The Spanish Astra Pistol
by Rui Aballe Vieira
The Astra “Puros” (this is the
nickname given by the Spaniards themselves to all tubular slide Astras
and their clones: in Spanish, besides from the normal meaning - pure, untouched
- “puro” also means cigar, normally a big one).
The most charismatic of all Spanish
tubular designs is undoubtedly the 400.
D. Pedro Careaga, its designer, began work on a modernized Campo Giro in
1919. The new design was officially granted a state patent, slightly
altered two years after, in 1921. The gun was intended from the earliest
drafts as a military product, to be marketed also on the world market.
This can help to explain the effort taken to produce it under a multi-calibre
guise, since it was originally conceived to fire an impressive array of
different 9mm ammunition: Bergmann Bayard or Largo, Steyr, Parabellum,
Browning Long and the .38 ACP.
The official Spanish military
designation is Modelo 1921 (M-1921 for short), the pistol having been officially
adopted on October of that year, slowly replacing the Campo Giro patterns
1913 and 1913-16. A year later, on 26th September 1922, the gun was
declared regulation pistol for the Cuerpo de Carabineros. The next
service branches to adopt it were the prison guards, on November and ultimately
the Navy, on September 1923. This last variation is becoming rare
and it is very interesting. It differs from regular 400’s in that
it possesses a magazine catch style identical to the one used in the model
300. The naval variation has a small Navy crest on the slide with
crossed anchors toped by the royal crown.
The Navy also ordered some
match grade pistols with altered sights. Only a few hundreds were
built. I had the opportunity to examine one. The fit and finish
was nothing short of superb. The checkered grips on every 400 match
pistols are made from top-notch walnut.
The Chilean Navy 400’s
are extremely rare in Spain and much sought after by collectors. The order
amounted to 842 guns, delivered in 1930. Anyway, I suppose this variation
may well be difficult to find even in the USA. According to Spanish
sources, the Astra 400 totals reached 106.173 guns, including those manufactured
specifically for the civil market.
As for the copies made in the
Republican factories, they form an interesting story of their own that
deserves to be told in some length. These arcane guns are rated among
the most valued 400 variations, but few examples are known outside the
Spanish borders. The Spanish collectors grasp avidly every example
that pops up, and I suspect that most if not all survivors in decent condition
are in Spain. When the Astra factory, located in the Basque town
of Guernica, fell into Nationalists hands the Republican army was forced
to start pistol manufacture from scratch using the resources available,
a task undertaken with the aid of many former Astra employees.
The Republican 400 clones are
split into two major variations and a minor third one. The most numerous
variant was built in Valencia, and it is readily identifiable by specific
markings on the slide with the initials R.E. (República Española).
Another distinctive feature of this variation, known simply as R.E., are
the grips fitted. The grips are not checkered, showing instead vertical
grooves styled after the Russian pistols of the era (a la Tokarev). The
initials R.E. are repeated in injected black plastic grips, and inserted
by way of a brass medallion when the grips were made from wood. The R.E.’s
lack the classic Spanish inspection marks, replaced by a small five-pointed
star on the trigger guard bridge. The finish is very good, almost matching
the peacetime commercial Astra standards, and surely surpasses those seen
in many pistols manufactured under war conditions in other countries during
WW 2. The lack of documentation on this gun and its manufacture hamper
further details. Some Spanish authors calculate the total R.E. production
at the non-negligible 15.000 mark, but this is only an estimated figure
without any solid documented backup.
The other main clone was produced
at the industrial town of Tarrasa, in Catalonia. The gun was christened
after the Catalan anarquist Francisco Ascaso, who died in Barcelona during
the first stages of the Civil War. The obvious propaganda purpose of the
gun’s name is self-evident upon examination of any of these pistols: instead
of the classic Astra logo on the slide the gun exhibits the model name,
F. Ascaso (this designation is used as such by Spanish gun historians and
collectors) over the words Tarrasa (the place of manufacture) and Cataluña
(Catalonia enjoyed a high degree of autonomy back then) inside an oval
cartouche. The model “designation” F. Ascaso is repeated inside a typically
Art Deco logo in the plastic grips and at the magazine bottom. The estimated
totals are still debated. The opinions vary between 5.000 and 8.000 guns.
