I can’t think of a better way to test the durability and serviceability of a product than to give it to a bunch of U.S. soldiers to play with. If you want to take a long chance, just give your product to the entire U.S. armed forces and see what they come up with. If it jams, they’ll jam it. If it can be broken, they’ll break it. If it can be made to malfunction, they’ll malfunction it.
If it can be traded for…well, never mind; you get the picture. In the early years of this century, the U.S. Army adopted its first autoloading pistol, the venerable Colt 1911. Many of the old hats among military personnel weren’t all too sure that this was any kind of an improvement over the revolver that they had been issued. Some of the even older troops were sure that this new-fangled auto was not even in the same class as their beloved Colt Single Action Army. Dedicated shooters are always hard to convince regardless of what outfit they work for.
The acid test for the 1911 pistol came with a little south-of-the-border jaunt that is referred to as Pershing’s Punitive Expedition. This military invasion of northern Mexico came on the heels of a raid by Pancho Villa at Columbus, New Mexico, in March of 1916. Anything but a vacation, this trip had the troops facing the worst sort of conditions. Temperatures were high in the daytime and plummeted to near freezing at night. There was little or no moisture. There was precious little feed for the horses. And the high desert winds caused the sand to blow continuously. One authority reports that even the Apache scouts were requesting that they are issued goggles to protect their eyes. It was a trying time for men and equipment, but the new pistol came through just fine.
Like its predecessor, the Beretta M9 has proven its worth in actual fights, in the hands of actual fighting men and women. The civilian designation of the pistol is the Beretta Model 92F. Though it seems like just yesterday that the furor was talking about a new military pistol, Beretta is, in fact, celebrating its 10th anniversary as the chosen handgun for the United States armed forces. However, the Beretta success story is a good bit older than ten years.
Fabbrica d’Armi P. Beretta of Gardone Val Trompia, near Milan, Italy, is one of the world’s leading firearms manufacturers. What a lot of folks don’t know is that it is also one of the oldest, if nearly five centuries in existence can qualify one for that title. That’s five centuries of manufacturing some of the best in sporting, military and personal-defense weapons. Today this modern Italian plant covers over 500,000 square feet and employs over 2,200 people. However, that’s still not all of the stories.
Since its adoption by U.S. forces ten years ago, the M9 Beretta has served in some operations including the 1991 Gulf War and Somalia in 1992 during “Operation Restore Hope,” as evidenced by these U.S. Marines.
In 1977 Beretta U.S.A. Corp. was formed to meet the increased demand among Americans for the Beretta product. The next year, Beretta U.S.A. began manufacturing firearms in the United States at its plant in Accokeek, Maryland. With the military’s adoption of the M9 in 1985, Beretta U.S.A. made plans to enlarge its Maryland facility to its present 90,000 square feet and over 400 employees. Besides the military contracts, this American plant produces Beretta 92F pistols, the Model 96 pistols in .40 S&W, the Model 21 Bobcat and the Model 950BS Jetfire pistol.
The Beretta M9 pistol began life in 1975 as the original Model 92. It became the Model 92S in 1977 when the safety/decocking lever was moved from the frame to the slide. The next step in the pistol’s evolution was to move the magazine release from the butt of the pistol to the rear of the trigger guard. This model was called the 92SB. In 1983 the pistol took on its 92F designation when Beretta added a combat trigger guard, a hard-chrome barrel and the Bruniton matte-black finish. At the same time, they added an ambidextrous safety/decocking lever and a reversible magazine-release button to satisfy left-handed shooters.
Essentially, the Beretta M9 (identical to the Model 92F) is a double-action auto based upon the “delayed-blowback recoil” system. Located on the bottom side of the barrel is a pivoting locking block that causes the barrel to move up and engage its lugs into notches in the frame as the action cycles. This system was designed by Beretta designer Tullio Marangoni in 1950 and is based upon a similar system in the Walther P-38. The concept was first used in the Beretta Brigadier, which was one of the first large-frame Berettas to gain notoriety among American shooters.
Weighing in at nearly 34 ounces, the Beretta M9 features a 4.92-inch barrel and an overall length of 8.54 inches. The sights are fixed, with a semi-Patridge front blade and the popular three-white-dot system. The pistol features an open-top slide, which has become a Beretta trademark and tends to eliminate many malfunctions. The magazine capacity is 15 rounds. Beretta warranties the weapon for use with +P+ 9mm ammunition, but warns that this high-pressure ammo will accelerate weapon wear.
Some may remember that there was some controversy concerning the Beretta pistol during early military testing of the weapon. A great hullabaloo arose over reports of some cracked slides on the M9. The best information that I can obtain indicates that this problem was blown all out of proportion, probably by some of the competition. The facts appear to be that a few slides did crack during the tests due to a metallurgical accident in manufacture. The problem was quickly identified and solved. More important, the problem has not occurred again in the past ten years.
