Firearms adopted by the military typically gain immediate acceptance by the civilian market. The Beretta M9 enjoyed such success, as did the M-1, M-14, M-16 (AR-15) and a variety of sporting rifles such as the Remington 700 and Winchester Model 70. SIG Sauer pistols are not normally included on a round up of great guns, however, they absolutely should be. This seems strange given the fact so many elite units have carried the SIG P226 and P228—now the SIG M11-A1,—yet I seldom see the SIGs getting the respect they deserve.
I bought my first SIG in the ’90s and it has been my primary every day carry (EDC) ever since. As conditions dictate, I have switched on occasion to a larger- or smaller-framed pistol, but I have always gone back to the P228.
The SIG P228—designated as the M11 in 9mm—is still seeing plenty of action with U.S. military forces today. Perhaps this has evaded your radar or you were simply too caught up in the polymer debate, but SIG introduced a new version of the M11 for the civilian market awhile back known as the M11-A1. To properly understand the gun, a little history is in order.
Sig Sauer represents the joining of two different famous gun makers—Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft (SIG) of Switzerland and J.P. Sauer & Sohn of Germany. SIG was not a household name in the United States early on. In fact, it was not even a company doing business in the states. Several other firearms manufacturers were more than happy to import the SIGs including Browning, Hawes and Interarms. Today, SIG still imports some of the P-series guns from overseas, but most are manufactured in Exeter, New Hampshire.
The first to be imported was the SIG P220, putting SIG on the American scene. The P220 is still a solid design today, but in its day, it also offered features shooters and law enforcement and target shooters desired. For example, it was a full size design; recoil operated and offered in popular calibers such as .45 ACP, 9mm Luger, .38 Super and .30 Luger. The .45 ACP model held particular appeal because, at the time, the DA/SA trigger system was considered desirable and a significant advancement to the traditional single-action 1911.
Building on the success of the P220, the P225 and P226 followed in short order. Both were developed with the German police and U.S. military in mind and chambered in 9mm. The P226 was a strong contender, but in the end lost out to Beretta’s 15-round Model 92FS. While the P226 did not earn a military contract, law enforcement viewed it quite differently and quickly adopted it in large numbers.
The P-series was a standout due to its design. The lockwork was different from traditional double-action models of the day. Competing models had a decocker featured, but it was designed to also work as a safety. With the SIG, it was simplicity; the decocker only performed on function—decocking the hammer. Much like a revolver, the long pull of the first shot double action was deemed enough of a safety for SIG engineers and law enforcement. Then, after the first shot, the lighter single-action pull increased accuracy potential and speed for subsequent shots. The decocker was not thought of as a safety, but rather a way to safely lower the hammer.
The P220 also featured a design using a new construction technique. The majority of the slide was pressed from a single piece of heavy gauge steel. Critics immediately seized on this fact and foretold of doom and gloom scenarios. However, four decades later, the SIG design stands ready long after the critics have hung up their guns. The reasoning behind pressing the metal and welding smaller parts was simple cost savings compared to machining.
Birth of the SIG P228
The 1980s cannot be credited with the birth of the combat-sized semiauto pistol, but the need for a shortened P226 was in order. The P228 carried a couple less rounds in the magazine (P228 13 rounds, M11-A1 15 rounds), but the height and length were also reduced. The two-round capacity was a pittance compared to size and weight savings from the P226. Today, we have high-capacity pocket pistols and would rate the P228 as a medium-sized pistol at best. However, in the 1980s, it was full power, small size and full capacity! In fact, in the 1980s, the P228 was the smallest 9mm to be considered full capacity. This made it a great choice for many shooters as a primary handgun and easily concealed backup to others without sacrificing capacity.
The high capacity and easy concealability of the P228 caught the military’s watchful eye. It recognized the usefulness of a more concealable handgun and in the late ’80s officially adopted the P228 under the U.S. designation M11. Investigators in the Air Force, Army and Navy were the first issued the M11. The DOD was not shy about issuing the M11 either. Once a gun is officially adopted and approved, other units are free to make a case to be issued a new weapon as well. Aviators did not take long to see the advantages of the M11’s power in a compact-sized wrapper…
If there was a nail in the virtual coffin of the P228 that kept it from legendary status, it was not a competing gun. Instead, it was the .40 S&W cartridge and the near instant adoption by law enforcement and the greater shooting community. SIG looked at the new cartridge and the more powerful forces. Although confident in the design, SIG decided to return to a milled slide design when it introduced the P229. From the outside, the P229 was the spitting image of the P228, in a larger caliber, but the beefier insides to handle the rigors of the .40 S&W were obvious. A stronger slide and springs were necessary and quickly incorporated in the new design.
It’s no surprise when SIG developed the .357 SIG cartridge; the decision was made to mimic the P229 and not the P228. In 2012, SIG made the decision to build all P-series pistols using a one-piece slide. The older design still holds and shoots as well as the newer one-piece designs, but manufacturing and tooling suffers from too much diversity, thus machining won the day. I am sure some are scratching their heads or scoffing at the viability of the older design—fair enough. However, there is an exception. Unless the military agrees, a contracted gun’s design cannot change. Although the P228 and its designation are dead, the design endures with pressed slides for Uncle Sam under the M11 banner.
For lovers of the 9mm and those with a bit of nostalgia, the M11-A1 has arrived. Essentially, the M11-A1 is a P229 in 9mm, but with enough changes and updates that the military saw fit to tack on the “A1.” The grip, finish, sights, operation and manual of arms are all identical to the military-issued M11.
The M11-A1 tapes out at 7.1x 5.4 x 1.5 inches and tips the scales at 32 ounces. That is more than suitable for easy concealment in civilian clothes or business attire. As notated, the M11-A1 is decked in the same nitride on the steel slide and black anodized on the aluminum-alloy receiver as previous models. The grip features a pair of plastic grip panels with stippling for reliable hand purchase in all conditions. Day or night, the dovetailed three-dot sights are ready for action thanks in part to the SigLite tritium inserts. From the double-action/single-action trigger to the controls and take down, the M11-A1 is classic SIG. Unlike a Glock, the SIG’s trigger is standard fare for most shooters right out of the box. In fact, when I sent my 20-year old P228 to a gunsmith for a tune up, he offered to swap out the trigger, but assured me he did not know of one that would perform any better than the stock unit in the gun.
That may have changed given the fact that the M11-A1 uses SIG’s short reset trigger (SRT). After firing the first shot, simply hold the trigger to the rear as the slide cycles. A very slight release of pressure will allow the trigger to move the short distance necessary to achieve reset. Far from a wasted first shot, the long DA and short SA trigger is a blessing in my opinion and a major reason the P228 is still my EDC. The SRT only promises to improve the performance.
One change I am a bit envious of M11-A1 is a slightly wider magazine well for faster, more reliable reloading—especially in a pressure situation. The magazine was also redesigned to reliably squeeze the two lost rounds from the P226 design, giving the M11-A1 a 15+1 capacity, as well.
|SIG Sauer, Inc.|
|Action||Recoil-operated, double-action/single-action, semi-automatic|
|Barrel Length||3.9 inches|
|Overall Length||7.1 inches|
|Weight Unloaded||32 ounces|
|Sights||SigLite with Tritium inserts|
|Trigger||DA, 10 pounds; SA 4 pounds, 6 ounces|
|Stock or Grip||Polymer|
|F||Anodized aluminum alloy|
Are you as big a SIG fan as the author? Share your favorite SIG or thoughts on the M11-A1 in the comment section.