I’ve shot a lot of things with the 1911 .45, which has pretty much been my favorite handgun since I bonded with my first one at the age of twelve, a Colt produced for the military in 1918. It still works fine.  I’ve shot targets of paper, cardboard, and steel, and critters from woodchucks to hogs and to big steers that were ready for slaughter.  When my late first wife got frustrated with one of her computer hard drives, she caught me when I was heading for the range and said “Take this damn thing with you and shoot hell out of it.”  I did. It turned out they didn’t call them “hard drives” for nothing. Damn thing stopped .45 slugs.

I was recently reading “Damn Lucky: One Man’s Courage During the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History” by Kevin Maurer. (St. Martin’s Press, 2022.)  It was the bio of one Lieutenant John Luckadoo who flew a B-17 bomber on 25 missions over Germany in WWII. “Lucky” was his nickname, not just because it was short for Luckadoo, but because he survived those 25 missions when a helluva lot of American flyers didn’t.

They were using the Norden bombsight which was considered a secret weapon against the Axis, and American combat flight crews were under strict orders not to let one fall into the hands of the Nazis.  Here’s an account of what happened aboard one crippled bomber that was about to go down, but the crew took care of business before they bailed out.  Verbatim:

 “’Let’s get the hell out of this crate,’ Barker said over the interphone. ‘She’s going to blow!’

“Second Lieutenant Floyd Peterson, the bombardier, saw the flames too. With Barker’s order, he hit two buttons that set off a charge, destroying the Norden bombsight and related equipment, and then fired a single shot into it from his 1911 pistol.”

In WWI, Sergeant Alvin York used his 1911 .45 to shoot down an entire patrol of German soldiers charging him with fixed bayonets.  In WWII, an American combatant reportedly downed a Japanese Zero fighter plane by killing the pilot with a perfectly directed bullet from his 1911.

Lt. Peterson may not have put any lead into an enemy combatant with his .45, but we’ll never know whether the 230-grain slug into the Norden bombsight kept it from being recovered intact by the enemy from the crashed plane, and may have contributed to victory in its own way.


  1. A great story. Regrettably the hype and government gear greasing behind the Norden bombsight ends up being a more tragic story than is generally know. There was a better site available but Norden had the contract locked solid. The site was never as good as claimed and the Germans had captured the schematics long before the US entered the war. They decided it wasn’t very good and never adapted it. The hype around it being classified and super secret was mostly a marketing gimmick.

    Never meet your heroes.

    • I remember a story about a young Army lieutenant who, in wartime, was killed by a ricochet from his own .45 (ACP) pistol. He became angry at his stalled Jeep and decided to euthanize it point-blank as you might give mercy to a crippled equine. I have decided to get a Wilsony Combat .45 pistol myself, anyway, after needlessly doing without one. It is the weapon of choice of many SWAT captains, who know the need for needle-threading shots in hostage situations. Accuracy with a thump! Also comparably enjoyable in target practice to driving a Cadillac or a Rolls Royce on the freeway.

  2. In reality the Germans had the plans for the Norden bomb sight prior to our entry into WWII and didn’t try to copy it as they thought it was too complicated a design.

    The whole idea behind the “It’s super-dooper top secret, must not fall into enemy hands etc.” was more PR than reality.

    • Xxx,

      Wait. German engineers thought the Norden bomb sight was too complicated? I thought German engineers were well-known for producing over-complicated machines. I’ve read their fancy Tiger tanks were frequently breaking down.

  3. Once on an impromptu range, oh maybe 40 years ago, I found a newspaper metal rack just sitting there by the road.. you know they kind you put quarters in and get a paper out (how quaint, try finding them today!) with a trail of quarters on that road! Seems it had three .45 ‘dents’ on the lock and a 12 gauge hole. THAT shotgun hole busted the whole machine up!

    Yes thieves!

    So I called the cops. Deputy Sheriff came. At first he was kind of put off me wearing a Chapman High Ride speed holster and a cocked-n-locked Springfield Amory .45 on my hip but once he saw I was a friendly folk he relaxed.

    He said those newspaper racks are stolen all time and dumped for the change in them. He then took it into is patrol car and left.

  4. My favorite M1911 analogy was in “Saving Private Ryan” when Capt. Miller was lobbing shots at a German Tiger tank and after four or five shots, it exploded. God Bless JM Browning.

    (yes, I know it was really a P51, but it’s the optics that count)

  5. I’m honing in on 70 and have never held nor fired a 1911, although I have the utmost admiration for that iconic firearm. My excuse for this sin of omission is a fear of going down that rabbit hole, I suppose, and being consumed by that bug, for my hunch is that I would find the 1911 irresistible and perhaps never resurface.

