Thursday, January 1, 2009

Beretta model 1934 in 9mm short (.380acp)


While staying with friends this Christmas season, I enjoyed a few days of freedom. With all chores done and no duties encroaching, time was available for a gun shop visit. Even away from my home territory, the name of a quality purveyor of firearms was easily retrieved by asking amongst the clan.

Referred to ‘The Best Gun Store In The Area’, a friend and I made our way there. The recommendation was a good one, and the family owned shop had an excellent selection of guns, ammunition, reloading gear, and accessories.

Perusing their racks and cases, my eye was drawn to older firearms as always. Moving from the ‘Rack ‘O Garands’, I wandered past case after case of new handguns, finally coming to rest at the few used pistols on hand. There, dwarfed by Browning High Powers and 1911’s, lay this rather homely little Italian refuge of a bygone age; A Model 1934 Beretta automatic in 9mm short (.380acp).

Wearing rough handmade wooden grip panels, it was surely the ugly duckling of the pistol case. On the other hand, the metal work had minimal holster wear considering its age and the era it survived. Built in 1940 by Beretta during the fascist rein of Benito Mussolini, this weapon bears the acceptance stamp of the Italian army; A crown under a cross, and the initials ‘RE’, standing for Regio Esercito (Royal Army). On the other side of the pistol is a proof mark ‘FAG 39’ under a crown.

The Beretta model 1934 production began in 1934 and ended in 1980, with another short run completed in 1991 (mostly for collectors). The pistol was in production non-stop for the entire time, including the war years under Nazi occupation. Pistols built during the occupation will have serial numbers with letters, and this was continued after the war. Model 1934 pistols built under Fascist rule (1934 till 1943 or so) have serial numbers beginning at 500,000 and ranging up from that point.

The pistol was accepted by the Italian military in 1937, and was supplied to the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. Each branch had it’s own acceptance stamp, with the Navy using ‘RM’ for Regio Marina, and the Air Force using ‘RA’ for Regio Aeronautica. Pistols made for the civil police were marked ‘PS’ for Publica Sicurezza.

The 1934 was supplied for military use in the 9mm ‘corto’ (short) caliber. In the United States it’s known as the .380 ACP, and is a cartridge designed by John Moses Browning. The same pistol was also built in 7.62 caliber, and named the Model 1935. The 1935 saw service with both the Navy and the Air Force.

Marked on the slide with the makers name and home town, it also bears the year of manufacturer and one other detail. Roman numerals which note the year of the rein of Benito Mussolini it was built in.

As the photos show, the pistol has some holster wear and a few spots of ancient rust pitting. Internally, however, wear is almost nonexistent. Like many pistols carried more as a badge of office than an offensive weapon, this Beretta has been fired little. The original machining marks are evident on both slide and frame, and the barrel shows almost no wear at all. The rifling is sharp and the throat appears as new.

Take down is surprisingly easy. After unloading and clearing the pistol, the frame mounted safety is rotated past ‘safe’ up into position to act as a slide stop. The barrel is then pushed back, and up out of the open slide. Then the slide can be carefully released and it will ride off the front of the frame. The weapon is now field stripped for cleaning. Any further disassembly will require the removal of press fit pins, and is not normally required.

In use, the safety locks only the trigger mechanism, and not the firing pin. There is a half cock position on the hammer, added as a safety measure during design trials. This means the weapon can be carried with a round in the chamber and the hammer on half cock. Being single action, it must be cocked before the first round can be fired. Technically, the pistol could be carried with the hammer cocked and the safety on, but the safety must be rotated 180 degrees from safe to the fire position. This is neither rapid nor instinctive.

Yes, I’ll shoot it, and I’ll carry it as well. Not everyday, but perhaps as a favored pistol to be slipped in a pocket as I work around the shop, or make a quick run to the store. Built in an age when quality was everything, I suspect this little Beretta will far outlast most current designs based on melted down Barbi dolls. Steel has a character of it’s own that no Tupperware inspired sidearm can match.

This little piece of history now belongs to me. Bought with the thought of investment, as the price was low and the quality excellent, it’s now badgering for a place in my humble firearms collection. Bearing an aura of history about it, it blends excellent engineering with usefulness and style. No matter its past history, it now becomes a part of mine.

(click photos to enlarge)


How does it shoot? Exceptionally well. It functions flawlessly and shoots to point of aim.
At fifty feet off hand, it grouped inside the head area of a silhouette target.


Brigid said...

Beautiful gun at an envious price. . can't wait to give it a try sometime.

angus lincoln said...

I love old guns; congratulations on finding such a deal on a hand held piece of history. How hard will it be to find a pair of factory grips for it?
I wonder how it shoots compared to a Makarov, having similar ballistics.

