The M1911 is a really old gun, first fired over 100 years ago. And yet, the U.S. military used these guns right until 1985. A former U.S. Marine explains all of the strange variations of this legendary firearm: The M1911 and M1911A1 are two of America’s oldest serving handguns. To this day, they still sit in armories even though they were replaced in 1985 by the Beretta M9. The M1911 has staying power. As the name implies, its been around since 1911 and it lasted as the general issue sidearm for the United States military for more than seven decades, two world wars, and for countless users. Along the way, things got a little weird, and today we are looking at the weirdest 1911s that were adopted or prototyped by the US Military.
Exploring weird 1911s
There are way more than five weird examples of the M1911 throughout history. I mean, people have done some crazy things with these guns. To make things a little easier, I limited the selection to firearms used by the military or developed for military use. They didn’t have to actually have served, but if they were developed, prototyped, or tested by the military or a government force, they make the list.
1) Guide Lamp stamped M1911
War is expensive, guns are expensive, and during World War II, the ability to save money and improve production speeds of any weapon seemed like a value proposition. At the beginning of the war, we didn’t have enough M1911s, so they were supplemented with various firearms. The Guide Lamp Divison of General Motors had an idea to reduce the cost and time it took to produce the M1911.
They used stamped steel to create the monstrosity you see above. Guide Lamp had previously designed the budget-friendly stamped steel Liberator. They took that same idea and produced a semi-automatic stamped steel M1911, or something close to it. This ugly little thing was fairly simple: it had a simplified mag release, a missing grip and thumb safety, and a simple parkerized finish.
The rear sight folded backward to act as a safety, and by safety, I mean it just stopped the hammer from making contact with the firing pin. It’s ugly, and I’m not sure if it actually worked. The gun was only prototyped and never made in large numbers.
2) OSS Bigot
This wasn’t a magically prejudiced M1911; rather, the name “bigot” is apparently a play on the word “spigot.” The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) wanted to produce a silenced M1911, and instead of using a suppressor, they converted an M1911 to fire darts. These darts worked like arrows and were propelled by a .25 caliber blank.
The OSS designed five different darts to work with the Bigot. This included single-use darts, reusable darts, finless, models with reduced fins, and even rifle variants that were supposed to spin like a bullet when fired. The darts were anywhere from four- to six-inches long.
Sadly there doesn’t seem to be any data on whether these weird 1911s work,ed how well they worked, or how many were made. None were ever fielded.
3) The M1911 Gun Blade
Rock Island Arsenal did some weird stuff back in the day. They constantly experimented, and one of their odder ideas was to combine a 1913 Patton Cavalry Saber with an M1911 handgun. The user gripped the M1911 with the blade below the barrel to wield the monstrosity. A small wire stock allowed the user to aim the handgun more like a rifle as well.
This oddball seemed to be a one-off experiment, and apparently, only one was ever produced.
It’s an odd idea and was meant to equip the cavalry in what I’m assuming was before World War I. Combining a pistol with a sword seems to solve the cavalry’s problem of switching weapons during a charge.
It’s neat, and sadly not enough information is available to say how many were made, why they were actually made, or if they ever saw any experimental use in training or anywhere, for that matter.
4) Machine pistol M1911s
After World War I, the theme of military small arms seemed to be “make it full auto.” The concept of mobile machine guns was very real, and machine rifles and submachine guns were huge. Machine pistols are fully automatic pistols designed to fit between a pistol and a submachine gun.
With the M1911 being the handgun of choice, Colt and Swartz developed full-auto variants of the gun. These guns featured forward grips, compensators, stocks, and extended magazines. Like most semi-auto pistols, its slide moves rather quickly, and this ensures the firing rate is absurdly fast.
Machine pistols historically tend to be tough to control given their very small size: these M1911 machine pistols were no different. After a few short experiments, the military wisely decided to go with a standard SMG than a full-auto pistol.
5) Delta’s STI 40 S&W 2011s
Delta Force adopted a few weird 1911s for a short period of time. You can argue that this weird M1911 isn’t even an M1911: it’s a 2011. The term 2011 applies to double-stack 1911s and was first popularized by a company called STI. STI is now Staccato, but they produced a number of 1911/2011 platforms before the name change.
Delta always liked the M1911 and didn’t immediately switch to the M9. This Delta Force 2011 is all sorts of weird. It chambers the 40 S&W instead of 45 ACP, and it uses a double-stack magazine. What remained of the M1911 was the single action-only design, the exposed hammer, grip safety, and general controls and operating system. It’s the most normal of the weird 1911s.
It’s unclear how long Delta used these guns or where they took them, but they’ve become extremely valuable collector’s items. They are a fairly neat and interesting choice in a non-standard handgun and non-standard caliber.
The mighty M1911
The M1911 is the little gun that lasted. It’s effective, reliable, and clearly, has staying power. It’s not surprising that the gun went to the boundaries of normal and just burst through them. I’m surprised we don’t have any weirder variants than these. Could there be a flame thrower variant out there somewhere?
Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments below!
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.