounded. There are no records of how many lives were saved by the GI .45 automatic. We do know that a soldier by the name of Alvin York personally used his to save quite a few of ours by taking quite a few of theirs.
York was a corporal from Tennessee, the same state where John Browning’s father was born. When his patrol came under heavy machine gun fire on an October morning in 1918, pinning down the patrol and killing its leader and several other American soldiers, York took command and started plinking enemy soldiers between the eyes with his Enfield M1917 as they popped their heads over the tops of their Maxim machine guns. When York’s rifle ran dry, the enemy patrol rushed him with bayonets from close range. That’s when York’s .45 automatic came into play, devastating the charging patrol and stopping it in its tracks. Continuing to fire his pistol and advance, York single-handedly killed 25 and captured 132 of the enemy. He was promoted to sergeant and awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Few enemy soldiers ever underestimated the capabilities of a GI armed with a .45 auto again.
By the time World War II came around, the Model 1911 had become the Model 1911A1. It seems that, despite its well-earned reputation for ruggedness, reliability and effectiveness, quite a few soldiers had come back from The Great War complaining that the government .45 kicked too much, was difficult to control and they couldn’t hit anything with it. Sgt. Alvin York was not among those whining.
The new 1911A1 featured crescent-shaped relief cuts machined into the frame around the trigger, the original flat mainspring housing was replaced with an arched and checkered one, a modified hammer spur was used, a short trigger with checkered face was made standard, the grip safety tang was extended, and both front and rear sights were widened. These minor modifications, which may or may not have been improvements, were almost all accomplished by simply interchanging parts. Hybrids are therefore not unknown, some of which are quite collectible.
Some 2.5 million .45s were manufactured between 1941 and 1945, about half by subcontractors Remington-Rand , Ithaca, Union Switch and Signal Co. and the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Many of our allies used the 1911, and a number of foreign companies and governments were licensed to produce them. About 1,000 1911s were manufactured with Nazi markings, when the Germans captured the licensed government arsenal in Norway and ordered production to start up again under their supervision.
And there were Sgt. Yorks in this war too.
In 1942, in the middle of the muddy midnight jungle of Guadalcanal, with a machine gun in one hand and a 1911 in the other, Marine Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone single-handedly stopped a screaming banzai attack and completely wiped out a company of almost 100 Japanese trying to overrun his position. He became the second Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II.
Second Lt. Owen J. Baggett of the Tenth Air Force in India jumped out of his burning B-24 and, while floating slowly but not helplessly down in his parachute, came under attack by a Japanese Zero. Baggett quickly dispatched the enemy fighter plane by placing a 45-caliber 230-grain bullet into the pilot’s head.
Sr. Lt. Walt Hagan, a Navy bomber pilot, was camped at a remote airstrip in the Philippines with a half-dozen other aviators when they were attacked by native headhunters. Solid chest hits from the little 30-caliber M-1 carbine wielded by one of the aviators failed to get anybody’s attention, but Hagan’s .45 quickly ended any biology lesson the worked-up savages may have had in mind. Shortly afterward, quite a few M-1 carbines were traded for .45 automatics.
When Major “Dutch” van Kirk navigated his B-29 Enola Gay into the airspace above Hiroshima to deliver a 9,000-pound atomic bomb called Little Boy, he was carrying a World War I-era Colt 1911 on his belt. Just in case.
With the end of the Second World War, the government stopped buying 1911s, didn’t buy another one for 40 years. On the commercial side, the 1911 market was booming. Colt developed the shorter, lighter weight Commander on the first aluminum-alloy frame around 1949, the steel-framed Combat Commander in 1970, and the still smaller Officer’s ACP about 1985. Other serious manufacturers with ambitious ideas, and often better quality control than union-plagued Colt, were joining the 1911 competition on a regular basis.
