According to my current edition of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading: “The .45 ACP was adopted by the United States Ordinance Department in 1911, six years after its introduction by John Moses Browning, a singularly American firearms genius.”
The reason for the adoption of the .45 ACP as the American military combat pistol was rooted in the past, when the U.S. had tried to trade up (or down?) from the old .45 Colt Single Action Army to a new .38 caliber double action handgun.
This seemed a good idea at the time, but when the .38 was used in combat, it was found to be lacking in knockdown power. During the Philippine Insurrection (1899 to 1902) it was used against Moro fighters who were hopped up on drugs. It was found that a U.S. soldier could empty his .38 into a Moro, and the enemy would just keep coming, to hack the soldier to pieces with a machete.
The .38 performed so poorly, that the old .45 Colt SAA revolvers still in serviceable condition were quickly shipped to the Philippines. There, they served as admirably, and as effectively, as they had on the American frontier. This started the search for a semi-auto handgun firing a powerful cartridge. The end result was the famous Model 1911 .45 Automatic Colt Pistol and the .45 Auto cartridge. Not surprising, the .45 Auto was ballistically very similar to the black powder load for the .45 Colt.
The old .45 Auto was never found to be wanting, and it was in fighting hands all across the world in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. It was a Colt 1911 .45 that Sergeant Alvin York used to win his Medal of Honor in the trenches of WWI, not a Luger as portrayed in the movie with Gary Cooper. It also found much use in the Pacific Campaign of WWII and accounted for many Japanese soldiers during banzai charges when the Marine using it ran out of ammo for his primary weapon. I have read many of the old stories and they are awe inspiring, both for the courage of the Marines and the lethality of the old .45.
The U.S. military has mothballed the old 1911 and last I heard, was issuing Berettas in 9mm. The reason for this is not because there is anything wrong with the .45, but to conform to the calibers used by the NATO forces.
I guess the U.S. military can’t learn from past mistakes. The 9mm fires a .355-inch bullet, very much like the .358- to .360-inch bullet used in the military .38 that had failed so miserably in the Philippines. However, some of the Special Forces operators who can choose their own sidearm are now packing .45 autos because they found the 9mm with the required hardball ammo to be a poor manstopper.
In my opinion, the .45 ACP, and the 1911 pistol, is the finest fighting semi-auto cartridge/handgun ever invented. I doubt seriously that anything will ever be invented that is better, but some of the new .45s are very good.
Anything more powerful is too difficult to shoot well and anything much less powerful is a poor manstopper. It is true the 9mms hold more ammo, but that only means that you can shoot the bad guy more times before he goes down.
I would rather have fewer rounds and only have to shoot him once. I guess the Special Forces guys agree with me.
A friend of mine, a customs agent in the 1980s, had reason to sing the praises of the 1911 .45. When I went to the Border Patrol Academy I needed money, so I sold him the Ithaca-made 1911A1 that I had carried off duty as a police officer in Uvalde. He carried it on duty in plain clothes. When he had a shooting encounter with a group of drug smugglers in the jungle along the Rio Grande below Falcon Lake, his shotgun froze up after the first shot. Jim threw down the shotgun and pulled the old 1911A1, finishing the fight with the .45, accounting for at least one of the smugglers.
The load the .45 Auto is famous for is the 230-grain, round-nosed, full-metal jacket bullet at 850 feet per second. This is undoubtedly a good manstopper, but there are better rounds available for the civilian. I prefer a 230-grain Federal Hydra Shok hollow point, but there are many good rounds on the market today.
These days I use a .45 a lot for concealed carry. My current .45s are a Kimber Pro Carry and a Kimber Raptor, but I have used a number of different 1911 models over the years, including full-sized commercial models, a couple of military 1911A1s, one a custom-built target gun, Colt Commanders, and a little Kimber Ultra Carry. All served their purpose, and I never had one that didn’t function perfectly.
In years past this was not always true. At one time the 1911, except for specially built target guns, was thought to be inaccurate and hard to shoot. This was mainly because the tolerances of the older 1911s were very sloppy and most of them had been shot to pieces by the military before they hit the civilian market.
Today almost any commercial 1911 is as accurate as the “full-race guns” of years past and as dependable as any semi-auto made. You can, probably, thank Kimber for that.
When they first began to produce their fine series of 1911s, the other manufacturers, which at that time were very few, being primarily Colt, had to make better guns or sink. They followed suit and today almost every major handgun manufacturer makes a very fine 1911.
The .45 Auto is more popular today than it has ever been, and it deserves its popularity. As a fighting handgun, it is in a class by itself.
Now, I understand the Navy SEALs are contemplating a new handgun in .45 Auto to replace the more common SIG Model P226 9mm that has been their standard sidearm for years. It will be a double-action semi-auto that will hold more rounds than the 1911. It is, I think, a step in the right direction. Maybe the rest of the U.S. military will follow their lead, but don’t hold your breath.
Email Steve LaMascus at [email protected]