December 23, 2007, 12:53 AM
There is a considerably pervasive lack of knowledge and misinformation on the Beretta BM59 rifle and it’s related cousins, not to mention it’s actual development history. For some time I have been working on an information package that would clarify the misinformation that is generally disseminated. I am offering this here for any who would care to use it should you run into questions in the future. I will also be revising this from time to time, hopefully, to include specific information on different models and some other characteristics of the rifle.
I have well over 200 pages of articles and ads on BM59’s dating back to the 1960’s, and know there are several variations out there. Some are worth quite a bit, others are not. I occasionally see people listing or bidding on BM59’s that are built on re-welded Garand receivers. I also see people offering so-called “imported” BM59’s. I hope that this article answers some of the questions potential buyers may have.
The first major misconception to be debunked from this information is that the BM59 is a derivative of, or modification of the M14. This is totally inaccurate. The only relationship the BM59 has with the M14 is the common ancestry. The M1 Garand is the father to them both. The M14 and BM59 are offspring of the M1 Garand, the only parts on a BM59 that can be interchanged with parts found on an M14 are those parts common to the M1 Garand. Following this, you will find a list of parts necessary to modify an M1 Garand to BM59E configuration. Outside of these very minor parts, the adjustments necessary to convert the M1 Garand are modifications to the original M1 Garand parts. In short, there are no M14 parts used in building a BM59. The total absence of M14 parts and relatively minor adjustments necessary to convert a Garand to BM59 configuration is evidence that the BM59 is a derivative of the Garand, and not an offspring of the M14. In fact, the BM59 is much closer to the Garand than the M14.
The second major misconception to be debunked is that BM59’s were imported into the USA by companies, or trade names such as Santa Fe Arms, Golden State, National Ordnance, Federal Ordnance, and Springfield Armory, Inc. None of these companies ever imported BM59’s. Yes, at least one of these companies was licensed by Beretta to manufacture rifles, but those rifles were manufactured here in the USA and were built using re-welded Garand receivers. Yes, one of these companies sold rifles that were heal marked as having been manufactured by Beretta in Italy, but those rifles were imported as surplus parts with final machining and assembly to be done in the USA.
During World War II, M1 Garands were produced by Springfield Armory and Winchester Arms. Following World War II, and prior to the outbreak of the Korean conflict, Beretta acquired the Winchester tooling used to produce the M1 Garands made at Winchester. With the developing formation of NATO, it was recognized that NATO allies would be needing arms and Beretta, as well as Breda, were to become suppliers of Garands for several countries. The sale of this Winchester tooling to Beretta to may ultimately have become a decision that the USA would regret. With the outbreak of the Korean conflict, it was determined that it would be unwise to rely on Springfield as the sole manufacturer of this rifle, at which time International Harvester and Harrington and Richardson were solicited to begin production of the M1. Both H&R and IHC had difficulties with the initial production of the Garand as part of their contracts, and full production at these facilities was slow in coming. Had the Italians not already taken possession of the Winchester tooling prior to the Korean conflict, an alternate source for the Garand would have been much sooner in coming.
A field test on the BM59/BM62 rifles in ASSAULT RIFLES magazine states that several NATO countries were being issued the Italian Garands during the Korean conflict. While there is no doubt that Beretta was in possession of Garand tooling prior to the Korean outbreak, the relatively low serial numbers of the 1954 Beretta and Breda Garands does not suggest that large numbers were produced prior to 1954. It is very likely that Beretta, and possibly Breda, were producing Garands prior to H&R and IHC, but not in great quantities.
With the adoption of firearms such as the FAL, the Cetme, the G3 and the M14, Beretta recognized the need for military rifles capable of accepting detatchable high capacity magazines. To develop a rifle that could compete with this new generation of military arms, they fell back on something they had become very familiar with, the M1 Garand, and devoted attention towards modifying this to achieve the desired results. In the period of 1957 to 1958, Beretta design engineers Vittorio Valle and Domenico Salza developed the BM59 from the basic M1 Garand. It was also recognized that existing M1 Garands could be modified to the BM59 configuration, and this option was made available to countries on a limited budget.
