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Beretta Model 1918 automatic carbine*

[IT] Moschetto Automatico Revelli-Beretta Mod. 1915

(Author's photo via Royal Armouries Collection)

In September 1915, the Italian Army adopted the twin-barreled, pistol-caliber "Villar Perosa" machine gun designed by Major Bethel-Abiel Revelli. This gun, which was primarily used as a crew-served infantry light support weapon rather than a "true" submachine gun, proved to be successful during fighting on the Italian Front, but it was limited in its application. In December 1916, Major Revelli revised the design on the request of the Air Artillery Department, who wanted a single-barreled version of the Villar Perosa with a buttstock which would be issued as a personal defence weapon for aviators. This new weapon - which was known as the Carabinetta Automatica O.V.P. - paved the way for several designs which were based around the concept of adapting the Villar Perosa into a shoulder-fired carbine.

In about the middle of 1917, the regular Army became interested in adopting a similar weapon for ground use. They commissioned the development of the Moschetto Automatico ("Automatic Musket"), a new type of weapon which would embody the same principles as the O.V.P. submachine gun, but for an infantry assault role. Several parties were contracted to produce prototypes for comparative trials, including the historic firm of Fabbrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta in Gardone Val Trompia, Brescia. This was actually one of Beretta's first military designs, along with their Model 1915 pistol, as the company was best known for manufacturing sporting guns before World War I. The design work on Beretta's moschetto is often credited to the "young" engineer Tullio Marengoni (who was actually 37 at the time), although it appears that no patents protecting the design were ever filed, probably because the fundamental principles of the operating action were already covered by Revelli's patents for the Villar Perosa and O.V.P. submachine guns. Patents related to the Beretta carbine were granted on the 2nd and 23rd of September 1918, however these protected experimental variants and not the base design itself.

The Beretta conversion of the Villar Perosa was simple yet elegant in design. The receiver and action were largely unchanged from the Villar Perosa, operating on the same inertial-delayed blowback action in which the bolt sat at a 45° rotation in the closed position, and was forced to come out of this rotation upon reciprocating by a inclined cam in the cocking slot. This was ostensibly to create a small bolt delay and ensure that the bolt was fully closed before the firing pin came forward, however like the later "Blish" lock system used in the Thompson submachine gun, it was largely ineffectual. The top-loading feed system and 25-round box magazines were also recycled from the Villar Perosa, although the magazine release catch was new, relying on a downward push. The furniture components were largely recycled from other rifles; for example, the stock was that of a Carcano cavalry carbine, and the distinctive trigger guard was taken from the Vetterli-Vitali 1870/87 rifle. A folding spike bayonet, also a feature taken from the Carcano carbine, was fitted to the end of the barrel and folded into a recess in the underside of the handguard. The rear and front sights were mounted to the right side of the receiver and muzzle respectively.

The right side receiver of the Revelli-Beretta carbine, with the bolt in open and closed positions. The steep
incline in the cocking slot creates a bolt rotation upon its forward and rearward travel.

(Author's photo via Royal Armouries Collection)

The important distinction between the Beretta carbine and other Villar Perosa derivatives, which must be noted, is that the Beretta was NOT a submachine gun. In the Beretta carbine, the trigger is disconnected from the sear, and therefore keeping the trigger depressed will not fire more than a single shot, as the sear will reset after a single trigger pull. This is contrary to the near-ubiquitous descriptions of this gun as an SMG, which are entirely untrue. Therefore this gun cannot be classified as a first-generation submachine gun in the same class as the aforementioned Revelli O.V.P. submachine gun.
Experimental versions of the Beretta carbine which included selective-fire capability are detailed later in this page.

In September 1917, Major Revelli was dispatched to Brescia to observe a demonstration of the Beretta carbine, and approved its further development. In subsequent months, trials were arranged to comapre the Beretta carbine to a prototype by Ansaldo, which was designed by Enrico Crocetti and operated on a lever-delayed action. Record is also made of moschetti prototypes by SIAI Savoia, Cei-Rigotti, and A.N., but there is little information available on these guns and they were evidently not given much consideration. No firm conclusion was drawn from these trials for a long while, and it was not until September of 1918 that the Director of Artillery reached a "verbal agreement" (apparently not officially documented) with Pietro Beretta to purchase his carbine over Ansaldo's gun.

