With the development of the Model 1931, Beretta had nearly arrived at the first really popular pistol (the 1934/5). The 1931 was the result of taking the exposed-hammer 1923 design, shrinking the frame down to a more compact size and changing the caliber to .32 ACP (7.65mm Browning). This smaller cartridge reduced the need for slide weight and recoil spring strength for the simple blowback system (the recoil buffer from the previous 9mm Glisenti pistols was also rendered unnecessary).
The only step left between the 1931 and the really successful 1934 was to increase the size of the grip slightly to provide better handling. On fact, the 1931 and 1934 slides were identical – some early 1934 pistols can be found with 1931 slides overstamped to read 1934. This particular 1931 is a Royal Navy purchased example made in 1933.
During the 1920s, a lot of experimental rifle development work was being done in the US. The military was interested in finding a semiautomatic rifle, and plenty of inventors were eager to get that valuable military contract. One particular item of interest to the military was the possibility of being able to convert large existing stockpiles of bolt action 1903 Springfield rifles into semiautomatics, and that is what this particular example was an attempt at.
This rifle is built with a barrel and receiver made in 1921 (it was not uncommon for the government to provide parts to inventors working in this area), and uses an operating system which is pretty much unheard of today: primer actuation. In this system, the primer pushes back out of the cartridge case (intentionally) upon firing, acting as a small piston. This pushes the firing pin backwards (as well as the bolt face in this rifle), which begins the process of unlocking and cycling. It is a system that saw some popularity for a brief time in the 20s, as it allowed semiautomatic action without the need for a drilled gas port or a moving barrel – several of John Garand’s early prototypes operated this way. However, substandard performance and the need for special ammunition (most military ammunition had primers solidly crimped in place) led to its abandonment.
With the advent of successful self-loading pistols, one of the additional markets that many companies tried to appeal to was the compact carbine. Self-loading rifles in proper rifle cartridges would not be developed as quickly as the pistols because their much greater chamber pressures represented a more difficult engineering problem. However by simply attaching a stock and long barrel to a pistol, many ambitious manufacturers hoped to sell a weapon as a sporting carbine. These were done by DWM with the Luger, as well as Mauser’s C96, Mannlicher 1894 pistol, and many others.
Model 1902 was the designation of the major batch of commercially made Luger carbines, although there were several small batches of prototypes prior. Only a couple thousand were made, and they ultimately took quite a long time to all sell – it turned out this type of firearm was simply not very popular for its cost. The same story was true with the other contemporary pistol-carbines – none would be very successful. DWM did make another group of carbines in the 1920s, although those were made from various leftover parts and are both not as nice as the original 1902 guns (which were mostly made in 1904 and 1905) and widely faked.
Wather introduced its first pistol in 1908, creatively named the Model 1. With the outbreak of World War One, the company was offering the Model 4 pistol for military use. This was a .32 ACP simple blowback action, and it proved quite popular and successful. However, the German military was primarily interested in 9x19mm handguns for front line service.
In an attempt to serve that market as well, Walther developed the Model 6, a scaled-up version of the Model 4 chambered for 9×19. The Model 6 remained a simple blowback pistol, with a heavier slide and mainspring to accommodate the much greater muzzle energy of the 9×19 cartridge. It entered production in 1915, but only a little more than a thousand examples were manufactured by 1917, when production ceased. While the gun did work well enough, the 9×19 cartridge is not really well suited for a blowback system, and the military much preferred locked-breech siderarms. The Model 6 was not formally adopted, although many of the guns made were purchased privately and did see use in the war.
The model 1895 Müller automatic pistol is an interesting and unusual design, despite being a simple blowback action. Where most pistols have a bolt or slide that moved directly rearward, the Müller pushes the bolt in a semicircular arc into its grip. This is similar to the Swedish Hamilton trials pistol that would come a few years later, and somewhat akin to the much more recent Kriss Vector design.
I was unable to find any reference to the Müller in any trials documents, so I don’t know if it was a competitor in any of the European military handgun competitions. For that matter, I’m not sure exactly what cartridge it used, beyond the 7.5mm bore diameter.
Paul Mauser spent nearly 20 years attempting to perfect a self-loading rifle for military service. He came closest with this, his 1913 patent model, which was used by German balloon and aircraft fliers as the Model 1915 and Model 1916 respectively (and also in an unsuccessful infantry version) – but these rifles were also sold on the commercial market to affluent sportsmen and gun enthusiasts. This is an example of a sporting pattern 1913 rifle, with a sporting stock and full-length handguards, and a mounting rail on the receiver for a Zeiss prismatic optic. It has a 9mm bore, probably (but don’t quote me) in 9x57mm. The mechanism, however, is identical to the military rifles.
