Springfield’s GI Gun

By R.K. Campbell

The original Springfield Armory was an important producer of military firearms dating back to the American Revolution and continuing until the latter part of the previous century. The Springfield Armory was closed for production in 1968 and later became a museum. The name has been carried onward by the Geneseo, Illinois based maker of the same name. Springfield began producing the M1A rifle and after a few years in business added 1911 type handguns to the lineup. Today they are best known for their 1911 handguns. These quality clone pistols are among the first that gave Colt a run for the money. Today, the Springfield pistols are arguably second to none and have been produced in a dizzying array of variations. Springfield purchased castings from Industria de Material Belico do Brasil, or IMBEL, of Brazil and finished the pistols in the United States. By some reports, the pistols are now finished in varying degrees in Brazil. The Springfield Custom Shop produces the TRP and the Bureau Model and the Professional, among others. The first 1911A1 type pistols were offered for commercial sale in 1985. There was a demand for 1911 handguns that was not being filled. Colts were in short supply and the Spanish pistols were not in the league with the new Springfield. The Springfield, according to many experienced shooters, was at least as serviceable as the Colt. The Springfield was an immediate success.

The pistol followed the 1911 template closely. The main features include a small ejection port and the addition of a military lanyard loop not usually seen on commercial pistols. However, there were differences between the GI gun and the new Springfield and some of the differences are noticeable improvements. As an example, the GI gun was Parkerized and so were most of the GI Springfield .45s. But with the introduction of the stainless steel 1911A1 from Springfield we had an affordable hard use 1911 with a corrosion resistant element. The pistol also featured excellent barrel to frame fitting. The 1911 demands the requisite 1/32 inch gap between the two parts of the feed ramp for proper feeding. As long as this gap between the barrel and the frame is maintained and the parts are properly finished the handgun will be feed reliably. The Springfield exhibited the best barrel, slide and frame fit of any factory 1911 handgun to date and still is the equal of practically any in its class. This meant the Springfield GI gun would feed jacketed hollow point defense loads the others would not. The popular hard cast lead semi wad cutter bullets used in competition and hunting also were feed reliable in properly assembled handloads. The pistol was based on a proven template and with quality manufacture worked well with a variety of loads including +P loads. The ability to practice with inexpensive lead bullet handloads and then to deploy the most modern expanding loads is important.

When other makers went to a positive firing pin block for safety and as a result of pressure from the buying community and official requests, Springfield solved the problem in another manner. Springfield uses a lightweight firing pin with an extra power firing pin spring. The problem of the weapon firing when dropped on the muzzle is neatly solved by this system. The firing pin cannot take a run forward with the use of this heavy duty firing pin. The result is an action that is drop safe but which does not include the complication of a manual drop safety that might make obtaining a crisp trigger action more difficult. The trigger compression was smooth and consistent and relatively smooth at five pounds in the example illustrated. Fit and finish are good. The only tool marks evident upon inspection are exposed when the pistol is field stripped. The author’s stainless steel version shows excellent metal finish. The pistol is tightly fitted and the fit of the barrel and slide and frame are good. The barrel bushing is snug but not so snug that the pistol may not be disassembled with the fingers. Overall the pistol looked much like the GI pistol but the Springfield is tighter.

The pistol does not feature GI type lettering but rather 1911A1 is deeply struck in block letters. This renders an all business appearance. The IMBEL BRASIL stamped on the dust cover detracts but little from the appearance. The sights are strictly GI. The rear is a square notch and the front a ramp post and they are not very large. Be certain to keep in mind in ordering aftermarket sights that the Springfield uses a different front tenon than the Colt and most other GI pistols. The grips are among the most attractive wooden grips I have seen on a factory 1911 pistol. Boldly emblazoned with the US emblem, they are well cut of Brazilian hardwood and a perfect fit for the frame. These grips are good factory products but they did not prevent the fitting of a set of maple grips from Zipps grips just the same. These custom grips truly set off the stainless steel Springfield with a personalized look that 1911 men find appealing. The stainless finish and long bearing surfaces of the 1911 is a fine canvas for custom work, but this pistol will remain as issued into the foreseeable future.

