His­tor­i­cal Facts

John Milewski re­views a CO2-pow­ered ver­sion of the now leg­endary Colt 1911 pis­tol

Airgun World - - Contents -

John Milewski delves into the his­tory of the Colt 1911

The leg­endary Colt 1911 was orig­i­nally de­signed by John Brown­ing, an in­ven­tor who prob­a­bly lodged more suc­cess­ful gun-re­lated patents than any other. Brown­ing did not just spe­cialise in pis­tols, he also de­signed shot­guns and ma­chine guns, but the Colt 1911 is prob­a­bly his most pop­u­lar de­sign. The ba­sic shape and func­tion re­main with us to­day and other than a few re­fine­ments and changes from steel to poly­mer, the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of mod­ern semi-au­to­matic pis­tols do not dif­fer vastly from Brown­ing’s orig­i­nal de­signs.

There are nu­mer­ous 1911 CO2 blow-backs mar­keted un­der a plethora of dif­fer­ent names, but un­der­neath, they are the same, whether marked as a KWC, Tang­fo­lio, Rem­ing­ton or Swiss Arms. When I was first in­tro­duced to one of these 1911 clones, I was in­cred­i­bly im­pressed with the re­al­ism of the de­sign be­cause it func­tioned just like the orig­i­nal. How­ever, I never bought one due to the non-au­then­tic white let­ter­ing adorn­ing each side of the pis­tol’s slide. I felt such a fine ‘replica’ ought to look re­al­is­tic ex­ter­nally too.

I re­cently came across a Tang­fo­lio Wit­ness 1911, which had been dis­tressed ex­ter­nally by Ge­orge Hayes, its orig­i­nal owner. The fin­ish, in­clud­ing the hor­ri­ble white mark­ings, had been re­moved and the pis­tol re­fin­ished us­ing BC Alu­minium Black and Perma Blue. Ge­orge then rubbed the fin­ish down sev­eral times us­ing var­i­ous grades of wire wool, and kept re­peat­ing over many hours. The re­sult was a very au­then­tic worn look, which gave the im­pres­sion of near bare metal.


When I first han­dled this pis­tol, it struck me that all the con­trols worked in the same man­ner as the orig­i­nal. The 1911 is fit­ted with two safeties. Firstly, the slide safety lo­cated at the left rear of the pis­tol grip locks the slide in place when flicked up­wards, and pre­vents the pis­tol from be­ing fired. An ad­di­tional grip safety at the up­per rear of the pis­tol grip

re­quires the pis­tol to be held con­ven­tion­ally in order to be dis­en­gaged. If the pis­tol is not gripped cor­rectly, it will not fire.

The mag­a­zine re­lease catch at the rear left side of the trig­ger guard drops the mag­a­zine, which is a full-sized unit and not just a sim­ple stick. It con­tains a stan­dard CO2 car­tridge and a spring-loaded mag­a­zine for steel BBs – or as I pre­fer, 4.4 mm cop­per-coated lead ball.

With the mag­a­zine in place, the safety off, and the grip safety held in, the slide may be racked back to cock the ham­mer. It will stay locked back un­less there are balls in the mag­a­zine, in which case, the slide will spring for­ward un­der the power of its re­turn spring. With the slide safety ap­plied, the pis­tol is now in ‘Con­di­tion 1’ and just needs the safety to be dis­en­gaged in order to fire.


Shoot­ing the 1911 is a novel ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause the pis­tol re­coils with ev­ery shot, as the slide springs back in order to cock the ham­mer and load a ball into the breech. It will con­tinue to do so with each press of the trig­ger, as long as there is enough am­mu­ni­tion in the mag­a­zine. When the last ball has been fired, the slide locks back, in­stantly telling you that a reload is re­quired. The slide re­lease catch above the left side of the trig­ger guard re­leases the slide when pressed down. I man­aged to fire over 80 shots be­fore the CO2 car­tridge ran dry and there was no longer enough en­ergy left for the ac­tion to blow­back and re-cock the ham­mer.

A mod­ern pis­tol, such as the Bersa BP9CC that I tested in the Oc­to­ber 2017 is­sue, is not that dif­fer­ent to the 1911 and works on a sim­i­lar prin­ci­ple. Mod­ern er­gonomic de­sign re­sults in a more com­fort­able hold be­cause the grip is more slab-sided on the Colt, com­pared to a mod­ern poly­mer-framed pis­tol.


The fore­sight on the 1911 is renowned for be­ing of very small pro­file. Ini­tially, I had trou­ble lo­cat­ing it when aim­ing, and dabbed some red nail var­nish on the sight to help with sight ac­qui­si­tion. This makes the sight eas­ier to see, but looks out of place and I may well re­place this with matt black in fu­ture. The trig­ger pull is creepy, but rel­a­tively pre­dictable, and ac­cess to the trig­ger can be a lit­tle cramped be­cause the first fin­ger joint tends to find its way to the trig­ger blade rather than the pad.


My shots down­range hit be­low my point of aim and at six yards, my over­all group was sev­eral inches across af­ter some 70 – 80 shots. How­ever, I dropped the bars of a fair­ground plink­ing tar­get, placed six yards away, with almost ev­ery shot. The 4.4 mm cop­per-coated lead ball flat­tened with a sat­is­fy­ing crack when­ever the tar­get was struck and there were no re­bounds. Out­doors, I cut a soft-drink can in half at a range of 8 yards. This is no match pis­tol, but is great fun at ‘tin-can ranges’ of 6-8 yards and there­fore has a well-de­served place in a col­lec­tion as a work­ing replica.

Now turn to page 47 for a ba­sic field strip of the 1911, which is iden­ti­cal to field strip­ping an orig­i­nal.

An orig­i­nal 1911 among a host of orig­i­nal ac­ces­sories. It’s hard to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween this and the ‘dis­tressed’ Colt.

Be­low: The slide locks back when there is no am­mu­ni­tion left in the mag’ or when the slide re­lease catch is en­gaged.

Be­low: A pis­tol as re­al­is­tic as this does not need white writ­ing spoil­ing the ex­ter­nal ap­pear­ance! Top Right: The Tang­fo­lio Wit­ness 1911 with ‘dis­tressed’ fin­ish looks in­cred­i­bly re­al­is­tic.

Above: That pad be­low the grip tang is the grip safety. The cross­hatched sec­tion be­low it helps to keep the pis­tol firmly in the hand.

The grip safety is nat­u­rally pressed in when the pis­tol is gripped con­ven­tion­ally.

The Allen key is used to pierce the CO2 car­tridge prior to use.

I like to place a drop of Pell­gun oil on the neck of each CO2 car­tridge be­fore use.

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