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Beretta 92SB-F; military pistol.

* Well, it finally happened. The old "Army Mule" .45 Government Model is at last being put out to pasture after almost three quarters of a century of honored service, and a new 9mm Parabellum service pistol has been selected--and the choice is the Bretta Model 92SB-F.

The Army's announcement came on January 14th of this year, marking a conclusion to the rigorous and protracted XM-9 tests to find a 9mm Parabellum (9x19) replacement for the armed forces' dwindling stores of aging .45 auto pistols. (The last batch of military .45s was acquired in 1946.) Large numbers of .38 revolvers on duty in the various services, principally the Air Force, are also scheduled for replacement by the new service pistol.

Beretta's earlier entry in the service tests, the Model 92SB, was widely regarded as the unofficial winner of the first round of testing that concluded in 1981. In the second round of testing, the Beretta and the SIG-Sauer P-226 were the only two pistols to successfully pass all phases of the military's testing program, prevailing over entries from Colt, Smith & Wesson, Heckler & Kock, Fabrique Nationale and Walther. After examining cost proposals submitted by both firms, the army settled on the Beretta.

At this writing the situation is somewhat clouded by impending lawsuits from several unsuccessful competitors in the test. Rumors are circulating that vigorous lobbying by the Italian government was a major factor in the final decision, and there are also reports that the U.S. Coast Guard in its peacetime capacity as a federal law enforcement agency wishes to purchase SIG-Sauer P-226s.

If, however, the Beretta becomes, as expected, the new standard service sidearm, the United States will join Italy, Brazil, Indonesia, and a number of other nations in using a version of the basic Beretta Model 92 design as the standard military pistol. The decision to adopt a 9mm Parabellum pistol also brings the United States into conformity with its NATO allies--almost 40 years late!

The Beretta Model 92SB-F is the latest refinement of the original Model 92 design, which made its appearance in 1976. Basically, the Model 92 in all its versions is a 9mm Parabellum, double-action, recoil-operated self-loading pistol. It uses a 15-shot double-column magazine. The locking mechanism, derived from the Walther P-38 and Beretta's earlier single-action "Brigadier," uses an under-barrel tilting block whose lugs engage corresponding recesses in the slide to effect lock-up.

Over the years the basic Model 92 design has undergone a series of minor modifications, including relocation of the magazine release, switching from a frame-mounted, sear-blocking safety to an ambidextrous, slide-mounted, hammer-dropping design, and the incorporation of an automatic firing pin locking safety mechanism.

The Beretta 92SB-F's predecessor, the Model 92SB, has been on the market for several years and should be familiar to many readers. Differences between it and the new 92SB-F are minor and largely cosmetic. Most noticeable are the "F" version's military matte black finish and its squared triggerguard for use by those who favor a "finger-forward" two-hand hold. (Ironically, as these squared triggerguards are increasingly becoming standard on combat autos, this method of grasping the pistol seems to be losing favor among combat competitors.) The newest Beretta also features a sturdier magazine floorplate.

We were fortunate to receive one of the first pre-production samples of the 92SB-F for a shooting evaluation. Our sample differed from final production models in one trivial respect--the lanyard loop on our sample was, as on earlier 92s, aligned sideways; lanyard loops on final production pistols will have a fore-and-aft orientation.

Fitting on our sample pistol was very tight, with negligible play between barrel and slide or slide and frame. Slide operation on pistols using the Beretta's tilting under-barrel locking block seems noticeably smoother and easier than on pistols which employ a Browning-type tilting barrel lock-up.

Finish was a subdued military black matte. The anodizing of the aluminum alloy frame matched the finish on the steel parts to perfection, which is unusual. Grip panels are black plastic. Front and rear of the grip frame are serrated for a firmer hold, and the front of the squared triggerguard is also serrated.

