RIA: Beretta 1915 – the First of the Beretta Pistols

The Italian military went into WWI having already adopted a semiautomatic sidearm – the Model 1910 Glisenti (and its somewhat simplified Brixia cousin). However, the 1910 Glisenti was a very complex design, and much too expensive to be practical for the needs of the global cataclysm that was the Great War. In response to a need for something cheaper, Tulio Marengoni of the Beretta company designed the Model 1915, a simple blowback handgun chambered for the 9mm Glisenti cartridge.

Only 15,300 of the Model 1915 pistol were made, because even they proved to be a bit more than the military really needed. One of their most interesting mechanical features is a pair of manual safeties – one on the back of the frame to lock the hammer and one on the left side to block the trigger. This proved a bit redundant, and the gun overall was rather large and heavy. In 1917 a scaled-down version in .32 ACP (7.65mm) was introduced which would be produced in much larger numbers. The 1915/17 would also omit the rather unnecessary hammer safety.

It is important to note that while the 9mm Glisenti cartridge is dimensionally interchangeable with 9×19 Parabellum, pistols designed for the Glisenti cartridge should *never* be used with standard 9×19 ammunition, as it is nearly 50% more powerful than the Glisenti specs, and doing so will quickly cause damage (and potentially catastrophic failure).

31 Comments

  1. Slide and barrel attachment seem reminiscent of Mauser 1910 and the escaping disconnector which widely used at that age, seems primitive for a kind of pistol to be used in heavy service purpose, since breaking trigger and sear connection only once and leaving the gun unprotected should the slide fails to go to full battery situation.

    • Though some improvements made in the following Model 1917, a positive disconnector working in connection with slide, added a few years later in the Model 1923, which was the forerunner of famous, open top Beretta imager Model 1934.

  2. As I understand it, the Italians had a hotly loaded 9mmP for their WW2 era submachine guns. Can you imagine the results if one of those was loaded in a Glisenti? Owwie.

  3. Ok. After actually watching the video, I’m rather impressed. A simple, clever design, and if you think of the 9mmGlisenti as sort of a .380+P (or 9mmMakarov-P?) it wouldn’t do too bad as a self-defense service pistol.

    • 9mm Glisenti in fact had a somewhat higher muzzle energy than typical 9mm Makarov loads. The former was 123 grains @ about 950 ft/s for 247 ft·lbf. Most 9mm Makarov loads are less than that. The closest historical equivalent to the 9mm Glisenti would be the 9mm Browning Long (9x20mmSR).

      • I would say the closest is the 9X18mm Ultra. It’s dimensionally almost identical (only one mm shorter, enough to prevent the accidental feeding of a 9mm Parabellum round), it’s load is similar, and tipically use truncated cone bullets, like the Glisenti.
        It would be ideal for modern “safe” reproduction of Glisenti chambered weapons, if only the 9mm Ultra was not a discontinued oddball itself.

        • I don’t know if there would be any commercial potential for reproductions of the old Berettas, but if there was, only .380 Auto +P or perhaps 9mm Makarov would make sense for chambering. 9mm Ultra was a good cartridge in principle, but there simply was not enough interest in it once West German police switched to 9x19mm. Incidentally, that pretty much mirrors what happened to the 9mm Browning Long, although guns chambered for it were not even really available in the US, which further limited its market potential.

  4. “the Glisenti cartridge should *never* be used with standard 9×19 ammunition, as it is nearly 50% more powerful than the Glisenti specs, and doing so will quickly cause damage (and potentially catastrophic failure).”

    When talking about the possibility of a gun blowing up, does “50% more powerful” mean that the generated barrel pressure is 50% higher or that the bullet exits the barrel with (theoretically) 50% more kinetic energy (which might even translate into less barrel pressure if a much lighter bullet is used)?

    I’m curious what sort of safety factor SAAMI specs have built in to them?

    For instance, in the field of industrial boilers, pressure vessels, and piping systems, all equipment must withstand — coincidentially I must say — an extra 50% of their rated operating pressure per ASME. Things might very well handle much higher pressure, but 150% is the pressure that everything must be hydrotested at before it can be put into operation. (and pressure testing records must be kept as well)

    I realize there were probably no codes in 1915, and I’m not a reloader, but I’m curious what amount of safety factor is (generally) designed into guns — either then or now?

      • Is: “(…)I’m curious what sort of safety factor SAAMI specs have built in to them(…)”
        should be: “(…)I’m curious what amount of safety factor is (generally) designed into guns(…)”

        • Not much, for military arms FS is no more than 50% than maximum average chamber pressure. Civilian arms will have (maybe) more leeway built into them for obvious reasons.

          So, when you shoot 130% overpressure test shot you already partially pre-stressed the barrel. You can do it only once. Stress proof shot test is followed by MPI (magnetic particle test)

          • One thing to add though. If you do not have a bore obstruction, or excessively oversized bullet it will usually go well and you pass shot safely. Barrels are typically “mormalised” meaning hardness is relatively low and toughness is high. They tend to swell rather than burst. Not the same apply for locking elements or parts of receiver which are typically carburized.

      • Thanks. a 25%/30% safety factor is less than I would have expected, especially considering all the stories about guns blowing up due to using decades-old deteriorated surplus ammo or even bad handloads.

      • That looks rather excessive and may lead to adding more material than needed. On the other hand, it may be for advantage of uniformity with parts used for other calibers. 410ga is a mickey mouse after all.