Despite the ready availability of new 1911s, Korea and Vietnam were fought with government surplus .45s, or .45s cobbled together with surplus parts. These 1911s were sidearms to a succession of ever less effective military rifles, from the 30-06 to the .308 to the .223. In the 1980s the army looked around and decided it needed a less powerful handgun as a more appropriate companion to its less powerful rifles. At about the same time, Special Operations looked around and decided that what it needed was some new .45-caliber 1911s that were more than a mismatched collection of leftover World War II parts. So, in keeping with the psychotic nature of its bureaucratic self, at the same time the government was rubbing the foreign political bellies of its little 9mm allies with its left hand it was buying .45 ACP 1911s again with its right.
In the summer of 1957, Marine Corps Lt. Colonel Jeff Cooper, looking very much like he had just stepped up to the line in one of the more extravagant of today’s cowboy action shooting matches, made a fast draw from leather and pulled the trigger on a Colt Model 1911 .45 ACP. It was the First Annual Leatherslap he had organized at Big Bear Lake in California. And nothing would ever be the same again.
During World War II Cooper spent 30 months as a Marine Officer attached to the battleship U.S.S. Pennsylvania, was then assigned to Camp Pendleton to teach less experienced Marine officers how to train their people to wage war, from there to the Command and Staff School at Quantico where he was an instructor in military intelligence and where, incidentally, he took the time to demonstrate to his FBI neighbors the superiority of the 1911 semiautomatic pistol over 38-caliber revolvers, though it would take a few more decades for that lesson to sink into the bureaucratic brains of the Bureau. It was at Quantico that Cooper and another distinguished Marine pistol shot, then-Captain Howie Taft, worked together on 1911 techniques and tactics to develop the Advanced Practical Pistol Course adopted by the Pentagon, thus planting the roots of revolution.
Cooper was back in the saddle during the Korean War, a bloody conflict almost as forgotten as the Moro wars in the Philippines. This war, which was not called a war, resulted in the deaths of 1.3 million of our South Korean allies, one million Chinese Communists, 500,000 North Korean Communists and 54,000 Americans. Cooper’s work in Korea was with the intelligence community and it is a subject he does not discuss, though his daughter Lindy has written that he spent a great deal of time in the remote up-country as well as in Washington D.C., on Saipan and in Bangkok, learned to fly a DC3 and demonstrated to his very personal satisfaction the lethal effects of .45 ACP hardball injected into vital organs of the enemy at close range.
Returned to almost-civilian life, Cooper taught firearms handling, mental conditioning and personal protection to private groups and governments all over the world. He taught race car driving with Dan Gurney. And he taught history at the University of California until the repulsive little world of academia turned his head to more pleasant pursuits.
Cooper organized the First Annual Leatherslap as a quick draw contest among friends. It soon grew into the Bear Valley Gunslingers, which competed on a regular basis, acted as the proving ground for Cooper’s growing combat shooting doctrine, and finally expanded into the Southwest Combat Pistol League (The California Secretary of State insisted that they delete the word “combat” from their name). The Modern Technique of the Pistol grew out of this experience, and would soon give birth to the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC), and to the American Pistol Institute at Cooper’s Gunsite Ranch in Arizona, the premier firearms training center of the world. Military, police and civilian use of the pistol would change forever.
All the gun-ignorant draftees who escaped back into civilian life after the wars braying that the .45 kicked too hard and they couldn’t hit anything with it were suddenly shut up. Cooper was proving that, for any man capable of learning fundamental skills, the 1911 was the best way to conclude a gunfight. And he was fully qualified and prepared to teach serious handgunners exactly how to do it. The Modern Technique of the Pistol took full advantage, for the first time, of the ultramodern capabilities that had been inherent in the design of the 1911 from the beginning. After half a century of front-line soldiering, the 1911 shifted into second gear.
In a recent discussion, Cooper told me in his typically understated fashion, “I thought that target shooting was impractical. I got some people interested and we started making things closer to reality, insofar as we could. We tried to make measures and tests which would be more relevant to the way the pistol is used.”