Sights are fixed, with the rear drift-adjustable for windage. They use the popular white dot and bar inlay pattern for quicker acquisition in dim light. With all loads we tried, point of impact at 25 yards was close to point of aim.

Trigger action was perhaps the least appealing aspect of our sample pistol. It broke at 6-3/4 pounds, with considerable overtravel in the single-action mode. The double-action pull was somewhat stiff and heavy; again there was substantial overtravel after the hammer had been tripped. The trigger action was noticeably inferior to those on several commercial 92SBs I've checked out in the past. Military establishments are supposed to be partial to heavy pulls on issue sidearms, on the theory that this helps to reduce accidents in the hands of semi-trained troops, and Beretta reps subsequently confirmed that military specifications call for a 6-1/2 to 7-pound single-action pull.

This pistol is about as safe as technology can make such a device. There is an ambidextrous slide-mounted manual safety that rotates the firing pin out of alignment and drops the hammer when engaged. In addition, there is an automatic firing pin locking safety, which prevents the firing pin from going forward except when the trigger is pulled all the way to the rear. Although a number of contemporary auto pistol designs utilize similar safety devices, a curious and distinctive feature of the Beretta is that a portion of the firing pin lock rises up and protrudes above the slide as the trigger disengages it to fire the pistol. Another aid to safe handling is that when there is a cartridge in the chamber, the extractor protrudes slightly to reveal a dab of red paint on it. However, this loaded chamber indicator is not very conspicuous, and I, for one, prefer to ignore all such devices and rack the slide back to check the status of the chamber--on this or any other auto pistol.

The Beretta is one of the easiest of all service autos to fieldstrip: Make sure the pistol is totally empty and remove the magazine. Push in the dismounting latch plunger on the right side of the frame and at the same time lower the dismounting latch on the left side. The slide assembly can now be slide forward and off the frame. Removing the recoil spring and guide, then the barrel and locking block completes stripping.

We tried the Beretta for functioning and accuracy with a representative assortment of loads at Angeles Shootng Ranges in Little Tujunga Canyon. The loads we used included Federal 123-grain "hardball," Hornady/Frontier 124-grain jacketed truncated cones and their 115-grain JHPs, Winchester 115-grain Silvertips, Pro-Loan 115-grain jacketed round nose and 124-grain cast lead round noses from the same maker. Functioning with all loads was perfect, except for a few shooter-induced stoppages caused by my thumb hitting the slide stop and locking the slide during the firing cycle. A slight change in positioning my thumb ended this problem, and I encountered no further malfunctions.

Accuracy was excellent. Top performance was displayed by the Hornady/Frontier 124-grain truncated cones, with 1-1/2-inch groups at 25 yards. I gather that military issue ammo will utilize a very similar or identical bullet. Most other loads displayed very good accuracy too. Both the Pro-Load 115-grain jacketed bullets and the Federal 123-grainers printed groups averaging a little under 2 inches. One remarkable group with the Frontier 115-grain JHPs put four shots into 3/4 inch, with one flyer (my fault?) opening it up to 2.4 inches; however, I couldn't duplicate this performance in several tries. Obviously, this Beretta is capable of giving accuracy far beyond the minimum requirements of a service sidearm--it shoots more like a tuned target pistol!

Later, at the Target Range in Van Nuys, I tried some two-handed combat-style shooting on the reduced police silhouette target. At a realistic range of 25 feet, it was easy to place 10 shots into a 3-inch cluster--fast--but groups were certified a trifle low and to the left. This may have been the result of the previously mentioned less-than-ideal trigger action on this piece.

The Colt Government Model .45 service pistol is such an american institution that its impending replacement by the Beretta has caused a lot of comment in the general press, much of it quite fatuous. Few of these journalists seemed to realize that the primary function of the handgun in today's armed forces is not for engaging enemy troops in battle at clost quarters, but rather for Military Police/Shore Patrol use, base security and the like, as well as possible employment in certain covert and anti-terrorist operations.

