Is that an M14? A Historical Overview of the BM59

By James Martineau,

In the 1950s the debate over the caliber that should be used in NATO was settled with the selection of the 7.62x51mm round. Italy, eager to catch up with other NATO nations, developed the BM59, a worthy battle rifle of the Cold War era. This rifle began production in 1959 and has served the Italian military until the present. Like other Italian military rifles of the Colt War era, the BM59 was produced by the famed arms manufacturer Beretta. Despite often being confused with an M14, the development of BM59 was a reaction to the adoption of the M14 by U.S. forces.

After the Second World War, Beretta acquired the rights to produce the M-1 Garand. Although the Garand had an excellent performance during the war, it was quickly outdated by firearms using smaller rounds fed by detachable box magazines. Rather than developing a new firearm or purchasing any of the new NATO .308 rifles, Italy extensively modified their existing rifles. The chamber was redesigned to accept the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge and the magazine well was changed to accept 20 round box magazines. A folding bi-pod was added and the muzzle device could accept a rifle grenade launcher. It was able to fire in both automatic and semi-automatic modes. It should be noted that both M-14 and the BM59 have proprietary magazines and are not interchangeable.

There were a number of variants of the rifle performing different functions. The Mark I had a wood stock with a semi pistol grip. The Mark II had a full pistol grip that rendered the rifle more controllable in full-auto mode. The Mark III, also known as the Truppe Alpine, was equipped with a pistol grip and a metallic folding stock. This variant was specifically intended for mountain troops. The Mark IV was intended for use as a squad automatic weapon. It was equipped with a heavy barrel and a plastic stock. Although the magazine was detachable, soldiers were only issued one magazine as it was intended to be reloaded by stripper clips.

Despite being a extensively modified rifle, the BM59 found success in the export market as it was used by Algeria, San Marino and Bahrain. Former Italian colonies such as Libya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea used the rifle as well. It was produced under license by Indonesia, Nigeria and Morocco. The rifle saw service during many of the conflicts of the Cold War such as the Civil Wars in Somalia, Libya, Nigeria and Lebanon. It was also used by Argentina during the Falklands War proving the conflict was more than a “FAL” vs. “FAL” conflict.

A number of BM59s were exported to the United States as the BM62. As sporting rifles, the grenade launcher as well as the select fire option was removed. These items are highly coveted by discerning collectors. James River Armory also made clones of this model. These rifles require high quality ammunition to function but they are a reliable clone. Original pre-ban BM59s are less common and can currently be found for around $3,000 on