Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The 1911 That Wasn't

When the US military decided to switch its standard issue sidearm to a .45 acp it had a long series of trials and tests that the immortal Colt 1911 ended up winning.  This is the story of the only other firearm to reach the finals.

The Savage 1907 is a confusing little pistol.  Its confusing because it has "1905" stamped on it... even though it wasn't produced in 1905 and it isn't named the 1905.  1905 was the year the designer, Elbert H. Searle, received patent number 804,985 for his new semi-automatic pistol.   To this day you will hear people talk about the Savage 1905 pistol.  There is no such thing.  If it has 1905 stamped on it... its a 1907.  E.H. Searle didn't sell Savage the design until 1907.

Its an understatement to say that its an interesting design.  The weapon has only 34 parts.  That's fewer than a 1911.  It has no flat springs and no screws.  Rather than being screwed on, the grips are held in place by simple friction.  Like John Moses Browning's masterpiece, the Savage 1907 can be disassembled without tools.  Its appears to have a hammer but that is actually for cocking and decocking only.  It is a striker fired weapon.

While the weapon was still in the proving stage Savage submitted to the US Military to be considered for the new sidearm contract.  There was a series of extensive tests all the weapons had to go through.  Most folks only know about the last one... the infamous torture test.  The only two weapons to make it to that test were the Colt 1911 and the Savage 1907.

There is an enormous amount of legend and lore about the trials and the performance of the weapons.  As such there is also controversy.  For example if you read the NRA's history of the event you will come away thinking the Savage was an unreliable piece of crap that had no business being there.  While the Colt functioned flawlessly.

The actual army reports list 37 failures of any kind for the Savage during the 6,000 round torture test.  The extent the military went to abuse these firearms is difficult to imagine.  The guns were deliberately rusted.  they were loaded with deformed cartridges that were seated either to deeply or not deeply enough.  They were fired 1000 times... then given 5 minutes to cool while they were spot cleaned, and fired another 1000 rounds.

There was a pass-fail standard on this test and both pistols passed.  Legend says the 1911 had no failures at all but the official records dispute this.  In reality the 1911 and 1907 performed about the same.  The 1911 was chosen but its not accurate to say the 1911 out-performed the Savage.  The reality is the 1911s were already in production, and the Savage was still a prototype.  Savage probably didn't know it, but the decision had been made weeks before the torture test even happened.  This was just another in a long series of screwings the Savage Company received at the hands of the US government.  Some other time we'll talk about the Savage 99... and why the Winchester 94 was profoundly outdated.

At any rate the US Military went with the Colt 1911.  The Savage was chambered in the .32acp that E.H. had originally intended... and the weapon was marketed heavily to the public as the best defensive option available.  Savage's advertisements were as fascinating as the little firearm itself as you can see from the post below.

So now you know about the Other 1911.  And now... you know that anyone that tries to sell you a Savage 1905 doesn't know much about the weapon he's marketing.


Susan said...

Sounds like one party offered a sweeter deal to the military than the other was willing to.

I often wonder sometimes how much military weaponry the Government oks is only because of the 'sweet deal' they were offered, and not because the thing actually was worth a darn.

Or because one of the parties was actually too honorable to offer a bribe of some kind, and they actually thought their product would make it on it's own merit.

Susan said...

One more thing Nate.

I enjoy all of your history stories. You have a way of making the subject come alive, and I always learn something.

Nate said...

I think in this case the Colt was the better choice. But it was probably the only time out side of the adoption of the m14 when the military actually did make the best choice.

John Williams said...

Lewis was an American and couldn't sell his gun here. He had to go overseas.

He just couldn't break into the good ol'boy network.

I know Eugene Stoner went to the M-16 trials since his gun was performing so badly where he found what can only be described as sabotage. Parts were damaged, then reinstalled and pins were replaced with bits of welding rod.

You say But it was probably the only time out side of the adoption of the m14 when the military actually did make the best choice.

Then you hint at the the Winchester 94 being obsolete compared to the Savage 99. I think there's more than 1 story where the military didn't make the best choice.

Heck, look at the controversy around Dragon Body Armor. Same as the Lewis gun.

I've never been to the museum that has the potato digger that the Rough Riders hauled up San Juan Hill, but I've been told the plaque on it states that it was purchased for the unit by the parents of one of it's members.

That tells me that, historically, the best equipment had to be bought privately for the troops, time to time. Same case today with body armor.

Nate said...

What I mean is.. the m14 and the 1911 were probably the only two times the military DID make the right choice.

The 94 was bullshit compared to the Savage 99. The 99 fired spitzer bullets because it had an internal rotary magazine.

John Williams said...

Ok, gotcha.

They did ok with the Garand too.

Usually the crony crooked business back room deals overrule good sense.

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