Astra 400 Service Pistol , A Great Collectible ‘Squirt Gun”~ Handgun Review

by David Tong
David gives us a detailed look at the Astra 400 Service Pistol as this interesting collectible handgun is becoming harder to find and with good reason.

Astra 400 Service Pistol
Astra 400 Service Pistol

Ammoland Shooting SportsU.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- Spain has a fairly long history of building military and police service pistols for home consumption. The Astra firm had originally built licensed replicas of the famous Broomhandle Mauser for commercial sales.

Astra 400 Service Pistol

The Astra Model 400 was the Spanish military’s official issue during their civil war in the mid 1930s, and was used from the early 1920s to about 1950. Of all steel construction with checkered walnut stocks, it is often referred to as a “squirt gun” because of its rough resemblance to a child’s water pistol.

It however is a cleverly designed and manufactured pistol with unique characteristics.

9X23 Largo Ammunition
9X23 Largo Ammunition

First off, it is a straight blowback mechanism. This method of operation is usually not found using high pressure cartridges, and the 9X23mm Largo round is equivalent to a standard-pressure 9X19mm Luger round.

Blowback automatics use a heavy slide and recoil spring in order to allow pressures to drop by delaying the opening of the action. Examples of pistols using blowback operation include the Walther PPK, Mauser HSc, and SIG-Sauer P230 among others. These pistols generally shoot the lower powered .32 and .380 ACP rounds, and are diminutive in size and weight.

The Astra 400 is neither. It measures a tick under nine inches in length, with a six inch barrel. It uses an interrupted-lug system to retain the barrel on the receiver, much like the Colt 1903 Pocket auto, a very heavy recoil spring, and a unique removable barrel bushing and nose cap that both rotate 90-degrees and act as locking lugs would on a bolt-action rifle to contain the recoil spring.

Such a mechanism must be made of quality steel, and it appears that the 400 is. The pistol is quite heavy at two-and-a-half pounds, and is roughly the same size and weight as our own M1911. It also has a single-column 8 round magazine. All parts are well finished, with no evidence of poor finish inside or out. The trigger pull is rather heavy at about six-and-a-half pounds, with a touch of creep, and the sights are rather small but well-regulated.

The cartridge was a proprietary Spanish item that limited its popularity outside of Spain, though some export versions were sent to Germany, an ally of Generallssimo Francisco Franco, and chambered in 9mm Parabelllum. Approximately 106,000 examples were made in all calibers, including the slightly shorter and lighter Models 300 and 600.

The 9X23 Largo in service trim launched a 127gr bullet at 1,180fps, thus it is ballistically identical to the Parabellum.
The 9X23 Largo in service trim launched a 127gr bullet at 1,180fps, thus it is ballistically identical to the Parabellum.

The 9X23 Largo in service trim launched a 127gr bullet at 1,180fps, thus it is ballistically identical to the Parabellum. The amount of force required to rack the slide of the Astra against both the heavy recoil and hammer springs is fairly stout as a result. Fortunately the pistol has a nice set of rear serrations and is relatively large diameter, so shooters with average hand strength shouldn’t have a problem.

The Astra 400 Pistol has a serrated thumb safety lever located just above the trigger on the left side of the frame, and it as well as the trigger are left “in the white.

Disassembly and reassembly are “interesting” because of the very heavy recoil spring plus the small size of the muzzle cap, though the actual steps necessary are straightforward.

Astra 400 safety located on the left side.
Astra 400 safety located on the left side.

You initiate stripping by racking the slide to the rear to lock, and remove the magazine. By grasping the striations about the midpoint of the exposed barrel, turn the barrel 90-degrees clockwise so that the interrupted lugs clear the frame to an area at the bottom of the ejection port. The entire slide assembly can then be removed but watch for the spring pressure during removal.

Astra 400 Service Pistol Serrations
Astra 400 Slide Serrations

After the upper slide group is removed, you grasp the nose cap around its narrow ring of serrations and turn it 90-degrees. Then the barrel bushing can be removed by turning it 90-degrees. You can then remove the spring and barrel from the slide and initiate cleaning.

The lower frame group of the Astra 400 is amazingly simple looking, just a fixed ejector hook and the internal hammer is visible at the rear. The walnut grips are secured by a pair of slotted screws, but I did not attempt to detail strip the pistol. Cleaning itself is straightforward, use a toothbrush or M16 brush to clear powder residue from the breechface and under the extractor hook, in the lug recesses of the frame, and a standard 9mm/.38 Special wire brush with solvent is used to remove barrel residue. We used Rem Oil with Teflon to lubricate the works.

