One hundred years since its adoption by the Spanish government, thousands of these noteworthy handguns are in American collections and are still actively sought. Here’s how to work them.
by Brian R Smith
In 1920, the Spanish government began trials for the evaluation of a new pistol for its army to replace the 1913-1916 Campo-Giro. Two entries were considered: a Star pistol, essentially a 1911 Colt clone made by Bonifacio Echeverria and Co. of Eibar, and the Astra Model 400, a commercial handgun made by the firm Esperanza y Unceta y Cia. (Esperanza and Unceta & Co.) of Guernica, both in the Basque region of extreme northern Spain. The testing was performed in late 1920 and early 1921 and the Astra Model 400, designed by Pedro Careaga, was officially adopted as the Pistola de 9 millimetros modelo 1921 (9 mm Pistol Model 1921). Its commercial model number is 400, and I’ll use both designations in this article.
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The Astra 400/1921 has been considered an upgrade of the 1913-1916 Campo-Giro pistol originally designed by Colonel Don Venancio López de Ceballos y Aguirre, the Count Campo-Giro. It was a large blow-back action handgun chambered for the 9mm x 23mm Bergman-Bayard cartridge, called 9mm Largo by the Spanish. The Campo-Giro was also manufactured by Esperanza y Unceta y Cia., which perhaps gave them the inside track on the competition for the new pistol for the Spanish government.
Regardless, the Astra 400/1921 was a very successful handgun, having been adopted by the Spanish Army, Carabineros (Customs and Border police), Navy, Air Force, and other organizations.
Read more in the December 2022 issue.
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