Springfield's Bold and Powerful 45


by R.K. Campbell

Photography by R.K. Campbell

October 27th, 2005




Recently, I fired and tested a number of Springfield Armory Mil Spec pistols that are anything but Mil Spec like in performance.  In other words, they perform above and beyond what we would have expected from a Military Specification pistol manufactured during the Great War. The fit, finish and accuracy are considerably above the standard once enjoyed by a great legion of 1911s manufactured by Remington Rand, Colt, Ithaca and others.  Still, we have to understand what Mil Spec meant.  This did not denote a cut down pistol by any means. Rather, a specification had been set forth for manufacture and each and every weapon produced had to feature interchangeable parts.  Federal inspectors visited the various plants, armed with gauges to ensure that each handgun manufactured was in military specifications. These handguns were well made and reliable.  They were not finished in bright blue and did not feature walnut stocks but they performed well.  They saved the lives of many Americans.  After the war, quite a few found their way into service with civilians and peace officers and continued to perform well. After a time, the supply of available inexpensive 1911 pistols disappeared.  I think that the "1911 man" is partly to blame and natural attrition another cause. The man who favors the SIG or H and K may own a compact version to compliment his service gun and perhaps a spare but that is as far as it goes.  But the true "1911 man" will own as many as finances and marital harmony allow.  I am firmly in that camp.  Springfield Armory introduced a copy of the 1911A1 Colt that came at exactly the right time.  This handgun featured a matte finish that resembled the original parkerized coating, and was all 1911A1 in appearance.  There were variations, however. After, the gun is not a replica but a look alike, an important distinction.   Most of the Springfield guns, even the early ones, have better trigger actions than the average Colt and tend to feed hollowpoints better. Just the same, many early Colts are well fitted and will feed practically any JHP ammunition fed them that is not badly out of specification.  The Springfield was a big hit and in due course other companies, including Colt, offered 1911A1 type pistols to compete with the Springfield. Whether anyone has done the job better can be debated.

Over the years Springfield offered many variations on the original 1911A1. There have been pistols that are finished quite well, versions with high visibility sights, and various changes in grips.  The Loaded Model is quite a handgun, offering considerable improvements in a factory pistol. But the mil spec guns allow the user to purchase a base model and either leave it as issued or fit the sights and grip safety he prefers, not what the factory tells him he needs.  The Springfield Mil Spec continues to be a good seller and a solid performer.  I have noticed over the years that these pistols are delivered with an increasingly better feed ramp and barrel chamber polish.  Some years ago, the senior ballistician at a major ammunition company told me the barrel to slide and ramp fit of the Springfield was the best he had ever seen in a factory pistol.  The guns certainly have stood the test of the time.  The trigger action seems pretty well predictably dialed in at five pounds smooth on the modern renditions, a good standard for a production handgun.  That brings us to the newest variation and among my favorite Springfields.  Brother, it is among my favorite 1911s of all time!

The stainless steel version of the Mil Spec may not ring true with the idea of a replica of the WW II .45, but it is a good idea.  The pistol is well finished and fitted with overall excellent attention to detail.  The barrel, frame and slide are of high quality forged steel.  The smaller parts are of cast material or of MIM (Metal Injection Molding).  When we run the slide across the frame, the barrel bushing, link and locking lugs all demonstrate a good snug fit.  The gun shows excellent quality for a pistol that retails for considerably less than six hundred dollars.  The gun is affordable as quality handguns go, but packs a lot of features into the price. Features, in a mil spec gun? Sure.  Reliability, accuracy, power, and excellent handling are among these.  The grips are startlingly attractive In fact; almost everyone who sees and handles this pistol counts the grips as the single best feature.  The bold wood cuts are appealing to both aesthetics and patriotism, things gun people appreciate. The sights could bear improvement but they are certainly better than the original GI sights.

Before beginning to test the handgun, I field stripped it to the basic components and checked for high spots or burrs. There were none.  The pistol field stripped without the use of tools.  A bushing wrench is not needed to take down this .45.   Next, I lubricated the long bearing surfaces of the Springfield with Birchwood Casey gun oil.  I selected a number of Metalform magazines, including the ten round variants and the new eight round Elite, a singularly well made and finished magazine.  I collected an eclectic supply of ammunition for a range test.  As a preliminary, I dry fired the handgun several times and checked the trigger pull weight on my RCBS registering scale. The trigger broke cleanly at five and one quarter pounds.  I loaded my magazines and targets, as well as hearing and eye protection, and gave the Springfield a workout.

