My Grandfather’s 1943 Union Switch & Signal M1911A1

Union Switch and Signal M1911A1

Within two months of his eighteenth birthday, my grandpa left the Bronx, New York and was inducted into the Army of the United States. His listed civilian occupation was “boilermaker,” but he was on his way to an MOS of Intelligence Observer 518 in the 209th AAA Automatic Weapons Battalion in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater.

He passed away this July, and I recently took possession of his Union Switch & Signal-manufactured M 1911 A1 that he apparently carried during the war . . .

During WWII, five companies received contracts to manufacture M1911A1s for the war department. Remington-Rand (typewriter manufacturer) made about 878,000, Colt’s Manufacturing Company turned out 629,000, and Ithaca Gun Company made 345,000.

Singer Corporation (sewing machine manufacturer) made only 500 units as an “educational order.” The idea was, according to Wikipedia, for “the US Ordnance Board to teach companies without gun-making experience to manufacture weapons.”

It turned out that Singer was too good and too precise to waste their valuable resources on a pistol that doesn’t require tight tolerances, and their manufacturing capacity was shifted to cranking out precision instruments including bomb and artillery sights.

Finally, Union Switch and Signal (which made railroad signaling equipment) manufactured 55,000 M1911A1 pistols — the second fewest of the wartime manufacturers. US&S guns were unique in some ways and known for their high quality.

In fact, none of the 55,000 pistols inspected and fired by US&S’s in-house Ordnance Department inspector were rejected. All received the “R.C.D.” inspector’s mark in a circle underneath the slide lock, showing that Lt. Col. Robert C. Downie had inspected and approved them.

As so many M1911s and M1911A1s went in for arsenal rebuild or service (becoming “re-arsenaled”), it’s extremely common to find one manufacturer’s slide on another manufacturer’s frame. Manufacturing contracts required total parts interchangeability, so when an M1911A1 pistol went to an arsenal or service depot it would be stripped and each part would go into separate buckets full of those same parts from hundreds or thousands of other M1911A1 pistols.

In some cases it’s difficult to tell what manufacturer made a given frame, since all of them operated from the same specifications and some even duplicated the same serial number ranges. In the case of my grandpa’s US&S sample here, I believe it to be all-matching, all-original. Thankfully, he took this little souvenir (among others) home before it made it in for any sort of service.

On the right side of the frame, Union Switch & Signal inserted double spaces in “M  1911  A1” whereas Colt rolled it out all crammed together (“M1911A1”) and Remington-Rand, Ithaca, and Singer inserted single spaces (“M 1911 A1”). US&S’s serial number range was 1041405 to 1096404, with my grandfather’s numbered 10622xx (I’m “redacting” the final two just ‘cuz . . . call it OPSEC).

US&S frames never carried the crossed cannons ordnance mark in front of the hammer pin, whereas nearly all others did after some time late in 1942.

The thumb pads of both the safety and the slide lock were checkered on Union Switch & Signal 1911s. Other manufacturers often cut serrations into the slide lock instead.

US&S triggers were short in length and stamped, not milled. On the frame, the “half moon” trigger finger relief and radius in front of the magazine release button show slight differences in shape from the other manufacturers.

On the top left side of the slide, nearly where the rounded top meets the slab-sided side, US&S was stamping the “P” proof mark in the wrong place due to a poorly-done Ordnance drawing. This occurred between serial numbers 1060100 and 1082000, give or take a few (prior to 1060100 there were no proof marks). The slide’s “P” proof mark was then moved to where it was supposed to be: centered on the top of the slide in front of the rear sight.

The rear sight sports a square notch.

And the front sight is serrated.

Union Switch & Signal M  1911  A1 barrels were made by High Standard. My grandpa’s pistol sports the “HS” roll mark on the right side of the lower lug (not shown).

