USMC Force Recon & MEUSOC: the M45A1

This is lot #446 in the upcoming RIA Premier Auction. It was scheduled for April, but has been postponed – check their web site for upcoming Online Only auctions every month, though!

When the US military adopted the Beretta 92 as the M9 pistol in 1985, some elements of the USMC (MEUSOC and Force Recon, among others) opted to retain the 1911 as their sidearm. For about 15 years they maintained a supply by taking existing M1911A1 pistols and having the precision rifle team at Quantico rebuild them with high end commercial parts into truly outstanding match-quality guns, designated the M45. However, these guns needed relatively frequent service, and the rifle team was only able to supply a limited number of them each year. When deployments increased after 2001, a new solution was clearly required. As an interim measure in 2003, a batch of Kimbers was purchased, and a formal contract was signed in 2012 with Colt for the M45A1. That’s the pistol we are looking at today, as a quantity of them were recently returned to Colt and released onto the civilian market. This is the last gasp of the 1911 as a formally issued sidearm, as the M45A1 was replaced in 2016 by the Glock 19.

49 Comments

  1. Nicely finished pistol, but I cannot get used to this fashionable tan finish (including rifles). As I gather some high end M1911s like those made by Wilson or Kimber can be pricey. Good show Ian!

    • Aesthetics are subjective, but tan makes broader practical sense than the previous generation’s fixation on green – which still bleeds over into many uniforms today. Some copy the military, forgetting that “the military” use what they’re issued by “acquisition professionals” trained in engineering, business, law, etc. (potentially line officers, but redesignated out of field duty).

      People who make their own choices with their own money know that deserts, mountains, beaches, farm fields, riverbanks, entrenchments, swamps, marshes, etc. are shades of tan and grey – as are cities and roads, for that matter. Woodlands are green – from the outside, suburbanite perspective! Inside, patterns like Realtree best mimic the bark and dry leaves of most forests at human level – i.e. shades of tan and grey.

      The ACU and its USAF striped twin were like dark green beacons, visible for miles in the Iraqi sands (most noticeable in contrast to USMC desert camo), and I can’t imagine the similarly-green current uniform is much different. In fairness, I guess the soldier would have an advantage fighting on a well-watered lawn

      • I strongly believe no one ever had a disadvantage in desert like environment if his gun was not tan/sand in color. Also, in todays age of FLIR, any type of camo is becoming obsolete, if not already being.

        • I agree that the the weapon itself (especially a handgun) is unlikely to disclose the shooter’s position. I was speaking to broader trends in camouflage.

          The second point would only be valid for peer competitors. I would be surprised if all the average jihadi’s possessions combined equaled the price of one IR riflescope.

      • There’s a little more to selection of uniform camoflage patterns than the whim of some faceless staff officer. The current UCP and Multicam patterns are well suited to operations in the sandbox as well as any number of environments, including a well-watered lawn. I can’t deny that the ACU was a disappointment, and the USN blueberries took the digital camoflage trend to a place nobody should have ever gone, but the people working on uniforms, individual equipment, and protective equipment are always look for ways to improve their product, and input from the field is taken seriously.
        – an OCIE “acquisition professional”

        • If the new Army pattern reflects technical rigor, and you had anything to do with that, I thank you for your service to our troops.

          I was unfamiliar with the term “UCP”, so I looked it up. According to many articles linked on Google, it IS the ACU / grass-stain pattern (and they all hate it too!). About the only “good” thing to say about it is that the color retention is so poor that after a few dozen washes a soldier would stop looking like a dark leaf in the desert.

          The current Navy camo is even greener and darker than the ACU. The “blueberries” were not designed that way to reduce observability, but to remain serviceable amid the staining common aboard ships. It sounds ridiculous, but mine survived grease, paint, etc. that would have ruined countless khakis or dungarees.

          • I work in OCIE sustainment, which is the very large red-headed stepchild of the acquisition process. Anyway, they’re all starting to run together: I meant OCP, not UCP. UCP is indeed best suited for camoflaging one’s self on grandmother’s paisley sofa, as the popular meme suggests. OCP and it’s commercial counterpart Multicam are very effective, and I witnessed this in Afghanistan.
            Color retention for any issue Army uniform should be on par with any other high end colorfast work clothing. All items are subjected to 200 piece tests for colorfastness and wear, both on initial issue and any changes to laundry chemical/cycle formulation at the depot level. The caveat is if your 92S is having problems with the settings on the LADS in the field, they tend to boil the clothing, which I’ll defy any die to stand up to.

