Beretta Model 38

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Beretta Modello 38
Beretta 38.jpg
Moschetto Automatico Beretta Modello 1938
Type Submachine gun
Place of origin Kingdom of Italy
Service history
Used by See Users
Wars [1]
Production history
Designed 1935
Variants 1938A
1938/44 Special - Model 1
1938/49 - M2, M3 & M4
Model 5
Weight MAB 38A: 4.2 kg (empty)
MAB 38/42: 3.27 kg (empty)
MAB 38/49: 3.25 kg (empty)
Length MAB 38A: 946mm
MAB 38/42: 800mm
MAB 38/49: 798mm
Barrel length MAB 38A: 315mm
MAB 38/42: 213mm
MAB 38/49: 210mm

Cartridge 9×19mm Parabellum
Action Blowback
Rate of fire 600 rpm
Muzzle velocity 429 m/s (1,407.1 ft/s)
Effective firing range 250 m (273.4 yd)
Feed system 10, 20, 30, or 40-Round Detachable Box Magazine

The MAB 38 (Moschetto Automatico Beretta Modello 1938), Modello 38, or Model 38 and its variants were a series of official submachine guns of the Royal Italian Army introduced in 1938, and used during World War II. The guns were also used by German, Romanian, and Argentine armies of the period.


Italian WWII propaganda poster showing a Beretta Model 38
Soldier of an assault Battalion of the Republican National Guard (GNR) of Repubblica Sociale Italiana, armed with a MAB 38A and wearing a "Samurai" magazine-holding vest.

Originally designed by Beretta's chief engineer Tullio Marengoni in 1935, the Moschetto Automatico Beretta (Beretta Automatic Musket) 38, or MAB 38, was developed from the Beretta Modello 18 and 18/30, derived from the Villar Perosa light machine gun of World War I fame.[2] It is widely acknowledged as the most successful and effective Italian small arm of World War II, and was produced in large numbers and in several variants. Italy's limited industrial base in World War II was no real barrier toward the development of advanced and effective small firearms since at the time most weapons did require large amounts of artisanal and semi-artisanal man-hours to be fine-tuned and made reliable by default. At this, Italian specialized workers excelled and the initial slow production ratio meant that the MAB 38 only became available in large numbers in 1943, when the fascist regime was toppled and Italy split between allied-aligned co-belligerent forces in the south, and German collaborationists of the Italian Social Republic in the north.

The MAB 38 was developed by Beretta in order to compete in the rich market of machine and sub-machine guns; it was a well-made and sturdy weapon, introducing several advanced features, to be suitable for police purposes and special army units. Presented to Italian authorities in 1939, its first customer was the Italian Ministry of Colonies, which purchased several thousands MABs to be issued as standard firearm of the Polizia dell'Africa Italiana (Italian Africa Constabulary), the government colonial police force. However, army orders were slow to come: although impressed by excellent overall qualities and firepower of the weapon, Italian military did not feel the MAB could be suited for standard infantry combat. It was judged ideal for police and assault units, though, and in the beginning of 1941 small orders were placed for Carabinieri (military and civilian police), Guardie di Pubblica Sicurezza (national state police), and paratroopers. The Italian Army requested minor changes to reduce production costs, notably the changed shape recoil compensator and the removal of the bayonet and its catch. The weapon so changed was named MAB 38A. This was the standard army variant, used throughout all the war, and issued to the most elite Italian units: paratroopers, Alpini "Monte Cervino" assault battalion, 10th Arditi Regiment, "M" Battalions of MVSN, military police etc.

Italian Royal Navy also purchased it, and MAB 38A was given to "San Marco" Marine Regiment, and to naval security troops; The Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) issued the MAB 38A to its crack A.D.R.A. Regiment. Nevertheless, the Beretta MAB was ordered in relatively small quantities and standard Carcano M1891 rifle remained as standard weapon even of elite Italian units. Until 1943, MAB 38A (and, since 1942, the MAB 38/42) was available almost exclusively to paratroopers, Blackshirts, tank crews and Carabinieri military policemen, given the need of all of the former to express high volumes of firepower in prolonged actions or to keep close-quarters combat superiority. The standard paratrooper of the Folgore airborne division was armed exclusively with this weapon, and the division gave outstanding combat results. Similarly, Blackshirt legions (one per infantry division) were regarded and used as elite assault units both for their fanaticism and their armament, in which the Beretta 38 bulked.

