the most interesting times in firearms development is the late
after World War Two the great war nations went into overdrive to
rearm and prepare for what was seen as an inevitable conflict
between western forces and the Soviet Union. We can all thank
God that this never happened on a world scale.
Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and other wars large and
small underscored the Cold War but with either side managing to
stay their hand from the nuclear trigger.
The FN FAL, M 14, AK 47, and the AR-10 are very much
products of this time. The exotic Swedish K and the Uzi also
came into prominence during the 1950s.
The European powers had seen their armies wasted and
demoralized, and the Dutch, French, and German services were
basically starting from a clean slate.
Britain maintained the anachronism of the Lee-Enfield
bolt action rifle into the Korean War. Pistols were far less important but just the same a number of
interesting developments are worth study.
must remember that the handgun is not very important in military
agree that the pistol and rifle don’t kill the enemy on a
scale with larger weapons. Enemy casualties are produced by
bombs, grenades, machineguns and shrapnel.
But the pistol is a necessity in many matters. After 1945
standardization became vital. With the prospect of soldiers of
many different nations fighting together, the ability to use the
other’s ammunition was important.
It was considered a necessity that the sub machinegun,
then an important military weapon, and the pistol share the same
ammunition. Standardization was not the only criteria.
Ballistic superiority was also a consideration.
The 9mm Luger cartridge was recognized as a singular
handgun cartridge with excellent ballistic properties. Compared
to the various short 9mms and the .32
French long the 9mm Luger is clearly a far more effective
the necessity of using the same cartridge in the handgun and the
sub machinegun, the issues of supply and adequate training are
addressed properly. Inconveniences
in the logistics sector are alleviated.
Naval and air borne units working in isolated areas or
those engaging in raids now have greater access to ammunition.
With modern armies often facing guerilla warfare at their
flanks, all personnel have a need to be armed. The pistol
accomplished this need, allowing
all personnel to be armed at all times with a weapon of
admittedly limited effectiveness, but capable of dealing
with short range immediate threats.
attempted to take a look at several of the most popular service
handguns offered for international sales during this era. Two
were very successful and stand out although there were many
others on the market. The ungainly French MAC 50 was a
so-so handgun, used
only by the French and their colonies.
The Star pistols were moderately successful in
Latin America. The Browning
High Power had been in use since 1935 and had seen extensive use
by both sides during the war. Obviously, the High Power, a
veteran of actions in Europe, China, Africa and virtually every
theater of operations, had
the inside track for procurement by emerging nations and NATO
allies. The High Power was adopted by more nations than any other
handgun in history. The
High Power was adopted most notably by Great Britain.
However, a new design from Pietro Beretta would
prove popular. The Beretta 1951 found particular acceptance just
across the Mediterranean. Arab nations such as Iraq and Egypt
adopted the Beretta pistol and so did the fledging democracy of
Israel. The Beretta
1951 was manufactured under license in Iraq and Egypt and faced
itself over the battlefield many times.
compare the two pistols at length.
Pretend that you are the buying agent for a small nation
and you must choose the best handgun for your armed forces.
We will leave bribes and the sultan’s favors out of the
several of these nations were on a war footing for much of the
time the handguns were issued, the pistol was considered more
than a badge of office. The
Beretta and the High Power differ considerably in construction.
The High Power uses the traditional Browning short recoil
operation known as the locked breech type. The pistol locks up
via conventional lugs and angled camming surfaces.
The Beretta uses an oscillating wedge as first used on
the Mauser M 96 pistol. The barrel tilts down in either
pistol but the Beretta unlocks by wings or wedges moving on the
loading block, the Browning barrel tilts out of its locking
lugs. Either method works. Both pistols boast great reliability
in action by dint of historical accounts as well as test
programs. The Beretta features an open top slide while the
Browning has an enclosed slide, a Browning trademark.
Both pistols are of steel construction. Either was also
offered experimentally in aluminum frame versions, but these
lightweight versions are rare. The Browning was once offered with a carbine type stock and
tangent sights, but by the early fifties this type of gear was
Beretta was offered in a special version with a full auto switch
and an extended magazine. This version also featured a
compensator to control muzzle rise. This type of handgun seems
popular enough to warrant the type still being offered in the
Glock and Beretta line but it seems very few 1951s of the type
were manufactured. I
have seen photographs and a guess at the length of the magazine
is that the single column magazine may have held perhaps
fourteen cartridges. The
shoulder stock Browning fell out of favor and the new full auto
pistols offered by Beretta were not particularly popular, but
the standard pistols would flourish.
