It has just been announced that Glock 19s will replace Colt M45A1 .45 ACPs in the hands of elite Marines. Special operations troops of the U.S. Marine Corps, in particular the Marine Expeditionary Unit Special Operations Capable (MEUSOC), unlike the rest of the U.S. military never really gave up on the U.S. M1911A1 pistol. Throughout the late ‘80s and ‘90s as all other branches of the Armed Forces moved to the U.S. M9 Beretta pistol in 9x19 mm (and to a lesser extent the SIG Sauer M11), the MEU kept issuing .45 M1911s, often with modifications to make them more reliable and accurate as the M1911 MEU and eventually as the M45 as made by Marine gunsmiths in Quantico, Va.
In 2012, the Marines adopted a version of the Colt Rail Gun with a Picatinny rail and other features to make it a superlative combat handgun. The gun was adopted as the M45A1 CQB (the commercial version is called the Colt Marine). Colt Defense was awarded a contract for M45A1 CQB pistols up to $22.5 million and 4,000 guns, and the contract spoke for a lot of the early production of this most modern of M1911s as produced by Colt in Hartford, Conn. The rest of the Marine Corps today is issued the Beretta M9A1, and it appears the Marines are quite happy with the upgraded 9 mm for standard units.
And the newly renamed Marine Raiders were issued Colt .45s. But that just changed. According to a Marine Corps Times article the Raiders are throwing their .45s overboard (figuratively, not literally). They have instead adopted the Glock 19 pistol as their standard sidearm. The Marine Corps as whole has not adopted the Glock 19, but the Raiders (as part of U.S. SOCOM) are issuing their operators Glock 19s. Now, the same report indicated some other Marine units will continue to use the M45A1 CQB for the short term, but it comes to Raiders, the .45 is out. Last year the Raiders were authorized to issue 9 mm Glock 19s side by side with the M45A1. This year .45s are no longer in the holsters of Marine Raiders. One of the reasons the Marine Corps gave for abandoning the M45A1 was there are times when Marine operators require a concealable handgun. And while the M45A1 CQB is an excellent fighting pistol in what used to be America's favorite caliber, it is not a gun designed for concealment. Another reason given for the Raider shift away from .45 was logistics—meaning that having two sidearm chamberings with in the same unit was not a good idea. That makes sense for regular military units, but has not hampered elite operators in the past.
This is another chapter in the recent ascendancy of both the 9 mm Luger cartridge and the Glock 19 pistol. The Raider move away from .45 is similar to the FBI's move away from the 40 S&W cartridge. Last year the FBI, which essentially created the demand for first the 10 mm and then the .40 S&W cartridge in the first place, abandoned it in favor of a 9 mm Speer 147-gr. Gold Dot 2 loading for its agents.
And in the convoluted Army Modular Handgun System trials to determine the next issue handgun, the XM17, that are ongoing, it is said the Glock, likely a 19, is doing very well.
The Army RFP did not specify a caliber when it asked the firearm industry to submit both side arms and ammunition for the trial. There was speculation that the Army might be interested in a .45 ACP or .40 S&W. Now, it would appear that for both military and law-enforcement use the .40 is quickly losing ground. Most agencies, led by the FBI—which recently switched to the Glock 19—are not even looking at 40 S&W. And the major gun manufacturers that typically supply law enforcement have seen a precipitous drop in demand for .40 S&W duty guns. There are new models being brought out by major makers, such as the Ruger American Pistol, that did not even bother with the .40 S&W.
Is this the final chapter in the U.S. military use of the .45 ACP cartridge? At this point it's difficult to tell as there are no doubt some of John Browning's grand design still in the hands of some individual operators. Odds are even if M1911s are still being used at all, we will not hear about it.
There's a special tie, of course, to NRA and the Marine Raiders of World War II. The 1st Raider Battalion was commanded by Lt. Col. Meritt A. Edson. Later Maj. Gen. Edson, known as “Red Mike,” was one of the foremost proponents of rifle and pistol marksmanship in the U.S military. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Guadalcanal commanding the defense of what was it first called “Bloody Ridge” and later “Edson’s Ridge.” His men fought off vicious Japanese attacks to preserve Henderson Field, where another Marine Corps and NRA hero Maj. (later Maj. Gen.) Joe Foss was flying a Grumman F4F “Wildcat” on his way to 26 aerial victories and his own Medal of Honor. After World War II Edson became executive director of the National Rifle Association—a post from which he battled bureaucrats to save the United States Marine Corps from oblivion. Joe Foss, of course, became NRA president in 1988.
What Joe Foss or Merritt Edson would have had to say about the Marines giving up the .45 is a subject for speculation, of course, but I doubt it would have been pretty.