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Old 03-09-2020, 07:55 PM
Milsurp Collector Milsurp Collector is offline
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 2,062
Default Great thread about the M1911A1 as a military sidearm by a Marine armorer

There is an interesting thread at the M14 Forum started by Gus Fisher, a former Marine armorer. Fascinating stories about M1911A1s from an armorer's point of view, including a face-palming mistake by RIA regarding barrel links that caused problems with M1911A1s throughout the armed forces. Some excerpts:

I worked standard M1911A1 pistols from my very first days as a standard Armorer in 1972. I built NM .45’s beginning in 1974 while undergoing the Year Long Plus OJT or Apprenticeship program. I have also built custom and semi custom .45’s for many years...

When I first became an Armorer in 1972, the NEWEST .45 pistols we had were made in 1945 at the end of WWII, 27 years earlier. I later learned we still had some frames on our pistols that dated back to or shortly after WWI. So NONE of our pistols were new or nearly new even in those days. That is important to remember for most of us who served in the military with the .45....

One day I was digging through some stuff in the storage area when I “found” a complete set of gauges for the .45 and I was thrilled. I had read about the gauges in the Technical Manuals, but I did not know we were authorized to have or that we actually had the gauges. When we were not doing other things, we often worked .45 pistols in that cage. GREAT!! So I pulled them out along with the Tech Manual and began using the gauges. I quickly saw a pattern that many of the barrel bushings were too loose on the barrels and/or too loose in the slides as well as other things that affect the .45’s accuracy. I was happy that we would be getting the pistols “really up to snuff” for accuracy and began filling out the Yellow Tags with all sorts of parts we needed to get them up to snuff. Well, that was until a Sergeant told me we were no longer allowed to USE the gauges.

OK, that shocked me and I asked why we were not allowed to use the gauges that helped ensure the best accuracy of the pistols. Well, the Sergeant did not really know, so I left the cage and hunted down the Gunny. With no little amount of disgust, he informed me the reason they no longer allowed us to use the gauges was there was not enough MONEY to properly fix all the .45’s along with all the other weapons we worked on. Since we had such limited maintenance funds in those days, Marines a LOT higher up than we had decided to stop using the gauges and thereby not have to spend as much on repair parts. In later years I spoke with Army Armorers who said they had gone through much the same thing during that time period.

Now for those who don’t know, a large part of the accuracy of a GI .45 comes from a good barrel of course, but the barrel bushing is a lot more important than most people know. Barrel bushings did not fit the slides near as tight as on NM pistols, but if they are as loose as many of our bushings were at the time, that really hurt accuracy. (This is why Colt came out with the collet bushings when they released the Series 70 pistols. That REALLY tightened the fit of the bushing to the slide in those pistols and part of the reason for the excellent accuracy of Series 70 pistols.) Many of the slides during that time were too loose for the barrel bushings as well and they just could not afford to replace all the loose slides. Finally, the fit of the bushing to the barrel is also very important to accuracy. Barrel bushings did not fit as tight on GI .45’s as NM or IPSC pistols when they passed the gauge inspections, but they were a LOT looser than even the GI gauges allowed. From building NM and other custom pistols, I later learned that a barrel bushing that is only .001” to .002” larger than the barrel diameter is completely reliable and really makes the pistol shoot more accurately.

Now I have already mentioned the way too loose fit of the slides for the barrel bushings, but way too many of those slides were really worn too loose for the frames. What may surprise some folks is that a GI .45 will shoot very accurately with a somewhat loose slide to frame fit AS LONG AS the bushing fits the barrel and slide well. However, most of the slides on our pistols in the early 70’s were worn much too loose. That caused accuracy loss and sometimes it caused functioning problems. However, since we just did not have the money to replace those worn slides, we were stuck using them...

Another very important gauge for GI .45’s was the gauge that measured the diameter of the slide stop pin. Now that pin does not have much to do with accuracy in a GI 45 but it is HUGELY important for FUNCTION of the pistols as it helps control the unlocking of the barrel. When that pin is either too small when made or worn too small in use, it doesn’t allow the barrel to unlock correctly after firing. The MINIMUM that does is cause more to much more felt recoil when you shoot the pistol. It will also cause the barrel lugs to sheer off and damage to the slide and top barrel lugs in more severe cases of the barrel not unlocking properly. So we were NOT allowed to use the gauge that would have stopped some unlocking problems with GI .45’s. So what does that do when you shoot a pistol?

