The Beretta 92
By R.K. Campbell

The Beretta Model 92 is currently serving as the U.S. Army service pistol as the Beretta M9A1. While controversial in some quarters, particularly among those that prefer the .45 caliber 1911 pistol, the Beretta has earned an excellent reputation in service. Bad experiences with aftermarket (non-Beretta manufacture) magazines delivered with a finish that attracted sand marred the pistol’s reputation; but in the end poor magazines or poor ammunition cannot be used to assail the reputation of a reliable, serviceable handgun.

The Beretta is a good design, and the Model 92 is a conventional pistol in most regards. The pistol uses proven principles including a locked breech mode of operation. The pistol’s locking mechanism incorporates an oscillating wedge of the type first used in the Mauser C 96 pistol over one hundred and fifteen years ago. The double action mechanism, including the exposed trigger bar, was pioneered in the Walther P38. The Walther P38 was an excellent service pistol and in many ways the Beretta 92 is simply a high capacity P38. The Beretta uses a similar open top slide that was actually pioneered by Beretta and uses a single recoil spring rather than the dual springs used by the P38. Beretta makes several claims for the open top slide. One claim is that the open top slide enhances reliability; another is that the slide design facilitates loading single rounds if the magazine is lost. True jams are rare, malfunctions are not, and whether the open top design really does away with stovepipe jams is debatable but the Beretta is clearly a reliable handgun. As for loading a single round - a single shot pistol isn’t very tactical and since soldiers carry ammunition in magazines, not loose or in belt loops, the other claim rings hollow. Just the same the pistol has many merits beyond the active imagination of marketing types.

The Beretta’s simple disassembly and ease of maintenance are important attributes of a service pistol. The pistol also incorporates several attractive safety features into the design. The pistol features a positive firing pin block, a loaded chamber indicator, and a well designed hammer dropping safety. While true safety lies between the ears, the Beretta is seldom involved in an accident discharge compared to other handguns. The sights are well designed battle sights and the pistol features a Bruniton finish that has proven durable in use. The aluminum frame is anodized and often wears much more quickly than the slide, but this is par for the course with aluminum frame handguns. The fifteen round Beretta magazines are well made and reliable. They are tapered and easily inserted quickly. The well placed magazine release and the magazine design insure that rapid replenishment of the ammunition supply is possible with practice. The Beretta is among a few service pistols that are fully ambidextrous. The magazine catch may be easily actuated by the forefinger of a left handed person and the safety is fully ambidextrous. The open top slide is lefty friendly and while the fired case is ejected to the right this isn’t an impediment to left handed shooting.

This famous pistol was developed from earlier Beretta designs including the Beretta 1951, a much copied single action design with a single column magazine. The M1951 owes much less to the P38 than the later Beretta Model 92 does. The first Beretta high capacity 9mm pistols differed considerably from the modern Model 92. These pistols used a framed mounted safety rather than the decocker found on modern pistols. This safety allowed cocked and locked carry. Experience with the Italian police convinced Beretta to change the original design to a Walther type decocking lever/ safety arrangement. The early pistols began manufacture in the mid 1970s, with production variants being delivered in 1975. Another modification included relocation of the magazine release button. Modern Beretta pistols use the Browning type push button magazine lock. At the time the Beretta was introduced, few service pistols were designed specifically to feed with jacketed hollow point bullets. As these effective loadings were developed the Beretta proved feed reliable with practically any design. This is largely because the Beretta features a straight line feed. The bullet leaves the magazine and is led directly into the chamber rather than being bumped over a feed ramp. The result is excellent feed reliability. The oscillating wedge lockup tilts a bit less than competing designs.

The Beretta was chosen as the new U.S. service pistol as a result of rigid but controversial trials that spanned from 1979 to 1983. The Beretta pistols were subjected to firing until overheated, immersion in mud, and fired for accuracy and tested for handling as well. The Beretta bested a number of handguns and was ushered into Army service and has proven reliable in service. As for combat accuracy, the accuracy standards of the Beretta are higher than most service pistols. The pistol is generally more accurate than its polymer framed competition. While competing pistols, particularly the SIG, are sometimes deemed more accurate, the fact is the Beretta is proven to be an accurate pistol across the board and the general level of accuracy is higher than most service pistols. When the pistol is fired with carefully manufactured commercial loadings this accuracy is more pronounced than with service grade military ammunition.

