Don’t Tell Major Boothroyd

There I was, walking up and down the rows at the gun show, minding my own business when I saw it. I looked away and looked again; it was still there. The gentleman holding the display case had a price of $200 – plus applicable sales tax – on it. I don’t know how much that is in Lire, they don’t use Lire anymore.

However, it’s a pistol I’ve always wanted since about 1962 or so. (Cue the theme.)
I bought it, of course. No suppressor, no chamois-skin armpit holster, no Vodka martini, shaken or stirred. No custom made cigarettes with three gold bands around the end. What is IS, is a .25 Beretta with a ‘safety catch’. Such is the description of the .25 Beretta carried by James Bond, agent OO7 of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

From a biography of Ian Fleming I read many summers ago, the original script of ‘Casino Royale’, the first Bond novel, the armament was supposed to be a ‘.28 Beretta’. Since no such item exists, one of the editors assumed Fleming meant ‘.25 Beretta’, which did exist. It is possible Fleming meant .38 or .380 Beretta, but since Fleming has long passed this mortal coil, the question cannot be resolved. No matter, I have still always wanted one.

This was the pistol gruffly dismissed by Major Boothroyd as “… a lady’s pistol…” in the novel Dr. No. Boothroyd was the ‘armourer’ for the Secret Service. The good Major replaces Bond’s trusted .25 Beretta with a Walther PPk, in caliber 7.65 or .32 ACP. In the 1960s – in the United States – a .32 ACP caliber pistol wasn’t a serious defensive pistol. (It isn’t considered a ‘real stopper’ even now.) To his credit, Boothroyd suggests if Bond needs something ‘heavier’ he should use a Smith & Wesson Centennial, in caliber .38 Special. At the end of Dr. No; Bond files his final report on the case and ends with the somewhat sarcastic comment, “Please notify armourer .38 Special ineffective against flame thrower.”

James Bond's original pistol

James Bond's original pistol

This pistol is the model 420, as best I can identify. Oddly, there is no model marking on the pistol in my hand. It is identified as “Made in Italy” and has the inscription “P. BERETTA [manufacturer] – CAL 6.35 [caliber, known in the U. S. as .25 ACP] – GARDONE V. T. [city of manufacture]” on the slide. Some proof marks of course and a stamped – looks like an addendum with a hand stamp – ‘1958’ on the right side of the frame, next to the serial number. I found a web page with a Beretta collection and this model is identified as the 420. The predecessor was the model 1919 and has a rounded grip safety. It could be a model 418, as the 420 and 421 are both ‘variations’ of the 418. Beretta has been making fine firearms since the late 15th Century, but I wish they’d have marked these things a bit more clearly.
My pistol has a serial number of 41xxx C. The “C” suffix indicates it is a later production pistol. It is blued and very well done at that. The trigger seems to have been gold plated, but is worn where the trigger finger abrades the trigger. All the lettering is clean and clear, with the exception of the year of manufacture, which seems to be an afterthought. The grips are black plastic. They are unworn and very crisp in appearance. They have not warped away from the frame in the manner of some plastic grips.

Sadly, there is some defacing on the left side of the barrel and slide. It almost looks like a corrosive were splashed on the pistol and not cleaned quickly. The magazine also has a similar area stripped of blue; on the base and right side of the magazine body. I cannot see any scraping or scarring to signify abrasion on these bare spots. There is a minor amount of surface rust, but that probably happened after the blue was removed. There is also some ‘marring’ of the slide serrations at the rear of the pistol, as if something were drug along the top edge. From a collector’s point of view this is sad. However, if I ever sell this piece, I will simply inform the buyer the discolorations are where Colonel Rosa Clebb (KGB) spit at 007 and hit the pistol instead.

I normally don’t do the physical description of firearms, but since this particular pistol has been out of print since about 1961, I’ll go ahead and publish the specifics.
Weight: 10.5 ounces or 300 grams, unloaded with magazine. It holds eight rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber, but .25 ACP ammunition isn’t very heavy and won’t make much difference.
Length from back to front: 4.6 inches or 11.6 centimeters.
Height including magazine catch: 3.5 inches or 8.4 centimeters.
Width across grips: .9 inches or 2.3 centimeters.
Width across slide: .7 inches or 1.8 centimeters. The width of the frame is narrower than the slide. A set of thinner grips would make this thing really skinny. As if I can’t hide it in my hand now, and I have moderate to small hands for a man.
The barrel is – measured from breech face to muzzle (holster maker’s measure) 2.4 inches or 6 centimeters. When measured from base of bullet to muzzle (ballistician’s measure) it’s 1.7 inches or 4.7 centimeters.
Trigger pull, as measured by a commercially made trigger pull gauge is about 8.25 pounds. Gads. For all that, the trigger pull seems lighter.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a tiny pistol. (However, Bernadelli – another Italian – made a .25 ACP pistol even smaller.)

