Lee Enfield (Guns) M1911 A1 handgun review w/ Mike Morton

The Brothers in Arms series of replica combat weapons from Lee Enfield (Guns) gets its first handgun in the shape of the blowback M1911 A1

The water-cooled M1917 machine gun in .30 calibre. The air-cooled M1919. The Browning M2 .50 calibre heavy machine gun. And the Browning Automatic rifle. 

These are just a few examples of the spectacular firearms that were designed by John Moses Browning, but the one he’s probably best remembered for is the 1911. 

This iconic handgun has sparked both powder-burning and airgun replicas, like the CO2-powered BB blowback seen here from Lee Enfield (Guns).

Before we examine the Lee Enfield variant, let’s take a quick look at the original. The 1911 entered service with the US armed forces before the outbreak of the First World War, having been given the military designation Model 1911, or M1911. 

As a result of soldier feedback, it was subjected to a number of improvements. Completed in 1924,  the improved type was classified the M1911 A1 in 1926, and it’s this version on which the BB gun has been modelled. 

The 1911 is a very pretty handgun that even today manages to look quite modern. It’s hard to believe it was designed 111 years ago. This gun is part of Lee Enfield’s Brothers In Arms series of replica military firearms of the 20th century, and the company has sensibly chosen to replicate one of the later variants of A1. 

The metalwork of the CO2 M1911 is a satin black, which represents a Parkerised finish, a robust and practical alternative to traditional bluing, although not as aesthetically appealing. 

The Parkerised finish and brown plastic grips make it a replica of a Second World War vintage M1911 A1 rather than a 1926 era A1 produced with blued steel and wooden grips. Airgun manufacturers are getting very good at making replicas in terms of overall size, weight, ergonomics and controls, and the M1911 A1 is no exception.

This 4.5mm gun is of all-metal construction, apart from the aforementioned grips, and the top slide, slide release catch and magazine release button all function much as they do on the .45 ACP powder-burner.

Lee Enfield (Guns) M1911 A1 – key specs

Distributor: The Shooting Party (shootingparty.uk)
Manufacturer: Lee-Enfield (Guns) Brothers In Arms
Model: M1911 A1
Price: £129.99
Powerplant: 12 gram CO2 capsule
Action: Blowback
Calibre: 4.5mm (steel BB)
Magazine capacity: 17 BBs
Trigger: Single action
Safety catch: Manual and grip lock
Sights: Fixed, open
Grips: Chequered plastic
Overall length: 216mm (8.5”)
Weight: 950g (2.1lb)

Form and function

Two other things caught my eye when I first opened the box and started to inspect this handgun, these being the extremely well-written manual plus the separate care and maintenance guide. 

The 1911 comes with a little bottle of oil, and the guide shows the various points on the gun that need lubrication and also tells you how often they need oiling. I can’t remember the last time I saw anything as comprehensive as this.

Another thing I really liked about the manual was the fact that it points out that an unfinished CO2 capsule can be left in the gun for a few days without causing any harm to the internal components. 

Some manuals advise removing them after each session, which can be a bit wasteful if your shooting time has to be cut short and there’s still plenty of gas left.

In keeping with many handguns of this type, the drop-down fake .45 ACP magazine, which Lee Enfield refers to as the charger unit, holds both the actual BB magazine as well as the bay for the 12 gram CO2 capsule, which needs to be pierced by turning a screw using the supplied hex key.

Up to 17 BBs can be loaded into the magazine after the spring-tensioned follower has been pulled down. The follower tab is quite small and it’s a bit of a strain to hold it open under tension while inserting the BBs. 

Pulling the feeder down will reveal a wider portion of the slot that it travels in, and it’s here that you need to insert the BBs. A gate to hold the tab open would have been a welcome addition. 

While the magazine can take up to 17 rounds, I prefer to shoot in multiples of five and so loaded only 15 for most of my shooting, although I can confirm that the gun will function perfectly well with all 17.