During the initial range session, I did not attempt to fire for record but simply used the pistol as it was meant to be used.  I holstered the piece in a DOJ holster from Alessi Holsters and faced a trio of silhouette targets placed at seven yards.  For break in, the pistol was loaded with Fiocchi 230 grain ball ammunition, a reliable and affordable practice load.  I had mounted my Competition Electronics Pocket Pro timer, and drew and fired at the audible buzz from the timer.  I found the Springfield as fast as any 1911, leaping into the hand and producing good results. The safety is crisp and positive but not too tight and the grip safety activates at the proper pressure, a fine distribution between safety and speed.  With a minimum of practice, I was tearing away the X ring of the man-sized targets.  Moving back to ten yards the results were unchanged.  Firing a total of eleven magazine loads - including two ten rounders - I fired eighty-three rounds as quickly as I could pull the trigger and slam another magazine home.  There were no break in malfunctions, no failures to feed, chamber, fire or cycle.  The pistol came out of the box running. 

I fired a few slow fire groups at ten yards with the Fiocchi ball and found I could produce a four shot cloverleaf with careful attention to the sight picture and sight alignment.  For precision fire the small sights are a challenge. I settled down to the bench for a test of the handguns practical accuracy.  Preferring to stay in touch with reality, I fire from a solid braced rest and do not use a machine rest.  Sharp edges and a poor trigger are not reflected in machine rest shooting.

I added a number of different loads to the mix and fired a number of five shot groups at fifteen yards.  I was careful with the trigger, but found I did clutch the trigger a couple of times.  I own a number of 1911s with custom tuned triggers in the three and one half to four pound range, and they can spoil you. Still, when you are ready for one of these you will know.  For general carry and personal defense, the five pound trigger action is usable by one with training and those not familiar with the 1911 action need not apply for a lighter compression.

I found that a mix of four loads,  factory and handloads,  produced groups of  two to three inches at fifteen yards, an acceptable standard for a pistol of this type and, truth be told, more than we need for combat purposes.  I  like an accurate handgun, however, and I would test the pistol at length in another situation.  The first blush of satisfaction clearly showed a capable and reliable handgun.

Range Results - 5-shot groups at 15 yards

Fiocchi 230 grain ball 3.0 inches
Fiocchi 230 grain JHP 2.0 inches
Georgia Arms 185 grain JHP 2.5 inches
Sierra 185 grain JHP/ 7.5 Unique 1.9 inches*

*the author's personal combination works up 1100 fps, feeds perfectly and is very accurate.  Never underestimate GOOD handloaded ammunition!

Fast forward a few weeks...

After performing a home-brewed trigger job and using the Springfield for a number of weeks,  I found the trigger has settled into just under five pounds and very smooth.  The pistol  fed an eclectic supply of mixed up range loads, including round nose lead,  lead SWC,  and wide mouth hollowpoints without compliant.  For reliability I have added a WC Wolff  18.5 pound recoil spring, but the gun never hiccupped.  I simply feel better with this spring under my barrel. The sights had to go.  I have replaced these with a set from Maryland Gunworks. This set of sights fitted into the existing dovetail and gives excellent results.  A warning is that the Springfield features a .088 tenon for the front sight, as most Colts feature either a .058 or .125 inch tenon.  With these sights installed, we enjoyed much better practical accuracy. The pistol is definitely more accurate than I can hold,  but with a proper set of high visibility sights the equation would be much different.

The pistol has proven reliable and accurate, so I have carried it about my business as a matter of course.  I  ordered an inside the waistband holster from Dane Burns, a fan of Lou Alessi and a major distributor of Alessi products. This holster features a reinforced welt for reholstering - it will not collapse after the handgun is drawn.  You may simply drape a sport shirt over the gun and it is concealed.  Quite simply, this is a first class concealment holster that offers real speed once broken in. I find the pistol comfortable but quick into action from this holster.  Naturally, considerable practice must go into becoming comfortable and smooth into action with any holster and handgun combination.

After several weeks of acclimation, I found myself confident with the new .45 at known and unknown ranges, connecting more often than not when the target was dirt clods,  rocks and assorted riff raff  and foliage of the target berm.  I  donned my Hansen shooting glasses and elected to do another sit-down accuracy test.  Whether it means anything to combat shooting or not, we like to know how the gun shoots.  Confirming sight regulation is never a bad idea.  While I own several very accurate and reliable handguns, let me repeat - a gun that functions every time and will group its gun load into four inches or less at 25 yards is combat accurate.  A pistol that will group into one inch but that occasionally ties up is completely unacceptable as a defensive weapon. As it turns out, those attractive grips found on the Springfield work quite well in allowing the shooter the proper shooting angle and grip when firing quickly in combat or in target shooting.  I found them a good aid in all shooting chores.

