Beretta M12: A submachine gun favored by Vietcong once upon a time

Eric Sof

Beretta M12 submachine gun

The Beretta M12 (Model 12) submachine gun has been used by several armies since the late 1950s and has been produced under license in Indonesia and Brazil. Beretta has now brought it up to date in a new and slightly modified version issued to the Italian forces and exported to Tunisia and other countries. This gun is very similar to the Heckler and Koch MP5 early version.


This weapon employed a stamped steel construction, folding buttstock, and an L-shaped bolt. Most of the bolt’s mass was above the barrel (wrap-around bolt). Beretta developed the basic layout of the weapon in 1957 with the prototype Model 10 submachine gun, and the final Model 12 emerged in 1958.

Beretta M12 operates on the principle of recoil-free lock, sliding on the barrel. The lock chamber with front and rear grip, magazine slot, and drain chamber form one unit—needle strike mechanism with a fixed needle.

The basic Beretta M12 is a sheet steel submachine gun of outstanding robustness and simplicity. The breech block is of the ‘overhung’ type and surrounds the barrel at the moment of firing, while the pistol grips and magazine housing are all in one piece. There is a grip safety in the pistol grip, which ensures that the bolt cannot move unless the weapon is correctly held in the firing position.

It has a reputation for smooth action and controllable fire, mainly due to its balance and the fact that most of the barrel is inside the receiver. The turning movement about the forward pistol grip is minimal.

Beretta M12S submachine gun
Beretta M12S submachine gun chambered in 9mm Parabellum (Photo: Beretta)

The Beretta M12S differs in having the fire selector and safety catch in a single lever unit instead of two; the front sight has been made adjustable for windage and elevation; the attachment of the receiver rear cap has been strengthened, and its locking catch moved to the top of the receiver for more straightforward visual checking; the butt plate of the folding metal stock has been modified by the addition of a catch which ensures positive locking folded or unfolded position.

Though these are relatively minor changes, they have made a positive difference to the weapon and turned a good design into a better one.


Production of the new submachine gun commenced in 1959, and in 1961 it was officially adopted by the Italian Government. It was also widely exported. Beretta sold manufacturing licenses to Brazil and Indonesia. During the early 1980s, the manufacturer improved the basic design by introducing the Model 12S submachine gun, which had an improved safety arrangement and several other minor changes.

The Model 12S (Beretta M12S), also known as PM 12S (Pistola Mitralligica, or machine pistol), is still being manufactured in Italy and Indonesia and is widely used by European and many other police and security forces.

There is a weapon that has nothing to do with Beretta M12, except it looks very similar. It is a Spectre M4 submachine gun produced by SITES, another Italian arms company.

Technical specifications

Country of origin:Italy
Manufacturer:Armi Beretta SpA, Gardone Val Trompia
Type:Blowback, selective fire
Caliber:9mm Parabellum
Barrel:7.87 in (200 mm)
Weight:7.05 lbs (3.2 kg)
Magazine capacity:20, 32, or 40 rounds
Cyclic rate of fire:550 rounds/minute
Effective firing range:100–200 m sight adjustments

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