The trigger breaks fairly cleanly at around 5lb – that’s not too shabby for a combat-style CO2-powered handgun like this

With a bit of practice I developed a loading system that worked for me – holding the follower down with the thumb of my left hand while inserting BBs with my right, all the while pointing the top of the magazine down so the BBs could run down the channel and stack up properly.

Lee Enfield’s M1911 A1 is an incredibly safe gun to operate as it uses two safety mechanisms, the first being the manual safety catch located on the left-hand side of the frame near the hammer. 

This can be engaged when the pistol is either cocked or uncocked, locking the slide closed and thus blocking the movement of the hammer. 

The gun also has a pressure-activated grip safety, which means the gun will not fire until a proper grip has been adopted with the shooting hand, even if the manual safety has been disengaged and the trigger pulled. 

Both these features are also present on the original M1911 and were the result of a specific US military requirement.

Like many blowbacks, the M1911 A1 requires the use of the supplied hex key to pierce the seal on the CO2 capsule and release the gas

At the firing point

Nowadays, a vast array of sights are available for powder-burning M1911 A1s, including adjustable sights, high-visibility sights and even night sights, but the notch and post iron sights of the original WWII-era handgun are what we have here.

Plenty of M1911s are in production from a variety of manufacturers, with some “race tuned” for competition. It’s important to remember what the M1911 was designed to be – or most military handguns for that matter – a last-ditch, close-range, personal defence weapon.

As such, the ability to get a perfect sight picture was not a high priority – it was a case of point and shoot. That’s true of this airgun too. With the sights aligned, there’s not much of a gap either side of the foresight blade, so if you’re looking to do some precision shooting it may take you a little longer to get a decent sight picture. 

This gun has two safeties – the regular catch and a grip safety – which work together to ensure there are no negligent discharges

However, it’s perfectly possible to shoot this handgun accurately, especially over shorter distances.

I usually try to shoot BB guns with three types of ammunition, steel BBs, copper-coated lead BBs and frangible BBs, however the instruction manual makes it very clear that steel BB ammo is the only type that should be put through the smoothbore barrel of the M1911 A1. 

Just like pellet-firing airguns, BB guns, blowback or otherwise, will function more reliably and/or be more accurate with certain types of ammunition than others. 

Lee Enfield (Guns) makes its own steel ammo called BBGold! and so that was what I used for the first phase of my range testing with the M1911, followed by Umarex steel BBs, with no jams or mis-feeds experienced with either brand.

There’s a correct procedure to follow when you’re ready to shoot. With a gassed-up and loaded magazine installed, the gun will actually fire one round without needing to be cocked, but that is not the right way to operate it, and in any case it will simply stop there and not fire a second. 

Instead, the gun should be cocked either by thumbing back the hammer or by racking back the top slide, which is much more fun in any case. After that, the gun is good to shoot as many BBs as you have loaded in the magazine.

My first attempts at shooting this gun took place at 10 metres, which proved a bit overoptimistic, although it could certainly hit the same size of target that the powder-burning original was intended to at that distance. 

Nevertheless, groups tightened up considerably at a reduced distance of six metres, with five-shot groups measuring 45mm being the norm when using both the BBGold! and Umarex ammo.

With a fresh 12 gram CO2 capsule installed, the M1911 produces quite a bark and a pleasing kick in the hand, although after a few shots both noise and recoil become a lot more sedate. 

Most of my shooting was carried out outdoors on winter’s days, although I tried to pick mild days. With that in mind, the M1911 A1 managed to deliver roughly 45 shots per CO2 capsule, which I thought acceptable for a blowback. 

One thing I adored with this gun is the last round hold open feature. When the final BB in the magazine has been expended, the top slide will remain slid back and locked open, letting you know it’s time to reload.

This reimagining of John Browning’s masterpiece is the first handgun to be added to Lee Enfield’s Brothers in Arms series, which includes the Mosin-Nagant Model 1944, Kalashnikov AK-74, Lee-Enfield SMLE and M4 A1 Carbine. I’m fairly certain it won’t be the last.

More reviews from Mike Morton

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