Black Rifles & Tactical Guns

The Marine Corps’ Colt M45 Close Quarters Battle Pistol

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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.

colt2 colt3

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.”


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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


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

The Corps also mandated a long, solid aluminum trigger and a flat, serrated mainspring housing with a lanyard loop. The grips are virtually indestructible G-10, done in alternating layers of dark and light earth tones, and the surface texture provides an excellent grip without a rasping effect. Here’s a nice touch: Unscrew the grip panels and you’ll find rubber O-rings nestled into their own little pockets where they exert constant pressure to prevent the grip screws from loosening and backing out.

Fieldstripping is classic, straightforward 1911, and inside you find the M45 has dual recoil springs. They provide “staged” compression and expansion, which minimizes frame battering, adds “oomph” to chambering rounds under foul conditions and actually improves handling by smoothing out the “recoil moment.” The National Match barrel is rifled 1:16 inches, 6 grooves with a left-hand twist. The bore and feed ramp are nicely polished. Magazines are 7-round blackened stainless jobs by Wilson Combat. The Corps specified 7-round vs. 8-round mags, I’m guessing, because given matching mag lengths, 7-rounders are more forgiving of mud, crud, sand and spit, and also explains the rather elongated slots in their sides.

The most visible option is the flat, non-reflective desert-tan Cerakote finish. Far more than a “paint job,” Cerakote has proven to be an extremely durable protective finish. What only a skilled ’smith may be able to see are a handful of what Colt refers to as “relatively minor enhancements” to increase the weapon’s lifespan and corrosion resistance. The details are held in confidence between Colt and the Corps.


A Marine with Force Reconnaissance Company, 3rd Recon Battalion, conducts a speed reload (above) with an M45A1 close-quarters battle pistol during training at Range 15 near Camp Hansen, Japan, last June. The Marines focused on inserting a full magazine and chambering a round as quickly as possible. A Marine with Force Reconnaissance Company, 3rd Recon. Battalion (below), sights in an M45A1 close-quarters battle pistol during training at Range 15 near Camp Hansen, Japan last June.
The Marines applied the fundamentals of marksmanship they learned in recruit training, including proper sight alignment and sight picture. The 3rd Recon Bn. is a part of 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. USMC photos: Cpl. Mark W. Stroud/Released


The most visible option is the flat, non-reflective desert-tan Cerakote finish. Far more than a “paint job,” Cerakote has proven to be an extremely durable protective finish. What only a skilled ’smith may be able to see are a handful of what Colt refers to as “relatively minor enhancements” to increase the weapon’s lifespan and corrosion resistance. The details are held in confidence between Colt and the Corps.

A final note, perhaps only important to leathernecks: That “USMC” on the slide of the M45 marks the first time a 1911 has ever rolled out of the factory, stamped specifically for the Marine Corps. All previous military 1911’s have been marked US Army, US Navy, United States Property or US Government. After over a century of carrying 1911’s “in every clime and place,” at last, the Marines have their own Colt 1911 pistol!

If you’re not already nodding, this part could put you to sleep. How did she shoot? Exactly as you might expect from a spanky-new Colt 1911 tickled and kissed in the Colt Custom Shop on her way out the door. Yup, every one of the “consumer” M45’s receives handfitting of critical mating parts—and it shows. The trigger, which has just enough take-up to let you know you’re on it, breaks crisply and consistently at a hair under 4 pounds on my Lyman electronic pull gauge. On the finger, the feel is fantastic. The action is silky and superb. Function was repetitively flawless from round one, and accuracy was monotonously pleasing. If you like 1911’s, you would love this one. No exaggerations, no hyperbole. If she had flinched or stuttered, I’d tell you.

Admittedly, we fed her well. Federal ATK supplied several boxes of the Marine issue ammunition for the M45—230-grain FMJ marked simply “CALIBER .45 BALL M1911.” For comparison, they also sent a supply of Federal Premium HST Tactical, a top law enforcement round loaded with a 230-grain HST hollowpoint. (Note: Breaking news, HST Tactical is now available to consumers. Same ammo, different packaging with the “tactical” dropped—good stuff!) Federal’s American Eagle 230-grain FMJ ammo rounded out the menu.


Two targets from two worlds of shooting: Shooting rapid fire 1-handed at 10 yards,
combat-style, with 7 rounds Federal military ball delivered this group (above).
The hole at 7 o’clock is two rounds. Then cousin Mackenzie fired 5 rounds of his
competition 185-grain SWC match handloads at 25 yards (circled below).


At the factory, under controlled conditions, Colt’s test shooter produced a 15-yard, 5-shot group measuring 1.125x 1.25 inches, outside edge-to-edge. This was accomplished with 200-grain lead semi-wadcutters, and there was no notation whether it was shot 1-handed or 2. With that for incentive, we commenced punching paper under clear skies with gusting winds at 90 degrees and some tasty blown dust.

With the military ball our “best of five,” 5-shot groups at 15 yards, 1-handed, ran 2×1.5 inches. With HST Tactical, 2×2 inches, shooting American Eagle, we scored 2×1.75 inches. At 25 yards, shooting 2-handed, the military ball delivered 1.625×1.375 inches—tight! HST Tactical wasn’t far behind with 2×1 inches, and American Eagle produced 2.625×2.875.

Now that’s some fine performance from a battle pistol! And it’s not even the whole story. We threw out one group as a fluke. A 5-round, 2-handed group of military ball at 25 yards measured 1.25×0.75 inch, making one oblong ragged hole. We tossed it because we agreed, we just ain’t that good. There was a dollop of skill and a ton of luck in that one. Then as we were packing up to leave, young cousin MacKenzie found 5 rounds of his match handloads in his range bag and asked if he could try ’em. They were 185-grain LSWC’s. Two-handed at 25 yards, he punched out a group measuring 2×0.75 inches. And remember, those are all outer-edge to outer-edge measurements, folks.

The point is, treat this puppy well and I think she’ll shoot as well as you can hold her (and run like a freight train.) With a limited number of M45’s projected for public release, that’s if you get to hold one. Good luck with that—and Semper Fidelis!

Best 5-Shot Groups
Federal Military 230 FMJ 2×1.5* 1.625×1.375** 864 fps
Federal HST Tactical 230 HP 2×2* 2×1** 848 fps
Federal American Eagle 230 FMJ 2×1.75 2.625×2.875 807 fps

Interactive Whiteboards by PolyVision

Notes: *1-Handed, 15 Yards. **2-Handed, 25 Yards. Group size in inches.
Competition Electronics, Pro Chrono Digital 12 feet from muzzle

Federal Cartridge Co.
900 Ehlen Drive,, Anoka, MN 55303
(800) 322-2342

Insight Tech-Gear
9 Akira Way, Londonderry, NH 03053
(866) 509-2040

Winchester Ammunition
600 Powder Mill Road, East Alton, IL 62024
(618) 258-2000

Photos By Robbie Barrkman

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