The Beretta 1934
By R.K. Campbell

When this report was begun the intent was to concentrate on the Beretta 1934. While the primary focus is the well known Beretta pistol, just the same after some research, it was discovered that a number of off-shoots that are quite similar should be included. Beretta is our oldest surviving firearms maker and one with a rich history. A major part of this history includes arming the Italian armed forces during and after World War One. When researching the Beretta pistols the lack of hard records is an impediment but the big picture isn’t that difficult to pin down. The first handgun that concerns us is the Beretta Model 1931, a workmanlike handgun with good features. The Model 31 is a medium size blowback pistol with a single action trigger and is quite similar to the later 1934 version of the Beretta pistol. The Beretta 1931 was manufactured in two versions, one for the 7.65mm or .32 ACP pistol cartridge and the other, the 9mm Short, 9mm Kurz, 9mm Korto or .380 ACP as it is variously known. The .32 is basically a pocket pistol cartridge that doesn’t have the energy necessary for combat use. Yet, it was quite popular with the world’s armies in the 1920s and 1930s. FN was successful with the 1910 and 1922 FN models and the French seemed to have an endless appetite for the Ruby pistols during World War One. The .380 ACP came about when John Browning asked the famous ‘UMC’ Thomas at United Metallic Cartridge to create a cartridge larger than the .32 ACP but which would present no impediment in chambering the pistols for the larger cartridge. The result was a light cartridge using a .355 inch bullet. As a practical matter there is little to choose from between the two calibers. The larger bullet has greater wound potential but still is lacking in the potential needed in an effective cartridge in the opinion of authorities. The .32 ACP is sometimes regarded as the more reliable and accurate of the two calibers. It should be noted that Beretta produced a larger and more powerful handgun, the Glisenti, before the 1934 pistol. The 9mm Glisenti round is less powerful than the 9mm Luger cartridge, so the move to a lighter .380 ACP did not result in a significant loss in power.

The Beretta 1934 was designed to handle the .380 cartridge from the beginning, unlike many .32 ACP pistols that were later modified to accept the .380 ACP cartridge. The pistol became the standard issue of the Italian Army. The 1934 also became a popular police service pistol as is often the case with successful military designs. Whatever else may be said concerning the Beretta pistol and its cartridge, the 1934 is well made of good material and the primary object of creating a reliable pistol was realized. The Beretta is light and portable and the pistol was less expensive than many military pistols. Compared to the German Luger or the later P 38 the Beretta is simple to manufacture and maintain and the rate of repair is low. While well worn pistols are plentiful, it is rare to see a Beretta 1934 that does not function properly. When all is considered, the Beretta can not be faulted on design and performance. It is simply a pocket pistol that went to war and while not the only pistol fitting this description, the Beretta is arguably among the best. In its design envelope it may be compared to the later Makarov pistol. The Beretta was light and inexpensive and as a badge of office or to direct troops it was quite enough.

The Beretta is a single action design. The trigger does one thing; it drops the hammer from its cocked position and fires the pistol. The frame mounted safety locks the hammer, preventing the hammer from falling or touching the firing pin when the safety is applied. The action is a simple blowback and the barrel remains fixed when the slide recoils. The magazine catch is a heel based affair, a simple and workmanlike solution. The grip fits even small hands well. For larger hands there is an extension on the magazine that meets the small finger of the hand for greater stability. When handling and firing the Beretta it is obvious that every detail was worked out before the pistol was issued.

Firing tests were uneventful. We used a good supply of .380 ACP loads including Fiocchi FMJ ammunition, Silver Bear ball ammunition, Black Hills 90 grain XTP and the Cor Bon DPX hollow point. Even the wide mouth hollow point loads fed perfectly. The pistol has been described as having heavy recoil due to its light weight and the fairly powerful cartridge. The shooting evaluation did not bear this out. Rather, the Beretta was found to be quite pleasant to fire and use. Combat accuracy was good and it was not difficult to quickly empty the magazine into a man sized target at seven yards. Accuracy results were tabulated at ten yards, firing five-round groups.

Ten yard groups, fired off hand, five shots each.
Black Hills 90 grain JHP:   2.0 inches
Cor Bon 88 grain DPX:   2.5 inches
Fiocchi FMJ:   2.0 inches
Silver Bear .380 ACP:   2.5 inches

Clearly the Beretta is accurate enough for personal defense use and probably more accurate than we can hold.

War time serial numbers:
1934 to 1942: Beginning with 500073/end at 999996
        1 to 40000
1943 – 1945: F00001 to F99997
        G00001 to G57486
        0001AA to 9997AA
        Ooo1BB to 9971BB

Later variants

Beretta modified the Beretta 1934 into a number of commercially successful designs including the Beretta 70S. The 70S is a reliable and accurate handgun that handles well and cannot be faulted on reliability. This pistol was offered in the .32 ACP chambering with the .380 ACP more rare. The .22 caliber versions are excellent light practice pistols. Some of the pistols used the famous pushbutton safety lever found on the Beretta 1951 pistol while later versions were offered with a slide locking thumb safety. I have never personally seen one of the slide lock type pistols but have seen them illustrated. The Beretta 70S is a well made pistol with modern features including an aluminum alloy frame. Some, but not, all are marked as to date of manufacture, as in AE 1979 for the date – but again, not all. The Beretta 70S pistols are well made of good material and bear a close resemblance to the earlier 1931, 1934 and 1935 Model Beretta pistols. These pistols are often very accurate.

Test fire of Model 70, .32 ACP:
15 yards
Fiocchi 32 ACP FMJ:   3.0 inches
Cor Bon 60 grain JHP:   3.15 inches

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (April 2013)
and was posted online on February 8, 2013


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