5 Best Guns of the U.S. Military: A Primer
Throughout the history of the United States military, there have been some beloved weapons and arguably an equal number that was loathed. But in terms of sheer numbers of weapons introduced it is the sidearms – the revolvers and pistols – that may have truly earned the respect of the men (and women) who carried these firearms.
Beginning with the Flintlock Model 1775, which was almost a direct copy of the British Model 1760, there have been some notable sidearms that have been literally at the side and ready of those who carried them. Here is my take on what I would say are the 5 best guns of the U.S. military throughout history.
The Model 1805
The Model 1775 may have been the first sidearm carried by American soldiers, however the first pistol to be manufactured at the Harpers Ferry Armory was the Model 1805. It was a single-shot, .54 caliber, smoothbore, flintlock pistol that was issued to officers but also served as the standard handgun of the U.S. dragoons during the War of 1812 and earned the favor of future President Andrew Jackson (who reportedly even used the firearm in some of his infamous duels).
Dubbed the “horsemen’s pistols,” these were also issued in pairs – and the symbolism is still present as the pistols are used on the insignia of the U.S. Army Military Police Corps.
Colt Army Model 1860
Samuel Colt didn’t actually invent the revolver but he did a great job of marketing it, especially to the U.S. military. The Colt 1851 Navy was used in large numbers – and although the pistol’s name came to honor the Texas Navy, it was mostly used by land forces. However, it was the Colt Army Model 1860, which was among the most widely used military sidearms of the Civil War. The U.S. government had ordered more than 220,000 of the revolvers before hostilities broke out and the cap and ball .44 caliber weapons were carried by both Union and Confederate soldiers.
While the Colt Single Action Army, which is also known as Model 1873 or “Peacemaker,” was made in far larger numbers, it was sold primarily to civilians during the days of the Wild West despite the “Army” moniker. However, it should be noted at least one famous officer who carried the Single Action Army – that was General George S. Patton.
SIG Sauer M17 & M18
In January 2017 the United States Army announced a customized version of the SIG Sauder P320 was selected as the winner of the Army’s XM17 Modular Handgun System competition beating out twenty other pistols. About 300,000 of the full-size models (the M17), as well as another 7,000 compact models (the M18), were ordered by the Army, while other branches ordered around 200,000 pistols – accounting for well over half a million pistols commissioned by the U.S. government.
Adopted in 1985, the M9 is the military version of the Beretta 92F semi-automatic, 9mm pistol. It has seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan and during recent operations in the Middle East, Beretta even developed the M9A1 version, which features a Picatinny rail – allowing it to be used with lights and lasers for use in house-to-house and street-to-street fighting common in Iraq.
When it was introduced, it replaced Colt M1911A1, which was in service with the U.S. Army and Navy, as well as the Air Force’s Smith & Wesson .38 Special. In 2009, Beretta had announced it had received a $220 million contract for the delivery of some 450,000 M9s and M91s.
The Colt Model 1911
When it comes to “beloved” American sidearms – as well as the most widely used American military firearm of the 20th century – nothing comes close to the Colt Model 1911. Designed by the legendary John Browning, more than two million of the .45 ACP pistols were produced and it was carried throughout both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam.
Even today, many Special Forces operators still have opted to carry the 1911 over the M9 or other firearms. It is simply hard to improve upon the 1911.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.