    I did have the good owning a T-Series Browning Hi-Power, but didn’t have the good sense to hang on to it.

    It’s a bit ironic that what Mr. Ayoob and his 1911 found to be such a formidable task–destroying that hard drive (a wonderful, humorous, and in retrospect, touching account)–would likely be considered child’s play by someone we all likely know (of).

    A late uncle of mine served as a radioman on a B-17 during WWII. I learned that almost by accident, as Uncle Nick, like so many members of the Greatest Generation, tended to keep his wartime experiences under wraps. News about his service on the B-17 only escaped when picnic conversation for whatever reason turned to Hollywood and famous actors and Uncle Nick casually mentioned what a great guy Jimmy Stewart seemed to be, for my uncle had repaired Stewart’s broken radio headset and engaged in pleasant conversation with the actor and aviator. Turns out, too, that my Uncle and Stewart were both born in Indiana, PA, although no connection was ever made of their having been acquainted prior to the war (and they did not fly together in the same plane).

    Regrettably, I only learned of additional exploits and close calls following Uncle Nick’s funeral, from one of his WWII buddies who attended. I humbly soaked in accounts of the the B-17 taking on unimaginable damage, yet remaining airborne.

    RIP, Uncle Nick.

    • Glenn in TN,

      Yes, I agree about the WWII generation not talking much about their experiences. I don’t see that as a good thing. I find the talk from men who have experienced combat to be very helpful. For instance, I never owned a gun until I was 37. In my early forties, I still believed if a 7.62 x 51mm NATO round hit someone’s bone, it would knock them over. A husband and wife at the range set me straight on that one.

      Once I sought out a book about combat written by men sharing their experiences. That was a very good thing.

  6. Enjoyed the article a lot Mas, but sad to hear about the passing of Miss Dorothy.

    To Glenn in TN, 1911’s are indeed addictive. I shot my first ever handgun as a young Buck Private at Fort Gordon GA in the mid 70’s, and currently own a Springfield Armory Mil Spec. While I own and shoot other handguns, the 1911A1 will always have a special place in my heart.

  7. Mas,

    I remember reading one of Colonel Cooper’s quips about a Japanese fighter pilot being shot down by a Colt .45. It was fired by an American fighter pilot whose plane was shot up, then he bailed out. As he was helpless, hanging from his parachute, drifting down, the Japanese pilot decided to finish him off. He aimed his plane (probably a Zero at the helpless American pilot and fired at him, but missed. As the plane approached the American pilot drew his .45 and emptied the magazine (7 rounds in WWII) at the Japanese pilot. One round shot the enemy pilot in the head, and the plane went down. It was found in the jungle about a month later.

  8. I once owned a M1911, but due to the need to standardize on one caliber because of economics, I ended up selling it. It was the gun that I shot the best out of any handgun that I have ever shot, bar none.
    I did end up using the money to purchase a Ruger Mark IV 22/45, so it was not a total loss. I now see that SDS is importing a new M1911, in 9mm made by Tisas, I believe, called the Stingray. From what I have seen, it may be my next carry gun. I cannot find anyone selling them yet, but I will have to get one in my hands and see if they are as nice as it sounds, and at a very low price.
    They also have a bobtail frame, in a Commander length. With upgraded sights, I can’t recall the kind, but for the price, somewhere in the mid 500$ range, MSRP, I think, they should sell briskly, if they review favorably by the majority of the typical people.

    • i have one of the tisas in 45acp. its the “army” model, and shoots very well and reliably so far. i paid closer to 300 for it when they first came out.

  9. My first 1911 was an Auto Ordnance .45 purchased in 1983. I had MMC sights installed, polished the throat & feed ramp & later had it re-blued. 100% reliable even with Speer “flying ash trays.” A friend’s new Gold Cup could rarely get through a magazine of ball without a jam. I wish I still had that 1911 but traded it for a stainless Chief’s Special when I needed a back up/off duty gun.

  10. Back before expanding bullets that worked in defensive pistols, I lugged a 1911 for about 18 years. At various times it was my duty pistol, defensive carry and match gun. The 1911 pattern pretty much became safe occupants after my then issue duty guns used different actions and my personal carry items mirrored them. I also discovered that while I might be good/very good with a .45, I was near a Jedi Master with a 9 mm. After an IPSC stage, the guy on deck joshed me for using a 9mm. My reply was “Counts the same if you don’t miss the A zone.” The RSO that scored the targets verified “He didn’t”.

    A couple of years after I retired, I decided to take the more widely used 1911 to the range. I forgot I’d returned it to a match trigger long ago and with my brain & trigger digit long accustomed to a different system it was a bittersweet experience. It’s been back in the safe since.