It was after the Italian armistice of September 8, 1943, when Italian armed forces melted away and an Italian army was reconstructed in northern Italy under German sponsorship, that Beretta MAB found a widespread diffusion. The R.S.I. army, since its inception, was heavily engaged in guerrilla warfare against partisans, as well as in combat against the Allies; for assault and counterinsurgency units, where firepower at close range was a vital asset, this was the ideal weapon. Thus, production of MAB became priority, and it was supplied in large quantities to all R.S.I. formations, especially elite ones: paratroopers, Marine Infantry, "Arditi" and Assault Battalions, Republican National Guard, etc. and it became an iconic weapon, symbolizing the Italian soldier in popular culture. Later in the war, a more simplified variant known as 38/44 was introduced, with further solutions to speed up production and reduce costs. Regardless of the tables of organization and equipment of a given unit, the Beretta 38 was a popular weapon that could eventually find its way into the hands of virtually any soldier, especially amongst officers and higher non-commissioned officers, notably in Bersaglieri light infantry, artillery and armoured units. However, this weapon remained a rare view amongst common infantry and Alpini mountain infantry.

Italy developed a dedicated magazine-holding vest for elite troops (Blackshirts, paratroopers) armed with the Beretta 38; these were dubbed "Samurai" due to the aesthetic similarity of the stacked magazines with traditional Japanese armour. Furthermore, a special canvas holster was issued with the MAB, that featured two magazine-carrier pouches sewn onto it and that was meant to be thus worn as a belt. However, both these only came into use during the brief life of the R.S.I. and by then could be seen in the employ of many different units whose "elite" status could have been reasonably questioned (such as Black Brigades and other militias).

Beretta MAB was highly praised by Italian resistance movement fighters as well, being far more accurate and powerful than the British Sten which was common issue in partisan units, although Sten was more suited for clandestine operations thanks to its more compact size. German soldiers also liked the Beretta MAB, judging it large and heavy, but reliable and well made.

The 1938 series was extremely robust and proved very popular with Axis forces as well as Allied troops, who utilized captured examples.[3] Many German soldiers, including elite forces such as the Waffen-SS and Fallschirmjäger forces, actually preferred to use the Beretta 38 in combat.[4][5][6] Firing a powerfully loaded Italian version of the widely distributed 9×19mm Parabellum cartridge, the Cartuccia 9mm M38, the Beretta was accurate at longer ranges than most other submachine guns.[7] The MAB could deliver an impressive firepower at close range, and at longer distances its size and weight (that was its only drawback compared to other similar guns) was an advantage, getting the weapon very stable and easy to control. In expert hands, the Beretta MAB allowed accurate short-bursts shooting up to 100 meters, and effective range, with Italian M38 ammunition, was 200 meters, an impressive result for a 9mm submachine gun.


MAB 38, in its first variants, was a fine weapon by any standard, crafted with high quality materials and flawlessly finished, carefully machined parts. Although successive models 38/42 and 38/44 were easier and faster to build, sacrificing finish to gain speed, the overall quality of production remained high. Its mechanism was a traditional simple blowback recoil, but featured notable mechanical solutions, such as a floating firing pin, an automatic safety on open bolt (both later removed to save production costs), a recoil compensator on the muzzle, a bolt cocking handle with sliding dust cover, and a striking trigger gear with no fire selector, but with two triggers instead: the fore trigger for semiautomatic fire and rear trigger for full-auto fire. This was meant to allow the shooter to shift quickly through both firing modes, without switching levers or safety catches, and proved to be very useful in combat. The full-auto trigger had also a dedicated safety catch on left side, since 1942 eliminated; rear sight was adjustable up to 500 meters, in MAB 38 and 38A models (38/42 and 38/44 variants had more simple fixed rear sights). Fully automatic or single-shot fire was selectable by the use of two triggers. The MAB 38 had a wooden stock, was about 800 millimeters in length, and weighed about 5 kilograms when loaded, with an effective range of about 200 meters.


Beretta M38/42
Beretta Model 1 with MP40-style under-folding stock
Beretta M38/49 (Model 4) (note push-button cross-bolt safety located at the middle of the stock)

The Model 1938 can be recognized by its machined steel receiver, fine craftsmanship and finish, and by the perforated cooling jacket over the barrel.[8] It was produced from 1938 to 1950. It fired the 9×19mm Parabellum ammunition at a rate of 600 rounds per minute. It used 10, 20, 30, or 40-round magazines. The short 10-round magazine, when used in conjunction with the fixed bayonet, was popular with both Allied and Axis forces for guarding prisoners or internal security details.[7][9] In combat, 30-rd magazine was the most common. The weapon featured also bayonet mount and stock rest for the Carcano M91/38 folding bayonet. This was the MAB 38 original model, first issued to Italian police units in 1939.

In compliance with Italian army requirements, bayonet mount and rest were eliminated, and the recoil compensator was redesigned, the two horizontal muzzle slots substituted by 4 transversal cuttings, judged more effective. This standard army variant was renamed MAB 38A and issued in 1941.

