(courtesy amoryblog.com)

Republished from rockisland.blogspot.com:

When America decided to enter World War II after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor it was “all hands on deck.” Everyone in the nation was contributing through whatever means necessary: rationing of goods, rubber drives, saving fats, Victory gardens, nylon drives, tin can collection, carpooling, blackouts, women joining the workforce en masse, and hundreds of thousands of War Bonds were sold. However, John and Jane Q. Public were not the only ones to contribute to the war effort. Corporations across America were tooling up to help meet war needs and to beat back the Axis powers . . .

The Kaiser Corporation, which had seen great growth in the 1930s building dams under federal contracts, began building ships, planes, and other vehicles. Ford Motor Company had been producing airplane engines for the British before America entered the war, but soon switched over to full-time military production making B-24 Liberators, superchargers, generators, military gliders, tanks, armored cars, jeeps, grenades, bombs, landing crafts and more. Chrysler made tanks, anti-aircraft guns, the Martin B-26 bomber and B-29 Superfortress, fuses, shells and more. Countless companies dropped what they were doing before the war, refocused, and turned the full industrial might of a nation on toward the war effort.

The 1911A1 was not immune to this boost in production from multiple sources. Part of this precipitated thanks to the War Department not allowing many contractors to finish their World War I contracts. By canceling those productions, the United States found itself short of sidearms, much like it did at the beginning of World War I. This lack of produced firearms was exacerbated by the slashed military funding after WWI. Since soldiers were not needed in their WWI quantities, the government limited the Army 144,000 officers and men. If that’s the limit they placed on personnel, you can imagine the financial restrictions placed on munitions, arms, parts, repairs, and other military essentials. The shortage of military funding that led to the most desirable of all 1911A1s: the Singer.

Singer

The Army’s cash shortage was notable.  Then Captain George S. Patton is said to have used his own funds to pay for parts to keep his successful tank brigade up and running. The M1 Garand, while still adopted, had to compromise and be made in the existing .30-06 cartridge instead of the superior .276 Pedersen round. The new round would have taken massive funds to be developed and produced as well as required the conversions of vast amounts of the Army’s machine guns. To help its financial burden the Army had to get creative as is best described in Patrick Sweeney’s book 1911: The First 100 Years.

Despite this situation, the Army was able to make some progress in the late 1930s and early 1940s before Pearl Harbor.  They were able to issue “educational contracts” to manufacturers, contracts that paid for the costs of setting up to make small arms, and to produce a small run as proof of performance.  One such contract went to the Singer Sewing Machine Company in April of 1940.  Singer was able to produce the 500 test pistols required.  but with delivery of the 500 right at Pearl Harbor time, the government’s contract offering of 15,000 more pistols was turned down, Singer’s board of directors feeling that their company’s skills, knowledge, and factory were better put to use manufacturing ship and artillery fire control directors.  So the 1911A1 tolling was boxed off to Remington Rand.  Those 500 Singer 1911A1s are the perhaps the Holy Grail of 1911 collecting.

Those original 500 pistols were distributed to Air Force personnel

Rare World War II U.S. Singer Manufacturing Company Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

Remington Rand

Remington was so busy making rifles that they really didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to side arms. This despite the fact that they had already made about 22,000 pistols during WWI before the government shut down its production line, due to interchangibility issues with the pistols made by Colt and Springfield (however, it was this issue that led to Colt producing a new set of production specs in 1936 which would greatly aid production in WWII).

Perhaps it was a still a sour taste in their mouth from that previous wrist-slapping that led Remington-UMC to send their government contract to their subsidiary formed in 1886, Remington Typewriter. The spin-off’s merger with Rand Kardex and Powers Accounting in 1927 left it renamed Remington Rand, but they soon began manufacturing 1911A1s in addition to the glut of typewriters that were also needed for the war. After some brief production issues that required the attention of President James Rand, Jr. to fix, Remington Rand manufactured slightly less than 878,000 1911A1 pistols between the years 1942 and 1945, making them the leading wartime manufacturer of the pistol.

[Side note: Remington Rand received part of their tooling from Singer, who declined their government contract, but they also received tooling from Harrison & Richardson. H&R at that time was going through a bankruptcy was only able to produce 20 pistols, not even enough for a successful “test batch” as Singer had produced. None of H&R’s 20 pistols were accepted and the government rescinded their contract in June 1942. Some of the 1911 tooling at H&R went to Remington Rand, but most of it went to our next 1911 manufacturer.]

