SVT-Inspired Italian Rifle: It’s Strange

Ian at Forgotten Weapons spent some time last month  touring sunny Italy, and turning up unusual weapons everywhere he went. This is one we found most interesting, and it resides in the Beretta collection:

Copy of Russian Semi Rifle 01

It looks like a Russian semi-auto rifle, but it doesn’t look exactly like any of them. The muzzle brake resembles that of a Simonov AVS, for example, while the metal forward handguard looks like it fell off a Tokarev SVT. The gun overall has a certain elegance to it. SVTs tend to be well-machined and -blued, but this Italian prototype puts them to shame.

From this angle it’s a near ringer for an SVT. One wonders if the chamber is fluted as the SVT’s is. (Tokarev found it necessary to assist extraction).

Copy of Russian Semi Rifle 02

Here’s what Ian says:

Through inspection, we know it is a mechanical copy of the Soviet SVT 38 or 40 – it shares the same exact bolt, locking system, and gas system. Even many aesthetic features like the metal front handguard, muzzle brake, and sights are remarkably similar to those of the SVT. The biggest difference is the magazine, which is a fixed design fed only be stripper clips. The rifle is chambered for the 8x59mm Breda cartridge, and magazine capacity is unknown – probably either 9 or 10 rounds.

The clue that this is a Pavesi rifle comes from the safety lever, which is identical to the safety lever on the Model 1942 Pavesi rifle. The only markings on this piece are two repetitions of the serial number (875), on the receiver and stock. This serial number suggests that a significant number of these rifles may have been made, although I have not seen any other examples, nor any recorded information on when or where they were made, tested, or fielded.

We do disagree with him about the muzzle brake; at least on our SVT-40, the thing on the end of the muzzle is more like a Cutts Compensator than this brake, which resembles the AVS-36 brake more.

It’s not that unusual that Western copies of early Russian semi-auto weapons would exist. One suspects that the early Simonov and Tokarev rifles were instrumental not only in the design of this rifle, but in Dieudonné Saive’s SAFN (Semi Automatic FN) rifle, which would become the SAFN 49 when development, interrupted by the German occupation of Belgium, was resumed after the war.

We don’t know all that much about Italian ordnance in World War II. Certainly Italian surplus was little respected here fifty and sixty years ago, but the idea that Italian ordnance officers weren’t capable of delivering quality weapons to their troops doesn’t really hold water. Ian is one of the few Anglophone researchers online who has delved into Italian MGs and it’s great to see him unearthing information about these unknown (to us) Italian semi-auto trials.

More information, a video, and many more photos, of this rare (unique?) probably-Pavesi at the link.

7 thoughts on “SVT-Inspired Italian Rifle: It’s Strange

  1. Matt

    I’ve always wondered why they bother with details on prototype rifles like cutting grooves in the stock or including parts that aren’t necessary for the gun to function like the metal heat shield. I’d understand it for a trials rifle but I think of a prototype’s purpose as being to ensure that the design works. No more, no less. I’ve had the opportunity to tour the browning museum in Ogden and his prototypes were more what I was expecting: one off, crudely built weapons that lack any features not pertaining directly to the function/operation of the weapon. On a side note, I grabbed a picture of a prototype squeeze cocker that I didn’t know existed. In the interest of correctness, squeezing the bar cycles the slide rather than merely cocking the gun but it’s fascinating.

    1. Kirk

      “I’ve always wondered why they bother with details on prototype rifles like cutting grooves in the stock or including parts that aren’t necessary for the gun to function like the metal heat shield. I’d understand it for a trials rifle but I think of a prototype’s purpose as being to ensure that the design works.”

      I think what you’re missing is the fact that these aren’t really prototype rifles, in the sense of being “shop models”. At some point past the one where the designer figures out how to make his design/copy work, he has to take that product to the people who will be buying it, who are not specialist gun manufacturers, or even people that know much about guns. The weapon he presents these people needs to be something they can understand, see, and feel–So, you don’t want an “in-the-white”, rough-hewn proof-of-concept sort of thing, you need to “sell” the design with something they can visualize actually in soldier’s hands. Thus, the “overdone” element–These aren’t prototypes, they’re sales tools.

  2. Martin

    Italy did do some copying during the war, for example Lancia Lince combat car was a 1:1 copy of Daimler Dingo, including the driver on a British side! :-) Also the tank Fiat M16/43 Sahariano was very much an attempt at British Crusader.

  3. archy

    The caliber is indeed interesting. Breda went a similar route with their contemporary Model 1935 or *PG* [Peso a Gaz] semi-rifle, having first tinkered with the design in the then-Italian Army standard 6,5x52mm Carcano round in a semiauto prototype, eventually moving on to a 7x57mm Mauser version with selective fire and a four-round burst capability. A few hundred, variously quoted as 300 or 400, were sold to Costa Rica before WWII, and the upgrade to the more powerful caliber was apparently a requirement of the Costa Rican military contract provisions.

    Breda Meccanica Bresciana [combined with autobuilder Fiat as Breda/Fiat following WWI] had a solid WWI production history of automobiles and motorcycles right on up to heavy trucks and Breda locomotives, and just after WWI had managed a credible for the period LMG design to support the heavy water-cooled *base of fire* guns then in use, not unlike the German MG08/15 *light* MG or Browning’s BAR vis a vis the Vickers and Browning M1917 water-cooled guns. The resulting Mitragliatrice Breda Tipo 5C was then adopted by the Italian Army under the designation of “Modello 24” just about the time the Swiss *Spitzer* pointed nose/boattail long-range bullets were coming into more widespread use and the Italian MG design was upgraded through 1928 and 1929 versions and finalized as the Fucile Mitragliatore Breda Modello 30 with some 30,000 produced. But it too was chambered for the 6,5x52mm Carcano, was air-cooled and overheated, firing from a closed chamber and thereby requiring a little oil pump that sprayed a tiny oil mist on each round as it fed through the action, with future campaigns in the dusty rocks of Ethiopia and the WWII Western Desert just waiting for it to develop a reputation as one of the worst- but probably not *the* worst- weapons of that conflict, if not all time. British Eighth Army Jeep Raiding forces from the LRDG, the then-just-formed Special Air Service and *Popski’s Private Army* that cheerfully used any allied or captured foreign weapon they could get ammo for unanimously ignored the Breda 30 LMG/AR and turned to Brownings and Vickers K guns instead.

    Did some Ordnance visionary in the Italian Army see it coming, and therefore encourage the development of competing designs of semi-auto rifles in cartridges more authoritative than the 6,5 Carcano? If Germany had a *good enough* bolt action rifle in the K98k Mauser to support the squad/gruppe MG34 [or later MG42] was there an Italian planner looking for the opposite side of the coin for his own Infantry brethren, a good semi-auto rifle in the Infantry squad with the ho-hum now-older magazine-fed LMG/AR for their base of fire? That approach worked okay with the Garand and BAR, but neither the Pavesi or Breda semi-rifles were equal to the Garand, and the Breda 30 is hardly in the same neighborhood as a BAR.

    I wonder too if Pavesi’s AR had an analogue to Tokarev’s AVT version of the AVS….

  4. McThag

    I’m nearly certain that Tokarev and Saive came to the same conclusion independently from each other.

    The timing of their inventions is too close together to have influenced one another. Saive would have been keeping mum until his patents were filed and in effect; and Tokarev wasn’t doing much international publication of his inventions.

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