(there were versions of the High Power FM made up in full
auto in Argentina but I have never seen an example).
the pistols required that I have examples on hand bearing a
close resemblance to the originals.
I could hardly use my modern FM High Powers, they
are superior to most Browning pistols!
I was not able to locate an original Beretta but did
obtain a Helwan, a licensed Egyptian-manufactured clone
of the 1951. I also
obtained a Browning High Power manufactured about 1972. So,
while the evaluation was imperfect,
either handgun was very close to the original template.
In the test firing and examination, I attempted to
compare the handguns but also to evaluate each on its own
merits. The bottom
line, price, would have been an important consideration as well
as the willingness of the parent to offer a license for
manufacture in the purchasing nation.
I have no idea what either pistol would of cost a
republic or regime in those days, but common sense tells us the
Browning pistol would have been more expensive.
The Browning tested set the author back three hundred and
seventy dollars, and it is in fair condition, the new in the box
Helwan cost one hundred forty dollars.
That is a wide spread and the modern shooter may also be
interested in the relative merits of each.
First, general operation. Either pistol is
smooth in operation, with the slide running smoothly on the
frame. The cocking serrations of either handgun are generous and
easily grasped. The Browning demanded more effort in cocking the slide, but
not enough to be difficult.
The Browning magazine release is located behind the
trigger guard and is very positive in manipulation.
The Beretta type is a button in the grip that requires
some shifting of the grip to use.
Either magazine is easily inserted, but the larger well
of the Browning accepted the double column thirteen shot
magazine more quickly than the Beretta accepted the thinner
eight shot magazine. The
slide release of the Browning is acceptable but the Beretta
featured an even handier slide lock and slide release.
The safety levers were not ideal.
The Beretta features a crossbolt in the grip that allows
safe cocked and locked carry. It requires some shifting of the
thumb to properly strike this safety. If actuated on the draw it
is not too bad. The
small safety of the Browning is ideally placed and would have
been much faster than the Beretta if it were a little larger.
One wonders why it took forty-five years of production to
cure this defect. As
such, the safeties come about even, with the Beretta just as
positive and as fast as the Browning.
Later variants of the Browning with a proper enlarged
safety are much better arms.
Since military regulation called for the weapon to be
carried with the chamber empty,
the safety may have been less of an issue with
procurement agents than it is to the interested defense shooter.
The sights of the Browning are small military types
similar to those found on the GI .45.
They are typical of the era. The Beretta design features
larger sights better suited to marksmanship.
The Beretta sights are definitely an advantage.
trigger action of the Beretta was surprisingly clean, breaking
at five pounds with little creep. The Browning trigger was
typical for the age, with compression measured at six pounds
with our RCBS trigger gauge, after considerable take-up.
Each handgun feels good in the hand and balances well.
The Beretta has a thinner grip that seems unnecessarily long.
The Browning grip frame is wider due to the need to
enclose a high capacity magazine, but it is comfortable.
Persons of normal hand size will have no difficulty with
either. Finally, in
field stripping neither pistol is difficult, with an advantage
given the Beretta. The Browning slide stop is not captive while
the 1951 pistol features a take down lever on the right side for
ease of field stripping. The
Beretta recoil guide end is exposed, the Browning is hidden.
The reliability of either type is difficult to address in
a short test program, but either would fire hundreds of
cartridges without difficulty.
Each attained a good reputation in all climatic
elected to perform a firing test in order to qualify the
differences in handling and accuracy.
9mm NATO ammunition was developed to offer an
alternative to the many different classes of 9mm Luger
ammunition then available.
I remember much of our commercial ammunition being loaded
rather light, and it was well known that the Luger would
not reliably function with such light loads.
124 grains at 900 fps was
the other extreme you had sub machinegun ammunition that would
fps with the 116 grain bullet, much too hot for a pistol.
The 124 grain ball load at 1250 fps was chosen.
This is hot enough for good performance in a sub machinegun
but not too hot for a well made handgun.
I was able to obtain a good supply of Winchester
124 grain NATO ammunition. This ammunition burns clean with a minimum of muzzle flash
and is accurate in quality handguns.
To broaden the test program, I also included standard
Winchester USA ball ammunition in 115 grain weight.
