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
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.