Bernardelli VB: Not Actually a Beretta 38 Copy

This is Lot 1069 in the upcoming October 2019 Morphys Extraordinary auction.

The Bernardelli company, known mostly for sporting arms, made an effort to break into the law enforcement/military/security market in the year after World War Two. This Model UB submachine gun was manufactured in 1948 and 1949, with a total of about 500 made. While it looks like a copy of the Beretta 38/42 at first glance, it actually differs in almost every detail. The receiver length is different, disassembly is different, sights, bolt handles, ejection ports, safeties, triggers, and recoil springs are all different and not interchangeable. At about this same time, Bernardelli also introduced tow different types of 9x19mm service pistol, which were similarly unsuccessful.


  1. Nicely designed gun, but probably victim of wrong timing. Years after WWII were marked by subguns by 2nd and 3rd generation. Magazine in grip was new fad which took off while conventional layout looked dated.

    One visible shortcoming to this gun is visual. Blond wood stock does not fit well.

    • To be honest, most puzzling of all retro cases is, in lieu of assault rifle proliferation after ww2 (Stg, Ak, Fal, etc.) nuclear age US choice of a rifle (m14) so embarrasingly dated in concept, looks and function, even calibre.

      This is exaggarating, but its almost as some world power after ww1 wisely decided to switch back to muzzleloaders.

      • I am not sure if “embarrassingly dated” really fits here. The M14 is a classical case of conservative approach in firearm design. No, it was not avantgarde, but military procurement abided by rule “don’t fix what ain’t broke”. M1 Garand made huge impression on everyone. Shortly afterwards they went full tilt with M16 though.

      • It’s said that armies always get ready to win the last war, and also that defeats (or almost-defeats) teach more than victories. So successful had been the Garand that the US Army didn’t feel the urge to do more than improving the concept a little.

    • “(…)Magazine in grip was new fad which took off while conventional layout looked dated.(…)”
      Yes, if by conventional layout you mean full (rifle-like) wooden stock. Magazine in grip found some employment but in time when this weapon was created (late 1940s) this choice was actually less popular than magazine-in-front (call it MP40 style if you wish).
      For example:
      Spain – Star Z-45
      Sweden – Kpist m/45
      Portugal – FBP m/948
      Denmark – Hovea 1949

      Finally, Beretta after few attempt at making folding-stock of 1938:
      (namely: Model 1, Model 2, Model 3, Model 4)
      of which none ended with big-number production, created Modello 12 with layout which might be described as magazine-in-middle (between front and rear grip).
      France – MAT-49

      • True, the novelty was not necessarily in terms of layout, but mainly functionality. While some SMGs produced during WWII were more dangerous for user than opponent, this was gradually corrected thru variety of safeties, retarded blowback and double action trigger mechanisms. There is nothing wrong with conventional layout, in most cases, although they take some extra space.

  2. Some of the most interesting guns are truly forgotten oddballs, but each had a few good ideas worth remembering.

    What kind of a rifle would you build if you took bits and pieces you like from all the different designs presented, and decided to combine them all into one system?

    With the unavailability of builders parts kits for some of the more obscure forgotten weapons, most anything along these lines would be scratch built from scrap metal. Few have interest, knowledge, equipment, materials and budget to go from concept to working prototype.

    What would Ian think if someone handed him such a prototype? I can predict Ian would like the uniqueness, and if he thought it was safe to shoot, we could expect a review from the range.

    Some of the desirable features I could see combining for oddball SMG: bypod and Quick Change barrel like CZ ZK-383, pistol grip and magazines from L2A3 Sterling, blade bayonet from SKS (why not?), Cheap, easy sheet metal and tubular DIY construction like STEN, cleaning kit from AK (very clever), non reciprocating slide, dust cover, barrel compensator, and stock from Beretta 38A, easy disassembly like AR-15 with captive pins, reliability, dust explosion features and forward pistol grip like Owen SMG.

    Whew! When you’re dreaming of combining concepts, you can add anything you want, such as adjustable rate of fire like CZ scorpion, optics, flare/grenade launcher, superior folding stock Lanchester pinched from Patchett (, even a telescoping Bolt like Uzi, dual trigger system like 38A (Envision the first trigger a drop in AR-15 timney, second being binary trigger). When it comes to Concepts imagination is unlimited, and practicality/ costs don’t come into play.

    If someone actually built something like that? And it actually worked the way it was dreamed up? It’s a no-brainer predicting Ian would geek out and love shooting it at the range. lol 🙂

    • When I was a kid I often draw my “dream” guns with zero understanding how they actually functioned other than that you pull the trigger and bullets came out hole in the front.

      This frankenstein idea is not too far from it, as one often comes to understanding if you want something you need a lot of compromises and reduction of something else – cant have it all.

    • Actually what’s difficult in gun designing is deciding what features are REALLY useful enough to be worth the complication to implement them, discard all the others, and then designing the gun to be the simplest possible.

      • I’d give some validity to this statement. Typically, especially newbie designers have ‘all kinds of good ideas’, but when they run it thru boards/ comities, they are led to cut them out drastically. One such illustrative case is Croatian service (bullpup) rifle

        At start, they had some lofty ideas and ended with Famas on gas diet. Was it waste of time? Hard to tell. For one thing they cultivated their own knowledge of how to do things. On the other hand, they would be just as well served, if they retained original Zastava M70. Sum of progress near zero, part of “national pride” of course.

