Astra Modelo 400 (1921)
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A brief history of the Astra Modelo 400 (1921)

In 1912 the Spanish Armed Forces selected the Gampo-Giro Model 1913 as their standard issue sidearm. In 1920 the decision was made to replace the Gampo-Giro with a new pistol, three designs were considered. The Astra Modelo 400 (1921) was one of these pistols and was selected in August 1921 to be the new standard issue sidearm of the Spanish Armed Forces. It remained the standard issue sidearm until 1946 when it was replaced by the Star Model A.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) both sides utilized the Astra 400. Realizing that the Astra factory would not be able to keep up with demand, the Republican government authorized two additional factories to produce Modelo 400 pistols. The Tarrasa arsenal produced approximately 8,000 pistols under the name F. Ascaso and a private firm in Valencia produced approximately 15,000 pistols under the name Republica Española. Both of these variants can be identified by their different crest atop the slide and distinctive grip panels; F. Ascaso grips marked F. Ascaso, and Republica Española grips marked RE.

Total production of genuine Astra 400 pistols was just over 105,000 covering sales to the Spanish Government (Republican/Loyalist), Spanish Government (Nationalist/Rebel), Chilean Navy, Euzkadian Government, Nazi German Government, and individual sales. The year of production for 400s can be determined by both the serial number and Year of Proof markings. Production of the Astra 400 ceased in 1946 and there are no known sources of new parts for them. However, used parts are available from several sources. Mr. Steven Para of Para's Polishing has recently completed a Cutaway Astra Modelo 400 (1921). If you are or are not familiar with Mr. Para's work, please take a look at the photos. Mr. Para does very good work.

Disassembly of the Modelo 400 is like that of the other pistols in the 'tubular' Astra series. Detailed field stripping instructions with illustrations are available. An exploded parts diagram is also available. An Adobe PDF file of the original Spanish owner's Manual is available for download (4.5Mb).

The Astra 400 pistol is designed to fire the 9mm Largo cartridge; with a few experimental models made in 7.63mm (Mannlicher), 7.65mm (.32 ACP), and .30 Luger. There also exists a 4mm subcaliber training device insert. It is unlikely that you will encounter any of these experimental chamberings. Some pistol barrels are marked '9mm/38' indicating pistols that were made with/converted to a compromise bolt face that will accept either the 9mm Largo cartridge or the .38 ACP (not Super) cartridge.

When 9mm Largo ammunition was hard to find in quantity shooters regularly fired other cartridges such as the 9mm Luger, 9mm Steyr, 9mm Browning Long, etc in their 9mm Largo firearms. Many dealers and distributors also claimed the firearms would fire all of these and more. This however is not a prudent practice to engage in. The Astra 400, like all pistols firing straight walled cartridges, headspaces on the mouth of the cartridge. When a cartridge shorter than the 23mm of the 9mm Largo is used, the cartridge case cannot headspace against the end of the chamber. This leaves only the extractor to hold the cartridge case against the breechface allowing the firing pin to impact the primer. This causes excessive wear and stress on the extractor, too much freebore (the distance from the bullet to the beginning of the rifling), and scoring of the chamber walls. The result of these abnormalities can result in broken/misshapen extractors, poor accuracy, and the inability to chamber and extract correct size cases.

The use of cartridges that produce too much chamber pressure is also discouraged. Yes, the .38 Super and 9x23mm Winchester will chamber in most 9mm Largo firearms, and if they will chamber they will fire. However these rounds produce too much pressure for the metallurgy and design of the Astra 400. The Astra 400 is a straight blowback design The only thing keeping the chamber closed during firing is the recoil spring, the only thing to retard and stop rearward movement of the slide during recoil is the recoil spring, weight of the slide, and the momentary gripping of the chamber walls by the expanding cartridge case. Use of these type cartridges in the Astra 400 risks damage to the pistol and possibly yourself through a ruptured chamber, fractured slide, or fractured frame.

Ammunition in 9mm Largo is now available from a number of sources. Surplus ammunition is now coming into the country in shootable quantities and is available at some gunshops, many gunshows, and via mailorder. Factory new 9mm Largo ammunition is being made by CCI in their Blazer line (product number 3513) with a 124g Gold Dot Hollow Point bullet. If you reload RCBS makes dies in 9mm Largo (product number 56665), these are not a normally stocked item and require special order. You can also utilize 9x23mm Winchester dies to reload 9mm Largo, the exterior case dimensions are almost identical. Starline also produces virgin 9mm Largo brass for reloading. Gone are the days of manufacturing cases out of .223 Remington (done that, not fun), 9mm Winchester Magnum (done that, much easier) or other cases.

Astra Modelo 400 (1921) Timeline
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Left side view
of an Astra 400

Right side view
of an Astra 400

Unceta era
slide markings

Astra 400
chamber markings

Unceta era
slide crest

Right rear frame closeup

An engraved Astra 400

An engraved Astra 400

An engraved Astra 400

Top view of an engraved Astra 400

Back strap of an engraved Astra 400

Astra 400 holster w/mag pocket on body

A heirloom 400

An old Century
Arms ad

Spanish Military
Acceptance Proof

Spanish Military
Acceptance Proof

Esperanza era
grip panel

Esperanza era
magazine crest

Esperanza era
slide legend

Military "Modelo 1921"
slide marking

Esperanza era
barrel crest

Factory Disassembly
Tool

F. Ascaso
Magazines

Astra Factory
Magazines

Astra 400
X-Ray Drawing

Republica Espanola
Model 400

Republica Espanola
Model 400

Republica Espanola
Magazines

Custom Astra 400
Muzzle Break



Text, images, and HTML coding Copyright © 2001 Colin D. Castelli, All Rights Reserved.
Images © Larry Ellison, Rafael Contreras, and Robert Gibson.

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