Revolvers vs. Semi-autos Part 2

Revolvers vs. Semi-autos Part 2 Part 1

The age old debate and 1911 magazine swaps

By Dennis Adler 

There was an overlap between the Peacemaker and the 1911 in the early 20th century, even in the military where the Single Action Colts were still being used, and this combination remained practical for southwest lawmen well into the 1950s. This match up of CO2 models is a factual portrait of a time in the American West when old and new worked hand in hand. (Single Action holster is a copy of Billy the Kid’s handcrafted by Chisholm’s Trail. The military 1911 flap holster is a reproduction of the U.S. Model JT&L 1942 from World War Supply)

It has been said that if you do something right the first time, you never have to do it over. At the turn of the last century there were a lot of armsmakers doing things over, especially for the U.S. military, which was in the rather unique position of having to find a large caliber replacement for the Colt Peacemaker and discovering that nothing was really working. The military began to abandon the .45 Colt Single Action Army in 1889 when the U.S. Navy purchased Colt’s new .38 caliber Model 1889 Navy double action revolver. With a swing out cylinder it was much faster to reload than a Peacemaker. But the 1889 was short-lived. It was replaced within the Colt’s lineup and in the U.S. military by the Models 1892, 1894, 1895, 1896, 1901 and 1903 New Army and Navy Revolvers in calibers ranging from .38 Colt to .41 Long and Short Colt. But none offered the stopping power of a .45 caliber Peacemaker. In 1905 the Marines Corps adopted another Colt revolver chambered in .38 Colt (or .38 S&W) aptly named the Model 1905 Marine Corps Revolver. This one saw only 926 guns produced before it was discontinued. By 1907 most of the earlier double action models were replaced by the Army Special model in either .38 or .41 caliber.

A custom finish and curious finish best describe this pair with my blued antique process used for the Swiss Arms 1911A1 style semi-auto and the early (no longer offered) blued finish on the Umarex Colt Peacemaker. The alloy bluing process gave a varying range of colors from faded blue to purple, giving the BB models an unintentionally aged appearance. The current choices are the nickel BB model and the Duke weathered BB model.

Throughout this ordeal the U.S. Ordnance Department was tasked with handgun trials to find a better sidearm for the military than the old .45 Colt Peacemaker. It came close in 1909 with the Colt New Service, chambered in .45 Colt; it was a large, hard hitting double action revolver that remained in service with the U.S. military until 1944, with the government procuring 151,700 New Service models. But the Ordnance Department trials that had begun in 1899 were ongoing, as the military sought to find a suitable auto-loading pistol.

The Colt Model 1905, chambered in .45 ACP, was the first major development in creating the Model 1911. While the resemblance is unmistakable, Colt’s and John M. Browning had not yet developed a thumb safety or a frame-mounted magazine release.

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A new .45 caliber cartridge

Colt’s and John Browning had developed the .45 ACP cartridge for the company’s new Model 1905 semi-auto which was submitted to the military but rejected as unsuitable for military use (though it did quite well in the civilian market). Browning redesigned the 1905 for the military trials in 1907 but it was rejected again. Colt’s and Browning made more changes and submitted an improved version in 1910, also rejected but with a list of modifications the Ordnance Board and military field tests had deemed necessary. That became the Model 1911 which was accepted and adopted as the new U.S. military sidearm. The disarray amongst U.S. military pistols was over.

The John M. Browning patent for the Model 1911 is dated February 14, 1911. The final design was approved for issue to the U.S. military on March 29, 1911. By then the thumb safety had been added, which is not shown in this patent drawing.

How significant was the 1911 compared to the Peacemaker? The Single Action Army remained in service from 1873 and well into the early 20th century, even though .38 caliber double action models had replaced it. That’s over 30 years. The series of eight different .38 caliber models with swing out cylinders spanned only 20 years, with the exception of the .45 caliber New Service, the first of several large caliber revolvers the military would field through two world wars, the latter chambered to fire .45 ACP ammunition shared with the 1911. The Colt Model 1911 (and war time versions produced by other U.S. manufactures) was carried from 1911 to 1985, a span of 74 years, and still remained in use by U.S. Special Operations Command military Spec Ops until the last couple of years. The Peacemaker and 1911 are two shining examples of getting it right the first time.

