In the 1930s, the Italian military (like all major military forces at the time) was investigating options for a semiautomatic service rifle. Beretta’s Tulio Marengoni developed one such rifle, and submitted it in two forms.
The first version of the rifle was produced in 1931, chambered for the then-standard 6.5x52mm Carcano cartridge. It was a short-recoil action with a rotating bolt, and fed from standard 6-round Carcano en bloc clips.
The second version was produced in 1937, after the Italian military had adopted the 7.35mm cartridge. The 1937 version was made slightly shorter and had a simple fixed rear sight (both changes similar to what would be made for the M38 Carcano rifles). The 1937 Beretta also used a new magazine system, fed by stripper clip. The capacity it not clearly known; Riccio states 9 rounds with a specialized clip. This would make some logistical sense, as a standard 18-round box of Carcano ammo would evenly fill two 9-round clips. However, it seems plausible that it might also have been a 10-round magazine with two 5-round clips, in line with what was typical elsewhere in the world. Finally, the 1937 rifle included a locking mechanism that could be used to prevent the barrel from recoiling, and thus turn the rifle into a manually-operated one instead of a self-loader. It is interesting that such a device was requested on the later model rifle, but not the early one. Perhaps it was based on accuracy concerns, or being able to fix the barrel in place for bayonet use?
The internal mechanism was quite novel. The very large firing pin spring actually served both to prevent slamfiring when the bolt closed and also provided the force to rotate the bolt into battery. This is typically done with a linear return spring pushing the bolt lugs against some typic of cam that forces them to rotate, but Marengoni’s design instead winds that firing pin spring rotationally and allows it to put direct rotational pressure on the bolt. Unlocking is, however, done by a rounded cam surface that the bolt handle stem contacts as the whole barrel and bolt assemble moves backwards. This camming surface forces the bolt handle up, unlocking the lugs.
Disassembly is a very simple process: unscrew the rear receiver cam and pull everything out. The cap is locked in place by the bolt release catch on the 1931, and by the ejector assembly on the 1937.
Ultimately the Armaguerra model 1939 was the winner of the extended Italian military trials, but World War II interrupted any plans to put it into mass production.
Beretta Model 1931
- Full-length wooden stock
- 24.8 inch (630mm) barrel
- 9 pound (4.1kg) weight
- Straight wrist
- Feeds from 6-round standard Carcano clip
- Short recoil action
- Front end of barrel fluted
Beretta Model 1937
- Metal front handguard
- 21 inch (533mm) barrel
- 8.9 pound (4.0kg) weight
- Semi-pistol grip wrist
- Feeds from 9-round fixed internal magazine (stripped clip fed)
- Short recoil action
- Smooth barrel profile