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.
U.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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.