How the Beretta BM 59 Upgraded the Classic M1 Garand
During World War II, the M1 Garand proved to be a deadly rifle in the hands of U.S. service members. The rifle was so loved by American G.I.s that no less than Gen. George S. Patton – “Old Blood and Guts” himself – revered the firearm and called it the “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” That’s saying something coming from a firearms aficionado like Patton, who was known to collect and carry a variety of American classics.
The M1 Garand was one of the most popular rifles of all time. It would go on to serve valiantly in the Korean War, and it even found its way into the hands of soldiers serving in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam into the 1970s. What’s striking about the prolific use of the rifle is more than its combat reputation. Even as the Garand was earning its throne as one of the best battle rifles of all time, it was quickly being outpaced by modern detachable magazine-fed rifles.
Its age and outdated design were becoming quite obvious even by the end of World War II, and the U.S. military actually began looking for a replacement as early as 1945. In a testament to the languishing and often frustrating U.S. procurement system, the first updated M14s were not delivered to the troops in any significant quantities until around 1959. In the meantime, America’s post-war allies finally decided to universally adopt the 7.62x51mm NATO, ending the reign of the .30-06 Springfield as America’s battle cartridge of choice.
As easy as it might seem to simply slap a detachable magazine on the M1 Garand and update the chambering, the laws of physics made this a rather challenging undertaking. But the reliability and stellar record of the M1 Garand persisted. While the U.S. hemmed and hawed its way into the M14, which still had reliability issues upon delivery, the Italians were able to streamline the production of their own M1 variant – the BM 59.
The Italians were also using the M1 Garand after World War II, and the U.S. was passing off surplus stock to just about anyone willing to stand up against the Communist Bloc. It wasn’t that long ago that you could buy back .30-06 ammo given to the Greek army after World War II to fight the communists in the Greek Civil War. Sadly, most of that stock has dried up.
Regardless, the Italians were also keenly aware that the rifle needed an upgrade, and both nations started development programs to bring the trustworthy Garand into the modern era. While the U.S. ended up reinventing the Garand into the M14 rifle, the Italian’s – specifically Beretta – created their own interpretation and designated the new rifle the BM 59. The U.S. development process took over a decade to spit out the first guns, but the Italian BM 59 made it into service in less than half that time. It also did so with some clever additional features, such as a winter trigger lever and incorporated bipod.
The BM 59 in its military configuration had a full-auto selector, grenade sights, and was chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO. The rifle had a generous compensator to accommodate grenades, and it fed from a 20-round box magazine. That added capacity and the use of detachable magazines were two of the driving forces behind the M14 and the BM 59. Neither, however, lent themselves to much controllability when fired under full auto. That said, the BM 59 boasted a rather nice muzzle device that deserves a fair amount of praise.
The gun also featured several “quality of life” improvements, including the bipod and the aforementioned winter trigger. The BM 59 was well received and saw service in the Italian arsenal until 1990, when it was replaced with the Beretta AR70/90 rifles. In many ways, the BM 59 marks one of the peak achievements of the original Garand design.
Today, both the M1 Garand and BM 59 are quite popular in the U.S. firearms market. Both are well regarded for their durability, accuracy, and history. They are also sure bets if you are looking for something collectible to add to the safe.