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From the Vault: U.S. Army C.I.C. Colt 1911 Commander

Author Keith Ford
14 days ago


In this episode of “From the Vault”, we take a look at the history and significance of the Colt Commander, a lightweight handgun developed by Colt in response to a U.S. Army request in 1949. This article will cover the background, features, variations, and historical context of the Colt Commander, providing a comprehensive understanding of this iconic firearm.

Background and Development

In 1949, the U.S. Army sought to replace the aging 1911s and 1903 pistols used by officers. The requirements for the new handgun included a nine-millimeter caliber, a lightweight frame, and a maximum length of seven inches. In response, Colt introduced the Colt Commander, a significant departure from their previous designs.

Features of the Colt Commander

The Colt Commander featured several innovative aspects that distinguished it from earlier models:

  1. Aluminum Frame:
    • The Colt Commander was one of the first handguns to feature an aluminum frame, significantly reducing its weight compared to traditional steel-framed pistols.
    • This lightweight design made it an attractive option for officers seeking a more portable and manageable firearm.
  2. Shorter Slide:
    • The Commander had a shorter slide than the standard 1911, contributing to its compact size and ease of handling.
    • This design change also helped to meet the Army's requirement for a maximum length of seven inches.
  3. Caliber Options:
    • The Colt Commander was available in several calibers, including .45 ACP, 9mm, and .38 Super. This provided users with a range of options to suit their preferences and needs.
    • The .38 Super version, in particular, was popular among certain military groups, including the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) in Korea.

Historical Context

The Colt Commander emerged during a period of significant innovation in firearm design. The post-World War II era saw many advancements in materials and manufacturing processes, leading to the development of lighter and more versatile weapons. The introduction of the aluminum frame in the Commander was a reflection of these broader trends in the industry.

Provenance and Usage

One notable aspect of the Colt Commander is its association with the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) during the Korean War. This particular model was lettered from Colt to an officer in the 441st CIC, highlighting its use in the field by military personnel. The .38 Super caliber was favored for its additional firepower, which was deemed necessary in certain combat situations.

Maintenance and Longevity

To ensure the longevity of the Colt Commander, especially those with aluminum frames, regular maintenance is crucial. One key aspect of maintenance is changing the recoil spring periodically. Failure to do so can result in frame cracking, a common issue observed in older aluminum-framed guns.

Aesthetic and Collectible Value

Early Colt Commanders are also known for their unique aesthetic feature: a purplish cast on the slide. This discoloration is due to the nickel content in the metal, which was higher than usual in post-war Colt 1911s. Over time, this led to a distinctive purple tint, often mistaken for rebluing. However, this is a natural patina and adds to the collectible value of these firearms.


The Colt Commander remains an iconic firearm with a rich history and significant contributions to handgun design. Its lightweight frame, compact size, and versatile caliber options made it a popular choice among military and civilian users alike. The historical context and unique features of the Colt Commander continue to make it a sought-after piece for collectors and enthusiasts.

For those who own or are interested in acquiring a Colt Commander, understanding its maintenance needs and appreciating its historical value can enhance the ownership experience. Whether for practical use or as a collector's item, the Colt Commander stands as a testament to Colt's innovative approach to firearm design.