The Colt 1911 illustrates the breechblock systemGun Library ArticleBreechblock

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American Firearms and the Breechblock Mechanism

For centuries now, the action of different firearms has diversified, providing unique operation systems for the loading of rounds and sealing of the breech. There are many firearms that operate on the breechblock mechanism, most of them being manufactured by important American personalities. In general, firearms action is categorized depending on the energy provided and the breech-lock mechanism.

The importance of automatic action cannot be denied and there are many firearms that base their functioning on recoil operation. This is the kind of breech-lock mechanism that is used for both semi-automatic and fully-automatic firearms, using the recoil force to offer that energy necessary for operation. There are three main types of recoil operating systems and they all go to demonstrate how far technology has reached. The short-recoil system can be observed in the 1911 model from Colt and also in two of the most popular firearms bearing the Browning name. There is also the long-recoil mechanism, also seen in the automatic shotgun designed by Browning. The third mechanism is inertia, being the least encountered.

It is a known fact that recoil operating systems are primarily intended for auto-loading firearms. There are certain things that must be apprehended about the use of firearms with a breech-lock mechanism, including the fact that the cartridge’s mass has to be in perfect harmony with the firearm’s action. The gun will work at its best when firing with the bullet for which it was optimized. As for the short-recoil operating mechanisms, these can be observed mainly in center-fire automatic pistols, with 9x19 mm caliber. There are major differences between a firearm that operates a long-recoil system and one that functions on a short-recoil mechanism. In the second case, the most important thing to understand is that the barrel and the sliding bar recoil only a very short interval, afterwards being separated. If the short-recoil mechanism is usually observed in automatic pistols, there are other firearms that use a similar operating system. History recalls the Maxim gun to be one of the first American firearms to use a short-recoil operating system. Later on, this mechanism has also been used for larger weapons, including Browning’s M2 machine gun.

As for the long-recoil operating mechanism, these are usually found in shotguns and there are a lot of John Browning’s models that fit that description.

The striking difference of the long-recoil operated firearms is represented by the fact that the barrel and the sliding bar are this time seen as a whole, recoiling together. And as you certainly heard about the double recoil seen in long-recoil operating firearms, you know very well that the first recoil is given by the backward movement of the barrel and the sliding bar, while the second is in fact that barrel returning. It was at the start of the 20th century when the famous American gun inventor and designer, John Browning, patented the long-recoil mechanism. Since then, a great number of shotguns have been made using that operating system and John Browning has managed to become renowned worldwide for his innovations. Also, the long-recoil operating systems can be observed in the semi-automatic rifles of another famous name of the American firearms industry, Remington.

Let’s take a look at some of the most illustrious models that use these two innovative recoil-operating systems. The 1911 model from Colt was designed by the same John Browning and it was one of the best semi-automatic handguns ever made. Respecting the single-action mechanism and being especially chambered for the powerful 45 ACP cartridge, this particular firearm was extensively used by the United States Army for over 70 years, in both World Wars, not to mention the Korean and the Vietnamese War. One of the reasons why this handgun has remained so well known is because of the special short-recoil operating system used. John Browning has succeeded in turning history around, many manufacturers and gun producers of that time copying his invention and trying to implement the short-recoil principles into their own inventions.

The 1911 Colt pistol appeared in a time when the firearm production and market were overpopulated with the presence of revolvers.

After it went into mass-production, the 1911 model was purchased in an incredible amount by the United States Army, the demand increasing more and more. After being adopted by the Army in 1911, it took just another two years for the Navy forces and Marine Corps to adopt it as well. Even though it was originally produced by Colt, the start of the World War I saw the 1911 pistol being produced at the Springfield Armory. The end of the First World War brought several changes for the already famous short-recoil 1911 pistol, a new improved version being released. The modifications consisted of a shorter trigger, an innovative safety spur with a longer grip and also a simplification of the checkering.

The demand for the short-recoil operated firearm continued to grow even more with the start of the Second World War. Several manufacturers started to produce it, trying to supply the demand of the United States Government and Armed Forces. Remington, Colt, Singer and Springfield Armory represent just few of the names that participated in the production of this particular firearm. The production even went internationally, a small number of firearms being produced in Norway and Argentina.

The end of the Second World War did not mean an end for the 1911 Colt pistol. It was still used by the United States military in the Korean and Vietnamese War, not to mention during certain Desert Storm operations. It was not until 1970s that the ever famous short-recoil firearm was replaced with an improved semi-automatic pistol. Today, the M1911A1 has been replaced by the M9 and there are still many more changes to come. Though it may seem incredible, the firearm is still being regarded with great favor, including by various military squads and law enforcement agencies. The M1911 is also used by civilians, carrying it for protection purposes or also by those who take part in sporting shooting competitions. Various producers have started to come out on the market with similar pistols, hoping to prove that quality and reliability represent two golden standards for the American firearm manufacturing industry.

As for the automatic shotgun that has made John Browning even more famous, there are many things that can be said.

One thing is sure, using the long-recoil operating system was an innovation and it was more than welcomed. When production first started in 1902, he hadn’t the slightest idea of how popular it was going to become and how important it was going to remain for the history of the American firearms. The first order included 10000 shotguns and they were sold more quickly than was expected. The long-recoil operating mechanism was just one of the many innovations that gun was presented with and John Browning managed once more to prove to the entire world that he is an amazing and dedicated gun inventor. He took part in the development of the recoil-operated firearms, developing weapons using both short and long recoil operated systems. The Browning Hi Power, the Browning machine gun and the automatic shotgun are just three examples of the incredible inventions that man was capable of. He is indeed one of the greatest names of the American firearm history!