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Beretta BM-59

Automatic rifle

Beretta BM-59

Like the competing M14, the BM-59 is a battle rifle developed from the M1 Garand

 
 
Country of origin Italy
Entered service 1959
Caliber 7.62 x 51 mm NATO
Weight (empty) 4.4 kg
Weight (loaded) 5.38 kg
Length 1 095 mm
Barrel length 491 mm
Muzzle velocity 823 m/s
Cyclic rate of fire 750 rpm
Practical rate of fire 30 - 80 rpm
Magazine capacity 20 rounds
Sighting range 1 200 m
Range of effective fire ~ 500 m
Maximum range ~ 1 000 m

 

   The Beretta BM-59 was the first Italian automatic rifle to achieve operational service. It was developed directly from the ubiquitous Springfield Armory M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle, and primarily served the international arms market as an alternative to the M14; another Springfield Armory product, which had also evolved from the M1 Garand.

   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 group.

   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 FAL, M14, or 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 Industries Corporation.

   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 AK-47, FAL, 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.

 

Variants

 

   BM-59SL: Converted M1 Garand, without a selective fire capability.

   BM-59E: Another semi-automatic direct conversion of the M1 Garand.

   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.

   BM-59R: Improved BM-59 Mk.I with a rate-reducing mechanism built into the trigger mechanism.

   BM-59GL: Variant of the BM-59 Mk.I outfitted to launch rifle grenades.

   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 buttstock.

   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 a bipod.

   BM-69: Improved BM-62, with a bipod and tri-compensator as standard equipment.

 

Related Weapons

 

   M1 Garand: 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 magazine.

   M14: 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 BM-59.

 

Similar Weapons

 

   FN FAL: 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 AK-47 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 FAMAS F1 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 FN FAL. 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 the BM-59.

   Heckler & Koch G3: 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.

   Howa 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 SiG 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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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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Beretta BM-59

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