For all of these and some other reasons, I believe this pistol is not only 100 percent Union Switch & Signal, but all-original as it was manufactured. At least the major components and controls appear to be original to this specific pistol, right down to the Bakelite grip panels.

My grandpa kept his pistol inside of what I believe is his Army-issue or at least WWII-era leather shoulder holster, original empty magazine inserted.

The box of Western Cartridge Company .45 ACP appears to be from 1952.

It is my goal to keep this M1911A1 in the family for as long as possible. Hopefully one of my girls or my sister’s boy or girl, or one of any of these kids’ possible future children will be interested in doing the same.

More pics (and any of the photos in this article can be enlarged by clicking on them):

Okay, one quick WWII-related grandpa story:

He showed me on his discharge papers how he had qualified as “Marksman” with the M1 Garand. Apparently, he got there and then sandbagged. Hard. Since he once put a short version of this story in an email to me, I’ll copy-and-paste here in his own words:

Did you know that before I shipped out overseas I was training at Fort Ord, (Monterey) CA with a Springfield and was shooting in the upper 200 (target excellence) 210 and stopped and never got my “marksman” medal….and finally couldn’t even hit the target. Why…Rumor had it that the Army was putting together a “sniper” group to go overseas. At the time I was damn good with the M1 and the Browning Automatic.  But a sniper was not a glamorous thought, hanging out in the woods, etc. Today of course, I could have written a book, and made a movie. But then, who the hell wanted to be a sniper.

I don’t know how many times he told me about almost qualifying too high and then sandbagging (haha). I have no idea if it’s true, other than the part about him never receiving a marksman medal apparently wasn’t accurate since it’s right there on his WD AGO Form 53-55.

A few photos of him during his service:

He and both of his brothers served. Air Force, Navy, and Army. That’s him on the right. All three made it home.

Note on the back of the photo reads: “Yoki — Couldn’t be better — I didn’t miss either. LBS” (his initials).

Note on the back of the photo reads: “Omoki [I think] ~ A short burst ~”

He brought these two swords home from Japan, having apparently relieved Japanese officers of them. Both have been in my possession for a long time and, while I lived in San Francisco, I took them to one of the foremost Japanese sword experts in the country.

The katana was found to be a pre-WWII reproduction (a gunto) of an old Samurai sword. It was painstakingly aged and marked to look as though it had been manufactured centuries ago. In fact, all of the furniture was authentic to the Edo period.

However, the sword was mass produced and non-traditionally forged (including being oil quenched). This was, apparently, a very common practice in the lead-up to WWII so the Japanese military could issue swords to its officers, the wearing of which was required.

On the other hand, the wakizashi — the shorter of the two swords — was made in the traditional manner sometime during the years 1560 to 1580. All of the furniture is newer than the blade (and the habaki) and is all likely from the Edo period.

That’s him holding the bottle on the back of a bicycle. Note on the back of the photo reads: “My last drink.” I don’t know what that’s in reference to, as he was a perfectly capable drinker as long as I knew him and well before. Taught the wife and me the joys of a nice, tall bourbon and ginger ale (I’d recommend Trader Joe’s or other spicy, but not too sweet ginger beer).

In fact, he opened up a restaurant in the late 70’s in Westchester, NY and had one of the most extensive menus of imported — from every part of the globe — beers anywhere in the state or possibly country at that time. Plus quite the burger list, and “The Best Bloody Mary in Westchester County” according to multiple newspaper polls.

Not to mention what appeared to be some good Halloween parties and regional dart tournaments.

After the war he found himself in White Sands, NM doing “missile stuff.”

In the 90’s he joined a program where he served in the IDF during Gulf One and then again a few years later.

He also read to his great-grandchildren.

Though he had been preparing me for his imminent demise for over a decade with jokes like “Any day now, Jeremy; I don’t even buy green bananas anymore,” he was also convinced, if only in jest, that he’d live to 120 while simultaneously saying, “every day on this side of the grass is a blessing.”