Well, when a pistol does not unlock properly it will cause more felt recoil. Have you ever heard some veterans say that the .45 pistol “kicked like a mule?” Well, I used to think that was nothing more than exaggeration in my early years UNTIL I began building NM pistols and was trained to ensure a pistol DID unlock properly. I fired a couple of NM pistols that really did not unlock well and they DID kick like a mule. So in an effort to save money on maintenance costs by not using the gauges to inspect slide stops, they actually INDUCED more maintenance problems later on. NOT a smart move.

Another thing that caused unlocking problems on G.I. .45’s was the barrel link. Some folks may find this very surprising, but in the 60’s and 70’s, when a barrel was found to be unserviceable, you ordered a replacement barrel, BUT you took the barrel link and pin OFF the unserviceable barrel and put it on the new barrel “to save money.” It probably cost more in labor and tool costs to do that then have the new barrels supplied with new links and pins, but that’s what we had to do. The problem is that the barrel link has even MORE to do with barrel unlocking than the slide stop pin does. When a barrel link is too worn and you don’t have a way to gauge or measure it to replace it, it will cause unlocking problems outlined above.

We had a noticeable number of problems with .45 pistols sheering off barrel lugs and destroying slides in the lug areas due to the pistols not unlocking correctly. We even replaced some barrels in pistols and the new barrels were beat to trash within months because of unlocking problems. It really took too way too long to figure out the reasons because they kept counting on the fact we were going to buy new pistols. However, the tale of unlocking problems is not complete until we add one more thing.

In early 1989 when I was the NCOIC of the Edson Range Armory, I got a call from guy who worked at Picatinny Arsenal. I knew of him well because he was a prior Marine MOS 2112 RTE Armorer before he went to work for Picatinny and he helped us a lot with support from Picatinny. He told me Rock Island had paid for a program to determine why all the pistols the Services used were having so many problems. He got tasked as the lead guy on it and he was checking Armories all over the country that had and used large quantities of GI .45 pistols. For the Marine Armories, he was also looking for Armories that had us 2112’s assigned because he had found out some information that we knew about because we worked on NM .45’s. He asked me if I could have three or four extra of the “sticks” we used to check unlocking on NM .45 barrels and I went out and bought a 3/8” dowel rod and cut it into four sticks for that purpose.

When he showed up, he and I showed my Armorers how to check for unlocking with those unlocking sticks. He did not want me to do it because part of the test was to see if standard Armorers could easily be trained to test for it and of course it was easy. My jaw dropped when they reported over 70 percent of our standard .45 pistols had unlocking problems of varying degrees. TWO pistols we had you almost could not unlock them without the stick in the pistol barrel. When I asked my Armorers WHY they had not brought them to my attention, they told me there was “nothing wrong” with the pistols by the Technical Manual and there was nothing they knew to fix them, so they just didn’t issue those pistols for use. OK, so I had to do bit of on the spot training and counseling to ensure that never happened again, but there’s more to the story.

The Picatinny representative THEN told me something I had never heard before. Some time in the mid 70’s, someone at Rock Island Arsenal asked, “Why are we stocking FOUR sizes of barrel links for .45 pistols?” That is a good question BUT no one informed him the REASON we had four sizes. The basic size was for GI .45’s and the other three were ONLY for NM pistols. The other three were marked 13, 17 and 21 on one side. That meant they were that many thousandths of an inch MORE than regular barrel links than for a GI .45. They were/are used with NM pistols that have longer barrel lugs and you have to have longer links for many NM barrels. HOWEVER, if you put longer links in standard issue pistols with standard issue barrels, you are going to have mild to severe unlocking problems. Well, by NOT correctly answering the question, that started a HUGE maintenance problem for all the Armed Forces with our G.I. .45’s and no one realized it for years.

