1985 the United States Army replaced the Colt 1911
service pistol with the Italian designed M9 Beretta. The
first question that came to mind is why? Why not simply order up a few hundred thousand of the then
new Series 80 Colts? There
are various reasons but several sources in the Army claim
Congress, always well informed, pushed the 9mm pistol on the
Army to place the United States in line with NATO. Others
say it was a leveraged deal, involving contracts for military
bases in Italy. A look back at the problems encountered with the M 16 rifle
program shows that Congress found that the upper echelon in the
Army acted with ‘near criminal negligence’ in nearly ruining
the performance of what was once an ideal jungle weapon.
Could this be true of the 9mm pistol program?
The Beretta seems to be reliable enough and seems to have
been tested adequately, but in terms of wound potential the
pistol has fallen short. If
a weapon is only a projectile launcher the M9's projectile badly
a long grueling test the Beretta 92, which became the M 9,
competed against several state of the art pistols including the SIG
SAUER P 226. Neither
pistol was rated on the basis of ergonomics or handfit, but the
P 226 and the Model 92 were in virtually a dead heat in the end.
Beretta brokered a lower bid and secured the contract.
I have extensive experience with both pistols,
yet would be hard pressed to make a choice.
The SIG has more muzzle flip, but may be a shade more
Beretta develops more muzzle velocity due to it’s 4.9 inch
barrel. The Beretta
has superior safety features, including a positive manual safety
and a loaded chamber indicator.
Neither pistol has been noted for a high number of
accidental discharges in training and the Beretta in particular
has a sterling reputation in that regard.
Overall, the Beretta fits my ideal of a service pistol
more than the SIG, with all due respect to SIG fans.
An epilogue to the contest came when the GAO determined Smith
and Wesson had been unfairly excluded from competition.
The modern 5906 family of pistols is an excellent choice
for any police agency, and has proven popular with foreign
governments as well. In the end, the mind is boggled that so
much time and money was spent on choosing a relatively
unimportant weapon. A
‘game of charades’ was what
Undersecretary of the Navy Ambrose called the
we had a new service pistol.
The various revolvers and old 1911s were put to rest-or
were they? Numerous
top units have maintained and deployed with the 1911, often a
custom version purchased at personal expense.
Delta Force, Marine Recon, and various other units
recognize the worth of a good pistol in close quarters combat.
To them, good means a .45 auto.
No matter what the real worth in combat, the fighting man
seems more comfortable with the pistol on his hip.
That brings us to an inescapable question: if the pistol
isn’t very important, is the Beretta as good as any?
It depends on your definition.
Is the handgun a badge of office, used to direct troops,
or is it a genuine implement of battle?
look at the arguments pro and con and then the truth.
In historical terms the first war that saw considerable
handgun action was the Mexican War, but the handgun
really came into its own during the War Between the
officers valued Colt’s revolvers, carrying a brace or as many
as they could fit on the saddle and on their person.
Rapid movement and strings of shots were the tactical
doctrine. But as
the Devil’s advocate I have to add that the six shot revolver
was revered because muskets just weren’t that accurate or
quick loading. Units armed with Spencer repeaters or the Henry
rifle did not deploy as many pistols. On the plains, a heavy
accurate rifle capable of taking down an Indian war pony was
needed. So, the
pistol had earned its place as a short range fighter, but not as
a substitute rifle.
1892 the Army adopted a revolver that many point to as a
parallel to the Beretta 92.
The Colt 1892 was adopted largely as a result of its
technological advances, which included a solid frame, a swing
out cylinder, and double action trigger.
No big bore double actions with swing out cylinder were
yet available. The
1892 proved prone to breakage and early wear.
In military actions in Cuba and the Philippines, the .38
caliber cartridge proved practically worthless against motivated
the SAA .45 was reissued. Much
the same situation exists today, with special units maintaining
1911 pistols from old stock or new purchase with select budget
or personal funds. The
1911 .45 auto solved all previous problems with issue handguns
and is still the obvious leader in service gun efficiency today.
story of the 1911 has been told many times and will be told
change, but it is fair to say we knew more about what is needed
in a fighting pistol in 1911 than we knew in 1985.
The 1911's main features were a result of the input and
demands of a group of hard bitten cavalrymen who had fought not
only the Indians but the Moros, and who would soon face Mexican
bandits and the Hun. The
features demanded for fighting off horseback included a positive
safety, a grip safety, and efficient reloading by means of a
button style magazine release.
The caliber was specified as meeting the performance of
the .45 Colt.
we flash forward to the M 9.
