BM59: The Italian M14

After World War Two, both the Beretta and Breda companies in Italy began manufacturing M1 Garand rifles. When Italy decided that they wanted a more modern selective-fire, magazine-fed rifle, they chose to adapt the M1 Garand to that end rather than develop a brand new rifle. Two Beretta engineers, Vittorio Valle and Domenico Salza, began work in 1957 on what would become the BM-59. Prototypes were ready in 1959, trials were run in 1960, and by 1962 the new weapon was in Italian military hands.

The BM59 is basically an M1 Garand action and fire control system, but modernized. The caliber was changed to 7.62mm NATO, and the barrel shortened to 19.3 inches. A simple but effective selective fire system was added to the fire control mechanism, and the en bloc clips replaced with a 20-round box magazine (and stripped clip loading guide to match). A folding integral bipod was added to allow the rifle to be used for supporting fire on full auto, and a long muzzle device was added along with a gas cutoff and grenade launching sight to allow the use of NATO standard 22mm rifle grenades.

In this form, the BM59 was a relative quickly developed and quite successful and well-liked rifle. In addition to the Italian military, it was purchased by Argentine, Algeria, Nigeria, and Indonesia. A semiautomatic version was made for the US commercial market and designated the BM62, and a small number of fully automatic BM-59 rifles – like the one in this video – were imported into the US before the 1968 Gun Control Act cut off importation of foreign machine guns.

 

26 Comments

  1. How ergonomic is this compared to the M14? And in terms of combat performance, is the BM59 easily held on target with the selector switch set to full auto as opposed to the “bouncing” M14? I do appreciate the bipod and shorter barrel for field use…

    • I believe that the overall length of the BM-59 is greater than that of the M-1 because even though the barrel of the BM-59 is shorter it more than makes up for that with the barrel extension and flash hider.

        • According to Military Small Arms of the 20th Century by Ian Hogg and John Weeks (6th edition)
          the comparative statistics are;

          BM-59;
          Cal.; 7.62 x 51mm NATO
          LOA; 1,095mm (43.11 in)
          Weight empty; 4.6 kg (10.14 lb)
          Barrel; 490mm (19.29in), 4 grooves, RH twist
          Magazine; 20-rd detachable box
          RoF; 750 R/M
          MV; 823 m/sec (2,700 ft/sec)

          M1 Garand;
          Cal.; .30in 1906 (.30-06/ 7.62 x 63)
          LOA; 1,103mm (43.5 in)
          Weight empty; 4.37 kg (9.5 lb)
          Barrel; 610mm (24.0 in), 4 grooves, RH twist
          Magazine; 8-shot internal box
          MV; 853 m/sec (2,800 ft/sec)

          M14
          Cal.; 7.62 x 51mm NATO
          LOA; 1,117m (44.0 in)
          Weight empty; 3.88kg (8.55 lb)
          Barrel; 558mm (22.0 in), 4 grooves, RH twist
          Magazine; 20-rd detachable box
          RoF; 750 R/M (NB: Most M14s actually issued were semi-automatic only, as with the British SLR variant of the FAL)
          MV; 853 m/sec (2,800 ft/sec)

          Overall, the M14 was the longest of the three (by half an inch), but also the lightest, loaded or unloaded. This probably helps account for its near-uncontrollability in full-auto fire, a fact recognized by the U.S. Army, which issued M14s with the selector switch removed (it is independent of the safety and isn’t even in the same place, unlike the later M16).

          The USMC issued both semi-auto only and selective-fire M14s to its riflemen in Vietnam, but trained them to fire short two or three-shot bursts by “tapping” the trigger much as WW2 Wehrmacht infantry did with the MP38/40 family of SMGs, rather than the Army standard “half-second burst”, borne of the BAR, which would exhaust the 20-round magazine just as fast as it ever did on the Browning. (NB; both the M14 and BM-59 would have benefited greatly from a three-shot burst control cam.)

          Other than greater magazine capacity and more rapid reloading, on semi-auto there was and is really little to choose between the three rifles. Contrary to myth, there isn’t even much difference in muzzle velocity and downrange energy between the 7.62 x 51mm NATO round and the .30-06.

          And it must be noted that the U.S. Navy during his period avoided the whole tangled mess by simply converting their existing stock of M1 Garands to 7.62 x 51mm NATO by inserting a machined-steel bushing into he chamber that “moved” the shoulder back and increased the leade’ slightly, and securing it by firing a full 8-round clip of 7.62 x 51mm to “expand” it in place. They did the same with their large stock of M1919 Browning .30 cal. MGs, as well. When you see photos of USN Swift boats and etc. in Vietnam with Browning MGs, they were 7.62 x 51, not .30-06.

          On the whole, the BM-59 and M14 were interesting rifles. But for most purposes, they weren’t really a big improvement over the old M1 “Thunderstick”.

          That said, if someone offered me a BM-59/62 Para with the folding stock, I’d say “thank you” and run with it before they came to their senses.

          😉

          cheers

          eon

    • The fixed stock variant is a lil bit more confortable to shoot (compared to M14s, modern Springfield M1A is about the same) if the rubber pad (which was added to soften the recoil when using rifle grenades) is in good shape.
      Folding stock variants are way handier.
      Realistically speaking it performs like a very good Garand/M14/M1A, maybe slightly better: its really advantage is in cost/performance.

