When ground fighting gets close, warfighters reach for their sidearms to save the day.
Here are five of the most widely used and beloved pistols in U.S. military history:
1. Harper’s Ferry Model 1805
The first pistol manufactured by a national armory, the Model 1805 was a .54 caliber, single-shot, smoothbore flintlock issued to officers. Known as “horsemen’s pistols,” they were produced in pairs, each one bearing the same serial number. The “brace,” as the pair was labeled, was required for more immediate firepower since each pistol had to be reloaded after a single shot. The heritage of the pistol is recognized today in the insignia for the U.S. Army Military Police Corps, which depicts crossed Model 1805s.
2. Colt Revolvers (1851 Navy and M1873)
A widely manufactured sidearm with more than 250,000 made, the 1851 is the pistol that gave Confederate officers the in-close firepower they preferred. This .38 caliber six-shot revolver was used by famous gunslingers like Doc Holiday and Wild Bill Hickok as well as military leaders like Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Nathan B. Forrest. Although the pistol used the “Navy” name as a tribute to the mid-19th-century Texas Navy, it was mostly used by land forces, including the pre-Civil War Texas Rangers.
Another popular Colt revolver was the M1873, known as the pistol that won the West because of its wide use among U.S. Army cavalry forces across the American frontier. The M1873 (with a pearl handle) was also famously carried by Gen. George S. Patton during World War II.
3. Colt M1911 pistol
Arguably the most popular military sidearm in the history of warfare, the M1911 is a single-action, semi-automatic, magazine-fed, recoil-operated pistol. The M1911 (more commonly known as “the forty-five”) was the U.S. military’s standard issue sidearm from 1911 until 1986, which means it saw action in every major war and contingency operation from World War I until near the end of the Cold War. The M1911 was replaced as standard issue by the Beretta M9, which was for the most part a very unpopular decision across the military because of the associated reduction in firepower. Modernized derivative variants of the M1911 are still in use by some units of the U.S. Army Special Forces, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.
4. Heckler & Koch Mark 23
The fact that this is U.S. Special Operations Command’s sidearm of choice says a lot about the offensive power and high-tech features of this pistol. First produced in 1991, this is basically an M1911 on steroids. The standard package comes with a suppressor and laser-aiming module -- necessary gear for the special operations mission suite.
5. Sig Sauer P226
The P226 has been standard issue for U.S. Navy SEALs since the 1980s. The SEALs like the trigger locking mechanism, which makes the 9mm pistol “drop proof” -- a nice feature to have in the dynamic world of the frogman -- and the higher-capacity magazine designed for this model.
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