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The World's Greatest Pistol and the First World War.

Release Date: 3/4/2014

The following is a review of an article found on the Rock Island Auction blog discussing the original 1911 and it's importance during WWI.

The World’s Greatest Pistol in The Great War.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the late-July 1914 beginning of the War to End All Wars, we think it’s good to look back and recall some of the most famous firearms of that conflict, including John M. Browning’s Model 1911 45 Automatic, considered by many as the finest fighting pistol of all time.

While it indeed saw some limited service with General John “Black Jack” Pershing’s forces as they chased the bandito Pancho Villa across Mexico in 1916, the Model 1911 pistol received its real baptism of fire when American military forces associated themselves with the Allied war effort in early April of 1917.

We recently ran across a very well researched history on the Rock Island Auction website of the John M. Browning designed Model 1911’s role in the Great War. The article goes into great depth as to the preparation (or lack of it) by both the United States military and the US industrial base as we entered WW I.

At the outset of the conflict, while America had a standing army of less than 100,000 men, supplemented by about same number of National Guard and Reserve troops, they possessed fewer that 200 machine guns, and many of these were merely test-bed samples or prototypes. Much of the US field artillery inventory was antiquated, most military transport still relied on horses and mules, and the US 1903 Springfield rifle was in critically short supply.

The US military also had fewer than 75,000 Model 1911 pistols on hand, but this would be far short of the projected 2.5 million handguns that would be needed to arm the millions of US troops then being drafted and trained for combat in Europe.


Colt was the primary supplier of the Browning 1911 design, and they were simply overwhelmed with the rapidly rising demand. As the RIA article states, “The War Department then stepped in and tried to fill the void. In the government report on wartime manufacturing, "Arms of Industry," the Army was sending contracts out to numerous parties. One passage regarding the M1911 reads as follows:

"In order to fill the enormously increased pistol requirements of the American Expeditionary Forces contracts for the Colt automatic were given to National Cash Register Company, at Dayton, Ohio; the North American Arms Company, Quebec; the Savage Arms Corporation, Utica, New York; Caron Brothers, Montreal; the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, Detroit, Michigan; the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, New Haven, Connecticut; the Lanston Monotype Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the Savage Munitions Corporation, San Diego, California."

As all these new vendors attempted to bring their 1911 pistol production on line, numerous problems arose in making sure the parts from the different manufacturers were interchangeable with those of other makers. The efforts by the design engineers and production managers of these various companies to solve the pressing problem of making the same part exactly the same way in various locations makes for exceptional reading.

The bulk of the WW I-era Model 1911 production came from Colt, Springfield Armory and Remington–UMC. While several other arms companies did get US military contracts, the sudden end of hostilities in November 1918 meant that few actual pistols were completed by these sources, and those that were are highly collectible, even more so than the WW I era 1911s made by the “Big Three.”


Several American heroes who used the Model 1911 to good effect emerged from the conflict, most notably Sergeant Alvin York. The soft-spoken Tennessee native received the Medal of Honor leading an infantry attack that destroyed 32 machine guns, killed 28 German soldiers, and captured 132 others during the Meuse-Argonne battle in France in late 1918.  After his rifle ran dry, York used his .45 pistol to great effect, killing six charging German soldiers before they could overrun his position. York returned to his native state and spent much of the rest of his life in public service.

An American aviator, Lt. Frank Luke of Phoenix, Arizona, also won the Medal of Honor for his heroic last stand after his SPAD biplane was shot down over Murvaux, France during the same Meuse-Argonne battle in late September 1918. Though badly injured, Luke gamely attempted to escape on foot and emptied his Model 1911 at an advancing German patrol before dying of his wounds. Second only to Eddie Rickenbacker in the number of enemy planes he destroyed during WW I, Luke Air Force Base in Arizona is named in his honor.

It was called at the time “The War to End All Wars,” but as history would unfortunately prove, it was a simply a preview of things yet to come. 




If you’d like to learn more about the role of the John M. Browning designed Model 1911 in the Great War, check out the entire RIA article at


Although Browning does not make a full-sized 1911 we do make the popular Model 1911-22 -- a beautifully scaled-down version that fittingly honors the original. Click here to go to the 1911-22 pages found here on Browning.com.

Read an excellent history of the Browning 1911 pistol in an article written by Browning staff writer, Scott Engen. Click here to read the 1911 history article.

Original article quoted from Rock Island Auction blog, 2014.  Several of the historic photos contained in this review are from the original RIA article and believed  to be from public domain sources and are used with appreciation. Review written by Browning staff writer Scott Engen, 2014. Review copyright Browning, 2014.

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