Solid to the Corps: The Springfield 1911 MC Operator
October 15, 2015
There are watershed moments in history. Often they are not obvious until years, if not decades later, but sometimes the historical significance of certain events is undeniable as they are happening. For many firearms people there was no more clearer moment in U.S. history to signal the point at which our republic began to fade from glory than the day our armed forces replaced the battle-proven M1911A1 in .45 ACP with a 9mm.
The Beretta M9 has not enjoyed the same kind of uncontested reign with our soldiers the 1911 did. Barely 30 years later, many in the military are using issued Glocks and SIGs instead of the M9. While nobody has yet been able to convince the entire military to return to John Browning's baby, there are some units still using the 1911- or at least want to. Which is why we have the Springfield Armory 1911 Marine Corps Operator.
A few years ago the Marine Corps put out a bid for a 1911- not to equip the entire Corps but the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, created when Marine Corps Force Recon was integrated into U.S. Special Operations Command following 9/11.
The U.S. military has a seemingly never-ending history of bids to adopt new guns, most of which don't go anywhere and never result in the official adoption of anything. But these bids have had a positive result, at least as far as shooters are concerned. When the U.S. military can't make up its collective mind, all the new designs dreamed up by the firearms manufacturers end up being sold to us. Springfield's 1911 Operator has been around for a few years, but it has been newly updated specifically for the commercial market.
The Springfield 1911 Marine Corps Operator pistols are far from original GI spec. The first thing you might notice is the color scheme. The frame is olive drab below a black slide. Among the tactical crowd, tan seems to be the new black, so maybe green is the new tan. The pistol is also treated to Springfield's Armory Kote coating, which is a spray-on corrosion-resistant finish superior to traditional bluing.
This is a full-size, all-steel Government model pistol with a frame rail, which means it is not just big but heavy (40 ounces, empty)- probably bigger and heavier than most people would want to carry concealed. Notice I didn't say it's too big to carry concealed. I carried guns this big and heavy for decades (and in fact still do), but it takes commitment and the ability to dress around the gun.
The Marine Corps' original bid called for specific features, including an accessory rail, night sights and an ambidextrous safety. The Springfield 1911 Operator has all of them.
Atop the slide are Novak night sights with Trijicon-produced tritium inserts. The inserts do not have white outlines, so technically this is not a three-dot sighting system; however, the glass and steel of the tritium inserts do reflect a bit of light so they do work a bit as three-dots during the day. At night, of course, they glow green due to the radioactive tritium.
As 1911 slides go, the Springfield 1911 Operator's is rather simple. It has a round top, and the left flat is marked "OPERATOR CAL .45" while the right sports "SPRINGFIELD ARMORY" and the company's logo. The slide serrations are of the flat-bottom style that seems to be popular lately, which I'm happy about. Not only do I think they are more attractive than traditional angle-cut serrations, they are also more aggressive. Springfield was generous with the serrations, putting them front and rear.
The front of the slide has a ball radius cut where it curves down to meet the front of the frame. This is a sharper curve than the original Browning design and actually easier to machine. I prefer its appearance over the traditional gentler angle.
Since we're there, let's talk about the end of the frame. When Springfield Armory uses the term "Operator" in a name, it means the 1911 has a frame rail. This pistol's frame has a three-slot accessory rail for mounting lights or lasers. It has been cut off at an angle to match the ball radius cut in the slide. This is more a style choice than anything else, and it looks good.
In case you're wondering, this is the "Butler Cut," so named for pro shooter Taran Butler, who began having this done to his competition 1911s a decade ago. Once again, something from the competition world has found its way into the "tactical" world, without the tactical world giving credit where credit is due.
The barrel is a five-inch stainless steel model fitted to a match stainless bushing. The barrel is the traditional non-ramped design. The chamber entrance has been throated and polished, and the frame ramp has been adjusted and polished as well.
The Springfield 1911 Operator uses the original non-full-length recoil spring guide rod, which was probably specified in the original Marine Corps bid. There's nothing wrong with full-length guide rods, but there's nothing wrong with the original design, either. A standard recoil spring plug allows you to press-check the pistol, although this will take some effort as it comes with an extra-power recoil spring.
As a platform for this new model, Springfield Armory used its 1911 Loaded Series pistols. These pistols are far from the GI 1911s fielded by the military during World War II. They offer custom features at less than a custom price.
One "feature" most people might overlook on this gun is the fit. The Springfield 1911 Operator is put together as tight as any custom 1911. On my sample there was absolutely no play between the slide and frame, and the barrel locked up tight. Pushing down on the barrel hood with the slide forward (the quickest way to check barrel fit) gave me nothing. Poorly fit barrels will move if you push down on the hood when the pistol's in battery.
Every Springfield 1911 I've tested or got my hands on in the past few years has been just as tight. Whatever gunsmith, final assembly or quality control process the company is using, it produces uniformly well-made and tight 1911s.
The frame is olive drab, but all the frame parts (except the trigger) are black, which produces a nice look. The pistol sports what Springfield calls a Delta hammer, a skeletonized Commander-style hammer with a D-shaped cutout.
