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Friday, February 14, 2014

1911s of the Second World War

As we all know, when American decided to enter World War II after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor it was "all hands on deck."  Everyone in the nation was contributing through whatever means necessary: rationing of goods, rubber drives, saving fats, Victory gardens, nylon drives, tin can collection, carpooling, blackouts, women joining the workforce en masse, and hundreds of thousands of War Bonds were sold.  However, John and Jane Q. Public were not the only ones to contribute to the war effort.  Corporations across America were tooling up to help meet war needs and to beat back the Axis powers.  The Kaiser Corporation, which had seen great growth in the 1930s building dams under federal contracts, began building ships, planes, and other vehicles.  Ford Motor Company has been producing airplane engines for the British before America entered the war, but soon switched over to full-time military production making B-24 Liberators, superchargers, generators, military gliders, tanks, armored cars, jeeps, grenades, bombs, landing crafts and more.  Chrysler was making tanks, anti-aircraft guns, the Martin B-26 bomber and B-29 Superfortress, fuses, shells and more!  Countless companies dropped what they were doing before the war, refocused, and turned the full industrial might of a nation on toward the war effort.

If a country is saving its pan drippings to beat you, that's a bad sign.

The 1911A1 was not immune to this boost in production from multiple sources.  Part of this precipitated thanks to the War Department not allowing many contractors to finish their World War I contracts.  By cancelling those productions, the United States found itself short of sidearms, much like it did at the beginning of World War I.  This lack of produced firearms was exacerbated by the slashed military funding after WWI.  Since soldiers were not needed in their WWI quantities, the government limited the Army 144,000 officers and men!  If that's the limit they placed on personnel, you can imagine the financial restrictions placed on munitions, arms, parts, repairs, and other military essentials.

With multiple manufacturers required to build the United States' arsenals to appropriate levels for war, it would give collectors of the legendary pistol quite a bit to focus on in future decades.  1911 production models during World War II were manufactured by five different companies - ALL of which will be appearing in Rock Island Auction Company's May 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction.  1911s will be generously represented as will many of the U.S. military arms, Class III firearms, and an extraordinary collection of German WWII military items known simply as The Von Norden Collection.

We will also be auctioning M1911 pistols from every manufacturer during the first World War, but that's an article for another week.  Back to the topic at hand.  It was the aforementioned shortage of military funding that led to the most desirable of all 1911A1s: the Singer.

The Army's cash shortage was notable.  Then Captain George S. Patton is said to have used his own funds to pay for parts to keep his successful tank brigade up and running.  The M1 Garand, while still adopted, had to compromise and be made in the existing .30-06 cartridge instead of the superior .276 Pedersen round.  The new round would have taken massive funds to be developed and produced as well as required the conversions of vast amounts of the Army's machine guns.  To help its financial burden the Army had to get creative as is best described in Patrick Sweeney's book 1911: The First 100 Years.

"Despite this situation, the Army was able to make some progress in the late 1930s and early 1940s before Pearl Harbor.  They were able to issue "educational contracts" to manufacturers, contracts that paid for the costs of setting up to make small arms, and to produce a small run as proof of performance.  One such contract went to the Singer Sewing Machine Company in April of 1940.  Singer was able to produce the 500 test pistols required.  but with delivery of the 500 right at Pearl Harbor time, the government's contract offering of 15,000 more pistols was turned down, Singer's board of directors feeling that their company's skills, knowledge, and factory were better put to use manufacturing ship and artillery fire control directors.  So the 1911A1 tolling was boxed off to Remington Rand.  Those 500 Singer 1911A1s are the perhaps the Holy Grail of 1911 collecting." 

Those original 500 pistols were distributed to Army Air Corps personnel.

Rare World War II U.S. Singer Manufacturing Company Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

Remington Rand
Remington was so busy making rifles, that they really didn't have a lot of time to dedicate to side arms.  This despite the fact that they had already made about 22,000 pistols during WWI before the government shut down its production line, due to interchangibility issues with the pistols made by Colt and Springfield (however, it was this issue that led to Colt producing a new set of production specs in 1936 which would greatly aid production in WWII).  Perhaps it was a still a sour taste in their mouth from that previous wrist-slapping that led Remington-UMC to send their government contract to their subsidiary formed in 1886, Remington Typewriter.  The spin-off's merger with Rand Kardex and Powers Accounting in 1927 left it renamed Remington Rand, but they soon began manufacturing 1911A1s in addition to the glut of typewriters that were also needed for the war.  After some brief production issues that required the attention of President James Rand, Jr. to fix, Remington Rand manufactured slightly less than 878,000 1911A1 pistols between the years 1942 and 1945, making them the leading wartime manufacturer of the pistol.

Side note:  Remington Rand received part of their tooling from Singer, who declined their government contract, but they also received tooling from Harrison & Richardson.  H&R at that time was going through a bankruptcy was only able to produce 20 pistols, not even enough for a successful "test batch" as Singer had produced.  None of H&R's 20 pistols were accepted and the government rescinded their contract in June 1942.  Some of the 1911 tooling at H&R went to Remington Rand, but most of it went to our next 1911 manufacturer.

