“He then took from under his shirts in another drawer a very flat .25 Beretta automatic with a skeleton grip, extracted the clip and the single round in the barrel and whipped the action to and fro several times, finally pulling the trigger on the empty chamber. He charged the weapon again, loaded it, put up the safety catch and dropped it into the shallow pouch of the shoulder-holster.“
— Ian Fleming from his novel Casino Royale (Jonathan Cape, 1953) describing the sidearm of his fictional spy, Commander James Bond CMG, RNVR
Today we’re going to have some fun, combing literature, cinema, and firearms with a focus on the most famous spy in fiction. The sidearm most associated with James Bond is, of course, the 7.65mm (.32 ACP) Walther PPK “… with a delivery like a brick through a plate glass window.” But that sidearm isn’t mentioned in any of the first five Ian Fleming novels. It’s not until the sixth, Dr. No, that 007 is forced to exchange his beloved Beretta .25 for the Walther. From the first Bond film, based upon that sixth novel:
- M, speaking to James Bond: Take off your jacket.
- M: Give me your gun.
- M: Yes, I thought so. This damn Beretta again. I’ve told you about this before.
- M, turning to the armorer: You tell him. For the last time.
- Armorer, weighing the Beretta in his open hand: Nice and light… in a lady’s handbag. No stopping power.
- M: Any comments, 007?
As entertaining as Ian Fleming was, he certainly didn’t know much about firearms. He proved that repeatedly in the early Bond novels, beginning with the choice of a .25 caliber Beretta. As for the Beretta, Mr. Fleming didn’t even state the model number, which leaves us to speculate. The Beretta 950 was Beretta’s first tip-barrel pistol. It arrived in 1952, one year before the publication of the first Bond novel Casino Royale. It came in two flavors — the very weak .25 ACP/6.35mm (“Jetfire”) and the incredibly anemic .22 Short (“Minx”). Considering the weak cartridges available to the 950, anyone licensed to kill and of sound mind would resort to neither the Minx nor the Jetfire. Fortunately, in that first novel Mr. Fleming also assigned to Bond a .38 Colt Police Positive with a “sawn barrel” and a “long-barreled” .45 Colt Army Special (a.k.a., Colt Official Police) for those times when .25 ACP just wouldn’t cut it (which would pretty much be any time Bond needed a weapon).
As for that Colt Army Special, there’s also a problem with that description as well. The Colt Army Special was never chambered in .45 Colt; it was only available in the much weaker .22 LR, .32-20, .38 S&W (and related .38/200), .38 Special, and .41 Long Colt cartridges.
The impotence of the .25 ACP/6.35mm aside, if one were going to arm a Double-0 with a .25 ACP Beretta, the 950 would seem a logical choice. The tip-barrel would allow Bond to drop a round directly into the chamber rather than inserting a loaded magazine into the grip and racking the slide. And to render the firearm safe, he would merely push forward the barrel release and snatch the ejected cartridge as it gets tossed into the air. That would certainly be an iconic image for a cool spy.
But is the 950 the weapon Ian Fleming had in mind when he assigned to 007 a very flat .25 Beretta automatic with a skeleton grip? An intriguing question, but one easily answered with a little knowledge of .25 caliber Berettas. We’ll get to that conclusion in a moment, but first a discussion on the original 950 and 950 B. The 950 was introduced to great fanfare in 1952 and, amazingly, it soldiered on in production until 2003. Impressive!
The 950 and 950 B were straight single action only (SAO) pistols. The slide and barrel are carbon steel sitting atop an aluminum alloy frame. There is no manual safety on either the 950 or 950 B, but there is a half-cock position. That means one needs to fully cock (thumb back) the hammer before it can be fired. Not exactly spy friendly, as the act of cocking on the draw increases the time needed to ready the weapon for firing. Strike One on the 950 being Mr. Fleming’s intended choice.
This original setup was changed with the 1968 introduction of the 950 BS variant. The 950 BS is also a SAO pistol, but this variant incorporates a manual safety that allows the weapon to be carried in a cocked-and-locked configuration — hammer cocked, pistol in single-action mode, safety engaged, i.e., “locked.” And, if you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ve already stumbled upon Strike Two. Any ideas? Here’s a hint from the first paragraph of this article: “He charged the weapon again, loaded it, put up the safety catch and dropped it into the shallow pouch of the shoulder-holster.”