The trigger is an extended aluminum three-hole model. As this pistol does not have any added firing pin safety parts in the slide screwing up the trigger pull quality, the trigger pull on my sample was rather nice. After a short take-up, the trigger pull broke at a relatively crisp 4.75 pounds. Advertised trigger pulls for these pistols are five to six pounds.
The thumb safety is an extended ambidextrous style. It was slightly easier to engage than disengage, with positive clicks- which means it was adjusted perfectly. All the rear edges of the safety were smoothed and blended to the frame, so there were no sharp edges to dig into my hand during shooting.
Unless you're building a "retro" Springfield 1911, nobody wants a stock GI grip safety, and the Marine Corps Operator features a beavertail grip safety on a Wilson cut. This cut is a little easier to machine but doesn't allow the pistol to sit as low in the hand as an Ed Brown cut, but the difference is minimal.
The front of the frame is technically not undercut but rather cut straight back, allowing the shooter's hand to sit a little higher on the gun than the original's gently curving frontstrap. This pistol is a cut above a stock gun, so I thought Springfield could've done better than a straight-up GI serrated magazine release. Yes, it does the job- empty magazines drop free of the pistol without fuss- but I would've expected a release that was extended or checkered.
The mainspring housing is steel- like every other piece of metal on the pistol apart from the trigger- adding to its not-insubstantial weight. The mainspring housing is flat and checkered. Flat mainspring housings are smaller than arched mainspring housings and therefore fit more hands and also allow more positive depression of the grip safety, which are the reasons they are much more popular.
The mainspring housing features an internal safety lock Springfield began offering several years ago. Use one of the provided keys to turn the tiny keyhole and the hammer cannot be cocked. I think locking up an unloaded gun in a safe or hard case (such as the one provided with this pistol) is a much simpler and safer solution than adding extra unnecessary parts to a gun, but then I'm not a lawyer or a politician.
Springfield's original version of the 1911 Operator had wraparound Pachmayr rubber grips, which were specified in the original Marine Corps bid. Wraparound rubber grips do provide a non-slip surface, but they're very 1988- especially considering the CNC machining available today. And rubber grips tend to bind on clothes- though the Marine Corps was not bidding on a concealed-carry pistol.
The new Springfield 1911 Operator features a machined gripping surface on the front of the frame. Technically, the shapes machined into the frontstrap are wide and flat interlocking irregular hexagons. Springfield has yet to come up with a catchy name for the pattern, which it chose specifically because the design provides a nice gripping surface but is not as aggressive as traditional checkering, which some people find too abrasive. This compromise gripping surface won't chew up hands or clothing.
The new frame texture is combined with new G10 grips. These black-and-green grips are diagonally grooved, although the different colors of the G10 layers may make the grooving a little hard to discern. The grooves run from the bottom rear to the top front on each side and, like the texturing on the frame, provide a moderate gripping surface. They aren't nearly as aggressive as the golf ball-like patterning seen on some grips, but between the frame texturing and these grips, if you can't keep the gun locked into your hand while shooting you're doing something wrong.
The magazine well of the pistol is nicely beveled, and the pistol is supplied with two blued steel seven-round magazines. Eight-round magazines are the current commercial standard, but the seven-rounders follow the whole military flavor of the pistol. There are a number of aftermarket 1911 magazine manufacturers, and while there aren't any I don't recommend, my favorites are the PSI ACT-Mags.
As part of their Loaded Series of pistols, Springfield Armory sells you not only a gun but also just about everything you need to start carrying or competing with it. In addition to the pistol and two magazines, you get an injection-molded holster, double magazine pouch and a large, lockable, hard-sided case.
The holster is an abbreviated paddle model with an adjustable tension screw. It holds the pistol at a butt-forward or "FBI" cant. The double magazine pouch has integral belt loops and holds the magazines in a V-shape. It has a tension screw as well. Neither the holster nor the mag pouch is top of the line gear, but if you don't have any of your own, they'll work just fine until you can get something better. Also, using the provided equipment will give you valuable insight about what you like- or don't like- about it, which will help inform you when you go shopping for an upgrade.
For those of you in the audience who only have trigger time behind modern plastic wonder-nines, the steel frame of a 1911 has no flex or give like you'll get with polymer-framed guns, and the .45 ACP cartridge has more recoil than a 9mm. As a result, the recoil impulse is sharper and harder. However, because the Springfield 1911 Operator weighs more than 40 ounces empty, recoil is more than manageable if you have a proper grip on the gun. This is due also in no small part to the relatively low bore of the design (thank you, John Browning) that results in less muzzle rise. The truest testament to the shootability of the design is the fact that 1911s can be found everywhere more than 100 years after their introduction.
The Springfield 1911 Operator was accurate- undoubtedly more accurate than my shooting. With the provided magazines it was completely reliable with every type of ammo except some Black Hills jacketed hollowpoints, but they ran perfectly through the gun when I switched to Wilson Combat magazines.
I carried and competed with a single-stack 1911 in .45 ACP for 12 years, and for the last eight or so of those years, my daily carry gun was a customized Springfield Armory. That should tell you how I feel about the quality of its products. The Springfield 1911 Operator shows that the firm's 1911s have, if anything, gotten better over time.