(Start of Frogman post)
You can’t really tell the Mk 23 story without telling parts of the Beretta and SIG story, as well. The Beretta 92F was largely the result of a specific SEAL Team urging Beretta to modify a few things with the standard 92 for the unit’s use. Things like moving the magazine release from the butt to the frame, re-shaping the trigger guard…etc. This particular SEAL Team had Beretta 92F’s before the U.S. military ever went to the “M9”. During the testing for the new U.S. standard issue sidearm SIG actually slightly outperformed the Beretta. I was told that it wasn’t chosen because Beretta slightly beat the price point over SIG. The real answer is probably a bit more complicated than that, but Beretta did eventually win . The trials lasted a long time during which life went on in the Teams…until Berettas starting failing in the SEAL Teams. I remember those days well. The Teams had a lot of loyalty to the pistol, but all of that ended when Beretta publicly accused the Teams of routinely firing “hot” ammo through the guns. Not a true statement. The Teams dropped the Beretta and were authorized to purchase an “interim” handgun to fill the bill until the ink was dry on the government standard sidearm contract. The Teams bought SIGs and began a loyalty o that system which persists even still.
It wasn’t too long before Army SOF began to sour on the Beretta. Their problem was that they already had M1911A1’s on their TOA&E. The military being what it is, you can only have one caliber of a particular type of like equipment. Army SOF began to work the issue by conceptualizing an “Offensive Handgun” different in definition and .45 ACP. This was just post Desert Storm. SEAL SIGs had been in inventory for 2-3 years and folks were starting to recall that the P226 was only an “interim” buy. Someone was caught using improper justification for a second purchase of SIGs by Congress. During the dust-up which followed Army SOF approached Navy SOF through Crane with the “Offensive Handgun” concept. The Navy could take the lead on the project and if it came off both the Army and Navy SOF would enjoy a new .45 cal handgun. The “Offensive Handgun” project felt the influences of many opinionated pistoleros. A long list of features was drawn up.
Eventually both Colt and HK submitted Phase One Prototypes for endurance testing. I was actually one of the SEALs who had to fire 30,000 rounds through a Colt and HK pistol over the course of a week in 1994 and document every failure. Not as fun as you might think.
We also took the revamped (Phase Two) prototypes to Rogers’ Shooting School for testing (that was fun) in early 1995. I and several other SEAL Team “bullet heads” went to the testing with malice in our hearts not only for the gun but the very concept of the gun. Our intent was to shoot it better than anyone else and then slam it in the critiques.
The gun grew on us haters. That simple. It was dead accurate, big- yes, but manageable. With a suppressor on it is unlike any other handgun.
It was finally issued around 1996 or so. I used it in winter warfare a lot, for over the beach work and diving. I preferred my SIG for assaults. Later in my career I did a lot more diving and over the beach work. The Mk 23 was awesome at that stuff. It is the best weapon to have in a hide site when lying up with a Team in a concealed position. You can bring it to bear day or night on anyone sneaking up on you. It is accurate even after blowing through your hide site material, the suppressor is pretty quiet and the LAM lets you get away with a lot. I used it and trained many other SEALs to use it very capably. The SEAL Teams that did not dive as much as, say, SDV Teams neglected their Mk 23’s. The Mk 23’s strengths were not as obvious to those guys who weren’t swimming and diving all the time. Last year a message came out to turn in all Mk 23’s to Crane. At least one SDV Team flatly refused. A few other Teams suddenly decided they should keep a “few”. So those at NAVSPECWARCOM who had sent the message in the first place restricted the expenditure of .45 ammo, instead. SDV Teams now have Mk 23s but no ammo allowance. They even ordered S&W 686’s from Crane to outfit their guys because a SIG will not survive a long dive very well. I know of a handful of guys who have taken their issue Mk 23’s overseas since the ammo cut-off because they know they can get the ammo there and have actually carried them in missions far from the water.
That’s the story in nutshell. What else would you like to know?