After World War II, Italy adopted the U.S.-designed M1 Garand rifle in .30-06 (7.62×63mm) and also manufactured it under license. This semi-automatic rifle proved itself well during WWII, but in the late 1950s it was considered outdated and obsolete. The Italian military wanted a new rifle chambered for the NATO-standard 7.62x51mm.
Beretta designed the BM59, which was essentially a rechambered M1 fitted with a removable 20-round magazine, folding bipod and flash suppressor/grenade launcher.
The BM59 was adopted in 1959 and served with Italian, Argentine, Indonesian and Morocco armies. In the early 1980s, semi-automatic versions were imported to the USA and sold to private collectors. It should be noted that earliest BM59s were manufactured from available US manufactured M1 parts, including re-chambered barrels.
In 1990, the BM59 was replaced in Italian service by Beretta AR70/90 assault rifles.
In 2018, James River Armory began to sell 2,000 semi-automatic variants of the BM59 made in the 1980s (as mentioned above) with a mix of new and old stocks with cast steel receivers. The casting process being much easier than machining helps to cut down the cost, making these rifles more affordable than many other M1 Garand-based rifles with an MSRP of USD 1,299.
The BM59 has five variants.
- BM59 Mark I had a wooden stock with a semi-pistol grip stock.
- BM59 Mark II had a wooden stock with pistol grip to achieve a better control during the full-auto fire;
- BM59 Mark III, or Ital TA (also known as the Truppe Alpine), was a gun with a pistol grip and a metallic folding buttstock, and was intended for Mountain troops. The BM59 Para was similar to BM59 Ital TA, but was intended for paratroopers. It was equipped with a shorter barrel and flash-hider.
- BM59 Mark IV, had a heavier barrel with a plastic stock, and was used as a light squad automatic weapon.