        • I too have my “dream projects” of firearms (I usually conceive them while I do running, instead of listening music), but my approach is, IE, “what kind of semiauto rifle could a country have selected just before WWII, that would have been as easy, or even easier, to manufacture than the bolt-actions they used? What kind of action? What kind of trigger group? How to make it easy to disassemble?…”

      • “(…)discard all the others(…)”
        And if you do not that you might end with something along lines of MORS sub-machine gun:
        apparently bi-pod for designers was too mainstream, so they ended with mono-pod… behind magazine well, also quick barrel changing apparently must be trendy topic back then, as it was implemented in this gun – which wasn’t rather quick (see link) and anyway soldier even by firing as fast as he could, would deplete carried ammunition supply before need of change arise.

      • “(…)and then designing the gun to be the simplest possible.”
        A. A. Rikhter (in his book Логика конструкторского мастерства, 1986) has chapter titled ЛАКОНИЧНОСТЬ КОНСТРУКЦИИ – ЗАЛОГ НАДЕЖНОСТИ
        (if I translate correctly enough meaning: noun(laconic) of construction – reliability pledge) which I think is good succinct described of what should be desired.

    • “(…)With the unavailability of builders parts kits for some of the more obscure forgotten weapons, most anything along these lines would be scratch built from scrap metal. Few have interest, knowledge, equipment, materials and budget to go from concept to working prototype.(…)”
      This reminded me about 1130 see photos:
      it is machine pistol derived from Makarov automatic pistol, Rate-of-Fire is 950 rpm, mass of empty weapon is 1020 g, moving parts mass is 400 g.

  3. I can remember a story of Ian Hogg’s from the Fifties/Sixties. He said he once talked to an international arms trader and that guy said when someone came to him with a new SMG, he’d take them on a tour of his warehouse(s) and to check out his unsold inventory in SMG’s. Point made.

    • I’ve often wondered why any company tried to make new submachine guns when there was a glut of cheap, surplus World War 2 submachine guns flooding the market.

      Only way I can see proceeding, would have to produce something substantially better/more capable at a competitive price point, and that would be no easy feat.

      Still, proving me wrong, there were plenty of new submachine guns being developed, and now we have MP5’s and the like, but do they really perform significantly better than, say a Beretta 38A? Politics and procurement are sometimes obscure and incomprehensible, imho

      • Official agencies usually don’t want surpluses. After the war Beretta made M1 Garands for several armies using Winchester tooling and spare parts it acquired. There were tons of US surpluses, but most purchasers wanted new guns, not US leftovers. The MAB38, in its’ various incarnations, had been in production until 1970

      • Yeah but was that surplus exceptionally good? Sure there were loads of Stens, ppsh41, m3, would you like to use them (or something improved) ?
        I suppose there was not a surplus of mp40, being the best of them all of them, but destroyed and lost in the war mostly.

        • “Yeah but was that surplus exceptionally good? Sure there were loads of Stens, ppsh41, m3, would you like to use them (or something improved) ?”

          I’ll take the M3

          I used the M3A1 until the early Nineties, as it was an issue item to my MOS, 19A (Armor Officer) and I had to qualify on it. I never once had a problem, not one malfunction in twenty years. It may have been cheap, it may have been ugly, but it did what it was supposed to do. It sprayed lead.much

          As for “improved”, I don’t see where something like an Uzi or Sterling would have been much better. What about the MP5? By this time the SMG was pretty thoroughly discredited for general issue (in the US, it was replaced by the M4, which was originally supposed to be a limited use weapon supplementing, not replacing, the M16) It was being used by special operations forces due to its handiness and, especially, accuracy – a necessity it hostage rescue situations that doesn’t necessarily apply to general combat.

          So, in 1955, I would have taken a M3 or a PPSh-41 (depending on which side of the line I lived) and been quite happy. Especially since they were virtually being given away, rather than spend my limited military budget on something that offered only marginal improvements.

        • “(…)I suppose there was not a surplus of mp40, being the best of them all of them, but destroyed and lost in the war mostly.(…)”
          Many examples were captured by victors. U.S.A. delivered some to rebuilding forces of Austria:
          The MP-40 submachine guns were quite popular. Many ex-Wehrmacht veterans obviously knew how to use them, and the crews of M24 Chaffee tanks liked them as they were more powerful than a handgun but more compact than a carbine. The MP-40s remained in use until the early 1960s.

          It was also used by both sides during Second Indochina War:

          In South Vietnam, most of the MP-40s used by the ARVN (and even in some rare instances, the US Army) were leftovers from a French arsenal overrun by the communists during the Indochina War. In North Vietnam, MP-40s came from the same source and also from shipments of MP-40s captured by the USSR during WWII.
          So certainly not all were destroyed or lost.

  4. Here’s Ian’s item on the Bernardelli 9mm service pistol prototypes made at about the same time;

    Not only were they straight blowbacks, but they were designed around the “carbine” loading of the 9 x 19mm intended for the Beretta M1938 SMG.

    It seems that there is making bad marketing decisions, making very bad marketing decisions, and then there’s making Bernardelli management-level bad marketing decisions.



    • It has to be said that Bernardelli probably invested in those designs very few money. A fraction of what a US company would have spent to obtain the same products.
      After the war in that area (Val Trompia) and at the Bernardelli factory, there was plenty of people that knew how to make firearms. Many of them knew how to make one from scratch, simply picking up ideas from several existing designs and putting them toghether, and someone knew how to design a completely new action never seen before (see IE the Bernardelli Semiautomatico shotgun). But, since the company until then only made guns on existing designs for government contracts, what was lacking was to know what kind of firearm could have had success in the free market, and what aspect an original firearm should have had.

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