Skip to main content

M45 MEUSOC 1911: Full Review

Built by armorers at the Precision Weapons Section, the M45 MEUSOC pistol served the U.S. Marine Corps from 1985 to 2012.

M45 MEUSOC 1911: Full Review
(Photo by Mark Fingar)

I remember the first time I heard of the now-iconic Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable (MEUSOC) pistol, a Model 1911A1 in .45 Auto. I was an ROTC freshman and my Marine officer instructor — a ramrod-straight major who had just returned from the Gulf War — mentioned the custom pistols carried by Special Operation units on the Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU). The MEU was the Corps’ bid to be the “First to Fight” during the 1980s and ’90s. It consisted of naval amphibious ships afloat, deployed forward to crisis-­prone areas. They were packed full of capabilities. Way down the list of those capabilities was a custom-­built M1911A1 backing up the suppressed HK MP5s of some very hard Marines.

The author carried this M45 during a deployment to Afghanistan. This variant is considered a Generation 2. Though similar to Generation 1 M45s, the Gen 2 was given Videki speed triggers and a Springfield Armory slide. (Photo by Lt. Justin Dyal (ret.))

In 1991, I was a broke college student, upgrading my first 1911 one piece at a time as I had money to spend. I was enchanted at the idea that specially trained shooters carried heavily modified Colt 1911s. In an era more closely associated with the Tomahawk cruise missile, the Stealth fighter, and the futuristic M1A1 Abrams tank, the M45 MEUSOC was an anachronism. The U.S. military had largely completed the transition to the M9 pistol, a 9mm Beretta 92FS, including the Marines. Yet, in a small shop in Quantico, Virginia, the Rifle Team Equipment (RTE) section of the Weapons Training Battalion had match armorers converting World War II surplus M1911A1s into custom combat pistols. This unit of armorer became the Precision Weapons Section (PWS).

(Photo by Mark Fingar)

To get a sense of the finer details involved, I spoke with Kasey Crawford, a “2112,” the military occupational specialty (MOS) number for a “match armorer.” Crawford was involved in building the early MEUSOC .45s. (He is currently a pistolsmith known for making bullseye pistols and MEUSOC clones through KCs Kustom Creations. He indicated that armorers would select the best of available M1911A1 frames, which would then have the frame cut for a beavertail safety and fitted with extended aluminum Videki triggers, King’s extended and ambidextrous thumb safeties, aftermarket sears and Commander hammers. The frame would be matched to a surplus ‘hard’ slide, which were often associated with National Match builds. Then, a Bar-Sto semi drop-­in barrel was fit. A custom-­made rear sight was matched up with a front that was silver-soldered to the slide. The M1911A1 arched mainspring housing was ground down flat and re-­serrated. Finally, Pachmayr grips with wraparound rubber checkering were affixed to the frame.

The M45 replaced the GI spur with an aftermarket Commander-type hammer. The armorers also fitted the frames with a Wilson 66 beavertail grip safety. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The pistols served for more than 30 years with four broad generations of configurations, differing in the exact mix of slides, sights and parts, but all variations were on a theme and issued interchangeably. The M45 was carried by several specialized units but were most closely associated with Force Reconnaissance and the early Marine Raiders of MARSOC. A large part of the mystique of the pistols was their status as the sidearms of those very selective units.

Unique to the M45 is the Videki three-hole speed trigger. Marine armorers removed the overtravel screw and welded the hole. The checkered-type slide-lock lever and mag release button were GI. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The MEUSOC .45 was introduced in 1985 when the “9mm versus .45” debates were a staple in gun magazines. Guns & Ammo’s Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper was a strong advocate for both the Model 1911 platform and the .45 ACP cartridge to be used by serious professionals. The M1911s of that time were a largely custom proposition to get the beavertail grip safety, ambidextrous thumb safeties, custom trigger, and sights featured on the Marine pistols.

The Kings 201-A thumb safety lever was considered more robust than the competition-style levers on match pistols. All M45s were fitted by armorers with ambidextrous safety levers. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

I spoke with my friend John A. Dailey about his perceptions of the M45 MEUSOC. Dailey was a veteran of Force Reconnaissance, Marine Corps SOCOM Detachment 1, and MARSOC. He authored the upcoming book, “Tough, Rugged Bastards” (2024). Dailey recalled his anticipation to be issued the sidearm and how lucky the men felt to have them, certain that these pistols conferred distinct advantages to the users. He recalled how Force Recon shooters would go through extensive training with the pistols and then, at a point after qualification, add the early Surefire pistol lights to prevent unnecessary wear on the slide-­stop attachment point. (It was the era before rails on 1911s.)

