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By Josh G.

Ah, Italy. A country of beautiful scenery, historic buildings, delicious food, fine art and some of the most beautiful, fast cars in the world. Oh, and when they get their hands on a classic like the M1 Garand, they turn it into a piece of art . . .

and change its name to BM59.

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History:

The M1 Garand, “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” was an essential tool for ground forces across the globe during WWII. It’s widely acknowledged as one of the greatest firearms ever built. But, as with most things in life, like technology, it eventually became an obsolete design needing replacement. In America, the M14 took the war fighting reins (however briefly). Other countries, like Italy, thought it best to improve upon the rifle they already had.

The Rifle:

Beretta figured it would be cheaper and less time consuming to use the M1 Garand as a planform on which to add upgrades to make the weapon better. The end result was a beautiful rifle called the BM59. It was re-chambered to accept the NATO standard 7.62X51 rifle cartridge via a 20-round magazine.

Beretta wanted a firearm that was capable of going full or semi automatic with an 800 round per minute cyclic rate of fire. It was an optimally designed magazine fed, lightweight, air cooled, gas operated system that served a variety of purposes. There was a model with a folding stock for paratroopers, and one with a wood stock and bipod for the infantry. Additionally, it could be used as a last resort light machine gun to lay down some suppressive fire. And, it could also disable armored vehicles (more on that in a bit).

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The muzzle of the BM59 serves a few different roles including flash suppression, recoil reduction, slicing people up with an attached bayonet and launching ENERGA anti-tank grenades. Some BM59 owners and fans have said that the tri-compensator is the best flash suppressor ever built. it certainly seems to do what Beretta intended.

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Value:

These rifles aren’t seen very often and can be expensive. Because they are rare, there are also many fakes out on the market, that are made from chopped up and re-welded Garands. However if it says either Beretta or Springfield Armory on the receiver, it’s the real deal.

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The fine quality specimen I found in my buddy’s gun shop, Defcon 1 & The Chow Hall, was listed for sale at a little under $3,000, which isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination. But, then again, maybe that’s the price you pay for (an improved) piece of military history.

 

40 Responses to Surplus Sunday: The Beretta BM59 Rifle

  1. Basically they just turned an M1 Garand into an M14. Too bad in doing so you don’t get the clip sound on empty because you have a magazine instead.

  2. Your warning about the rewelds is good advice. I’ve owned two BM59s in the past. The first one never worked right, and the second one blew up. Both were rewelds. Too bad, because the concept was great. Back around 1960 the NRA ran a cover story in their magazine regarding a firearms developer who had created an M1 conversion process that turned the rifle into a BM59-like weapon. The NRA pondered the question of why the Army developed the M14 when the conversion of M1s would have cost a fraction of that. Some things never seem to change.

    • It’s called Army Intelligence and Cold War spending, regardless of whether it was cheaper they needed to have bigger an better weapons over the Soviets and retooling a rifle the Soviets already knew about was a no-go.

    • For practical purposes, it is. But it retains the look of the M1 with the gas trap way at the front of the barrel. E-Sarco sells BM59 parts kits that hobbyists use to build their own semi-auto BM59 onto $600 Garand receivers. Bipasses the whole re-weld thing the author was worried about.

    • It was done by converting existing M1 rifles to use magazines, which could be done rather cheaply and quickly, instead of being a new rifle (M14) which required more than 10 years of development and millions of dollars. Note that the US had been toying around adding a magazine to the Garand since the latter part of WWII and the M14 was originally sold as a rifle that could be built using Garand tooling with minor changes, which turned out to not to be the case. But it did help the US to find a way out of buying the FAL

      • WHat makes the concept of altering the M1 Garand to magazine fed is the 7.62×51 cartridge, which is shorter. The 30-06 cartridge is longer, thus, when trying to adapt that cartridge for magazine feeding, there was not enough time for the follower/spring of the magazine to push the next cartridge up for chambering before the bolt returned on it’s forward movement.

  3. It’s Sunday, and you just made me lust after something.
    You should feel bad Josh. ?
    The BM59 is on my “must have” list.

  4. Ok, so let me work the math… I could buy one of those Berettas or two Springfield Arms M1As… or maybe for that amount of money I could buy something around 5,000 rounds of quality, surplus .30-06.

    BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM ping!

    Favorite sounds on a range Sunday. Yeah, no brainer. I’d go for the extra ammo.

  5. I read the Garand was initially offered as a design with a detachable 20rnd magazine shooting the 30.06 round.

    But the military turned it down, they thought the infantry men would shoot to many rounds. Yep, military intelligence indeed.

