Firearms

History of the Beretta 9mm Handgun

Egyptian clone of the Beretta 951

The Beretta firearms company dates back to the 16th century. They supplied firearms to many of the armies of the world, including Napoleon.

This article, however, is concerned with the history of the 9mm Beretta, beginning with the Model 951 and continuing to the Model 92.

The Beretta 951 was introduced shortly after World War II. The allied forces were attempting to standardize calibers, if not firearms, as a result of the NATO pact.

951 9mm handgun design
The 951 9mm featured a push-button type safety and also a push-button magazine release.

Facing off against the Warsaw pact, the allies standardized 7.62x51mm and 9mm cartridges. (Vehicles, tires, rations and lug bolts were evidently of less concern, but that is another story.)

During the previous war, the nations involved had a virtual hodgepodge of calibers. But most nations using SMGs had 9mm submachineguns. So they adopted 9mm handguns.

This is a simplistic summary, but you get the idea.

Helwan clone of the Beretta 951
When in good condition, the Helwan clone of the Beretta 951 often shoots well enough for recreational use.

Simple Beginnings

Beretta first developed a single-action 9mm pistol with a single-column magazine. The Model 951 in some ways resembles the Model 1934 Beretta, a blowback pistol chambered in .32 ACP and .380 ACP.

The open-slide design is sometimes compared to the Walther P-38’s open-top slide. Each company has a history of open-top slides. The Beretta locking wedge, however, is similar to identical to the Walther P-38.

The P-38 was a highly respected handgun in Europe and remains in use in some parts of the world. It was logical for Beretta to base the 951 on the oscillating wedge system originally used in the Mauser M96. The Beretta 951 featured an unusual safety.

951 type sights
The 951 type sights are typical of the day.

The cross-bolt safety is positive in operation and located at the top of the grip. The magazine release is also a push-button. The original 951 is a workmanlike pistol that is reliable and accurate. It is well-made of good material.

At one time, both Israel and Egypt used the 951. Many nations in the Middle East adopted the M951. One may only speculate that they outbid the FN High Power, another popular handgun. There were various local copies of the 951, including the Helwan.

These are of indifferent quality. Some are serviceable, some are not. The 951 was a foundation for Beretta’s later success.

951 take-down lever
The 951 features a take-down lever on the right side.

Making Improvements

During the 1970s, the military focused on double-action, first-shot 9mm pistols. The SIG P220, CZ 75, Smith and Wesson Model 59 and a few others were developed. These pistols also featured a high-capacity magazine holding 14 to 17 cartridges.

These were termed “Wonder Nines.” (The P220 was a single-column magazine pistol and the P226 was the high-capacity development. ) The Beretta 92 is similar in some ways to the 951 in terms of the open-top slide and wedge locking system.

The original was a selective double-action, much like the Taurus PT92, a variation on the early Beretta pistols sold to Brazil.

951 type handgun
Some 951 types have been plagued by soft steel and peening. The Helwan illustrated has fired many hundreds of cartridges with good results.

The Italian police asked for a decocker. Beretta responded with a design similar to the Walther P-38. By moving the safety downward, a block falls between the firing pin and the hammer, and the hammer falls. The handgun does not fire.

This lever also acts as a safety. The Beretta 92S illustrated an early variant with a decocker and original push-button magazine release. At the time of the adoption of the Model 92, most Italian police were armed with the Beretta 1934 .380 ACP.

The first wave of European terrorists included the Italian “P-38ers,” so named for their favorite handgun. I visited the spot in Italy where Aldo Moro, a former president, was found stuffed in a garbage can. These were dangerous times.

The upgrade put Italian officers on level ground with communist terrorists.

oscillating wedge lock up
This is the oscillating wedge lock up common to all Beretta 951 and 92 handguns.

9mm Beretta Handgun Performance

I have fired the 92S extensively and find it a reliable and accurate handgun, although mine is well-worn. The magazines do not interchange with modern Model 92 magazines, a drawback. (Some ’92F magazines are cut to allow use in the 92S, some are not.)

While they are OK if found at an attractive price, the later Beretta 92 is a much better handgun. The 92S has been fired with Winchester 115-grain FMJ and also the Winchester 115-grain Silvertip.

9mm Beretta 92S
The Beretta 92S is an early variant of the Beretta 92 9mm.