            The thing is, for the past twenty years the uniform acquisition force made more changes in response to field requirements than they did the previous fifty. Did they have some misses? Certainly, but they’ve recognized their mistakes, learned, and improved.

            Regarding blueberries, if they were designed to maintain a permanent lack of aesthetics then they succeeded. As far as wear, I have 40 year old dungarees and chambrays that survived my active duty, teen wear for two daughters, and are cocked and locked to grunge for another generation.

            And to stay on topic, I’m not really a fan of Cerakote of any color, let along Desert Tan. 1911’s: every time I shoot mine it’s like shaking hands with an old friend.

          • I did my own laundry, in regular old Tide, and the ACUs visibly faded after a dozen washes or so. All my buddies’ were the same. In all other respects, I’ll defer to your superior experience with Army acquisitions.

            I had far too much experience with your Navy counterparts to lend them the same credibility, to include a GS-15 admitting rote-copying Ship Class A’s preventive-maintenance deck for superficially similar Class B (with mostly different equipment); or galvanically incompatible metals in the same saltwater system (which we used to jokingly refer to as an “alternative-energy battery” because of the significant voltage potential!).

  2. Ian: does this Colt model feature a magazine safety as standard and if it does, do you know if this functionality was ever ‘field modified’ by end users i.e. disabled?

  3. At the risk of attracting a lot of hate, this pistol shows what is wrong with the American cult of the 1911.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve owned and used 1911s a lot and like them. A lot.

    But the fact that a military unit in the 21st century would choose what is basically a 1970s IPSC pistol as a standard sidearm is, frankly, bizarre.

    The fact that it was replaced by the Glock speaks volumes.

    It also says something about the cool guys and what we over here call “Gucci kit”.

    Helmet and vest on, expecting incoming rounds.

    • Not a “cultist” myself, although I’m baffled by the fact that no one seems to make one pistol that combines the many ergonomic advantages of the 1911 with subsequent design advances. A few come close in the subcompact market, but nothing I can really find in service or mid-size.

      I’m also a dissenter from the .45ACP “cult”, although I’d feel differently if limited to FMJ (as the customers for this pistol were).

      • Mark me as an ex-1911 cultist. Carried one for many a year, always a Colt, never a clone, always a .45.

        But as I learned more about my trade (ballistics and trace evidence) and studied actual cases of people being shot, I came to the conclusion that;

        1. A .45 ACP doesn’t really make an appreciably larger hole in animal tissue than a 9 x19mm does.

        2. Hollowpoints rarely expand well, if at all, at .45 ACP velocities.

        3. A 9mm has the same kinetic energy as a .45.

        4. The 9mm will expand hollowpoints consistently simply because it’s going faster.

        5. The closer a pistol cartridge/bullet combination’s performance comes to that of a .357 Magnum 125 or 158-grain JHP, the more likely it will perform adequately as a killer on animals or humans up to about 250 pounds, provided the shot is properly placed.

        The 9mm can reach that level of performance fairly easily, with minimal risk of an overpressure event. The .45 ACP cannot.

        The .45 ACP is sort of the automatic pistol version of using the 19th Century theory of killing power that worked on the principle of using a bigger, heavier bullet because black powder propellant put a limit on muzzle velocity. The 9mm uses the superior performance of smokeless powder to get similar or even higher energy levels through higher velocity.

        It also holds more rounds in a magazine that’s small enough to allow a reasonable-sized grip, and doesn’t kick as hard.

        The .45 ACP and 1911 came about because the United States Army would not accept anything smaller than a .45 caliber pistol cartridge. If they’d known more about ballistics back then, and listened to John Moses Browning, there’s a good chance that the Colt Model of 1911 would have looked a lot like the later FN Model 1935 High Power.

