Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1377: U.S. Singer M1911A1 Pistol as Part of Col. Birtwistle Archive

Auction Date: September 8, 2018

Historic and Fresh to the Market World War II Airborne Officer’s Archive Featuring His Exceptional and Rare Battle Used U.S. Singer Manufacturing Co. Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $150,000 - $250,000

A) U.S. Singer Manufacturing Co. Model 1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol Rig with Two Extra Singer Magazines

Manufacturer: Singer
Model: 1911A1
Type: Pistol
Gauge: 45 ACP
Barrel: 5 inch round
Finish: blue
Grip: checkered plastic
Stock:
Item Views: 6153
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 174
Class: Curio & Relic Handgun
Description:

Offered here is an astonishing archive accumulated by World War II veteran Colonel Owen G. Birtwistle. This archive includes Birtwistle’s unpublished memoir, which is an informal personal account of his World War II and Cold War military experiences. Many of the items comprising the archive are discussed in the memoir and are noted as such. An accompanying extensive collection of pre-war, wartime and post-war records documenting Birtwistle’s military service provides further details. By all accounts Birtwistle was a dedicated and outstanding military officer. This archive is a testament to Birtwistle's meritorious accomplishments in Operation Torch, Operation Husky, Operation Overlord, Operation Market-Garden, Operation Dragoon, and Operation Varsity. Birtwistle’s World War II active duty status began on June 30, 1941, and ended on January 11, 1946. He advanced in grade from first lieutenant to colonel and was awarded several decorations for his service, many of which are included in this lot. He returned to active duty in the early 1950s. The most spectacular piece in the archive is Birtwistle’s Singer Model 1911A1 semi-automatic pistol. In the memoir, Birtwistle recalled being issued a Singer .45 automatic pistol before his squadron was called upon in April 1942 to support the 8th Air Force’s overseas departure, flying supplies and personnel “from various points in the United States,” Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland before reaching England (pages 35-36). By then Birtwistle was a qualified crew chief for the C-47 transport aircraft, and although never officially receiving a flight rating, “occup[ied] the co-pilot’s seat many times.” The 10th Transport Squadron was re-designated 10th Troop Carrier Squadron in July 1942, and Birtwistle, along with his other squadron mates, found a new home at Tafaraoui Airfield, Algeria, in the fall of 1942, flying supply and evacuation missions during the North African Campaign. The capture of Tafaraoui Airfield was a mission objective during the Allied Operation Torch landings on November 8, 1942. The journey from England to Tafaraoui Airfield for D-Day, which earned him an Air Medal and Air Crew Member Badge, is retold in Birtwistle’s memoir, and when he arrived in Africa the airfield was far from being completely secured. In fact, Birtwistle had to defend himself with this Singer pistol. An armed assailant with a rifle had entered the airfield undetected. Birtwistle, who was positioned atop the aircraft control tower assisting in the installation of a machine gun position, spotted the armed intruder as he was taking aim. “I yelled,” explained Birtwistle. “[The man] quickly turned in my direction with his rifle swinging an arc at me. With a rather superficial aim I fired my .45 caliber automatic and before hitting the ground he spun around like a top…The shocking power of my .45 was there all right and most opportunely” (pages 63-64). This truly battle used Model 1911A1 pistol has a slide that is marked with the two-line Singer address on the left side and a “P” proof mark on top ahead of the rear sight. The frame is marked with U.S. property/model marking above the serial number on the right side and inspector initials “JKC” for Col. John K. Clement, the Executive Officer of the New York Ordnance District, above a “P” proof mark on the right side above the magazine release. The pistol has a wide spur hammer with borderless checking, checkered thumb safety, slide stop, trigger, and mainspring housing; early grips (hollow back and no internal reinforcing ribs), lanyard staple on the butt, and correct Singer full blue magazine. There were only 500 Model 1911A1 pistols produced in total by the Singer Manufacturing Company during WWII, with almost all of these pistols issued to the U.S. Army Air Corps. With the very low total production numbers and the high attrition rate for aircrews, examples are very scarce. The web belt has Birtwistle’s name stamped on the back and is equipped with a double magazine pouch stamped with Birtwistle’s initials, a U.S. Sears flap holster and a pouch. Photos accompanying this lot show Birtwistle wearing this holster rig. Comes with two extra correct Singer full blue magazines, bore rod with two brushes and period Plexiglas grips. In March 1943, Birtwistle was assigned Chief of Staff of the 51st Troop Carrier Wing, which operated with the 12th Air Force in North Africa and the Mediterranean area. Birtwistle’s days were filled with holding wing staff meetings and meeting with group commanders and representatives of airborne divisions to coordinate a variety of operational, administrative, personnel, supply, and long range planning. Needless to say, he became well aware of the political intricacies within the wing. He was involved in planning the Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky and was later assigned to the Northwest African Troop Carrier Command where he proposed organizational changes to improve effectiveness and was involved in planning operations at the new headquarters in Sicily. As 1943 turned to 1944, Birtwistle was busy planning for the 52nd Wing's move to England in preparation for the invasion Europe. Once in England, Birtwistle was reassigned to the Ninth Troop Carrier Command and received top secret security clearance to review invasion plans. Birtwistle spent the night of June 6, 1944 at the command post at Eastcote where all airborne activities were directed. On June 11, Birtwistle was promoted to full colonel. Airborne activity occurred after the Normandy invasion, including the arduous airborne assault on Holland, codenamed Operation Market-Garden. The operation used a combination of airborne and land forces and failed to secure strategically important bridge over the river Rhine in Arnhem. The unsuccessful Allied operation was chronicled in Cornelius Ryan’s famous book “A Bridge Too Far,” which lists Birtwistle in “The Soldiers and Civilians of ‘A Bridge Too Far:’ What They Do Today” supplement on page 602 of the 1974 first edition (a copy is included). In fact, Ryan contacted Birtwistle for information pertaining to the operation while writing the book. According to Birtwistle, “I furnished [Ryan] with many details which he incorporated into his book” (page 192). Next came the Allied invasion of Southern France on August 15, 1944, codenamed Operation Dragoon, and Birtwistle observed the drop zones and landing areas from the air. A brief stateside sojourn to the United States meant Birtwistle “missed the more suspenseful parts” of the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front, the Battle of the Bulge, and once back in Europe he became “heavily engaged in operational planning” for Operation Varsity, the largest and last Allied airborne operation of WWII (pages 224 and 232). Birtwistle returned to civilian life as an employment manager for Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and was appointed to the Army Officer’s Reserve Corps before transferring to the Air Reserve, becoming the commanding officer of an air reserve composite squadron. Birtwistle returned to active military service in the Air Force from mid-1951 to early 1968. His post-war military career primarily focused on solving manpower and organization issues resulting from the buildup of Air Force strength during the early years of America’s struggle for global supremacy against communism. He was stationed at various air bases throughout the world. Included decorations awarded to Birtwistle for his service are the following: two Legion of Merits (one has two oak leaf clusters), Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster, Air Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European and Middle East Theatre Medal with arrow head (invasion of North Africa) and 3 Campaign stars, WWII Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal, French Croix de guerre avec Palme, Armed Forces Reserve Medal (10 years), Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon with 4 oak clusters, Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksman Ribbon and Aircrew Member Aviation Badge (see page 260). One of the Legion of Merits (accompanied by citation) was awarded to Birtwistle by General Eisenhower “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services from 1 March 1944 to 31 December 1944” (page 237). Other accompanying related items are the following: dog tags, silk North Africa escape map, silk Cyrenaica escape map, Air Corps officer’s (major) identification, 1945 issued War Department identification card, compass, 7 WWII photographs of Birtwistle (note Birtwistle is wearing the M1911A1 holster rig in some of the photos), Collins No. 18 fighting knife with leather Collins sheath, WWII German “blc” marked 7x50 binoculars brought home by Birtwistle (see page 241), a WWII German caltrop (likely picked up by Birtwistle while in Algeria, page 76), AF colonel shoulder boards, AF colonel visor with interchangeable cover, and “COL OWN BIRTWISTLE, USAF” desk wedge (see page 273 for description). Lastly, this lot comes with a WWII German Luftwaffe helmet which has was passed between Birtwistle and fellow WWII veteran David Roberts. The exterior of the helmet features numerous messages written by the two comrades to each other. The ritual began at the end of WWII and lasted until Roberts died in 1993.