He will be missed.

comments

  1. avatar Jack says:

    So cool. Thank you for the post.

  2. avatar Benzo says:

    What a wonderful story – looks like he knew who to hand down the WW2 stuff to, as well.

  3. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Great stuff Jeremy.
    Thanks for sharing that with all of us.
    I’d sure like to know what he did for the IDF…

    1. avatar jwm says:

      It looks like he’s on the Golan. Even graybeards have value in a small country with scarce manpower resources. Some sort of OP.

  4. avatar Geoff "Mess with the Bull, get the Horns" PR says:

    “United States Property”

    You might not want to show that around too much…

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      But it’s a government of the people. And I’m a people.

      …seriously though, that’s just not a thing. Especially from back in the day when vets were allowed (or “allowed”) to take home souvenirs or maybe “spoils” and property like this firearm were given away or sold very cheap as surplus and written off as war losses. Every military surplus store is full to the roof of stuff marked “United States Property” that was auctioned super freaking cheap by the government, from clothes to tools to cases to tent heaters to vehicles to MREs. These sorts of markings are very rarely removed even after the item is liquidated and no longer US property. All the major auction houses sell stuff marked US Property and there’s almost never any “provenance” and no concern for such unless it’s a modern (as-in, currently being issued) item.

    2. avatar Marcus says:

      I was thinking that too but I also see the government being too lazy to go and confiscate “their” property for which is now being given away for the low price of free to the CMP. Of course, resale collector value gives it value other then just what the government says but again it’s going to be hard to press charges against a dead vet anyway.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        The vet is dead. But J is recieving stolen property. I just saw in the news where a Viet Nam vet, 70 yo, was given a 7 year sentence for buying an m14 with a scrubbed serial number.

        J should be ok so long as the gop maintains its control in dc. If he sends that pistol to me I’ll assume all risks with storing it.

        1. avatar FedUp says:

          I thought he was given a 7 year sentence for failing to pay the $200 excise tax on a NFA weapon and/or possessing a machine gun with a defaced serial number.

  5. avatar Michael says:

    Thank you for such uplifting insight. Our Vetrans, their families, all serving and reserve military do not get anywhere near the respect and thanks they deserve. Not all stories about firearms have to eventually descend into a battle between right and left. We know who the bad guys are and we are doing a pretty good job getting the truth out there. If they prevent us from retelling the way it used to be, that also gives them a victory, as sick and twisted as it might be. They know that if they can marginalize the way things used to be, it only takes a couple of more steps until they can claim control of the current narrative. Whoever controls the past, controls the present and future. No more progressive, revisionist, hijacking of the American way of life. Yeah, I’m talking about you, cuomo. -30-

  6. avatar GS650G says:

    Cool gun, lots of history.
    No one in my family has stories or experience like that.

  7. avatar Lance F says:

    That was the best gun story I have read in a long time. Thanks for sharing.

  8. avatar Stefan ferrier says:

    Brilliant. The love in the little girl’s eyes as she looks at that hero speaks more than words ever could. Rest in piece Sir, and bless you for all you did for our country.

  9. Yes I agree with Lance F :”that was the best gun story I have read in a long time.” Though wishful thinking on my part this same .45 Automatic could have made a difference during the April 19th, 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Nazi occupied Poland during World War II (1939-1945). In the hands of a resistance or freedom fighter, Jew or
    Pole, this same .45 could have easily taken out a murderous Nazi SS or Gestapo thug at close range! The 2001 movie “Uprising” depicts this heroic historical event. Also, from this same Hitler/Stalin era a .45 Automatic, including even a .32, .380, or 9mm, not to mention a .32 or 38 caliber revolver could likewise be utilized against a murderous Soviet NKVD thug or the Japanese. However, considering the .45 Auto historically is
    a U.S.Military Handgun, this likely wouldn’t have happened. But it could have perhaps?

