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Beretta Model 1918

Beretta Model 1918 automatic carbine

Beretta 1918

In 1916, the Italian Test Commission observed the demonstration of a new submachine gun, the Fiat, which essentially consisted of a single Villar Perosa receiver fitted to a wooden stock with a conventional trigger mechanism. The Test Commission was impressed with this new design, which had been conceived by the Villar Perosa's original designer Abiel Revelli, but did not immediately take it into service. Instead, they commissioned several Italian firms to develop a similar weapon along the same lines as the Fiat, for the purposes of comparing different takes of the concept. The firms involved in the production of the Villar Perosa were all approached - the Fiat gun has already been mentioned but also Ansaldo, who made the shields for the Villar Perosa, and Beretta, who produced the barrels, were asked to participate.

Beretta entrusted this task to Tullio Marengoni, a young engineer who can only be described as a prodigy in gunmaking. He had no formal qualifications as an engineer and was entirely self-taught; in fact, he had landed a position at Beretta largely down to personal connections rather than merit. But he quickly proved himself to be an exceptional talent and, during his career at Beretta which lasted until the 1950s, he designed the majority of their pistols, rifles, and submachine guns. The Beretta Model 1918 was actually one of Marengoni's first designs, and the first of a long line of submachine guns and automatic carbines that would be designed by him.

In designing the Model 1918, Marengoni made minimal use of new components; the receiver was taken from the Villar Perosa, the stock and trigger guard were from a surplus Vetterli rifle, and the folding bayonet was lifted from a Carcano carbine. Thus existing weapons in Italian service could be recycled to produce this gun, at a low cost. The Model 1918 operated on the same delayed-blowback principle as the Villar Perosa in which the bolt rode on a guided lug which hit a small incline upon each retraction. It fed from the standard overhead 25-round Villar Perosa magazines, which obscured the direct sightline over the barrel. To work around this, the iron sights were offset to the right side - not the left as is sometimes assumed. Although this might sound impractical, the sights actually fall well within the user's eyeline if their cheek is pressed against the stock.

The Model 1918 was built in several versions. The most common was the single-trigger "Monogrillo" model, which was fitted with a disconnector on the sear and fired in semi-automatic only. A twin-trigger "Bigriollo" model was also produced, which gave fully-automatic fire with the rear trigger and was actually built as a whole new weapon from the ground-up, using none of the furniture of the standard model. In addition to these, a single-trigger, selective-fire model was built, and also a prototype with an inverted receiver, so that the magazines would feed into the underside and the ejection port was placed on top.

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The twin-trigger Model 1918, an early selective-fire submachine gun and the prototype for
Beretta's later SMG designs.

By 1918 several SMG designs had been submitted to the Test Commission for comparative trials. Over a hundred years have now passed and the records are unfortunately scarce, but it is known that among the weapons tested were the Fiat, described earlier in this article; the Crocetti SMG by Ansaldo; the Beretta; and a modified Villar Perosa designed by Cei-Rigotti. Beretta's submission was considered the best and it was officially taken into Italian service as the "Moschetto Automatico Revelli-Beretta" (Revelli-Beretta Automatic Rifle), with Abiel Revelli receiving a shared credit in the nomenclature presumably due to the fact that the gun was derived from the Villar Perosa. The version adopted by the Italian Army in the greatest quantity was the single-trigger, semi-automatic model, although it is thought that some of the twin-trigger models were also taken into use.

Although it is known that the Revelli-Beretta was taken into service in 1918, a topic of some minor controversy is whether or not these guns were ever actually issued during World War I. Quite a few sources are keen to point out that it the Beretta Model 1918 reached the Italian troops before the Germans received their first batches of the Bergmann M.P.18,I, which - if true - would make the Beretta the first "true" SMG to be used by any military (only if you don't count the Villar Perosa as a submachine gun). While this is an interesting theory, one has to take into consideration that, as already mentioned, most of the Revelli-Beretta carbines that were produced were semi-automatic, and so would not qualify as submachine guns even if they did come into use before the M.P.18,I. There is also an absence of primary sources that can confirm the Beretta Model 1918's use in World War I, contrasted with the many numerous accounts and photographs of the Villar Perosa's extensive use during the war. This has led some experts to dismiss the idea that Beretta was ever even issued in 1918 at all.