By the 14th of September 1918 the arrangements to adopt the Beretta carbine were rapidly underway, with Pietro Beretta negotiating an arrangement with the DoA to convert 5,000 Villar Perosa machine-guns into 10,000 carbines, to be fitted with cavalry carbine stocks, recoil pads, and bayonets provided by the Ministry of Arms and Ammunition. The main components, such as the trigger groups, barrels, and extractors were all produced at Beretta but evidence suggests that the weapons themselves were assembled at Manifattura Italiana d'Armi (MIDA) in Brescia, under the direction of Alfredo Scotti, who had contracted Beretta to deliver 3,500 sets of components to MIDA at a price of L.25 per trigger, L.20 per barrel, and L.2,20 per extractor. The new weapon was officially taken into service as Moschetto Automatico Revelli-Beretta, or "Revelli-Beretta Automatic Musket".

*Note on nomenclature

The Revelli-Beretta carbine is typically known in modern sources as the Beretta Model 1918 (or MAB 18), however this name is actually incorrect. Documentation from the period rarely gives the Revelli-Beretta a numerical designation but when it does, it refers to it as the Revelli-Beretta Mod. 1915. This is probably because the weapon was considered an improvement of the Villar Perosa, which was also designated Mod. 1915. The Revelli-Beretta was never called the Mod. 1918. In fact, Beretta applied for a patent on the 23rd of September 1918, which is titled Moschetto automatico mod. 1918 per cartucce regolamentari mod. 1916 ("Automatic Musket Mod. 1918 for the regulatory cartridge Mod. 1916"). This patent does not depict the Revelli-Beretta but instead a closed-bolt carbine feeding from straight box magazines of 9x19mm Parabellum cartridges - a very early version of Beretta's later Model 1918-1930 carbine which appeared in the 1930s.

The actual Moschetto Automatico Beretta Mod. 1918, patented 23/09/1918. Merely an early
version of the Mod. 1918-1930 carbine which appeared later.
(Photo: Marco Morin)

Other names that were bestowed upon the Revelli-Beretta carbine were Moschetto Automatico Beretta-Revelli (sometimes rendered Berretta), or simply Moschetto Automatico Revelli. In the latter case, it is not to be confused with Major Revelli's own O.V.P. submachine gun which was produced around the same time. The reasoning for Revelli's credit in the nomenclature of this weapon, which sometimes comes at the cost of any credit to Beretta themselves, is probably the result of his personal endorsement of the design in September 1917. Revelli's name carried greater weight and respect within the Italian ordnance departments than Beretta's at the time and probably helped the weapon get adopted.

For the sake of accessibility, this page is titled "Beretta Model 1918", however I will not use the "Model 1918" designation in the article itself.

The Revelli-Beretta in Italian service

During September 1918, the Italian High Command drafted plans for the large-scale reorganization of infantry battalions to include new sections for a greater number and variety of automatic weapons, including light machine guns (the SIA Mod. 1918) and 'automatic muskets' (the Revelli-Beretta Mod. 1915). Arditi assault troops were also to be integrated into regular infantry battalion. Under the Battaglione Tipo ("Typical Battalion"), as it was known in planning, the machine gun sections that were attached to rifle companies would be completely abolished and replaced with 'musketeer' sections, which would each contain 2 moschetti automatici. This totaled to 18 Revelli-Beretta carbines in every battalion (or 18 for every 830 men). In a document from that month, the combat doctrine for the moschetto automatico is described, making it clear that the weapon was intended for trench assaults, close-range ambushes, counter-attacks against Austrian stormtroopers, and other small-unit tactics. A later description claims the weapon was to be distributed to troops with high marksmanship scores, as was typically the practice with semi-automatic rifles and carbines during the period.