The F. Ascaso guns are exceedingly well made. The finish is absolutely
superb, surpassing the R.E. pistols made in Valencia and equalling the
best handguns manufactured abroad. The high degree attained in the manufacture
of this gun is attested by the fact that its parts are interchangeable
with the original 400’s.
The third and less frequent
of all three Republican Astra 400 clones is an elusive gun on which very
little is known. Apparently, it was manufactured in Vich and assembled
in some workshop in the vicinity of Valencia. The gun lacks the typical
grip safety, common to all “Puros” with the sole exception of the model
4000. The finish is of inferior quality and, besides from the serial number,
no markings have been reported.
The other two Spanish pistol
manufacturing companies, Llama and Star also benefited from lucrative export
contracts during the WW 2 period, the bulk of whose destined to the German
Werhmacht, but the case of Astra is unique in several aspects. In first
place, because the number of guns sold was far higher and secondly because
they’ve gone to the length of developing a gun suited to their German customers.
The company link with the Germans was reinforced when a sizeable order
was placed for the 300(in 9mm short) and 400. At least 5.950 guns of the
later type were dispatched to the Werhmacht during the fall of 1941 (serial
nos. from 92.851 up to 98. 800) in the original 9mm Largo chambering. Some
Spanish authors, most notably Luis Pérez de León, suggested
that some guns in this batch may have been fitted with 9mm Parabellum barrels
and adapted magazines, but again I must insist that there is no proof of
this whatsoever. The Astra
600 was essentially an export venture, designed as an intermediary
weapon between its bigger sister, the 400, and the smaller 300. The end
result was, as you know, a well-balanced, finely made and robust gun.
By the spring of 1944, the number
of Astra 600’s actually delivered to the Germans through the Spanish-French
border at Irún reached had reached 10.450 guns. The Allied invasion
of France frustrated the delivery of the rest. The situation was ambiguous
and difficult to solve. For their part, the Germans had paid most of the
order, and at the same time the Spanish firm was left with a lot of finished
parts and completed guns without the slightest chance of having them delivered
to the customer. The guns paid for by the Germans were seized under direct
orders of the Spanish Government and stocked in Burgos – this is the origin
of the 31.350 Astra 600’s received well after the war end by the West German
Police. The German Government also contracted with the firm Unceta y Cía.
for the delivery of the remaining unsold 600 pistols still stocked by the
Basque arm company.
The batch of brand new pistols
still not paid for by the Germans was immediately offered for export. The
Spanish civilian market absorbed a small quantity. Portugal acquired 800
for the Navy, Chile 450 (they must have liked the 400’s…), Turkey 200 and
Jordan also 200.
Astra 200 .25 ACP
copyright Carbines for Collectors
Modern Astra Pistols
|The Astra A-80, A-90 and A-100 pistols were developed
by Spanish company Astra-Unceta y Cia SA, in 1982, 1985 and 1990, respectively,
and are very similar in appearance and general design, differing mostly
in safety features.
The Astra A-80 had been patterned after famous Swiss-Germany
designed pistol SIG-Sauer P-220. A-80 features wery similar frame and slide
shape, similar recoil-operated, locked breech design with improved Browning-style
linkless locking and one large lug that locks into the ejection port in
the slide. The double action trigger with frame mounted decocker on the
left side of the grip is also patterned after the P-220. The A-80 also
features firing pin safety, that locks the firing pin away from the cartridge
primer untill the trigger is pressed. Another feature that is different
from the SIG-Sauer P220 is that A-80 had double stack, high capacity magazines.
