July 6, 2022


The Signal Corps units of the American Expeditionary Force in France filmed hundreds of hours of U.S. troops in action, with them in training, at recreation and working with Allied troops.

M1911 made at Springfield Armory
The star of the show: a World War I-era M1911 pistol. Image: NARA

They also made several special films, and this little animation was created in a French film studio during 1918. It is unknown if the work was done by French filmmakers, U.S. Signal Corps cameramen, or a combination of the two.

Men of the 1st Battalion of the U.S. Signal Corps present arms for inspection in France, May 1918.
Men of the 1st Battalion of the U.S. Signal Corps present arms for inspection in France, May 1918. Image: NARA

In stop-motion animation, each movement is a coordinated series of still frames. By 1918 standards, this film is an advanced work of camera tricks. More than a century later, it still holds up surprisingly well.

The Foundation

The first known stop-motion animation film was The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1898), which used wooden toys to depict the acrobats and circus animals. In 1925, animator Willis O’Brien created the animated feature The Lost World, which combined the visuals of stop-action dinosaur models along with live actors. O’Brien followed up on The Lost World with the massive box-office hit King Kong in 1933.

M1911 equipped cameraman attached to the US 77th Division in France during 1918
The camera and the gun: M1911 equipped cameraman attached to the US 77th Division in France during 1918. Note that the cine camera has camo painting. Image: NARA

Stop-motion animation is difficult, time-consuming work that has delighted film fans for more than a century. It would be interesting to know if anyone associated with this M1911 animation went on to be successful in Hollywood.

The Subject

As American industry ramped up to meet the need, a little more than 643,000 M1911 pistols were produced by the end of World War I. The big .45 caliber pistol was issued to both officers and NCOs, and the Doughboys were clearly happy to carry it on their hip.

U.S. Secretary of War Newton Baker with Private Babcock at the Headquarters of the U.S. 2nd Division in France, March 20, 1918
U.S. Secretary of War Newton Baker with Private Babcock at the Headquarters of the U.S. 2nd Division in France, March 20, 1918. Image: NARA

As for the little animated film about the M1911, it may have been an attempt to create a training aid. Or, it simply might have been a tribute to the handgun that American troops in France carried, and that they held the M1911 pistol in as high regard as we do more than a century later.

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