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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
Wolfe Publishing Group
  • reloading manual
  • alliant reloading data
  • reloading brass
  • shotshell reloading
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The Ultimate Reloading Manual
load development

Colt's Black Army 1911

Author: Bob Campbell / Wolfe Publishing Co.
Date: Jan 06 2014

Very similar pistols produced over 90 years apart: Colt’s Black Army (top)
and an 1898 Colt. Both the original and the Black Army feature small slide windows.

The Black Army is simply a late production World War I Colt. The army ordered hundreds of thousands of 1911 .45s during World War I. The Black Army was the result of a finishing process that was used for speed and economy. The finish is darker than the highly polished blue steel Colts originally delivered. When all contracts were canceled after 1918, the Black Army became something of a rarity.

A few years ago Colt brought out a World War I pistol that was basically a 1911 with period markings. The new pistol is similar save for the finish. The dark finish is meant to mock the original Black Army. I am not certain, but the pistol may be called a “reproduction.” There is an argument that the Black Army is simply a continuation of production as it has been reintroduced by the same company. The Black Army isn’t a true line-by-line copy, but it is close enough. The markings are not exactly in the same place as the original, but they are in the spirit of the original.

Colt’s approach wasn’t to retool for a true 1911– all modern 1911s are actually 1911A1 pistols. Colt cut down one of these, deleting features and adding the proper roll makings. The slide window is of the original small size rather than the lowered ejection port common today. There are no finger relief grooves in the frame. These relief grooves are among the features of the 1911A1 that were adopted about 1927. Those with average to short fingers would sometimes drag the trigger finger on the frame. This resulted in less than ideal trigger control, inconsistent trigger compression and misses. But if you are going to do a Black Army, it must be a 1911 not a 1911A1.

Both Colts are very similar as far as hammer
checkering and other details are concerned. The
Black Army (right) features a U-notch rear sight.

The long trigger and flat mainspring are straight up 1911. The arched mainspring and short trigger once popular is seen only on the Springfield GI these days. The reason is simple: It is difficult to get a proper fit with a modern beavertail grip safety if you use the short trigger and arched mainspring housing. All modern 1911s are 1911A1 pistols, although we call them 1911s. The Black Army has a period look down to the double-diamond grips. The double diamond was designed to offer an advantage in strength and anchoring. The Black Army’s sights are very near to the original, with a U notch in the rear sight.

The Black Army is close to the original, but I do not think it will fool anyone now or a decade from now. The serial number has WWI as a suffix. The primary difference in the original and this pistol is in heat treating. The original was only spot heat-treated in the locking lugs and around the muzzle. Naturally, the modern version is far better suited to heavy use than the nicest original you could find.

The rampant Colt is marked on the Black Army

The Black Army has several good features of the type that you have to know what to look for. No, the pistol does not sport a gas pedal-sized slide lock safety or a whopping cat grip safety. The fit and finish are excellent. The slide rides on the frame smoothly with no trace of hesitation or drag. Trigger compression is truly surprising. While late-model Colt 1911s often feature good triggers, this one breaks smoothly at 3.5 pounds. There is no trace of creep or backlash. Barrel fit is exceptional. The barrel springs back when pressed into the locking lugs and the link is in perfect relation to the slide stop. There is no marring of the lower lugs after considerable firing. A Colt Gold Cup Trophy was on hand for comparison, which offers no advantage over the Black Army in fitting.

 The Black Army is delivered in a nice Colt royal blue box. The pistol is housed in tin that looks original, along with a reproduction of a period instruction manual and a spare magazine, wrapped in wax paper. This is a pistol that is a faithful reproduction of a handgun delivered from a time when the goose hung high and Colt ruled the roost in Gun Valley.

The original Colt shows much wear, but it is even.

 A 1918 Colt was obtained for comparison. The finish is mostly gone from the older Colt, but I have fired it often and it’s in good mechanical shape. Even the recoil spring seems original. The bore is in fine shape. Just the same, before comparing the two, I replaced the firing pin spring and recoil spring with W.C. Wolff premium gun springs, wishing to err on the side of caution. In testing trigger compression with an RCBS trigger pull gauge, the 1918 Colt’s trigger broke at exactly 7.0 pounds. This is a tad heavy even for these guns, but it seemed smooth enough. The original magazine is still functional, but during testing a good supply of Metalform and Novak magazines were used, trusting these magazines for performance.

The 1911 relies on a controlled feed action. During every step of the feed process, the cartridge case is controlled. The case is inserted in the magazine and held in place by spring action against the follower, which butts the cartridge into the feed lips. When the pistol is cocked, or during firing, the cocking block on the bottom of the slide runs forward, catching the protruding edge of the case rim and feeding a round. As the cartridge is moved forward, the nose catches momentarily on the feed ramp. It is essential that the feed ramp has a 1/ 32-inch gap between the two surfaces on the frame and the barrel. The bullet nose stops for a fraction of a second, and this snugs the cartridge case rim into the extractor and against the breech face. The bullet nose then travels into the chamber, all the time held fast by the extractor.

Markings of the Black Army are period authentic
but not perfect. Note the WWI suffix in the serial

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