In the beginning, there was a Beretta. Not a “Walther PPK, 7,65mm…” but a small, unassuming Beretta, chambered in .25 Auto. Sporting eight rounds in the magazine, and some unique customizations, this handgun was the sidearm of choice for 007 when we first meet him in the pages of Casino Royale, and is used through the beginning of the novel, Dr. No. This small, light and highly debated firearm is not Bond’s most iconic handgun, but its origins and history with Fleming suit Bond’s postwar character perfectly.
Why the Beretta 418
Beretta fits the literary Bond for due to their incredible history and heritage. Fleming’s Bond very clearly preferred things that were almost from another lifetime. If we look to his original car for instance, that gorgeous 4,5 Litre Bentley, sporting an Amherst Villiers Supercharger, we find another example of something that almost doesn’t fit anymore. He’s driving a car, one of the last of its kind, from 1930, in 1953. But, Bond simply adores it regardless of its age. And, regardless of its age, this car is all business, working just as well as anything from that era. Bond’s preference for dated items isn’t limited to his vehicles, it really spans his worldview and character overall.
Even in 1953, a Beretta chambered in .25 Auto wouldn’t be the first choice of many for personal defense. However, due to Bond’s history with it (we learn that he carried it for 15 years in Dr. No), there is a certain amount of respect, loyalty and love given to the firearm. Fleming truly shaped Bond in his image, and this firearm is no exception. Even in the early 1950’s, Bond was the product of another era, almost the Obi-Wan of his generation, longing for and using the tools of “a more civilized era” if you will. Taking into consideration that Beretta is the oldest documented manufacturer of firearms, and Fleming himself carried a micro .25 at some point in his life, one can see exactly why Bond did as well.
A Brief History of Beretta & the 418
In 1526, Mastro Bartolomeo Beretta was paid for the production of 185 barrels for the Republic of Venice’s arsenal. 15 generations later, the Beretta name is still one of the most prominent in the firearm’s industry. Beretta began manufacturing .25 Auto compacts between 1919 and 1922, as a defensive firearm, something to work as a backup or pocket pistol. The sleek lines, and minimal snag points that are featured on this firearm help lend credence to that purpose. Like many pocket pistols of the era, this handgun is striker fired, meaning the action is internalized.
An exterior hammer creates an obvious and threatening snag point, hampering the draw if the firearm is “cocked and locked,” (hammer back and manual safety engaged), this is less concerned for larger frame pistols that may be carried in/outside the waistband, but for the pocket, a cocked hammer could easily prevent the shooter from gaining access to the handgun in time. With snags in mind, the sights are fixed, and are a part of the slide, which allows them to be incredibly small, preventing any sort of snags on the blade of the front sight—something to consider if one was to be carrying this in the pocket. Overall, this handgun is easily concealed in the hand, allowing it to essentially disappear when carried.
Other notable design choices include the manual safety, which also operates as the slide release/catch. Having one lever fulfill multiple functions helps limit the snag points, and makes field stripping/cleaning the firearm all the more efficient. Additionally, the pistol features a European style magazine release, found on the base of the grip, further limiting the width of the firearm that would be created by a side-based button release.
The Beretta 418 went through a variety of cosmetic changes throughout its production history, from minor changes such as grip materials, to major ones, like the inclusion of a striker ready indicator, which is an extension from the firing pin outward, allowing the user to check the condition of the firearm without looking. If one had this pistol in the pocket, they could feel for the protrusion from the rear of the slide, and would immediately know if their gun was primed or not.
Through the novels, we are given glimpses into different modifications Bond has made to this pistol. The first description of the handgun we are given is in the pages of Casino Royale, where Fleming writes, “He then took from under his shirts in another drawer a very flat .25 Beretta automatic with a skeleton grip…” What’s most interesting here is the skeleton grip. The Beretta 418, with its grip panels, is an incredibly flat gun by any standard. Yet Fleming felt the need to remove the panels, exposing the magazine and limiting the control of the firearm.
Later on, in “Diamonds are Forever” we find out that Bond uses tape on the skeletonized frame. This tape actually serves two purposes. First, it allows Bond to get a better purchase on the firearm. The small gun is difficult to manage without the grip panels, becoming a mess of sharp edges from the hollow frame, and smooth, flat metal otherwise. When firing without the grips, the shooter is confronted with these seemingly contradictory descriptions simultaneously, limiting the accuracy of the firearm greatly. The tape however, covers the blank space created by the missing grips, and creates something tactile to hold onto. Additionally, the tape disengages the rear grip safety.
The grip safety is something that is found on a variety of guns from the early 20th Century, and some modern firearms as well. Essentially, unless a positive grip is present on the firearm, you will not be able to fire the pistol. These safeties are controversial, as some are incredibly picky on what a “good grip” is, rendering the firearm inert unless it is just right. In a firefight, where one may be handling a firearm in less than ideal circumstances, this could be the difference between life and death. On the other hand, many favor this passive safety, as it prevents accidental discharges. Considering that the Beretta 418 also has a manual safety lever, the disengaged grip safety really is a benefit to 007, as no matter what, Bond must disengage the lever prior to firing. Personally however, I have never had any issues with the 418’s grip safety, and find disabling it a moot point.
Another adjustment made to the 418 is the removal of the front sight blade by Bond. As mentioned previously, these sights are incredibly small to prevent any sort of snag, but 007 clearly isn’t one to take chances, and sacrifices his ability to aim for an uninhibited draw. In all fairness to Bond, with the sights being as small as they are, a clean sight picture is difficult to find, and could slow down the shooter if they look for it. This gun is meant for rapid deployment and aggressive shooting to escape whatever situation he may find himself in.
The Unsung Hero
While the 418 certainly is well past its prime, it’s one of those guns that’s neat to have in the collection because of its history and connection with Bond. It’s stunning and surprisingly accurate as well. So, while it is disparaged for being best suited for a lady’s handbag, the Beretta 418 has a unique legacy in the Bond canon, and is core to Fleming’s 007 mythos.