A five-shot group of 4 inches at 25 yards is average. Perhaps it was more accurate when new. Like the modern 92s, the pistol uses a steel slide on an aluminum frame.

The double-action trigger is pressed to transfer energy from the trigger to the hammer via a transfer bar. The hammer is cocked and released. The slide then cocks the hammer for subsequent single-action shots. The decocker is used to lower the hammer.

9mm Beretta 92S
The 92S features a push-button magazine release near the bottom of the grip.

Other Variations

Next came the Beretta 92 variants that won the U.S. Military competition for a service handgun. The Beretta 92 and subsequent versions, such as the 92F, featured an Americanized magazine release, improved sights and ambidextrous decocker.

The Beretta 92 is an easy gun to shoot well. In the single-action mode, the pistol is accurate to well past 50 yards. In one incident, an alert and cool-headed military police officer neutralized a rifle-armed shooter at a long 80 yards.

The pistol is reliable and has stood up reasonably well to a steady diet of NATO spec ammunition.

9mm Beretta illustration
This illustration clearly states the similarity between the Walther P38/P1, top, and the Beretta 92, bottom.

The Beretta 92 was adopted by a number of police agencies, riding on the low bid for the military, and has given good service. Special units, such as the NYCPD Special Services District, used the Beretta 92 effectively in hostage rescue operations.

Like its closest competitor, the SIG P226, the Beretta is most often outbid by the polymer-frame striker-fired handguns.

Those appreciating excellent accuracy and limited muzzle flip, as well as a handgun that is well made of good material, still appreciate the Beretta.

Beretta 92 9mm handgun
This is a Beretta 92 improved by the addition of Wilson Combat upgrades.

The double-action first-shot requires effort to master. Some get it, some do not. The pistol is among the lightest recoiling 9mm pistols in common use.

It is large and difficult to conceal in comparison to some handguns, but at one time a number of federal agencies issued the Beretta 92 to the suits and they got by. The pistol may be bulky, but the aluminum frame makes it lightweight.

The newest version, the Beretta M9A3, will likely be in service for many years to come.

Conclusion

For those that appreciate a sense of history and a very well made and reliable firearm, the Beretta 9mm is a trend-setter and viable defensive handgun that has earned its reputation the hard way.

Do you own a 9mm handgun? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (14)

  1. I just love the Beretta 1951 & all it’s variants! Sure some are pretty bad copies but a lot of them are very unappreciated because of the parts breakage ( especially the locking block’s )

    That why I’ve doen what no one has done in the pas 30 years or so, And that is re-manufacturing the locking block’s in generation 1 & 2

    Mine are mout out of top quality high tensile steel and have proper hardening.
    The radius cuts in the design will ensure longer service life as they do on the modern 92 FS locking blocks.

    My prototype has already passed 4000+ rounds without a scratch.

    Should anybody be interested in them then you can find them on Ebay.

    Friendly greetings

    Wess from The Netherlands

  2. I’ve had my 92F since about 1986. It is made in Italy, not America. It had a heavy recoil spring designed for Italian military ammo which led to inconsistent firing with range ammo. It has always fired defensive ammo reliably. I have now installed a lighter spring. With rubber grips it was too spongy for accuracy and too bulky to carry. I’ve recently added some ultra thin G10 grips which are excellent in performance and slim for concealed carry. One more thing. My friends cannot believe the smoothness of the slide on the 92F. Still accurate and reliable after 33 years and thousands of rounds. It’s probably going out to Wilson soon, for a complete upgrade and refit.

  3. I’ve had an Indiana license to carry since 1973. I’ve owned and shot a lot of different handguns, but I’ve never owned a Beretta 92 and had never shot one till 6 years ago when I had the opportunity to shoot a friend’s 92FS. I was pleasantly surprised at the feel and accuracy. It feels like a much higher quality gun than the price would indicate. If I didn’t already have a mint condition 1967 Browning Hi-Power, I definitely consider buying the Beretta.

  4. The NYPD does not and has never had a “Special Services District”, you surely are referring to it’s Emergency Service Unit (ESU), a dual-purpose tactical & physical rescue squad.
    Yes, in the mid-1990s some ESU officers were assigned 92s and additional pistols were stored on reserve in their heavy rescue trucks (they are 10 squads geographically assigned around the city) while the rest of the dept was transitioning to 9mm Glocks, S&Ws and Sigs. The Beretta program lasted just a few years and when it ended the pistols were returned to Beretta.