  2. The story goes american agents back in the ’50s were very anxious to give away the rights of production, the tooling, and all what was needed in order to produce, and more importantly service and maintain the M1 Garand or any american made weapon, for US troops and their european allies, fearing USSR/Warsaw pact could own the Atlantic. Depots and war caches like Camp Darby were felt insufficient, so they scouted the Brescia/Val Trompia region looking for companies which could keep up with the possible war demand: even if those rifles ended up being stamped as Beretta or Breda there was a lot of subcontracting, many parts or entire guns came from now well established names, such as Uberti, thus ushering the reborn of italians gun manufactoring.

    A nice article ,unfortunately in italian, but with hi-res pictures, technical drawings, and pdf manuals and the end of it: http://www.collezionareexordinanza.it/scheda/41/BERETTA-BM59/

  3. Read somewhere that the R&D cost for the BM59 was $15,000 USD vs $32 million for the US program which resulted in the M14. Of course the Italian team had a fixed goal of modernizing the M1 rather than the ever changing pie in the sky requirements of US ordnance.

    • That makes sense; Beretta is a commercial factory for all intents and purposes, not bloated behemoth. They have to compete.

    • “BM59 was $15,000 USD vs $32 million for the US program which resulted in the M14”
      It is quite probably that, first was cheaper, but still this disproportion seems too big for me – possibly some mistakes might be here, for example in exchange rates or that second value might be adjusted for 21st century.

      • I agree. The gun was in development for six years and unless the engineers worked on it on their own time, wages alone would have been higher than $15,000 USD.

  4. I had the opportunity to see BM59 up close and must confirm that this is/was solid piece of kit. However I have problem with select fire in this format; or any other in this caliber. I suspect that Italian army keeps number of these in stocks, just for case.

    • “I have problem with select fire in this format; or any other in this caliber”
      There were several attempts at selective-fire rifle for full-power cartridge, but in all cases full-auto mode proved to be of limited usefulness.
      French tried such solution yet in 19th century – see Rossignol ENT (1900).
      M14 is for me head-scratching solution, as US forces already have BAR in that time, so they should be aware that lighter weapon firing cartridge of similar power, with bigger Rate-of-Fire, might be harder to control.

    • They have been surplussed for good a few years ago, and had become available on the civilian market, once demilled (semiauto only, no grenade launching capabilityon the tricompensator/sights, 5 round magazine, fixed gas port, no bayonet lug) since 2015-2016. The suggested MSRP was 1000€ and included all the accessories, cleaning kits and bayonet with scabbard (even if it couldn’t be installed). Way cheaper than BM62s. Toyed with a few of them, they were well worn out, but barrels were good and they were mechanically sound, and they grouped well. Way cheaper than BM62s, and even if not as polished, well assembled and good shooting (BM62s are criminally underrated, yet priced) their price was reasonable and their classification (hunting guns) was favoreable. They disappeared once the new EU gun laws were drafted and they got reclassified. It’s very probable that the new BM59 wave in the States is made of those rifles turned into kits.

      • Fun bonus fact: while BM59s were produced, Terni arsenal kept himself busy converting M1 Garands, both italian and american made, in 7.62 NATO as models T1 and T2 (depending on the conversion method). If they originally were M1C or M1D, they even retained their scopes. Up till the ’80 all these Terni rifles were more widespread than BM59s…

        • In other words, the Italian-sold Garand rifles were all over the place? Too many to count, and I’m pretty sure many other wartime vintage rifles are hidden in cellars all over Europe! So much for the idealist’s “peaceful picture perfect world without war.”

          • From what I heard shortly after turnaround in CR many people acquired military rifles (select-fire vz.58 and AK47 included). Than the law started to get tighter and tighter…. and so on. What happened with all those rifles, if they were collected or not, I do not know. Similar is situation in Canada; lots of dormant guns. What would happen in case of general public upheaval – I cannot imagine.

          • Stephen: That el Sur will rise again.

            The real people just need the right signal to rise up, and those who believe that “Credi che indietro non si può tornare” will have a nasty surprise.

        • I have several really old (early 1960s) American gun magazines with ads for what were called “M7” rifles, essentially M1 Garands converted to .308 Winchester with 20-shot box magazines. The photos look very much like BM-59s, especially the barrels and magazines.

          I’m now wondering if these were in fact not “workshop” conversions made in the U.S., but Terni-made BM-59s in semi-auto only form imported from Italy.

          It’s noteworthy that they showed up in the ads about the same time as the first wave of Uberti-made “Colt” and “Remington” black-powder percussion revolvers in .36 and .44 caliber, and just barely ahead of the first crop of Uberti “Colt Peacemaker” and “Remington 1875 Army” clones in .45 Colt and .44-40 Winchester.

          cheers

          eon

          • No unfortunatly they kept clips!
            T1 models had a brand new barrel, while T2 had a new op rod, shortened barrel (at the chamber), shortened stock and handguard ending up being 12 mm (more or less 1/2 inch) shorter. Both variants were based on any M1 without preferences concerning the makers.
            An italian firm is still producing copies for the civilian market:
            http://www.nuovajager.it/scheda.asp?id=2012716195930

  5. This BM59 could not have been a pre-1968 import as it is marked Springfield Armory (Inc.) and they were not founded until 1974. Was it one of their conversions pre-1986?

  6. I absolutely hated the BM59 during training with the italians. Albeit in all fairness the models I used had had their souls sucked out of them. So much so they had to be cycled manually for every round. The magazine can easily fall off in real in the muck training. It is bulky, heavy and unwieldy. All BM59s I saw had the Springfield marking on the top of the receiver. The external trigger serves well to fire rifle grenades to avoid breaking fingers. Still saw people who managed to break said fingers.

    Gimme a FAL any day 🙂

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