This handbill from 1911 proclaims victory for Colt’s new Model 1911 becoming the U.S. military’s first standard issue, semi-auto pistol; a role the 1911 played for a remarkable 74 years. Though the 1911A1 is no longer a standard issue sidearm, various Special Operations Command (SOCOM) units still use the Colt rail gun (CQBP) versions along with the HK45CT, and various Glock pistols. The Sig Sauer M17 is the new standard issue sidearm for the U.S. military; it’s a long road from 1911 to 2018.

As CO2 Models

The Peacemaker and 1911 are iconic handguns and as CO2 models the Umarex Colt Peacemaker stands alone in its class; yes there is the Crosman Remington Model 1875 and Bear River Schofield, but neither offer rifled barrels, so the Colt wins, just like it did in the Old West and with the U.S. military in the 1870s.

The Umarex Colt 1911 has been less appealing to purists because it comes as a more modern combat version, not a bad feature just not what we are looking for in terms of a match with the Peacemaker in the early 1900s. There are only a few 1911 CO2 models that follow the early c.1926 pattern design, the Remington 1911 RAC (with its horrible graphics on the slide and redundant Safe and Fire arrow indicator on the thumb safety), the John Wayne commemorative 1911 (but it also has the arrows on the safety), and the best two options, the Tanfoglio Witness 1911 and Swiss Arms 1911, which are technically identical. These two come closest, though they still bear the burden of heavy graphics on the slides. With the Swiss Arms model I have refinished the gun to eliminate that problem. You can do the same to any of the guns listed (though I wouldn’t alter the John Wayne), and create a more authentic looking pistol.

Speed vs. accuracy, vs. speed; the .45 Colt Single Action is still one of the fastest guns to get into action. The 1911 has equal firepower in .45 ACP but is less accurate unless custom built or otherwise updated from the original design, however, when it comes to sustained firepower and reloading speed, the old six-gun falls well short of a 1911 with its 7-round (standard capacity) magazines, which can be changed in a matter of seconds. The same holds true for the CO2 models, there’s no fast way to reload a Peacemaker, but they sure shoot great!

Internally, the 1911s are all the same. They all use the same magazine, though there are some very minor visual differences with the different brand name models. A magazine from the Umarex Colt 1911 will fit the Swiss Arms 1911. Same for a Swiss Arms magazine and a Tanfoglio, even the 27-round extended capacity Tanfoglio magazine will work with the Umarex Colt and Swiss Arms models. All the guns and magazines are made in Taiwan. I don’t know for a fact that they are all made in the same factory, but the Tanfoglio and Swiss Arms models are built by KWC and the parts interchangeability is 100 percent.

All three of these 1911 models use the same magazines as do several other 1911 CO2 pistols. Pictured at top the Swiss Arms Tactical 1911 TRS, center, the custom finished Swiss Arms 1911A1, and bottom the very first of the blowback action CO2 designs, the Umarex Colt Commander. At far left the Tanfoglio 27-round extended capacity 1911 magazine and far right a Colt Commander 1911 CO2 magazine. They are all interchangeable.

Peacemaker and 1911 downrange

For the comparison I am only loading eight steel BBs into the 1911 magazine, the cartridge capacity of a 1911, seven in the magazine and one round chambered. That only gives the 1911 a two round advantage over the Peacemaker BB model, which is an early blued gun with 5-1/2 inch barrel. Of course, when it is time to reload, a spare magazine for the 1911 greatly surpasses even the most adept pistolero at emptying and reloading a Peacemaker.

Actual smoothbore barrel lengths for the CO2 models is 5.12 inches for the Peacemaker (5-1/2 inch exterior barrel length, with smoothbore barrel liner recessed 0.375 inches from the muzzle), and 4.75 inches for the Swiss Arms 1911 (5.0 inch barrel length with smoothbore barrel recessed 0.25 inches from the muzzle). That gives the Single Action a modest 0.37 inch advantage in actual internal barrel length.

The Peacemaker chronographed at an average velocity of 408 fps with a high of 419 fps, a low of 398 fps, two shots at 408 fps, and one each at 414 fps and 403 fps, with a standard deviation of 7 fps. The Swiss Arms 1911 hit an average of 290 fps average using Umarex Precision steel BBs with a high of 291 fps and a low (tree consecutive shots) at 280 fps. Factory spec for maximum velocity is 320 fps but with this particular magazine the Swiss Arms never broke 300 fps. One reason is that a lot of CO2 goes into the recoil on this 1911 (the slide comes back with enough force to kick the muzzle up a fraction of an inch) and that feels great when you pull the trigger, but it comes at the sacrifice of velocity compared to the Peacemaker, which puts 100 percent behind the BB cartridge.

