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Semper Fi: Colt M45A1 CQBP Marine Pistol Review

by Eric R. Poole   |  February 25th, 2014   |   44

The M45A1 Close Quarters Battle Pistol (CQBP) was decided on July 20, 2012, from three submissions to a 2010 solicitation handed down by Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM). Colt, Springfield Armory and Karl Lippard Designs each offered Leathernecks a replacement for the age-old rebuilt .45s. A variation of the 1911 Rail Gun won and re-upped Colt’s enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The initial delivery order following the announcement specified 4,036 pistols and spares. However, the contract carries with it an indefinite-delivery and indefinite-quantity clause for up to 12,000 M45A1s, spare parts and logistical support. The value of this contract is said to be worth $22.5 million to Colt. Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) and Marine Expeditionary Unit Special Operation Command (MEU[SOC]), as well as members of Force Recon, Special Reaction Teams (SRT) and the Marine Corps pistol team are the expected end users for the first new Colt 1911s added to an armory’s inventory since World War II.

“This is a truly gratifying contract award,” said Gerry Dinkel, president and CEO of Colt Defense. “To have the 1911 selected again for U.S. Forces 101 years after its initial introduction is just an incredible testament to the timeless design and effectiveness of the Colt 1911. Colt Defense looks forward to another great partnership with the Marine Corps as we renew industry production of the military 1911.”

The commercially available Colt Marine Pistol is a tribute to this achievement and comes from the Colt Custom Shop. There, critical parts are precisely mated and test fired for accuracy. Every one of these pistols arrived with an actual test target. Colt sent “Tactical Operator” a sample with a factory test target displaying a five-shot, 15-yard group measuring .85 inch.

Quantities are limited. Like the M45A1 CQBP issued to Marines, the commercial version features the flat, desert-tan-colored Cerakote finish over a stainless steel slide, frame and more. You’ll also notice the underbarrel Picatinny rail; fixed Novak three-dot night sights; flat, serrated mainspring housing with lanyard loop; enhanced hammer to guard against hammer bite; long, solid aluminum trigger; and ambidextrous safety lock. As you inspect the obvious, be sure not to overlook the stainless, five-inch National Match barrel and bushing.

MCB QUANTICO
Marines with military occupational specialty (MOS) 2112 assigned to the Precision Weapons Section (PWS) at Quantico, Virginia, are some of the best gunsmiths in the business. Today, there are about 60 of them. I say “gunsmiths” and not simply “pistolsmiths” because it needs to be made clear that the smallest MOS requires two years of specialized training. There is nothing like this little-known team of highly proficient practitioners in any other American branch of service. These apron-wearing Marines only certify about 10 to 12 former 2111s (small-arm repair technicians) each year. They work on everything from competition-tuned rifles and pistols used by the shooting teams to the legendary M40-series employed by Marine snipers.

In 1985, when the Marine Corps replaced its standard-issue .45-caliber M1911A1 with the 9mm M9, the PWS sorted through 1911s being turned in and started work rebuilding a small number for use as a secondary weapon system preferred by Special Operation units and Recon. Even though the higher-capacity M9 was selected by Uncle Sam, it was quite obvious that Marines still wanted the power from the legendary .45. Initially, PWS sourced serviceable parts stripped from M1911A1s before looking to commercially available parts to fill the gaps. Since 1985, the M45 has been distinguished by a set of Pachmayr grips, a Videki aluminum trigger and an ambidextrous thumb safety. Over the years, a few upgrades appeared, including a few sight variations, Springfield Armory slides, various replacement barrels, magazines, grip safeties, even a few Caspian frames when the demand for the M45 by Marine special operation units exceeded supply.

The Marine Corps System Command issued a formal Request For Proposal (RFP) in March 2010. Though the M45 was more respected for its terminal performance over the M9, these pistols required special maintenance cycles and fitting for reliable operation. The RFP indicated “the pistol’s operating environment is characterized by high usage in training, rough handling and environments on deployments and limited access to repair and maintenance resources during high-tempo operations.” Marines wanted a “semiautomatic pistol in .45 ACP using a single-stack magazine that must hold at least seven rounds.”

The RFP stated that the pistol should function with a seven-round .45-caliber magazine the Marine Corps already had in the supply chain (NSN 1005-01-373-2774). This language in the RFP made it clear what pistol Marines were hoping for.

Colt Defense answered the call with a slightly modified variant of its stainless steel Rail Gun. It already featured a beveled magazine well to improve faster reloads. It satisfied the requirement to readily demonstrate parts interchangeability with no special handwork, tools or degradation of performance. The RFP also noted that the M45A1 CQBP would be a model that was commercially available.

THE CIVVY
The M45A1 CQBP is forged stainless steel, as is the Colt Rail Gun. It’s given a match-grade barrel and bushing. Fit is tight, but nothing that inhibits function in humid or dusty, arid environments. Per the Marine Corps’ RFP, the desert-tan Cerakote finish meets the spec for a dull, nonreflective surface and use of standardized military colors. “COLT USMC” is roll-stamped on the left-side slide slab, with “Colt Government Model” on the right. The right side of the lower receiver displays the serial number, a unique identification (UID) mark and “U.S.” Two differences between the civilian variant and the ones issued to Marines are the serial-number range and a “U.S. Property” mark.

The M45A1 features an integral Mil-Std-1913 Picatinny rail that’s true to spec. This rail design offers additional surface area to attach accessories with tougher resilience against rugged operational environments.

The Colt Marine Pistol arrives in a small, olive-drab-colored Pelican Storm case. Inside, the left side of the pistol greets its user with a black, Colt-marked .45-caliber cleaning kit developed by Otis. Underneath the top panel, you’ll find the typical safety information as well as a five-shot factory test target. The Marine Pistol is delivered with three Wilson Combat magazines, one in the gun and two secured in a below-deck compartment within the case. Unlike the bright-silver Wilson Combat magazines procured for the last generation of M45s, these are blackened and don’t shine.

