The Beretta concern of Italy has been making firearms since it was founded in 1526, today existing as the oldest such producer in the world. Its more modern semi-automatic handgun types were in use throughout both World Wars and many conflicts in between, showcasing the mark as a standard for other competing handguns on the market. Its first prominent semi-automatic pistol arrived during 1915 through the Model 1915 and this approach was progressively evolved throughout the interwar years and the decades after World War 2 to produce the Beretta Model 1951. From this mark came the classic, world-renowned Beretta Model 92 introduced in 1975. The mark is still being produced today (2014) and has been accepted by a plethora of military, civilian, security, and law enforcement circles for its trusty service. From the basic design has come a rather large group of variants as well, some in various chamberings, making the Model 92 an undisputed global success in the small arms market.
Design of the gun is attributed to Carlo Beretta, Giuseppe Mazzetti, and Vittorio Valle.
The Model 92 became essentially a modernized form of the earlier Model 1951 and it therefore followed the same general form and function (including the Beretta staple cut-out slide). A Double-Action (DA) trigger unit was introduced with the Model 92 as was a higher-capacity magazine. On the whole, it remained largely the same Beretta pistol. Its primary chambering was the ubiquitous 9x19 Parabellum German pistol cartridge but forms followed chambered for the .40 Smith & Wesson, the 9x21mm IMI from Israeli, and the 7.65mm Luger cartridge. The basic Model 92 featured a weight of 950 grams with a length of 217mm and barrel measuring 125mm long. Muzzle velocity reached 1,250 feet per second with an effective range out to 160 feet. Due to the variable Model 92 designs and chamberings, the pistol ultimately accepted detachable box magazine counts anywhere from eight (compact models) to an impressive thirty-two rounds.
The original Model 92 actually saw a limited production run of about 5,000 pistols and this manufacture spanned from 1975 to 1976. Later additional production bumped this total beyond 50,000 units into 1983. The Model 92S was introduced to better support sales to law enforcement groups and improved safety measures on the gun with a combo safety catch/decocking lever system now fitted to the slide as opposed to the frame. Production ran into the mid-1980s and its adoption was seen with several military forces (including the Italian Army) and police groups worldwide.
Then followed the Beretta Model 92SB (originally known as the 92S-1) and this was a mark developed specifically for U.S. military trials as they sought to replace their aged stocks of the classic Colt M1911A1 .45 caliber semi-automatic pistols with a more modern offering. Its design followed the earlier Model 92S series and all its inherent changes but included the safety catch along both sides of the slide. A magazine catch was set behind the trigger ring for easier access and an automatic firing pin lock was added. The grip shape was ergonomically improved and the hammer revised slightly with a "half-cock" notch. The result was a pistol largely faithful to the original Model 92S but finalized as a slightly heavier overall form. A compact form was developed as the 92SB Compact and featured a shortened slide and barrel as well as a smaller 13-round magazine capacity.
While coming out ahead in the U.S. military trials, some changes were required of the 92SB and this produced the definitive Model 92F. The mark featured a redesigned trigger ring to better serve a two-handed hold and a lanyard ring was added. The base of the magazine was extended for better reloading/general operation. The grip was also redesigned for the better and the barrel chrome-plated for improved wear-and-tear. The external surfaces of the gun were coated in a special substance for corrosion resistance. It was this Beretta mark that was adopted by the U.S. military as its standard sidearm through the "M9" designation (detailed elsewhere on this site).
The Model 92FS followed with a larger hammer pin and reshaped trigger guard for better two-hand operation. The former change was instituted to alleviate concerns of runaway slides from cracked frame rears revealed during the extensive U.S. military testing program. The Model 92A1 appeared in 2010 and was based largely on the 92FS but added an accessories rail under the forward frame of the gun for tactical flashlights and laser aimers. The Model 96A1 was the same gun though chambered for the .40 Smith & Wesson cartridge.
The Beretta was also advanced along other lines including target competition pistols, compact versions, special collector marks, and specialized forms. The Model 93R was an automatic machine pistol form also based on the Model 951R. The Model 92 has also been extensively adopted or copied (sometimes illegally) all over the world. Special forces unit also rely on the type, giving the product a tremendous market endorsement. Its reliability under any condition makes it an ideal one-model solution for military army, navy, air force, and military police units as the last line of defense. Even Vatican City guards are armed with this dependable Italian pistol.
Variations on the basic Model 92 frame have also included the Model 92D with no manual safety and a self-cocking function. The Model 92DS is Double-Action Only (DAO) and based on the Model 92F. The Model 92FC is the compact form and the Model 92FCM is an even smaller offering. "Inox" marks were completed in stainless steel. The Model 92G was taken on by French Gendarmerie units (hence the "G" in its designation) and lacked the combo decoking lever/safety catch functionality. Versions were manufactured locally in France under the PA-MAS-G1 designation. The Model 92SB-C was the compact form of the Model 92SB proper while the Model 99 carried the 7.65mm Luger chambering.
Despite its 1970s origination, the Beretta 92 line should continue in widespread use over the next many decades simply because of its base pedigree, proven history, and availability of the 9mm cartridge. It certainly forms a standard for other semi-automatics to follow and will fulfill the sidearm requirement for its many users for the near future.