  11. I remember my first 1911, a Springfield Armory Mil-spec. I picked it up with a box of 230 grain hardball and went to the range. After shooting one magazine, I said, this thing is a pussycat! All the hype about the recoil was just that.
    Later on, when I had a dose of that horrible Italian disease Mufunzalo, I sold it. I have regretted it many times since.

  12. Several years ago while deer hunting in SC I had my Colt Combat Commander on my hip (in case of snakes you know) and during the break between morning and afternoon hunt I shot a can by the clubhouse. Handed the pistol to my buddy and he shot the can. He handed the pistol to his young nephew who was with us for the day who also shot and hit the can. The club president had to try, he also hit the can. Every one of us only shot once each time – nobody missed! I wisely put the gun up so the magical moment wouldn’t be broken. What a sweet shooting weapon!

  13. I’m so glad John Moses Browning, Chesty Puller, Patton and Wernher von Braun were on our side. Wernher von Braun was on the wrong side, but he surrendered to us, and not the Soviets, so eventually he was on our side. If he had surrendered to the Soviets, they would have landed on the moon first.

  14. The history of the .45 is interesting. The Father of the popular .45 handgun caliber, in America, was Samuel H. Walker. He helped put Sam Colt back in the revolver business with the order, that he delivered, for what is now known as the Walker Colts. His list of specifications included a requirement that the caliber be “50 Bore” (50 balls to the pound or, in effect, a lead ball weight of 140 grains (7000 grains per pound / 50 = 140 grain per ball). This works out to a ball size of 0.454. In other words, the .44 Walker Colt is actually a .45 caliber bore.

    The Walker powder charge could be as large as 60 grains. Unfortunately, this heavy of a charge could, sometimes, cause the cylinder to explode! So, the following Dragoon models would typically load down to a 40 grain charge especially if a conical bullet was used.

    To make a .44 (really .45) revolver that could be carried in a belt holster (despite Gus in Lonesome Dove, the Walkers and Dragoons were really “horse” pistols best carried in saddle holsters), Colt came out with the 1860 Army. Its smaller cylinder was usually loaded with about a dram of powder (28 grains) when using the conical bullet of about 220 to 230 grains weight.

    The 1873 SAA Colt revolver was sized for a “Dragoon” maximum load. A 240 to 255 grain bullet with up to 40 grains of black powder for the powerful .45 Long Colt load. However, the US Army thought that was too much of a good thing. The Army load was typically a 220 to 230 grain bullet over 28 grains of black powder duplicating the 1860 Army percussion load.

    When the US Army moved to adopt a semi-automatic pistol, they stuck with this model. John Browning first proposed using a .45 ACP cartridge driving a 200 grain bullet to over 900 fps. The Army insisted on using a 230 grain bullet instead. The heavier bullet dropped the velocity to the 800 to 850 fps range. In effect, the smokeless, rimless .45 ACP round is just an updated version of the old Army “Short Colt” or, even, the 1860 Army percussion load. A 45 caliber bullet of 230 grain weight driven to just over 800 fps. The case was shortened and made rimless. The bullet became a FMJ type rather than plain lead. The powder was upgraded from black to smokeless. However, the resulting ballistics trace back to the 1860 Army revolver and, eventually, to Sam Walker’s specification of “50 balls to the pound”.

    I guess the Army took the position that “If its not broke, don’t fix it”! 🙂

  15. Esteemed TN_MAN, of course the greater weight and higher sectional density of the 230-grain .45 ACP ball gave it more momentum and increased penetration on an enemy’s equines. In 1911, equine-mounted ops were still common, and downing horses or mules was still a foremost consideration. To “no foot, no horse,” we could add, “no horse, no mounted enemy.” I am curious about the real-world service performance record from back in the day of a British military .38 revolver cartridge, with 200 grains of lead at less than 700 feet per second. Maybe a load to control noise, recoil, flash, and soft lead expansion. I imagine that it could euthanize an equine effectively, and might somewhat compare with .38 Special for power. I see it driving the tactics of its use, naturally. But how did it actually do?

    • The Enfield arsenal field-tested their .38 loads by issuing them to troops who were going into combat, then going over the reports sent back to them. The data said that the slower, heavier bullets were more effective against the enemy than faster, lighter rounds, so they standardized on the load that had the best results.

      The .38/200’s ballistics might look pathetic by modern standards, but they didn’t just pull that load out of nowhere after a long night at the pub.

      note: as far as I know Enfield never followed up on *why* the slow/heavy loads performed better, or perhaps those reports are still sitting in a box in some archive. If so, they’d be interesting.

      note 2: many big game hunters in Africa and India also claimed that slow/heavy was more effective on large animals, and there are lots of “Africa hunter” stories about guys with the latest high-velocity rifles who found that out the hard way. Not official like the Enfield data, but there’s a lot of it.

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