The Astra A-90 pistol appeared in 1985 as an improvement
over the A-80 in terms of safety. Being very similar to A-80 in all other
aspects, the A-90 featured two-piece firing pin with firing pin safety
that locks frontal part of the pin, plus ambidextrous, slide mounted manual
safety, that, when engaged, removed the rear part of the firing pin from
the hammer path, regardless the position of the hammer. Accompanied with
the frame mounted decocker, inherited from A-80, this resulted in very
safe, but also very complicated design.
The Astra A-100 (first appeared in 1990) was an attempt
to simplify the A-90 design while retaining the high level of operational
safety. The manual safety had been removed and the operational procedures
are similar to those of the A-80 pistol.
Astra A-70 9mm caliber compact pistol.
Astra A-75 9mm caliber compact pistol.
Astra Mod A-80 9mm caliber pistol
ASTRA A100 w/ .40 & .45 conversions
Astra Constable .380
Astra CUB 2000 22 Short
Astra 200, "Firecat" in USA, produced by 1920 to 1966.
It's also a 6.35mm based on the design of the FN 1906.
Barrel 56mm and magazine six shot.
Leonardo M Antaris, MD
since Samuel Cummings of Interarms purchased hundreds of thousands of Spanish
surplus guns in the mid-1960s, inexpensive Astra and Star pistols have
been readily available to American shooters. The Astra 400s were among
the most distinctive pistols. Their tubular construction made them
Development of the Model 400 began in 1919 when the Spanish
War Ministry under King Alfonso XIII decided that the Campo-Giro revolver
should be replaced with a more modern handgun. The first series of tests
proved inconclusive, prompting a retest the following year. In the interim,
the Guardia Civil, desperate to replace its obsolete revolvers, which
dated from the late 1880s, selected the lockedbreech Star Model 1920.
Despite pressure to choose the Star, the military continued its independent
The military tests of 1920 considered three pistol designs:
Ten guns of each type were function tested with 800 rounds,
after being covered with sand and surface rust. Additional testing included
grouping, firing both excessively and insufficiently charged rounds and
measurement of wear after 1,000 rounds.
|1) a Model 400 prototype submitted by Esperanza y Unceta
of Guernica, Spain,
2) another of Unceta construction marked "Esperanza,"
3) a locked-breech Model 1921 by Bonifacio Echeverria
of Eibar, Spain, marked "Star:"
In August 1921, the Commission recommended that the Astra
Model 400 replace the Campo-Giro. The military confirmed the Model 400
as standard issue for the army in October 1921, for the border patrol (Institute
de Carabineros) in October 1922, for the prison armed guard in November
1922 and for the navy in September 1923. There was no comparable announcement
for the Spanish air force, as the "Ejercito del Aire" was then under
army command and appropriated its pistols from army stocks.
The Astra Model 400, originally patented
by Pedro Careaga in 1919, was a full-size blowback pistol designed to fire
the 9 mm Largo (Bergmann) cartridge. Issue pistols had a fixed front sight
and an integral rear sight. In contrast to most military pistols used today,
the Model 400 had an internal hold-open and an internal hammer. Safety
features included a thumb safety mounted on the left of the frame, a grip
safety and a magazine safety. A single-column magazine featured seven indicator
holes and held eight cartridges, and most Astra 400s had a magazine release
on the butt.
Production pistols were numbered in a separate serial
range that started with No. 1 and continued sequentially. Commercial pistols
were designated as Model 400s, while military pistols, in keeping with
the year of the, contract, were referenced as Model 1921s. This dual consideration
eventually led to the slides being marked Model 400 (1921).
The first 200 Model 400 (1921) pistols were forwarded
to purchasing agent Vicente Valero who delivered most to the military.
Smaller numbers were used as presentation pieces or sold to individuals.
