Vietnamese Crude 1911 Copy

This is an example of a craft-made pistol captured in Vietnam and brought back to the US. While many Vietnamese fighters were supplied with good-quality weapons from other nations (primarily Chinese-made AK and SKS rifles), weapons are virtually never in sufficient supply for guerrilla-type forces and that forces improvisation. In this case, some Vietnamese hops tried to fabricate copies of American weapons – in this case a 1911 pistol.

This pistol was clearly made by someone who did not fully understand its mechanical elements. The safety, for example, is fixed solidly in place, and neither moves nor would function as a safety if it did move. Interestingly, under the left grip panel is an out-of-battery safety that was not used in the 1911 itself, but is common to other similar pistols – and it is constructed in such as way as to not actually function.

The most significant functional concern with this pistol is that it has no locking system, and functions simply as a blowback pistol. This is seen in other insurgent-type arms as well, like the Spanish Civil War Izard. This would quickly batter itself to pieces if used, as the slide and spring are definitely too light to safely fire its .45ACP ammunition.


  1. Pistols like this (or even cruder) were often carried by VC officers, who had them mainly as status symbols. Officer = pistol instead of rifle like the peasant “grunts”, was their attitude.

    Needless to say, it made it much easier for our troops to target their officers. Especially our snipers.



  2. This type of out of battery safety was also present in the many French “Unique” pistols, which were based on the Ruby pistol. The Unique RR51 was manufactured after WW2 for the French police in large numbers (over 100,000 pieces), so some of them or the earlier Mle 17s probably found their way to Vietnam either as police weapons or personal sidearms of French soldiers. It’s a simple and functional system, and not very difficult to understand, so I find it somewhat odd that it doesn’t work in the pistol in question.

  3. Articles/videos on these craft made firearms are the the most interesting of all. Especially when executed by Ian, who understands and can communicate the whole engineering and historical picture!

  4. Ian are you keeping an eye on Mexican and Australian craft made fire arms? Do you see yourself doing videos on them? Being 120ish miles from Mexico I thought some might show up in your local evidence locker.

  5. Assuming this thing could function without jamming (which is doubtful), I wonder if it could even make it through a full magazine without coming all to pieces, or even actually blowing up.

  6. Depending upon the size of the barrel, it might be safer to fire than it looks.

    If the barrel is oversize, it might not develop the pressure that the .45 ACP does in a properly chambered barrel. So, the blowback action might be adequate, at least for very limited use.

    The bullet would be moving slow if that is the case, and possibly traveling sideways. Terminal performance would be poor, but I wouldn’t want to get hit by it.

    All conjecture on my part, of course.

  7. Does anyone remember how much this other ‘craft-made’ m1911 auctioned for?

    I’m confused about what the legal classification and ramifications of these kind of ‘near’-pistols might be, since to start with there is no official manufacturer, and perhaps no serial number either (or worse, maybe hundreds/thousands with the same serial number), and that could conceivably complicate any government paperwork. Another question is whether these are even legally considered firearms if they’re unfinished and unshootable (and possibly too dangerous to even be made shootable). And then might the same rules that the ATF has been crafting lately regarding home-made AR15s possibly also apply to these guns?

    State laws are another matter. California’s Dangerous Weapon Law (12020) has a long list of banned items that includes:

    ” … any metal knuckles, any belt buckle knife, any leaded cane, any zip gun, any shuriken, any unconventional pistol … “

      • I believe they define “unconventional” as any pistol that does not look like the conventional conception of a handgun. For example, the infamous “Nazi belt buckle gun”.

        I imagine “palm squeezers” like the French Turbiaux and its descendant, the Ames “Chicago Protector” would fall into this category as well.

        BTW, early on, in the 19th Century, local ordinances like this were used mainly to prosecute professional gamblers, who carried such concealable weapons as a matter of course.



    • The undefined term, “unconventional” pistol, would be very hard to prosecute as just by looking though the history of hand gun designs, there are so many really strange designs that actually reached market, as to make finding one that truly was unconventional a very difficult search

    • “Any shuriken”… Throwing stars, the most dangerous weapons of all times. Superficial wounds are really terrifying if caused by a shuriken.

      • The only reason shaken (shah-ken) of the “star” type were dangerous, historically, was that the “spurs” were often dipped in poison, notably a paste made with blowfish venom. A scratch could be fatal.

        The star shape means that at best, a single point of a three-or-four pointed one will go in perhaps an inch. A five-or-more pointed one will barely break the skin, because the two either aside of the central point impacting the skin prevent it from penetrating more that about half its length.

