Wednesday, August 1, 2012

US Marines Return to the M1911, and the Development of MARSOC

Well, not all the Marines, at least not yet.  And it’s not precisely an M1911 (I can already feel the hovering presence of doyens and dilettantes of the firearms realm).  But without making the title a paragraph, it is sufficiently accurate to launch the good news (naysayers notwithstanding):  The Marine Corps, through the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC), has selected Colt Defense LLC for an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract for up to 12,000 of the new(er) variation of the famous .45 calibre M1911 (actually the M1911A1 since 1924), to be called the M45 MEU/SOC (Marine Expeditionary Unit/Special Operations Capable) Close Quarters Battle Pistol (CQBP).


Colt beat out Springfield (I had known that Marines were testing a Springfield version) and Smith & Wesson variations of the M1911.  This solves the increasing logistical problem encountered by the Marines when they re-adopted the basic M1911 for MARSOC.  Armorers at the Precision Weapon Section at MCB Quantico have been repairing and upgrading earlier 1911s, customizing them for use with MARSOC units and USMC Force Recon (re-established in 2008 after a two-year limbo while standing up MARSOC).  This labor-intensive effort, rebuilding piece by piece from what was essentially the basic frame of each pistol, could not keep up with the age and supply system for the weapons, nor the increasing size of the Marine Corps contribution to special operations.  The initial order is for 4036 M45s.  The package won by Colt could amount to $22.5 million with each gun coming in at $1875, including spare parts and the rest of the maintenance package.  (Some critics on the internet immediately attacked the per-unit price, comparing it to off-the-shelf prices of other models, but it’s a good deal considering the total package and the fact that the older rebuilt models were likely in excess of $2000 after the renovation.)

The M1911 was originally developed by Colt and adopted by the US Army in, naturally enough, 1911 (subsequently picked up by the Marines in 1913).  It has been used in the US military ever since, though it has been retained in few numbers by a variety of die-hard individuals in the military in recent years, due to the decision in 1985 to replace it (by and large) with the Beretta 92F or M9 9mm Parabellum pistol as the US standard sidearm, which brought us into ammunition compatibility with NATO.  The original idea behind the M1911 and its .45 calibre ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) round was for its knock-down power against drug-inspired Moro guerillas in the Philippines, who weren’t sufficiently dissuaded in their attacks by being hit by the .38 calibre service pistols then in use.  (Note that 9mm Parabellum and .38 calibre pistol rounds are essentially the same in effectiveness and size, with the 9mm tending to have a bit better ballistic co-efficiency.)

Noticeable improvements of the M45 will include tritium sights for low-light conditions, a Picatinny rail forward of the trigger guard for accommodating accessories such as laser sights or lights, ambidextrous safety, and it will be painted in a Cerakote desert finish with desert-camouflage style Simonich or Strider grips (a good idea for the color in Afghanistan but they will have to re-think that if and when they hit the beach in North Korea or other wooded areas).  Internal upgrades include stainless steel components for operating in a maritime environment; a dual recoil system that Colt first used on its 10mm models (also seen in Glock Gen 4 models), to improve muzzle control and reduce the impact from recoil to extend the life of the slide and components; and a series 80 firing pin safety to circumvent accidental discharges from dropping.  The shooting schedule calls for 20,000 rounds before major maintenance.

There are more recent rounds that have come on the scene, such as .40 caliber and 10mm, but the discussion about effective pistols continues to boil down to the .45 vs the 9mm.  I won’t begin to re-hash that here, but let me say that I have used both extensively during my time and they have their pros and cons.  For the Marines, this is a good choice.  Taking on the Taliban or al Qaeda in close situations is still very similar to fighting the Moros, and one would want  the same results.  In over a hundred years, not that much has changed in that regard.