The original BM59s, as made or re-worked at Beretta, were most commonly select fire, but strictly semi-auto versions of the rifle were made as well, most of these being of the re-worked Garand variety. One strictly semi-automatic version Beretta marketed to world military forces was the BM59SL. The BM59SL was an economy version, as no parts had to be included to make it select fire or fully automatic. Many (but not all) of the BM59E versions are semi-auto only. The greatest majority of BM59’s produced for military applications were select fire. It could be argued that “real” BM59’s are all “full auto machine guns”. Since both select fire and semi-auto only “BM59’s” have been offered to the American public in the past, and both select fire and semi-auto versions of the BM59 have been produced for military applications, it becomes somewhat muddled as to whether of not “real” BM59’s are all full auto.
Since many of the original BM59s began as a USGI M1 Garand reworked by Beretta, you will find BM59 variations that are essentially reworked US made rifles. Because of this, you should know that there are two separate Springfield Armory’s that may be associated with the BM59. The first is the original Springfield Armory, located in Springfield, Mass. This Springfield was shut down in the late 1960’s, and is now a National Historic site with a very good museum. Because the BM59 is a derivative of the M1 Garand, it is possible you will find BM59’s built around original Springfield Armory (SA) Garands, and these may bear many of the original SA markings. Most probably, these will be built around the re-welded Garand receivers that were available in the 1960’s. In those days, almost all the commercially available Garands were built up from re-welded Garand receivers, this included many of the "Tanker" versions as well as many of the BM59’s. A few BM59 manufacturers built BM59’s in this fashion, using re-welded Garand receiver parts, modified two grove ’03 barrels, and surplus Garand parts. Many were built by somewhat amateur gunsmiths in their garages or basements, and the quality of these re-welds may vary quite a bit.
US Built Variations:
In 1964, Golden State Arms, Pasadena, CA, began offering the "Santa Fe" BM59, or "M59". While most, if not all of these were built around re-welded receivers using the ’03 barrels, they did obtain licensing from Beretta to manufacture them. You will see these rifles either with the Beretta Licensing agreement, or without it. Although marked with the Beretta licensing information on the left hand side of the receiver, the buyer should still remain aware that these were built in Pasadena, CA., and NOT at the Beretta factory in Italy. At this point, I am unclear as to why some of the Santa Fe Arms rifles are marked with the Beretta License Agreement, and some are not. I think that it is quite possible some of the earliest are not marked, and that the later ones are not so marked, possibly because Beretta was not happy with the quality, as indicated by a few writers. One additional note about the Golden State/Santa Fe, I have heard one reputable gunsmith say that some of these were actually imported. I have seen photos of an M1 Garand that was marked with Santa Fe/Golden State markings that I believe most probably was an import, but never have I seen a Golden State BM59 that I believe was an import. Most probably, any Golden State/Santa Fe you see will be a re-weld. Re-welds were also built by National Ordinance and Federal Ordinance.
One important side note to the Golden State, and similar versions, is they use a simplified front magazine catch that is not standard Beretta design. Replacement parts for this catch are unavailable, and I have seen a few people looking for them. I don't know of anyone who can provide these. Perhaps in the future, I will have some machined up for those who need them.
It should also be mentioned that “BM59 Type Rifles” were being built in the early 1960’s. Most notably, Walter Craig of Selma, Alabama offered the “M11” which was a Garand based rifle modified to accept M14 magazines. Again, these were built on re-welded receivers, and the original Garand serial numbers were used. The “M11” designation was actually stamped (or carved?) in the top of the stock, just behind the heel. I have wondered if These were designated the “M-11” to suggest to the buyer that they were just a couple of models before the M-14?
Because of the Gun Control Act of 1968, Beretta could not import the BM59’s. According to most accounts, there were some 200 Beretta manufactured select fire/fully automatic BM59’s imported prior to that date. These are rarely encountered. However, the BM59 became available in "civilian" version in the form of the BM62 and BM69. They lack the grenade launcher, bayonet lug, and "evil" features of the typical "assault rifle". These were imported by Berben and Benet. In my own opinion, these are worthy of collector’s status, as well as being very nice shooters.