Unique Very Early Production Second Contract U.S. Remington-Rand Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol without FJA and Ordnance Proof

Ithaca

Despite their financial troubles in the late 1960s, Ithaca Gun Company was a prominent firearms manufacturer when America became involved in WWII. The government didn’t require many of their popular shotguns (yet did ask them to make several thousand 12-gauge riot shotguns with M1917 bayonet attachments) but Uncle Sam did offer Ithaca a contract to produce 60,000 1911A1s in 1942.

After receiving some of the necessary tooling from Harrington & Richardson, Ithaca began rapidly producing the desperately-needed pistols – even going as far as to assemble pistols from parts shipped to them by other manufacturers. Some of these parts were from surplus WWI production, including about 6,000 Colt receivers!  Soon Ithaca would have all the manufacturing equipment in-house and would ramp up production to total 335,000 – 340,000 pistols between late 1943 until the end of the war.  Ithaca could have produced many more of these pistols had the government not cancelled the contract in its post-war fund cutting.

[Ithaca was invited to produce a “test batch” of pistols in the Army’s fund raising efforts, but the Army discontinued the program before they could submit a batch.]

Excellent U.S. Ithaca Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol


Colt

Colt’s story of WWII production 1911A1 pistols is a little different than every other manufacturer here for the simple fact that they were assembling them readily before WWII. In fact, once the government contracts increased due to war, Colt discontinued making their Government Model 1911 pistols (which is what Colt called the 1911 made for the civilian market) in 1942 so they could focus all of their pistol manufacturing efforts toward military sidearms. They even took 6,575 existing, unsold Government Model guns, re-stamped, and Parkerized them for the Army. The parts for these civilian guns were also used to satisfy military contracts.

In the story of 1911A1 pistols, Colt is more often mentioned as a reference for all the other companies that were contracted to also make the pistols. Colt was often helping provide technical assistance (as was Springfield), to these newly contracted manufacturers. One would think that between providing all this help and its status as one the government’s primary machine gun producers, Colt could have used the same excuse as Remington and said it had “no time” to make the 1911 pistols that it already knew so well how to produce. However, it still turned out around 629,000 1911A1 pistols, making it the second leading producer of the beloved sidearm in addition to having a mandated priority of producing the United States’ machine guns (M1919, M1919A6, & M2HB).

World War II U.S. Army Colt Model 1911A1 Pistol

Union Switch & Signal

Union Switch and Signal, referred to more commonly as just “Switch & Signal” was the last company to be offered a M1911A1 contract. As one can infer from the name, this subsidiary of Westinghouse Air Brake Company was accustomed to making railroad equipment. In 1942 they received their first contract and began producing, but just after they had begun, the government realized they had ordered too many pistols and asked US&S to make M1 carbine parts instead. The next month their contract for pistols was officially cut from 200,000 to 30,000. US&S agreed to make the M1 parts and just when they almost finished with the initial slashed order of pistols and were to begin manufacturing the carbine parts, the government reneged again and instead increased their original M911A1 order by 25,000. US&S ended up producing 55,000 pistols for their indecisive client.

U.S. Union Switch & Signal Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

The 1911, despite being firmly entrenched in the hearts of American collectors, suffered after World War II.  Colt was actually losing money toward the end of the war and with thousands of veterans returning home with guns, they didn’t have as many people looking to buy. In fact, no M1911 or M1911A1 pistols have been produced after 1945. Even with the Korean War providing a new source of income, Colt had to sell in 1955 to the Penn-Texas Corporation, setting in motion a long string of mismanagement and apathy. In 1985, the the Beretta 92F was officially adopted and replaced the M1911A1 as the sidearm of the Army. 1911 pistols are not without their detractors, but they have served the United States longer than any other military arm, thus cementing themselves and their inventor into the history and lore of this country.

Rock Island Auction Company’s May 2014 Premiere Firearms Auction will feature 1911s from all five major manufacturers, as will many of the U.S. military arms, Class III firearms, and an extraordinary collection of German WWII military items known simply as The Von Norden Collection.