For those familiar with a Colt M1911A1, handling and operation of the M45A1 is familiar. The M45A1 bears more weight than older 1911s, but it is able to better manage felt recoil. Recoil is also stifled by a dual recoil-spring system on a traditional-length guide rod. Combined with the flared beavertail grip safety with memory grooves, G10 grips and high-cut triggerguard, it’s hard to imagine a more controllable .45. Serrations on all controls including the slide, the spur of its combat hammer, slide-lock lever, backstrap, trigger shoe, magazine release — they are all tactile and responsive. The safety is positive and clicks off intuitively with a high grip and on with a little more reluctance. For shooting with a high grip, the thumb safety’s ledge offers enough surface area to rest the thumb for additional control when firing.

The long, solid trigger and flat mainspring housing are reminiscent of the World War II-vintage, pre-World War II 1911s. The Marine Pistol evaluated here produced an average trigger pull of 4.9 pounds, which was remarkably clean and crisp for something said to be “Mil-Spec.” The trigger won’t inhibit the shooter from obtaining the most of the pistol’s accuracy potential.

Inside, the M45A1 reveals a functional difference from the M1911s, M1911A1s and M45s in prior service. The M45A1 utilizes the Series 80 trigger system with its internal firing-pin safety. Though a firing-pin safety was specified in the Series 80, it’s understood that Colt prefers to manufacture its pistols with this added safety system. Traditionalists often insist that the Series 80 trigger system creates a spongy trigger feel since the safety plunger in the slide is spring loaded.

The G10 grips are thicker than traditional double-diamond-checkered walnut stocks, but salty Marines once issued the new M45A1 will find the girth comparable to the Pachmayr rubber grips found on the last-generation M45.

Just behind the magazine well, Marines still have a loop to attach lanyards to, just as the RFP spec’d. The basepad at the bottom of the Wilson magazine helps to prevent the user from painfully slamming his palm into the lanyard loop during a reload.

Though Wilson Combat does offer an eight-shot magazine, Marines wanted to stay with a seven-shot magazine. The reason? In posing that question to Marines involved with the solicitation program, I was told, “That’s what the M1911 was designed to function reliably with.”

Inside the magazine is a synthetic follower forced upward by a powerful spring that ensures quick ejections of a magazine once the mag release is pressed.

Besides the G10 grips and Wilson Combat seven-shot magazines, Colt outsources the Novak three-dot tritium sight system. Novaks have appeared on older M45s, but not all were usually night sights. Others wore a bullseye sight setup or tall sights from Millet, PWS or Springfield Armory. Standardizing the no-snag Novak sights was a good move for Marines.

THE EXPERT BADGE
Appropriately, the Marine Corps’ expert qualification badge still retains a crossed pair of Colt 1911s. Per specifications required by the Corps, the M45A1 needed to hold a five-shot group averaging no greater than four inches by four inches at 25 yards. During testing, I measured velocities, accuracy potential from a bag rest on a bench at 25 yards and completed this evaluation with a renewal of my qualification. Saying the M45A1 exceeds the Marines’ requirement is an understatement. I’ve only attempted this course of fire with the M9 and managed to score five expert qualification awards while serving in the Marines. The M45A1 could have easily helped me achieve a sixth. After averaging inch-and-a-half groups from 25 yards with almost all brands and scoring one single three-quarter-inch group with a 230-grain Black Hills load, I can be sure it won’t be too long before a Marine goes Distinguished with this new Colt M45A1.

Of the multiple brands I tested, the M45A1 seemed to prefer three loads of ammunition. Both 230-grain types from Black Hills and Winchester proved exceptional, as did a 185-grain Hornady Critical Defense load.

I have failed to fire enough rounds through this pistol to certify its reliability per the RFP specification for no part failures for at least 5,000 rounds. I only managed to fire a little more than 500 rounds in time for publication. That being said, I have yet to experience a malfunction of any type, which goes well above the requirement for an average minimum of 300 rounds between stoppages. Testing will continue.

Though the flat, desert-colored Cerakote finish proved tough, black carbon soot covers the muzzle area after each range session and requires diligent cleaning to satisfy a unit armorer or an overbearing staff NCO.

Basic maintenance is virtually identical to the older M1911, M1911A1 and M45. However, unit armorers will need to be trained on troubleshooting and disassembly/reassembly of the Series 80 safety system since this wasn’t present on earlier models. Recoil springs should still be replaced after every 5,000 to 7,000 rounds, and the extractor needs to be inspected at the same time. With a light application of oil and periodic cleaning, these M45A1s should prove reliable for another half-century.

CAMP PERRY & BEYOND
I received word that Marines awarded Colt a contract on July 20, 2012, to initially deliver 4,000 pistols for Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) and Marine Expeditionary Unit Special Operation Command (MEU[SOC]). I had just finished firing the President’s 100 at the 2012 National Matches at Camp Perry when I sparked conversation with a few Quantico-based Marines. They were gathered wearing their symbolic campaign covers and talking about PWS getting some of the first few to modify for the upcoming competitive pistol season. Stand by, and watch for the tan-colored 1911 winning trophies on the firing line.

The Special Reaction Team members based out of Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort and Parris Island, South Carolina, are already familiarizing themselves with the M45A1 CQBP. They’re the first to carry them. Now the 3rd Marine Division has started fielding them. The report is that the M45A1 will “shoot out the black all day long.” The SRT has begun assisting the transition, which leaves behind the Beretta M9A1. It shouldn’t be a problem with a company like Colt who has provided the military with 100 years of experience on the faithful 1911.

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