If you started your law enforcement career carrying a Smith & Wesson M19 in a Sam Browne rig, chances are that you're pretty darn close to retirement. Chances are too that you'll also remember the splash it made when Detonics introduced the CombatMaster in 1977.
Back when just about the only cops that carried automatics were hotshot UCs, Detonics had the vision to create a compact version of the semi-automatic 1911. Its CombatMaster became the "go-to" gun for those who needed a concealable pistol packing the powerful punch of the .45 ACP.
Unfortunately, financial problems and mismanagement forced the original company into bankruptcy in 1987 and a second incarnation, New Detonics, only lasted a few years before slipping into terminal slumber in the early 1990s.
Prices of CombatMaster pistols soared, and a lot of folks feared that they had missed their chance to own one of these neat little guns. That all changed this year when the newest permutation of Detonics, Detonics USA, surfaced. Led by noted gun and science fiction writer, Jerry Ahern, Detonics USA is producing an all new CombatMaster.
For those of you unfamiliar with the CombatMaster, it is a gun that was designed to be concealed easily yet provide full-size performance. It is immediately recognizable for several reasons, but especially because of the forward placement of its rear sight and its dramatically sloped slide that facilitates thumb cocking of the single-action, semi-automatic.
The gun's grip frame is also radically reduced in length, providing just enough front-strap for shooters to have a two-fingered grip with their little finger curled under the magazine's floorplate. The grip safety was eliminated and replaced with a grip plate and the tang of the frame was shortened to prevent the trimmed down hammer from biting the web of the shooter's hand.
Back in the day, Detonics created a bushingless design that used a coned barrel for lock up. But with a short 3.5-inch barrel, a new recoil spring system was needed. Detonics USA's answer is a three-spring design that not only makes the gun cycle smoothly, but also makes it incredibly easy to shoot for a compact.
The new CombatMaster doesn't look like a traditional 1911 and, to be completely honest, I never had any interest in owning one until I shot it. It was then that the ugly duckling became a swan. After getting a chance to shoot the CombatMaster it became easy to see why it has legions of fans.
Of course, as the owner of the newly resurrected company, Jerry Ahern now counts himself among these legions.
"I was never a fan of the 1911 but had a chance to shoot a salesman's sample at a police seminar and I was impressed," says Ahern. After that, he couldn't put it down. He even put it in the hands of one of his main characters. "In my 22-book series, The Survivalist, my character, John Rourke, carried two CombatMasters," says the author and gun enthusiast. "It's a gun that so impresses me that I don't think there has been a day that I haven't carried my original gun.
"When the company closed I really lamented its loss and about seven years ago I decided to get serious about resurrecting the Detonics line," says Ahern. "Our concern is building the finest pistols possible."
One of Ahern's smartest moves in bringing back Detonics was to track down the company's original gunsmith, Peter Dunn. Dunn worked for Detonics between 1977 and 1987 and during that time period approximately 17,000 CombatMasters were produced. Unfortunately, nearly 10 percent of them were returned for warranty work and Dunn worked on nearly all of them. It is this experience that makes today's CombatMaster better than any ever built.
"The guy that fixes these pistols is the same guy that knows how to build them better," chuckles Dunn. "Before I signed on with Detonics USA it was understood that I would have the ability to make changes that I saw necessary." Dunn's remedies for the old CombatMasters were incorporated into the new production models.[PAGEBREAK]
The CombatMaster is built entirely from stainless steel, right down to the springs. In fact, the only parts that are not stainless steel are the sights and the grips. According to Dunn, "Today we have better stainless steel and that allows us to get a much better frame-to-slide fit and a better slide-to-barrel fit. It's much easier to hold tighter tolerances with the current stainless steel."
My test sample displayed an exemplary slide-to-frame fit with no discernible play. Likewise, the barrel locks up solidly at the front and rear. All of the parts look as though they have been blasted with glass beads for an even, subdued satin finish. There are no cast or metal injection-molded parts used on the CombatMaster. All of the parts are machined and made in the U.S.A.
