Country of origin
7.62 x 51 mm NATO
1 095 mm
Cyclic rate of fire
Practical rate of fire
30 - 80 rpm
1 200 m
Range of effective fire
~ 500 m
~ 1 000 m
BM-59 was the first Italian automatic rifle to achieve operational
service. It was developed directly from the ubiquitous Springfield
Armory M1 Garand battle rifle, and primarily served the
international arms market as an alternative to the
another Springfield Armory product, which had also evolved from the
The origins of the BM-59 are rooted in Beretta's acquisition
of a license to manufacture the Springfield Armory M1 Garand battle
rifle during the 1950s, which at the time was the most widely-used
service rifle in NATO. Most of the examples used in Europe were
"hand-me-downs" from the US, many of which were well-worn from use
in World War 2. As US production of the M1 was winding-down, local
production in Europe had proven a godsend for NATO. Many of
Beretta's M1 Garands were also exported to other NATO nations, and
even states as far away as Argentina and Indonesia, and the quality
of these weapons effectively re-established Beretta's reputation as
a first-rate firearms manufacturer.
However, as quickly as
the M1 Garand was modernizing the armed forces of NATO, was also
fast becoming obsolete, and by the late 1950s the Italian Army had
identified a need for a new service rifle with a larger magazine and
a selective fire capability. Several assault rifles were submitted
to the Army, and through the process of elimination were reduced to
two finalists. Ironically, both were copies of firearms originating
from other nations; Franchi's LF-59 was a modified
FN FAL, while
Beretta's BM-59 designed by Domenico Salza was a direct upgrade of
the M1 Garand itself. Owing to large stockpiles of M1 Garands
already on-hand, Beretta's established service rifle manufacturing
base, the minor expenses associated with simply converting the
rifles Italy already had (as opposed to setting-up production for
the FAL, which for the Italian firearms industry was an entirely new
rifle), the BM-59 was the clear winner, and as planned, achieved
initial operational capacity in 1959 (hence the "59" in BM-59).
The speed and cost-effectiveness of the converting the M1
Garand into the BM-59 didn't go unnoticed in the US, either.
Notably, in the early 1960s an American Rifleman magazine article
lamented that the
Springfield Armory M14 had no meaningful
advantages over the BM-59, and questioned the US Army's logic in
spending a king's ransom on the M14, when they still had millions of
M1 Garands in storage.
The layout and general appearance of the BM-59 are almost the
same as those of the M1 Garand, with straight-through wooden
furniture, a "wraparound" upper handguard, multiple brackets, and a
sloped foregrip. The only obvious visible change is the addition of
a large, protruding 20-round box magazine. Less obvious are the
slightly different sights, fire selector lever, and the slightly
shorter barrel (though early production BM-59s had full-length M1
Garand barrels). Another notable addition to the BM-59 is the
Beretta "Tri-Compensator" fixture on the muzzle. This device
functions as a flash hider, a muzzle compensator, and also as an
adaptor for rifle grenades.
The construction of the BM-59 differs little from the M1
Garand, with forged steel receivers and barrels, and a stainless
steel gas tube, while the newly-added box magazine is made of
stamped steel. The furniture is identical to that of the M1 Garand,
and can be effortlessly swapped between the two rifles. The rifling
in the BM-59 is the same as in the M1 Garand as well, with 4 grooves
and a right-hand twist (though the length of the twist may be
different in full-production rifles with the shorter barrel).
The operation of the BM-59 is also the same as that of the M1
Garand; it is gas-operated with a rotating bolt and long-stroke gas
piston. Though as previously noted, a selective fire capability was
integrated into the BM-59, with a cyclical rate of fire of 750
rounds/minute (many sources claim 800 rpm, and it is unclear which
value is accurate). The safety switch is unchanged from that of the
M1 Garand as well, and safes the weapon when pushed into the trigger
group, and enables it to fire when pushed in front of the trigger
The sights on the BM-59 are similar to those used on the M1
Garand, with a front blade sight and a rear "peephole" aperture
sight. The windage settings are unchanged from the M1, while the
maximum range setting on the adjustable rear sight has been
increased to 1 200 m. The BM-59's sights are actually interchangeable
with those of the M1 Garand, though swapping them is not necessarily
a good idea; the barleycorn front sight of the M1 is too wide for
the BM-59 (it has a narrower blade sight, because the sights are
closer together), while the rear sight of one rifle will not give
accurate range settings for the other (the M1's .30-06 round has a
slightly different trajectory than 7.62x51mm NATO).