I field stripped and lubricated the pistols
before firing, making certain the long bearing surfaces of each
were well oiled. I
fully loaded each magazine.
In each case I was able to obtain spare magazines from Gun
Parts Corporation. The
Browning magazines are not particularly difficult to find, but
the Helwan is becoming another matter.
I obtained two in good condition for each handgun, the
Helwan magazines turning out to be one used magazine and one new
magazine marked ‘Beretta 1951.’
is easy to load with the Browning requiring considerable effort
to seat the twelfth and thirteenth cartridges.
the drawbacks of either safety noted, we began the test holding
either handgun in the hand and racking the slide to load and
make ready. I
placed a number of man sized silhouette targets at ten yards to
properly register the handgun’s accuracy.
After racking the slide, I took aim and fired at the
silhouette as rapidly as possible while maintaining center hits.
It is possible to fire either more quickly than you can
hit the target. Both handguns performed acceptably.
The Beretta rigger was faster to reset and smoother, but
the Browning more controllable. Muzzle flip with either was not
unpleasant, but the lower bore axis of the Browning gave better
you had a better chance of hitting the target with multiple hits
quickly with the Browning than the Helwan/Beretta, and the
greater magazine capacity of the Browning is an advantage. In
rapid loading drills, firing to slide lock and quickly
reinserting a magazine, the High Power is quicker to reload than
fired over two hundred rounds in each handgun. There were no
stoppages of any type. Neither showed an accumulation of powder
ash due to clean burning Winchester ammunition. Overall, either handgun performed well.
As an ancillary weapon either would serve well. Special
units that relied upon the pistol in combat would find the
Browning High Power more suited for this task.
I think that the bottom line may have meant much and the
countries adopting the Beretta tended to be closer to Italy
final test was to bench rest the pistols from a solid rest and
fire for accuracy. Military
accuracy standards have never been very stringent; with eight
inches at twenty five yards a common benchmark. My preliminary combat testing showed either gun should meet
or exceed that humble standard.
I was correct. Firing
from the bench rest, both handguns were comfortable to fire. In
this case, the Beretta trigger and sights gave an advantage over
the Browning. The
results obtained with factory loads and one handload are plainly
rest results, 25 yards. Five shot
groups measured in inches.
124 grain NATO
USA 115 grain
115 grain JHP/HP 38/1199 fps*
pistols fed this hollow point loading perfectly.
further development of these pistols is interesting.
As most of you know, the 1951 was modified into a high
capacity double action variant known as the Beretta M 92, our
current service handgun. The
Browning is still popular with civilian shooters and is a
considerably developed pistol in its current form, with good
sights and a speed safety.
I found this experiment quite interesting.
Either handgun gave good results, with all things being
rather equal. The final choice would have depended much upon
what you wanted in a service handgun and the bottom line or low
bid. Either will
make an interesting addition to any collection.
Argentines have a good firearms tradition, producing some of the
better handguns I have used. The FMAP
pistols in both 1911 and High Power format have given
the author good service. Today, among my favorite personal
defense pistols are the FM High Power types. I had the
opportunity to test fire a vintage FMAP High Power. I am used to
the modern FM with the monolithic slide and should not have been
surprised that this pistol is all High Power, identical in
particulars to the vintage High Power. The lanyard ring and
military grips made this pistol more suitable for comparison
than my commercial High Power, but the FMAP came along at a
later date. The finish was practically gone, but the pistol was
comparable to Inglis High Power so the period. The firing
test went smoothly, no surprises, but off the bench rest the
pistols turned in a number of excellent groups. Pistols are
individuals in some regards, but this is an accurate handgun.
The Argentines did well.
124 grain NATO
115 grain Silvertip
the war, Walther was rebuilt but for a time the Walthers
were produced by a French company. Some P 38s, also known as the
P 1, were adopted by other nations and the P 38 became the
standard arm of the rebuilt German Army. As the sole first shot
double action 9mm service pistol, the P 38 was an influential
arm. However, it adopted by only a few nations, including South
Africa. The P 38 influenced Smith and Wesson greatly in
the design of their Model 39, arguably an Americanized P 38.
The P 38 featured a long heavy double action trigger but
some of the pistols in later production, including my 1970s P 1,
are quite smooth. The pistol feeds modern hollowpoints and is
quite accurate. The current US service handgun is a basically a
P 38 with slight modification and a high capacity magazine.