For my purposes, this is just part of my collection. However, it was designed and sold as a personal defense pistol. I have no idea of how to carry it, other than a pocket. The idea of a shoulder holster – the U. S. translation for the British ‘armpit holster’ (which is more correct, of course) – is silly. The straps and supports required for a shoulder holster would outweigh the pistol itself. Not to mention the holster would be harder to conceal than the pistol itself.

On 10th January, in the Year of Our Lord 2012, I took the Beretta to my local membership range and shot it. This is a small pistol with rudimentary sights and a heavy trigger, designed for close work, so I confined my initial accuracy testing to seven yards. The target was a standard 8.5×11 inch sheet of typing or copy paper. (Funny, when I was young, it was ‘typing paper’. Now it is are called ‘copy paper’. Technology affects vocabulary, it seems.)

I shot two strings of five rounds each, resulting in the results shown on target 1. These shots were fired two handed, slow fire, using the sights and what trigger control I have. It shoots better than I anticipated.

Five shots at seven yards, slow fire

One unanticipated problem found me. If one grips ‘high’ on the pistol – such is my custom – the lower rear ‘points’ of the slide will slice neat little runners into the web of one’s hand. Especially one such as I who is well padded in girth. By a cosmic coincidence, later that evening I was watching a television crime drama and the phrase ‘Beretta bite’ was mentioned. They were referring to the same phenomenon but caused by the model 92 Beretta. It happens with the 420 as well. One pays attention to one’s grip.

Target 2 is the result of five shots fired from the ‘point shoulder’ position. Each is a separate shot, starting from the pistol ready and down at a 45 degree angle. I wasn’t timing as such, but firing as fast as I could get to where I was comfortable I’d hit the paper. All five shots are on the paper. I do seem to push to the left; not a new occurrence for me.

Point shoulder shots at seven yards

My son was with me and also shot the pistol at seven yards. He fired six rounds at a third sheet of paper. He had five on the paper, got over confident and missed the last shot. He does not consider himself to be a master shooter; he is learning – rapidly, I might add – but is still in the basic to intermediate stages of pistolcraft. Still, he put all the shots on target using the very basic sights, heavy trigger and small grip. To those who say this category of small guns just cannot be shot with any accuracy, I’d suggest they learn to shoot before making any more silly comments. This pistol isn’t a Bullseye match gun, but it is far from hopeless in accuracy.

On a second occasion, I took the little Beretta to the range and developed a little more information. Sort of ‘good news – bad news’ in all.

At twenty-five yards, I fired five rounds, slow fire with the pistol. Whereas I would not want to use one of these little things for a bullseye pistol, the five shots grouped in an area some seven inches high and four and one-half inches wide. That would comfortably fit on the chest area of a human attacker. (Uncomfortably for the attacker, I presume.)

Five shots at twenty-five yards, deliberate fire

I tried the ‘shoulder point’ position – arm extended and looking over the sights, as opposed to through them – for five single shots at about twenty yards. I hit the silhouette three of five times. This pistol doesn’t ‘point’ for me as well as some others.

Three hits of five shots from twenty yards, point shoulder

Chronograph readings indicate the average muzzle velocity for this monster is 758.1 feet per second shooting a 50 grain FMJ bullet. Be still my heart! That’s just under sixty-four (64) foot pounds! Yes, ‘stopping power’ is primarily a function of bullet placement, but this one might be just a bit less than hoped for. Just for the tally book, that ammunition was factory loaded ‘Aquila’ brand out of Mexico. I’ll have to see what else I can find.

Overall evaluation
This pistol is very well made. The pistol was built by craftsmen and assembled with a degree of pride of product.
The sights, trigger pull and general fit in the hand are above merely adequate. The grip size (too small) and the slide bite preclude it from being excellent, but it surely delivers shots on target.

Power level is underwhelming. Aside from the ‘Would you like to be shot by one?’ nonsense, .25 ACP is not a serious round for self-defense. It may work well as a threat, but the likelihood of this round physically deterring a serious attacker from further hostile endeavor is slim.

Cost is a moot point. This pistol isn’t made any more, so the cost of such a pistol is negotiable. As I mentioned, this one set me back $200; I see them on some of the auction sites for more.

All in all, it’s a very well built, elegant, small pistol. Under powered, yet more accurate than commonly thought. And it’s James Bond’s original ‘equalizer’ (as Felix Leiter put it). Other than horsepower, what more could one desire?



Filed under Firearms and their use

2 responses to “Don’t Tell Major Boothroyd

  1. R M Datus

    “Shaken, not stirred.” You, Sir, lead a most interesting life!

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