As for the Marine Corps involvement in special operations and SOCOM, that is another story that has seen recent development and a slow departure from standard Marine ideology.  The movement in the American military toward a larger special operations capability coincided with the accelerated move to a more joint structure after Viet Nam, particularly after the Son Tay raid, the Mayaguez raid, and the Desert One debacle.  The Army, with its Special Forces, was the base from which to start, with the Air Force gladly contending for its share of the pie (q.v. Son Tay and Mayaguez).  The Navy was brought on board with its SEAL teams, but the Marines continued to insist that its mission took it out of the spec ops profile.  There is a story, not quite so apocryphal from what I have seen, that the original idea for US commando-type units was initially offered to the Marines, based on the model of the British and their Royal Marine Commandos (with their green berets).  The idea was turned down because the Marines, already an elite force, would not tolerate the idea of a distinction within the brotherhood of the Corps.

This attitude reluctantly started to change in the early to mid 1980s with the introduction of a ‘Special Operations Capable’ tag to Marine deployable units, at the time called Marine Amphibious Units (also larger Brigades and Forces) – these days with ‘Expeditionary’ substituted for ‘Amphibious’.  The change in the structure of these units, including such additions as larger Recon elements with enhanced communications capabilities through relay stations, and Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC) companies, was brought about by the efforts of then-Lieutenant General Alfred Gray.  As a personal aside, when he was a one-star CG of the 4th Marine Amphibious Brigade, I worked for him briefly (it was a task-organized unit) as his G-2A, and I can testify that he was immensely popular, a real Marine’s Marine.  Some years later, I next met up with him in 1986 when he was the three-star CG of Fleet Marine Forces, Atlantic (FMFLANT, what we affectionately called ‘Flim-Flam’).  The occasion was an official visit to the Italian Marines (San Marco) at their headquarters in Brindisi, while I was seconded to them.  He was briefly perplexed to see me in such an exotic situation, and his aide, a major, was also a classmate of mine from TBS at Quantico, but both quickly accepted that this was another example of strange things in a strange world.  During a postprandial conversation after the typically Old World charm of the Italian official luncheon, General Gray explained his input (quite sizeable it turned out, despite his humility) to the new SOC structure, and was rather bemused to tell of the politics behind it.  He foresaw that eventually the Marines would be drawn into a special operations contribution, so he devised the SOC idea in order for the Marines to maintain some control on their terms.  I remember him smiling and saying, “Yeah, we’re all going to have to be SOC’d in order to stay at the table.”  From his explanation, I took it to be a concession to a political inevitability.  (Even then, it was obvious that he was still a rising star in the Marine Corps, perhaps even too popular with the troops to be able to function in the rarified political atmosphere of Washington, but it was to President Reagan’s credit that he named General Gray to be the next Commandant of the Marine Corps.)

The idea of the Marine Corps maintaining full control of their special operations capability survived until a few years after 9/11.  In 2005, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld announced the integration of Marine elements into SOCOM, and MARSOC was stood up in February 2006.  Both 1st and 2nd Force Reconnaissance Companies were disbanded in order to provide a cadre for the new organization, which initially comprised Marine Corps SOCOM Detachment 1, a pilot program that served with Naval Special Warfare Group 1 in Iraq.  The results were excellent, and Det 1 was soon disbanded with the personnel used for MARSOC. 

MARSOC is based out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and consists primarily of the Marine Special Operations Regiment, with a headquarters company and three special operations battalions (1st, 2nd and 3rd) with ancillary units such as support and intelligence.  Each battalion has four companies, and each company has four Marine Special Operations Teams (MSOT), led by a Captain, with a radioman, a Navy Corpsman, and three fire teams of four men each.

1 comment:

  1. I liked the 1911 when I was in the 6th Cav before going to VN, but once there I was not issued a pistol of any kind and the only one I found in our little Advisory Team I-11 ammo dump was a S&W 38 police special. I wore it everywhere in a Western style holster and found that it was just as lethal as a 1911 IF you hit what you were aiming at, namely center-mass. 'Course the 1911 allowed for screwups since it could take an arm off at the shoulder or elbow. But I recall many a lieutenant in the cav complaining that they couldn't even hit a paper target with it because, I suppose, of anticipating the recoil. Probably why the Army switched to 9mm.


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