        Including its caliber.

        cheers

        eon

        • I regard some of your points as extremely insightful, and agree with just about all of them except maybe the last. The resurgence of 9mm is due to the development of premium hollow points that transfer maximum KE. With two equal-energy FMJs, fat and slow should dump more of its energy in the target.

        • “(…)listened to John Moses Browning, there’s a good chance that the Colt Model of 1911 would have looked a lot like the later FN Model 1935 High Power.(…)”
          I do not agree. Development which finally resulted in High Power were ignited by French requirement from 1921, which among other dictated capacity no less than 15:
          https://www.smallarmsreview.com/display.article.cfm?idarticles=1077
          double-stack magazine originated from Dieudonné Saive; J.M.Browning did not used such magazine in own automatic pistols. Saive also implemented numerous changes before High Power went into production.
          What might went another way due to his advice might be adoption or .38 Auto-like cartridge, possibly loaded hot, mimicking later .38 Super

          • I’m basing my statements on the relevant chapters of Handguns of the World by Ezell. He noted in the chapter on American sidearms that the Ordnance Board rejected both 9 x 19mm, 7.65 x 21mm, .38 ACP, and an experimental 9.8mm Browning (similar to the moribund .40 S&W) after troop tests in 1907-08. They demanded a .45 cartridge and weapon because they were still thinking in cavalry terms, i.e., killing the other guy’s horse.

            As for the High Power, the genesis of it, as shown by photographs and diagrams of successive toolroom models in the chapter on Browning’s designs, makes it quite clear that the double-column magazine and 9 x 19mm chambering were part of Browning’s original design. The single-column magazine was only seen on the French 7.65 Long prototypes, because the French Army specifically asked for a single-column, eight-shot magazine.

            Incidentally, the French request included a double-action searage, which looked remarkably like that later used by Walther, complete to the drawbar under the right grip panel.

            This can be seen in the 9th edition of Small Arms of the World as well.

            cheers

            eon

          • “(…)Handguns of the World by Ezell.(…)”
            What inside High Power does it credit as made by Dieudonné Saive?

    • “(…)But the fact that a military unit in the 21st century would choose what is basically a 1970s IPSC pistol as a standard sidearm is, frankly, bizarre.(…)”
      More I think about it, I am more inclined that I will never understand U.S. forces in their weapons choices. On one hand looking for guns which could be described as futuristic, advanced, even space-age like Steyr ACR or XM25, on the other hand resisting replacing automatic pistol designed before Great War.

      • Let’s be fair, the Colt M1911 looks good and functions well. The insistence of soldiers and marines to retain it contrasts with the top brass who want “latest whizzy things.” In other words, you’re looking at two different approaches. The guys at US Army Ordnance (and whichever organization does arms procurement for the Navy and Marine Corps) want the latest and best products but the guys on the ground prefer stuff that’s been battle-tested and found to be user-friendly and combat-effective no matter the conditions. The M9 hadn’t been properly field tested (especially the cheap subcontracted “sand-proof magazine) and not surprisingly, soldiers hated it for jamming in desert conditions (to say nothing about broken slides). I heard rumors (unfounded, of course) that soldiers would deliberately destroy their M9’s with sledge hammers and then ask for permission to buy Colt M1911’s because they “lost their issued pistols in battle.”

        • The other rumor was the SIG models were better and price per pistol cheaper than Beretta’s, but Beretta won the contract by offering discount for the package (pistol+accessories).

          • Well said. The problem with the selection is getting weapons and supporting stuff with them, not weapons alone. A cleaning kit and magazine-loader certainly add more to the price tag, unless you prefer to load one cartridge after another into the magazines by hand and soak disassembled guns in the river! Not sure anyone threw any pistols in the river, though…

  4. Mike

    The 1911 does fit a variety of hands better -or less badly – than many others.

    But a big advantage in the civilian market is the possibility of mixing and matching mainspring housings, grip safeties, and triggers to make it fit.

    In stock form, the thing points low (hence the A1 mainspring housing in the 20s), the safety is average, the (US Army/Cavalry required, not JMB-preferred) grip safety is mildly annoying, and the slide release is about a quarter of an inch too far forward. And the mag well needs opening up at the bottom.

    The IPSC guys in the 70s fixed most of that.