Some secondary sources do shed light on the topic, however. Some military manuals and gazettes from the 1920s and 1930s, following just after World War I, attest that the gun did see use in combat. According to these descriptions, it was issued to the best shots in each company - a similar practice to the French issue of the RSC self-loading rifle - and was used with several different types of ammunition. The reported presence of the Revelli-Beretta in Albania would also imply that they were issued to Italian troops annexing the region in late 1918. These accounts probably do have some truth to them, and it seems not improbable that the Revelli-Beretta was actually issued to a limited extent during the war, although it is unlikely to have been on anywhere near the same scale as the M.P.18,I.

The Revelli-Beretta, combined with the lightweight SIA machine gun, rendered the Villar Perosa obsolete in Italian service, and a large portion of Villar Perosas were immediately recalled from service to be converted into Beretta carbines. Production of the Beretta Model 1918 lasted until 1920, during which time about 5,000 units were built and delivered to the Italian Army - probably most of them after the end of the war.

Although the Italians had been pioneers of the submachine gun concept during World War I, the attitude towards these guns rapidly shifted after the introduction of the Revelli-Beretta and the Army was, in the early 1920s, of the opinion that a pistol cartridge did not provide the necessary range, penetration, or stopping power for submachine guns to be an effective infantry arm. So began a promising but ultimately ill-fated endeavor to develop and adopt an intermediate rifle cartridge and a selective-fire rifle to accompany it, which could very well have resulted in the Italians adopting an early assault rifle in the interwar period. Experimental samples of the Revelli-Beretta were rechambered in an intermediate cartridge - possibly 7.35x23mm - and evaluated against prototype rifles from the Terni and Roma arsenals. The Army preferred the Terni experimental rifle over the Revelli-Beretta and decided that the latter gun had no future in Italian service. However, the whole project dragged on longer than projected and went well over its budget. In the late 1920s, no firm decision in regards to adopting the Terni rifle had been made, and Mussolini's government decided to terminate the project. Thus, the Revelli-Beretta remained in use.

Beretta Model 1918/30
The Beretta Model 1918/30 system, a modification of the standard Model 1918 introduced in 1930.

Beretta Model 1918/30
Argentinian police aiming the Beretta Model 1918/30 from the firing port of a car.

In 1930, Marengoni introduced a modification of the standard Beretta Model 1918 carbine, which was known as the Model 1918/30. This gun was basically an overhaul of the design with a new type of receiver and magazine feed. The bolt rode on a straight guide which was retracted by a ring-shaped cocking piece protruding from the rear of the receiver. This unusual method of cocking earned the gun the nickname "Il Siringone" ("the syringe"). The magazine feed was on the bottom and took straight 25- or 10-round magazines, which could be loaded with the dimensionally-similar 9mm Glisenti or 9mm Parabellum cartridges. Marengoni had actually patented the 1918/30 system in September 1918, but it seems Beretta did not act on it until much later. Early Model 1918/30s were converted directly from Model 1918s, recycling the same stock and folding bayonet, but later models were built using new components. The Model 1918/30 was adopted by the Italian Forestry Corps during the interwar years and saw use during the civil war in Italy from 1943 - 1945. It was also offered for export sale, and was sold in quantity to the Argentinian police, where it was used from the 1930s into the 1950s and acted as the basis for several Argentinian carbines and SMGs.

The Beretta Model 1918 was still in use by the Italian Army during the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 - 1936, and by this time it had also been complimented in service with another submachine gun - the Revelli O.V.P. offered by the Villar Perosa's original manufacturer, Officine di Villar Perosa. Both the Beretta and the O.V.P. saw combat use in Ethiopia, and continued to do so during the North African front of World War II, even after Beretta's much newer and superior submachine gun, the Model 38A, had been introduced. In fact, it is likely that the Beretta Model 1918 was not completely retracted from service until the reorganization of the Italian Army after World War II, which ended a long and worthy service life for this first-generation SMG.

Gallery (click to enlarge)

Beretta Model 1918

Beretta Model 1918

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