115 grain Ranger JHP
147 grain SXT
Other Side Of The Coin
nations were concerned with the Soviets, but others were more
concerned with their neighbors and domestic rebellions.
If they were concerned with the Soviets, they could take
some comfort in their superiority in handguns to the great Bear,
if nothing else. The Tokarev was not a technically
advanced handgun although it usually worked well.
The new Makarov was tactically no more efficient
than the Walther PPK. At
best, the Makarov was a badge of office.
But another handgun just coming into production would
prove to be among the single most accurate service handguns ever
produced, an ultra
modern handgun with many good features. This was the CZ
52. It would have given any Western military expert pause.
It may have been a superior weapon in many ways to any
7.62 Tokarev earned a good reputation for ruggedness and the
ability to withstand harsh climates.
The Tokarev relied heavily upon Browning principles, and
resembles the 1903 Colt. But it does feature an advanced
system in which the action may be removed en bloc.
There is probably no more reliable service handgun ever
produced, although many of the Chinese variants produced for
dumping on our shores show shoddy workmanship. The .30 caliber
cartridge it fired was basically an adaptation of the .30
Mauser. While this
cartridge may have less stopping power than the 9mm Luger, on
the other hand it has greater penetration. The ability to
penetrate light cover and web gear is important in a cartridge
designed for submachine gun use.
Overall, for military use, the 7.62mm family was deemed
suitable by the Soviets. I am glad that Winchester now offers
7.62mm ammunition, allowing the military collector to fire the
Tokarev in its original caliber. I have managed for fire a
number of original variants, including a Russian piece that
returned form Vietnam. The original pistols will group into
three to four inches at 25 yards with quality ammunition.
The best finished example may be the Polish production,
while the Chinese pistols may be unsafe to fire. I have tested a
Chinese variant that produced a ten inch 25 yard group. The
Tokarev grip seems small for most hands but the pistol is
usually pleasant to fire and better balanced than it appears.
Czechs were dominated by the Soviet Union after the Great War,
but were independent enough to desire their own handgun.
They designed the CZ 52. The main claim to modern
manufacture is the incorporation of roller cam action into the
CZ. This produced a
very strong action capable of taking a potent loading.
The Czechs upped the Tokarev loading to a full 1,600 fps.
This hot little number would prove capable of penetration
superior to any 9mm caliber handgun.
In many parts of the world, police officers wear armor
that is ‘Tokarev proofed’ in deference to the high
penetration capability of the Soviet cartridge. The CZ 52 cartridge is much more dangerous.
The CZ also features a positive safety superior to most.
The safety not only allows cocked and locked carry of the
handgun but features a decocker that lowers the hammer with a
press. This is superior to any other single action of the day,
all of which require the hammer be lowered manually while the
trigger is pressed. This is not the safest system.
The CZ’s decocker is superior on safety grounds. The
only real problem with the CZ is that it is large and ungainly,
but it makes up for this in performance.
The CZ is not a pistol that can be used by feel; rather
it is a pistol that much be aimed carefully to realize its
obtained a good condition pistol from Century Arms some
time ago, and broke it out to finish this report. The pistol is
well finished of good material. I obtained a set of custom grips
some time ago, and this modest improvement improves the looks of
the pistol a great deal. Manufactured by our premier grip maker,
Hogue Grips, these are an excellent addition to any CZ
52. The sights of
this pistol are not high visibility but they are not bad
I had on hand two types of ammunition, Sellier and
Bellot and Winchester.
Each gave good to excellent results, even surprising
results. This is a much more advanced pistol than the others
tested, and should display good accuracy but I was not expecting
what I recorded. Still, I have heard good reports on the pistols
accuracy so I was not completely surprised.
results, 25-yard groups.
||1.2 inches (!)
1943 marked* (Corrosive but good ammunition, hotter than
the first two loads tested)
quality- several misfires and the common bang bang POW bang POW
of Chinese ammunition.
could not find any of the original 1,600 fps ammunition on the
surplus market, but above loads fed and functioned. These are
older handguns, not
the type I would trust for duty, save for the 1972 Browning
perhaps, and very interesting recreational shooters. The FM
pistol was quite interesting and probably would be my favorite
of the service guns, based on long experience with the High
Power type. The Helwan is a good buy and owners report good
service. I would be interested in finding a ‘real’ Beretta
1951, as the fit and finish would no doubt be superior and
perhaps the accuracy as well.
hope this report has whetted your interest in these recreational
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