The Marines are no stranger to the M1911, having– alongside the Army and Navy– begun issuing early Colt Government Issue models in June 1912.
Great War recruiting painting “First to Fight” by James Montgomery Flagg shows U.S. Marine Capt. Ross E Rusty Rowell– with his trusty .45 at the ready.
Holding with the “GI 45” through the Great War, the Banana Wars, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Grenada and Lebanon, Marines were still carrying standard M1911A1s well into the late 1980s even as the service was replacing the gun with the then-new Beretta M9 (92F), a 15+1 double stack 9mm that offered twice the capacity of the old .45.
That didn’t mean the M1911 was completely down and out with the USMC moving into the 1990s. Marine Corps armorers constructed special Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), or MEUSOC, guns from old WWII-era GI frames, and a variety of high-speed aftermarket parts. These guns, augmented by a few unit-purchased Springfield Armory M1911A1s, remained in use with select units.
Fast forward to 2012 and this stop-gap method of relying on a mix of elderly guns diluted with small buys of commercial firearms wasn’t sustainable, and the Marines went looking for a more specialized replacement, the Close Quarter Battle Pistol.
More on the M45A1 CQBP in my column at Guns.com.
One of the longest standing military traditions is the sight of a US Marine with a 1911-style .45ACP Government Issue semi-automatic. From Mexico to France and Okinawa to Afghanistan, for the past 103 years the Marines have put their faith in John Browning’s single-action longslide. Now, with a few sweet 21st century tweaks, the Colt 1911 is still the choice of Devil Dogs deployed in the world’s hotspots.
Don’t tell anyone in the Marines, but it was the US Army who adopted, after an epic and legendary series of tests, the Colt prototype semi-automatic .45ACP pistol on n March 29, 1911 and dubbed it the M1911, a designation that it retains to this day. Well, by 1913, the Navy Department likewise adopted the Army’s pistol to replace underpowered 38S&W caliber revolvers that no one, especially the marines, liked. This began a nearly 100-year love affair with the distinctive .45 longslide.
Through two world wars, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, and dozens of forgotten Banana Wars, the Marines carried the M1911 in combat and in peacetime service. Some of the Corps most famous, including Smedley Butler and Chesty Puller performed some of their greatest deeds with a 1911 at hand.
Future General Smedley Darlington Butler in 1915 earned his *second* Medal of Honor with only two Marines beside him, against a force of insurgents in Haiti. That’s Butler, as a 34-year old Major– he’s the one with the 1911.
Read the rest in my column at University of Guns