    On the net: JPFO, Inc. at http://www.jpfo.org

    James A. “Jim” Farmer
    Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)

    1. avatar BradleyD says:

      That wish and hoping for quite a bit. Nazi gun laws at the time were pretty precisely tailored: they didn’t ban everyone from owning gun, just people they didn’t like. Jews or anyone ethnic looking? No gun. People that were party members? What caliber do you want and how much ammunition?

      Even if the Jews were armed, and armed well, a resistance would be short lived. It wasn’t just the SS coming for them; it was their fellow Germans as well. That Jew may have a gun but so does his ten Nazi sympathetic neighbors.

      Plus, the Nazis had tanks. .45 doesn’t do a whole lot versus a tank.

  10. avatar jwm says:

    That holster looks like a chest holster type that tankers and aircrew used to wear.

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      Yes, he was in a tanker crew for some time during his service. It’s a cross-draw holster and I guess it could be called a chest holster. I don’t actually know any historical aspect of military holsters though so no idea on nomenclature and such. But how this fits has it connecting the muzzle of the holster right to your belt and the gun itself just barely in front of your love handle on your left side, positioned vertically and running up your arm like half under a hanging arm and half in front. So it seemed more like a shoulder holster to me than what I’m used to seeing in terms of modern chest rigs, whether for hunting or military. Though, with the right-side strap going around the body (across your chest) and clipping back onto the holster rather than creating a shoulder loop and clipping to the belt on the right side, I guess it probably does qualify as a chest rig even if the gun itself is a bit low and more under your arm than anywhere near your actual chest. Anyway, yes, tanker service is dead-on correct here.

      1. avatar Mike H says:

        Jeremy S, That’s undoubtedly a chest holster, but it doesn’t look like the common M3 and M7 WWII-era rigs. It may be a custom job or issue from another organization later on. (?) Thank you for sharing the history of both your grandfather and this incredible piece.

        Unfortunately we lose great guys like your grandfather every day. Fortunately, now, it’s due to the fact they lived out a full life! He seems to have been a very interesting and funny guy. I’m curious to know more about his time as a tanker. (was it WWII?) I’m a member of an organization dedicated to WWII vets and armor that loves to hear original stories like his. We focus on European theater, but we’re happy to learn anything. Here’s our Facebook page:

        https://www.facebook.com/ww2armor/?ref=bookmarks

        Feel free to reach out.

  11. avatar Jim says:

    Wow! Incredible story about an incredible family! Thank you so much, and your heirloom is gorgeous! May you live long and enjoy the heritage you’re a part of!

  12. avatar Tyler Kee says:

    The family resemblance is shocking. Want to know what you’ll look like as an old man? See above ^^^^

    Really enjoyed getting these pictures via text the other day. The 1911 I took home from my grandfather’s house after his funeral was not .gov issued, but it is a 1911 and it is in 45 ACP. We should make time to go shoot our heirlooms and talk about old men who have gone before us.

    1. avatar Geoff "Mess with the Bull, get the Horns" PR says:

      “Want to know what you’ll look like as an old man? See above ^^^^”

      Jeremy’s daughter is *adorable*.

      Meaning, how could he possibly be the father?

      *snicker* 😉

  13. avatar John Fritz, HMFIC says:

    Awesome story Jeremy. Thanks for sharing. JF

  14. avatar Greg M. says:

    Pretty fucked up how he spoiled an otherwise sterling career by serving in the IDF. What a shame.

      1. avatar Greg M. says:

        For the same reason it would be a shame if he’d rounded out his career fighting for the Taliban.

        1. avatar jwm says:

          So, like I figured. You’re not a dick. That’s at least a part of a man. You’re just another run of the mill leftard.

        2. avatar jwtaylor says:

          “For the same reason it would be a shame if he’d rounded out his career fighting for the Taliban.”

          You mean overthrowing the Soviets?

