This gun literally only exists because the Nazis invaded France. Seriously.
In WW2 the Nazis needed pistols. The Germans made many fine pistols, and they used them but let’s face it; if you have the choice of putting a rifle in a soldier’s hands or a tank in the field that’s far more militarily important than making a pistol. So every time they invaded someone they took over their pistol production and handed them out like candy. This allowed them to focus their own production on weapons that would have a greater effect on the war effort. But it was still hard to keep up.
Buying them from neutral countries had it’s issues too, like getting the guns past those pesky Allied navies. But when they took over France they had a land connection to Spain, and Spain made a lot of pistols, like the Astra 400.
The Astra was a large, straight-blowback service pistol chambered in 9mm Largo (9x23mm.) They were robust, reliable and well-made. Spain had no issue selling them to the Nazis, who after all had provided them with significant aid during the fascist revolution. The Germans bought them, but they did have one little problem with them…
They were in the wrong 9mm. The Germans used 9x19mm (9mm Parabellum.) So they sent some engineers to Astra to see if they could make a version in that cartridge. This would simplify logistics and be all-around a good thing. As it happens the folks at Astra could make a 9mm version, and went one better. While you might expect them to slap a 9x19mm barrel and an adapted magazine in a 400 they designed a whole new gun scaled down slightly for the shorter cartridge- the Astra 600. The Germans liked them so much they bought them… twice. I’ll get back to that.
In 1943 the Nazis ordered and paid for 50,000 guns, and deliveries started in 1944. But then they ran into a little snag; the Allies invaded France and cut the land-route to Spain. Only 10,500 pistols had been delivered, but there was no safe way to get the rest of the guns to the customer. Well, the guns were paid for, so they might as well finish building the order. They just couldn’t deliver them. What to do, what to do…
Well, sell them on the civilian market, of course, and get paid twice! It’s not like the Nazis were going to complain; they had bigger problems and a war to lose, which in time they did. They sold small lots to few countries and more were bought in 1951 to equip German police. Yep, it’s a gun so good the Germans paid for them twice. In the 1960s Interarms bought the remaining stocks and imported them into the US.
Damn you Pinto’s!
My favorite Local gun shop, Pinto’s Guns, gets a lot of estate guns, and early this year I heard they were getting in a bunch of old semi-auto pistols on consignment. I dutifully stayed away for a couple of months, assuming they would all be sold before I darkened their doorstep once again. Nope.
I hemmed and hawed, selected a few guns from my collection I could part with and sold them. I left Pinto’s after my next visit with this Astra 600 and another gun, which I’ll be writing about in another post.
Pinto’s, by the way, sells a T-shirt with their name on the front and the slogan ‘Damn you Pinto’s!’ on the back. They’ve heard that phrase a lot.
My gun is a bit of an oddity; it does not bear the Waffenampt stamp of Nazi service, markings from any other country or any German police markings. It doesn’t even have Interarms import marks. It most likely was a civilian sale, and was imported to the US by an individual.
I got to handle this gun side-by-side with a pair of Astra 400’s, and the 600 is a more svelte, more elegant package. I found the grips of the 400s to be a bit large, and I have big hands. The 600 was much better feeling.
It’s not at all a lightweight gun, but then you really wouldn’t want a straight-blow-back 9mm to be light, would you? The gun’s unloaded weight is 38oz. It has a single-action trigger and a manual safety located on the left side of the gun that can also be used to lock the slide to the rear for disassembly. This does not act as a slide-stop or slide release; while the gun locks back on an empty magazine it does so with an internal stop, and the slide is released by pulling it slightly to the rear and letting go.
The release for the 8-round single-stack magazine is a bit unusual but works well. There is a button on the bottom-left of the grip, and pushing it straight in causes it to eject the magazine with reasonable enthusiasm. There is a protrusion from the opposite side if the magazine’s floor-plate that can be used to pull it out if it gets sticky.
The gun has a shrouded hammer concealed in the frame, and there is no way to manually cock the gun other than by racking the slide. Field-stripping the gun is simple, and along traditional browning lines where you rotate the barrel to disengage it from the frame and slide it off the front of the gun. There are a number of video tutorials on this process on Youtube, so I won’t go into detail about it here.
Ergonomically the grip angle isn’t ideal, and despite having large hands it’s a bit of a stretch to reach the safety with my thumb. Not obnoxiously so, but for some it could be a real problem. The thumb release for the magazine is better than a heel release, but not as good as having it behind the trigger. The trigger is neither particularly good nor tragically bad; certainly it’s acceptable for a service pistol, but you’re not going to want to try shooting a bullseye match with it.
Shooting the Astra
I had some 124gr and 115gr Xtreme Bullets copper-plated hollow-points and went to Champion Arms indoor range for a test-drive. The sights are not bad for a WW2-vintage service pistol, and even on first acquaintance it was easy to achieve combat-level accuracy. The trigger neither significantly impedes or contributes to accuracy. The slide is heavy enough that it slams forward with enough force to cause the muzzle to drop. Double-taps are not this gun’s strong suit; the second shot almost always hits significantly lower. It does rapid-fire well, and took very little getting used to the gun to see a marked improvement in my performance.
Recoil is odd; soft but snappy is the best way to describe it. It’s not worse than a locked-breech pistol, just different and not at all unpleasant.
I’ll let the pics tell the story. OK, the pics and their captions.
All told I put about a hundred rounds through the gun and had no malfunctions. I would have happily shot it more, but ammo is scarce and I had other guns to test.
Tinker’s New EDC?
Ummm, no. It’s a nice gun and I like it quite a bit, but I have better, more modern options. That being said if I were forced to defend myself with it I would do so with confidence. As WW2 service pistols go I’d have to give it high marks. It’s not overly heavy or bulky, it’s very well made, simple, robust and a good shooter. I’m glad I got it, and I expect to be shooting it quite a bit. Decent quality magazines can be had for $40-$50, so I’ll be picking one or two of those up.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 8 April 2021
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