Though magazines may be attached or removed in the same
manner as on an
AK-47, the BM-59's magazine can also be
recharged through the rifle's action using stripper clips. In fact,
this is how the Italian Army intended soldiers to reload their
weapons in the field; each was issued several stripper clips, but
only one magazine. The magazines in the M14 could be recharged in
the same manner, though some of the armies that adopted it issued
more than one magazine with each rifle.
The BM-59 employs a similar knife bayonet to that of the US
M4 (which interestingly was made for use on the M1 Carbine, rather
than the M1 Garand), but it will also accept the M6 bayonet for the
M14, the M7 bayonet for the
M16, and other interchangeable models.
It will not accept the types of bayonets used on the M1 Garand.
The BM-59 was surprisingly successful on the arms market, and
its sub-variants are known to have been operated by the armed
forces of Algeria, Argentina, Bahrain, Denmark, Eritrea, Ethiopia,
Italy, Indonesia, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, San Marino, and
Somalia. In addition, it was also manufactured under license in
Indonesia by the Bandung Weapons Factory, and Nigeria by the Defense
The Italian Army began phasing-out their BM-59s in the late
1980s, as they began to acquire AR-70 assault rifles (also
Beretta products) to replace them. The BM-59s were officially retired
in 1990 and replaced by improved
AR-70/90 assault rifles. A small number remain in service with the Italian armed
forces, though most of these are used for ceremonial purposes. It
remains in service with other nations however, notably Somalia,
Libya, and Argentina.
Surprisingly for a rifle that has received such little
attention (compared to the likes of the
M16, and so on),
the BM-59 has seen extensive combat use. It was first fired in anger
by Indonesian troops during anti-guerrilla operations in the early
1970s, and was later used by the Indonesian armed forces during the
1975-76 Invasion of East Timor. It was later used by Argentine
troops during the Falklands War, Somali soldiers, rebels, and
militia in the Somali Civil War and the many troubles that followed,
and by Libyan soldiers and rebels in the Libyan Civil War.
Semi-automatic versions of the BM-59 have also been sold on
the civilian market, though due to widespread public indifference
toward them in their heyday (its important to consider that this
market was inundated with surplus and reproduction M1 Garands, and
the new Springfield Armory M1A; the semi-auto version of the M14),
they never sold well. It was only after many years that the quality
and performance of the BM-59 series was widely appreciated in
civilian circles, and as a result, these rifles are now unusually
rare, expensive, and jealously hoarded by most who own them. As a
result of these circumstances, imitations of the BM-59 have found
their way onto the civilian market, many of which were crudely
converted from M1 Garands by "fly-by-night" companies; these are
distinguished from the real BM-59s by their poor-quality cuts and
welds, and the absence of a Beretta or Springfield Armory stamp.
Moreover, as the BM-59 was marketed with the attitude that only one
magazine was necessary for each rifle (civilians were also expected
to reload only using stripper clips, and spare magazines were thus
effectively replacement parts for the weapon itself), spare
magazines are especially rare, and typically sell for more than $200
apiece; the cost of just two of these magazines is high enough to
buy an SKS with.
Though no longer actively employed by any Western Bloc
nations, BM-59s continue to see service in the Developing World, and
have likely proliferated to non-state groups as well. If the
longevity of the M1 Garand, Lee-Enfield Mk.II, and
StG-44 in service
with these factions are any indication, the BM-59 will probably make
future appearances on the battlefield as well.
The BM-59 series hasn't been in production for decades, and
it is unlikely to resume, even for the civilian market. Used
civilian rifles often sell for over $3 000, though surplus military
BM-59s are undoubtedly much cheaper.
Converted M1 Garand, without a selective fire capability.
BM-59E: Another semi-automatic direct conversion of the M1
BM-59 Mk.I: Basic production model as described above, with a
mixture of M1 Garand components and new parts made by Beretta (a few
of which are actually interchangeable with the M1 Garand).
