An in-depth look at the Beretta Model 12S submachine gun.
In general, submachine guns are dirty, noisy, inaccurate and ugly contraptions. Especially those made around the middle of the century. I mean, just look at the M3 “grease gun.” But every once in a while, a truly inspired design comes along and just takes your breath away. Beretta’s Model 12S SMG is one of those designs, something so perfectly functional and asthetically beautiful that to many people, it’s the gold standard to which all other SMGs should be compared. And I can definitely see why . . .
At the end of World War II, the Italians were still cranking out their old Beretta Model 38 submachine guns to supply the troops. The gun looked remarkably similar to the Finnish KP/31 Suomi (which had been introduced about four years prior). But the Model 38 had better fit and finish, and while it worked fine it was labor intensive to make.
The Italians wanted something to keep up with the bigger kids in the sandbox, specifically the German MP-40 and the American M3, which could be stamped out of sheet metal and mass produced without any woodwork required. In 1959, Beretta finally released the 9mm Model 12 (and later the updated Model 12S) and to this day it remains the standard-issue SMG of many developed nations, Italy included.
The Model 12S is indeed stamped out of sheet metal like its competitors, but only in the same way that a Ford Focus and a Lamborghini Super-Gallardo are both welded together. Having handled other SMGs from the era, the gun feels exceptionally smooth and polished. Where you could tell that an M3 is slapped together and parkerized in large batches, the Model 12S feels like there was an individual craftsman whose sole job was to build and finish each gun. The bolt moves like it was sitting in a vat of olive oil (extra virgin, of course) and even the texture of the finish is satin smooth.
Life with the Beretta isn’t all butterflies and unicorn farts, though. There is a rough patch to this gun, namely its stock. It might be too much to ask that a stock made out of a single piece of bent wire be comfortable and usable, but on this gun it’s about a “meh” on the comfort scale. It works great at controlling what recoil remains after the silencer has done its job, but it feels a little strange and uncomfortable.
The controls for the 12S are perfectly thought out — for right-handed people. All of the controls are designed for righties only with no reciprocal controls on the other side. Those controls, though, are pretty darn good. The magazine release is the same style as the AK-style mag release, which means it makes sense for the time period but is a little slow compared to the button release of today. As for the mode selector, while the paddle on the switch may seem comically large it actually makes it very easy to use. Moving from safe to semi-automatic is a snap and the detent for the semi-auto mode is nice and crisp. Moving to full auto or “raffica” (R) is similarly simple.
One of the more interesting things about the gun is that it has a “proper” safety as well as an additional grip safety. On something like an SMG, a grip safety isn’t a bad idea — especially one with a smooth and light trigger like the Model 12S.
Wapping up the effusive praise of the design, the integrated foregrip fits perfectly in my hand, the sling swivel on the tail cap is a great idea for hiding this thing under trench coats, the charging handle falls easily to hand and the chrome bolt is positively pimp.
Speaking of the bolt, this was one of the most enjoyable firearms I’ve ever shot. While the gun is an open bolt design (meaning that the bolt needs to move forward before it goes off for every shot, which takes time and can lead to inaccuracy) the action is so incredibly smooth that you can hold the gun steady and keep your rounds on target. Recoil is negligible and the trigger moves freely and smoothly. In fact, there’s no break at all — you just keep squeezing the trigger and eventually the gun goes off.
Despite that break-free trigger, accuracy isn’t an issue. We were nailing a standard BC-zone target from 50 yards with ease, and thanks to the light recoil the gun usually stayed within “minute of bad guy” even under full auto. Although that could probably be somewhat attributed to the MASSIVE silencer attached to the front of the gun. And thanks to that silencer, the gun is whisper quiet — especially with subsonic ammo. The only thing you hear is the bolt slamming against the breech face…that’s it.
Despite the size of the can, the gun was still very light. Light enough for kids, even. With some assistance, that is.
Kevin Brittingham believes that the 12S is the standard by which all other pistol caliber SMGs should be judged, and I agree completely. This gun is a masterpiece of engineering and manufacturing, showcasing the best of what Beretta can produce. And the instant I see one of these for sale at a price I can afford, even if I need to sell all my other guns, I’m buying it.
Beretta Model 12S
Weight: 3.2 kg empty
Capacity: 20, 30, 40 round magazine
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
All ratings are relative compared to the other weapons in the gun’s category.
Accuracy: * * * *
Open bolt guns inherently have some inaccuracy due to their nature, but this one is simply awesome.
Ergonomics: * * * *
The lack of ambidextrous controls and the wire stock keep the 12S out of five star range, but otherwise it’s damned good.
Ergonomics Firing: * * * * *
Uh…no. Absolutely not.
Overall Rating: * * * * *
Kevin was right when he calls this the gold standard of SMGs.