There’s an old adage among gun people, “Beware the man (person) with one gun, because odds are they knows how to use it.” It’s more true for rifles or shotguns than handguns, though. Most people I’ve met with only one handgun have it solely for self/home defense and practically never think about it, let alone train with it. For purposes of this discussion we’re going to restrict ourselves to carry guns, because that’s where it is used most often. My internet buddy Will just posted a Youtube video on the subject, and covers it pretty well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auy9yZTR0z8 He puts up some pretty good stuff; have a look and maybe subscribe.
Look, our lives aren’t all the same, and for a lot of us needs vary. Sometimes more or less discretion is necessary, which can mean having options in several different sizes. If you are a fairly new gun owner it’s not a bad idea to find a platform you like and stick with it, at least initially. By ‘platform’ I’m referring to Glocks, S&W M&Ps, 1911s or whatever. These platforms come in a variety of sizes and calibers, so each of your carry guns will have a common grip-angle, manual of arms and similar triggers. That’s just good sense. This doesn’t mean you can’t experiment; it’s a really good idea to find a range with gun rentals to try out different guns and find what you like before committing.
Oops, better explain one of my terms here- ‘Manual of Arms.’ This refers to the operation of the gun; what controls there are, where they are located, loading the weapon, clearing jams etc. These things will all be identical across a given platform. The idea is if they all work the same you can use them pretty much interchangeably under stress. To a certain limited extent training with one is training with all. Whether you choose a revolver or semi-auto getting a common platform can give you an advantage when changing guns.
For the big revolver makers pretty much all their guns of a given type will all have the same manual of arms. All S&W double-action revolvers are functionally a single platform, as DA Colts are a distinct platform, as DA Rugers are a distinct platform… you get the idea. All of them provide small, medium and large-frame guns.
Carrying a single platform simplifies training, and in semi-auto platforms you can usually use the largest magazine in all the guns; on the smaller ones you can probably use the magazine from the largest, which makes your life easier and cheaper.
For myself? I’m sort of ‘platform agnostic,’ but I’ve been at this a long time and have a broad base of experience. Stick a gun in my hand and as long as it works I’ll probably be fine. But developing this took decades, a deep fascination with handguns and a lot of training and practice. It’s not for everyone. So for me the choice of a concealed carry handgun boils down to ‘how well do I shoot it and how well does it fit the circumstances?’ But I’m the exception, not the rule.
Let’s talk about those circumstances. How much discretion is required? How warm is it? What is the perceived threat level? What clothing options are appropriate? These things factor into your choices, and for most of us if we adhere to a ‘one gun’ philosophy we’ll have to build our lives around the constraints of that gun, which will likely be very limiting. It will either limit what we can do and where we go, or we will need to settle for a smaller, likely less capable weapon… or worse yet choosing to go unarmed in some situations.
While a ‘one gun’ philosophy likely won’t work for most of us, the ‘one platform’ philosophy gives up the broadest range of options, and the greatest freedom in our lives.
The Mauser bolt-action military rifles and the C96 ‘Broomhandle’ are icons in firearms history, but they are far from being the only really successful guns the company has produced. In the first decades of the 20th.C. their pocket-pistols were wildly popular.
Mauser had a concept for a family of pistols ranging from pocket-guns to service pistols, all with a common look and manual-of-arms. They started this new family with a full-size service pistol in 9mm, but there were issues with the design. Rather than getting bogged-down they proceeded with the smaller members of the line, perhaps figuring to sort the service pistol out later. They never did, but in a the process they gave the world a pair of excellent small pistols, the models 1910 in .25 ACP and the 1914 in .32 ACP.
Both the model 1910 and 1914 were straight-blowback, striker-fired pistols that fed from a removable box magazine located in the grip and holding eight rounds. Both use a heel magazine release and feature wrap-around wooden grips.
The Model 1914 was used extensively in Police service in Germany and across Europe. It was well made, reliable, accurate and comfortable to shoot. It saw service in both World Wars, and was updated in 1934 with a palm-swell at the back of the grip and other small tweaks.
These guns tend to be polarizing with their unusual safeties and other features, but at the time they sold like hotcakes. If history is any judge people liked them very well indeed regardless of what we might think today.
Odd but Good
At the time of their introduction the conventions of semi-automatic pistols were not firmly established, but even in their day they were a bit unusual. First off the slide locks back on an empty magazine. Not too unusual, but the slide locks back when you wrack it even if there’s no magazine inserted, and there’s no way to release it, except by inserting another magazine. Whether the magazine is loaded or not the slide will drop. This was to facilitate rapid reloads; no control to release, no need to ‘slingshot’ the slide. Pull the empty, insert a full one and the gun chambers the round. easy-peasy.
Today people either love this or hate it, but it didn’t seem to bother buyers back in the day. I’m OK with it; it’s a little inconvenient at times, but not a big deal.
The other control that stands out is the safety. There is a lever just behind the trigger. Pushing this down activates the safety and locks the slide. You cannot push it up again to remove the safety. To do that you press the small button beneath the lever, which pops up and the gun is ready to shoot. The idea seems to have been to have to different, distinct motions to use the safety and there was no confusing them. It’s easy to operate and I think it’s pretty neat.
Another oddity is, frankly, it’s looks. These days we’re used to a specific look with the slide overhanging the rear of the grip and these guns don’t so much. The slide is odd too. We’re used to an open-top slide or an ejection port. These guns, like the first Beretta’s, have both. It looks kinda’ weird. Well, it works so what the hell. I like it; it’s different but sort of Diesel Punk.
Take down is unconventional but easy. There are video tutorials on Youtube, so I won’t repeat them here; it’s a lot easier to show than to explain.
So How Does it Shoot?
For test-firing I used Winchester White Box 71gr. FMC and a 78gr LFP handload which we’ll discuss later. The trigger is, stop me if you’ve heard this one, odd but good. There’s a fait bit of take-up but it’s light and smooth; you never feel the trigger break. Reset is fine, not particularly short or long. It’s very easy to use and lends itself to good control in rapid-fire. The sights are rather good for a pocket pistol of it’s era with a large, thick front sight and a good-sized U-notch rear. Recoil is mild, and the gun comes back on target quickly.
I didn’t do so hot at 25 yards, which I attribute to me, not the pistol. Double taps were not stellar, but I’m sure both those and my 25 yard targets will improve with practice.
About That Hand-Load…
OK, the usual. The author assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. It is prudent to start 10% below the listed load and work up. Always ensure any gun, particularly an antique gun, is safe to operate before firing it. When in doubt don’t.
Here’s the load:
78gr. LFP, 1.9gr. Unique, CCI500 primer
3-12″ barrel, 709 fps. 87 ft/lbs ES: 9 fps.
This is a very mild load, well suited to shooting in antique guns. It fed fine from the magazine and cycled the action reliably; I experienced no misfires.
I love this gun. It’s a sweetheart; very comfortable in the hand at very easy to shoot well at defensive distances. Felt recoil is very mild. Did I mention that I love it? I’ll get a couple of more magazines, and if continues to be as reliable as it has been so far I’d have no issues with the idea of using it for discreet carry. Now I want a Model 1910. Because reasons.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 9 April 2021
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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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