Despite its undeniable effectiveness, the Beretta Model 38 proved too time-consuming and expensive to produce during wartime. Marengoni designed a simplified model made from sheet steel, in which the cooling jacket and bayonet mount were eliminated, and the separate firing pin mechanism deleted in favor of a fixed firing pin machined on the face of the bolt. Barrel and wooden stock were also shortened to save weight and cost.[8][10] This new model the Model 38/42 had a fluted barrel to aid cooling and save weight. It also had a slower rate of fire (550 rpm). The Model 38/43, was an intermediate production stage between the 42 and 44 patterns.[8] The 38/42 and 38/43 were adopted by the Wehrmacht as the Maschinenpistole 738(i) (in German), abbreviated as MP.738.[10]

The Model 38/44 was a minor revision of the 38/43, in which the bolt was simplified and a large-diameter recoil spring utilized in place of the operating spring guide.[10] It also eliminated the fluting to save time and increase production.[10] The 38/44 was also adopted by the German army as the MP.739.[11] A variant of the Model 38/44 was fitted with an MP40-style under-folding stock, and given the designation Model 38/44 Special or Model 1.[12]

After World War II, the 38/44 continued in production in slightly revised form as the 38/49 series: the Model 2 with an MP40-style under-folding stock,[10] the Model 3 identified by telescoping steel-wire buttstock, and the Model 4 with a standard wooden rifle stock. All of these models have a push-button cross-bolt safety, located at the middle of the stock.[10] After Marengoni's death, Beretta engineer Domenico Salza revised the safety system of the Model 38/49 series, resulting in the Model 5, identified by a large rectangular grip-safety button located in the stock's finger groove.[13] The Model 5 was produced for the Italian Army and police, as well as the armed forces of several other nations until 1961, when production ceased in favor of the compact, modern Beretta M12.[13]


See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Beretta M1938 Family". Forgotten Weapons. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  3. ^ Dunlap, Roy F., Ordnance Went Up Front, Samworth Press, (1948), p. 58
  4. ^ a b Miller, David. Fighting Men of World War II, Volume I: Axis Forces--Uniforms, Equipment, and Weapons (Fighting Men of World War II). Stackpole Books. pp. 139, 353. ISBN 0-8117-0277-4. 
  5. ^ Quarrie, Bruce, Fallschirmjäger: German Paratrooper, 1935-45, Osprey Publishing (2001), ISBN 1-84176-326-8, ISBN 978-1-84176-326-2, p. 59
  6. ^ Ordnance Went Up Front, p. 58: "No one ever bothered with any other kind of submachine gun if he could get hold of a Beretta M38, and keep it. The New Zealand boys especially loved them. Even the Germans liked it, and they hated to admit anything was good except their own stuff."
  7. ^ a b Ordnance Went Up Front, p. 58
  8. ^ a b c Hogg, Ian V. and Weeks, John, Military Small Arms of the 20th Century, 6th ed. DBI Books, Inc. (1991), pp. 224-225
  9. ^ Smith, Joseph E., Small Arms of the World, 9th ed., Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company (1969), pp. 482-483
  10. ^ a b c d e f Small Arms of the World, pp. 544-546
  11. ^ "Moschetto Automatico Beretta". (in Italian). Marco Marzilli. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  12. ^ "Beretta Model 38/42/43/44 Submachine Gun". 21 October 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Military Small Arms of the 20th Century, pp. 224-225
  14. ^ a b c d e Jones, Richard (2009). Jane's Infantry Weapons 2009-2010. Jane's Information Group. pp. 894–905. ISBN 0-7106-2869-2. 
  15. ^ "ITALIAN-JAPANESE MP 38/43 MACHINE PISTOL". Dragons of Fire. Retrieved 2011-12-10. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Jowett, Phillip (2001). The Italian Army 1940-45 (3): Italy 1943-45 (Men-at-Arms) (v. 3). Osprey Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 1855328666. 
  18. ^ a b Bishop, Christ (2002). The Encyclopedia of Weapons of WWII: The Comprehensive Guide to over 1,500 Weapons Systems, Including Tanks, Small Arms, Warplanes, Artillery, Ships, and Submarines. Metrobooks. p. 262. ISBN 1-58663-762-2. 
  19. ^ Mark Axworthy,Third axis, fourth ally, page 76
  20. ^ Vuksic, Velimir (2003). Tito's Partisans 1941-45. Osprey Publishing. p. 60. ISBN 1841766755. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dunlap, Roy F., Ordnance Went Up Front, Samworth Press, (1948) ISBN 1-884849-09-1
  • Hogg, Ian V. and Weeks, John, Military Small Arms of the 20th Century, 6th ed. DBI Books, Inc. (1991), ISBN 0-87349-120-3
  • Smith, Joseph E., Small Arms of the World, 9th ed., Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company (1969), ISBN 0-8117-1566-3
  • G. Rosignoli, RSI: uniformi, equipaggiamento ed armi, Albertelli Ed., 1985
  • Beretta A5 SMG Brochure (PDF) (in Italian). Gardone Val Trompia, Italy: Pietro Beretta S.P.A. Retrieved 8 September 2015.