The majority of 1911 CO2 models are made in the same factories in Taiwan and the magazines for nearly all of them are interchangeable, even though there are specific magazines for different brands name models. Here the Swiss Arms is fitted with the Tanfoglio 1911’s extended 27-round capacity magazine. It also fits the Umarex Colt Commander, Remington 1911 RAC, Swiss Arms 1911 rail gun models and even the new Sig Sauer 1911 WE THE PEOPLE. But, keep in mind, all magazines do not perform the same even if they fit and operate in different guns. The beauty of the 1911 CO2 models is that you can try different magazines and find the ones that deliver the best performance for your 1911 model, and it’s not always the one that comes with the gun.

I changed magazines (used one from the Umarex Colt Commander) and ran a second test with the Swiss Arms 1911 and hit an average velocity of 295 fps with a high of 300 fps, a pair each at 297 fps, and 296 fps, and a low of 293 fps. No failures to fire, no CO2 leaks. I gave the gun another turn with a Tanfoglio 27-round extended capacity magazine, which also happens to fit the Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE, (talk about a cool looking combination!). Eight rounds from the Tanfoglio mag in the Swiss Arms 1911 hit a high of 310 fps, a low of 302 fps and an average velocity of 300 fps. So, magazines do make a small difference. As a final comparison for overall performance I shot one set with the Umarex Colt Commander to see what the average velocity is from that model. The Umarex model I have is one of the first and has the original magazine. It averaged 305 fps with a high of 309 fps and a low of 303 fps. This is the same magazine that delivered an average velocity of 295 fps in the Swiss Arms 1911, so the gun makes a difference, too. I ended up using magazines from four different 1911 models in the Swiss Arms, plus the Tanfoglio extended capacity magazine and experienced zero failures, just moderate variances in average velocity.

At 21 feet, fired one-handed, the Swiss Arms 1911A1 put 8 rounds (I only loaded the gun to actual 1911 specs, 7+1) into 1.375 inches, with the best 5-shots at 0.74 inches. Yes, that is a larger bullseye Shoot-N-C target than I generally use. The standard target I use is out of stock. Hard not to hit the red with these!

At 21 feet I fired both guns the way they were originally intended to be fired, one-handed. The Swiss Arms 1911A1 wasn’t exactly a tack driver (then again neither was the military issue .45 ACP) and my best 8-shot group measured 1.375 inches with a best 5-shots at 0.74 inches. When I originally tested the Swiss Arms 1911 my best 5-shot group with a two-handed hold had measured 0.625 inches. So the gun is shooting pretty much the same as it did before the refinish, (i.e., no harm done).

To the chagrin of semi-auto fans, the “Ol’ Reliable” Colt Peacemaker out shot the 1911 by a fair margin using the same one-handed target shooting stance at 21 feet. The 6-round group measures 0.75 inches.

The blued Peacemaker BB model is one of the early examples and the finish is blue to purple, which is even more accentuated under studio lighting. Finish not withstanding, like all the Umarex Colt Peacemakers, it is a good shooter and from 21 feet with the Umarex Precision steel BBs the 5-1/2 inch Single Action put six rounds into 0.75 inches, which will no doubt bring a smile to Single Action shooters; the Peacemaker is a more accurate gun. My best 5-shots grouped at 0.687 inches, also just a hair better than the 1911’s best five rounds. If airguns can imitate centerfire gun handling and comparative accuracy, the 5-1/2 inch CO2 Peacemaker BB model and Swiss Arms 1911A1 are the guns that can do it.

Real world shooting as an airgun experience!

5 thoughts on “Revolvers vs. Semi-autos Part 2”

  1. There’s nothing wrong with using a bench rest. I do with some handguns when shooting from 25 yards. I know shooters who can punch tighter groups offhand at 25 yards than I can at 10 meters (with centerfire pistols) so it is all different skill levels. Everyone should shoot the way they are most comfortable. I rarely do any better with an air pistol from a rest than offhand at 21 feet to 10 meters. Do what works for you.

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