  5. Clarification: the earliest Model 92 with frame mounted safety that allowed cocked and locked carry was manufactured previous to the 92S. This model was mentioned but not clearly that it was the frame mounted safety. It was stated correctly that this was the version made in Brazil that led to the Taurus 92 series. That’s why to this day Taurus pistols have frame mounted safeties.

  6. I have owned Beretta 92FS for over 30 years and found it to be durable, accurate and easy to maintain. It’s my primary home defense weapon. In 2003 I was able to get a 92FS in the 470 commemorative model. It’s a beautiful piece of work in its wooden case and may never be fired. My kids will probably fight over it someday.

  7. The 92S is an excellent low end pistol and almost as good in every way as the later 92’s. The notch to make other mags work fine in them is very easily done. For the money probably the finest 9MM out there with lots of parts and plenty of mags readily available, not just Beretta mags. The lower mag release is not even an issue with a little practice. Of course Americans believe in lots of marketing and think if you don’t have the latest bells and whistles you have junk ? But that is nothing new at all here in USA today ! How many are actually fit and capable of anything, but have to have what they think is the best when it may not be that at all ? Contrary to popular thinking and massive advertising saturation more money does not necessarily mean better for many reasons ?

  8. 1980’s Browning(BDA 380)produced by Beretta. Same basic construction and features. Holds13+1. Only weighs 24 oz. Great pistol, low recoil. Shot 249 of 250 on CCL test.

  9. I own 3 9mm hand guns. I got them all at good prices. I like to shoot and the 9mm ammunition is a lot cheaper than my favorite 45ACP. Also most carry more rounds.

  10. After shooting my Ruger EC9S, and my SpringfieldXDS, and my S&W Performance Center Shield 9 mm’s, I was very pleasantly suprised at the performance of my Beretta 92. It was a pleasure to have the bullet actually go where I was aiming. Even shooting the Beretta at the furthest distance my indoor range can accommodate (25 yards), the accuracy is amazing. I’m consistently shooting groups I never thought were possible. It is a bit too bulky for concealed carry, but it is really fun to shoot.

  11. I have a Taurus 100 and a 92. Great design. They are a little bulkier but, contrary to the article, I didn’t find the initial Double Action shot to be out of the ordinary. Love them both.

    I think the concept of putting the heft of the slide in line with the actual recoil was rock solid, which would help explain why target reacquisition would be quick.

    They don’t seem to be one bit fussy about using different 9mm ammo.

  12. Bought my 92FS in 1989. Have fired 5000 rods over the years, Used as my 2nd firearm in the sheriffs office from 98 to 2012. Never had any issues, have fired 115 gr to 147 gr and +P. Have currently 2 9mm pistols , 9mm carbine, 12 ga and 22lr. Thanks for the good writing on the 92.

  13. I have a Baretta FS 92 – 9mm because, like Italian made suits, it is the sexiest gun ever made. I also have a Baretta Cheeta .380 (my “carry gun”), and a Walther PPKS in cal .380 – James Bond’s gun – cause I was over-seas in the Army, and off-base purchases were limited – but to my benefit. My feelings are that the S&W 357 mag J frame is a “man’s gun” – it’s just a bit too heavy for my arthritic hand and wrist. Characterizing guns makes me put the Colt 1911 in 45 cal as “America’s Gun”, one that will forever hold 1st place in my heart. I also have a couple of full-size Glock’s – 9mm and 40 cal – cause I like the double-stack and dependability of them. My other guns don’t need specific mentioning – they are America’s standards ranging from the “old west 6 shooter to the current AR 15, and Mossburg mod 500 12 ga. I think of my assortment as being “sexy” – “classic” – “patriotic” – “serviceable” – “dependable” – and what I need to “get the job done”.

  14. I always like this little gun and recall over 20 years ago when you could get ex-military guns for under $150. The safety was a bit cumbersome and I never learned to click it off one-handed. But accuracy was decent enough. The biggest problem I had with mine was it seemed small in my hands.

    I do have its larger cousin, the Taurus PT92, with oversized grips and find it to be every bit as reliable and accurate. Wish I had never traded in the old Helwan, all things considered, it was a decent firearm, easy to conceal, more than accurate enough at close distances.

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