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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Meet the Beretta M12: Simply an Amazing Submachine Gun?

Every once in a while, a truly inspired design comes along and just takes your breath away. Beretta’s Model 12S SMG is one of those designs.

Beretta M12. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Beretta M12. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

As we have discussed in multiple articles, Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta of Gardone Val Trompia, Italy, is not only the world’s oldest gunmaker, but indeed the world’s oldest existing industrial firm of any kind. 

That said, as wildly successful as Beretta has been in the handgun and shotgun market, they have only been modestly successful in the submachine (SMG) category. There is not a Beretta SMG with anything near the level of fame attained by, say, the German Heckler & Koch MP5, the Israeli Uzi, or American Tommy Gun. That’s not to say that Beretta’s SMGs are no good — far from it. Let’s take a look at the Beretta M12 9mm SMG. 

Beretta M12 Early History and Specifications

Design on the Beretta M12 began in 1950, but it didn’t go into production until 1959. It was the successor to the company’s World War II-era Model 38 9mm SMG, and was officially adopted by the Italian government in 1961, though initially in limited numbers. It finally went into wider issue in 1978, eventually becoming standard weaponry for the Carabinieri as well as the elite Gruppo di Intervento Speciale “Special Intervention Group”) and Nucleo Operativo Centrale di Sicurezza “Central Security Task Group”). 

The only variant of the gun currently manufactured by Beretta is the PM12S2. However, license-built copies are made by Taurusdesignated the M972 by the Brazilian Army — and by Indonesia’s PT Pindad as the PM1 and PM1A1

As is the case with most 20th century SMGs, the Beretta M12 fires from an open bolt — the closed-bolt operation of the HK MP5 is the exception and not the rule. What makes the M12’s design a bit more distinct is the so-called telescoping bolt, which sees the barrel recessed into the bolt head, reducing overall length and aiding compactness without reducing barrel length or bolt weight. Another fairly unique feature is the grip safety on the pistol grip. To the best of my knowledge, the only other SMG with this feature is the Uzi

Speaking of which, barrel length is 7.9 inches, overall length is 26 inches (fixed stock option) or 25.4 inches/16.5 inches (folding stock extended/folding stock collapsed). Height is 7.1 inches, and weight is 6.61 pounds, 7.1 pounds, and 7.67 pounds for the metal-stocked M12, M12S, and PM12S2, respectively; or 7.5 pounds and 7.9 pounds for the wood-stocked M12 and M12S.

Detachable box magazines come with either a 20-, 32-, or 40-round capacity, with a cyclic rate of 550 rounds per minute. 

Combat Performance

Besides Italy, Brazil, and Indonesia, the Beretta M12 has served at one point or another with the police and/or military forces of roughly 21 other nations, including Algeria, Bahrain, and Guyana. Accordingly, the weapon has been battle-tested in at least seven wars, including the Vietnam War — reportedly making its international debut during the Tet OffensiveThe Troubles of Northern Ireland, and the Iran-Iraq War. By all accounts, the weapon has proven itself to be durable and dependable. 

Experts’ Shooting Impressions/Range Reports

Weapons expert Leroy Thompson spoke highly of the Beretta M12 in his highly informative 1988 book, The Rescuers: The World’s Top Anti-Terrorist Units. For those of you who want a newer and more readily accessible assessment, you can turn to an October 2013 range report authored by gun writer Foghorn for The Truth About Guns:

“(E)very once in a while, a truly inspired design comes along and just takes your breath away. Beretta’s Model 12S SMG is one of those designs, something so perfectly functional and aesthetically beautiful that to many people, it’s the gold standard to which all other SMGs should be compared. And I can definitely see why.

“Life with the Beretta isn’t all butterflies and unicorn *****, though. There is a rough patch to this gun, namely its stock. It might be too much to ask that a stock made out of a single piece of bent wire be comfortable and usable, but on this gun it’s about a ‘meh’ on the comfort scale.

“Despite that break-free trigger, accuracy isn’t an issue. We were nailing a standard BC-zone target from 50 yards with ease, and thanks to the light recoil the gun usually stayed within ‘minute of bad guy’ even under full auto.”

Want Your Own?

Assuming you’re willing & able to deal with the bureaucratic headaches and costs of the BATFE paperwork to own a full-auto weapon, be ready to cough up a few extra bucks for a Beretta M12. For starters, NFA Defence has an asking price of $19,795.99. But hey, take heart: Classic Machine Guns is charging less than half that much, at a bargain basement price of $9,900, plus free shipping to boot! Helluva deal. 

Christian D. Orr has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011. 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).