Cooper was the guiding light of the revolution, but he was not alone. “I worked with and shot with all the old masters,” he said. “The guy who invented the Weaver stance was Jack Weaver. I would say that Ray Chapman was the master stylist, he was the best technical practitioner. Elden Carl was probably the best performer in terms of measured technique. Thell Reed, of course, was the speed burner. And John Plahn was a theorizer, he was a doctor in physical education and he took the systems that we used to shoot with and evaluated them so that they could be taught. The teacher must first of all know ‘why.’ That’s something we studied hard, but we didn’t really know why we were doing what we were doing until John Plahn analyzed it with photography.”
Highly developed physical technique based on the universal platform of John Browning’s 1911 pistol was one component of the Cooper doctrine. The most important component, however, was mental. “Mindset is everything,” he said as he looked hard into my eyes. “A willingness to take the step.”
1957 was not only the acknowledged start date of the combat pistolcraft revolution, it was the year the first American soldier died in combat in Vietnam. Though our involvement in that war, which was not called a war, would not be officially recognized for another six years.
Long about the mid-60s, when American soldiers were doing their very best to fight born-again Communists in the jungles and tunnels in and around Vietnam despite stateside commanders who were only concerned with rolling around in bed with the whores of politics, domestic law enforcement found itself on a wartime footing as well. The intellectually corrupt academic community discovered that it could manipulate the glandular spasms of overmothered children - roving in undisciplined packs over college and high school campuses and through drug-rotten inner city cores nationwide - and send them out into the streets to achieve alien academia’s treacherous and traitorous goals.
This was a good time for the likes of enemy collaborators Jane Fonda and John Kerry. The Great Democrat Lyndon Johnson took the first giant step toward drowning America in the sewer of the Middle East by providing crucial military and intelligence backing for Israel’s attack on its neighbors. Communist preacher Martin Luther King provoked race riots all over the country.
Following the self-destructive Watts riots in the black ghetto of south-central L.A., the Los Angeles Police Department formed and trained a special unit to deal more efficiently in a combat-zone environment. The first element of this unit was in place by 1967 and was called the Special Weapons And Tactics team. Better known by its acronym, SWAT, this new commando-type unit would influence law enforcement thinking around the world. Along with the most advanced tactical rifles, shotguns and automatic weapons ever invented, the pistol of choice was the big-bore single-action 1911.
Most cops, like most other people, watch too many cop-as-social-worker shows on TV and are burdened with a politically correct abhorrence of killing people who richly deserve it. As a result, most cops know as much about guns as the thimble-collecting wife of the catch-and-release fly fisherman who lives down the street.
On the other hand, cops who make it or even try their best to make it on their department’s SWAT team are a different breed. They are likely to be warrior-types with a thirst for high-speed training, and they tend to know their guns. You should not be surprised at the overwhelming number of 45-caliber 1911s you find in the holsters of local and federal SWAT, HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) and other highly trained law enforcement units today.
In May of 1976, 40 top shooters from around the world gathered in Columbia, Missouri to attend the International Pistol Conference <http://www.ipsc.org/cconf.htm> under the chairmanship of Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper. The conference officially founded the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) and charted the course of defensive handgun marksmanship for decades to come. Cooper was acclaimed first IPSC World President, a constitution was established, and the keystone combat shooting components of accuracy, power, and speed were translated into the Latin motto: Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas.
Almost immediately, IPSC and the combat shooting competitions it sponsored took off in a big way, spreading all over the civilized world, reinvigorating the civilian 1911 market, creating a nationwide cottage industry of competition parts manufacturers, and dominating the configuration of 1911 pistols for a very vigorous 20 years. The 1911 had gone to the races, and no other pistol could hope to compete against it.