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40 Responses to 1911s of the Second World War

  1. Somewhere in my fathers possession is a Singer 1911, he is Philipino by birth and was a small child during the Second World War. When he came over during the 60s he brought it with him. The story’s I heard of what the G.I.s would trade while stationed there are amazing, from common goods to weapons and even vehicles(jeeps). I personally have only seen the handgun once, when I was very young but he did say that if I want it, it’s mine. Since it is one of the only links to his past I told him to hang on to it until he doesn’t need it anymore, ( I.e. I’ll get it in the will)

    • It’s “Filipino.” C’mon man, your dad was Filipino, and you misspell it?
      My dad was too. He was high-school age when the Japanese invaded, then occupied the PI for the next 5 brutal years. He handled some version of govt 45s and govt revolvers during the Japanese occupation, in some capacity that he didn’t discuss. To the day he died, he couldn’t discuss those five years.

    • Another half-Pinoy here. My grandfather made a point of telling me on my 16th birthday, that at my age he was leading 60 men as part of the resistance. Eventually guided American forces through the jungles. He too has always been a bit light on details, but I do know that somewhere along the line he ended up with a M1928 Thompson (sadly buried, the years after the war were hard on him). I’ll have to find a roundabout way of asking if he had any experience with the 1911.

  2. It’s been a while. But in my circle I’m known as the gun/history guy. People find things in their fathers, uncles, grandfathers stuff, usually after they’ve died, and then ask me to identify it. The last ww2 era 1911 was a Remington Rand in a boot sock in the bottom of an old footlocker. No mags, no ammo. He was a navy man and it was his widow that was asking about it. In these cases I do my best to hook them up with fair and honest people interested in these firearms.

    Just yesterday, in my job capacity, I transported a 93 yo British woman t6hat was in London during the blitz. We had one hell of an interesting talk.

    • Care to share the meat of that conversation with us? As many of these accounts as possible need to be preserved in written form.

      • I was talking to her as I was driving her to a doctors office. I didn’t have a chance to right or record the conversation. But the gist of it was.
        1. Germans were very punctual in their nightly bombing runs. She was frightened every time, but it was uncool to show the fear.

        2. England was broke and desperate. If not for the US supplying and bankrolling the brits she thinks they would have fallen like France. She also gave props to the Soviet Union for taking a lot of the pressure off the brits after Hitler attacked Russia.

        3. Like a lot of the older brits I’ve talked to she’s pro Palestinian and anti Isreali.

        • My grandmother lived in London during the Blitz. Her younger siblings were sent to Scotland. As a teen, she stayed in London as an Air Warden. She married my American B17 tailgunner grandfather and moved to America after the war at age 16. She still gets a very small pension from England for her years as an Air Warden. About $20/month depending on the exchage rate. She has no idea how the Brits even tracked her down, the checks just started arriving when she was in her sixties.

    • Put those stories down in writing while you can. What didn’t happen is just as important as what did. A few weeks ago, a friend at my church passed away. He told me many stories about training for the Invasion of Japan. Very sobering.

      • Both you and JWM need to realize that it’s cruel to tease a history nerd with this kind of stuff and then not deliver.

        😛

      • Not quite in the same class, but last year, my children and I had the opportunity to sit and talk with a German (now American) lady who’s father woke her up in the middle of the night, told her to grab what she could carry, and thus began her escape from behind the Iron Curtain shortly after the war.

        He stayed behind as part of the plan to get the family out.

        It was very sobering to listen to this pleasant women tell that tale of escape with a friendly smile on her face and to hear the things she described and imagine what she was seeing in her memories.

        I tried to impress upon my children the importance, the hugeness, of what she was telling them.

        A few weeks ago, we sat with an older gentleman who helps refugee families, and some of the tales he shared of their escapes (from SE Asia) were likewise quite sobering.

  3. I would kill for a Singer 1911. If only to show my mother who’s been in love with her Singer sewing machine longer than I’ve been alive.

  4. Its my understanding International Business Machines ( IBM ) AKA Big Blue also re-tooled and made firearms during this period which are very collectible today.

    • I can only imagine what an American themed boner would look like. So many possibilities, all of which hilarious. Let your imagination run wild…

  5. How many bobbins does the mag hold?

    BTW, this blog topic is a very interesting thread.

    The only way to avoid being hit by this .45 was to Zig Zag.

    I’m done.

  6. Great article, thanks.

    The most interesting/fascinating weapon from WWII that was truly a “War Baby” was the M1 Carbine. If you love the history of arms development and production, check out the book of that name, “War Baby.” Really, really great stuff.

