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Beretta Model 1938A Sub-Machine Gun

This weapon originated as a semi-automatic carbine in 1935, but was then reworked to become a selective fire weapon and went into production in 1938. A highly successful weapon, it underwent minor modifications during its life and remained in production until 1950 before being superseded by more modern weapons. The first model was fully stocked, similar to the Model 1918, but had a folding bayonet of special design and a cooling jacket with long slots surrounding the barrel.

It also had an entirely new firing mechanism with two triggers – the front trigger for firing single shots and the rear trigger for firing automatic. The front end of the barrel jacket was formed into a rudimentary compensator with two large holes in its top. Although quite a serviceable design, this was produced in small numbers during 1938 and was then replaced by the second version.

The second version added a fire selector in the shape of a cross bolt locking bar behind the rear trigger that, when pushed in, prevented the rear trigger from being depressed and thus restricted fire to single shots. The barrel jacket had smaller circular holes but the compensator and bayonet of the first model were retained. A third version was designed at the end of 1938 and went into mass production concurrently with the second version. The difference was that the third version removed the bayonet and changed the design of the compensator to give four upward facing slots.

The two mass production versions were turned out in large numbers for the Italian, German and Romanian armies until 1944, after which production lapsed until after the war was over. The original design called for machine components throughout , an expensive and slow business. In 1940, in order to speed up production, changes were introduced such as the barrel jacket being formed from stamped sheet metal, rolled and welded, while the design of the bolt was simplified by adopting a fixed firing pin instead of the VP separate unit firing pin.

While the weapon was originally intended for 9mm Glisenti ammunition, it could also fire the 9mm German Parabellum round equally well. In order to extract the utmost performance from it a special cartridge known as the 9mm M38 was issued for it, identified by a green surround to the cap, and was issued in 10 round chargers that could be loaded into the magazine using a special loading tool. The Model 1938A was widely used throughout the war seeing service in North Africa and the Eastern Front by the Italian, German and Romanian armies.

The Model 38/42 was a move to further simplify production of the Model 1938A using metal stampings for the body and magazine housing, discarding the barrel jacket, and reverting the compensator to a two slot model. The first version had a barrel milled with longitudinal grooves for cooling, but this was abandoned in favor of a smooth barrel. The stock was also shortened and ended in the rear of the magazine housing. The Model 38/44 was simply the 38/42 with the smooth barrel, but with a slight change in the design of the bolt and return spring that ended up with the receiver end cap being plain whereas the 38/42 had a raised center on the cap to act as an anchor for the return spring.


Caliber 9 mm
Barrel 12.5 inches
Length 37.5 inches
Barrel 6 grooves with a right hand twist
Weight 9 Pounds 4 Ouncs
Feed System 10, 20, 30 or 40 round detachable box magazines
Rate of Fire 600 rounds per minute (Cyclic)
System of Operation Blowback, selective fire

Article by: JDG

The Encyclopedia of Infantry Weapon of World War II
The Encyclopedia of Weapons: From World War II to the Present Day