Rating Definition:

Excellent. The pistol retains 95% plus original blue finish showing holster edge wear on forward slide and right side of frame. Minor surface rust is visible on the front strap and right lower rear grip strap. There is light cycling wear on the barrel. The grips are also excellent with crisp checkering. Mechanically excellent. The holster rig is fine showing some minor handling/storage marks and minimal wear. The stitching is tight. A fantastic example of a rare and highly desirable Singer Model 1911A1 pistol with the added bonus of an accompanying treasure trove of personal effects from the original World War II veteran. This pistol would be a centerpiece to even the most advanced private or museum U.S. small arms collection. It does not get better than this!



B) FN Model 1922 Semi-Automatic Pistol

Manufacturer: Fabrique Nationale
Model: 1922
Type: Pistol
Gauge: 7.65 mm
Barrel: 4 3/8 inch round
Finish: blue
Grip: hard rubber
Stock:
Item Views: 6152
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 174
Class: Curio & Relic Handgun
Description:

In his memoir, Birtwistle references a Belgian pistol he carried while on active duty during World War II. As he explained, “Even when not required to carry side arms, I always wore a shoulder holster under my shirt or jacket, containing a Belgian made automatic pistol that fired nine millimeter shells. It fitted very snugly under my left armpit and was not the least bit uncomfortable to wear. I wore this arrangement daily right up to V-E Day in Paris while I was overseas” (page 140). Although the caliber is described differently, we firmly believe this pistol, which until now has remained in the Birtwistle family, is the sidearm referenced in the memoir. The serial number (280911) falls into the 1925-1940 production range (200,000-285,000). Comes with a leather shoulder holster as described by Birtwistle and 18 cartridges.

Rating Definition:

Very fine. The pistol retains 85% original blue finish showing minor holster type wear mixed with some minor spotting. The grips are fine showing wear along the top of the checkering. Mechanically excellent. The period made holster is very good with some missing stitching.



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