As I recall, one of the most refreshing of the original IPSC by-laws was the pledge that only those countries would be allowed to compete who permitted their citizens to freely own firearms and use them in self-defense. The first IPSC World Championship was held in Austria, a country whose shooters are currently engaged in a life-and-death struggle with their government over restrictive gun laws. The second IPSC World Championship was held in Rhodesia, a free African state which our own country has since helped wipe off the map. The third IPSC World Championship was held in South Africa, another free African state which our country first strangled the life out of and then handed over to communism and corruption with great enthusiasm. Australians are allowed to compete in international IPSC matches even though they willingly gave up their gun rights years ago. British shooters are still allowed to compete even though they are now compelled by their socialist governments to store their guns offshore and leave the so-called United Kingdom even to practice.
I wonder what Winston Churchill and T. E. Lawrence, both of whom traded in their broomhandle Mausers for Colt 1911s at the earliest opportunity, would have to say about the forced disarming of all British subjects. The communist-inspired British Labour Party, comparable to our own Democratic Party, has succeeded in achieving a goal much desired for the British by Adolf Hitler, his failure due in large part to our delivering into the hands of the unprepared Brits many thousands of 1911s and every other gun we could spare at the time. It is not known whether Churchill ever actually fired his 1911, but there is plenty of evidence that Lawrence of Arabia used his quite often and very well. Of course, this was back in the days when there was a discernible difference between English gentlemen and English ladies.
Even in the United States today, competition is limited to those handgun models and configurations grudgingly left off the prohibited list drawn up by the democratically elected idiot politicians of our time. Some American IPSC competitors buy pistols from Canadian companies who aren’t even allowed to sell their guns to their own citizens. So much for the lip service paid to political freedom at Columbia, Missouri in 1976.
The forces that eventually ruptured IPSC, however, came not so much from external evil as from internal schoolboyishness. As in any group of males, two hostile camps soon established themselves. The martial artists camp viewed IPSC competition as a high-pressure way to ingrain effective combat habits in preparation for deadly-force encounters in real life. For the opposing camp, IPSC was just a game, not very different from pinball or golf, and the only point of playing it was to win it, through rule-juggling, regulation-weaseling, outright cheating if you could get away with it, constant complaining and whining and, of course, never-ending equipment races.
To the undoubted surprise of the game-players, the electronic sighting systems, recoil compensators, extended magazines, rail-mounted accessories and even some of the exaggerated controls common on highly impractical open-class IPSC guns exerted a profound influence on certain specialized units of the military. Some of the offensive assault-oriented 1911s built for the Navy SEALs, the Army’s Delta Force and Marine Force Recon bear a striking resemblance to the raceguns developed for all-out IPSC competition.
The martial artists, meanwhile, went off and formed a new organization called the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) to better concentrate on the tactical deployment of their 1911s and other pistols in the defensive role best suited to civilians, law enforcement personnel and everybody else other than well organized military ambush teams. It is IDPA which is influencing the new generation of fighting 1911s being built by gunsmiths and factories today. But you can already see the camp boundaries reforming among IDPA’s escalating number of shooters. Boys will be boys.
The present culture of IPSC can be inferred from recent comments of the current president: “Although the roots are martial in origin, the sport matured from these beginnings ... Now, IPSC shooting is an international sport, emphasizing safety and safe gun handling ... The crowning glory for practical shooting is to become the IPSC World Champion .” Sounds much like pole-vaulting. The president does admit, apparently with some chagrin, that, “In fact, some matches even contain surprise stages where no one knows in advance what to expect.”
I recall Cooper telling me once, “Nobody ever said, ‘I’m alive today because I’m an excellent shot.’ They say ‘I’m alive today because I learned how to think.’” The closest Jeff Cooper has ever come to commenting directly on today’s IPSC in my presence was during a fireside discussion of our mutual enjoyment of swordplay. A faraway look clouded the colonel’s face as he said, “Fencing, of course, suffered the same fate as IPSC. The fencing foil is of no use at all in a fight.”
Progress being a strange phenomenon that moves backward as often as forward, in 1985 the 1911 pistol and .45 ACP cartridge were replaced as official U.S. military issue by the Italian-made Beretta Model 92 pistol firing the 9mm Parabellum cartridge. The Beretta is a large pistol of complicated double-action/single-action design holding multiple rounds of a small European cartridge. The little 9x19mm cartridge was introduced in 1902 for the Luger pistol, which was first adopted as an ornamental sidearm worn by the German Navy in 1904.