    A fighting 1911, unlike the M45A1, needs big sights, big ambi safety, opened-up mag well, spring-loaded extractor (lots of 1911 issues are down to the internal extractor) all of which the Kimber has, but,, above all, loose tolerances. Something that shoots into 1.5” at 25 is not what you want. It will crap up and jam.

    Most of these minor issues were addressed in the High Power (apart from the very bad idea of the mag safety, which I think was a French requirement). And you get an extra 6 rounds in the mag, which, given that unless you are a John Wick, you are going in real-world combat to miss more than you hit, is a very good thing. And it handles beautifully. All it needs changed from stock is good sights, a bigger ambi safety (pre Mk3), and the removal of the mag safety.

    To stress again. I like 1911s. Just thie whole cult thing gets to me.

    • You make some excellent points, but I’d hardly hold the original MSH (corrected in the 20s!) against the current pistol. I was about to question what you think is “excellent” if you consider the optimally placed / correctly (flexor-muscle) oriented 1911 safety “average”, but then I realized you prefer the larger match type (as do I).

      The slide release is a little far forward, but it’s infinitely preferable (just saw your update) to the tiny, rounded over little POSs found on contemporary pistol designs. That was actually one of my main points earlier – the fact that “factory custom” 1911s with big, easy, formerly-aftermarket ergonomic controls became popular right around the time that every “new, improved” pistol introduced awful miniature ones, and ZERO aftermarket alternatives are available at any price (the “extended” Glock slide stop being a small fraction of the size of even the 1911 original). I have big hands, but with my thumb on or around the 1911 safety, there’s no way I can inadvertently hit the slide stop 1.34″ (!) away. I also love the way it, and a simple cam track, perform the functions of half a dozen parts on (otherwise much simpler) modern pistols.

      I agree with all your other points, though I’d call the “mildly annoying” grip safety worthless (as I noted IRT Ian’s recent video on the subject). I’d also dispense with the barrel link, barrel bushing, little locking nubbies, non-captive recoil spring, separate feed ramps, and 10 (!) extra parts just for the grips.

        • On the slide stop, sure, opinions may vary. I just like choices: one could Glock-down a 1911 stop in three minutes on a belt sander, but there’s no real way to “biggen” the Glock kind.

          I love the dynamic but civil exchange of perspectives here. I’ve never learned anything from anyone who just nodded in agreement with everything.

        • Daweo,
          It’s about halfway there 😉 , including some of the desired modifications (and yes I do count the modern extractor as a positive change). Thank you for pointing it out (I had never seen one before). I looked it up and found this review, flippantly pointing out how Ruger’s 1st gen service pistols are mechanically more “1911” in some ways than the cosmetically similar Star: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yvpc_wV43bQ

          Another Spanish pistol including even more of the improvements I prefer (though a compact) – is the Astra A70, one of the few pistols that managed to incorporate modern ejection-port locking while retaining the 1911’s elegant, rounded, non-“printing” slide. I scored a parts kit for under $100, and one of these days I’ll get around to finishing a frame from a casting.

          • I had a Star Super A in 9 x 23 Largo, and was interested to see that it was internally more like a P-35 (FN or Vis/Radom, take your pick) than a Colt, having a cam ramp unlocking system rather than a swinging link under the barrel.

            It also had that loaded chamber indicator, which was a separate piece on top of the slide, not a modified extractor.

            It had a firing-pin safety similar to the original Colt National Match or the post Series 90 Colts.

            Its searage, including a pivoting rather than a sliding trigger, and a vertical-bar disconnector acting directly on the trigger bar to push it down out of engagement with the sear, was very much like the Beretta M1934. It had no grip safety, and thus its spring setup was much like a High Power’s, i.e. much simpler than a Colt’s.

            And it had a full figure-8 barrel bushing much like the Russian Tokarev.

            All in all, when you add in its .38 Super-powered cartridge, I had to consider the Super A a definite improvement on the 1911 across the boards.

            cheers

            eon

  5. PS re my comments on the slide release. Extended releases are a terrible thing. Far too easy under stress to accidentally depress them. The best slide releases are unobtrusive but can be used effectivelyby the strong thumb under stress. Glock is a good example. Glock is an annoyingly good example of almost everything you need. There is something to be said for someone from outside the small arms community designing a pistol from first principles.

