- swmp_colt_m45_qcbp-1799The unique identification (UID) label resembles a barcode and contains data that enables the military to track the weapon.Steve Woods Photo
- swmp_colt_m45_qcbp-1800The front sight is drift-adjustable and has a tritium dot that is activated by any light source. The serrations at the slide’s muzzle-end (shown) and rear offer the user a secure purchase.Steve Woods Photo
The USMC Precision Weapons Section, in Quantico, Virginia, has been custom-building 1911s for the Marine Corp’s elite special operations and reconnaissance units since 1985, first as the .45 caliber MEUSOC Pistol and later as the .45 caliber M45 Close Quarter Battle Pistol (CQBP). The Marines use the M45 as a secondary weapon when conducting CQB operations.
The M45 was built with parts taken from in-stock M1911A1 pistols and other commercial parts. It’s a testament to the 1911’s design and durability as well as to special operators’ preference for the weapon. But there came a point when demand exceeded supply. In March 2010 the Marine Corps Systems Command issued a formal request for a pistol that would satisfy the demand.
In the official Request For Proposal (RFP) the Marine’s stated that “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.” Translated, that means the pistol will see whatever environmental hell this world offers, whether the gun’s dropped in sand, caked with mud, dunked in salt water or driven over by trucks. Also, there will be no time for cleaning or repairs. So the bottom line is that it needs to work all of the time and anywhere. The RFP did not specifically request a 1911 platform but a “semi-automatic pistol in .45 ACP using a single-stack magazine that must hold at least seven rounds.” Furthermore, the RFP stated it would be desirable if the pistol would “function with the Marine Corps .45 ACP seven-round magazine (NSN 1005-01-373-2774) used in the current MEUSOC pistol.” That magazine only fits a 1911-style pistol, so it was obvious what kind of gun the Marines were looking for.
Other requirements for the pistol included the following: (1) It locked the slide or bolt to the rear after the last round in the magazine was fired; (2) it had a beveled magazine well to facilitate rapid loading; (3) it was 9 inches long and under 4.5 pounds; (4) it had demonstrable drop-in parts interchangeability, with no milling, filing or fitting required and with no degradation in performance after parts were exchanged; (5) it was resistant to corrosion and chemicals; (6) it was compatible with current military-approved small-arms cleaning, lubrication, and preservative and storage agents; and (7) it was a commercial-off-the-shelf pistol.
Numerous 1911 manufacturers—the usual suspects like Kimber, Colt, Springfield Armory and some lesser-known manufacturers like Karl Lippard—competed for the contract. Then in July 2012, a $22.5 million contract for an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity of M45A1 CQBPs was awarded to Colt Defense for production, delivery and logistical support. Colt Defense, the defense contracting arm of Colt, had submitted an enhanced version of Colt’s Manufacturing’s Rail Gun, model O1980RG.
The M45A1 CQBP is manufactured from forged stainless steel just like the Colt Rail Gun. The receiver, slide, slide stop and barrel go through a forging process to make the steel stronger and tougher as well as to hold tolerances more closely. The barrel is match grade. The finishing spec specified dull, non-reflective surfaces and use of standard military colors, so the M45A1 wears a desert tan Cerakote finish over markings that clearly indicate the end user. “Colt USMC” is roll-stamped on the left side of the slide; on the right is “Colt Government Model.” The pistol also wears a unique identification (UID) label on the receiver. Similar to a barcode, the UID is basically a serial number that comprises a 2-D matrix symbol containing data that can be deciphered by a reader. Since 2005, all DoD equipment wear UIDs.
Colt chose the Rail Gun as a basis for the M45A1 since one of the requisites called for an accessory rail that met Mil-Std-1913 specifications to mount accessories. The rail needed to be a true Picatinny rail—not a lookalike—which has more actual surface area for an accessory to grasp onto than, say, a Weaver-style rail. That extra surface area makes the mountings more reliable in extreme environments.
In hand, the M45A1 felt comfortable and the rail gave the weapon slightly more heft than a Government Model 1911. The ambidextrous safety worked crisply when I used either shooting hand. Specifications called for an upswept grip safety and an ambidextrous manual safety, which are operable by thumb by a user wearing cold weather and NBC gloves. The M45A1’s upswept beavertail grip safety has a prominent bump, ensuring the safety can be engaged while slightly lowering the centerline of the bore in hand and protecting the web of my hand. I operated the M45A1 with and without winter gloves and had no issues. (I did not have any chemical gloves available for testing.) The lightweight, enhanced hammer sported serrations that provided enough grasp to easily cock the hammer, while the sides of the hammer were easy to grasp and hold when I pulled the trigger to lower it.