    • There are a few different aspects to the pressure rating.

      Though dramatic and dangerous, rupture of a barrel or failure of the locking mechanism is only a small part of the problem.

      The weakest link in (almost) any modern gun is the brass cartridge case, that’s unlikely to be a problem with a Glisenti loading, but with some of the souped up .40s and .45s crappy case head support and case ruptures on exposed side wall is an issue.

      There is also a potential issue with damaging gas systems on guns that have them,

      and particularly with some semi auto pistols, there’s a problem with the bolt coming out or off the back of the pistol to injure the firer, whether that is by failure of the bolt stop surface, or by a slide separating.

      Guns like the actual Glisenti, suffer damaged locking surfaces and a bent receiver – which is pointless damage to a very nice little pistol

      Lahti L35 and L40 suffer cracking of the slide over the accelerator, and occasional bolts blown out the back (the 9mmP loading which they were developed for was almost as mild as a Glisenti loading)

      Walther P38s and Beretta 92’s suffer slide separation

      From a civil and peace time perspective, if someone can afford the gun, they can afford the correct ammunition to feed it with.

      • The Lahti pistols suffered from cracked slides primarily because they were used to shoot hot SMG ammunition both in Finland during and after WW2 and also in Sweden. They could, most likely,take standard pressure 9mm Parabellum loads quite well, despite the design loads being quite light. There is relatively little data on that, because standard loads have been shot only with pistols in civilian hands. I have not heard about additional slide fails recently, although it is of course still possible when original slides with damage from SMG loads are used. In any case, the consensus is that using standard supersonic target factory loads is safe, no handloading or searching for rare 123 grain subsonic loads necessary.

      • ” there’s a problem with the bolt coming out or off the back of the pistol to injure the firer”

        The old Forgotten Weapons videos had an intro showing a rifle bolt being thrown backward into a block of ballistic Gelatin. I wish I could find the actual video with this experiment.

        “From a civil and peace time perspective, if someone can afford the gun, they can afford the correct ammunition to feed it with.”

        I suspect that a big reason why antique pinfire revolvers are so affordable is because the ammo is not.

      • You are right about those casings and primer seals. They count a lot. I would avoid shooting old ammunition altogether.

        Slides/frame weakness on mentioned pistols is inherent to their design and there is body of knowledge about it. So much more it surprises me that similar locking is used on one of new Russian pistols. But then again, it depends on actual conduct by avoiding local weakening.

        • I remember reading rave reviews in the 90s and early 2000s about how reliable a certain polymer framed pistol was…

          Then I read some accounts of cases popping, with uncomfortable results.

          I strongly suspect that the remarkably reliable feeding and the burst cases were connected:

          probably by an over radiused entrance to the chamber and a too long feedramp cut out from the lower side of the chamber

          Which would be valid engineering compromise if someone really has to use a pistol and where a mis-fed round could result in much more discomfort than an occasional injured hand.

          though perhaps it is much less of a valid engineering compromise if the gun is for sale to someone who only shoots as a hobby.

    • This page: http://www.grurifrasca.net/Sito/Ricarica/pistole/9glisenti.html

      Says that the average maximum pressure for 9mm Glisenti according to CIP transducer method is 1400 bars¹. For 9mm Parabellum it is 2350 bars. So, actually 9x19mm is over 50% more powerful in chamber pressure. In muzzle energy that translates to somewhat less than 50% difference. Note that original 9mm Glisenti loads always had a 123 grain (8 grams) bullet, so any data for lighter bullets is from handloading only.

      ¹Current CIP specs do not include the 9mm Glisenti, so it may have been removed for whatever (safety?) reasons.

      • It should be read as “when mesuring 9 mm Glisenti in a modern 9×19 CIP pressure barrel with piezo transducer”. CIP did not include 9 mm Glisenti in its tables because of the dangerous combination thus created.

        • I was thinking the same, but it doesn’t really make sense on closer inspection. Standard 9x19mm factory loads are still sold and dangerous to be fired from a Glisenti gun. There should be no danger of firing the 9mm Glisenti from a pistol designed for standard pressure 9x19mm. The worst outcome would be poor cycling of the action.

          • Do the closer inspection from the other side. A full-power 9×19 would fit into a (hypothetical) CIP-proofed 9 mm Glisenti weapon. Everyone would put the blame on CIP.
            You cannot sell/buy a 9 mm Glisenti pistol in a CIP country without a certificate by a proof house that is is a pure collector’s item for which no type approved ammunition exists.

  5. Mr McCullom,

    Regarding the 7.65Browning better suiting Italian military use than the 9mm Glicenty.

    I most heartily agree. That being said my conviction regarding why may differ.

    The primary military use* for pistols was not self-defense** but maintaining order/control over soldiers by threat of death. Secondary use: showing subordinates how executing prisoners should be done, be they ethnic, religious or military.

    7.65Browning/32ACP will penetrate skull/face at a distance of 3M/2.7432yards.

    For this use the greater damage*** of 9mm Glisenti or Luger is of no advantage.

    *Cavalry being an exception.

    **To my knowledge no military issued pistols to infantry excluding officer prior to US adoption
    of the Beretta M9; I am eager to know more on this subject

    *** Damage differential of 7.65Browning 71gr FMJ load & 9mm Luger M882, courtesy of Brass Fetcher

    7.65Browning 71gr FMJ load https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wx-APtfWivQ
    M882 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNfp2LtfTHc

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