    • Actually Gaston Glock hired experienced firearms engineers to makle a clean slate design and as simple as possible. though for todays common way of shooting pistols with both hands up and next to each other, the placement of the slide release should be moved imho. But when the GLock 17 pistol was desinged shooting one handed or with a “teacup” grip was the common way of shooting.

  6. I wonder if the Marines based their decision, not on machismo or tradition, but rather a lengthy experience of .45 FMJ performance versus 9mm FMJ performance. I don’t think of a pistol as a war-winning weapon, of course, but Marines probably have more experience of close combat than most, and a pistol is only suited for close combat.

    • The Marine Corp adopted the M9A1.
      Some special unit was given that Colt, without any competition, mostly due to Gen. William M. Keys connections.

      • It would have made some sense outside of stubborn tradition, if they had put a threaded barrel on the M45 A1 pistol for a silencer. .45 is subsonic and lends itself for silencer use. But as it was issued it was “muh .45 and it won two world wars” logic.

  7. Camouflage has nothing to do with it.
    Modern powder paints are cheaper than blackening and provide much better corrosion resistance. Also, the powder coating is easier to repair and facilitates repainting in a different color (if necessary).
    The color is selected in a soft tone with gray. What will be the main tone is determined experimentally. Of the main considerations, this is the cost of the paint. 😉
    And it can be quite unexpected. For example, during WW2, deep patrol cars were painted pink with a grayish tint. This turned out to be the best color for the desert in twilight lighting.

  8. Probably only seals use pistols more than leather necks.
    Therefore, I am sure that the USMC know exactly which gun and for which cartridge they need. They have their own service, which is engaged in the refinement of weapons for specific requirements. And any part of the modified weapon is exactly as the customer needs.
    With the choice of caliber is the same.
    You can, as much as you like, while sitting on the couch, tell yourself and other “experts” why 9mm is not worse or even better than .45.
    But when there is practical experience in using and comparing real weapons, all these thoughtful conclusions based on tables and graphs just go to hell.

    • As above.
      The Marine Corp adopted the 9mm Beretta M9A1 infact.
      Some special units was given that Colt, without any competition, mostly due to Gen. William M. Keys connections.
      When the M45A1 had been finally tested, none of those reached the planned 15.000 round threshold. All of the tested ones broke the slide first to reach 12.000 rounds.
      One of the reasons it had been replaced after only four years of service, without even waiting for the results of the XM17 program.

      • “When the M45A1 had been finally tested, none of those reached the planned 15.000 round threshold. All of the tested ones broke the slide first to reach 12.000 rounds.”(C)

        Perhaps they should remember the experience of their grandfathers who worked sober?
        At least the test pistols, made by the Springfield arsenal for the FBI trials, showed 50k shot survivability.

        “One of the reasons it had been replaced after only four years of service, without even waiting for the results of the XM17 program.”(C)

        What is the real reason?
        I am not a fan of conspiracy theories, but the smell of this story is like rotten pasta. 😉

        I don’t remember meeting official recommendations for replacing parts in 1911A1.
        From the course of the gunsmith, if I am not mistaken, replacing the return and hammer springs, as well as barrels, for military-grade pistols, is recommended after 5000 shots.
        For a gun in this review, service-life return spring is three times as much.
        For the barrel, at least twice as much.
        Replacing the slide, about 10k. Actually, the slide lives many times more. But since repeated cases of cracks in the slide (and not broke at all) were noticed after 12k, so 10k.
        Among the many practical shooters burning thousands and tens of thousands of rounds per year, it is widely believed that 1911, if not eternal, can live no less than Glock.
        Repeatedly marked quantities and 100k and 200k and even more, right up to 500k.
        This is hardly possible to verify, but at least, if not all, then most of the pistols discharged from the army in the 198x were produced before 1945. And most of them managed not only to lie down in a warehouse or in an armory, but also to fight.
        And some more than once.