Like most other nations with modern military forces. Czechoslovakia was interested in developing a semiautomatic infantry rifle in the 1920s and 1930s. The most successful such rifle to come out of Czech factory during this time was The ZH-29, but it did have competition. A major series of trials was held in 1937 and 1938, and the CZ entrant was this Model 38 rifle.
It uses a tilting bolt with many similarities to the ZB-26 light machine gun and ZH-29 rifle, along with a short stroke gas piston. Interestingly, its charging handle is designed to mimic the manual of arms of the then-standard Mauser bolt action rifles – the handle must be rotated 90 degrees up before pulling the bolt back, and then rotated back down before firing. The CZ model 38 also used a fixed 10-round magazine fed by stripper clips instead of a detachable box magazine.
The model 38 apparently did not do well in the adverse conditions testing. None of the other rifles in the trial were good enough to be judged adequate, though, and more development and trial continued afterwards. The rifle ultimately chosen used an annular gas piston, but was never put into production because of World War II. That design would reappear after the war and lead to the vz.52 rifle.
Beretta offered its first semiautomatic pistols during World War One, with the Model 1915 chambered in 9mm Glisenti. This was quickly supplemented by the 1915/17 scaled down to the .32ACP cartridge, which was both handier to carry and less expensive to make. After the end of the war, Beretta looked to deign a more modern replacement pistol for military and security service use.
This would take the form of the Model 1923, which was based on the same patent and the same basic design. It was again chambered for the 9mm Glisenti cartridge – identical dimensionally to the 9x19mm Parabellum, but loaded substantially lighter so as to be more suited to a simple blowback action. The 1923 was the first Beretta design to use an exposed hammer, a feature which would follow into all later Beretta service pistols through the Model 92/96.
The 1923 did not sell well, and only 10,400 were made by 1926, when production ended. These pistols would remain in Beretta’s inventory into the mid 1930s, and the last 3,000 were finally sold to the Italian military just following a contract signed for purchase of 150,000 of the Model 1934 pistols – a deal which has the hallmarks of a cooperative agreement of the government to take these reliable but generally undesirable guns out of Beretta’s hands to help clean up their books.
A small number of 1923 model pistols (actually designated model 1924 by Beretta) were made with locking lugs at the bottom of the grip to fit a detachable combination shoulder stock and holster. This stock was essentially a standard Model 1923 leather holster with a mate lug and folding retractable strut added to connect to the pistol. While all holster/stock combinations were compromises between the need to carry the gun and the need to make it a more stable shooting platform the 1923 type was not a great design, of limited shooting utility (hence its very limited production and sale).
After getting his Model 1941 machine gun purchased in small numbers by the US military, Melvin Johnson continued to press for more sales and a general adoption. Following testing results and recommendations from soldiers in the field, he made a number of modifications to the gun and developed the M1944, which was quickly tweaked to become the M1944E1, also called the M1945. This new version included several improvements including:
- Replacing the bipod with a monopod less prone to interfering with barrel removal
- Improved stronger bolt anti-bounce latch
- Metal dual-tube buttstock in place of wood
- …and most significantly, a gas-boosted hybrid recoil operating system
This new model of the Johnson was in testing at the end of WWII, and weapons development budget cuts at the conclusion of the war prevented it from replacing the BAR as Johnson and many in the Marine Corps had hoped.
This particular M1945 Johnson is fully transferrable, as came out of the Winchester Collection (now the Cody Firearms Museum) back many years ago when curators would occasionally sell items from the collection to raise money.
A 7-shot repeating handgun before cartridges had been invented? Yep, long before. These two pistols are London-made examples of the Lorenzoni system, in which a gun was made with internal magazines of powder and projectiles and a rotating central loading spindle like a modern reloading powder throw. By rotating a lever on the left side of pistol 180 degrees and back, a shooter could load a ball into the chamber, load powder behind it, recock the action, prime the pan, and close the frizzen all in one automated sequence.
This system originated with a German gunsmith named Kalthoff in the mid 1600s, but it was an Italian by the name of Lorenzoni who made it more practical and began building pistols of the type. Lorenzoni is the name that has been generally applied to the system as a result. These two were made by a gunsmith named Glass in London in the mid 1700s – in these days of hand-made firearms ideas and systems like this would slowly spread and be adopted by craftsmen who were capable of producing them and thought they could find an interested market for them.
The Lorenzoni system offered unmatched repeating firepower for its time, but was hampered by its complexity. Only a very skilled gunsmith could build a reliable and safe pistol of the type, and this made them very expensive.