    • I thought it was more along the lines of the military thinking the troops would loose the magazines. I don’t believe at the time they were thinking of magazines as disposable and it would have been 1 magazine to a rifle like the British Enfields.

      • Except they already had the BAR with the trooper carrying multiple mags. Then there was the Thompson, The M1 carbine and the grease gun, all with soldiers carrying multiple mags.

        It would be interesting with a WWII buff to weigh in on this.

        • At the time the m1 was being designed by Garand the military didn’t have the m1 carbine or the grease gun. They had precious few tommy guns. The m1 was officially adopted as standard issue in 1936. And when America got officially into the war it was just a few weeks shy of 1942 and the units that first saw ground combat against the Japanese were marines that were still equipped with the 03 springfield.

          M1 was chambered in .30 cal cause all our light machine guns, including those on aircraft and ships were in .30 cal along with the BAR. Warehouses were full of the stuff and production lines were a going concern in that caliber. It made sense to stick with that round as it makes sense to stick with 5.56 now.

        • Many armies in the 30s still considered detachable magazines to be too fancy for the common grunt to handle. Yeah, there were SMGs, but they were usually issued in a limited fashion, to officers or to specialists (which were assumed to be better trained).

          For another example from that era, look at SVT. Yeah, it has a detachable mag, but it also has guides to load it from stripper clips, and the intent was that clips would be the normal way to keep it running, with mag change reserved for emergency situations. At least they didn’t go quite as far as Brits did, chaining the magazine to the rifle…

        • The BAR was not a general issue weapon. There was maybe one per squad (depending on the unit and how well equipped they were). The BAR gunner received additional training to operate and maintain the weapon. Everyone else received familiarization training so that they could operate it in an emergency. Because of the BAR’s status as a specialized weapon, the detachable magazine was not considered a liability.

          From another perspective, most armies in the 1930’s believed that the general issue rifle needed to be as simple as possible, including the US. The grunts were not trusted to conserve their ammunition, keep track of things like magazines, or much else. The Lee-Enfield had a detachable magazine, but British doctrine specified that it was to be removed only for cleaning or repair. Only one magazine was issued to a soldier. Every other general issue rifle of the era had a fixed magazine and loaded with either a stripper or an enbloc clip. When the US released specifications for a semi automatic service rifle in the 1930’s, a fixed magazine and clip loading were required. When the M1 Carbine was developed in the early 40’s it broke the mold, but it was not intended to be a general issue weapon either. The Germans brought the detachable magazine further with the FG 42 and StG 44. It wasn’t until the postwar era that detachable magazines became general issue.

    • The caliber was to be 7mm, give or take lands or grooves. The en bloc clip would have held 10, rather than eight. And a soldier could carry (let me do the math…can’t…) more rounds. Performance would have been as good as or better than the ’06.

      On the magazines, it would be interesting to take the decision-makers forward in time to where soldiers carry (don’t know facts here) many, many magazines.

      Tim Shuff’s Mini-G with the -14 package (and, chambered in, say .243) would have been ideal for WWII. And not so bad for ‘Nam.

      And the BM59 muzzle brake, makes the 7.7-pound Mini-G kick no more than my AR with 77-grain rounds. Without the flash hider slot, it produces one hell of a noise and a giant flame, but the 16-inch barrel will produce DRT groups with open sights and old eyes at 200 yards all day long. (The 300 yard targets are too far of a hike!)

      • John Garand experimented with adapting the M1 for a 20 round box magazine, but could not adapt the BAR magazines to function reliably. A different sized mag, if I remember, was made, but because neither that magazine nor the BAR magazine could be used in both of the two weapons and, that the was was closing, the whole idea was scraped. The design was developed because of the anticipated invasion of the Japanese mainland.

        • The Military also developed F/A trigger parts for the Garand. A guy I met when I ran a gun store, showed me his dad’s Garand from WW2,which was outfitted with the kit. It was most definitely a factory conversion. Everything was fitted, finely machined. Did some reading up on the Garand, and learned that springfield armory did a very small production run of complete F/A garands, approx. 100, and tested them. Said they worked well, but it expended the 8 rd en block clip too quickly, so the project was shelved.

    • The early Garands were designed for the .276 Pedersen cartridge. The change to the .30-06 cartridge happened rather late in the Garand’s development. The issue of a detachable magazine was debated independent of the Garand itself in the US Army Ordnance in the 20’s and 30’s.