Carteach0 said...

Angus, Numrich (eGunparts) has them listed as in stock.. Only $20. Still, I'd love to find them at a gun show... the thrill of the hunt!

As for comparing to a Makarov... as soon as I get one, I'll try the comparison.

DirtCrashr said...

Italians know design, and wasn't that just about the first gun with a pinkie-finger magazine extension?
I had a toy plastic one (hidden from my parents) in Junior High that fit my hand very well.

Weetabix said...

Carteach0 -

Great find! A beauty. I'm perilously close to envy. There's a certain style to some of the European pistols of that era that fascinates me.

You can fire my Mak should we ever meet up. Probably unlikely, but drop a line if you're ever in MO. I have relatives in Indy, but I don't get there more often than about every 10-15 years. Aren't you in that region somewhere?

This place ( says that the .380 has 192 ft-lbs in a 95 gr projectile at 955 fps and the Mak has 262 ft-lbs in a 94 gr projectile at 1115 fps.

I'd think the Mak would be a bit snappier because it's blowback and yours appears to be short recoil.

red said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Xavier said...

Nice catch! You will want gun show grips, as they are surrounded by a metal piece that is likely missing on the Numrich grips.

Anonymous said...

VERY neat pistol! I have one that was given to my mother in about 1952 by an Army vet. He'd taken it from an Italian officer that would "no longer be shooting it." It works very well, but definitely needs to be kept clean and lubricated. It has a fairly sharp recoil -- probably because the grip is so narrow (my guess). I would really like to find some more magazines for mine! --Rocky

Captain Harley said...

I have one that was given to me too! A buddy of mine gave it to me for helping sell a motorcycle for him. I'll have to dig it out of my safe and check out the serial number, etc. It didn't come with any finger extension mag though, darn it.

Vanilla Chunk said...

That's how I got mine, Anonymous. One of my Cowboy shooting friends passed on and his heirs sold me one of these and a matching .25 ACP, both taken off a German fella who wouldn't be asking for them back. They were the only non-revolvers the fellow had. They both shoot pretty well. I'd like to get new barrels and mags for both, and new spring kits would be a great idea...but they both just keep plugging away.

Kobesauce said...

Congrats, nice find! I have recently inherited a very similar weapon which has been resting in a safe for nearly 60 years. It was liberated by my father in law towards the end of WWII. It also has the RE markings, two clips, original grips and holster-overall great condition. However, do you have any idea what the letter "S" means on the left side, above the trigger. Thx

Anonymous said...

I have my father's Model 1934. He took it from an Italian Captain in WWII. It is much nicer than the one you purchased except for a mark on the plastic grips. Shoots great. Nice to read about it.

Anonymous said...

My cousin Carl, now 91, just gave me his Model 1934, 1941 XIX. He was a C47 pilot in North Africa during WWII. He bought it on the black market in Tangiers Libia and used it instead of the issued 45. I'm thrilled to have it and keep it in the family.

eber c. buckman said...

i have had a Romanian Contract model 1934 for a long time. it is a very good little pistol. it never fails to fire and never hangs up or jams, it is altogether reliable. on the other hand so is the Makarov. for me the 1934 is more comfortable in the hand. i like em both.

billy said...

i achavce to buy a1934 but have no idear asto what i should pay any help

Carteach0 said...

Depends entirely on condition and provenance. For a shooter, I would be happy at $200, and not unhappy at $300 if the condition was decent.

gwragsdale said...

I'm coming in late in the game, but just got one of these from my father, who picked it up in Italy during the WWII conflict. I was wondering the same thing as Kobesauce, about the 'S' on the left-hand side, but I think I figured it out. Rotate the safety to the Firing position, and you'll notice an 'F' just to the rear of the safety. So S=Safe and F=Fire. It's a great little gun.

Anonymous said...

Lol! Nice !! I have a 1934, original everything. But it has markings not listed. In the same area as yours mine has three stamps and the initials psf. Any ideals

Ubaldo Pioli said...

Hello Carteach0, I really enjoyed the article.
I have two Berettas, one mod.1934 in.380 ACP, given by the son of a Brazilian veteran who fought in Italy during the Second World War. She has the blank slide and a number beginning with the letter "G". No proof marks.
The other is a 1935 model in .32 ACP from my uncle's mother-in-law, that brought from Italy with her, after the war.
Both in very good state of preservation and operation. The 1935 presents some more signs of use, but this rather reliable. More than most modern weapons based on Tupperware and Barbies dolls (I love this one).
Congratulations by blog articles. Hugs from Brazil.

Ubaldo Pioli