During most of the 20th century, American combat handgunnery was carried out by men armed with a Colt 1911 chambered in .45 ACP. And what a marvelous choice in fighting weaponry it was. The pages of gun magazines have been swollen over the years with tales of how the U.S. government came to make the decision to contract Colt to make the 1911.
Most enthusiasts are aware that Colt outfitted the U.S. Cavalry with the Single Action Army in the early 1870’s and that it functioned almost flawlessly. The .45 Colt cartridge, spitting its heavy 250-grain slug, caused the demise of many enemy combatants. But in 1891 the Army decided that the SAA was no longer a viable fighting handgun and opted for the double-action .38 Long Colt revolver, which turned out to be a comparatively feeble choice.
During the close-range jungle warfare encountered by the Army in the Philippines, our boys made the unfortunate discovery that the .38 Long Colt cartridge was, to put it kindly, inadequate. Stories circulated about dope-charged Moro fighters resisting multiple .38-caliber wounds, then carving on our troops with lethal cutlery. As a result, the Army had the good sense to go back to the Single Action Army and its .45 Colt round, which was considerably more effective.
When Mr. Roosevelt took the White House, many things changed. He appointed General William Crozier as Chief of Ordnance of the Army. Gen. Crozier recognized the issues regarding the Army’s handgun choice and authorized the search for a new service pistol.
This involved the testing of a wide selection of available arms and cartridges of the time. Two men were in charge of the examination, Army Infantry Colonel John T. Thompson and Medical Corps Colonel Louis A. LaGarde. Some of their tests took place at the livestock yards in Chicago, Illinois, in 1904. They fired upon live cattle and human cadavers hung from the neck, tallying makeshift measurements of the results. In the end it was concluded that the reviewers were “of the opinion that a bullet, which will have the shock effect and stopping effect at short ranges necessary for a military pistol or revolver, should have a caliber not less than .45.”
Submissions of test guns were made by a number of companies vying for the contract, including Savage, Webley, Colt and even the German company DWM, of Luger fame. In the end, John Browning’s 1911 design chambered in .45 ACP was found to be the winner by a large margin.
Almost instantly the Colt 1911 played a starring role in America’s fight for freedom in many military conflicts and was also a great favorite of lawmen. The .45 ACP performed well, with no complaints from those who depended on it.
In the 1980s the government again came to a decision regarding its choice in fighting pistols, and the 1911 was discarded for the Beretta Model 92 chambered in 9mm.
Today we have several years of new-world combat experience in the Middle East behind us. The military has come to yet another conclusion The 9mm cartridge can be bettered when it comes to man-stopping performance. And so the United States government is now eyeballing the .45 ACP.
In response to this newfound interest in the .45, Smith & Wesson has developed a new pistol that just might meet the needs of the military – along with law enforcement agencies – perfectly. It’s the M&P .45 automatic, M&P standing for Military & Police. S&W originally designed and marketed the M&P in 9mm and .40 S&W, and it impressed a lot of folks. Since its inception, S&W has produced the M&P in other calibers, and it’s doing quite well in law enforcement circles. In fact, my old outfit, the New Mexico State Police, is planning to re-arm officers with the M&P in .357 SIG, this after a great deal of evaluation by the department’s highly knowledgeable firearms specialist, Sgt. Kevin McPherson.
The decision by the NMSP to go with the M&P sparked my interest in the pistol, particularly when I found out it was being produced in .45 ACP. A call to G&A editor Richard Venola got a new M&P45 on its way to me. My test pistol is a handsome piece, configured with a black oxide finish on the stainless steel slide, while the polymer frame is sand-colored. The resulting contrast is striking, but as good as its appearance is, the M&P is even better to handle.
One of the most important aspects of any pistol, in my opinion, is the way it feels in your hands, and the M&P feels good. Smith & Wesson had a great idea in incorporating interchangeable palm-swell grips on the M&P – small, medium and large. By twisting and removing a pin from the butt of the pistol, the grip can be removed and replaced with one of a different size, thus accommodating the hands of virtually any shooter. The double-stack, 10-round magazine doesn’t cause the grip to be bulky; rather, it’s quite comfortable.
I found the M&P’s grip angle to be much to my liking as well. Some striker-fired pistols I’ve spent time with don’t agree with the way I shoot, and it takes a lot of practice and dry-firing for them to get used to me. I found the M&P to be a natural pointer the first time I handled it. The grip angle reminds me quite a bit of the legendary 1911.
In examining the M&P, I noted several other interesting features such as the ambidextrous slide stop and the magazine disconnect. While I’m not a fan of disconnects, I’m well aware of their purpose and know that they have a place in law enforcement circles. The ambidextrous slide stop is slightly forward of where it would normally be, making it just out of reach of the thumb. This prevents the inadvertent activation of the stop while firing the pistol. The fixed combat sights are of the three-dot configuration, but night sights are available as an extra.
The M&P is set up with an accessory rail in front of the triggerguard. It also features a reversible magazine release that can be quickly and easily changed to accommodate either right- or left-handed shooters.
Breaking down the M&P for maintenance is peculiar. I had a difficult time at first since I’m old fashioned and expect things to be done the old way. To fieldstrip this pistol, the same pin that is removed from the butt of the gun for the grip change-out is removed and used as a tool to push down the sear release lever, which is colored green.
The takedown latch is then pivoted and the slide can be easily removed. Smith & Wesson says the reason for this is that it requires the shooter to open the slide, providing a direct line of sight to the chamber, making it easy to see whether the gun is loaded. It also disengages the sear, making the gun safer to handle while cleaning. Unlike some striker-fired pistols, pulling the trigger is not required for disassembly.
I later hauled the M&P45 out to my desert shooting range with a couple of hundred rounds of Black Hills 230-grain FMJ for a little workout. I found the pistol a pleasure to shoot. Recoil was a little snappy at first, but the more I fired the pistol the better it felt in my hand. In plinking around with a hundred rounds or so to get used to the gun, I found the trigger reset to be a bit different. I initially tended to fire the M&P45 more like a revolver, allowing the trigger to cycle fully before taking up the slack and squeezing off the next shot. After a little concentration, I found I was able to fire without the expected reset with no problem.
I then put the M&P45 on a sandbag rest to group it at 25 yards. It really liked the Black Hills stuff and printed a fine, sub-two-inch group. I believe that if the trigger were lighter, I could have improved on things; my trigger scale measured the M&P’s pull at six pounds – a little on the heavy side but not unreasonable considering it’s clean and crisp. I’m aware that some SWAT teams prefer a heavier trigger for dangerous entries. These teams frequently use a technique that requires stacking, a maneuver requiring the team members to closely follow each other in single file into the dwelling. This often requires drawn sidearms to be pointing directly into the back of the officer in front. While I disagree wholeheartedly with this technique, there are teams out there practicing it. Indeed, a heavier trigger might be in order for such situations.
The M&P45 is one of the most well-thought-out designs I’ve seen in a pistol. The interchangeable grips, along with the safety features, make it an ideal choice for military or law enforcement. The pistol exhibits superior accuracy and is comfortable to shoot. And, of course, the unquestionable power of the .45 ACP makes the gun an all-around champion.
Has Smith & Wesson developed the ideal fighting pistol?
And I’d put money on it.