        3. avatar Greg M. says:

          Just not a big fan of terrorism is all. You do you, though.

        4. avatar Joseph Quixote says:

          Wow please explain to us how the IDF is equal to the Taliban. I love apparatchiks trying to explain history, it does help to explain how far removed progressives like you are from truth. Preach on oh swami of Leftism. We are so eager for you to teach us your college professors feelings. Please remember to keep facts out of your thesis because the truth is hurtful to some. I thank you in advance.

  15. avatar Charles says:

    Blurred serial for “OPSEC” and then unblurred picture showing the serial clearly immediately after.

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      You must be seeing a different photo than I am. What’s the serial number you see?

  16. avatar Bad hand says:

    If you are keeping it in the holster please don’t. The leather will screw up the finish. Clean and oil it up real well and wrap it in a soft rag.
    Oh, and Greg M. Is a dick.

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      Yes I’ve always been told this. But on the other hand it has been stored inside of this holster literally non-stop since 1945.

      1. avatar SouthAl says:

        Yeah, I’ve always been told this too; that Greg M. is a dick, that is.

        Outstanding article Jeremy.

    2. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

      makes me think that completely dried out animal skin and blued (controlled rust) steel can get along. not the case with an old pitted bowie of mine, but of course it wasn’t blued.

  17. avatar Charles Perry says:

    Great story, thanks for sharing. That pistol is priceless. He sounds like a real character.

    Oh, and I agree with Bad hand. Greg M is a dick.

  18. avatar Cooter E Lee says:

    Love those photos, that gun has the perfect amount of patina.

    Thank you for sharing.

    ***saying it again, all honorably discharged veterans should be given their assigned small arms upon retirement . Why? To encourage them to take excellent care of them, in acknowledgment of their service, and because they are the ones most able and willing to serve and protect this country again in their available capacity should it ever be warranted.

  19. avatar NJ2AZ says:

    Cool stuff.

    The running gag/rumor/wishful thinking was always that my grandpa had smuggled home his BAR and it was hidden in the floor boards in the attic, but alas after he passed and they sold the house, nary a BAR was found. :'(

    1. avatar jwm says:

      I knew ww2 vets that brought pistols and a lot of sub guns home. German mp 40s were fairly common in my youth. But a BAR was a long, heavy bit of kit. Would have been harder to sneak it back. Not impossible. Just harder.

  20. avatar Pete says:

    Great review and tribute. Thank you for sharing.

  21. avatar Gregolas says:

    Well done, Jeremy. “The Greatest Generation” truly deserves their title. Thanks to your grandpa for his service and sacrifice. Congrats on having such a fine relationship with a good man, and great momentos to remember him by.

  22. avatar I don't buy green bananas says:

    Thanks for taking the time to put together all these pics and share the stories. We’re a similar age and I also recently lost my Grandpa who served in the Navy during WWII.

    I live nearby so I was the first call on Grandma’s list when something went wrong. Just sitting on the couch comforting her while the funeral home people did their thing about 20 feet away she pulled a note out of the safe that she hadn’t read before. Grandpa had made a similar “green banana” joke in his final instructions. Seeing that again choked me up.

  23. avatar Vlad Tepes says:

    AT the tender age of just 16 my Uncle who was a WWII vet had a G.I. 1911 and took me out shooting with it, more on this below. I knew nothing about at all about all the 1911 variations back in 1964 but flash forward to 2017 and his son still owned the pistol and was kind enough to show it to me after all these years and it was a WWI Colt 1911 in near new condition. It was tightly built as well with no slop in the slide or barrel lock up. To say I started to drool was an understatement.

    Back to the story it was a red hot summer day and the gun had a defective extractor that threw hot brass right between your eyes. Years later I found that the lower corner had not been beveled as per factory specs which caused the problem. At any rate at 16 years old it was a thrill to fire such a hard kicking pistol but being belted between the eyes with red hot cases was not much fun. I solved the problem by pulling my baseball cap down over my eyes and looking out through one of the vent holes. Problem solved I went on shooting it.