After more than thirty years of service the pistol has proven reliable and reasonably rugged but there are concerns. Among the common wear spots is the loading block. This design was first used with the Mauser 1896 pistol. Few pistols still use the oscillating wedge but in the case of the Beretta it has worked and worked well in service. The locking wedge needs to be inspected for wear on a regular basis. The forces the wedge is subjected too are intense and the wedge will break in a pistol that is not cleaned and kept lubricated. Keep a check for cracks near the indent in the L shaped wedge. If the wedge does break while firing the slide may be difficult to remove. Never attempt to force the slide off of the frame when the wedge is broken. Some preliminary work must be accomplished first. By slipping a dental pick or small object into the slide recess and shoring up and supporting the broken wedge you will be able to run the slide forward and remove the slide. Sometimes it is necessary to use a brass hammer as the broken part may be wedged tighter than normal but just the same with the pick in the slide and supporting the part that is broken, the slide may possibly be removed from the frame. While the broken wedge may impede movement, usually it will be trapped in the slide rails and not completely stop the slide, only hinder the movement of the slide. By checking the wedge every five hundred to one thousand rounds or so, you will be able to prevent the breakage by replacing the wedge when a crack is noticed. This is not a common problem but neither is the situation rare. The wedge is pinned in and replacement simplicity itself. A considerable argument may be made that the design was intended to allow replacement of the wedge often, although no set round count is generally recommended. Trouble seems to start at around 7,500 rounds.

Occasionally you will find a long serving Beretta with a barrel crack. This is usually a product of hard use with heavy loads and a failure to replace the recoil spring as specified. A weak recoil spring and heavy loads is a recipe for battering of any handgun. With some pistols the problem manifests itself in the locking lugs but with the Beretta the barrel is sometimes cracked. Replace the recoil spring every 5,000 rounds and this problem is taken care of. W C Wolff premium gunsprings are first class in every way for service use. Occasionally the Beretta will show a bit of metal fuzz in the extractor’s relief cut. This is a sure sign of battering. For those relying upon the powerful +P loadings such as Winchesters 124 grain +P or the even more powerful Winchester 127 grain +P+ SXT then replacing the recoil springs every 3,500 rounds is a good program. As concerns the extractor groove, the extractor itself seems never to give trouble. The Beretta 92 extractor is simply pinned in but just the same the only reason for disassembly is to clean out the powder and brass shavings that find their way into the extractor tunnel.

When mastering the Beretta pistol in practice I have seen military men make hits with the long double action trigger press well past twenty five yards. These men and women pay attention to detail and simply press the trigger straight to the rear and get hits. An eight inch gong is in danger to fifty yards or more when firing the Beretta in the single action mode.

In personal pistols there are modifications that are beneficial to the handgun and the shooter. Among these is the replacement of the factory hammer spring with the W C Wolff #16 spring. This hammer spring for the Beretta 92 always gives a lighter let off, resulting in greater control, but retains sufficient strength to crack the cartridge primer. The author recommends replacing the issue guide rod with a turned steel guide rod from Bedair Machine Works. In a personal gun the plastic grips are serviceable but the Karl Nill wooden grips give the pistol a much better feel. For a combination of adhesion, repeatability of the grip, combat control and durability the Karl Nill grips give the individual user versus the institutional user a definite advantage in firing the Beretta pistol.

The Beretta 92 remains in service in a number of police agencies. Peace officers carrying the Beretta know that the administrator has not given in to the low bid. While the Beretta demands more training in order to master the safety/decocker and the double action trigger, muzzle rise is slight and the single action trigger press offers an accurate option. The Beretta is a respectable service pistol well worth its price.

Accuracy Testing, Beretta 92 Pistol

Accuracy – an average of four five shot groups fired from a solid bench rest at 25 yards. Groups measured in inches.
Velocity Group
Black Hills 124 grain JHP +P: 1,183 fps 2.5 inches
Cor Bon 115 grain JHP +P: 1,380 fps 3.0 inches
Fiocchi 147 grain JHP: 940 fps 3.1 inches
Hornady 115 grain Critical Defense: 1,170 fps 2.0 inches
Winchester 127 grain SXT +P+: 1,240 fps 2.5 inches
Wolf 124 grain FMJ: 1,090 fps 3.6 inches

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on May 31, 2013


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