How, then, does the Beretta stack up against the old .45 auto? It clearly outclasses the .45 in the firepower department, with 15 rounds in its magazine, compared to seven for the Government Model. However, it pays for this with a larger, bulkier grip that men with small hands and most women will find somewhat cumbersome. The Beretta is thicker throughout than the Colt, while height and overall length are nearly identical (5.51 and 8.54 inches, respectively, for the Beretta). Because it uses an alloy frame, the 92SB-F is slightly lighter than the Colt-35 ounces empty, against 39 ounces.

The biggest advantage of the Beretta is that it is far safer to carry in a ready-to-go condition with a round in the chamber. Pre-Series 80 Colts could, on occasion, fire when dropped, and the military has long prescribed that they be carried with an empty chamber for greatest safety. Users of the Beretta will not have to rack a slide, thumb back a hammer or even snick off a safety; they can just grab the pistol and fire it with a long pull of the trigger.

The Beretta is the easier of the two pistols to fieldstrip, the Colt to detail strip.

Finally, we come to the most controversial point of all--the forsaking of the .45 caliber in favor of a smaller bore. As all but the greenest readers are by now aware, the U.S. military returned to using a .45 caliber sidearm after their .38 revolvers were found wanting against the determined, fanatical Moro warriors during the fighting in the Philippines in the early years of this century. Since then, an enormous (and considerably inflated) mystique has grown up about the immense "stopping power" of the .45 ACP, even in its full jacketed military hardball form. Devotees of the .45, their fervor fanned by certain eminent gunwriters, claim that the "pipsqueak" 9mm can never come close to matching the stopping power of the .45, and the military will have to re-learn lessons that should have been learned once and for all in the jungles of Mindanao over 80 years ago.

This 9mm vs. .45 controversy had been going on for many a long year, and there is little that I can add to it, save that in test media like Duxseal we have found that with expanding bullets the 9mm seems to outperform the slower .45s, and that there is little difference in the performance of full metal jacketed loads. In the late 1970s, the military ran a number of tests comparing the 9mm and .45 for relative stopping power. The results of these tests are still classified, but the gist of them was that the 9mm and .45 are closely comparable in stopping performance, and neither of them is really all that great shakes. This is about as reasonable a conclusion as I've heard.

Besides, even if we accept the most extreme claims of the .45 fans about the comparative inadequacy of the 9m7, it still seems improbable that some cowardly deserter--or, perhaps, some reluctant Bloc-country conscript--is going to display the same fanatical lust to kill and utter disregard for personal safety as a primitive jungle warrior hyped up on hatred and visions of a Paradise stocked with voluptuous, sensual houris.

If we ever do get into a major fracas with the Eastern Bloc, even die-hard .45 buffs will have to admit that with the Beretta we will still have our adversaries' Makarovs and Tokarevs outgunned!

In my opinion, the Beretta will make a splendid sidearm and should give good service for many years to come. With so many excellent "wonder-nines" around, Uncle Sam would have been hard put to make a really poor choice, but the Beretta is a truly outstanding representative of this breed; it's a real "winner" in both the literal and figurative senses.

Contract provisions call for the 52,930 pistols to be delivered in the first year to be of Italian make. The second year's production, 67,750 in all, will be assembled from Italian parts at Beretta's American plant in Accokeek, Maryland, and during the last three years of the contract, over 200,000 pistols will be manufactured entirely at the Accokeek plant.

Fans of the old .45 can console themselves that their pet will no doubt remain substitute standard for many years to come, but the new 9mm Beretta should prove itself to be an excellent sidearm to ride on the hips of America's fighting men into the 21st century.

Additional information on te 92SB-F and the complete Beretta line is obtainable from Beretta U.S.A. Corp., Dept. GA, 17601 Indian Head Highway, Accokeek, MD 20607.
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Title Annotation:evaluation
Author:Libouel, Jan
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Aug 1, 1985
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