Military Life

M1911 vs M9 Beretta: The battle of the best combat pistol

Which hip blaster reigns supreme?
Joshua Skovlund Avatar
The M9 and 1911 pistols being fired by American soldiers and Marines.
Which pistol are you taking into combat: the Beretta M9 or the Colt M1911? (U.S. Army photo/Sgt. Austin Berner. U.S. Marine Corps photo/Lance Cpl. Hannah Hall. Task & Purpose composite image.)

Two combat pistols ruled in different eras, though some units continued using their favorite. The M1911 is the OG pistol that’s been used in combat from 1911 well into the 2020s. The Beretta M9 pistol was introduced to the ranks as a replacement for the M1911 starting in 1985. 

It wasn’t until recently that both pistols were removed from service and replaced with the more modern Sig Sauer M17, M18, and MK25 pistols. Though they have been phased out, the pistols have remained a favorite for soldiers and gun enthusiasts alike. But which one is actually the best?

Kyle Lamb has extensive experience with both pistols but argues they have served their purpose in combat tenfold. But when pressed on what he would take into combat, his answer may surprise you. 

The best combat pistol

Fresh out of the box, with no alterations, Lamb thinks the M9 is better than the M1911. Lamb explained how a rack-grade 1911 will rattle if you shake it because of manufacturing missteps, whereas the M9 is a solid-built pistol, but a rack-grade trigger leaves a lot to be desired. The trigger issue doesn’t outweigh the inaccuracy of the rack-grade 1911, though. 

The M9 is a hardy gun with a lot of stopping power and every trigger squeeze is the same. But, Lamb served in a unit that didn’t get issued rack-grade weapons. He was fortunate to have his pick of highly customized firearms with the best modifications available. 

Lamb modified the sights, grip, and trigger of an M9, whereas, by the time he was done modifying everything needed to get his 1911 ready, it was practically a different gun. 

“You’re talking $2,500 TO $3,500 worth of modifications to get that gun up to snuff,” Lamb said. 

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Units that implemented both pistols in multiple combat environments modified their pistols in one way or another. When asked which one he’s grabbing on his way out the door for a mission, it’s the 1911. 

“If you’re an SF guy from the 90s or the early 2000s, and you were issued an M9, not a 1911, you’re gonna pick the M9 because you can shoot that thing. You have no problem shooting an M9, even a stock one because you’re just comfortable with it,” Lamb said. “That’s the gun that you carried. For me. The gun I carried was a 1911 and then later a Glock, both of those guns I’m very comfortable with.” 

‘What do you need all those bullets for if your first shot is accurate’ is a common challenge of the 1911 fanatics. Lamb said he’s heard it for years, and his only comment on it says it all. 

“I don’t remember ever being shot at where I said, ‘Man, I wish I had less capacity,’” Lamb said. “You know, ‘Wow, I wish I had a pistol that held less ammo.’ I’ve never said that. I think capacity does matter.” 

Lamb has and would again carry the 1911 into combat if he was limited to that or an M9. Given a choice of all pistols available on the market, he said that some of the best combat pistols available are Sig Sauer’s M17 and M18, the military version of the p320.

“They’re all great weapons, but the gun that the military is shooting right now — the M17 and M18 — are superior weapons systems to the 1911 and to the M9,” Lamb said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

M1911 pistol

The 1911 that Lamb carried early in his Army career was built in the 1940s. He checked the serial number on the National Match Frame of his gun to figure out whether he was carrying a World War II pistol as an operator in the late 80s and early 90s. The answer was yes, it was a model from WWII, and he had trained with it for years. 

“I don’t shoot my 1911 like I used to,” Lamb said. “But I can pick it up, and it feels like an old handshake. It just fits right in my hand, and I’m used to all the controls of it.”

The Army replaced the M1911 in 1985, and Kyle enlisted in the military in 1986. The unit Lamb spent the better part of his career in was issued the 1911. Even by the time Operation Gothic Serpent took place, Lamb was still issued a modified 1911 on deployments. But, he commonly had his sawed-off 870 shotgun in place of the M9 because he was a breacher at the time. 

Lamb didn’t use his 1911 on missions very often, as it was prone to malfunctions after getting “sugar-cookied” in sand kicked up by helicopter rotor wash. Lamb noted that rack-grade 1911s performed better in sandy conditions compared to the 1911s they were issued in his unit, but the tradeoff of more accuracy is why they stayed with the most recent 1911s. 

The safety on an M1911 is a lot different compared to the M9 decocking lever and heavy first trigger squeeze. The ‘safety’ mechanism of early 1911 models was simply a half cock on the hammer or a decocked pistol. 

To take your pistol out of battery, the shooter would have to carefully ease the hammer all the way forward. If you lose your grip, you’re likely to cause a negligent discharge of the pistol when the hammer strikes forward. Newer models have a grip safety, which can be tricky for an untrained shooter.

M9 Beretta pistol

The M9 was the replacement for the 1911. It’s a cost-effective pistol implemented in several units throughout the military with increased accuracy out of the box, higher capacity, and a better safety.  

“The M9 — to me — is a very reliable weapon compared to the 1911s rack grade, and even if you modify,” Lamb said. 

The M9 does not have the same trigger squeeze as a double-action pistol. It’s well known for a heavy first half of the trigger squeeze all the way through to the hammer drop. The M9’s first trigger squeeze is 13 pounds, and subsequent shots are at five pounds in single action. For comparison, the original issue 1911s had a trigger squeeze of around six pounds for every trigger squeeze. 

“Now, is that conducive to first-round hits? Definitely not,” Lamb said. “But it makes the gun a little bit safer.”

Lamb said the M9 is a much safer pistol for beginner shooters or the average joe who doesn’t train as much. The decocking lever/safety arm on the M9 will safely de-activate the hammer and place the pistol on safe. There are modified M9s with a new decocker lever that’s spring loaded, meaning it will safely decock the hammer, but the gun remains functional. 

The military trains a ‘tap, rack, bang’ as an immediate reaction to a feeding malfunction on their rifles and pistols. A soldier taps the base of the magazine to ensure it’s properly seated, racks the slide of the pistol, and then lets the slide slam forward into battery, followed by a trigger squeeze. 

Lamb has seen issues with that malfunction clearing method on the range with M9 shooters. The issue was with the non-spring loaded decocking lever pistols. When they holstered their pistol, they’d hit the decocking lever and forget to push it back up, which prevented the pistol from firing.

When shooters would then draw and shoot, they couldn’t figure out why their pistol didn’t fire; it was because the decocking lever was still down. That isn’t an issue with the upgraded M9s, but it’s something to be aware of and include in your training. 

At the end of the day, Lamb prefers the M1911 over the M9 because it’s more comfortable for him. Both pistols have been used for decades at some of the highest levels of the military, and both make great combat pistols. 

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