The Beretta Model 12 – The USMC’s Forgotten SMG


If you were a Marine in the Vietnam War, what gun do you think you’d be issued? Likely an M16, but maybe an M14 if you came in the first waves. Maybe an M1911 if your job called for it. You might somehow get your hands on a shotgun, which could be anything from an M1897 to an M870. Those are all realistic answers to the question, but what if I told you that a Beretta Model 12 was also an option? 

What’s the Model 12 

The elusive and cool Model 12 occupies the submachine gun genre and chambers the 9mm cartridge. In the Vietnam era, the 9mm cartridge wasn’t often seen in the hands of American troops. Beretta mixed features of submachines, both old and new, when they designed the Model 12. It was a fairly sleek and lightweight submachine gun that differed a bit from the famed tube guns and the near-disposable SMGs of World War II, but it was still an open bolt, direct blowback design. 


A vertical foregrip created a distinct profile, and the metal skeletal stock made the weapon a compact option. The weapon featured a fire rate of 550 rounds per minute, which made it quite controllable in full auto. Unlike many other SMGs of the era, it offered true select fire settings with a semi-auto and automatic option. The telescoping bolt was also quite new in the 1960s. 

The Model 12 served in numerous conflicts around the world. In fact, it was found in the hands of insurgents in Iraq. The weapon has been produced under license by Taurus, FN, and PT Pindad. If the MP5 hadn’t come along, they might have become the preeminent submachine gun of the era. Much like the MP5, the Model 12 found its way into the hands of Marines around the world. 

Marines and the Model 12 

You’ll never see the Model 12 listed on a Marine Corps Table of Equipment. Technically, the Marine Corps never issued the weapon to Marines. Rather, the State Department issued the weapon to Marine Embassy Guards. The Marine Corps supplies Marines to various embassies around the world. While they are still Marines, they are working for the State Department.  

Marine Security Guards work with State Department personnel to provide a first line of security for embassies and embassy personnel. They man gates, watch cameras, act as counter-snipers, and form Personal Security Details when necessary. In the modern era, the typical armament of a Marine on embassy duty is likely to be the M4 or M27, a rifle the Marine would be familiar with. 

Handguns that are likely to be used are the Beretta M9 or possibly the SIG M18, if it reaches that embassy. Even in the modern era, the State Department may issue Glock handguns to Marines at embassies. In the 1960s and even into the 1980s, the Marines on Embassy duty were armed with State Department weapons. 

The State Department had chosen the Beretta Model 12 as the main long gun of embassy security, which was complimented by Remington 870 shotguns. Most of the embassy guards in Vietnam simply carried Model 10 revolvers loaded with five rounds. The Model 12s were a break-glass in case of combat-type tools. 

Speaking of Combat 

One of the few, if not the only, times Marines used the Model 12 in combat was during the Tet Offensive. Why Marines protecting an embassy in a warzone weren’t armed with M16s was up for debate. There are a few who blame the State Department. Specifically the head honchos trying to convince the country that they were winning the war and peace would come soon enough. Marines with M16s and M60s at the embassy would send the wrong message. 

When the Tet Offensive launched, and the embassy was under siege, the Model 12 was one of the few options Marines had to fight back with. Submachine guns are fine, but when you are facing off against an enemy with AKs, RPGs, and more, the gun’s limited range and utility start to become a problem. 

Marines did what Marines did best and fought back, holding the embassy until reinforcements, armed with rifles and machine guns, could sweep in and repel the attackers. 

The Model 12 remained in the State Department’s arsenal until at least the 1980s. There is a picture of a Marine in Beirut toting a Model 12 in some external security function. It stuck around well after the Marine Corps and State Department should’ve learned their lesson. 

The Model 12 Now 

Beretta recently released the PMX submachine gun, which aims to replace aging stocks of Model 12s. This more modern, closed-bolt SMG takes some major cues from the Model 12 but brings it into prime time. The Model 12 was a good submachine gun, but it wasn’t a good option for a warzone when compared to a rifle. The Model 12 might not have officially been a USMC weapon, but it served in the hands of Marines for what appears to be decades. So, let’s give it a retirement party and an Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.