Italian Semi Auto Pistols

by Cliff Carlisle
 
In 1897 the Italian Navy conducted a series of test to find a new pistol to replace the M1889 revolver then in use.  After the preliminary survey 4 pistols were selected for trials.  These were the 1893 Borchardt, 1896 Mauser (both in 7.63X25), 1894 Mannlicher in 7.65mm & the Colt New Navy revolver in .38 caliber.
 
 


The M1896 Mauser was declared the winner & an order for 5000 pistols was placed with Mauser.  These had their own serial number range from 1 to 5000.  They were all of the type termed “Flatside” by collectors today due to the lack of lightening cuts in the frame.  These pistols were produced and delivered in 1899.  Known as the Mauser Regia Marina they were used in the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Italo-Turkish War & WW1 staying in Naval service until the end of WW1 when the M1915 Beretta replaced it.
 
 

 


 These Italian Navy pistols can be identified by the DV proof on the barrel extension & the Crown AV on the bottom of the barrel.
 

The Glisenti M1910 (top) was the first Italian produced semi auto pistol adopted by the Italian military.  Designed by Bethel Revelli it was originally chambered for a bottle necked 7.65mm round similar to the Luger round but with a longer body.  Later, it was chambered to use the same cartridge case as the 9mm Luger but with a reduced loading.  The pistol was manufactured by Siderurgica Glisenti from 1902 to 1907 and from 1908 until approximately 1925 by Metallurgica Bresciana gia Tempini.  Italy officially adopted it in 1910.

A simplified model of the Glisenti was developed.  It was called the Brixia (bottom).  The machining of the pistol was modified to eliminate several of the steps.  Note from the picture that it is flat sided without the raised areas of the Glisenti.  In addition, the grip safety in the front of the grip was eliminated.
 
 

Both the Glisenti & the Brixia suffered from a lack of robustness due to the frame design. The bolt assembly in the receiver is supported only on one side.  When the side plate, which has no structural value, is removed, it is plain to see that all of the stresses of firing have to be taken up by just one side rail. This is the reason for the lightly loaded 9mm round.
 
 

With Italy in WW1 there was a need for more pistols for the military.  Beretta had been in the gun business in Italy since 1680.  Beretta’s Tullio Marengoni had been working on a semi auto pistol since 1910.  This pistol was adopted as the M1915.  It was a straight blow back pistol with no locking mechanism and used the same low powered 9mm round that the Glisenti did.
 
 

The M1915 is unusual in the fact that it used 2 manual safeties.  One is a slide stop safety on the left side of the frame.  The other is a small lever on the rear of the frame.  If either safety is set, the pistol will not fire.

Also manufactured by Beretta & adopted by the Italian military was a scaled down version of this pistol in 7.65mm.  In addition to being smaller, it did not have the manual safety at the rear of the frame.

Both of these pistols show the characteristic open slide (in this case just at the front) that became a Beretta trademark.
 
 
 


 

In 1919 improvements were made in the 7.65mm M1915 design.  The round post barrel mount where the barrel was lifted straight up out of the frame was replaced with a T slot mount. This required a larger opening in the top of the slide so the double opening of the M1915 was changed to a single longer one.  The slide now looked like the open toped style still used by Beretta to this day.  The redesigned pistol is marked on the slide 1915 1919.  The lower photo shows the Royal Navy inspection stamp on the frame.
 
 
 


 

In 1923 Beretta introduced a pistol in 9mm Glisenti caliber as a replacement for the military’s M1915 pistols.  It incorporated the M1915/1919 changes plus adding an external hammer.  Some of the M1923 pistols have grooves for a shoulder stock holster machined into the bottom of the grip frame.  The illustrated pistol is one of these.  The shoulder stock holster was unlike the Mauser in that it was a conventional leather holster with a hinged folding steel arm riveted to the spine.  The end of the arm had a cut out that slipped over the butt of the pistol & locked in place.  The lower picture shows the stock slot.

In 1930 Beretta decided to scale down the M1923 & produce it in 7.65mm.  This was basically the same thing that they did with the M1915 pistols.  The scaled down version was designated the M1931.  Apparently, only the Italian Navy bought the M1931.  Total production of this model was about 6,500 pistols.  In 1932 the straight rear grip of the M1931 was changed to a curved design. Around 1000 pistols of this M1932 were produced. Both pistols are rarely encountered.
 
 


 

In 1934 the Italian government decided to adopt a single pistol to replace the 7 existing models in use.  They specified that the new pistol should be in 9mm Corto or .380 auto as it is known in the US.  Beretta added new steel backed grips to their M1932 pistol, changed the caliber from 7.65mm to 9mm & submitted it to the government as the M1934.  On August 2, 1935, the War Ministry ordered 150,000 of the new M1934 pistol.

The Italian Navy & Air Force did not want the 9mm Corto round for their pistols.  They wanted to retain the 7.65mm round that they were using.  Consequently, Beretta supplied them with the same pistol in 7.65mm marked as the M1935.  The 2 M1935 pistols shown were produced for the Italian military (top) & German military (bottom).  The German one is marked only with the caliber (7.65mm) & a small 4 UT in a circle.  The Italian military pistols are double dated.  The year they were produced is stamped in numbers on the slide with a Roman numeral following the date.  The Roman numerial is the year of the Fascist calendar which started in 1922 with the year 1.
 
 

In 1951, Beretta designed it’s first non experimental locked breech pistol.  It was chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge.  All previous designs had been blow back.  The pistol was designated the M951.  Full production of this pistol, the predecessor of the US Military M9, didn’t begin until 1956.  It was adopted by the Italian Army & Navy as well as Egypt, Israel & Nigeria.  The pistol shown is one of the Egyptian contract ones.  The barrel is longer, the magazine release is on the bottom of the frame & the back strap is straight.  All other M951s have a barrel that extends out of the slide about ¼", have a magazine release button & a curved back strap.