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Breda Modello 37

by Giulio Poggiaroni

The official name of the Breda Modello 37 is the Mitragliatrice Breda calibro 8 Modello 37. Universally, it is known as the Breda 37, Breda mod.37, or Breda M37. Adopted in 1937, it became the standardized Italian heavy machinegun for the Italian Army in WW2 and remained in service until the 1960s.

A Breda Mod.37.

A Breda Mod.37.

Origin

In the 1930s, the Italian Army realized the desperate need to replace the old Fiat-Revelli mod. 1914 still in service. The Army refitted considerable stocks of the old mod. 1914 to create the new Fiat-Revelli mod.1935. However, this was a stop-gap solution, and a new modern weapon was required.

The Ernesto Breda weapons factory delivered the solution with the 1936 design for a heavy machine gun firing the 8×59 mm Breda cartridge (very similar to the German 8 × 57 IS). The Regio Esercito welcomed the new weapon and immediately adopted into service in 1937.

Design and Function

The Breda 37 was a robust and heavy weapon. It featured an automatic gas recovery system and similarily air cooled as all other modern machine guns of the time. The barrel required replacement every 450 shots (in continuous fire condition) to cool down. After 20,000 shots, the barrel needed replacement

The unique feed-in system did not use a classical cartridge belt. Instead, it utilized 20-shot plate magazines. Placed on the left side of the weapon, this mechanism limited, as in the French Hotchkiss Model 1914, continuous automatic fire. To carry out a constant fire, the magazines had to be fed, one after another, while the machine gunner kept the trigger pulled.

Another unique characteristic of the weapon is that each cartridge, after being shot, was put back in the magazine, to be able to reload the plate magazines. Machine gunners carried a crank-operated machine that removed the cases from the plate and introduced the new cartridges. This device came equipped with a hopper that housed loose cartridges.

A Breda M37. Image: Public domain.

A Breda M37. Image: Public domain.

This characteristic is due to the need to save as many metals and parts as possible, given Italy’s weak economic position. This need may be acceptable during peacetime and field-training, but not practical on the battlefield.

The tripod mount, robust and quite heavy compared to other contemporaries, had vertical and horizontal adjustments and the possibility of micrometric adjustments (both vertical and horizontal), thus contributing to the weapon’s overall precision. The tripod could be adjusted for anti-aircraft use by dismantling the cradle, adding a fourth support foot, and lifting the rear support on the fixed cradle.

Breda Modello 37 Service Use

The Breda became assigned to regimental machinegun companies. It saw service on all fronts where the Italian armed forces fought and earned a solid reputation. In short, the well designed Breda 37 is robust, reliable, and precise.

The most significant drawbacks involved its weight and plate magazines.

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Additionally, Commonwealth units in North Africa used some captured Italian weapons in battle, including the Breda Modello 37, a common practice in that theatre.

After 1943, the production of the Breda 37 continued for the armed forces of RSI and for the German Army. German forces subsequently classified the weapon as MG 259 (i).

After WWII

The weapon’s quality ensured its use following WW2 in the new Italian Army until it replaced by other weapons in the 1960s such as the American Cal.50 or the Beretta MG 42/59.

The Breda 37 machine served in the Portuguese Army, renamed Metralhadora pesada 7,92 mm m/938 Breda. It saw service during the Portuguese colonial war until the early 1970s.

Breda 38 Variant

Breda 38 in an M13/40 tank.

Breda 38 in an M13/40 tank.

The Breda 38 variant included a pistol grip and a 20-round magazine placed on top of the firearm. The hull-mounted firearm saw service on the Fiat L6/40, the Fiat M11/39, Fiat M13/40, and M14/41.

Specifications

Model Breda Modello 37
Weight Weapon: 43 lbs (19.5 kg)
Tripod: 41 lbs 7 oz (18.8 kg)
Barrel Length 29.1 inches (740 mm)
Caliber 8 mm
Ammunition 8x59 mm Breda
Action Gas Operated
Rate of Fire 460-500 RPM
Muzzle Velocity 2,620 FPS (800 MPS)
Effective Firing Range 870 - 1,100 yards (800-1,000 m)
Max Firing Range 5,900 Yards (5,400 m)
Feed System 20 round magazine

Sources

Jowett P., L’esercito italiano nella Seconda guerra mondiale, LEG edizioni (2019)
Associazione Nazionale Fanti d’Arresto
RegioEsercito.it

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