The Italian Job: Beretta’s P71 Pistol

By Frank Iannamico

Beretta is one of the oldest firearms manufacturers in the world. The firm has been making firearms for 500 years, through 15 generations. A lot of Beretta’s success comes from keeping up with the times, as well as expanding and modernizing their manufacturing capabilities.

Beretta has been a long-time producer of military, police and sporting firearms. One of their most successful handgun designs is the Model 92 semi-automatic pistol. The pistol was adopted by the U.S. Army, the Spanish Civil Guard, the National Turkish Police Force, the U.S. Air Force and a number of law enforcement organizations.

Some of the most popular handguns are those chambered for the economical .22 LR, rimfire cartridge. Today, the potential buyer has many different configurations, models and brands to choose from. Most modern small caliber handgun manufacturers produce their guns from modern materials and plastics allowing them to keep the guns light in weight and reasonably priced. With the rising popularity of sound suppressors, many manufacturers offer factory threaded barrels.

While modern .22 caliber handguns are quite popular, many like the look, feel and construction of “old school” pistols and revolvers. Often historic use or issue of such handguns adds an air of mystique to their popularity. One such pistol is the Beretta P71 .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol, which was reportedly used by the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency and Israeli sky marshals. The use of a small .22 caliber pistol would minimize collateral damage inside a crowded aircraft. The Israelis were trained to carry pistols with an empty chamber and quickly rack the slide prior to engaging a target. The Beretta was chosen for its compact size and flawless reliability.

After the 1968 hijacking of an EL AL airliner by Palestinian terrorists, the Israeli government decided to guard against future terror attacks by placing armed personnel (sky marshals) on board EL AL aircraft. The Israeli sky marshal program was top secret and never publicized. During an incident that took place on February 18, 1969, Israeli sky marshal Mordechai Rachamim (a member of Israel’s elite Special Forces unit Sayeret Matkal) engaged four Palestinian terrorists, armed with AK-47s and explosives, as they assaulted an EL AL airliner on the ground in Zurich, Switzerland. The Israeli sky marshal used his .22 caliber Beretta pistol to kill the leader of the terrorists, and with the help of the local police took the three remaining terrorists into custody. However, Israeli sky marshal Rachamim was also arrested. During his trial, he was forced to admit for the first time that security personnel were on board Israeli flights to combat hijackings and terrorism. Rachamim was acquitted on charges of killing the terrorist squad leader. The three surviving terrorists were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

In May of 1972, Rachamim participated in another operation when he and other members of Israel’s Sayeret Matkal rescued passengers and crewmembers onboard a hijacked Sabena Airline flight in Tel Aviv. During the operation, Rachamim and the other Israelis disguised themselves as airline mechanics before storming the hijacked Belgian airliner. As the signal to move was given, Rachamim once again used his .22 caliber Beretta to dispatch one of the Palestinian terrorists; this time he was not arrested.

The Beretta P71 Pistol

The Beretta Model 71 is a well-made handgun that was produced from 1958 through 1985. A commercial variation was imported into the U.S. as the Jaguar. The non-commercial Model 71 Berettas that were imported were quickly snapped up by savvy collectors who recognized what they were. However, a recent internet search found a few available on some of the popular auction and importer sites.

The Model 71 is a reliable, compact, single-action semi-automatic pistol. The frame is made of aluminum; the slide is steel with front and rear fixed sights. For feeding, the P71 uses an 8-round steel magazine; the magazine release is a large, recessed button on the lower left side of the grip. The pistol features Beretta’s characteristic open frame with the exposed barrel. There are no plastic or zinc-alloy parts in the Beretta. The only parts not made of steel are the plastic grips, magazine follower and aluminum alloy frame. The P71 weighs 17 ounces, with a barrel length of 3.5 inches. On the left-hand side of the frame, there’s a slide-stop lever and a thumb-operated safety, which blocks the sear and hammer. On the right-hand side, there is a lever marked “disassembly” which, when rotated, allows the removal of the slide and barrel assembly from the frame. The left side of the slide reads, “PIETRO BERETTA, GARDONE V.T. CAL. 22 L.R.” The right side: “P.B.–Made in Italy.” There is a series of markings on the right side of the frame that include: the location of the Beretta facility “VT” for Gardone Val Trompia; “AH” code letters for the date of manufacture; “PSF” for Polvere Senza Fumo (smokeless powder); and the provisional proof mark of the Gardone Proof House. On the left side of the frame is the serial number. Non-original markings added in dot matrix letters include, “C.A.I. Georgia VT.” (Century Arms the importer) and “MDL. 71,” the model designation.

The Faux Suppressor

The importer semi-permanently attached a faux steel suppressor to the Model 71 pistols. The non-functioning “silencer” was attached by threading the barrel and end of the steel silencer tube with 1/2-20 TPI threads, a common muzzle thread in Europe. After attaching the tube to the barrel, the tube was secured with a set-screw, which was welded over and ground flush. A portion of the front sight was ground off in order to mount the silencer. The barrel cannot be removed from the slide with the faux silencer attached. The steel silencer increases the weight to 2.05 pounds and over-all length to 12.25 inches.

The most common thread in the U.S. for attaching a .22 caliber suppressor is ½-28. Unfortunately, the importer of the P71 pistols chose to thread the barrels ½-20. No problem though, adapters from ½-20 to ½-28 are available from several sources. The adapters do add a rather unsightly extension to the barrel. As of this writing, Bowers Group LLC is the only manufacturer that makes an interchangeable ½-20 Atlas™ insert for their .22 caliber suppressors that attaches directly to the suppressor tube, eliminating the need for the long adapter.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N6 (June 2018)
and was posted online on April 20, 2018


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