A U.S. military contract truly did seem an impossible goal for a foreign company in 1978, the year Congress issued its directive to the Dept. of Defense instructing it to search for a new 9 mm handgun to replace the M1911A1.
Although the M1911 was widely recognized as a reliable, powerful and iconic sidearm of American military might, and was a favorite with veterans, soldiers and traditionalists, Congress decided that maintaining the stockpile of M1911s and some 20 other types of military sidearms was impractical. Many of the M1911s were old and in disrepair. Maintaining ammunition and parts supply for the vast array of sidearms incurred unnecessary costs. Also, Congress believed it was imperative that the U.S. adopt the standard 9 mm Luger round so its soldiers could work more closely in the field with its NATO allies.
The original Beretta 92 went through a long series of design changes during its development. In the end, the Beretta Model 92SB-F passed some of the most rigorous military firearm testing in modern history to become the “Pistol, Semiautomatic, 9 mm, M9.” In exceeding the performance of all other entries, the 92SB-F overcame political, legal and technical hurdles—in addition to harsh criticism from both military and civilian firearm enthusiasts and supporters of the M1911.
The History of the 92FS/M9 Improvements to the 92SB-F led to the Model 92FS, the lineage of which can be traced to the Model 1915, the company’s first semi-automatic pistol. Although sharing neither mechanical similarities nor outward appearances with the 92FS, the Model 1915 was the starting point from which Beretta developed its Model 1934, a major standard-issue sidearm for the Italian military during World War II. From this design the company developed the Model 1951 “Brigadier” in 9 mm Luger, which was the immediate predecessor of the original Model 92, released in 1975. It is interesting to note that, in addition, the 92FS bears significant resemblances to other manufacturers’ pre-World War II designs, most notably the Walther Model P.38.
In comparing the Walther P.38 with the Beretta 92FS, both barrels are disengaged from the slide by a locking block hinged to the underside of the barrel. Essentially, the locking block drops to a step in the frame, halting rearward movement of the barrel, keeping it horizontal with the slide during cycling and improving accuracy. Like the Walther P.38, the 92FS is chambered in 9 mm Luger, is a locked-breech double-action/single-action pistol and uses a slide-mounted safety lever. Both the 92FS and the P.38 safety levers double as de-cocking levers, releasing the hammers when rotated into the “safe” positions. Also, the 92FS safety lever acts on the exposed trigger bar like the P.38, separating the trigger mechanism from the sear for added safety. In slight contrast, however, the P.38 safety holds its firing pin in place, and the 92FS safety rotates its firing pin striker away from the hammer.
With a design heavily influenced by the P.38, the Beretta Model 1951 Brigadier was primarily a military sidearm that saw limited service in the Italian navy and police forces. It also found acceptance in a handful of African and Middle Eastern militaries. Its slide is nearly the same as that of the 92, but the gun has a cross-bolt safety on the frame and a single-stack magazine. The 92’s magazine, likely influenced by the Browning Hi-Power, is a double-stack design. The safety on the original 92 is a trigger- and slide-locking lever, located on the left side of the frame just below the slide. It can be engaged with the hammer cocked or uncocked. The Italian state police, however, preferred a de-cocking lever, so Beretta moved the safety to its current place on the slide, first seen in the Model 92S (“S” indicating a change in the safety). Although not ambidextrous, this safety feature, along with the half-cocked-hammer safety option, is nearly the same as on today’s Model 92FS.