The Hansen glasses feature a bifocal component that allows those like me, who have suffered degradation in visual acuity, to have a bright, sharp sight picture.  The component is perfectly placed for the shooting sport of your choice, with the bifocal located in a different spot on the lens if you are a shotgunner or handgunner.  Overall, these Eagle Eyes are excellent additions to anyone’s shooting box.  I settled down into the bench and squeezed off several groups from a solid rest with loads of proven accuracy.  These results were roughly comparable with earlier fifteen-yard results, and probably more accurately reflect the pistol’s accuracy potential. I tested my personal defense ammunition; the Black Hills 230 grain JHP. This load is a tad hotter than most 230 grain JHPs and gives good accuracy in every 1911 I own. The Black Hills loading shows a good combination of penetration and expansion. The +P load is suitable for medium game, jolting a 230 grain JHP to a full 950 fps. This is a load to be used sparingly, one that makes the most of the .45 ACP cartridge.

I have found the Springfield suited to my idea of a general purpose .45 auto.  There are many who will pay twice what the Mil Spec pistol costs for improved sights and other amenities,  and I cannot blame them - I own several of these high end pistols myself.  But the pistol is reliable, accurate enough for any reasonable task, functions well, and features a corrosion-resistant finish.  Best of all, it is attractive, with more than a little flash.  All in all, an outstanding addition to the 1911 tribe and a personal favorite.

25 yard bench rest,  results of  five shot groups at 25 yards

Black Hills 230 grain RNL 3.0 inches
Black Hills 230 grain JHP 2.5 inches
Black Hills 230 grain JHP +P 2.8 inches
Black Hills 200 grain SWC 1.9 inches*
Sierra 240 grain JHC / HP 38 powder, 760 fps 2.5 inches
Fiocchi 230 grain ball 2.7 inches
Wolff  230 grain ball 4.0 inches
Oregon Trail 230 gr. RNL / HP 38 powder, 790 fps 3.5 inches

*this is an excellent all around load with fine accuracy and good feeding.

A Note on Safety...

The Springfield features the ILS or Integrated Locking System. Simply put, a special key locks the action when desired.  This is quite an accomplishment, and perhaps a harbinger of things to come. Remember, if you wish to change to a flat mainspring or install a magazine well guide,  you will also have to install a different hammer strut.  Evidently, Springfield uses a shorter strut on the hammer to accommodate the ILS system.

R.K. Campbell


Got something to say about this article? Want to agree (or disagree) with it? Click the following link to go to the GUNBlast Feedback Page.

Click pictures for a larger version.


This particular Stainless Springfield (bottom) is fitted with the prototype grips designed by Gary Paul Johnston for those going in harm’s way. I have but one Asterisk. The little gun at the top is a Para-Ordnance Warthog, another good 1911.



The Alessi/Burns IWB, top, is a great concealment holster. For use under a jacket, the Alessi at the bottom is good. Both are first class leather holsters with an impeccable pedigree.



The plain old blue GI Springfield gives fine results. Author pairs his 1911 with the Streamlight Scorpion, his favorite ‘combat light’.



Who says you cannot control the .45? Sgt Matthew Campbell has two empties in the air, firing hardball.



Another view of Sgt Matthew Henry Campbell, SCNG, controlling the Springfield .45 with hardball ammunition. Here are two cases in the air and the pistol is firing again.



In this illustration Matthew Campbell touches off a round of Black Hills 230 grain JHP +P. This load is about 125 fps faster than hardball, with the same bullet weight. It hits hard.



Back on target with Black Hills +P - this is how it is done!



With a ten round Metalform magazine and Black Hills 230 grain FMJ rounds, Matt almost looks bored controlling the Springfield Stainless .45. Is that three cases in the air? Anyone who thinks our young soldiers cannot handle the .45 needs a shot of reality.



OK, we are getting a little wild with this one. This is a Mil Spec Springfield with the ten round Metalform with the synthetic guard that prevents us from jamming the magazine into the mag well- although the magazine has a safety nub as well.  The belt slide is from Saguaro Gunleather and the knife from Ernest Emerson. The compensator is for good reason - this pistol is a .460 Rowland conversion.



Nice clean lines, a lanyard loop, all GI - and that big old compensator, courtesy of Clark Custom Guns. More about that later...