        A bo shaken, which is basically a flat throwing dart with a single point, about 6″ long by 1/2″ wide, is far deadlier. It can be thrown just like any throwing knife, and can penetrate nearly its full length.

        A favorite target was the throat, or the eyes.

        BTW, it was called a “bo” shaken because its shape allowed it to be carried inside a hollowed out “bo” or staff. Most ninja devices were designed to be concealable; the bo shaken was better at it than most.



        • Ninja culture, weaponry and tactics makes quite an interesting topic, though I’ve got to wonder just how much of the narrative is historically accurate and how much is modern pop-culture — perhaps similar to the way that the romantic image of the American Old West was defined more by Zane Grey novels and Hollywood movies than actual circumstances.

  8. Flood of chicom and soviet(plus their satellites) firearms took place in last third of “ten thousand day war”.
    Before that(65~66), diy guns were quite common on “both”(oversimplification – as there were more than just two) sides.
    Cao Dai sect gunshops are worth mentioning.

    ps. Truby and Minnery in their “Improvised modified firearms” mention about POWs manufacturing(in very “khyberesque” way) guns, so low quality shouldn’t surprise.

    • In the more desperate and fatalistic days before 1966 ( and before the supplies of properly-made Chinese, Soviet and other Eastern-bloc firearms became more stable and consistent ), I think many VC units on the low-priority list and who knew it were simply focused on getting at least some type of weapon that functioned, however briefly or erratically, this being regarded as better than no weapon at all. And as long as the confounded thing killed or incapacitated at least one of your enemies before it malfunctioned, seized up or even blew up in your hands and injured or killed you, it would have been worth the exchange.

      • In Small Arms of the World (9th ed), in the chapter on Vietnam and its environs, Smith showed three Cao Dai made pistols, all in 9 x 19mm.

        One was a copy of the French M1950 that was almost indistinguishable from the real thing except for a total lack of markings, and grips which had the “temple” also seen on the Cambodian national flag of those days carved in.

        The second was a 1911 copy that was closer to a Star in that it lacked the Colt’s (largely irrelevant) grip safety.

        The third was a P-35 High Power copy that was well-made, but easily discernible as a “non-FN” product because it had a separate barrel bushing like a 1911. This makes sense; using hand tools and maybe a drill press at most, making the internal “blind hole” integral recoil spring tunnel of the P-35 would be more difficult than simply drilling all the way through to make an open “tunnel” for the 1911-type setup.

        (The angle of the M1950 in the photo made it impossible to determine if it, too, had a 1911-type bushing, but I’m willing to bet it did.)

        All of the above were locked-breech designs, exact mechanical duplicates of the originals. The only drawback to them other than metallurgy (which was questionable) was that neither the 1911 or P-35 clones had manual safeties. Then again, neither did the Tokarev.

        The Cao Dai probably figured that they were trying to win a war, not a workmanship contest. And anyway, if you were dumb enough to leave the thing cocked in the holster, you probably deserved to collect a bullet in your foot.



  9. Thanks for the video. Very cool indeed, it shows desperation and determination in 1 kg of steel. BTW what is “brazed”? It would have been more efficient and effective to built a stengun like weapon (especially if you can’t make a rifled barrel).

  10. Thanks for the video on this frighting craft-made “1911” of sorts, Ian! Just a little note on the Isard (not Izard) pistol you mention: as far as I recall, the Isard was far from this sort of contraption and it was actually made by Basque gunsmiths exiled in Catalonia (after the fall of Bilbao to the Nationalists on June 1937).
    Are you sure the Isard has no locking system, being thus just a 9mm Largo blowback pistol?

    • Hello, Ruy :

      The “Isard” sounds like a very interesting pistol of good quality standards. Do you have any additional information about it? I have recently taken more ( admittedly long-overdue ) interest in the Llama, Star, Astra and other similar pistols, and this appears to be in the same vein. Thanks in advance for any advice you might be willing to give.

  11. In a revolution so inspired by either freedom or immortality, even a stick sharpened is as essential as a 60,000 strong army without any weapon. This metal contraption did won freedom from the very icon it so detest.

    • Freedom? For the people of southern Vietnam, this pistol brought them nothing but torture and slave (or so-called “re-education”) camps!!! Yes, the communists forced many of the “bourgeois” into hard labor (with only one bowl of water rice porridge per day), even those who could not do so for medical reasons (like asthma or bad eyesight). To the communists, the only medical reasons one could use for not doing farming or factory labor were broken bones, total blindness or deafness, plague, or amputated limbs. It wasn’t until ludicrous numbers of laborers died for very little national gain that the leaders of a united Vietnam realized that collectivism was a complete FAILURE. Sadly, North Korea’s leadership (under that fat fool) refuses to recognize the errors of its ways!

