If the topic is fighting handguns, there can be no speculation or assumptions, a fighting handgun has to have a history of, well, fighting. If a handgun has not served a major military or police force, or if it has not been used extensively in a major battle, it simply does not qualify. These five handguns meet that standard and are without question, the five best fighting pistols ever made.
Colt’s 1911 (1911)
This pistol needs no introduction. It is the longest-serving fighting pistol of all time and is offered by more manufacturers in more configurations than any other handgun. It was the standard issue sidearm of the United States Army until the mid 1980s and is still used by some elite military operatives and units. The 1911 is also the most customized handgun of all time and was the foundational firearm of Wilson Combat, which is the largest custom handgun manufacturer in America. In the civilian world, the Combat Commander is likely the most popular and it’s available from Colt for $999.
Chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge, the 1911 gained fame in WWI and won the heart of the American soldier. It continued to serve through WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. For a time, the 1911 also dominated the combat pistol competition circuit. It was the favorite defensive sidearm of Gunsite Academy founder Jeff Cooper and an intricate element of his Modern Technique of the Pistol, which was the cornerstone of everything related to modern handgun weaponcraft.
Browning HiPower (1935)
Now out of production, the Browning HiPower or P35 was the original wonder nine. Its double stack magazine, link-less and bushing-free barrel, established the blueprint for the modern pistol and is essentially the inspiration for almost every pistol of note since its introduction. Known for its reliability and extremely comfortable grip that seems to fit everyone’s hand, the HiPower has been used by more military forces and in more conflicts than any other pistol.
Though briefly offered in .40 Smith & Wesson, the HiPower was designed for the 9 mm Luger cartridge. It was used by the Germans and British military in WWII and was the issue sidearm of the OSS. It was also the issue sidearm of the Irish military as recently as 2007 and the British Army until 2013. The HiPower has been manufactured by many companies, in many locations, and has been offered in several variants; the rare and lightweight aluminum-framed HiPower is one of the most sought-after carry guns that’s no longer in production.
Beretta 92/M9 (1975)
The Beretta M9 is a variant of the Beretta M92, which is a double-action, double-stacked, 9 mm, semi-automatic pistol. To the surprise of many, in the early 1980s the M9 won the contract to be the standard issue sidearm of the United States Army and it replaced the Colt 1911. It beat out pistols from companies like Smith & Wesson, SIG Sauer, H&K, Walther, Steyr, and FN. Like almost every semi-automatic handgun of recent development, it can trace its roots the Browning HiPower.
Though the M9 served the United States military well until 2017, it is not without controversy. Slide failures became a concern as did unreliable magazines. Ultimately the M9 never won the total acceptance of the American solider, who by a wide margin had low confidence in the pistol. Still, it served American troops throughout several middle eastern conflicts and as the issue sidearm for the United States armed forces for more than 30 years. It remains one of the most well-known fighting pistols ever manufactured. The original M9 is still available from Beretta for $675.
Glock 17 (1982)
Yet another variation on the Browning HiPower design, the “Glock” as it has become known—in any of its many forms—is now the most popular pistol in the world. But it was the Model 17 that started in all in 1982 when it became the standard issue sidearm for the Austrian military. Though the world was slow to accept the pistol’s plastic frame, it is now applauded as one of the most important pistol advancements since the link-less barrel of the HiPower. In fact, the Glock changed the world; plastic framed pistols are now being made by most every handgun manufacturer.
The Glock would replace the HiPower as the issue handgun for the British military and is now even used by some American war fighters. It’s also the most prolific law enforcement handgun worldwide. Now offered in eight different chamberings and more than 70 variations, the Glock pistol will likely go down in history as the most revolutionary firearm ever made, and as one of the best fighting handguns ever created. The original Glock 17 that started this polymer revolution is no longer available, but a very similar limited-edition Glock known as the P80 can be had for $669.
SIG Sauer M17 (P320)
Though without the combat pedigree of the other pistols on this list, in 2017 a variation of the SIG Sauer P320 won the United States Army contract to produce the new Modular Handgun System. The pistol, a striker-fired, high-capacity, 9 mm, semi-automatic handgun with a polymer frame, would become known as the M17. Unlike the standard P320, the M17 has a 1911-like, ambidextrous manual thumb safety and a removable plate on the slide to allow for the mounting of a compact reflex sight.
Thought the M17 does not have the battle-proven lineage of the other four pistols on this list, its place as one of the greatest fighting pistols of all time has been solidified by its adoption by the United States military. Further evidence of its appeal and popularity is that P320 pistols are now custom offerings of Wilson Combat, which also produces custom versions of America’s other service pistols; the Colt 1911 and Beretta M9. Civilians cannot purchase an exact copy of the military’s M17 but a very similar P320-M17 and compact P320-M18 are available for $768.