Soon afterwards, Astra shipped most military procurements directly to the
requisitioning armory, with the bulk of these orders earmarked for the
Spanish army. Smaller quantities were purchased by the Carabineros, Cuerpo
de Seguridad and the navy.
Pistols manufactured under the partnership of Juan Esperanza
and Pedro Unceta were marked with an Astra logo containing the letters
"E/U." The logo generally appeared on the forward slide, grip panels, and
on the base of the magazine, regardless of whether the magazine was fitted
to standard military, naval, or commercial pistols.
During the first few years Astra completed a number of
easily identifiable variations. For example, pistols destined for the Spanish
army were customarily marked with the early military acceptance stamp on
the left trigger guard web. Other pistols, generally the commercial guns,
were marked "HOPE" on the visible barrel hood. In most cases, these guns
other markings and proofs on the slide and left tang,
including the early automatic proof and the earliest Eibar house proof.
Particularly dramatic markings were applied to pistols
issued to the Carabineros and Spanish navy.
The Carabineros, a mounted border patrol whose principal
duty was to curtail smuggling, had their pistols stamped with a large crown
within a sunburst on top of the slide just forward of the Astra E/U logo.
Naval pistols were stamped with a large fouled anchor in the same location.
In a departure from the typical Model 400 (1921) design, the Spanish navy
pistol had its magazine release lever mounted at the bottom left of the
frame. This manner of retention proved popular and was used for the ' Models
300 and 600. It should also be noted that pistols delivered to the , Spanish
navy in 1924, from serial number No. 28,901 to No. 29,800, duplicated the
serial numbers of army pistols. For this reason, even though the serial
numbering of the Model 400 (1921) pistols reached No. 105,275, its °
total production was actually 106,175.
Constantly seeking to expand its markets, Astra sought
other military contracts. Although foreign sales were limited, the
firm sold a single lot of 842 pistols (No. 36,359 to
No.37,200) to the Chilean navy that were marked "MARINADE CHILE" and exported
in 1930. Once in Chile, the guns were largely issued to the coast guard
and personnel guarding lighthouses.
In late 1925, Esperanza separated from Unceta, founding
a new company in Guernica named Esperanza y Compania (ECIA). By 1928 he
had designed a family of pistols that were placed in limited production
the following year. All were marked as the Model ECIA and made in 9 mm
Largo (Bergmann), 7.65 mm (.32 ACP), and 6.35 mm (.25 ACP). Those in 9
mm Largo were slightly larger than the Model 400 (1921) and had a 10-round
magazine. While a number of
other differences were apparent in the barrel bushing,
grip serrations, and trigger, its similarity to the Model 400 (1921) was
unmistakable. The smaller-caliber guns were scaled-down versions. Production
of all variations was likely fewer than 100 guns. In 1933, Esperanza moved
to Marquina, Spain, where he abandoned further pistol production to concentrate
on making mortars.
Meanwhile, the Astra factory, now managed by Pedro's son,
Rufino, changed the company name from Esperanza y Unceta (E/U) to Unceta
y Compan.ia (U/C).
Despite the implementation of the new logo in 1926, there
remained a large inventory of previously marked parts. To avoid waste,
the remnant parts were often used to assemble later pistols, such as those
for the Chilean navy delivered in 1931. Pistols bearing the new logo did
not appear until the mid-43,000 serial number range.
Production of the Model 400 (1921) then continued uneventfully
for another decade. Most commercial pistols were sold domestically, where
they proved popular. Eventually, its tubular form prompted the reference
"el puro," Spanish for "the cigar."
As 1930 approached, Spanish politics became increasingly
polarized. Societal clashes became brutal, eventually forcing King Alfonso
XIII to abdicate and flee Spain in 1931. The Republican (Loyalist) government
succeeding the monarchy had to contend with the same social ills, and having
found no respite, civil war broke out in 1936. Given the pervasiveness
of the conflict, it was important to shore up as much support as possible.