The 9mm was widely carried but seldom used by the European armies of our enemies in World Wars I and II. When it was used, and when the pistol worked, the little cartridge quickly, and fortunately for our side, proved that it was not an effective man-stopper. We already knew that. As previously noted, the failure of small-bore pistols to influence the mindset of determined adversaries was demonstrated on a rather large scale in the Philippines as early as 1902. Nevertheless, the obsolete 9mm was deemed a more appropriate companion piece to the small varmint rifle then in use by our armed forces. What the hell, the guns were rarely even loaded anyway.
The U.S. Marine Corps, exerting its recognized authority as the world’s military small-arms experts, did not rush to give up its combat-proven 45-caliber 1911 pistols for the big new Beretta firing the little old 9mm cartridge. Nor did the better-trained special forces of other U.S. military branches. In every military conflict going on today anywhere in the world, among the elite soldiers who actually use their handguns along with the most sophisticated rifles and submachine guns available, the preferred handgun continues to be the 45-caliber 1911. A professional soldier knows the difference between a pistol and a staple-gun.
Given the recently demonstrated questionable adequacy of the hypersensitive 9mm Beretta pistol to properly deal with a herd of religious fanatics stampeding through a sandstorm, which is the definitive portrait of our current enemy, the Pentagon has now let out contracts for the new manufacture of .45 ACP 1911s. Not a new design - that’s been tried and the dismal results have been tallied - just new manufacture of what has always worked. Even the desk-bound generals of the new army are not stupid enough to cling to the bureaucratic dream of improving the shape of the wheel by committee decree.
Something happened in 1987 that stood the country on its ear, revealed how American citizens really feel about their right to bear arms, and wiped the noses of anti-gun politicians in their own excrement. Florida drafted the nation’s most enlightened and thoroughgoing shall-issue concealed carry law, sparking a civilian carry movement that spread across the country like wildfire. All manner of 1911 pistols were showing up in more civilian holsters than ever before, Gunsite-like training academies sprouted like sunflowers, and handgun competition reoriented its priorities from the impractical “practical” guns of IPSC to the fighting “defensive” guns of IDPA almost overnight. The 1911 was returning to its roots.
There are those among us who consider a concealed carry permit redundant, another unwelcome intrusion of the government into something that is none of its business, another tax-raising scheme demanding a license to exercise an inalienable right. We have always carried guns and don’t care whether anybody approves of it or not. But after 1987, even timid, ordinary law-abiding citizens were assured that they would not be prohibited from exercising the U.S. Constitution and that official paperwork would eventually be issued by some overpaid government clerk to prove it.
Today, the majority of Americans live in states where they can legally carry a concealed handgun if they want to. Predictably, most people don’t want to. They have lost their taste for self-determination and are not prepared to accept such a lonely responsibility. We can assume that the few people of this type who were around circa 1776 stayed hidden beneath their beds or locked in their basements. Too many modern Americans have bought the cheap political idea that paying an excessive amount of taxes to an incompetent government will somehow protect them from any evil that may lurk in the shadows. After subverting the Constitution in order to shut down the Italian Mafia, the U.S. Government now enjoys an uncontested monopoly on the old protection racket. And there has never been any shortage of naive victims.
Nevertheless, since 1987, street criminals have been shaking in their battery-powered basketball shoes because they can no longer be entirely sure that their prey will always be as docile and helpless and cowardly as an Englishman, a Scot or an Irishman, a Canadian or an Australian, or the recent aberration of the castrated American. Only the most politically backward regions of the country - New York and Massachusetts, Maryland and Washington, D.C., the cities of California and some in the upper Midwest, all those sickly blue splotches on the election map of 2000 - can still legally get away with treating American citizens like serfs and outlawing their right to defend themselves. As more and more states pass legislation honoring each other’s concealed carry permits, further isolating the infected blue splotches from the rest of the country, psychotic predators are being given a clear map of where they can safely go to receive keys to the city from the local mayor and practice their violent behavior with impunity. The map also clearly delineates those areas the violent criminal had better stay clear of less he risk taking a .45 hollowpoint in the chest from a grandmother pushing a baby buggy.
