Singing Praise to John Moses Browning
by Tim Inwood
Few things really pass the test of time anymore. It seems that as soon as you buy a new computer it is already obsolescent and the latest whiz-bang model that replaced it won’t last but a few months. But if you look closely while watching news footage of our troops in Afghanistan, you will see a pistol that has indeed succeeded in passing that test and it is a testament to the genius of its designer. Few Americans today know who John Moses Browning was and it's a pity. We all know who Henry Ford was. However, is his Model T still in common use today? Of course not. Mr. Browning's designs are alive and well. Amazing, considering that many of his designs are over 100 years old and the man has been dead since 1926.
I know I usually write a political column and really this is sort of a political piece in that I will bemoan what politics and the nanny state have done to our country. When Mr. Browning was designing firearms, you did not have to get permission from the US Government to design or build a gun. Today you must be licensed by the BATFE to build firearms like Browning did, cross this line and you will go to jail. We have sadly done our best to stomp out and down the ingenuity and freedom that made America great. I fear we shall never again see such a time in our nation and it is indeed something to mourn. How many great ideas have gone nowhere because of red tape and bureaucracy?
John Browning was a great American patriot whose various firearm designs protected the United States for many years. The Colt 1895 machine gun was nicknamed the "Potato Digger" by the troops who used it, because if you placed it low to the ground the gas piston tended to hit the dirt and throw it. This arm was used during the Spanish American War as well as World War One. He designed the Browning M1917A1 water-cooled and the model 1919 air-cooled machine guns, as well as the Browning Automatic Rifle.
He designed the M2 .50BMG heavy barrel machine gun, which also is still in use today. However the subject at hand is the pistol I saw a high-ranking officer carrying in Afghanistan, a 1911A1 .45 ACP pistol. One hundred years ago on March 29, 1911, after exhaustive trials, the US military formally adopted John Browning's .45 ACP pistol. This first model was known as Model of 1911. It would first see actual combat during the punitive expedition in Mexico in 1916. Two years ago, I wrote about a Colt 1911 that was brought back by a member of my family who was on the Punitive Expedition and how it started my interest in these old guns. You can read about that gun if you follow this link.
The gun would next see combat during the First World War. The exploits of those who used the gun made news worldwide. We have all heard of Sergeant Alvin York and his heroic action capturing 132 German soldiers in Meuse-Argonne offensive. However few could tell you the type of pistol he used. Much of the confusion is due to the old movie with Gary Cooper, which depicts York using a German P08 Luger. Fact is they could not find .45 ACP blanks that would make a 1911 work correctly, so they used a German Luger in the film.
The First World War ended in 1918 but the 1911 soldiered on. Some complained during the war about some human engineering issues with the pistol, much of it due to design change demands the US military made, like a long hammer for cocking the gun against a saddle instead of the rowel type hammer on the 1910 test piece Browning submitted. It should surprise few that that the long hammer tended to bite the hands of those shooting the gun. Thus the Army surveyed some of those who used the gun in "The War to End All Wars" to make a more user-friendly service sidearm. The survey resulted in giving the pistol a shorter trigger, giving the gun an arched mainspring housing and shortening that long bloodthirsty hammer. The end result was called the 1911A1 and it was adopted as standard in 1926. This pistol was used on through World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and finally would be officially replaced in 1985 with the adoption of the Beretta M9 and later the Sig Sauer M11 9mm pistols. The only problem was that combat veterans were reluctant to surrender their 1911A1 pistols, especially the USMC. Those Marines know a good fighting tool and were not interested in losing their .45 pistols. So despite the fact that the Beretta M9 was standard, it was not too unusual to see officers still packing "old slabsides" in the first Gulf War and the Global War on Terror, just as they had done since 1911. In fact Col. James Hickey was carrying a 1911A1 in a tanker holster in the famous picture taken at the site of Saddam Hussein's spider hole hideout.
For many years the US Marine Corps MEUSOC units continued to use a .45 built up out of old spare parts and new Springfield Armory-produced slides. However several years ago they received all new .45 1911A1 pistols built by Kimber and Springfield Armory, made to their specifications. Those guns are also available on the commercial market as the Kimber "Warrior" and the Springfield Armory "MC Operator."
So why heap praise on this old sidearm? First, it has served the Republic well. Though the basic design is now over 100 years old, it still does the job and does it admirably. The newer variations are primarily cosmetic changes – larger sights with tritium inserts and rails for lights – but the internals, the guts if you will, are the same. I could take the sear, hammer, trigger, mainspring etc. out of a pistol that came off the assembly line at Colt in 1911 and drop them in my Kimber Warrior made just a few years ago. That is a testament to the genius of the designer. If you still don't quite get what I am talking about, look at a 1911 Ford Model T automobile and imagine trying to build a Mustang muscle car out of the engine that came from that.
So I would like to conclude by saying John Moses Browning deserves our praise. Our nation remains free in large part because of the excellent weapons he designed for our military. It is a terrible oversight that children are not taught about this great patriot. They are certainly taught about lesser men.
Tim Inwood is the current Legislative Liaison and Past President of the Clinton County Farmers and Sportsmen Association, an Endowment Member of the NRA and Life Member of the OGCA, Republican Central Committeeman for Chester Township A, in Clinton County, Ohio, and a volunteer for Buckeye Firearms Association.