        • BTW All the guns tested for reliability had been stopped at 12.000 rounds “due to visible safety-critical cracks found in the slides”
          So the cracks had not been noticed “after” 12.000 rounds but before. At 12.000 they had been stopped because the cracks were safety-critical. “Safety-critically” cracked = broken

    • “(…)But when there is practical experience in using and comparing real weapons, all these thoughtful conclusions based on tables and graphs just go to hell.(…)”
      So how do you explain popularity of 9×19 mm vs .45 Auto among modern military users?

      • Simply go back to the accounts of the trials in the Yard of a slaughterhouse,

        where the effectiveness of various calibres and chamberings waso tried against live, fat cattle.

        The only chamfering to give anotice instant knockdown and kill for a chest shot was;

        Wait for it

        And wait for it a little longer

        It was indeed 7.65mm parabellum!

        The report which recommended .45 as the minimum acceptable calibre, had even less evidential basis for its conclusions than either the current lock downs for a nasty cold that supposedly originated from Wuhan, or the verdict of Epstien killing himself.

  9. Going back over 4 decades, to the pistol shooting scene in Britain (it’s well over 2 decades since that got banned).

    The only four pistols with any sort over resale value were
    1, Lugers
    2, mauser Broomhandles
    3, Browning GP35s
    4, 1911s in .45

    Anything else was a gamble if you didn’t like it and needed to sell it on. You might get an enthusiast who was willing to pay good money, but more than likely, before the wife left and the baliffs emptied your house, you wouldn’t.

    .45 was reckoned to be easier to load to achieve the twin goals of accurate and comfortable shooting, and cycling of the pistol.

    Back then in the dark days of the 1980s and 90s

    9mm was a little sod to load, if it worked the pistol, it probably didn’t shoot accurately, and vice versa

  10. Geeze some of you guys.

    The M45A1 guns returned to Colt were done so for warranty purposes because the Ceracote was wearing badly and not holding up, evidently because of improper application. They were exchanged for other M45A1 guns with better finish. Most of the guns released to the civilian market most assuredly did NOT look like the one Ian is showing; the one I received had many scuffs and bald spots but that, and the fine desert dust in every nook and cranny, most of which I left in place, only proves it was actually used for its intended purpose, so I’m certainly not complaining.

    And you guys bagging on John Browning, the 1911 design and the 45 ACP cartridge are especially amusing. JMB did a pretty good job creating an enduring design at the dawn of automatic pistol history; name one competing auto design from the year 1911 still in manufacture today. That’s right, precisely none. And 45 v. 9mm? Comparing the slow moving 45 to today’s high performance 9mm ammunition is laughable. Let’s try comparing 45 FMJ to 9mm FMJ and see where the 9 comes out.

    For real world performance of the 45-cal 1911 with FMJ ammunition, we need only look at Medal of Honor recipient Alvin York who killed 6 attacking German soldiers with 6 shots. If that example is insufficient, there was also Thomas Baker who, gravely wounded during the battle of Saipan, took a fully loaded 1911 pistol from another soldier and insisted on being left behind. He was later found dead with an empty pistol and 8 dead Japanese in front of him. Baker’s Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously. I would most sincerely like to hear any documented stories of the FMJ 9mm performing similarly. Cite your source while you’re at it……….

  11. IMHO, this is obvious to everyone who has at least a little practical experience and a little only common sense.
    More than a century ago, by hunters it was fairly reliably established that no tricks could surpass heavy slow bullets of large caliber.
    The only really serious problem was their recoil.

    And all the fairy tales that “9mm is not worse” are brainwashing in order to save the budget.

  12. Let me respectfully ask a question that I know honest and honorable readers will address. I was USMC (Reserve) 1975-76, but no combat experience. Suffice to say, I have an abiding interest in effective combat firearms and user survival. In your judgment in real-world experiences, would the US military’s combat effectiveness and casualty rates have been substantially affected had all the uniformed services been equipped with new issued 1911A1 pistols as needed through the present day? In other words, would our uniformed personnel have been just as well served by the 1911A1 throughout 1985 till today, as by the upheaval in training and expense of subsequent replacements? I’ll be honest, I think we’d be just as well off had we retained the 1911A1 throughout for general issue. That said, I’m eager to hear your thoughts. Ian has a wonderfully thoughtful readership, my thanks to him!

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