Astra 400 Disassembled
Astra 400 Disassembled

Reassembly is like “reverse order,” but again the strong recoil spring is a factor. I’d recommend using good safety glasses when doing reassembly. You replace the barrel into the slide with the lugs facing 90-degrees to the left when viewed from front. Slide the assembly to the rear and turn the barrel counter-clockwise 90-degrees to secure it to the frame. You will see a clearance cut on the bottom of the ejection port to allow the lugs to re-engage the frame when turning the barrel into position.

Slide the recoil spring onto the barrel. Here’s where it gets “tricky.” The barrel bushing, a part with lugs in the white in the above photo, is pushed against the spring pressure and then turned into the lug abutments in the slide for temporary retention. Then and only then do you take the nose cap, pressing it in and twisting it 90-degrees into the same lug abutments until you hear it snap in to place and then the pistol is reassembled. Rack the slide a couple of times to ensure everything is seated properly.

Despite the blowback operation, the big Astra 400 Service Pistol was comparatively soft shooting. Only a bit of trigger-blade kickback mars the experience. The tiny sights appear to be regulated for twenty-yard shooting fairly-well, though I didn’t find the pistol as accurate as the relatively fixed barrel would make you believe. The owner did say that the rifling is very shallow, so that the hard cast bullets he used must be sized correctly to .3553” to engage it fully.

Between the weight of a 1911 and the recoil pulse of a 9X19, it’s an interesting pistol to examine and shoot, and it also appears robust enough to enjoy regularly even though spare parts and magazines might be difficult to acquire. Just take caution when field-stripping and reassembling and all will be well.

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    Butch GordoTugClayton JolleyTexas Gun GalEd Gaulin Recent comment authors
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    Butch Gordo
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    Butch Gordo

    My first handgun was a Astra 400, $29.95 from Ye Old Hunter on the back page of American Rifleman. I couldn’t afford $49.95 for a Luger. Mailed right to my door. Advertised as usable with any ammo that would fit in the magazine. The Astra worked perfect with 38ACP but intermittently with 9mm Luger. Excellent gun.

    Tug
    Guest
    Tug

    I like mine – I also have the 600 in the 9mm. Largo ammo – I could sell my ammo for 4 times the amount that I paid for the 400…The style caught my eye early on – and I picked the 400 up at an auction. I’m shooting at “shapes” much past the end of the hallway – so they’re both accurate by my measure. Nice write up amigo!

    Clayton Jolley
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    Clayton Jolley

    While it is an ungainly and rather homely pistol, its reliability is enviable. In the early “90’s CCI manufactured both TMJ &GDHP Blazer ammunition. It worked well in a Star I gave to my grandson and also in my Astra. I’ve had good success with Berry’s 125 gr. HP & Rem 130 gr FMJ using Red Dot. Sarco has spare mags and with some cleaning they perform reliably. Makes an ideal “truck” gun.

    Texas Gun Gal
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    Texas Gun Gal

    Mine interchangeably “digests” the good old Colt 38ACP (Predecessor of the 38 Super but lower pressure loads).

    Ed Gaulin
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    Ed Gaulin

    I have an unfired Astra Model 900, Broomhandle, with shoulder stock apparently made for the Chinese. I bought a pair of these in the late 1950s from a guy in Buffalo, NY. The mate to this one was traded away in the early 1960s.

    R. G. Montgomery
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    R. G. Montgomery

    In my mis-spent youth my friends and I would ogle various firearms in the local ‘surplus’ shop. Several were of this series of handgun (I’m not sure if Model 400 or 600, nor am I sure if we knew the difference in those days). I never heard them referred to as ‘squirt guns’; we always referred to them as ‘pipe barrel’ Astras. Like nearly all the Spanish – actually Basque – made guns, they were odd looking, cosmetics were less than perfect, the sights were tiny, trigger pulls ranged from ‘adequate’ to ‘hideous’ and calibers were often ‘small’ or ‘foreign’.… Read more »

    Ed HUnter
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    Ed HUnter

    WE had a M600 in 9X19. the finish was gone so we nitexed it (matte grey anti-corrosion) and carried it in the dive bag everywhere! “Minute of Bad Guy” accuracy at best. Ours, due to the condition it was received (rusted almost solid) had the worst trigger pull ever but went bang every time!

    Reggie H
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    Reggie H

    I love these old guns more than the new stuff coming out lately

    Vanns40
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    Vanns40

    Pretty cool. I remember when these guns were all over the place and you couldn’t give them away.

    Clark Kent
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    Clark Kent

    For good reason. Funky design along with ammo that is difficult to find and expensive if you locate same.