Ruby Pistol 200 Astra M900 A-70
Astra Firecat 300 400 A-75
Astra Cub 2000 600 700 A-80
Astra Constable 3000 4000 A-100
Astra Cadix Revolver

The Venerable Model 400 by Leonardo M Antaris MD

Modern Astra Pistols


 
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).


Astra 400

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.


Astra 600

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 2003

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.

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Astra A-75 9mm caliber compact pistol.

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Astra Mod A-80 9mm caliber pistol

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ASTRA A100 w/ .40 & .45 conversions /NIB 45


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Astra Constable .380

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Astra CUB 2000 22 Short


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Astra Firecat

cal. 6.35mm

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.


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Leonardo M Antaris, MD

Ever 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 instantly recognizable.


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 testing.

The military tests of 1920 considered three pistol designs: 

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:" 
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.

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 bore 
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 Nationalists.


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 offered
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
shoulder stocks.

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 dif­
ficult ficult to refuse.

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