BM-59D: This is basically an otherwise standard BM-59 Mk.I,
with an auxiliary pistol grip added behind the trigger group.
Improved BM-59 Mk.I with a rate-reducing mechanism built into the
BM-59GL: Variant of the BM-59 Mk.I outfitted to launch rifle
BM-59 Mk.II: Added a separate pistol grip to the wooden
stock, to improve controllability is fully-automatic fire.
BM-59 Mk.III: Carbine variant with a folding skeleton
BM-59 Ital TA: BM-59 Mk.III variant for use by mountain
infantry (TA is short for "Truppe Alpine"), with a shorter barrel
and an integral flash hider.
BM-59 Para: Paratrooper version of the BM-59 Mk.III, with a
shorter barrel and a detachable flash hider.
BM-59 Mk.IV: Squad automatic weapon variant, with plastic
furniture and a heavy barrel. It is similar to the M14A1.
SP-1: BM-59 series rifles manufactured under license in
Indonesia by the Bandung Weapons Factory.
BM-62: Semi-automatic-only model for the civilian market,
chambered in .308 Winchester. The BM-62 was built with a different
flash hider, and no bayonet lug, grenade launcher compatibility, or
tri-compensator. They also don't normally have a gas compensator or
BM-69: Improved BM-62, with a bipod and tri-compensator as
This famous semi-automatic battle rifle was the design basis of the
BM-59. Interestingly, many were converted to fire 7.62x51 mm NATO
instead of the original .30-06 (7.62x63 mm) round, and Argentine
Army M1s were actually converted in the 1960s to use the BM-59's
Another assault rifle developed from the M1 Garand, though the
Springfield Armory M14 had a longer and much more complex evolution.
It nonetheless reached the market sooner, and easily outsold the
Though similar in operation to the BM-59, the exterior of the FAL
was much more modern, with an all-modular construction, a carrying
handle, and a separate stock, pistol grip, and foregrip. The FAL was
the most successful Western Bloc assault rifle, and only the
family of assault rifles have more customers and copies built.
FA-MAS Type 62: This 7.62x51mm assault rifle was developed by
Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Étienne for the French armed forces,
but it was not accepted into service. It is unrelated to the later
5.56x45 mm assault rifle of the 1980s (though interestingly, the
bayonet the FAMAS was built to use was the same one designed for the
FA-MAS Type 62).
AR-10: Produced in the US by ArmaLite, the AR-10 has a more
radical configuration than the BM-59, with a separate stock, pistol
grip, and foregrip, and a sight rail that doubles as a carrying
handle. Its action is similar, but uses direct impingement instead
of a gas piston. It was only a minor commercial success, and the
civilian models didn't sell much better.
LF-59: Competing rifle developed by Franchi, based on the
It reportedly performed well, but was not accepted into service.
CETME: This Spanish assault rifle was developed from a German
design, and unusually for a weapon in its class, it is
blowback-operated rather than gas-operated. The layout is markedly
different as well, which has more in common with the FAL than the
BM-59. It was a modest commercial success, but was outsold even by
Licensed copy of the CETME made in Germany. This rifle was
tremendously successful and long-lived in production.
SG 510: Made by SiG in Switzerland, the SG 510 looks somewhat
like an FAL on the outside, but operates like a CETME on the inside.
It did not sell as well as the BM-59.
Type 64: Japanese 7.62x51 mm NATO assault rifle similar in
performance to the BM-59. It remains in service with the JGSDF
despite its obsolescence.
SG 552: Swiss-designed 7.62x51 mm NATO version of the
SG 550 assault rifle. Its layout is similar to that of the
ubiquitous FAL, though its action is the same as the AK-47.
Galil AR: 7.62x51 mm NATO version of the Galil rifle. As with
the SG 552, it looks similar to the FAL on the outside, but
functions like an AK-47 on the inside.
HCAR: Modern assault rifle developed by Ohio Gun Works, based
on the operation of the Browning Model 1918 BAR automatic rifle. The
HCAR is a selective fire rifle chambered in .30-06, and feeds from a
30-round magazine, making is possibly the most powerful assault
rifle available today.
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