Going back to the two Springfield Armory’s for now, after the original SA was closed, another company decided to capitalize on their good name and became the NEW Springfield Armory, Inc. This strategy ultimately worked. Today, many people do not realize the Springfield Armory, Inc. (SA, Inc) is not the original armory. In the early 1980’s, Bob Reese of SA, Inc. apparently was able to purchase several tons of surplus BM59 parts, straight out of Italy. These parts were the basis of the Springfield Armory, Inc. BM59 variations. These were built using primarily genuine Beretta parts at the SA, Inc. factory in the USA. They are not true imports, but are very nice examples of BM59 rifles.
One thing to look for in the Springfield Armory, Inc. rifles that is of some interest. Some are marked with Beretta markings on the heel, some are absent of Beretta markings on the receiver. Apparently, in the group of surplus parts SA, Inc. bought, there were some finished (or nearly finished) receivers, and some forged receiver blanks. One writer says none of the receivers Reese bought were completely finished, but that they were in various states of completion. The best I can tell is the Springfield Armory Inc. examples that are marked with the Beretta identification on the heel of the receiver are built from Beretta machined receivers. Those with only the Springfield Armory, Inc. identification were machined by SA, Inc. using Beretta forgings (or, something in between this). Whether or not this is significant, I can’t say. When one buys a SA, Inc. BM59, he should be aware that there is most probably a mix of both Beretta and SA., Inc. parts included in the assembly of the complete rifle. Those receivers (primarily) built by Beretta are marked on the heel with:
You will also find some of the rifles so marked have SA, Inc. parts scattered through the rifle. This is common. It may be that SA, Inc. was legally obligated to use a certain number of US made parts to qualify the rifles as US built. Remember, the main reason the real Beretta BM59 was discontinued in the 60's was due to the '68 GCA, and the ATF prohibition on imported assault weapons features at that time! People are familiar with the '89 ban, and the '94 ban on assault weapons. Such bans actually influenced firearms much further back than that!
After the SA, Inc. bankrupcy of 1992, the Reese family apparently "inherited" much of the BM59 inventory. Reese Surplus, Inc. (RSI) currently offers many complete rifles, and they are offering their own "aftermarket" folding stock for the BM59. The big difference between the current RSI folding stock is the original Beretta stock had a plastic grip, and the metal part of the Beretta stock had two metal tubes, not just one, as does the RSI stocks. The original Beretta folding stocks lock up tighter than the RSI folders.
For your further investigation, I am including some links. The Reese Surplus link is a site where you will find examples of the SA, Inc. BM59’s still being sold. They also have many spare parts available for these, including both "New" magazines for about $90.00, and "factory second" magazines for about $50.00. In addition to this, I am including a site that has a discussion board dedicated to BM59 rifles. I would encourage you to visit that site with any additional questions you may have. The third site is the gunbroker.com discussion board. There are some folk there familiar with BM59 rifles, and you might be able to gain information by doing a SEARCH on that board.
Pricing of Variations
Different references list different versions of the BM59. Bob Reese, in his brief “The History of the BM59” states that Beretta built this model in four different versions. The versions he lists are:
1.a The basic wood stock Alpine Model
2.a The Paratrooper Model with unique, detatchable grenade launcher and muzzle break and folding stock.
3.a The Mark 4 (Nigerian) Model, which was designed as a squad automatic model, similar to the M14E2, having a full length Garand type barrel and pistol grip, and carry handle. Was available in select fire or semi-auto versions.
This listing is incomplete, as even Reese sells (or sold, perhaps through Springfield Armory) different version of this rifle. Moreover, looking at Springfield Armory Inc. and Reese ads contributes to the confusion. Included in SA, Inc. ads and Reese ads are descriptions of:
1.b Beretta BM59 Std. Ital Model (This is the standard version, would be carbine length if not for the tri-compensator). In the previous description, this appears to be the “Alpine”.
