The Beretta Model 1938 (Italian: Moschetto Automatico Beretta Modello 1938, or MAB 38) is an Italian submachine gun that was designed and manufactured by Beretta. The standard-issue submachine gun of the Italian Army during World War II, the Model 1938 and its variants remained in production until 1975.
The Model 1938 was designed by Tullio Marengoni, a prolific engineer at Beretta. It was developed from the Model 1935, which was a semi-automatic carbine designed for police forces. Initial prototypes of the M1938 had finned barrels, but the first production models of the gun had barrel jackets with rectangular perforations and large compensators.
Later that year, Beretta began producing a variant called the Model 1938A, which was exactly the same as the regular model but with circular perforations in the barrel jacket and an additional safety mechanism that blocked the rear trigger. Folding bayonets were also fitted. At the end of 1938, the production run of the M1938A was modified to negate the bayonet feature and replace the existing compensator with a four-slotted version. This became the standard model that was issued in large numbers to the Italian Army.
Wartime production of the M1938A proved very costly, so Beretta took several steps to reduce production cost. Beginning in 1942, several variants were made in place of the M1938A that removed some of the features that were deemed inessential. These cheaper variants were commonly issued to Italian forces in the later stages of the war.
The M1938 was a very reliable and well-built weapon, and it was more accurate than most submachine guns of the time. It earned a reputation as one of the best military-issue submachine guns of World War II. It continued to prove successful in the post-war period, with Beretta continuing manufacture until the 1970s, and was used by military and police forces around the world.
Beretta Model 1938 submachine gun is blowback operated, select-fire weapon which fires from open bolt. Original version employed a small diameter return spring, concealed into steel tube which telescoped into the rear of the bolt. The firing pin was controlled by the lever, which pushed pin forward, toward the primer, only when bolt was going into the battery. The separate firing pin was abandoned in the Model 1938/42, and reduced diameter return spring and its tube guide were replaced by large diameter return spring without guide in the Model 1938/44.
The trigger arrangements with dual triggers (front for semi-automatic fire and rear for full automatic) were similar for all modifications, although safety arrangements varied. The original M1938 submachine gun had lever type safety which was located on the left side of the receiver; additional cross-bolt type control was located just behind the rear trigger; it was used to lock the rear trigger and thus limit the gun to semi-automatic fire only.
Bolt handle was located on the right side of receiver and has a sliding dust cover over its slot. When gun was cocked, shooter had to retract the handle and then return it forward, closing the slot; when gun was fired, cocking handle remained stationary.
Feed was from box magazines, which were inserted from below; ejection was, rather unusually, to the left side, although the ejection port was rather far in front of the shooter's face.
Sights on original M1938 submachine guns included tangent-type rear sight, which was later replaced to simpler and less expensive flip-up type rear sight with two settings.
All except the Model 5 were designed by Tullio Marengoni.
Standard model, introduced in 1938. This version had a barrel jacket with rectangular perforations. It was produced from January to December 1938. Production of the M1938 was quickly replaced by that of the M1938A.
The Model 1938A was identical to the standard M1938, with minor modifications. The rectangular barrel perforations were replaced with circular ones and a safety switch was added. Early production models of the M1938A had folding bayonets but this feature was omitted from later models, and the large compensator was replaced with a four-groove compensator. The M1938A was sold to the Italian Army and Romania. When Germany invaded Italy in 1943, the Wehrmacht appropriated many of the M1938As in Italian service for their own use. The M1938A was produced from 1938 to 1944 and was the most numerous variant of the M1938. 10, 20, 30 or 40-round magazines were made for it and it fired at a rate of 600 rounds per minute.
The Model 1, or Model 1938/41, was a stripped-down variant of the M1938A designed for paratroopers, designed in 1941. It replaced the wooden stock with a folding metal butt and the barrel jacket was removed. Production of the M1 proved too time-consuming so it was cancelled shortly after conception.
The Model 1938/42 was based on the M1 and was designed as a cheap alternative to the M1938A. It had a basic wooden stock and no barrel jacket. Production began in 1942 and ended in 1975. It had 20 or 40-round magazines and fired at a rate of 550 rounds per minute. During World War II, the M38/42 was adopted by the Wehrmacht as the MP.738.
The Model 1938/44 was a further simplification of the M38/42, with cheaper internal components and a smaller bolt. Production began in February 1944 and ended in 1955. During World War II, the M38/44 was adopted by the Wehrmacht as the MP.739. After the war, M38/44s were sold to Costa Rica, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria.
The Model 1938/49 was a variation of the M38/44 designed in 1949 for commercial sale. It incorporated a new safety system that could lock the bolt in either automatic or semi-automatic mode. The M38/49 was sold to the Italian Army and West Germany, where it was designated the MP1. From 1955 onward, the M38/49 was marketed as the Model 4 in order to help sales.
From 1951 to 1956, Marengoni designed three prototypes based on the earlier Model 1. None were put into production. Features of these prototypes included grip safety, retracting wireframe buttstocks, and left-handed cocking, and a folding bayonet.
The Model 5 was the last variant of the M1938 that was officially produced by Beretta. It was designed by Domenico Salza, who replaced Marengoni after the latter's retirement. The M5 was based on the M38/49 but was fitted with a new safety system in the form of a rectangular button placed on the right side of the receiver, which would need to be pushed inward in order to fire the weapon. It was produced from 1957 to 1970 and used by the Italian police forces.