“Ambassador” Beretta’s Perfect Little Subgun

By J David Truby

Oh, how I’d love to hear Peter Jennings have to read this on ABC-TV! “ Known around Washington mostly for his diplomacy and charm, the Italian Ambassador to the United States is better known outside the beltways as head of the famed international firearms firms of Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta and Beretta USA.”

A happy thought to have another gun-friendly official face in DC, but, alas, it turned out not to be true, merely another political possibility rumor at the end of the past year: Dr Beretta as Italy’s Ambassador to the United States.

Instead of representing his nation in our nation, Dr. Ugo Gussali Beretta, continues to run the successful and high-end firearms company that began business in Italy in 1526, which means it has been around a lot longer and in more stable condition than most nations.

The best known scion of the company’s long line of family leaders is perhaps Pietro Beretta, Dr. Beretta’s grandfather, who ran the company from 1903 until his death in 1957. It was he who set the trail for the company’s success today.

That success has included a lot of high quality, high profile firearms. But, the one that I have personally enjoyed the most is the Beretta 12S, a great little submachine gun mostly unknown outside of Europe. Today, there is an improved version, the PM12S-2.

Considering the lineage of the Beretta PM12S-2 submachine gun you expect it to be nearly perfect in all ways. And, it is.

Beretta has always quality firearms with craftsmanship, reliability and pride, and they’ve been doing so longer than any other current gun maker, for five centuries now. I’d call that cliché that “they gotta be doing something right,” an understatement. Their Model 12S submachine gun series is a perfect example.

Today’s Model 12S-2 evolved from a series of innovative 9mm prototypes developed between 1952 and 1958 with the strong support of Pietro Beretta, by Domenico Salza, director of R&D for the firm. The final prototype, designated the model 12, was put into production in 1959.

The Model 12 was adopted by the Italian military and many police units in 1961, and is still on active duty with their special mission units. It remains a favorite of police harassed by the international terrorists who continue to use Italy as both a planning and staying ground for their deadly missions.

In addition to domestic sales, Beretta sold extensive quantities of their Model 12 and Model 12S guns in the Middle East, primarily to Libya, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Tunisia, South Africa, and Iraq also bought large amounts of the Beretta weapons. Licensed production and sales of the Model 12S were negotiated for factories in Indonesia, Brazil and for the FN plant in Herstal, Belgium.

State of the art at its inception half a century ago, the Model 12 series is still a first class ticket in the trendy world of submachine gun design. It’s produced primarily out of sheet metal stampings, using heavy stock with spot welding and rivet jointures. It is an easily manufactured, quality weapon, a harmony not always achieved in the gun business, especially in submachine gun. In designing this weapon, Dominico Salza’s expectations were high all around and quality was achieved along with cost and manufacturing efficiency.

Following several years of successful use of the Model 12, Salza and his engineers designed improvements and, a newer model, the 12S, was put into production in the late 1970s. The changes included major improvements in the stock, the sights and their protection, plus going from a parkerized finish to a modern epoxy resin.

Another design feature of the 12S is the series of large dirt-chasing grooves running the length of the receiver, permitting the weapon to function flawlessly even after prolonged burial in mud, sand and dust. The body, pistol grip, forearm grip, plus magazine and trigger housing are all one unit.

The breech and bolt design features a cylindrical breechblock, which slides forward to cover the breech inside a deep drilling. The bolt is hollowed with the 7.8-inch barrel inserted inside, making the Beretta, like the Uzi, compact and extremely stable in firing. There is a very minimal climb in full-auto fire, a hassle for accuracy in other submachine gun designs.

The action is select-fire, open-bolt, blowback with a fixed firing pin protruding from the bolt head, plus a fixed extractor hook and ejector. The 12S also has a grip safety on the front of the pistol grip.

The Model 12S is simple to field strip and reassemble. My measure of functional disassembly/assembly procedure is whether a gun-unsophisticated, but normal, 12-year-old can do it without instruction. The PM 12S passes, easily. After field tests with my first Beretta PM-12S twenty years ago, I had a 12-year-old strip it, clean it, and reassemble the gun. The next time I let her brother do it.

The procedure is a simple four-step process that takes less time to do it intuitively than it does to read about it in Beretta’s thorough, well-illustrated manual.

The Model 12S is 26 inches long with the stock extended and 16.43 inches with the stock folded. It weighs just over 6 pounds without the magazine, and has a cyclic rate of 550 rpm.

The new model, which went into production in 2002, is an improved version, which is just under 26 inches long, with stock extended, and is 16.5 inches with the stock folded. It weighs 7.5 pounds, without the magazine, and has the same 550 rpm firing rate as the older model gun. The 7.8-inch barrel has inside chromium plating.

Beretta designers improved the safety features on the new model, now with three safeties to prevent an accidental discharge. The new model was adopted enthusiastically and immediately by the Italian Army’s “Carabinieri”. According to both military and police sources internationally, the new PM12S-2 will enjoy the same acceptance and success of the earlier models.

Two newly designed accessories useful in the PM12S-2’s modern paramilitary role are a very efficient muzzle-type sound suppressor and a very effective electronic optical sight device, which mounts atop the weapon.

On the range, the Model 12S is an auto-gun lover’s dream come true. It’s safe, reliable, rugged and hits where you aim it. It is a soft joy to shoot, with minimal muzzle blast. The magazines load easily, either by hand or by loader. Although the latter is much faster, you won’t bark you knuckles or sprain you thumb by manually hand loading, though.

Several of us, all military vets, took two Beretta Model 12S guns to the range, partly for fun & games, but also for a regional police demonstration. The latter demo featured competing heavy hitters from the auto weapons arsenal: Thompson, Uzi, MK 760, Ruger AC556, and H&K MP5. Viewed objectively, subjectively or any other way you want, the two little Beretta guns won their day in everyone’s minds.

We fired the Beretta 12S guns in all of the standard postures and positions with nary a failure to fire. The Beretta is easily, safely and accurately fired one-handed, too. We dirtied a gun in the muck of a nearby pond, then opened up back on the range with nary a misfire. We fired the weapon with all sorts, brands, ages and conditions of 9mm ammunition. It ate them all and asked for more.

Conclusion: The Model 12S proudly upholds the high standard of Beretta engineering quality.

My law enforcement friends agreed that due to its design and construction simplicity, light weight, yet exceptional accuracy and reliability, the Beretta 12S is ideally suited for police officers. They also liked it for personnel security duties.

Useful accessories for the PM 12S series include a magazine loader, grenade launcher system, sound suppresser, special duty ammunition loads, plus telescopic, Laser or other lighted sights. Improved versions of the suppressor and the sights are available for the new model gun.

Over the years of my military and civilian experience with automatic weapons I have fired dozens of different types, some great, some good, some ok, some dogs and other that just don’t work. In my evaluation, the Beretta Model 12S remains my personal favorite.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N8 (May 2003)
and was posted online on November 22, 2013


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