The Breda Model 39, A 1950s Prototype Italian Military Rifle

Royal Armouries’ Trevor Weston recently sent me an email with some details relayed to him about a little-known Italian rifle from the 1950s, the Breda Model 39. This firearm was apparently intended to compete with what would become the BM59, among other weapons trialed by the Italians at the time, but stands out as having a very “commercial” appearance, with a classical shaped, fully-encased receiver reminiscent of a Winchester or Remington shotgun. Everything I know about this firearm comes from my email conversations with Trevor, in which he relayed information from one of his sources to me:

Hi Trev,
please see attached some more photographs of the Breda Mod 39 7.62mm prototype rifles. One is a folding stock ‘Para’ or possibly ‘Alpini’ model with an Energa rifle grenade mounted. The other is the ‘Armi’ version but with a dedicated scope mounted. They have a very ‘Sporter’ look about them and probably would not have stood up to military service very well…

[from separate email]

it looks like a tool room gun as it appears to be ‘in the white’ i.e. no surface preparation or protection.

There is no gas port on the barrel and I suspect the rifle is not ‘all there’ i.e. bits are missing. The only clue I can see is the GC in an oval on the bolt, that must be a significant clue but as of now it has me stumped…


The Breda 39, with bayonet mounted.



A Breda 39 displaying its optics-ready capability, and attached bipod.



A carbine variant of the Breda 39, with a folding stock. It’s unknown whether the stock folds up over the receiver, or is an underfolding stock like an AK or MP40. Note the Energia rifle grenade and attached grenade sight. The Breda 39 did have built-in grenade launching capability, but no built-in grenade launching sight.


Little is available regarding the Italian rifle trials of the 1950s that led to the BM59’s adoption, but I did receive more information from Trevor regarding other developments of the period, which will have to wait for later posts, as well as this message from Trevor’s contact:

I should know more about all of these firearms lineage when I get to Italy later next month…

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • Andrew

    Looks like the “custom” Remington 870 that a guy at the last gun show wanted me to buy for the once in a lifetime offer price of $800.

  • Alex Nicolin

    “They have a very ‘Sporter’ look about them and probably would not have stood up to military service very well”

    Which is a non sequitur. There are plenty of shotguns, including auto ones using exactly the same receiver shape and build, which are extremely sturdy and durable. The folding stock indeed looks a bit uncomfortable, but so does the one on the H&K G3, which is similar in shape (although it’s telescoping rather than under folding). As for the wooden fore grip it was pretty standard in the era. Sure, wood is more sensitive than plastics, but those were not so well developed 60 years ago and were prone to cracking.

    “There is no gas port on the barrel”

    That’s not very clear form the photos. In fact the gas block seems to be under the barrel, where the little holes are. Which would be in line with the designs of the time, like the Garand. In fat one can see the bolt carrier link and charging handle sticking from under the wooden fore grip, to the right. The fore grip also has a “rib” in line with that, just like the Garand. So it could well be a working prototype.

    • ostiariusalpha

      You have to understand that the whole debate about black rifles not being appropriate for sport or hunting is nothing new, ever since milsurp autoloaders have been available to civilians there have been complaints that they’re too dangerous and easy to abuse; this was certainly true when the Garand started to be accessible to the wider shooting community, despite it’s lack of the murderous pistol grip & high capacity magazine. The popular answer in the 50’s was for rifle manufacturers to produce a separate line of guns that were not only semi-auto, but looked more like the typical, manually loading civilian arms of the era, though there was always a numerous contingent of hunters that preferred the practical layout of the battle rifles that many had become familiar with after a stint in the military. Take ArmaLite as an example, they made the AR-10 as a military small arm with the intention of selling the less threatening looking (but functionally similar) AR-14 to the regular folks. In the end, there wasn’t much commercial interest in the AR-14 and it was never put into production, thus most military pattern .308 ARs are hunting & target rigs to this day.

      • Alex Nicolin

        Up until the 1950-60s, when the assault rifle came into its own, replacing the old bolt action and in some cases semiautomatic rifles, the “sporter” and “military” gun looked exactly the same.

        • ostiariusalpha

          But that’s just it, they didn’t. Military autoloaders tended strongly to show the influence of design elements from the prevalent standard issue armament of the period, the bolt action. By contrast, civilian autoloaders of the early 20th century, like the Winchester Models 1903-10 rifles, Remington Model 8 rifle, Browning Auto 5 shotgun, and Winchester Model 1911 shotgun, all took their visual design cues from lever actions. By the 40’s & 50’s, manufacturers began looking to the sloping lines of the incredibly popular pump action shotguns of that time when marketing a new civilian semi-auto; guns like the Winchester Model 40 shotgun, Remington 552 rifle & Woodsmaster line, Remington Model 58 shotgun, and finally the ArmaLite AR-14 & AR-17 showed their aesthetic lineage quite plainly.

  • Anon

    That thing looks like everything you don’t want in a military rifle

  • El Duderino

    *starts eyeballing those dusty Remington 7400s at the pawn shop*

    Hmm…(very) poor man’s M1A with a little Dremel work…

    • Wetcoaster

      I’ve seen extended aftermarket magazines for sale, so all you’re missing is a bayonet lug!

      • Thread it for a British L1A1 flash suppressor, and use a British bayonet!

    • maodeedee

      Hopefully these guns would have worked better than the rem 740-7400, Those guns had a C-clip extractor which worked fine in bolt guns and pumps but only worked ina semi-auto if you used factory mags and had a clean chamber.

      Otherwise you needed to carry a cleaning rod with you to tap out stuck cases.
      You can’t tell how well a gun will work just by looking at pictures of it. Instead, ou need to evaluate the entirety of the internal mechanical design.

      • El Duderino

        Of course my comment was tongue-in-cheek. A 7400 is not in the same class as a real civilian-legal battle rifle e.g. FAL, M1A, HK91, etc.

        Those 10rnd mags are $40 while 20rnd mags for a HK91 are still around $5. A bone stock PTR91 (not considering the Century CETME POSes) with 10 mags (200rnds on tap) would run about $900. A $350 pawn shop 7400 with 20 mags (200rnds) would be $1150 and less robust, less reliable. ‘Twas in jest, sir.

  • UCSPanther

    Looks like a mag-fed shotgun…

  • ostiariusalpha

    They seem to be pretty much totally unrelated. The mystery rifle you linked to is chambered for 7.62×63mm (.30-06 Springfield) and has unique bolt & receiver. The Breda 39, on the other hand, is chamber for 7.62×51 NATO, and is clearly an adaption from their shotgun line.

  • Stephen Beat

    My eyes….They bleed!

  • jcitizen

    Too bad BM-59 clips are so expensive, or I’d readily buy the rifle just for that compatibility – if it were cheap enough, that is.