In 1911 the U.S. military adopted a new sidearm: John Browning’s
venerable .45 caliber automatic pistol. That pistol served with
distinction as our armed forces’ standard sidearm into the 1980s, when
it was officially replaced by the Beretta M9 9mm automatic pistol. In
recent years, however, the 1911 Model .45, in a more modern guise, has
been enjoying a renaissance of sorts.
At the time of the M9’s adoption, it was regarded as a more modern
design and thus a suitable replacement for the tried and true .45, many
examples of which were very elderly and worn out, giving it an
undeserved reputation for unreliability.
| The Kimber .45
The .45 never found much acceptance in law enforcement circles over the
course of the 20th century. There were a variety of reasons for this,
almost none of them legitimate:
- Most law enforcement agencies saw the 1911 Model’s single action
design as unsafe, a false assumption usually borne of ignorance. The
fact is, the “old” single action design has several safety advantages
over the more “modern” double action designs that have emerged over the
past few decades.
- Many leaders within the law enforcement community view the 1911 Model
.45 as difficult to learn to shoot and master. Under budgetary
restraints, some law enforcement agencies have been forced to cut
corners on firearms training. It is cheaper and quicker to teach a
trainee to just “point and squeeze” with a 9mm double action with a
high magazine capacity.
In recent years, however, the .45 has been making a comeback, thanks in
large part to the revolutionary efforts of a company named Kimber.
Since 1999, Kimber .45s have been unofficially and officially adopted
by military and law enforcement units at the front of the war on
- Throughout the U.S. military's special operations community
(USSOCOM), literally the "tip of the spear" in the war on terrorism,
Kimber .45s are seeing increasing use as the severe limitations of the
so-called modern M9 have become apparent. The M9 was a good concept,
but in practice it has proven to be less durable in operational use
than was hoped. More to the point, as .45 users have known for several
decades, the 9mm cartridge is downright anemic in terms of stopping
power. Special operations forces must have a sidearm that is completely
reliable under severe conditions: the proven 1911 design has never
been surpassed in terms of reliability or durability. Special
operators also need a weapon with stopping power. The .45 automatic is
unquestionably equal to or better than any other widely used automatic
pistol cartridge in the world. It has even been rumored that General
Tommy Franks carried a Kimber .45 as his personal sidearm during
Operation Iraqi Freedom.
- In 2001, the elite Los Angeles Police Department SWAT team shocked
the law enforcement community when it adopted the Kimber .45 automatic
as its official sidearm. LAPD SWAT is considered one of the most
important counterterrorist units in the U.S. law enforcement community,
having been primarily responsible for security at the 1984 Olympics.
Today, the unit is the first line of defense against terrorists in one
of America's largest metropolitan areas.
LAPD SWAT was not actually the first law enforcement agency to adopt
the Kimber .45. In 1999, the Tacoma, Washington police department
raised some eye brows when it authorized its officers to carry the
Kimber .45 in the line of duty. In the selection process, a variety of
pistols were tested and put through the paces. The Tacoma PD was
shocked at the reliability demonstrated by the Kimber. In fact, they
were not able to produce a single malfunction in the test pistols
provided by Kimber and they began to "smell a rat." They suspected that
Kimber had supplied them with "ringers" — specially assembled
examples — to test, rather than regular production pistols, such as
their officers would carry in the event that the pistol was adopted.
So, the Tacoma police went out to local firearms dealers and purchased
pistols "off the shelf" for further testing. To their astonishment,
these Kimber .45s performed just as well as the pistols originally
supplied by the company which were erroneously suspected to be
Today, in addition to LAPD, Tacoma PD and USSOCOM, first responders
across America use the Kimber .45, as evidenced by the fact that SWAT
teams in the following cities issue the pistol to their members:
Seminole TX PD
Petersburg AK PD
Raton NM PD
Ault CO PD
Kerville TX PD
Lake County MT Sheriff
Loveland CO PD
Mentor OH PD
Umatilla WA PD
Whitman City Sheriff
Grey GA PD
Bremfield OH PD
Traditional design meets space age manufacturing
How did Kimber, a company that had never manufactured a pistol before
the 1990s, bring about the renaissance of the 1911 .45? By marrying
John Browning’s proven century-old, robust and reliable design with a
high-tech, state of the art manufacturing process.
Because Kimber was relatively new to the manufacture of the 1911 model,
they were literally able to start from scratch with a brand new
factory—called by some the most modern, fully computerized gun factory
The first priority was CAD/CAM (Computer Assisted Design/Computer
Assisted Manufacturing). Before making a single pistol, Kimber invested
$1 million in a CAD/CAM system that had never been employed in the
manufacture of a 1911 .45 automatic before. By using CAD/CAM, the
Kimber’s tolerances are up to 3 times as tight as traditionally
While the dimensions of every part is important, the two most critical
dimensions and fits on a 1911 are:
These fits largely determine the reliability and accuracy of the
pistol. The better the fit and the tighter the dimensions, the better
the reliability and accuracy. It is in these two aspects that the
modern manufacturing process at Kimber produces superior results. The
result is a century-old design with accuracy and dependability equal or
better to even the most recent pistol designs.
In the interests of full disclosure, I think it is only proper to
inform the reader that I am not without bias when it comes to .45
automatics. I have been a .45 owner/enthusiast since my military days
when my father gave me my first .45—a Colt Government Model-- as a gift
for my 21st birthday. Over the past 20 years, I have owned and shot
competitively (but not very!) .45s from Colt and Springfield Armory.
However, upon my introduction to Kimber in 2001, I am a devoted Kimber
shooter exclusively. I own three Kimber .45s and their performance
straight out of the box is superior to other .45s that I own that have
been heavily customized at the cost of hundreds of dollars in
aftermarket parts and pistolsmithing. Almost immediately the Kimber
made me a better shooter.
I attribute this to the consistency of their manufacturing process and
the high quality of each of the components. I imagine these are the
same attributes that made our military and law enforcement heroes
select the Kimber .45 as well.
Christopher Holton is the Editor of www.WorldTechTribune.com and serves on the World Tribune Board of Advisers. He has been writing about national security, defense issues and economics for more than a dozen years. He is a full-time direct response marketing consultant and lives in New Orleans with his wife and five children. He can be reached at email@example.com.