2.b Beretta BM59 Alpine Paratrooper, with folding stock. (suddenly the Alpine no longer has a standard wood stock, but a folding stock).
3.b The Nigerian Mark 4 (no change from previous description).
4.b The BM59E Model. This most closely resembles the full length Garand, with forward Garand handguard, no bipod, and no carry handle.
Okay, perhaps you can begin to see there is some muddying of descriptions of the different BM59 models. Not my fault, just saying what different ads and sources say. Especially regarding that in one spot, the “Alpine” has a standard stock, and in another, it has a folding stock. Another Springfield Armory, Inc. ad lists the “Alpine-Ital” Model. From the above, just because someone describes his BM59 as an “Alpine” or and “Ital” doesn’t mean you know what it really is, unless you look at it. However, the “Mark 4 Nigerian” and BM59E” start to become more meaningful.
But wait, the confusion continues. The May, 1987 FIREPOWER magazine lists four models available (from Springfield Armory, Inc.)
1.c The BM-59 Ital. This is carbine length (except for the attached tri-compensator), has the standard wood stock (without front handguard) and bipod.
2.c BM-59 Alpini. Same as BM-59 Ital except has folding stock with pistol grip.
3.c BM-59 Paracadutisti. Same as the the Alpini Model except for the fact that the tri-compensator is detatchable and (thus?) barrel shortened to 17.7”.
4.c The BM-59 Mark 4. Same as previously described Nigerians.
Now here, there is no mention of the BM59E, and there appears to be another designation, the Paracadutisti (paratrooper). Good grief, from all of this, even Reese (formerly of Springfield Armory, Inc) and Springfield Armory, Inc. themselves could not keep the designations correct. But at least we can fall back on the original BM59 four language “manual” to define the different Models (at least for a while). I define the four language publication as a manual, while in fact, it really is no more than an extensively accurate sales brochure intended to promote the BM59. While not technically a manual, this publication is commonly marketed as such. I have also noted the original Beretta poster that describes different Beretta BM59 models. This is a companion piece to the “manual” for all practical purposes. According to the original Beretta literature, we have:
1.d. BM 59 Ital. This is carbine length (except for the attached tri-compensator), has the standard wood stock (without front handguard) and bipod.
2.d BM 59 Ital – Alpini. Same as BM-59 Ital except has folding stock with pistol grip.
3.d BM 59 Ital-Paracadutisti. Same as the the Alpini Model except for the fact that the tri-compensator is detatchable and (thus?) barrel shortened to 17.7”.
4.d BM59 Mark 1. Basically the same as standard Ital except does not have bipod, and does not have grenade launching sites or device. Also, the bayonet lug is for modified M1 Garand bayonets, the locking lug for bayonet is low on gas plug.
5.d BM59 Mark IV, basically the same as the other Nigerians already listed, but has a different bipod illustrated.
6.d BM 59 S.L. Beretta Modified Garand, Just as stated, a modified Garand in semi-auto only. This is “simplified model” according to literature.
Note here that the BM59E is not listed in the Beretta four language manual, but is listed in the accompanying poster. The S.L above is virtually identical to the BM59E except is available in semi-auto only, while the E is available in either select fire or semi-only. Continuing from the poster distributed by Beretta, we will continue with:
7.d. BM59E, as previously described, and stated to be offered in both semi and select fire versions.
8.d. BM59 Mark II. Basically the same as standard Ital except does not have bipod, and does not have grenade launching sites or devices. Differs from the Mark 1 in that the bayonet lug is for standard Italian issued bayonet.
Okay, I hope you can see there are several variations of the BM59, and that the actual assigning of specific variations of the BM 59 becomes confusing. There are even differences between the published Beretta literature, that being, (1) the original four language manual, and (2) the original Beretta two language poster, distributed by Beretta. And what’s more, we have not really begun to describe the next category of BM59’s, that being the versions made in the USA between about 1964 and 1974, that category being the “re-welds” being produced during that period.
More on those with my next revision to this ongoing work……
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