| I want you to clean up this mess, 007|
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The Beretta 418 was an Italian handgun and was, effectively, James Bond's first firearm. Although it was Bond's weapon of choice in the early Fleming novels, it was replaced in Dr. No by the Walther PPK. The reason for this change is found in the previous book, From Russia, With Love where the silencer of Bond's Beretta gets caught in the waistband of his trousers which prevented him from drawing his gun. Taking several months to recover from injuries sustained at the end of the earlier book, Bond has his new weapon forced upon him. In Dr. No (1962), Bond begins with a Beretta M1934, however, just as in the novel, it is promptly replaced by the PPK for similar reasons.
James Bond's Beretta 418
- "Bond went into his bedroom and took out his two guns and looked at them. Neither was a part of him as the Beretta had been - an extension of his right hand - but he already knew them as better weapons."
- ― Dr. No (1957)
When Ian Fleming wrote the first of the James Bond novels, Casino Royale, he had no idea the direction in which the stories would go, let alone how many he would eventually write. So when he introduced Bond as using a Beretta 418 in a flat chamois leather holster he probably didn't think too much about it. He had used such a gun during the Second World War when he was in Naval Intelligence and felt it was an appropriate sidearm for a secret agent on an undercover mission.
Shortly before the publication of From Russia with Love in 1956, Fleming received a fan letter from a Major Geoffrey Boothroyd. Boothroyd was a retired Army Major and gun collector. Boothroyd told Fleming that he really admired the Bond novels apart from the hero's choice of weapon. He felt that the Beretta 418 was "a lady's gun" with no real stopping power. He also objected to the choice of holster. Boothroyd proposed that Bond should use a revolver like the Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight. It had no external hammer, so it would not catch on Bond's clothes. The Smith & Wesson could be kept in a Berns-Martin triple draw holster held in place with a spring clip which would increase Bond's draw time. Boothroyd also had bad words about the silencer Bond occasionally used, saying that they were rarely silent and reduced the power of a gun.
Fleming replied, thanked the Major for his letter, and made a few points. He felt that Bond ought to have an automatic pistol; perhaps Boothroyd could recommend one? He agreed that the Beretta 418 lacked power, but pointed out that Bond had used more powerful weapons when the need required, such as the Colt Army Special he uses in Moonraker. Fleming also said that he had seen a silenced Sten gun during the war and the weapon had hardly made a whisper.
Boothroyd recommended the Walther PPK 7.65mm as being the best choice for an automatic of that size, with its ammunition available everywhere. He suggested, however, that 007 ought to have a revolver for long-range work. Fleming asked Boothroyd is he could lend his illustrator Richard Chopping one of his guns to be painted for the cover of From Russia with Love. Boothroyd lent Chopping a .357 Magnum revolver that had the trigger guard removed for faster firing.
Fleming had the silencer of Bond's Beretta get caught in waistband of this trousers at the end of From Russia with Love, an event that almost costs the secret agent his life. In the next novel, Dr. No, a certain Major Boothroyd recommends that Bond switch guns. Bond argued unsuccessfully that because of the silencer the incident would have happened with any kind of gun. Boothroyd also recommends that Bond should stay away from silencers. Bond is issued a Walther PPK but is told to carry it in a Berns-Martin triple draw holster, which is designed only to carry revolvers. This is an odd mistake given that Fleming had bought such a holster and had it sent to Jamaica. (It has been argued that Q-branch could have modified an excellent holster to accommodate automatics.)
In a moment of mild humor, as Bond leaves M's office with his new sidearm, he tries to take his old Beretta by hiding it under the PPK's wooden box. M isn't fooled, and again orders Bond to leave the old pistol behind.