      There were two concerns: that the infantryman would waste ammunition, and the second issue was loss of box magazines. If the riflemen on the front line just dropped box mags into the muck and mire on the front line, then the supply line would have to bring forward more magazines. Shipping ammo already loaded into box magazines would increase the weight of ammo that was having to be hauled to the front lines. Remember, the WWII era was before the helo, so air re-supply wasn’t the typical way that forward troops would be quickly re-supplied in that era. .30-06 ball ammo was delivered to the front lines already clipped up in the en-bloc clips for the Garand, and the en bloc clips were small, light and fairly inconsequential to the logistics chains. The M-16 magazines, being made out of aluminum, changed these ideas in the 60’s, as well as helo’s now becoming quite commonplace for resupply.

      The definitive book on the subject is “The Book of the Garand,” By Maj. Gen. Julian S. Hatcher, USA. It was first published in 1948, and reprints are available quite reasonably.

      • The H&K G3 had Aluminum mags. And people were carrying magazines for AK47s, Stgw57, FALs, MAS49s, M14s and even the AR10s (Portuguese soldiers, not Americans) before the first American soldier had the opportunity to grab an AR15/M16. Some of these rifles had the option to be loaded from stripper clips since, contrary to the popular belief, ammo is still being supplied to even the US Army in clips. The difference is in the AR (others can do the same) you sit your ass down, put the little bracket on the magazine itself, shove the clip onto this bracket doohdad and start loading the magazines directly.

        So, stripper clips are not some crackpot idea relegated to the annals of history.

    • The final configuration of the M1 was a compromise. John Garand intended the M1 to use the same 20 round magazines as the BAR. John Pedersen had a competing automatic rifle, the T1E3 in 2.76 Pedersen that took ten round enblock clips. John Garand’s won the competition. The Pedersen rifle used a toggle link action and required lubricated ammo to function. Pedersen realized the bean counters at the war department would never allow a twenty round semiautomatic genera service rifle to be adopted and used his influence to convince the War Department to use his enblock feeding device and his new .276 Pedersen cartridge. Prototype .276 Garands were built and tested until no less a personage than General Douglas MacArthur intervened and declared that the Garand should be chambered in .30-06. So the Garand’s rfile was adopted as the standard service rifle chambered in .30 caliber using Pedersen’s enblock feeding mechanism.

      • I would say that having millions of 30-06 rounds stuck in warehouses and other weapons already in the inventory using it might have helped MacArthur’s decision to stick to it.

  6. I purchased a BM62 new many years ago. It was like a short barreled M-14, but used Beretta mags that looked like M-14’s, but were not cross compatble. And expensive, too. Is the BM62 as costly or as rare as the BM59 is today?

    • There are M1 Garand receivers modified to BM59 available for about $600, maybe a little less. If you buy one pre-modified, you don’t have to feel guilty because you did not do the work and you didn’t ask anyone else to do the work. Since someone else decided to do it and make them available, then why not build your BM59?

  7. I’m just chiming in because I am Italian (born here in the USA, but raised in Italy and just moved back almost 50 years after birth – never too late for the good move!) and it just pleased me to see something nice about Italy.
    I was also drafted by the Italian military (it was a draft service back then) and I did use the BM59.

    I can’t remember anything particular about it, I was just glad I was using (to my knowledge back then) an American rifle. Go figure.

    I love thoroughly the M1 Garand (have a few) and the US of A.
    Done with my comment of the day.

  8. Another Italian reporting here.
    I too used the BM 59 during the military service in the Italian Army (BTW, to make things more messy we used to call them FAL – Fucile Automatico Leggero, the same as the FN ones).
    The BM 59 was designed with extreme accuracy. At Beretta they even purchased an high speed cine camera to observe the vibrations of the action during full auto to study the possible origin of jammings.

    At present the Army arsenal in Terni has tens of thousands of BM59 that could be easily converted in semiauto operation only for sale on the civilian market and could fetch some badly needed money for the Italian Republic’s coffers, but the Italian gov’t want to have all of them melted instead. Unless there is some “liberation movement” somewhere else in the world have them shipped to…

    • At present, Aim Surplus, Sarco and GarandGuy carry parts kits. Sarco and Garandguy have the full completed rifles for $1295 and up. With a pre-machined receiver running $600 and the parts kit about $400, then you’ll have to buy a barrel, maybe…….it’s just as much or a little less to buy the completed rifle. If you have to have a smith assemble the parts kit, etc, add to the cost.

  9. Breaking news!
    The Italian Army is selling away some thousands of these beauties. Of course with the bullet hose function permanently disabled 🙁
    Maybe some will reach your shores

    • They can’t. Because they were full auto once, there is no legal “disabling.” They are forever legally machine guns in the US. Even if factory modified to not be. The receiver will have to be replaced with a non-FA receiver. Not modified, replaced.

      Sucks.

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