Training schools for the moschetto automatico were established prior to the climactic Battle of Vittorio Veneto on the the 24th of October 1918, however there is little evidence that any Revelli-Beretta carbines actually made it to the front before the end of the war. It seems somewhat unlikely, given that, by late October, Beretta was still negotiating with MIDA over the delivery of components. MIDA was a large and efficient factory, and could probably have assembled a sizable quantity of Revelli-Beretta carbines before the signing of the armistice, but the tight timeframe from the weapon's adoption in September to the end of the war in November leaves little time for it to have achieved active use. Some interwar sources attest that the gun did see service at the end of the war, but are not specific about the details - possibly these refer to field trials, but it is not known. Therefore it cannot be said with any confidence that the Revelli-Beretta carbine was ever used in combat during the Great War.

The total production figures of the Beretta carbine are unknown but it has been estimated that about 5,000 guns - only half of the agreed 10,000 order - were delivered before the contract was cancelled in 1920. Alternatively, it is possible that the 3,500 units mentioned in Beretta's correspondence with MIDA were the only guns ever made. Regardless, the Beretta remained in service throughout the 1920s, although its effectiveness was already under scrutiny in 1921 when the Army conceived an intermediate cartridge project to introduce an early "assault rifle" into service that would ideally replace SMGs, carbines, and light machine guns. Several prototypes were developed for the intermediate rifle trials, including a submission from Fabbrica d'Armi di Brescia which was essentially an upscaled Beretta carbine rechambered in 7.65x25mm and converted to selective-fire, with a new magazine feed. This prototype was passed over in favour of a rival submission from
Fabbrica d'Armi di Terni, which itself would be cancelled by 1928.

In 1930, perhaps sensing that the Revelli-Beretta was fast becoming obsolescent, Beretta introduced the Mod. 1918-1930 to succeed it. This was an improved version of Beretta's aforementioned Mod. 1918 carbine which was patented in late 1918, and operated on a closed bolt action which was cocked by a retracting ring which was connected to the rear of the bolt via a plunger. This method of cocking earned the Mod. 1918-1930 carbine the nickname "Il Siringone" or "The Syringe". The feed system was also overhauled to take 10 or 25-round straight box magazines from the underside of the receiver instead of the top. Some examples of this new carbine were converted from old stocks of the Revelli-Beretta, retaining the same cavalry-pattern stock and distinctive Vetterli-type trigger guard but replacing the receiver. Other examples were assembled from scratch at the factory with new furniture. The Mod. 1918-1930 carbine was offered for both domestic sale and commercial export, and was adopted by Italian police forces, particularly the Forestry Corps. The largest export sale was to Argentina where it was adopted by their National Police.

The improved Beretta Mod. 1918-1930 carbine, which fired from a closed bolt.
(Author's photo via Royal Armouries Collection)

By the later 1930s, the Italian government sold off quantities of Beretta carbines, both Revelli-Beretta and Mod. 1918-1930 models, which they considered surplus. It is known that a significant number of these weapons had ended up in Ethiopia by early 1936, during the Italian invasion of that country. However these Berettas were not used by the Italians, but by their opponents, the Ethiopians. How this came to be is not entirely certain, as it is not likely that the Ethiopians had captured large quantities of Italian ordnance at that point in the war. It is more probable that the Italians had attempted to deliver these guns to their Eritrean allies, but that the weapons had been intercepted by Haile Selassie's forces. The Beretta carbines were specifically issued to Selassie's elite Kebur Zabagna honour guard, and some of these guns still exist in Ethiopia today. In 1938, the Italian Army attempted to negotiate the sale of Beretta carbines to Saudi Arabia, but it is not known whether this deal was ever finalized. The same year, a large number of Mod. 1918-1930 carbines were discovered by the French police in the possession of La Cagoule, a far-right militia group. These guns were smuggled into France via OVRA, the Italian secret police, in exchange for favours to the Italian government, including assassination of foreign dissidents.

Ethiopian regulars of the Kebur Zabagna wielding Revelli-Beretta carbines
during a drilling exercise in March 1936.