An indication that the problem was quickly solved lies in the U.S. military’s testing of the Beretta M9. Keep in mind that U.S. government standards call for 1,250 rounds for reliability and 5,000 rounds for service life. One of the government tests on the improved pistol showed that the test pistols fired an average of 30,000 rounds without failure. In another test, 12 of the Beretta M9s fired 168,000 rounds without a single malfunction. In addition to these impressive results, Beretta points out that the average reliability of all M9 pistols tested at Beretta U.S.A. is 17,500 rounds without a stoppage. This sort of result is what one should expect from a truly dependable fighting pistol.
And keep in mind that the U.S. M9 pistol is the same exact weapon as the Beretta Model 92F that you and I can buy at our local gun shops. It is also the same pistol that is carried by over 1,000 law enforcement agencies around the country. The record of the Beretta 92F includes adoption by the state police in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maryland, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Washington, Rhode Island, Wyoming and South Dakota.
My small role in the history of the Beretta Model 92 came during the mid-1970s. I was packing a badge in the north Texas town of Denton and running a gun store on the side. My friend Texas Ranger Weldon Lucas contacted me with a request. He had talked Beretta U.S.A. into making a run of the Beretta Model 92 to commemorate the Texas Rangers. Happy to accommodate a respected group like the Texas Rangers, the nice folks at Beretta made a special run of the pistols featuring a “TR” suffix on the serial number. The numbers ran TR-1 through TR-100, as I recall. However, Lucas needed a gun shop to which Beretta could ship the guns.
I was glad to oblige my friends in the Rangers, and I took delivery of the entire batch of these unique pistols. I’m sure that many of the Rangers put their commemorative Beretta in a display case alongside their Smith & Wesson Texas Ranger Model 19 and their Colt Texas Ranger Single Action Army. However, more than a few of the Rangers are serious shooters and have enjoyed using their Berettas. Gene Powell, the Ranger Captain at Midland, Texas, carries his as a preferred duty weapon.
As a military and police pistol, the Beretta M9 has a lot going for it. In addition to the reliability that we have already discussed, its magazine capacity gives the shooter quite a few rounds of ammunition at his fingertips. Of course, just having the most ammunition doesn’t mean that one will win a deadly encounter. Bullet placement is responsible for that. However, a soldier can easily find himself pinned down and waiting some time for reinforcements. A rural peace officer can find the same deadly dilemma right here in the good old U.S.A. Having lots of spare magazines that hold lots of ammunition can be a comforting thing in such situations.
A loaded Beretta M9 and two spare magazines give us just shy of a full box of ammo. Granted, this is a full-size service pistol, but its 34-ounce weight compares quite favorably with the Colt Government Model (38 oz.) and the Smith & Wesson 4506 (41 oz.).
Service personnel packs their Beretta M9s in nylon holsters supported by a belt and harness straps. Civilians can obtain the same sort of service from the Bianchi UM84 holster and several selections by Michaels of Oregon. Police duty holsters for the Beretta are made by every major holster company. My own Beretta Model 92 spends most of its time in a Viper paddle holster by DeSantis. In fact, the big Beretta service pistol has become so popular that quality leather is readily available.
Police personnel and civilians have even more variations of the Beretta to choose from than do their military counterparts. To keep up with the needs of the American shooter, Beretta has developed several interesting variations of the basic pistol. The 92G appears identical to the 92F except that the slide-mounted lever is for decocking purposes only; it does not function as a safety. Beretta also offers the 92D, which is DA-only, has a bobbed hammer and no safety lever on the slide. The 92DS is the same pistol but includes the safety lever. Finally, the Model 92 Centurion is essentially the same pistol as the 92F but with a slightly shorter barrel and slide for compact carry. All of these are essentially spin-offs of the 92F and feature the same reliable reputation.
Beretta’s contract with the U.S. military called for delivery of 386,000 of the M9 pistols. As of January 1, 1994, Beretta has made delivery of over 365,000 of these handguns. Since its acceptance just ten years ago, the Beretta M9 has already seen its share of action on the hips of U.S. personnel. It went to Panama for Operation Just Cause, to Grenada for Operation Urgent Fury and Somalia for Operation Restore Hope. But, just like 1911 was tested in the deserts of Mexico 68 years ago, the Beretta M9 found its greatest test in Operation Desert Storm.
Our servicemen sent a message to Old Sadaam that won’t soon be forgotten. Now the Arabian deserts make northern Mexico look like Vail, Colorado. The blowing sand gets in every little nook and cranny of anything that has a nook and cranny. It was the perfect atmosphere to test our military equipment, including the Beretta M9. That the pistol worked at all is a sincere compliment to the designers at Beretta U.S.A.
Like the rest of you, I stayed glued to my television while this military drama played out. Among other things, it gave us a modern hero in the person of General Norman Schwarzkopf. The take-charge General was seen, almost daily, wearing his service belt and his ever-present Beretta M9 pistol.
One reporter asked General Schwarzkopf why he didn’t pack a personal pistol as General Patton had done. General Schwarzkopf’s reply went something like this: “I don’t think it’s a good idea for a leader to carry a weapon other than those that are issued to all of the soldiers. To carry something else doesn’t give the men the confidence that they need in the weapons that they were issued. Besides…it’s a darn good pistol.” Well said, General.