The History of the 1911

The History of the 1911

Sources: Wikipedia, Military History Magazine, &

The model 1911 pistol was the product of one of the most successful firearms designers of the 20th century, John Moses Browning.

To understand how the 1911 came to be, we have to trace the historical beginnings to the Philippine Island of Mindanao. In what was considered America’s first jungle war, our U.S. Army fought against a highly motivated tribe of warriors, known as the Moro. An Islamic tribe of Muslim extremists, the Moro can be considered early extreme jihadists. Most of the combat with them was at close quarters, where the Moros’ long-bladed kris knives were used to lethal effect. They first encountered the Moro when 800 U.S. Marines landed on the small island of Jolo in May 1899. Another force quietly moved into Zamboanga in November, and by April 1900, Americans occupied the coastal towns of Cotabato and Davao in the south, Cagayan, Iligan and Misamis in the north, and Dapitan in the northwest. Those intrusions, though bloodless, nevertheless alarmed and irritated the Moro, if only because the Americans appeared to be stronger and far better organized than their Spanish predecessors. So separate bands from the Maranaos tribe of Moro suddenly pounced on three different American camps in the north, only to be sharply repelled by the alert Americans. At Cagayan, the Moros’ loss was 50 killed, compared to only four Americans; at Agusan it was 38 to none and at Misamis 57 to seven. The sultan of Sulu warned against further attacks on the newcomers. “Americans,” he said, “were like a match box. If you strike one they all go off!”

To prepare for battle, the Moro used a combination of body binding with leather, narcotics and religious ritual to put themselves into an altered state of consciousness, which left them insensible to injury. Soldiers found that their revolvers chambered in .38 Long Colt simply would not stop the Moro, resulting in numerous reports of Moro warriors absorbing multiple pistol bullets while they continued to hack away at the Americans. Needless to say, the troops’ morale suffered badly because of this.

In the selection process, which started in 1906 with firearms submitted by Colt, Luger, Savage, Knoble, Bergmann, White-Merrill and Smith & Wesson, Browning’s design was selected, together with the Savage design in 1907. However, the U.S. Army pressed for some service tests, which revealed that neither pistol (Colt’s or Savage’s) had reached the desired perfection. The Ordnance Department instituted a series of further tests and experiments, which eventually resulted in the appointment of a selection committee in 1911.

Most of the combat with the Moros was at close quarters, where their long-bladed kris knives were used to lethal effect.

Browning was determined to prove the superiority of his handgun, so he went to Hartford to personally supervise the production of the gun. There he met Fred Moore, a young Colt employee with whom he worked in close cooperation trying to make sure that each part that was produced for the test guns was simply the best possible. The guns produced were submitted again to the committee for evaluation. A torture test was conducted, on March 3, 1911. The test consisted of having each gun fire 6,000 rounds. One hundred shots would be fired and the pistol would be allowed to cool for five minutes. After every 1,000 rounds, the pistol would be cleaned and oiled. After firing those 6,000 rounds, the pistol would be tested with deformed cartridges, some seated too deeply, some not seated enough, etc. The gun would then be rusted in acid or submerged in sand and mud and more tests would then be conducted.

Browning’s pistol passed the whole test series with flying colors. It was the first firearm to undergo such a test, firing 6,000 cartridges continuously, a record broken only in 1917 when Browning’s recoil-operated machine gun fired a 40,000-rounds test.

The report of the evaluation committee (taken from “The .45 Automatic, An American Rifleman Reprint,” published by the National Rifle Association of America) released on March 20, 1911 stated:

“Of the two pistols, the board was of the opinion that the Colt is superior, because it is more reliable, more enduring, more easily disassembled when there are broken parts to be replaced, and more accurate.”