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  • The best designs are timeless.

  • The wheel, lightbulb, sliced bread:

  • this weapon ranks among them.

  • The M1911 is an American semi-automatic pistol whose use spans over a century.

  • So what set this weapon apart from early semi-automatic designs?

  • How has it influenced later pistols?

  • And how on earth has a wartime design remained so popular?

  • Around the turn of the 20th century, the earliest self-loading pistol designs appeared.

  • Inspired by Maxim's machine gun, weapons like the Borchardt C-93 and Mauser C96 attempted

  • to scale down a repeating mechanism into a handheld package.

  • The first American to do the same was John Moses Browning, a legendary arms designer

  • credited with many firsts.

  • Amongst them was the first production handgun with a slide: the FN M1900.

  • His semi-automatic pistol designs saw iterative improvements over the next decade, culminating

  • in one manufacturered by Colt and subject to trial by the US Army.

  • Six designs were submitted, but only two were in major contention: a Savage Arms design

  • providing a rival to Browning's.

  • Over an endurance test of 6,000 rounds, the Savage had 37 malfunctions: the Colt had none.

  • Its superlative performance led to its official adoption in 1911 - as the M1911.

  • One of the weapon's defining traits is its calibre: .45 Automatic Colt Pistol.

  • The rimless straight-walled cartridge is designed for two things: reliable self-loading operation;

  • and stopping power.

  • The US military's earlier experience with .38 Long Colt revolvers led to one conclusion

  • for any future sidearm:

  • Nothing less than a .45 would do.

  • Browning's design has been particularly influential: many modern pistols follow its form, and mode

  • of operation.

  • It does lack some modern conveniences: it is single-action only, meaning that the hammer

  • must be cocked for the first shot, either manually or by racking the slide.

  • However, an uncomplicated design does have some perks: a crisp trigger and reliable function.

  • Its short recoil operation is equally elegant: the barrel pivots about a swinging link, seamlessly

  • locking and unlocking with the slide during firing.

  • This principle has subsequently been imitated in a surprising amount of modern pistol designs:

  • models by Glock, H&K, SIG, and more.

  • All have an action with a tilting barrel - and all owe this operation to Browning's 1911

  • design.

  • In the early 1900s, the US military was relatively small: a product of non-interventionism and

  • reticence for war.

  • However, the increasing scale of global conflict proved impossible to ignore: and with America's

  • entry into World War 1 in 1917 a period of rapid military expansion followed.

  • In response to wartime experience, the 1911's design was slightly revised, as the M1911A1:

  • principally to fix minor ergonomic gripes.

  • The changes include a smaller trigger with smoother frame moulding, and a longer backspur

  • to prevent any painful interaction with the hammer while firing.

  • The weapon really came into its own during World War 2, with a huge ramp in production

  • during this time.

  • Nearly 2 million such pistols were procured by the War's end - plenty to go around, and

  • enough to ensure surplus for years after.

  • Unsurprisingly, the weapon turns up in World War 2 shooters quite often - where American

  • GIs are found, so too is the Colt.

  • True to life, the weapon is shown as a sidearm: a comrade to weapons like the M1 Garand or

  • Thompson.

  • It's rare that it's given a prime role, but it's often at your side.

  • Saving Private Ryan shoulders the blame for the popularity of World War 2 games at the

  • start of the millennial decade.

  • It was the Medal of Honor series that opened this trend: an attempt to recreate some of

  • the moments a soldier might have experienced from a first-person perspective, with a full

  • complement of wartime weapons, 1911 and all.

  • It's also here that the Call of Duty series first emerged - and as interest in wartime

  • shooters waned, there was instead a transition to modern warfare: but of course - the M1911

  • would remain.

  • There was simply no hurry to replace it: most modern pistol designs use a similar principle,

  • and while there are lighter designs of a higher capacity, the 1911's bulk does help to tame

  • the recoil of its powerful cartridge.

  • Still, its time in mainline service did come to an end with the US Army in 1985: when it

  • was largely replaced by the Beretta M9.

  • A controversial decision, but one needed for NATO standardisation.

  • Nevertheless, the M1911 does remain in use with some units - notably with the US Marine

  • Corps, and some Special Forces.

  • For those with the freedom to choose, it absolutely remains a favourite.

  • A relic perhaps, a holdover from a different age - but a worthy elective for those who

  • respect their elders.

  • It's a signature weapon of Captain Price in Call of Duty: someone who clearly holds military

  • tradition dear.

  • It plays a pivotal role at the climax of Modern Warfare, and its reunion with Price gives

  • rise to a brief ceremony in Modern Warfare 2.

  • A torch passed from one generation to the next: a remembrance of roots, and a nod to

  • the series' origin.

  • While the 1911's military role has been reduced, it is now more popular than ever in civilian

  • hands.

  • Commonly seen in competitive shooting, recreational use - or in concealed carry courtesy of its

  • low profile single-stack magazine.

  • Its long service lends it a potent dose of patriotism: it is a strong symbol of America.

  • It's a display of allegiance for irregular forces: Soldiers of Fortune who might not

  • bear rank, but stand for freedom nonetheless.

  • A fitting match for the machismo of Duke Nukem: with a big enough bore to shake any feelings

  • of inadequacy, there's little doubt that the .45 is all man.

  • Spanning multiple genres, filling various roles: the 1911 has seen widespread use since

  • its introduction.

  • A century of service, and ready for a hundred years more.

  • A classic without compromise.

  • The perfect intersection of ergonomics, reliable operation and .45 calibre power.

  • The pistol that forgot to become obsolete.

  • The M1911.

  • Antique.

  • Veteran.

  • Patriot.

  • Thank you very much for watching - Iconic Arms will return - and until next time, farewell.

The best designs are timeless.

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B2 UK pistol colt weapon browning wartime modern

M1911.

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    Daniel Lin posted on 2016/10/30
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