The M 9 is a triumph of the technical over the tactical
compared to the 1911. The
Beretta is easy to shoot well. It kicks but little and is
usually accurate. But
Jeff Cooper wrote he would rather have a hatchet than a
9mm at intimate range. Even
when loaded with expanding ammunition, which the military cannot
use, the 9mm has not proven to give consistent, reliable
instances in my files that include full metal jacketed 9mm loads
are particularly dismal. I
have one case in my files in which a female victim took eight
rounds before succumbing to a ninth shot through the eye socket.
I have a 9mm pucker in my leg and a ragged scar on my
face left by an individual who absorbed three 9mm soft point
for battle? Hardly.
(The 9mm man will always say, ‘You used the wrong load.
Why, the FILL IN THE BLANK will get the job done.’
They never seem willing to admit the caliber was the
does this leave us in search of a new battle pistol?
The search is coming because of disenchantment with the
9mm’s performance in critical incidents. Street clearing and
diving into bunkers and enclosed places as seen in Afghanistan
and Iraq is pistol work. The
pistol should be up to the job.
We are behind the curve in pistol shooting and equipment,
despite excellent rifle instruction.
My son recently completed an extensive, demanding rifle
training program that lasted several weeks and saw the
expenditure of thousands of rounds of ammunition.
The proficiency of the young men and women involved is
it did not take place at a private training facility and you
can’t buy this training.
It took place at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
My son was the Soldier of the Cycle but the best shot
came from the American West. Something about growing up shooting
rifle is important and we have a good if not perfect rifle.
The pistol will get scant attention.
On one level, that works for me because the rifle is
about 1,000 times more important than the pistol.
But if we do need a pistol at all it should be a good
one. The handgun
has been the final arbiter of victory in innumerable actions.
Immediate actions, actions in tight quarters, and at
close range involving dedicated adversaries,
the pistol is important.
anyone thinks our current generation of soldiers cannot master
the 1911's manual of arms or manage the recoil of the pistol
they are gravely mistaken.
I have introduced several young soldiers to the .45.
Anyone who can learn to handle the computerized gear
common in today’s Army, who can master the intense physical
training given these young people, and drive a Humvee can learn
the 1911's manual of arms in a few minutes. And retain it. As
for the recoil, the tawny arms of our young warriors shrug off
the nonsensical. As
a seventeen year old (female) reservist told me, ‘ I like the
recoil of the .45. When
it slaps my hand, I know it hits hard down range.’
make an intelligent decision in service weapon selection we have
to study previous actions.
There is no shortage of documented action involving the
handgun and practically any cartridge you can name.
I have searched these archives at length, often digging
into commendation reports for medal of honor winners. These actions were subject to congressional investigation and
are well documented. Remember,
among the reasons we won World War
Two was because our intelligence reports were reliable.
Saving face or fearing the Fuhrer was not present and our
men did not produce fabulous, unreliable after action reports.
The reports concerning the .45 are impressive.
have been fabulous, unreliable reports in the gun press
involving secret sources and animal testing, but we will leave
that for another time.......)
efficiency of the 1911 is well established.
Of course, there are more modern designs available.
The Heckler and Koch USP is designed to be 1911
like and does a good job of it. It is a good gun, but I don’t think our 21st
century Army would care to look to Germany for pistols and
replacement parts in case of war time demand.
To classify Germany as an unreliable ally is not far from
an understatement. The Glock has no manual safety and in the big bore calibers
is too large and bulky for most shooters to handle. The SIG P 220 has excess muzzle flip, no manual safety, and
its short barrel loses significant velocity compared to the 1911
for the Army pistol? A
1911 is a proven design, true, but the pistol has not remained a
stagnant design. The
sights of modern pistols are not only much better than GI guns,
they are better than the Beretta or SIG.
Modern 1911s are available
with positive firing pin blocks or firing pin safeties of the
Schwarz type, an
important safety measure. These
pistols are manufactured to a higher quality standard and higher
degree of parts interchangeability than any pistol we have ever
production line is available to produce pistols in the desired
quantity and quality. The
Kimber Custom II would be the finest pistol ever used by
United States forces. The shorter Pro Carry could be issued to
General officers and CID personnel.
Even smaller guns could be issued if the CID needed them.
But they are all the same caliber and can use the same
this is too simple, perhaps not.
But the American fighting man, in a preeminent position
in the world, deserves a pistol good enough to serve him. At
present, this need is not met.
I think a hard
look at the situation is needed.
This is a tremendous opportunity to once again set our
troops apart from the also rans in equipment.
The fighting heart is the main component, but the .45 is
something that sets us apart as well.
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