Semper Fi: Colt M45A1 CQBP Marine Pistol Review
July 01, 2013
The M45A1 Close Quarters Battle Pistol (CQBP) was announced on July 20, 2012, chosen from three submissions to a 2010 solicitation handed down by Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM). Colt, Springfield Armory, and Karl Lippard Designs offered a replacement for the age-old rebuilt .45s, and thus, a variation of the Colt 1911 Rail Gun renewed its enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps.
The initial delivery order following the announcement specified 4,036 pistols and spares. The contract, however, carries with it an indefinite-delivery and indefinite-quantity clause for up to 12,000 M45s, 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)], 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 in limited quantities. There, critical parts are precisely mated and test-fired for accuracy. Every pistol arrives with an actual test target. Colt sent Shooting Times a sample with a factory test target displaying a five-shot, 15-yard group measuring 0.85 inch.
Like the M45 CQBP issued to Marines, the commercial version features the flat, Desert Tan-colored Cerakote finish over a stainless-steel slide and frame; under-barrel Picatinny rail; fixed Novak three-dot night sights; a flat, serrated mainspring housing with lanyard loop; an enhanced hammer to guard against hammerbite; a long, solid aluminum trigger; and an ambidextrous safety lock. As you inspect the obvious, be sure not to overlook the stainless-steel, 5-inch National Match barrel and bushing.
Marines with military occupational specialty (MOS) 2112 assigned to the Precision Weapons Section (PWS) at Quantico, Va., are some of the best gunsmiths in the business. I say "gunsmiths" and not simply "pistolsmiths" because it needs to be made clear that they work on everything from competition-tuned rifles and pistols used by the shooting teams to the legendary M40 series used by Marine snipers. There is nothing like this little-known team of highly proficient practitioners in any other American branch of service. Today, there are about 60 of them. These apron-wearing Marines certify only about 10 to 12 former 2111s (small-arms repair technicians) each year.
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 rebuilding a small number for use as a secondary weapon system preferred by Special Operation units and Recon. Even though the higher-capacity M9 had been selected, it was quite obvious that Marines still wanted the power of 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 from Marine special operation units exceeded supply.
MARCORSYSCOM issued a formal Request For Proposal (RFP) in March 2010. Though the M45 was more respected than the M9 for its terminal performance, those pistols required special maintenance cycles and fitting for reliable operation. The RFP emphasized "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 "semi-automatic 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 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 or tools or degradation of performance.
The RFP also noted that the M45 CQBP would be a model that was commercially available.
The M45A1 CQBP is forged stainless steel, as is the Colt Rail Gun. It's been 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, non-reflective surface and use of standardized military colors. "COLT USMC" is roll-stamped on the left-side slide slab, and "Colt Government Model" is 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 has an integral Mil-Std-1913 Picatinny rail that's true to spec. This rail design offers additional surface area to attach accessories with a tougher resilience against rugged operational environments.
The M45A1 arrives in a small, olive drab-colored Pelican Storm case. Inside, the top layer holds the pistol and a black, Colt-marked .45-caliber cleaning kit developed by Otis. In a compartment in the case's lid, you'll find the typical safety information as well as a five-shot factory test target. The M45A1 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 the Colt M1911A1, handling and operation of the M45A1 is familiar. The M45A1 bears more weight than older 1911s, but it better manages felt recoil. Recoil is also stifled by a dual recoil spring system on a traditional-length guide rod. The flared beavertail grip safety with memory grooves, G10 grips, and high-cut trigger guard combine to make this pistol extremely controllable. Serrations on all controls, including the slide, the spur of the combat hammer, the slide lock lever, the backstrap, the trigger shoe, and the magazine release, are 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 and pre-World War II 1911s. The M45A1 evaluated here produced an average trigger pull of 4.9 pounds, which was remarkably clean and crisp for something said to be "Mil Spec." This trigger won't prohibit a shooter from obtaining the most from 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 because the safety plunger in the slide is spring loaded.
The G10 grips are thicker than traditional double-diamond checkered walnut stocks, but Marines will find the girth comparable to the Pach-mayr rubber grips found on the last generation of pistol.
Just behind the magazine well, Marines still have a loop to attach lanyards to, just as the RFP specced. The basepad at the bottom of the Wilson magazine helps prevent the user from painfully slamming his palm into the lanyard loop during a reload.
Wilson Combat offers an eight-round magazine, but Marines wanted to stay with a seven-shot magazine. The reason? 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 magazines, Colt outsources the Novak three-dot tritium sight system. Novak sights have appeared on older M45s, but not all were tritium filled. Others wore a Bullseye sight setup or tall sights from Millett. Standardizing the no-snag Novak sights was a good move for Marines.
The Expert Badge
Appropriately, the Marine Corps' pistol 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 that averaged no larger than 4 inches by 4 inches at 25 yards. During testing, I measured velocities and accuracy potential from a bag rest on a bench at 25 yards, and I 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 while serving in the Marines, I managed to score five expert qualification awards. The M45A1 could have helped me easily achieve a sixth. After averaging 1.5-inch groups from 25 yards with almost all brands — and scoring one single 0.74-inch group with a 230-grain Black Hills load — I am 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 Hornady's 185-grain Critical Defense load.
I haven't fired enough rounds through this pistol to certify its reliability per the RFP specification for no part failures for at least 5,000 rounds. I have only managed to fire a little more than 500 rounds in time for publication. That being said, I did not 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 to be tough, black carbon soot covered the muzzle area after each range session, and this would require diligent cleaning to satisfy a unit armorer or an overbearing staff NCO.
Basic maintenance is virtually identical to the older M1911, M1911A1, and M45. Unit armorers will need to be trained on troubleshooting and the disassembly/reassembly of the Series 80 safety system as 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 the Marines awarded Colt a contract on July 20, 2012, to initially deliver 4,000 pistols for MARSOC and MEU(SOC). I had just finished firing the President's 100 at the 2012 National Matches at Camp Perry when I sparked a conversation with a few Quantico-based Marines. They were wearing their symbolic campaign covers and talking about PWS getting some of the first few to modify for the 2013 competitive pistol season. Watch for the tan-colored 1911 to win trophies on the firing line.
Marines in the Special Reaction Team based out of Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort and Parris Island, S.C., are already familiarizing themselves with the M45A1 CQBP. They're the first to carry them. The report is that the M45A1 will "shoot out the black all day long."
The SRT has begun assisting the transition from the Beretta M9. 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.