    An older gentlemen told my Uncle to try a shot at 100 yards at a sheet metal plate. Unknown to me My Uncle was shooting surplus machine gun ammo that was not tracer but it actually was incendiary ammo. The bullet went the full 100 yards and went through the sheet metal plate and then went about another 50 yards and hit a small hill. What happened next stayed in my mind all these years. When the incendiary round hit the hill I saw what appeared to be a small orange mushroom cloud as the bullet hit the ground. When the bullet hit the ground it started a fire and the whole hill started going up in flames and we had to run through that 90 degree heat for 150 yards and then beat the fire out with our shirts and a piece of cardboard I found. What a day, I thought the older gentlemen was going to collapse and die after running in the heat with us for 150 yards to put out the fire and he had just got over the flue to make it worse.

    By the way that 1911 came to my Uncle through the NRA and if I remember correctly he paid $50 for it.

    I still have that incendiary bullet, I found it lying on the hill right were it hit the ground and it was hollow in the back and slightly beveled on the nose after it went through the sheet metal plate and then hit the hill.

    I would like to buy that pistol but my cousin will never sell it as it was owned by his Dad and part of the family history now. I dare say in a way its part of my history as well.

  24. avatar Pelvicpunch says:

    How awesome! And what a great story!. Thanks for sharing some of those stories with us!
    Also, everytime i see old Army Air Corps pictures i get jealous of the sweet service dress from those days!
    Now we have the shitty McPeak car salesmen service dress:(

  25. avatar tmm says:

    Great article on a cool 1911. And then, the article got even better. Thanks.

  26. avatar jwtaylor says:

    That was awesome. Thanks to you for the great read and your grandfather for, well, everything.

  27. avatar conrad says:

    Come on,
    how does the pistol shoot?

  28. avatar beetle says:

    I like the story and pics of the gun, but I like the story of your grandpa even more. Any gun with a family connection (especially one with as strong ties as your US&S) is priceless. Thanks for sharing it.

    The stocks are interesting on your gun. The left stock is a type 1 without reinforcing rings, while the right is a standard with reinforced rings. reinforced rings is correct for US&S pistols. but it’s obvious that the left stock has been on there for quite some time. perhaps your gramps somehow mixed them up or swapped the left grip. It doesn’t actually matter as the value is in the family connection.

    I haven’t checked TTAG in a long time, but it was nice to see this post!

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      I did not notice that! Thanks for pointing it out. Weird. I guess the left grip panel must have been replaced at some point. I had never seen mention of those rings anywhere. Anything else you stand out to you about the pistol?

      1. avatar beetle says:

        sent you an email

  29. avatar Mike Dexter's a GOD says:

    I bet this guy was a blast to hang out with and talk to.

    Thanks for sharing.

  30. avatar Tom says:

    Great article and photos of the 1911 too. Ive had the opportunity to shoot SSU 1911 years ago. A friend of my dad had one and let the kid shoot it. It was the first time with a 1911 and i never forgot it. Got to shoot and carry one in the army and loved the gun. I finally got one several years ago and it is my favorite. Hope that little girl can grow up shooting her great grandpas WWII weapon. Wow, he went to the IDF too after so many years out. A very brave and strong man.

  31. avatar glenn sammon says:

    THAT WAS A GREAT ARTICAL! thank you for sharing it with us, thank you for the great pictures. and also for the pictures of the gun and the swords, along with my gun collection I have a modest collection of replica swords that are fully functional and I practice with them when I have the time ( I wonder why my neighbors are so nice to me?) although lately I have been busy starting 2 companies and have not been practicing any martial arts at all I do hope to get back into it. and I recommend anyone who has guns for self defense to indulge in the martial arts since you can’t shoot everyone that bothers you. and it just adds another layer of defense.

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