CIA Imports A Mysterious
Beretta Model 71.
There’s a distinct romantic side to collecting milsurps. Century International Arms’ current cache of Beretta Model 71’s in .22 LR with 3.5-inch threaded barrels fitted with permanently affixed faux suppressors has to make you wonder. You just have to wonder where they’ve been, what they’ve done and who used them.
You also have to wonder where Century found the little, threaded-barrel Berettas, but the milsurp trade is very close-mouthed about such questions. Like Churchill’s famous description of Russia, the milsurp business is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
The Beretta 71 was never imported into the United States in great numbers, particularly with a 3.5-inch barrel, which was unfortunately banned from further importation by the Gun Control Act of 1968, hence the current, permanently attached faux suppressor which stretches the barrel length out to a full 9 inches.
The Model 71 is a beautifully built and finished handgun, indicative of Beretta workmanship and quality control. It’s a single-action semi-auto with an 8-round magazine and fixed sights. The frame is aluminum and the slide is steel. Even without the additional weight of the current faux suppressor, a Model 71 chassis always reminded me less of a .22 rimfire and more of a .32 or .380 semi-auto. It has heft. It’s hand filling. To use the popular political term, the little Beretta has gravitas, much more so than the tip-up barrel rimfire Berettas so commonly seen today.
The controls on the Model 71 are typical of a single-action semi-auto. On the left-hand side of the frame, there’s a slide-stop lever and a thumb-operated safety blocks the sear and hammer. On the right-hand side, there’s a disassembly lever marked “SMONTAGGIO” which, when toggled forward, allows the removal of the slide and barrel assembly from the frame.
Due to the 1968 Gun Control Act, a 6-inch faux suppressor was
added for importation purposes. The Model 71 features Beretta’s
characteristic and reliable open-frame design.
The magazine release is rather unique on the Model 71. It consists of a large, recessed push button on the lower left side of the grip. And those grips! They’re really eye-catching with a bold Beretta Trident at the top of both panels.
The markings on both sides of the pistol are interesting. The left side of the slide reads: “PIETRO BERETTA, Gardone V.T. Cal. 22 L.R.” The right side: “P B–Made in Italy.”
The left side of the frame carries the original serial number and an added electro-penciled, model designation, “MOD. 71.” There is no original, factory model designation. The right side of the frame carries the importer’s name electro-penciled in: “C.A.I. Georgia VT” and the Italian proofhouse marks which include an Italian production code for the year of manufacture. The production code on this specimen consists of the letters “AB” inside a square box, indicating the Model 71 was produced in 1976.
In 1975, Italy ceased using Roman numerals as yearly production codes and adopted a lettering system. For example, 1975 is designated “AA,” 1976 “AB” and so forth. We’re now in the “C’s” with 2013 designated “CL” and 2014 “CM.” The only cautionary point is to be aware Italy skipped some of the sequential letters in the alphabet when selecting the second letter of the 2-letter code. For example, there are no “AG’s” or “AJ’s” or “AO’s.” The best bet is to search the Internet for “Italian firearm production codes” and print out the results. It’s valuable information to have on hand when you’re dealing with Italian arms.
The Model 71 uses Beretta’s characteristic open frame design with its exposed barrel. I must say it’s a remarkably reliable design. The little Beretta digested a smorgasbord of standard and high velocity ammunition without a hiccup.
The only problem in shooting the Model 71 is the front sight is totally obscured by the large suppressor. This is a point-and-shoot model only, but you can get quite good with it with a bit of practice. Of course, you could always mount a set of sights on the suppressor, but why? It’s a photogenic fun gun.
The Model 71 comes with a genuine 8-shot Beretta magazine (above) with
its spur finger support. The magazine release is the big button at the
base of the left grip. The left side of the frame features the slide
stop lever and thumb safety. Both stocks feature Beretta’s signature
“Trident.” The right side features a disassembly lever (below),
allowing the operator to separate the slide from the frame.
Returning to the more romantic and speculative side of the Model 71 Beretta with its threaded barrel, there is no doubt the Israeli Mossad and sky marshals employed Beretta rimfire models for assassination and airline security work. The Berettas were small, unobtrusive, reliable, quiet, easy to operate and shoot—and with their multiple shot capability, deadly at close range.
One of the most interesting references to the Mossad’s choice of the Beretta .22 is contained in a thesis on counter-terrorism submitted in April 1995 to the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, written by Alexander B. Calahan. It’s on the web.
Calahan’s thesis documents the Mossad assassination teams organized immediately after the terrorist massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in September 1972. In retaliation, the Mossad teams were given a specific list of terrorist targets to eliminate. Throughout the thesis there are continual references to Beretta .22’s. Here are a few clips:
“After careful analysis, they selected Wael Zwaiter as their first target. The group determined that Zwaiter was a soft target, living and operating in Rome…The weapons specialist made arrangements to have five Beretta .22 caliber, semi-automatic pistols with extra ammunition and magazines transported into Italy through his own established network of arms’ suppliers… The lobby was dimly lit and as Zwaiter entered, Avner switched on additional lights to positively identify his target…the second shooter asked the target if he was Wael Zwaiter. With positive identification established, the two commandos quickly drew their weapons and shot 14 rounds into Zwaiter.
“The target and a female companion exited the movie at approximately 2235 hours and took a bus to an area just a short walk from their flat. As they began their walk from the bus stop to the flat, two members of the action team exited a Mazda and began firing into the man believed to be Salameh with Beretta .22 pistols.
“Former officers of the Mossad have also verified the firearms methodology utilized by Mossad specialists, to include their preference for the Beretta .22 caliber pistol.”
If only Century’s Model 71 Berettas could talk.
By Holt Bodinson
MAKER: Fabbrica D’Armi
Pietro Beretta S.p.A.
Via Pietro Beretta, 18
25063 Gardone Val Trompia (BS) – Italia
Importer: Century Int. Arms,
430 South Congress Ave., Ste. 1
Delray Beach, FL 33445
ACTION TYPE: Blow-back, semi-auto
CALIBER: .22 Long Rifle
BARREL LENGTH: 9 inches
OVERALL LENGTH: 12 inches
WEIGHT: 34 ounces
FINISH: Slide & Suppressor: Blue. Frame:, Black
PRICE: (Contact your dealer)