We can thank the NRA for organizing the grassroots troops and leading the state-by-state legal battles. We can thank Jeff Cooper for enlightening the more wakeful among us to the high levels of personal competence possible with a little discipline and intelligent training. And we can thank John Browning for giving us something to put in our holsters that will get the job done.
Today and Tomorrow
Countless new semiautomatic pistols have been introduced during the life of the 1911, and every one that has survived to carve out a successful niche for itself owes its existence to the design fundamentals of John Browning’s 1911. The Glock that has made such an amazing impact on the handgun world with its unique trigger mechanism and high-tech polymer frame would not have been able to fire a shot were it not for the recoil-operated tilting barrel design taken directly from Browning’s 1911. Nor would the Glock have been so easily accepted by firearms trainers if, like the Beretta and other complicated double-action semiautomatics, its training regimen were significantly different from that of the single-action 1911.
Everything there is to say about the 1911 has surely already been said. It is undoubtedly the most written-about gun there ever was. Rather amazingly, gunwriters have even more to say about it today than at any time in its long past. If anything is missing from all this, perhaps it’s perspective.
First and foremost, the 1911 is a fighting pistol, a supremely effective instrument of freedom and defense. There may be people, as I have heard, who believe in pounding their swords into plowshares, but I don’t know any. I do know some people who would have given anything to be able to pound their plowshares into .45 automatics. And a few hundred million others who were forced to give up everything because they couldn’t.
In the grotto warfare of Afghanistan and the street fighting in Iraq and whatever battles, skirmishes, struggles, confrontations and shootouts are to come, the 1911 is as useful and crucial a tool as it ever has been. If not more so. At the height of the close-quarters cave-clearing operations in Afghanistan, the going price for a 1911 was three Berettas and a bottle of hooch. Gladly paid.
I received a message recently from a supervising special agent with the U. S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service stationed in a hot spot overseas. The man was a deeply experienced shooter, familiar with the 1911 since childhood. He had carried a 1911 in a professional capacity for other government agencies and won a number of law enforcement shooting matches with it. At one point in his career he was asked to trade in his .45 for a 9mm Beretta M9, which he refers to as a “spaghetti Walther” and about which he had this to say: “The M9 is simply too fat for many hands, too big for its cartridge and simply not powerful enough to get the job done as the most recent conflicts our military has been involved in have shown. Even more importantly and sadly, inside of three years of those Berettas arriving I pulled no less than five off the rack that wouldn’t go bang when the trigger was pulled. I couldn’t begin to say what was wrong because, not having a Beretta armorer’s tool kit handy, it’s impossible to replace broken parts on the M9 without sending the piece up to depot level maintenance.”
Having survived the “spaghetti Walther” state of affairs, he now finds himself in an even more dangerous environment and saddled with a Sig. He writes, “Now here I am as an agent overseas forced to rely on the P-228 in 9x19mm. The pistol itself is a fine little machine and interesting to play with. However, as a member of one of the smaller and more active federal law enforcement agencies in service I think it sad that those in a position to make such decisions have settled on something less than optimum for our uses both domestically and abroad. My main purpose in writing you is to get your thoughts on the best way to go about trying to initiate a change in the thinking of our equipment personnel regarding selection of our service handgun. I believe that the 1911 is just about the best sidearm we could use for our roles, far from other armed American support. I know there are many in my organization who agree with me but aren’t willing to press the issue and make any waves.
“There are women and even some men in DS whose hands are too small to be as effective marksmen with the Sig as they otherwise would be with a tool that was properly proportioned. It’s unnerving on the range seeing both male and female agents having to completely shift that Sig around almost 90 degrees in their hands so they can reach and pull that first crunch. The potential for losing the piece in a real fight exists there. The 1911 is very well suited for hands of various sizes.
