Black Rifles & Tactical Guns

Gun Test: Colt M45 Marine Corps

Guns and Gear Contributor

By John Connor, American Handgunner

Well, dang … I’ve tried so hard — with 99 percent success — to always see guns as just tools; portable machines to be used and used hard, maintained properly and even cleaned occasionally, but tools which can always be replaced without regrets. I first learned that from my Dad. Later, while working in the field of “serious shenanigans,” I learned never to get so attached to a firearm you’d hesitate for an instant flinging it into a muddy ditch and walkin’ away whistling. After all, with a sharp stick, a rock or your bare hands, you could always get an acceptable replacement. The only exception, Dad made crystal-clear, with his “business finger” a half-inch from my nose:

“My Colt,” he said in his Navy chief voice, the one you could hear across a tin can’s gun deck with the 40 mike-mike twins barkin’. Then he leaned in closer and loaded his tone with a little more gravel: “My COLT!” I got the message.

I wasn’t prepared for my own reaction when I pulled the lock tabs on the olive drab Pelican case, swung the lid open and took my first peep at the new Colt M45 Marine Close Quarters Battle Pistol. Yeah, it was a modified Colt 1911 Rail Gun with a flat, non-reflective Desert Tan Cerakote finish. That’s what my eyes saw. What my heart saw, what played across my brain was something else:

Dan Daly, leaping to his feet with 1911 in hand, yelling at his pinned-down Marines, “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?” then leading the charge into Belleau Wood — and glory. Herman Hanneken dressed in native mufti, sneaking into the camp of the Haitian bandit leader Charlemagne Peralte and shooting him dead on the spot — then repeating that feat five months later, shooting Peralte’s successor, Osiris Joseph. My Dad, kneeling behind me, his breath on my neck, adjusting my eight year-old grip and stance, that rain-barrel voice whispering instructions into my ear, guiding my first shots with his Colt 1911, then rumbling, “Good shootin’, boy …” Oh, and a whole lot more; tunes for another time, maybe.

There must have been some heavy cleaner-lube-protectant fumes trapped inside that Pelican case, because my vision got fuzzy and my eyes got wet for a moment. When that strange fog cleared, I read the muted, barely visible engraving on the port side of the slide. It read COLT, followed by three stars; an homage to retired Marine Lieutenant General William Keys, who is rightfully credited with pulling Colt from the quicksand of bankruptcy, slappin’ it into shape, kickin’ it in the slats and thrusting it forward to regain its honor as an iconic American arms maker. Then there are four more letters: USMC.

That might not mean much to veterans of other services, but consider this: Marines have been wielding 1911’s since 1911 — countless thousands of them. Marines continued issuing and using 1911’s for decades after the US military officially adopted the M9 9mm pistol across the board. They pulled old frames out of storage and, within harsh budget restraints and the limits of skilled manpower, rebuilt them and put them back into service. It’s no secret the Corps was never happy with the M9 for reasons so numerous we won’t go into them here, other than to say this: If limited to full metal jacket round-nose ammo, punching a nearly half-inch hole in your opponent with a big, slower-moving heavy slug beats the kapok outta ventilating them with zippy point-three-five-something ball rounds. Proof in abundance was supplied on battlefields around the world, over a century of conflicts large and small. Besides, scarred, worn-shiny old jarheads simply love their scarred, worn-shiny old slab-sided 1911’s — and they’re obstinate critters.

Despite this killer-karmic connection, not a single 1911 has ever left a factory on a military contract marked “USMC” or “Marine Corps” — not until the first Colt M45 rolled off the line last year. They have all been marked U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, United States Property or US Government, most of them being hand-me-downs or cast-offs purchased from surplus. It’s a historic pistol in many other ways too, but this one really hits home. After more than a century of carrying 1911’s “in every clime and place,” Marines have their own Colt 1911 pistol!

M45’s will not be issued Corps-wide. Only Marines serving in the MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) assigned to Special Operations Command (MEU-SOC) will have the honor and combat advantage of carrying them.

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Starboard side of the M45: Note Colt suffixes the serial number with EGA, which stands for Eagle, Globe and Anchor — Semper Fi, Colt!

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A close-up of the slide’s port side showing the M45’s subtle — but meaningful — engraving.

 

Then and Now

The last Colt 1911’s destined for US military use left the factory in 1945. They incorporated the few changes made in the 1920’s, but many valuable enhancements have become de riguer since then, and the M45 wears the best of ’em: Lowered and flared ejection port, improved feed ramp and chamber; an extended, curved and dished beavertail grip safety to enhance grip and eliminate hammer bite, a “memory bump” on its lower end, and thankfully, the original mil-spec miniscule sights have gone the way of wrapped leggings and the doughboy helmet.

The Marines found almost every feature they wanted in Colt’s XSE Series 1911 “Rail Gun;” a tough stainless slide and frame, 1913 accessory rail, front and rear slide-cocking serrations, an improved and lightened hammer and a National Match 5″ barrel. Colt’s ambidextrous thumb safeties, in my opinion, offer the best combination of size and geometry available — just wide enough to assure a positive sweep while avoiding the clumsiness and “snag-catching” of overdone whale-tail thumb safeties the size of submarine diving planes.

The Corps also opted for a long solid aluminum trigger, a flat serrated mainspring housing with lanyard loop, and the superb Novak 3 Dot Night Sights with Trijicon tritium inserts. The grips are special too; almost indestructible G-10 done in alternating layers of light and dark earth tones, textured and contoured for a sure grip without any rasping effect. Removing the grip panels reveals another nice detail: rubber O-rings set in their own little pockets, where they exert constant pressure to prevent the grip screws from loosening and backing out.