For years the northern Basques Provinces (known in the Basque language
as "Euskadia"), wherein lay the gun manufacturing industry, had petitioned
for autonomous rule. Shortly after the Spanish Civil War started, the Republicans
acquiesced to their regional demands. In exchange for autonomy, the new
Euskadian government pledged its support to fight Franco's insurrecting
In search of his own support, Franco enlisted aid from
Hitler who tacitly approved the Condor Legion's bombing of Guernica
in April 1937, a town then held by the Republicans. Despite the bombing,
the Astra factory remained intact. The victorious Nationalists entered
Guernica virtually unopposed and captured the factory. All subsequent production
was directed to Franco's troops. The only pistols to later reach the Republicans
were those stolen from the proof house in Bilbao and from various armories.
As the Spanish Civil War progressed, the Republicans,
now largely concentrated in central and eastern Spain, found themselves
bereft of sidearms. Given the excellent reputation of the Model 400 (1921),
Republican strongholds in Tarrasa (just northwest of Barcelona) and Valencia
started production of a copy, marking the guns as the F. Ascaso and the
R. E. (Republica Espanola), respectively. Both copies were fairly faithful
reproductions. A third copy manufactured by the Industrias de Guerra de
Cataluna was assembled without a grip safety.Yet, given the late wartime
circumstances, none of these guns were made to Astra's exacting standards.
Production of all copies is estimated at 22,000 pistols.
After the Spanish Civil War ended in April 1939, Astra
continued making the Model 400 (1921) for another three years. Most of
those later guns were earmarked for the Spanish military. The most notable
exception was the 6,000 pistols in the range No. 92,851 to No. 98,850 that
were exported to the Nazi German forces then in Hendaye, France. These
historically interesting guns were marked with the usual commercial proofs--but
no Waffenamt stamps--thus limiting their identification to the serial number.
Finally, in 1945, after 25 years of service, the Spanish
military decided to replace the Model 400 (1921) with a more modern pistol
chambered for the same 9 mm Largo (Bergmann) cartridge. Responding to the
new test trial, Astra submitted approximately 20 Model 700s and 20 prototype
Model 800s for evaluation. Although the guns tested well, they were not
quite good enough. In the end, the selection committee chose the Star Super
A. This decision, coupled with waning commercial sales, led Astra to discontinue
the Model 400 (1921) in 1946. To rid its inventory of parts, Astra continued
to assemble small numbers of guns as late as 1951.
So what happened to the displaced service pistols? These
Model 400 (192 1)s were gradually retired in various Spanish arsenals until
purchased by Samuel Cummings in 1956/1957 and 1964/1965. The guns were
then exported to Interarms' warehouse in Alexandria, Ua., and subsequently
for sale throughout the world.
A variety of changes and improvements were implemented
, in limited numbers and without specific notice. For example,
a small number of Model 400 (1921) pistols were fitted
with extended barrels that were occasionally chambered in 7.63
mm Mauser and 7.65 mm (.30 Luger). Extended magazines
with a 16-cartridge capacity were offered for both standard and ~navy-type
pistols. A few guns were modified by the factory, likely in the early
'50s, for use as target pistols. They had their slides fitted for an adjustable
rear sight, most had the front sights replaced or altered, and a few
were reworked to have a set trigger.
The guns were then completely pletely refinished before
being o sold. Most were in the No. 42,825 to No. 42,850 range and in the
No.105,000 range. Additional oddities E included pistols with extended
slides. A few were even fitted with
Although all of Astra's Model 400 (1921)s were made with
care and assembled with a matching numbered barrel, slide, and frame,
many pistols have now been fitted with replacement parts. For those who
plan to fire their guns, the pistols should be examined meticulously, as
a number of surplus guns had fractured slides. But these caveats aside,
anyone in possession of an Astra 400 (1921) should be pleased--for owning
such an interesting piece of military history is an opportunity that is
ficult ficult to refuse.