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
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
- 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
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.
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
(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
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 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
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.
The Beretta Model 1918/30 system, a
modification of the standard Model 1918 introduced in 1930.
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
("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.
(click to enlarge)
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