Inside you’ll find the M45 has dual recoil springs which provide “staged” compression and expansion, minimizing frame battering and smoothing out the “recoil moment,” also adding more oomph to chambering rounds under dirty conditions. The barrel is rifled 1-in-16″, six grooves with a left hand twist, and the bore and feed ramp are very nicely polished. Unless you’re a skilled gunsmith with a keen eye and precision gauges, you may not see a small suite of “relatively minor enhancements” to improve corrosion resistance and lengthen the lifespan of the weapon. The Corps ain’t sayin’, and Colt simply says “The design details of the M45A1 CQBP are held in confidence between Colt and the Corps.” I could make some informed comments, but I won’t. Don’tcha just love a mystery?

Next page please…

The Corps specified Wilson Combat magazines of blackened stainless steel; 7-rounders versus eight, I’m guessing because given matching mag lengths, sevens are more forgiving of mud, blood, sand and spit, which also explains the elongated slots in their sides.

The most visible feature is of course the flat Desert Tan Cerakote finish. Far more than a paint job, Cerakote is an extremely durable anti-corrosive finish; just one more piece of “over the beach” survival insurance.

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Regardless of what might be the case in the real world regarding stopping power, the imposing .45 caliber bore of the M45 is confidence building.

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Thanks to JJ Reich and Federal, the M45 was fed only premium chow. The military ball shot beautifully, the HST’s are butt-kickers in terminal performance, and American Eagle rounds were gratifyingly accurate.

 

Shooting Hot ’N Dirty

Can you imagine the pressure determining who gets to fire the first rounds from the M45? We decided to go by Marine Corps Birthday Ball traditional “birthday cake” rules: I presented the “slice of cake” to our oldest Marine present, Uncle John. For him, 2014 marks 50 years since he stood on the yellow footprints at Boot Camp. He then handed the slice to our youngest present, my cousin MacKenzie, who just grinned like a shaved ape, slapped in a magazine and commenced fire — while I fidgeted flat-footed, gawped an’ stared. I don’t know what was in their minds, but I was a-scairt half-sick that she might stutter, choke an’ puke …

So, how did she shoot, you ask? Sorry, melodrama lovers, she shot exactly as you would expect from a spanky-new Colt XSE pistol kissed an’ tickled by the Custom Shop crew before heading to the senior prom. Yup; that’s right: every M45 bound for the consumer market receives hand-fitting of critical mating parts before release — and it shows, big-time. The action is sure, silky and certain, the trigger breaks crisp and clean at just under four pounds on my Lyman electronic pull gauge, and function was monotonously flawless from the first round.

With the M45 contract, Federal ATK is back in the business of supplying .45 ACP ammo to the Corps, and our buddy JJ Reich there dug some up for us; classic 230-grain “punkin ball.” Along with it he sent some Federal Premium HST Tactical, a top Law Enforcement round loaded with HST hollowpoints, and some good news: HST is now available to consumers; same rounds, just with the “tactical” dropped from the packaging. Jump on it! We added a buncha sure-shooting Federal American Eagle FMJ’s from our ammo dump to round out the menu. From slow singles to staccato rapid-fire strings, the M45 digested them all con mucho gusto.

Under controlled conditions at the factory, Colt’s test-shooter punched out a 5-shot group measuring 1.125″x1.25″ edge-to-edge at 15 yards, using 200-grain semi-wadcutters. That gave us incentive to lean into gusting, dust-laden winds from 90 degrees right and hold ’em the best we could.

From 15 yards our “best of five” 5-shot groups one-handed ran (in inches, tenths and hundredths) 2.0×1.5 with military ball; HST Tactical went 2.0×2.0, and American Eagle turned in 2.0×1.75. From 25 yards shooting two-handed, mil ball yielded 1.625×1.375 — sweet! HST Tactical hung in there with 2.0×1.0 and Eagle shot into 2.625×2.875. That’s excellent performance from a fighting pistol, and some of you can do better, I’m sure.

We tossed one five-shot group due to “fluke factor.” It measured only 1.25″x.75″, creating a single oblong hole. That phenomenon was shot with military ball two-handed at 25 yards, and we agreed, we just ain’t that good. I’ll gladly take a group resulting from a big dollop of skill with a teaspoon of luck, but not one from the opposite — a spoonful of skill and a washtub of luck.

As we packed up, MacKenzie found five rounds of his 185-grain LSWC handloads and asked if he could burn ’em. At 25 yards shooting two-handed, his group measured 2.0Æx.75Æ. And remember, that’s all outer-edge to outer-edge. The point is, this devil-puppy will shoot about as tight as you can hold her — if you get to hold one.

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Up front: A re-born legend, the Colt M45. Behind it, John’s Colt Lightweight Government nestled in an El Paso Saddlery 1942 “Tanker” holster.

Can You Get One?

Our latest info is about 2,000 M45’s will be released for consumer sale, with Marine Corps requirements taking first priority. Some have already trickled out. The list price is $1,999, but I’ve seen them auctioned off for $3,800 to $4,600. Sadly, I think 95 percent will never even be fired. They’ll be displayed under glass or shoved deep into safes as investments. A cruel fate for a superlative fighting pistol.

That evening we composed a plea to Colt for permission to keep this M45, at whatever price they deemed fit, you know, considering it’s all old and used now. Four of us were animatedly slingin’ words around about “custody” of this child if our adoption papers get stamped, but I noticed Uncle John didn’t join in. The Great Stone Face just sat there all slitty-eyed, flickin’ his knife open and closed. Well, I’m sure I’ll get to shoot it — on occasion, anyway … Connor OUT

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