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Thread: Post 911 History of M1911A1 in use with U.S. Special Forces

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    Post 911 History of M1911A1 in use with U.S. Special Forces

    Retired Green Beret Jeff Gurwitch covers the re-adoption of the M1911A1 by U.S. Special Forces after 911. Time line, how it was employed, accessories, and performance in Iraq and Afghanistan.


  2. #2
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    That was awesome, thank you for posting this!

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    Interesting and informative video. Interesting perspective on the eternal 9mm/.45 debate with his take on different training philosophies (double tap vs. drive the target down).

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    Thought it significant that the ammo used was Israeli ammo loaded to +P pressures. Earlier, he stated that some of the 1911s suffered catastrophic failures during training. I'm guessing that the +P rounds were used in training? Hard to imagine any of those 60 year old guns holding up to modern +P loadings.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Hambo View Post
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    Very interesting video.

    I left the Army in 1992. I wasn’t involved in any of the actions that Mr. Gurwitch was so I can’t comment on any of that, but I was issued 1911A1 pistols for most of my military career. His remarks make perfect sense, so I’ll try to provide context for some of them.

    To me, the most important issue was that their pistols were “…rebuilt from war stocks.” I’ll bet a PF round of drinks that this was not a skilled smith lovingly fitting parts to an older gun by hand. In the Oklahoma National Guard where I began my career, and even on active duty in 7th SFG(A) and 1st SFG(A), the 1911A1 was already a relic by the 1980s. Most arms rooms had pistols with 1911 frames, flat mainspring housings, and wide-spur cavalry hammers. More than once, I saw parts literally break and fall off of 1911s that we were issued for duty. When that happened you took it to the armorer, who had huge tackle boxes full of parts. They’d drop in a new part—fitting was prohibited though it may have happened sub rosa—and everyone went back to work.

    So whatever rebuild--and I use that term loosely--these pistols underwent was probably nothing more than detail stripping them, replacing whatever looked worn, and tossing the pistol into a pile to be catalogued and warehoused. This is probably why seven out of the 45 pistols they used for the initial train-up had catastrophic failures. Another reason is that the TZZ ammo he mentioned was loaded to +P specs. That’s not a recipe for success with a pistol that was set up for standard ammo and may have barely been in spec for that. Our better 1911 plumbers can confirm the details but I’d bet that the ones that failed either unlocked prematurely or didn’t lock fully, which can be traced back to the rebuild procedure. I’d also bet that those guns rarely if ever had the springs replaced the way we all take for granted now.

    His comments on tolerances are ancient wisdom. A pistol that shoots into 1” at 25 yards is a thing of beauty but that accuracy comes at a price. A pistol that can get full of sand during a heliborne insertion in the desert, then shoot a 6” group at 25 yards will get you home in one piece and that’s all that military pistols really need to do.

    In reference to ammo and cartridge selection, I agreed with him 100% in those innocent times when Colonel Cooper still roamed the Earth. A few cats I served with had returned to SF from Delta and many of the 7th SFG(A) guys who went to El Salvador and Honduras were orange Gunsite grads so the mojo for 45 ACP hardball was strong. Pretty sure that none of us would take a 1911 full of hardball over a plastic 9mm with good JHP ammo these days.

    Finally, I found it interesting that of the hundreds of people he knew who had “…fired their weapons in combat…” only a handful ever needed a pistol, and that only one of them used a 45 to win a fight. Training troops to drive an opponent into the ground (whether with M4 or pistol) rather than relying on the “shoot and assess” mindset was an utterly critical sea change, and would point most of us to weapons with high-cap magazines.

    Again, fascinating video.

    Let me know your questions.


    Okie John
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    I did find it quite interesting. That part where he said that he knew just of a few people who had to use their pistols was inline from what I heard before. I never thought of it that way but if they haven't shot too many people with handguns then how they decided that M9 was lacking. This bit left me with an impression that preference for M1911 was more emotional than outcomes driven.
    “Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.

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    I think it was more opinion than emotion.

    The US Army adopted the M9 in 1985 largely to standardize with NATO on pistols, which as Mr. Gurwitch points out, at are not the most important weapon for special operation soldiers.

    In the run up to that, gun-writer opinion ruled the day, especially when it came to 9mm vs. 45 ACP. Writers based their stances on the Thompson-LaGarde tests, the Strasbourg tests, the Taylor KO factor, the Hatcher Scale of Relative Stopping Power, etc. Some of them, notably Jeff Cooper, even built an entire career on a particular stance. One thing these writers all had in common was that they tested their opinions in ways intended to show their superiority over competing opinions.

    The degree to which a writer’s stance spread among shooters had more to do with their publishers and their ability as writers than with whether their ideas were sound. Cooper had the Petersen organization and Paladin Press behind him, he was a superb writer who could condense complex ideas into quotable nuggets, and he started the first shooting school in the world, so his ideas became widely distributed and gave him an outsized influence.

    But again, those were largely opinions that had only been tested in ways intended to show their superiority.

    The FBI recommendations that came out after the 1986 Miami-Dade shootout gave us a new way to look at terminal ballistics. They also pretty much torpedoed the case for round-nose 45 ACP ball ammo. Their guidance has widely been adopted, but it didn’t exist when the US Army adopted the M9.

    Three other key things also happened. First is that practical shooting got a lot of people to test Cooper’s ideas in person. The second is that Tier I units put considerable time and money into finding the best ways to shoot. Most of them started with the Modern Technique and nearly all of them modified it radically. The third is that the internet let people share their results.

    If you step back a level as Mr. Gurwitch speaks, then you see that thinking that he cites at the beginning of his career is straight out of Gunsite. In time, he replaces the 45 ACP and the 7.62x51 in combat with the 9x19 and 5.56 NATO.

    The guy we really need to hear from about this is @Mas.

    Hell, he was there.


    Okie John
    “The reliability of the 30-06 on most of the world’s non-dangerous game is so well established as to be beyond intelligent dispute.” Finn Aagaard
    "Don't fuck with it" seems to prevent the vast majority of reported issues." BehindBlueI's

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by okie john View Post

    The guy we really need to hear from about this is @Mas.

    Hell, he was there.


    Okie John
    Kind of you to say so, John. I was around when the Beretta was adopted and researching and writing about it then, but I wasn't there. Gurwitch was, and I appreciate his observations.

    Hell, my kids think "I was there" when John Browning created the 1911, but I just look that old...

  10. #10
    Site Supporter Sensei's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by YVK View Post
    I did find it quite interesting. That part where he said that he knew just of a few people who had to use their pistols was inline from what I heard before. I never thought of it that way but if they haven't shot too many people with handguns then how they decided that M9 was lacking. This bit left me with an impression that preference for M1911 was more emotional than outcomes driven.
    There were more than enough civilian encounters with ball 9mm (or poorly designed JHPs that function like ball ammo) by the mid-80s for service members to be dissatisfied with 9mm NATO FMJ ammo. Then, there were issues specific to the early M9 such as relatively short life of the locking block and magazines that didn’t play nice in a sandbox.

    All said, it is very easy for those of us who own the latest generation 92FS such as the LTT and shoot them with HST ammo to have the utmost confidence in our guns. However, the guns of today are really not anything like what was being issued almost 40 years ago. If I put the M9 that was first issued to me in 1993 next to the gun picture below and had you gun a series of drills on both using NATO ball in the M9 and 147 HST in mine, well…

    Name:  Beretta Wilson 92A1 1.jpg
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    I like my rifles like my women - short, light, fast, brown, and suppressed.

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