|Action||Short Recoil||Barrel Length||4.9″|
|Magazine||15 rnds removable||Weight||2.1 lbs|
All right, I’ll level with you. Beretta just glued a P.38 and Browning Hi-Power together.
There has been an understandable gain in interest in this unique Beretta design considering the recent importation of Italian police surplus. While the 1970’s were a bit modern for our taste, we couldn’t resist doing a little research.
Heading into the 1970’s there was a growing interest in what would become known as “Wonder Nines,” or double-stack 9mm pistols with double-action trigger mechanisms. Much of this began with the S&W Model 59, which although advanced paid the price of being the first to market and lacked many of the improved ergonomics and handling in the later market.
Post WWII Beretta had developed a locked-breech, 9mm pistol in their Model 951. But this was a single-stack, single-action design with an awkward push button safety that could not be operated one handed without shifting your grip. What the 951 did have was a strong and reliable locking system, which was adopted nearly wholesale from the German Walther P.38. Despite popularity in the Middle East, this gun was not going to be a game changer. We will, however, cover it further in the future.
Working from the Model 951, Carlo Beretta, Giuseppe Mazzetti, and Vittorio Valle sought to construct a future-ready military design. Having started with the Walther’s wedge lock, they went ahead and brought over the single/double action trigger and external hammer. The right side of the gun even displays the exposed sear bar from the German donor. Borrowing from the Browning Hi-Power, they fitted their new gun with a double-stack 9mm magazine with a 15-round capacity. Special attention was given from the outset that the gun feed a plethora of ammo reliably and so was extensively tested for different loads and bullet types, including hollow points.
Given the sheer size of their new design, an all steel version would be punitively heavy. Beretta had been experimenting with lighter, alloy frames for many years and felt they finally had the process down. Additionally, their characteristic open-top slide milled away even more metal to help with the final weigh in. Even so, it was a scale tipping 2.1 lbs unloaded. One final feature, often overlooked, is that the extractor also serves as a loaded chamber indicator. With a cartridge in place, it protrudes noticeably to the touch and even has a red marking on its side, invisible when unloaded.
Unlike the P.38, this new Beretta did not have a slide mounted safety. Instead they used a frame mounted, sear-interrupting lever more familiar to users of single action pistols like the M1911. This was felt to be the best in terms of quick draw, aim, ready, fire doctrine and continues to be favored today for the same reasons (although many are leaning away from manual safeties all together). One obvious downside, however, was that it did not de-cock the hammer. So from a police perspective they would be forced to either carry cocked-and-locked (which is visually intimidating), chamber empty (which is unsafe for the officer), or manually let the hammer down (which is obviously dangerous).
In retrospect one of the most outstanding features of this design was actually a hold over from the previous 951: its push button magazine release set at the base of the left grip, near the heel of the pistol. The only real benefit of this placement is that retention of the magazine is natural, as the left hand would need to be used to release it. However, not everyone is concerned about the safety of their empty magazine in the middle of a war zone, not to the point of sacrificing reload time. However, this system did remain until the 92S-1.
Beretta had done away with naming their pistols by model year in a bid to no longer date their designs. As for how further model numbers were chosen, the reasons are not clear. The most notable suggestion is that this was their second military 9mm pistol, making it the 9mm #2, or 9-2. This seems to bear some weight when we look at the naming of the Model 93. But a conclusive reason hasn’t been forthcoming. Regardless, it was released in 1975 as the Beretta 92. Unfortunately the gun premiered to a very competitive market with still recognized models like the SIG P220 and cz.75. With so many options available, the developmentally innovative Beretta floundered in the market. Even the Italian police refused to adopt it as they had no immediate need for the higher magazine capacity and were unhappy with the cock-and-lock safety arrangement. Brazil, however, took to the gun and ordered 40,000 and later would license manufacture. This ultimately led to the Taurus PT-92, which retained the frame safety.Surrendering to the police market, Beretta removed the frame safety in 1976 and installed a slide-mounted de-cocker. This component locks the firing pin, drops the hammer, and disengages the sear. Push down to de-cock, push up/forward to ready. While something of an awkward motion compared to the previous, it is still very manageable, albeit with the need for more drilling. Ultimately the change was a wise one, as sales of the new 92S were much improved. The original 92 and 92S were produced concurrently for a time, but the former did not keep up and was phased out. Italian and foreign police agencies along with small governments began ordering the 92S by the thousands. Eventually, with additional changes to the magazine release and other small parts, this pistol would go on to become the U.S. M9.
So, by a slow series of circuitous improvements, Beretta successfully reinvented the Walther P.38 in its entirety. Obviously some improvements followed, like the elimination of a heel catch and a double-stacked magazine, but you must admit it’s funny to see the double-action trigger and de-cocking, slide-mounted safety make their slow return.I have no doubt that many of you are here reading this due to some Black Friday shopping with a well known importer. Rest assured, your inexpensive surplus pistol is a reliable and factory accurate machine. Now, as for individual wear over 30 years of service, we can’t promise anything. Do be aware, however, that the one true failing point of the Beretta is that its open-top slide will, over time and exhaustive use, repeatedly flex and crack. As with any used gun, have a knowledgeable gunsmith take a look at any uncertainties you may have.