“We ... are in the unenviable position of being out of reach of any significant armed American assistance for at a minimum of 24 hours realistically if the stuff hits the fan. And likely the only thing we’ll have available is our service handgun, all long guns being secured in safes. As you can tell, this is an intensely personal matter to me, as fighting handguns are a strongly personal matter for anyone who takes their training and nature of their job seriously can attest. Happily, I have not had to shoot for blood but I have spoken with a number of colleagues and friends who have, and those who have used 9mm handguns have stated a lack of positive results despite excellent marksmanship while those who used large-bore handguns have achieved uniformly satisfactory results.
“In this line of work as in other forms of law enforcement and military service there has to be a line drawn and certain things laid out right from the start regarding the best tool for any given job. I believe that the 1911 remains the single best hard-use sidearm suitable for common issue to any group of professionals who may actually have to depend on that sidearm for their lives or the protection of the lives of others around them.”
This is not the kind of cry for help one ignores, and I pursued the issue with everyone I knew who might have something relevant to say about it, including politicians, intelligence officers and weapons instructors. The consensus of opinion, including that of the agent involved, was that questionable equipment selection was merely a symptom of larger ailments at the State Department.
It is well known that State has been the most hard-core nest of leftists in our government since the 1930s, when America’s little socialist-on-wheels left his tire marks all over the Constitution and packed the government with his Communist playmates. Despite repeated extermination attempts, which may or may not have been more or less successful in cleaning out Roosevelt’s carefully placed traitors and their spawn from some other federal departments, State has always resisted even the most earnest efforts to eradicate America’s enemies within. Nothing has changed. Unfortunately for our inadequately armed agent, nothing is likely to change. One of the State Department-watchers I talked to said, “No State Department agent will ever be allowed to carry a 45-caliber 1911. Because, if he did, he might kill one of our enemies.”
Personally, I’ve always thought of the 1911 as a very personal gun. A pistol to be proud of. Better carried openly than concealed whenever possible. Preferably in a holster of fine leather, though the new generation of Kydex is eminently sensible. A true sidearm.
Personal and personalized. More than a racegun or last-ditch defense weapon or collector’s piece, though it can be all of these as well. A pistol that’s so comfortable and comforting to shoot you shoot it frequently, every chance you get, at most anything you feel like shooting.
The millions of rounds that have come blasting out of the short barrel of John Browning’s 1911 since its birth on the snowy slopes of the rugged mountains way out west have created countless adventure stories of their own all over the world. They have given birth to enduring legends, revealed universal truths, blown locked gates to freedom right off their hinges and changed the course of history.
You were warned. This is only the beginning of a very long story.
Living with the 1911
by Robert H. Boatman
Once Upon A Time In The West
Living with the 1911
by Robert H. Boatman
John Browning of Utah might as well have invented the plow. In its own way, his big-bore semiautomatic pistol has been responsible for feeding and otherwise sustaining almost as many people. We call Browning’s .45 automatic the 1911, because that’s the year it was first adopted by the U.S. Army, but that was only the beginning of a very long story.
The first 1911 came out of the Colt factory when my long-lived and long-dead grandfather was a very young man. The year Roy Rogers was born. And Jean Harlow. And Ronald Reagan. When England had a king and Irishman John Rigby devised his 416-caliber Mauser-action rifle and first class U.S. postage was two cents. Most cars, the few there were, had to be hand-cranked to start and ran only a short time before breaking down, which didn’t much matter because rush-hour horse traffic was intolerable and there were few roads outside the city limits anyway. The Belfast-built hull of the Titanic was launched and the 10-month fitting-out process begun but they hadn’t hired a dance band yet. There was no television. Think of that, no television. The entire left-wing media machine was just an evil sparkle in some subversive academic’s eyes. It was the year they first danced the Charleston in Charleston.
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