So, if Bond is engaging the safety on his .25 Beretta, it’s not the 950 from 1952. Or is it? As we’ve already seen, Mr. Fleming was notoriously unversed in firearms. Remember that .45 Colt Army Special? At any rate, he certainly didn’t have in mind the 950 BS, which does come with a manual safety. The 950 BS didn’t arrive on scene until 16 years after the publication of Casino Royale, and some four years after Mr. Fleming’s death from a heart attack. So, did Mr. Fleming attribute to the 950 a nonexistent manual safety? There’s one more clue, and it comes from the “skeleton grip” of the weapon described.
A “skeleton grip” is when one removes the left and right panel grips from the frame, leaving only the frame “skeleton” available to grasp. With the 950, that means taking off the plastic panels you see in the photos above, leaving this:
I made this point before in my review of the Beretta 3032 Tomcat: Notice that there is no recoil spring? Actually, if you look closely at the three photos directly above, there is. In the Tomcat there are two spring loaded plungers inside the frame. The plunger tips insert into notches on the inside of the slide. With the 950 it’s a bit simpler system. Instead of plungers and springs, the slide notches catch on the thick wire you see running outside the magazine well and protruding from the top of the grips. That is your “recoil spring,” if you want to call it that.
Question: How do you run this gun with a skeleton grip configuration if the recoil system is exposed and subject to interference and binding?
Answer: You don’t. Attempting to do so would make the weapon so unreliable as to render it useless.
So, if not the 950 or 950 B, what Beretta did Ian Fleming have in mind? What “flat .25 Beretta automatic” has a traditional recoil spring incorporated into the slide that would allow one to operate it with the grip panels removed? That’s easy. We’re left with the Beretta 418, which went into production in 1936 (1919 if you include the earlier design designations) and continued to run concurrently with 950 production until at least 1958.
And in this photograph you can see the traditional guide rod/recoil spring setup, since the 418 is not a tip-barrel design:
I can hear you now asking, but… but… but where’s that “safety catch” Bond engages? In the photo of the assembled 418, that would be the lever on the frame, just above the trigger. That lever also acts as the slide catch, something the tip-barrel Berettas lack completely. Instead, on the tip-barrels, the lever in that location is the release for the pivoting tip-barrel.
Mystery solved! Ian Fleming didn’t use the most recent (at the time) .25 Beretta. He instead went with a design dating back to 1919.
But one mystery remains. The 950 BS presented today was made in Accokeek, Maryland, but what year? These were produced in the U.S. from 1978 until 2003. If you can solve that mystery for me, I would be greatly appreciative.
While you’re pondering that, let me give you the relevant statistics and specifications on this firearm.
Model 950/950 B (1952-1968) Model 950 BS (Italy and Brazil 1968-?; USA 1978-2003):
- barrel: 2.4″/60mm
- length: 4.7″/120mm
- width: 0.91″/23mm
- height: 3.4″/87mm
- weight: 9.9oz/260gr
- caliber: .22 Short (Minx) and .25 ACP/6.35mm (Jetfire)
- magazine capacity: 6 (.22 Short); 8 (.25 ACP/6.35mm)
I hope you enjoyed Beretta Week, and I trust you found this Fun Firearm Friday to be particularly entertaining. Next week I return to travel, taking on our recent late April-early July 71-day excursion to Europe and back. Along the way I’ll show you the Canary Islands (again); rarely visited cruise ports in Spain and France; a charming town in Germany, and another in the Netherlands. After that it’s three back-to-back cruises to Iceland, Ireland, the U.K. (including Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland); and a journey to seven destinations in Norway, including deep into the Arctic Circle as far north as 71º 10′ 21″ North Latitude. That series will conclude with the four days we spent in Dublin before heading back to the U.S. Until then, I’ll leave you with this Beretta tip-barrel family portrait:
Слава Україні! (Slava Ukraini!)