The bushing was included with each Bar-Sto semi-fit barrel. The checkered plunger was GI. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Marines who were issued the special .45s trained hard and often with them, sometimes firing 500 or more rounds a day, every day, for weeks as they prepared to deploy. In the original service trials for the handgun that would become the “M1911,” the U.S. Army had subjected the Colt and Savage contestants to a 6,000-round torture test with the round count approximating a reasonably expected service life for a military sidearm. The MEU direct-action platoons were nearing those numbers in the training package alone.

I interviewed one of the specialized 2112 gunsmiths who served with the MEU direct-action units around the turn of the 21st century. He remembered the struggle to keep the pistols in perfect working order. After the extensive training regimen, he would go through each pistol and replace springs and high-wear items. He took it as a point of pride that his shooters’ pistols stayed in optimal condition throughout the subsequent deployment.

The extended thumb-safety levers assisted operators wearing gloves when shooting. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

One of the readily identifiable quirks of the MEUSOC pistols is how each part of the pistol has the last four digits of the serial number prominently hand-­stamped on it. It makes sense when you consider that the armorer could be working on several pistols in various states of troubleshooting and repair, often at a rough ammo table on a range or on the fantail of an amphibious ship as shooters were keeping their skills sharp while underway.

A pistolsmith friend of mine was converting an M1911A1 into a MEUSOC clone for a mutual friend, and he reached out to ask me some technical questions. I had to dig through some old deployment photos to answer them before realizing that I only had photos of one particularly memorable pistol I carried briefly in Afghanistan.

Armorers hand-stamped the last four digits of the serial number on fitted parts such as the thumb safety lever and slide. Marines often trimmed the pinky lip from the Pachmayr grips with a razor. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

This pistol was an older build, identifiable by the shop-made rear sight and old-school Wilson 66 beavertail. It carried a battle-worn finish that it had earned the hard way, serving one Marine after another in harsh training and operations. Even the wraparound Pachmayr grips’ rubber checkering was worn nearly smooth in places, and you could see where armorers had given the old warhorse multiple rack numbers through the years, each number painted atop the previous. The Colt frame was in the 1 million serial number range, which dated its manufacture to 1943. The frame of the pistol could have seen combat in every war and hotspot since.

A Springfield Armory slide housed the Bar-Sto barrel. The Colt was neither loose nor tight; it was that happy medium which tended to favor reliability for the long term with other builds of that era. The pistol had an unusual two-­piece slide stop, and some of the finish wear suggested that it had carried a light at some point. The trigger broke at what was likely a touch under 5 pounds.


The Wilson Combat 47 seven-round magazine was the standard-issue magazine for the M45, which continued with the M45A1 replacement in 2012. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

I remember taking the pistol out to the range on a Special Operations Forces (SOF) compound before a mission to get a little practice in and work through some nerves. The pistol piled 230-grain GI hardball into a neat hole at 7 yards, and still a close group at 15. I recall the pistol printing higher than I expected or preferred, about 3 inches above the sight picture at 15 yards.

The pistols were issued with a stack of the Wilson 47 seven-­round magazines. Even as eight-­round magazines became common in the civilian market, the Corps stood by Wilson’s seven-­round mags. Occasionally, Marines would supplement or substitute the official mags with eight or 10 rounders of their own, though.

Armorers installed Bar-Sto semi-fit barrels to the GI slide. These barrels were necessary for enhanced accuracy on missions such as in-extremis hostage rescue (IHR). (Photo by Mark Fingar)

For most of the service run, the .45s were carried in Safariland drop holsters in the 3004/6004 family. In the earliest years before Safariland made a holster to accommodate pistol lights, the M45s with the Surefire 610 were carried in a unique Ted Blocker leather drop holster. In the last few years of its service life, as drop holsters became less popular, many of the Raiders carried the pistol in an open-top Safariland paddle holster, the Model 560 custom fit, sometimes adapting small shock cord or boot blousing bands as field-expedient retention straps until near the objective.

Military small arms often have a raft of official nomenclature, nicknames, and slang, which may vary by time frame, unit, and so on. The M45 MEUSOC was no different. Depending on the time and context, I heard it referred to as the “M45,” the “CQBP” for “Close Quarters Battle Pistol,” and as the “.45” or “1911,” and more.