  7. I knew a couple of gunsmiths that had very small shops during WWII and even they got to make, repair, refurbish, or other wise contribute to making firearms for the war effort. One of them told me of building Colt 1911’s from parts delivered to him, in batches of 10. I never saw one of these guns, but I have no reason to not believe the guy. Sadly, both gentlemen have passed on now.

  8. A minor nit to pick. Singer 1911s were not issued to Air Force personnel because there was no such thing as the Air Force — it was the Army Air Corps until 1942 and the Army Air Forces until 1947.

    That said, fascinating article.

    • Correct, Army Air Forces until ’47 then USAF.

      My grandfather was a B-17 pilot back then. His .45 was an Ithaca, which he still has to this day. His brother had it chrome plated after the war. Nice gun, but I’ve never had the opportunity to fire it (or even any other 1911 for that matter. I’ve fired the Para-Ordnance LDA but IMO that one doesn’t really count.).

      Keep the good stories coming. Those that forget or ignore history will be doomed to repeat it, as we are seeing already.

      Tom

      • Tom,
        Ithaca’s were mainly issued to air crews and some were given to the Brits. Due to planes being shot down, the Ithacas are rarer than the production numbers would suggest.

        My grandfather was also on a B-17. Tailgunner on the “O-Bitch-U-Airy Mary”. 27 daylight bombing missions.

  9. A family friend of ours was doing some demolition work on a house in the 80’s as part of a summer job when he found a crude wooden box with the top nailed shut behind a wall. He took the box home, opened it, and found one of these pistols inside, Colt marked with a loaded mag. Because he was young, stupid, and didn’t know jack about guns at the time, he traded it to a friend for $300 cash. The friend still has it, and he kicks himself to this very day for letting it go.

    As a rather young collector of WWII guns and militaria, stories like that are what keep me going when I think the days of finding a Luger in the attic are long gone.

  10. Love the article, however, I don’t believe that the 1911 is the military’s longest serving arm. Shouldn’t that award go to the Browning M2? From just after WWI to present day?

    • Perhaps, however I believe that because few(er) people have a personal affinity for or opportunity to collect M2s the 1911 often gets the consideration. Also, I believe the M2 is properly classified as a ‘light weapon’ rather than an ‘arm’ since it is meant to be used only mounted or in a fixed position and is thus part of a ‘system’ and not suitable for stand alone use. Also, it is intended to be crew served rather than issued to an individual.

  11. The old Singer factory is off of Exit 13A of the NJ Turnpike. Next to the Jersey Gardens Mall and Port Elizabeth. It’s an empty shell now. I’m assuming that was the site of the 1911 production.

  12. Great story about one of the greatest guns in history.

    As other posters have pointed out, however, there was no “Air Force” in WW II. There was the US Army Air Corps and the numbered “Air Forces” were all part of the Army.

    The last time the Air Force was cool was when it was part of the Army! Just kidding, zoomies, don’t get your silk scarves in a wad.

  13. I have a 1943 Remington Rand. The barrel in it is a High Standard. I’m not sure what other parts on it were made by other companies. It is in excellent condition and very accurate. I know it is a bold statement but I would put it up against any high dollar 1911 on the market today. Loser buys the Scotch afterwards.

  14. I know it’s an old thread, but I’ll add my 2 cents worth anyway… People often seem to want to know what these somewhat rare 1911s from WW2 are worth today. Here’s my story:

    Around 1995 I received a gift from a girlfriend of an Ithaca 1911 in its original box including two magazines. It had very minor box wear, and looked like it had never been fired. I did some internet research and based on the serial number it was apparently delivered to the San Francisco Naval Shipyard in (if I remember correctly) 1943. That was pretty interesting!

    My relationship with the girlfriend who gave it to me didn’t pan out, very regrettably, but we remained friends. I had other friends who would try to talk me out of the gun many times, but because I had an emotional attachment to it, I hated the idea of parting with it. The girlfriend passed away in 2014 and I finally sold the Ithaca to a friend in March 2016 for $2,000.00 He tells me it will sit in his safe until he gives it to his son. (I still have the girlfriend’s Nickel Plated S&W J-frame that she carried CCW, that will be even harder to part with.)

    The 1911 served as the standard-issue sidearm for the United States Armed Forces from 1911 to 1986 — 75 years! I love them and have four right now, one in 9mm, which is really, really fun to shoot. I never shot the Ithaca because I didn’t want to diminish its value as a collector piece. Having other 1911s to shoot allowed me to keep the Ithaca pristine without regrets.

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