As a side note, the author’s son, Matthew Henry Campbell (21st Century Stopping Power/Matthew H. Campbell/Paladin Press) chose a stainless Springfield .45 identical to the one illustrated as his personal alarms and excursions handgun. Captain Campbell (Military Intelligence) is perfectly happy with the controls including the grip safety but elected to send the pistol to Novak’s Gunshop for the addition of custom sights and tuning the extractor. The result is a first class all around personal defense pistol well suited to the rigors of military or personal defense. When carrying a pistol such as this good leather is essential. The pistol is heavy at forty ounces unloaded and demands a good quality leather holster for comfortable carry. The holster must support the weight of the pistol while offering a good balance of speed and retention. Among the best of the belt holsters to come our way in some time is the holster illustrated from CB’s Leatherworks. While the popular Zombie motif is interesting, the holster is well made of good material and all business. This company specializes in presentation grade holsters and the popular ‘Bar B Que’ holster. Just the same, embellishment aside, the CB’s holster is definitely service grade.

For deep concealment, the five inch barrel Government Model length 1911 may not be the ideal choice but for many of us it is the first choice. The pistol is long but thin and may be concealed readily with a properly designed inside the waistband holster. Among our most respected makers is Ted Blocker. Among the Blocker designs is the ST 17, an inside the waistband holster with a strong spring steel J hook for belt attachment. The ST 17 also features a reinforced holstering welt and excellent stitching. When the pistol is drawn from concealed carry it is essential that the weapon be capable of being reholstered with one hand. The steel reinforced holstering welt of the Blocker IWB allows this action to be taken. The IWB does not extend below the belt line allowing the handgun to be concealed beneath a light covering garment. With the proper practice in quickly presenting the pistol from concealed carry, the ST 17 offers good speed and retains the pistol during movement well. The combination of a Blocker IWB and a 1911 .45 makes for excellent protection.

The Springfield was tested with a variety of ammunition. The pistol was delivered in a hard plastic lockable box with two magazines. The magazines are of the flat follower type and each is stainless steel. A number of magazines were used during the evaluation, from the flush fit Metalform types to the Wilson Combat ETM magazines. There were no issues with any of the magazines. The original specifications for the GI .45 called for the pistol to strike high at 25 yards in relation to the point of aim. The object was to provide the troops with a pistol that would be capable of striking an adversary at close range but that would be on the target to fifty yards. The accuracy standard for GI pistols was a five inch group at twenty five yards and ten inches at fifty yards, although many are more accurate than this standard. The Springfield was dead on for sight alignment striking two inches high on average with not only standard velocity 230 grain loads but high velocity 185 grain loads as well. The accuracy potential of the Springfield is higher than that of a GI pistol with quality ammunition producing a radial dispersion superior in accuracy than most GI pistols I have tested. The pistol is comfortable to fire, the weight of the pistol as well as the full length slide absorbing a good portion of the recoil of the .45 ACP cartridge. The cadence of fire is never set by how quickly you are able to press the trigger but by how quickly you acquire the sights after recoil. The Springfield was controllable with fast repeat shots handled well by a practiced shooter.

We are in the midst of an ammunition shortage that shows little signs of letting up. This means that the author like everyone else must look harder to find suitable ammunition for practice and testing. Among the bright spots is HPR ammunition. HPR stands for High Precision, down Range. The company has introduced service grade ammunition that has performed well in a variety of firearms. With a clean powder burn and good accuracy potential HPR has broadened the choices for American firearms owners. The .45 ACP cartridge is among a few handgun cartridges that is effective without the use of expanding bullet ammunition. However, for public safety, to limit over penetration and ricochet, a modern hollow point bullet is desirable. The HPR loads tested use a JHP design with a balance of penetration and expansion. The result is excellent wound potential. The only thing that will stop a motivated attacker is actual damage. Energy drop shock and other mechanisms referred to in the popular press simply do not exist in the manner that is claimed. But a .451 inch bullet that expands to one and one half its original diameter does exist and can produce good effect on target. The 230 grain JHP is a good choice for personal defense and the HPR loading a quality personal defense loading.

After firing this pistol extensively over the course of several years the Springfield illustrated is among the author’s most trusted handguns. It has never failed to feed, chamber, fire or eject. The Springfield 1911 handguns have made the grade and are arguably among the most desirable 1911 handguns.

Accuracy results, five shot groups at 25 yards, fired from a bench rest position. Average of two five shot groups:

Load/Five shot group

Wolf Performance Ammunition 230 grain FMJ 4.5 inches
Zero remanufactured 230 grain FMJ 5.65 inches
HPR 230 grain JHP 4.0 inches
Winchester 185 grain Silvertip 4.25 inches
Federal 185 grain Hydra Shock +P 3.8 inches

Oregon Trail 230 grain RN/ WW 231 Powder/803 fps 4.3 inches
Nosler 185 grain J/Titegroup/789 fps 3.9 inches

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on December 6, 2013


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