Match armorers custom-made rugged, high-profile serrated sights from barstock and pressed them into the standard dovetail cut. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The Marine Corps is (in)famous for being conservative in its reluctance to abandon proven systems. The Marines fought through the early battles of World War II, for example, with the beloved Model 1903 Springfield before embracing the M1 Garand. The Corps trailed the Army by years before fully embracing an optic-equipped M4 over the carry handle M16A2. By the end of the M45’s run in 2012, it was the last .45-caliber 1911 standing in the U.S. arsenal. Even as the Corps was adopting the Colt M45A1 as a commercial off-the-shelf solution to replace the aging M45, the younger operators within the Raider battalions were clamoring for the wholesale adoption of the Glock 19 that some had been carrying in certain roles. It was fascinating to see that shift occur during a few short years. 

Some M45 pistols were fitted with Ed Brown beavertail safeties. Though issued with seven-round magazines, some Marines used personal gear including the Chip McCormick 10-round mag. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

For most of its run, the shooters genuinely felt that the MEUSOC pistols were an advantage. The pistols facilitated hitting, and the big-bore cartridges were thought to have more effect in the urgent confines of CQB. There was also years’ worth of mystique and tradition. However, as the pistols aged, they became less reliable. Parts support was iffy toward the end, and there were never quite enough armorers to correctly maintain the pistols. In a surprisingly short span, the legendary pistols were seen as too heavy, holding too few rounds, and being less reliable than other options.

Though used as a general purpose rig towards the end of service for the M45, the Safariland paddle holster was a common sight among MARSOC Marine Raiders. Technically, it was issued as a concealment holster. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Now that the pistols are almost a decade from active use, the men who carried them look back much more fondly. Many of the unit-­level leaders in the Marine Raiders today came through the lengthy training pipeline as the M45 was nearing the end of service. It was a rite of passage of no small stress to qualify during the direct-­action phase of training. In every class, there were Marines who, after weeks of learning to shoot the pistols to high standards, didn’t quite get all the necessary hits within the required times. This would either send them back to their previous unit or, in cases where the student showed unusual potential, to the next course months behind them. Mastering the big .45 mattered, and while Marines may not pine for the M45’s return, there are strong memories tied to it.

There comes a point in the hero’s journey when he is given a special weapon, often one made by mystical artisans. The weapon often requires great skill to wield or gives the hero a unique advantage. For a period of time, for the Marines who carried it, this was a perfect description of the MEUSOC .45

In keeping with the pistol’s role as a secondary weapon, Safariland 6004 holsters were the primary holster issued with the M45. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

M45 MEU(SOC) Gen 1

  • Type: Recoil operated, semiautomatic
  • Cartridge: .45 ACP
  • Capacity: 7+1 rds.
  • Barrel: 5 in., Bar-Sto Drop-In
  • Overall Length: 8.5 in.
  • Width: 1.2 in.
  • Height: 5.5 in.
  • Weight: 2 lb., 4 oz.
  • Finish: Parkerized (steel)
  • Sights: Millet, silver-soldered (front); RTE/PWS (rear)
  • Trigger pull: Videki; 4 lbs., 8 oz. (tested)
  • Safety: King’s thumb lever; Wilson 66 grip safety lever (Repro)
  • Manufacturer: KCs Kustom Creations, 843-267-3773,

Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

HIVIZ FastDot H3 Handgun Sights

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

Meprolight's M22 Dual-Illumination No Batteries Reflex Sight: Video Review

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

Ballistic Advantage Continues Excellence in Barrel Design

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

Winchester Ranger Returns! Now In .22

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

Latest Name In Lever Guns: Aero Precision

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

SAKO 90 Quest Lightweight Hunting Rifle

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

Warne Scope Mounts New Red Dot Risers

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

New Warne Scope Mounts Skyline Lite Bipods

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

Smith & Wesson Response PCC: Now Taking SIG Mags

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

Mark 4HD Riflescopes: The Latest Tactical Line From Leupold

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

Show Stopper: Smith & Wesson 1854 Lever-Action Rifle

Its seems like every year is a busy year FN, and 2024 is no different. Joe Kurtenbach is joined by Chris Johnson and Ric...

FN 509 Pistol Updates and New Suppressors!

Guns and Ammo Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Guns & Ammo stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now