Unique Very Early Production Second Contract U.S. Remington-Rand Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol without FJA and Ordnance Proof

Despite their financial troubles in the late 1960s, Ithaca Gun Company was a prominent firearms manufacturer when America became involved in WWII.  The government didn't require many of their popular shotguns (yet did ask them to make several thousand 12-gauge riot shotguns with M1917 bayonet attachments), but did offer them a contract to produce 60,000 1911A1s in 1942.  After receiving some of the necessary tooling from Harrington & Richardson, Ithaca began rapidly producing the desperately-needed pistols - even going as far as to assemble pistols from parts shipped to them by other manufacturers.  Some of these parts were from surplus WWI production, including about 6,000 Colt receivers!  Soon Ithaca would have all the manufacturing equipment in-house and would ramp up production to total 335,000 - 340,000 pistols between late 1943 until the end of the war.  Ithaca could have produced many more of these pistols had the government not cancelled the contract in its post-war fund cutting.

Fun Fact:  Ithaca was invited to produce a "test batch" of pistols in the Army's fund raising efforts, but the Army discontinued the program before they could submit a batch.

Excellent U.S. Ithaca Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

Colt's story of WWII production 1911A1 pistols is a little different than every other manufacturer here for the simple fact that they were assembling them readily before WWII.  In fact, once the government contracts increased due to war, Colt discontinued making their Government Model 1911 pistols (which is what Colt called the 1911 made for the civilian market) in 1942 so that they could focus all of their pistol manufacturing efforts toward military sidearms.  They even took 6,575 existing, unsold Government Model guns, re-stamped, and Parkerized them for the Army.  The parts for these civilian guns were also used to satisfy military contracts.

In the story of 1911A1 pistols, Colt is more often mentioned as a reference for all the other companies that were contracted to also make the pistols.  Colt was often helping provide technical assistance (as was Springfield), to these newly contracted manufacturers.  One would think that between providing all this help and its status as one the government's primary machine gun producers, Colt could have used the same excuse as Remington and said it had "no time" to make the 1911 pistols that it already knew so well how to produce.  However, it still turned out around 629,000 1911A1 pistols, making it the second leading producer of the beloved sidearm in addition to having a mandated priority of producing the United States' machine guns (M1919, M1919A6, & M2HB).

World War II U.S. Army Colt Model 1911A1 Pistol

Union Switch & Signal
Union Switch and Signal, referred to more commonly as just "Switch & Signal" was the last company to be offered a M1911A1 contract.  As one can infer from the name, this subsidiary of Westinghouse Air Brake Company was accustomed to making railroad equipment.  In 1942 they received their first contract and began producing, but just after they had begun, the government realized they had ordered too many pistols and asked US&S to make M1 carbine parts instead.  The next month their contract for pistols was officially cut from 200,000 to 30,000.  US&S agreed to make the M1 parts and just when they almost finished with the initial slashed order of pistols and were to begin manufacturing the carbine parts, the government reneged again and instead increased their original M911A1 order by 25,000.  US&S ended up producing 55,000 pistols for their indecisive client.

U.S. Union Switch & Signal Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

The 1911, despite being firmly entrenched in the hearts of American collectors, suffered after World War II.  Colt was actually losing money toward the end of the war and with thousands of veterans returning home with guns, they didn't have as many people looking to buy.  In fact, no M1911 or M1911A1 pistols have been produced after 1945.  Even with the Korean War providing a new source of income, Colt had to sell in 1955 to the Penn-Texas Corporation, setting in motion a long string of mismanagement and apathy.  In 1985, the the Beretta 92F was officially adopted and replaced the M1911A1 as the sidearm of the Army.  1911 pistols are not without their detractors, but they have served the United States longer than any other military arm, thus cementing themselves and their inventor into the history and lore of this country.


Clawson, Charles W. Colt .45 Service Pistols: Models of 1911 and 1911A1: Complete Military History, Development, and Production 1900 through 1945. Fort Wayne, IN: C.W. Clawson, 1991. Print.

Sweeney, Patrick. 1911: The First 100 Years. Iola, WI: Krause Pubns, 2010. Print.


  1. terrific item to add to the auction services. im looking forward to more interesting and informative articles.

  2. Immensely enjoyable read. But the Air Force didn`t exist "at Pearl Harbor time." That was the Army Air Corps. BTW the the 1985 replacement date can be misleading. I was issued a 1911a1 in 1990 for Desert Shield/Storm.

    1. I am glad someone pointed that out , I was also issued a1911 in Desert Storm.

    2. 1. Correct on the "Army Air Corps" and not the air force. It has since been fixed. Our apologies for the mistake.
      2. Mid-80s is a bit misleading since the M9 didn't officially enter service until 1990, the same year that the Gulf War began. Knowing that, they probably had large amounts of former standard issue sidearms before they needed to begin handing out the M9. Thank you for the information gentlemen and, of course, your service to this country.