My test pistol had a feed ramp that was polished to a mirror-like finish. In fact, I had no idea that stainless steel could be polished this brightly. The barrel is heavily throated and also polished bright for feed reliability. Detonics USA also radiuses and polishes the extractor.
All of the CombatMaster's parts show a great degree of fitting. Case in point is the trigger. There's not an iota of play either vertically or horizontally and the trigger breaks crisply with 4.75 pounds of pressure. The thumb safety also engages and disengages crisply with just the right amount of pressure, and I don't think it would be possible for the thumb safety to disengage inadvertently while carrying the gun. I've been carrying 1911's for over a quarter century now and am completely comfortable with the cocked-and-locked method of carry-that's a round in the chamber with the hammer cocked and the thumb safety engaged.
Methods of Carry
One of the CombatMaster's most noticeable design elements is the pronounced slope at the rear of its slide. In the old days, this was to facilitate thumb cocking of the hammer for those who want to carry the pistol with a loaded chamber and the hammer down. The CombatMaster owner's manual, however, recommends only one other method of carry besides the cocked-and-locked condition, and that's with the hammer down on an empty chamber.
The manual, by exclusion, does not recommend carrying the pistol with a round in the chamber and the hammer down, though a company spokesperson says that the firing pin spring is the strongest in the industry and that the gun will easily pass California's drop test. Your method of carry will be dictated by your personal needs and comfort level. For me, condition one, cocked and locked, works best.
With the forward position of the rear sight and shortened sight radius, I didn't think that I'd be able to shoot any tight groups with the CombatMaster. Boy was I wrong.
I'm farsighted and the position of the rear sight actually helped me obtain a sharper sight picture. This, combined with the gun's excellent trigger, made it possible for me to shoot some very respectable 15-yard groups. Of all of the loads I tested the Winchester 185-grain SilverTips were the softest shooting and produced the best accuracy, grouping five rounds into a neat cluster just 1.15 inches.
Even shooting the pistol from a rest with hot defense loads was not uncomfortable and I have to credit the pistol's three-spring recoil system. This set-up gives the gun all of the spring mass necessary to cycle correctly, yet it remains controllable. Despite the three-spring recoil system, it was still easy to cycle the slide by hand to chamber a round.
The CombatMaster's magazine holds six rounds for a total capacity of seven if there's a round in the chamber. A fully loaded magazine, locked into the gun, will have a small tab that protrudes from the magazine's floorplate so that the shooter will know without looking that the magazine in the gun is fully loaded.
Like the rest of the CombatMaster, the magazines are all stainless construction, including the extra power springs that Detonics USA has specially made for them. With a little gun like this, magazine spring power is critical in that the slide's faster cycle time requires the round to be moved up quickly to be chambered. A sluggish magazine spring will result in plenty of feed problems. But I found no such trouble with the CombatMaster.
Even though the gun uses an extra-strength firing pin spring, I didn't experience any misfires or light firing pin strikes. Despite the gun's petite size, it uses full-size mainspring housing and a mainspring that supplies the hammer with plenty of force to overcome the strength of the firing pin spring. Reliability was 100 percent during my 300-round evaluation. This included factory FMJs, hot defense loads, and even some lead handloads.
Because of the captive recoil spring system the CombatMaster is an incredibly easy gun to disassemble. After unloading the gun and removing the magazine, simply move the slide back far enough that the disassembly notch is located over the head of the slide stop. Push out the slide stop and run the slide forward off of the frame. Now the recoil spring assembly can be lifted out and the barrel can be slid forward out of the slide. For routine maintenance and cleaning, this is as far as you'll ever need to disassemble the pistol.
Because of the CombatMaster's rear sight location, care must be used in selecting a holster. I chose a Galco Yaqui Paddle Holster to carry the pistol. A new improvement on an old theme, this Yaqui slide holster is updated with adjustable retention screws and attachment to a paddle. It's secure, fast, and convenient, and makes a lot of sense for off-duty and undercover carry.
I am impressed with the Detonics USA CombatMaster. It is an extremely well-built pistol that provides full size performance in a compact package.
Mike Detty is an NRA-certified rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructor. A certified rangemaster and competition shooter, Detty served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and holds a degree in criminal justice from the University of Arizona.