Black Rifles & Tactical Guns

The Marine Corps’ Colt M45 Close Quarters Battle Pistol

By John Connor, GUNS Magazine

I don’t get giddy over guns. Maybe you do, and if you don’t, almost certainly you know someone who does. They see a new or an immaculate classic firearm, and for whatever reason, it punches their loony button. There’s a sharp intake of breath and their eyes go all sparkly. A smile becomes a huge, toothy grin as they gently, reverently pick it up, fondle it, run their fingers over its lines and cycle the action. Their forehead may furrow for a moment when they peek at the price tag, but after a fleeting instant of calculation—what can I sell for how much to finance this?—those furrows flatten, smoothing right out, and a love affair is born. You’ve seen this, right?

I understand it, or at least I understand it exists, but it just ain’t me. For me, guns are tools, slug-launchers and objects of function rather than fashion. I can admire and appreciate a weapon possessed of a sound design and well executed using the right materials— one that balances and points comfortably and naturally. A high degree of accuracy is a plus, but secondary to sure function and reasonable reliability, hopefully, under the harshest demands and conditions, because that’s how I’m gonna use ’em.

I’m a service-issue kinda guy. Colorful case-hardening, perfect polishing and exotic woods are pleasing to the eye, and even lacking those attributes, most new guns have a certain cachet to them. But if anything, I have a sort of allergic response to unworn finishes, un-dinged and yet-to-be-gouged surfaces. Several times I’ve handed new guns to my son or a buddy as they stood there quivering like pointer puppies peepin’ their first pheasant and told ’em, “Here—clear her throat, stretch her legs and bring her back shot hot ‘n’ dirty.”

So I wasn’t prepared for my own reaction when I opened the drab, olive Pelican case and saw the Colt M45 Close Quarters Battle Pistol for the first time, and the images and memories it set swirling in my head. I recalled my dad’s Colt 1911, his tuned and tweaked service match pistol; the one he trained me on before cutting me loose to play with his “beater .45,” because the Colt was special. The M45’s port side was up and I read “COLT” on the slide, then three stars, followed by “USMC.” No flourishes, no gold filling—plain, subdued and almost lost in the flat, desert-tan finish.

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That’s all it took to whisk me back to the yellow footprints outside Receiving Barracks at Boot Camp, MCRD San Diego and all that followed. Feeling smug after qualifying “Expert” with a 1911 for the first time, never mentioning to my fellow jarheads I’d cut my teeth on ’em. The first 1911 issued to me and carried into combat made me think. I thought about the Marine legends who wielded 1911’s—Dan Daly, leading a charge at Belleau Wood, shouting to his men, “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?” Then there’s Herman Hanneken, smuggled into the camp of Haitian bandit leader, Charlemagne Peralte in 1919 and shooting him dead on the spot, and five months later repeating that feat, killing Osiris Joseph, Peralte’s successor. Then I thought of Col. Jeff Cooper, founder of Gunsite, who pioneered the modern technique of the combat pistol with his Colt 1911. Oh, and a lot more. Things got kinda blurry there for a moment…

The M45 is historical in its own right. It has been over a century since the Colt 1911 was adopted as the official sidearm of the US armed forces, and although Colt was not the only maker of 1911’s, as they simply couldn’t produce enough for wartime demand, Colt is inarguably the iconic maker of the legendary pistol. The last shipment of new Colt 1911’s destined for US Government Issue left the factory in 1945. Now, after nearly 7 decades, American warriors are again receiving new Colt .45 automatics, essentially the same pistol their great-grandfathers may have carried and fought with in the trenches of France in 1917.

It’s no secret the Marines were never enamored of the 1911’s successor, the 9mm M9 pistol. Volumes have been written on the criticisms, some valid and some nitpickin,’ but I think we can boil it down to this: First, the M9 did not play well in a salty, sandy environment—you know, a Marine environment. Second, while the 9mm round can be very effective with modern well-engineered slugs, if restricted to NATO-compliant, non-expanding full metal jacket ball ammo, the .45 ACP is clearly superior. Put bluntly, cutting a bigger hole in your enemy with a heavier projectile works just fine, and has for over a century. Third, the Marines liked their simple, slab-sided old 1911’s. But the operative word is “old.”

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The front of the slide is serrated and the Novak front sight is dovetailed in place.
An Insight M3 Tactical Illuminator is installed on the 1913 rail and is in a
complimentary tan to the Colt’s Cerakote finish.

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The thumb safety is ambidextrous and the grips are textured G10.
The grip screws have O-rings to help retain the screws in place.

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A 1913 accessory rail is included to accommodate a wide variety of lights and lasers.

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The ejection port is flared and lowered and a National Match barrel is installed. The Colt
1911, as made for the USMC, features a slightly oversized thumb safety (below). The grip
safety neatly captures the hammer and has a “memory pad” at its base.

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Ever since Marine units were assigned to Special Operations Command (SOCOM), armorers had been pulling 1911 frames and slides out of deep storage and rebuilding them, mostly with other old parts, sometimes with new ones purchased outside of traditional mass-contract channels, and supplying them to SOCOM Marines. DOD grudgingly went along with this very limited program. But it was a time-consuming, laborious and problematic process, as old parts did what old parts do—they wore out, faltered and failed. Finally, the Corps was allowed to seek a contract for new 1911’s, and a newly energized, re-organized and re-equipped Colt was ready for them. Several companies submitted samples for testing, but some inside sources say Colt won it in a walk. I call it karma. What went around in 1911 came around again, 101 years later.

And if you’re not a MEU(SOC) Marine? A limited number of M45 pistols will be offered to civilian consumers through the Colt Custom Shop.

Military specifications for the 1911 had changed very little since about 1924, but from the 1960’s on, functional and ergonomic improvements, which were once only available as aftermarket custom work, have become the norm. This includes improvements such as lowering and flaring the ejection port, subtle alterations to the feed ramp and chamber, extending and curving the “tail” of the grip safety and dishing it out to accommodate the hammer during recoil, and putting the now-ubiquitous “memory bump” on the lower end. Finally, those minuscule original mil-spec sights, clearly visible only to youngsters with 20/20 vision shooting under ideal conditions, were banished—and good riddance!

All of these changes amounted to enhanced reliability in mechanical function, speed and certainty in safety operation. It also eliminated the hated and painful “hammer bite.”

The Marine Corps found almost everything they wanted in Colt’s Rail Gun, an XSE Series 1911 featuring a stainless steel frame and slide with a 1913 accessory rail, front and rear slide-cocking serrations, upswept beavertail grip safety, an enhanced hammer and a National Match 5-inch barrel. The Corps additionally opted for Novak 3-Dot Night Sights with Trijicon tritium inserts. The sights are sharp, clear and fast in bright or low light.

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The slide’s marking for the USMC is the first
time the Corps has had a pistol marked expressly for them.

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The Colt USMC pistol fieldstrips easily into its major components.
Note the recoil spring is a dual-spring system.

Colt’s tactical ambidextrous thumb safety is just wide enough to assure a positive “sweep,” without the ridiculous and clumsy effect of many of the exaggerated “whale tail” safety levers found on a lot of high-end custom 1911’s. By contrast, the old mil-spec safety was too small and narrow, often difficult to engage positively under stress, the contortions of combat, or when wearing gloves. I think Colt got the dimensions and geometry just right. It’s the same safety found on my Colt XSE Lightweight Government Model. I’ve never fumbled or missed it—and if anything can be fumbled, I’ll do it!

The Corps’ mandate for this gun and range results