By the time World War II broke out, only limited numbers of Beretta carbines were still in active service in the Italian ranks and some are said to have been captured by the British in the North African campaign. In 1941 the Italian Army adopted the Beretta Model 38A submachine gun which largely superseded the older carbines, and by July 1942 an ordnance survey revealed that there were only 60 Revelli-Beretta carbines still in service. The Mod. 1918-1930 carbine was in wider circulation, and continued to see use by both the partisan forces of the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (CLN) and the fascist troops of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI) during the Italian Civil War (1943 - 1945). After the end of the war, both guns were phased out of service with the reformed Italian Army.

Variant models

While the standard Revelli-Beretta carbine was a semi-automatic weapon only, several experimental variants were developed with selective-fire capability. Most of these were not made at Beretta, but at Manifattura Italiana d'Armi (MIDA) in Brescia, and may have been designed by Alfredo Scotti. These included twin-trigger "bigrillo" models which gave automatic fire on their rear triggers and single fire from their forward triggers. This type of trigger group became standard on later Beretta submachine guns, including the well-known Model 38 series. Apart from the trigger system, the MIDA variants also differed from the standard Beretta in most of their components, with different stocks, sights, magazine release catches, ejection chutes, and bayonet mounts that took the detachable Carcano TS bayonet rather than the folding cavalry bayonet. One MIDA-made experimental model also incorporated a right-canted magazine feed; the reason for this is unknown. Although a small lot of twin-trigger MIDA submachine guns are known to have been produced, they were probably never taken into service. The exact reason for the development of the MIDA submachine gun is still not entirely known but it was probably for a special military contract from some unit that desired a variant of the Revelli-Beretta carbine with automatic fire capability.

The MIDA twin-trigger submachine gun of 1918, a derivative of the Beretta carbine.
(Museo Internazionale Armi Leggere Terni)

There also existed at least two different attempts to create a mechanical fire selector for the Beretta carbine. One was a relatively simple three-position switch on the side of the receiver which gave automatic fire, single shots, and safety. The other was an unusual conversion with a selective-fire switch on the upper receiver and a long piston connected to the bolt handle which was said to reduce the fire rate from 900 rounds per minute to about 300 rounds per minute. The piston-type moderator is similar in form to an apparatus known as the "Pavesi device" that was introduced in 1918 for use on the Villar Perosa. This device was probably designed by Guiseppe Pavesi, who designed another method of moderating the Villar Perosa action in the Pavesi-Revelli. Both of these selective-fire Beretta carbines were stocked like the Carcano TS and did not have a folding bayonet. The Pavesi-Beretta prototype was protected by Beretta's patent "Device for the transformation of O.V.P. machine pistols for the 1910 regulatory cartridge, into muskets" on the 2nd of September 1918. (Note that "O.V.P. machine pistols" in the patent title refers not to the single-barreled O.V.P. submachine gun, but to the twin-barreled Villar Perosa machine gun.)

The piston-delayed automatic conversion of the Beretta carbine, possibly by Pavesi.
(Vittorio Balzi)

Additionally, an experimental Beretta variant with an inverted receiver, to take magazines from the bottom and eject from the top, was made, but not adopted. Due to the inversion of the receiver, the cocking slot on this model was located on the left side, instead of the right. This appears to have been an early proof-of-concept model of Beretta's Mod. 1918 moschetto, as it employs the same type of iron sights and retractable dust cover over the magazine feed as seen on Beretta's 23/09/1918 patent, in addition to using a bottom-loading magazine feed. However it seems that at the stage this gun was made, the closed-bolt action of the Mod. 1918 and later Mod. 1918-1930 had not yet been developed.

Various derivatives of the Beretta carbine were developed in other countries, including the Czechoslovakian Netsch carbine of 1919, the Russian Degtyarev submachine gun of 1931, and the Argentinian Halcón and HAFDASA carbines of the 1940s. None of these models were particularly successful and are now largely forgotten.

Gallery (click to enlarge)


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