      Did I mess up?

        • The people of South Vietnam also didn’t like the goons who replaced Diem. They liked the cronies in Hanoi EVEN LESS. Who is better, a dictator put in power by America or a dictator put in power with Soviet help?

          • I mean lumping millions of people into one whole with one opinion prob not too good an idea for either of us. And it really seems to be pretty much case by case if the soviet puppet’s better than the american puppet. I’d take Cuba over Haiti for example, but Chile over North Korea. At the very least you gotta give the VC credit militarily.

      • Yes. You messed up. What would you do if 500,000 thousand foreign troops were in your country killing hundreds of thousands of your countrymen?

        • I would murder the foreigners in their sleep. No dramatic speech about justice, no charging the foe with “crimes” of being foreign bourgeoisie or of murdering our children with poison, just summary execution by machine gun. That is all. I happen to prefer pragmatic evil as opposed to Bond villain stupidity. Any more questions?

  12. Thank you for the video and examination of one “DIY” handgun. I always love to see what people who are suffering under oppression can make in the line of firearms when commercial weapons are not available.
    One would think that even brain dead liberals would get the picture that even in societies where mere possession of a firearm is a capital offense, that people still will make their own when they cannot buy them.
    It will be interesting to see what American amateur gunsmiths produce should Hitlery become POTUS and outlaws guns. I am pretty sure that the majority will be of higher quality than this was

  13. “Did I mess up?”

    I think virtually all of us mess up in one way or another when we think we know a thing or two about recent wars (I must admit that I’m more guilty than most). Even after recognizing and cutting through all the mass-market propaganda and politicized “facts” that can infect our minds like third-stage syphilis, the issues and politics of any war tend to be far more complex than most of us would care to imagine. And even in many discussions that start out civil, in the end it all basically boils down to tribalism and “supporting the team” much more than any sort of impartial examination of facts.

    Even the noble goal of trying to educate people about proven falsehoods is a never-ending battle. For instance, I’ve been pointing out to countless people for over a decade that Iranian president’s oft-repeated quote about “wiping Israel off the map” (presumably by nuclear bombs) was a gross mis-translation (he not only “didn’t mean it”, he never even uttered anything close) that even the people who originally mis-translated his Farsi admitted they made a big mistake. Yet despite being debunked almost immediately after that misquote first appeared in the early 2000s, even today so many of TV news’ talking heads regularly repeat that bogus quote unchallenged, and the gullible American public continues to believe it, often vociferously.

    anyway, enough about that …. arguing with people, especially on the internet, is in the end a giant waste of time.

  14. For some 3.5 milimeters free blowback which stays in safe limit for such a fully supported back sectioned and unrifled overbored barrel, this pistol needs some 330 grams of slide weight which
    seems present in this sample. By cause of rather little barrel in friction, the bullet would be higher initial speed and this would also aid to the blowback ressistance. Summing up, for a few hundred rounds, this pistol should stay in one piece form which seems as purposed so. However, the initial muzzle speed would descend dramaticaly througn unstabilised bullet flight and both the pistol and the hand holding it would be beaten violently. IMHO.

  15. Rougly computed; some 3.5 milimeters free blowback which remaining at the safe side within such a fully supported back, unrifled and overbored barrel like this pistol has, would need some 350 grams of slide weight which seems present in this sample. Lesser barrel in friction would rise the initial velocity of bullet and this also would bring some aid at the blowback slide ressistance. The higher muzzle velocity would descent by cause of the air drag affected to the unstabilized bullet and both the pistol and the hand holding it would be beaten violently. However, the pistol seems capable of staying functionable at least a few hundred shots which also seeming as made to achieve this level of performance. IMHO.

    • And for its probable intended purpose (officer’s sidearm for irregulars) if it fired a hundred rounds in its career, that would constitute heavy usage.

      Conversely, if it had been chambered for .380 ACP, or even a low-end 9 x 19mm round like the Glisenti load, it might just have gone on shooting forever.



    • Poor obturation could keep pressures down some. The gun seems mostly together, which says something about durability. The hammer looks the worst IMHO.

    • Theres absolutely no higher muzzle velocity, its impossible, as powder does not burn completely in unrifled barrel,
      so this pistol would fare better than many expect.

      Ian or some fellow tested reproduction Liberator that has rifled barrel, and concluded it is extremely unpleasant to shoot, forgetting it is not historical accurate as original liberator barrel had no rifling.

  16. As I recall, there’s a similar gun in “Small Arms of the World” (W.H.B. Smith), supposedly manufactured by the Vietnamese Cao Dai religious sect.

    Is this one of those, or something entirely different?

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