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Debating which pistol caliber the U.S. military should use is a surefire way to evoke old war stories. When the U.S. Army decided to adopt a 9mm pistol, Congress abruptly halted all legislation while member after member recounted some friend's or relative's personal pistol experience in a past conflict. Such stories are not out of place, as there is arguably more than one "best" caliber.

Possibly the most popular U.S. military handgun and caliber was the Colt SAA and .45 Colt. The .45 Colt was so popular that the .45 ACP was developed in 1903 as a modern counterpart, despite the fact that the .38 Long Colt and .38 ACP had officially replaced the .45 Colt in 1892. We all know the tale of the fighting in the Philippines, where the .45 SA revolvers caliber came to be prefered over the .38 DA revolvers in use. What we often forget is that a lot has happened since then.

During WWI, calibers issued included, but were not limited to, .32's, .38's of all flavors, 9mm's (9mm Glisenti, 9mm Luger, 9mm Steyr, etc.), .455 Webley, .45 ACP, even the .25 ACP (Mauser 1910) was issued by the Germans! The .45 ACP gained a following, largely due to its reliability, but also due to its effectiveness relative to the other calibers.

Interventions by the U.S. in Nicaragua again brought accolades to the 1911 and its .45 ACP cartridge.

A friend of mine, "P", is a retired judge who served as a junior officer at D-day. He wound up as CO of his unit after his Captain took a German sniper's bullet to the head. While scouting ahead, P rounded a corner and came nose-to-nose with a German soldier holding an MP-40 submachinegun. P was quicker with his 1911, and his bullets worked well, so he lived to become a judge. As a no-nonsense, wisened, and often controversial judge, P carried a 9mm S&W auto with JHP's under his robe.

WWII was intriguing from a pistol standpoint because both the 9x19mm and .45 ACP emerged as viable choices. The 9mm benefitted from its "endorsement" (use) by the Germans. In 20th century military matters, the Germans were viewed as gurus by those militaries that fought them. Never mind that the Germans were 0 for 2 in 20th century wars.

During the war, the U.S. Navy issued many .38 Spl revolvers, especially to aircrew. Some Army personnel also carried .38 revolvers. The desirability of ammunition commonality led the U.S. to study the viability of a pistol chambered for .30 Carbine, but without success.

After WWII, the U.S. Army began looking at replacing the 1911 and the .45 ACP with a lighter weight 9mm. From these trials came the aluminum framed Commander and the DA/SA S&W M39 auto. The S&W M39 was inspired by the brilliantly designed Walther P38.

Here's a funny turn of events. The Germans used the 9mm in WWII and after the war the US decided to copy them and replace the .45 ACP with the 9mm. But, before the war, the Germans were planning to replace their 9mm with the US .45 ACP!

Pistols saw a larger than expected amount of use in Korea. Pistols were often employed in defense of, or the re-taking of, crew served weapons. In the Korean War ("Police Action" is just a polite name for a war), .357 revolvers were also used. The .357 was not issued to supplement the 1911, but to offer increased penetration of ChiCom body armor. The U.S. and British were using nylon soft body armor. The ChiCom's captured, then copied, this armor. The .357 Magnum was more likely to penetrate the ChiCom vests than was the .45 ACP.

Vietnam produced its own pistol lessons. Many elite units carried 9mm S&W or Browning auto's, or .38 Spl revolvers rather than 1911's. By 1971, Colt had offered their 21 rd, .221 Fireball calibered, select-fire (semi and 3 rd burst), SCAMP pistol to the U.S. Army. The Army was already seriously deciding whether to adopt the Ingram M10 to replace the 1911 as the official sidearm. That's why the 10 rd magazine and holster were developed for the M10.

In the mid-1980's, the 9mm Beretta M9 officially replaced the .45 ACP 1911 and all other pistols in service. But, all has not been well. The revolvers are gone, yet the 1911 remains. In fact, Army and Marines SOF's currently issue the .45 ACP 1911. Recently, the USMC purchased new Kimber 1911's in .45 ACP.

In 1987 while in Myrtle Beach, SC, I saw a USMC MP with a Browning Hi-Power in his holster.

The 9mm has been criticized by troops fighting in Somalia, Afganistan, and now Iraq. This led to speculation that the 9mm would be replaced. I don't believe that the Army will return to the .45 ACP for general issue, due to recoil and ammunition weight. The two star candidates have been the .357 SIG and .40 S&W. The .357 SIG offers increased soft body armor penetration and flatter trajectory. This really doesn't matter because newer soft body armor can stop the .357 SIG, and troops aren't likely to hit at longer ranges anyway. In FMJ form, the .40 S&W would be better.

While most of us were expecting to hear that the .40 S&W or .357 SIG would be the next official cartrdge, the evaluation of M-16 based pistols has suprised us. With 7" barrels, the velocity is in the .22 WMRF range, but these pistols offer increased soft body armor penetration, plus parts, magazine, and ammunition commonality.

In the mean time, the 9mm and .45 ACP will both continued to be used, just like they have for the last 100 years.
 

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A true AP (steel core, not lead core FMJ) cartridge in .357Sig, would offer great armor-defeating capability. Very few armies issue body armor anywhere near what we do to our troops. While very few handguns pose a great threat (with standard FMJ) to OUR body armor, a steel-core .357 Sig would rip through the body armor (or often lack of) of the enemy's troops, especially at "combat handgun" ranges.
 

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Interesting post Rolin, I've never heard of the SCAMP pistol. I'll have to look that one up.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Oops, I made two mistakes about the SCAMP. It held 27 rounds, not 21, and the cartridge was minutely different from the .221 Fireball.
 

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An additional 6 rounds can be a good thing, minutely different than the 221 Fireball, can't be as much different as 8x57J is from 8x57JS.
 

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it became the Bushmaster bullpup, in 223, actually. POS. too. The smg-carbine like guns can never replace the pistol, cause they can't be conveniently holstered and swiftly drawn, while ALSO helping a buddy to walk, carry a hunk of mortar, beltfed, etc, etc, in your hand, that you CAN'T drop, due to being over water, mud, sand, cliff, etc, and so on. They aint really handy ENOUGH while rappelling, climbing a ladder, crawling a tunnel, really thick brush, etc, either.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I agree that the Bushmaster was neither fish nor fowl.

(Note: We are NOT talking about the Bushmaster Firearms Company.)

The latest .223 pistols are shorty M16's. Some of these pistols have a foregrip. Another variation has tiny rockets contained in the forward section of the pistol!
 
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