9mm Beretta Handgun: A History


Egyptian clone of the Beretta 951

The Beretta firearms company dates back to the 16th century. They supplied firearms to many of the armies of the world, including Napoleon.

This article, however, is concerned with the history of the 9mm Beretta, beginning with the Model 951 and continuing to the Model 92.

The Beretta 951 was introduced shortly after World War II. The allied forces were attempting to standardize calibers, if not firearms, as a result of the NATO pact.

951 9mm handgun design
The 951 9mm featured a push-button type safety and also a push-button magazine release.

Facing off against the Warsaw pact, the allies standardized 7.62x51mm and 9mm cartridges. (Vehicles, tires, rations and lug bolts were evidently of less concern, but that is another story.)

During the previous war, the nations involved had a virtual hodgepodge of calibers. But most nations using SMGs had 9mm submachineguns. So they adopted 9mm handguns.

This is a simplistic summary, but you get the idea.

Helwan clone of the Beretta 951
When in good condition, the Helwan clone of the Beretta 951 often shoots well enough for recreational use.

Simple Beginnings

Beretta first developed a single-action 9mm pistol with a single-column magazine. The Model 951 in some ways resembles the Model 1934 Beretta, a blowback pistol chambered in .32 ACP and .380 ACP.

The open-slide design is sometimes compared to the Walther P-38’s open-top slide. Each company has a history of open-top slides. The Beretta locking wedge, however, is similar to identical to the Walther P-38.

The P-38 was a highly respected handgun in Europe and remains in use in some parts of the world. It was logical for Beretta to base the 951 on the oscillating wedge system originally used in the Mauser M96. The Beretta 951 featured an unusual safety.

951 type sights
The 951 type sights are typical of the day.

The cross-bolt safety is positive in operation and located at the top of the grip. The magazine release is also a push-button. The original 951 is a workmanlike pistol that is reliable and accurate. It is well-made of good material.

At one time, both Israel and Egypt used the 951. Many nations in the Middle East adopted the M951. One may only speculate that they outbid the FN High Power, another popular handgun. There were various local copies of the 951, including the Helwan.

These are of indifferent quality. Some are serviceable, some are not. The 951 was a foundation for Beretta’s later success.

951 take-down lever
The 951 features a take-down lever on the right side.

Making Improvements

During the 1970s, the military focused on double-action, first-shot 9mm pistols. The SIG P220, CZ 75, Smith and Wesson Model 59 and a few others were developed. These pistols also featured a high-capacity magazine holding 14 to 17 cartridges.

These were termed “Wonder Nines.” (The P220 was a single-column magazine pistol and the P226 was the high-capacity development. ) The Beretta 92 is similar in some ways to the 951 in terms of the open-top slide and wedge locking system.

The original was a selective double-action, much like the Taurus PT92, a variation on the early Beretta pistols sold to Brazil.

951 type handgun
Some 951 types have been plagued by soft steel and peening. The Helwan illustrated has fired many hundreds of cartridges with good results.

The Italian police asked for a decocker. Beretta responded with a design similar to the Walther P-38. By moving the safety downward, a block falls between the firing pin and the hammer, and the hammer falls. The handgun does not fire.

This lever also acts as a safety. The Beretta 92S illustrated an early variant with a decocker and original push-button magazine release. At the time of the adoption of the Model 92, most Italian police were armed with the Beretta 1934 .380 ACP.

The first wave of European terrorists included the Italian “P-38ers,” so named for their favorite handgun. I visited the spot in Italy where Aldo Moro, a former president, was found stuffed in a garbage can. These were dangerous times.

The upgrade put Italian officers on level ground with communist terrorists.

oscillating wedge lock up
This is the oscillating wedge lock up common to all Beretta 951 and 92 handguns.

9mm Beretta Handgun Performance

I have fired the 92S extensively and find it a reliable and accurate handgun, although mine is well-worn. The magazines do not interchange with modern Model 92 magazines, a drawback. (Some ’92F magazines are cut to allow use in the 92S, some are not.)

While they are OK if found at an attractive price, the later Beretta 92 is a much better handgun. The 92S has been fired with Winchester 115-grain FMJ and also the Winchester 115-grain Silvertip.

9mm Beretta 92S
The Beretta 92S is an early variant of the Beretta 92 9mm.

A five-shot group of 4 inches at 25 yards is average. Perhaps it was more accurate when new. Like the modern 92s, the pistol uses a steel slide on an aluminum frame.

The double-action trigger is pressed to transfer energy from the trigger to the hammer via a transfer bar. The hammer is cocked and released. The slide then cocks the hammer for subsequent single-action shots. The decocker is used to lower the hammer.

9mm Beretta 92S
The 92S features a push-button magazine release near the bottom of the grip.

Other Variations

Next came the Beretta 92 variants that won the U.S. Military competition for a service handgun. The Beretta 92 and subsequent versions, such as the 92F, featured an Americanized magazine release, improved sights and ambidextrous decocker.

The Beretta 92 is an easy gun to shoot well. In the single-action mode, the pistol is accurate to well past 50 yards. In one incident, an alert and cool-headed military police officer neutralized a rifle-armed shooter at a long 80 yards.

The pistol is reliable and has stood up reasonably well to a steady diet of NATO spec ammunition.

9mm Beretta illustration
This illustration clearly states the similarity between the Walther P38/P1, top, and the Beretta 92, bottom.

The Beretta 92 was adopted by a number of police agencies, riding on the low bid for the military, and has given good service. Special units, such as the NYCPD Special Services District, used the Beretta 92 effectively in hostage rescue operations.

Like its closest competitor, the SIG P226, the Beretta is most often outbid by the polymer-frame striker-fired handguns.

Those appreciating excellent accuracy and limited muzzle flip, as well as a handgun that is well made of good material, still appreciate the Beretta.

Beretta 92 9mm handgun
This is a Beretta 92 improved by the addition of Wilson Combat upgrades.

The double-action first-shot requires effort to master. Some get it, some do not. The pistol is among the lightest recoiling 9mm pistols in common use.

It is large and difficult to conceal in comparison to some handguns, but at one time a number of federal agencies issued the Beretta 92 to the suits and they got by. The pistol may be bulky, but the aluminum frame makes it lightweight.

The newest version, the Beretta M9A3, will likely be in service for many years to come.


For those that appreciate a sense of history and a very well made and reliable firearm, the Beretta 9mm is a trend-setter and viable defensive handgun that has earned its reputation the hard way.

Do you own a 9mm handgun? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.


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