What happened was the guy who asked the question on why we had four sizes of links was ALSO the guy at Rock Island Arsenal who was in charge of ordering and stocking parts for GI .45’s for ALL the Armed Forces. Since no one properly informed him why we have four sizes he decided to drop all but one size for future parts orders as a cost savings measure. Now there were plenty of the longer NM links in stock, so NM Armorers never realized it and NM Armorers of any service would have been the first to catch such a problem. Had the guy chosen the standard size link to order, all would have been fine. However, he chose one of the NM links and as a further cost savings measure, DROPPED the stamping that would let people know the links were too long. So after that in the late 70’s onward, when you ordered a replacement barrel link, you got one that was too long and CAUSED barrel unlocking problems. To make matters worse, they finally decided it was nonsense to have us take used barrel links and pins off the old barrels and put them on new replacement barrels in the late 70’s, so they sent out new replacement barrels with “get this,” the barrel links that were too long. So new barrels with those links would have unlocking problems from the first day they were used.

After the Picatinny Arsenal guy told me these things, I just happened to think back to the time I familiarization fired the .45 as a recruit and I mentioned earlier in this thread. It finally dawned on me, over 17 years later, that the pistol had an unlocking problem. When we came up with a figure of over 70 percent of our pistols having varying degrees of unlocking problems, I was shocked but he was hardly surprised. He had seen it in Armory after Armory as he had checked Army, Marine and some Navy Armories. Ours was one of the highest percentages, but he said that was due to the fact I KNEW how to check a barrel for unlocking as a RTE Armorer, so I was able to better train my Armorers for how to check for it. He speculated the other Armories would have had higher percentages of unlocking problems if the supervising NCO’s and SNCO’s knew how to check the barrels for unlocking before he showed up...
Lots more fascinating information in that thread, worth a read. He also describes how to check your pistol for proper unlocking, might want to do that before shooting your old warhorses.

The M1911A1 as a military sidearm

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Old 03-09-2020, 08:36 PM
jimd80 jimd80 is offline
Join Date: Dec 2014
Location: Knoxville, TN
Posts: 61

Wow. Thanks for posting. Can’t wait to read the whole thread!
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Old 03-09-2020, 09:30 PM
weimar_police weimar_police is offline
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: Near Spokane, WA
Posts: 2,192

wow is right - fascinating

I went to army 'unit armorer' school in 1982 at Ft Polk, LA, a 40 hr course that I remember being told several things - the links being reused was one (and I never realized) and the other was that they were careful on spending money. Being an MP we used the pistol everyday, but there were always a couple pistols sent to be replaced a few times a year.
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Old 03-10-2020, 06:53 AM
Shotgunjib Shotgunjib is offline
Join Date: Aug 2019
Location: Watertown SD
Posts: 40

I hope this guy rebuilt my pistol. No rebuild marks on mine, so maybe a chance.
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Old 03-10-2020, 07:23 AM
BSAGuy BSAGuy is offline
Join Date: Dec 2018
Location: Piedmont NC
Posts: 468

Fascinating thread. Thanks for posting that link.
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Old 03-10-2020, 08:31 AM
AFChief AFChief is offline
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 179

So unless I am missing something, does this raise a question about all the 'newer replacement barrels' that are on the 1911A1's coming out of CMP? I realize this isn't a CMP issue as they get what they get from the Army... and hey... who knew? Not trying to over-react, but if you have one of the 7791193 marked replacement barrels, should the links be assumed to be suspect?
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Old 03-10-2020, 09:41 AM
tommyjoe tommyjoe is offline
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Posts: 166

How is a "unlocking stick" used? Tom
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Old 03-10-2020, 10:07 AM
Milsurp Collector Milsurp Collector is offline
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Posts: 2,062

Originally Posted by tommyjoe View Post
How is a "unlocking stick" used? Tom
See https://m14forum.com/handguns/119056...tml#post913048

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Old 03-10-2020, 10:17 AM
mtime7 mtime7 is offline
Join Date: May 2011
Location: Texas
Posts: 571

I would think that any that are fresh from Depot level overhaul would be correct, and that they did use gauges during rebuild
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Old 03-10-2020, 10:18 AM
xd9x19 xd9x19 is offline
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Interesting info. My dad was an MP back in the mid/late '50s and he's mentioned about how the .45s "kicked" and you couldn't hit anything with them.

Then a few years ago I went to a local range and shot a Springfield Mil-Spec pistol. After hearing my dad talk about his experience, the most surprising thing to me was that I found the recoil on the .45 to be tame. Compared to my XD9, I thought the Mil-Spec .45 was a more "mellow" - maybe because the 45 is moving slower than the 9. I got tighter groups from the Mil-Spec than my XD that day, so I'll be interested to see if my experience with a CMP 1911 will be the same - once they get to my RGN.
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