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La Invasión Española • Beistegui Hermanos • Unceta y CiaSpanish ProofsAstra 900 Disassembly

La Invasión Española
Revised 2007Jan03

Despite an apparently bewildering variety of brands, it is most likely that there were actually only two Spanish manufacturers of pseudo-Mausers, Unceta y Cia (Unceta and Co., makers of the Astra line), and Beistegui Hermanos (Beistegui Brothers, makers of all the others). These Spanish guns were intended mainly for the Chinese market, and the vast majority were immediately shipped there.

The major handgun activity in Spain was located up north, in the Basque area. Beistegui and its associated marketing firms were in Eibar. Unceta was in Guernica.

The motivation behind the Spanish assault was China.

M-30 in China
China's last Imperial dynasty ended in 1911. From then until the final triumph of the Communist Party after World War 2, and despite a brief national reunification (called the Northeast Flag Replacement, in 1928), warfare was endemic - the perpetual fighting of the Warlord Era, the suppression of most of the warlords by the Northern Expedition (1927-28), the Nationalist purge of the Communists, leading to the Ten Year's Civil War (1927-1937), continuing warlord trouble with the Central Plains War (1930), Japanese intervention in Manchuria (starting in 1931), the Second Sino-Japanese War (starting in 1937). Everybody was fighting everybody else - even some American troops in Shanghai (no, not a last gasp for imperialism, but a garrison sent to protect Americans with business in the town; not a bad idea, considering that the Chinese themselves were preoccupied with fighting each other, and not likely to devote much attention to protecting foreigners).

The arms market was obviously excellent.

Foreign attempts, mainly British and American, to reduce the fighting via embargoes on loans and arms were of some limited success, but not sufficient to prevent Chinese from fighting each other in huge numbers. Or from buying whatever guns they could get.

Of the Spanish competition, Beistegui was first out the gate, with a pseudo-Mauser in 1926. It was modeled vaguely after the prewar and wartime C-96, with a full-length barrel and large grips - and, as an option, revived the 20-shot magazine which Mauser had abandoned a quarter century earlier. Mauser at the time was making Postwar Bolos, with short barrels and small grips. Unceta followed Beistegui's lead with its Astra 900 in 1927. The Astra design had small grips but a decent prewar-size barrel, though only a 10 shot magazine. Mauser experimented with a reintroduction of the larger grip and longer barrel, making some 10,000 "pre-M30s" (my term - the books call them something like "M-30 Transitionals") in, perhaps, 1928 - maybe the Spanish competition was waking Mauser up to the idea that a more substantial gun than the Bolo might be worth the effort. Unceta abandoned the small grip size after making about 1200 guns, and switched to something very much like the prewar and wartime Mauser-style full-size grip (and, curiously, the earlier Mauser type of lanyard ring pivot).

Beistegui upped the ante in 1927 with a select-fire version. Unceta again was left to play catch-up, coming out with the first select-fire Astra, the Model 901, in 1928, at about the same time following Mauser's lead with the "pre-M30s" and changing to a dozen coarse grooves on its grip panels, abandoning the earlier fine grooves. With a (slightly) new model in 1930, Mauser showed serious signs of life. (This was when Mauser abandoned the traditional step frame and switched to a simpler but heavier style, actually following the Spanish lead.) Beistegui responded with a much-improved gun, the MM31 (which, despite the implication of that "31", may have appeared in late 1930), a much closer copy of the Mauser original - rather M-30-ish, in fact, from the step barrel all the way down to the 12-groove grip panels. Beistegui almost immediately supplemented that with a 20 shot variant. Mauser still had no select-fire gun to compete with Beistegui's 10 or 20 shot MM31 or Unceta's Astra Model 901 or, slightly later, the 20 shot Model 902. And unlike the Spanish competition, Mausers were still limited to 10 shot magazines.

Mauser action in China
During this period, 1928 to 1930, sales (mainly to China) were tremendous. Beistegui was apparently cranking pseudo-Mausers out at rates of around eight thousand a year. Unceta was making perhaps five thousand 900 Series guns a year, in addition to its large production of military guns (Models 300 and 400) for domestic sales. Mauser was still easily in the lead, at something around 30 thousand C-96s - Bolos and, later, M-30s - a year.

The next design innovation was, again, from Beistegui - the first detachable-magazine version. (And about time, too). This was the third distinct version of the MM31 model. In May 1931, Mauser finally responded seriously to the Spanish assault, shipping a thousand detachable-magazine, select-fire Schnellfeuers to China. This gun brought Mauser up even with the competition - decent-size barrel, large grips, large detachable magazine, select-fire - albeit at a much higher price than the Spanish products. These first Schnellfeuers had the early mechanism described in the Nickl patent. Unceta was left playing catch-up, again, with the Astra Model 903 and its removable magazine. Beistegui wasted no time coming out with a fourth variant of the MM31, this one accepting Schnellfeuer magazines, a step never followed by Unceta. Mauser made about 3500 Schnellfeuers, then stopped production, apparently due to some durability problem with the Nickl mechanism.

Trouble continued in China, and the market for arms remained strong. But there was also trouble in Spain, and gun manufacture suffered. Everything, including the 1931 elections, went badly for Alfonso XIII, so he left the country, and a Republic was declared. Although they hadn't had to actually fight a revolution, the Republicans were a pretty revolutionary - not to mention, damn near Marxist - bunch, and the new government promptly began attacks on landowners, industrialists, and the Catholic Church. Reasoning, correctly, that this would make it many enemies, the government started to worry about all those gun manufacturers in Spain and their stocks of weapons just waiting to fall into the hands of "counterrevolutionaries" or Fascists or just about anybody else. So in August 1931, a government commission made up of military officers set out to seize all military-type weapons in factories, particularly in areas which were not so solidly Republican. The intent was to pay for all these weapons (since they weren't real Marxists - not yet, anyway) and distribute them to Republican forces. However the commission must have been surprised to find just how many unfinished guns they were stuck with. They couldn't be distributed to Republican forces in that state, and so weren't worth buying. So the plan was changed; the government would allow Spanish gun manufacturers to make military-type guns, but for export. These exports would be regulated by the government. Nobody has ever accused any Spanish government of excessive efficiency, and the financial burden on manufacturers must have been considerable, with sales being delayed while the government decided which shipments could go - a far cry from the earlier free-wheeling export trade. From the great days of the 1926-1930 period, Beistegui production dropped to nearly nothing - perhaps a thousand guns total over the next two years. Unceta output dropped to maybe two thousand 900 Series guns annually. Mauser was, of course, unaffected by political developments in Spain.

Surprisingly, the next big technical advance came from Unceta. In 1934, the Guardia Civil requested a select-fire gun with a slower rate of fire, so the next two Astras - the experimental Model 904, and the big order for the Guardia, the Model F - had such a mechanism. These were all made in 1934 and 1935. Beistegui was just slightly behind, introducing the MM34, with a similar retarding mechanism but adding a switch to select various cyclic rates. Mauser made no response to the rate reduction mechanism, but overhauled its line in other respects, bumping the M-30's barrel up to a respectable length (to 140mm from the earlier oddball 132mm), deleting some traditional frills such as the milled slots in the barrel extension rails and the heat-blued small parts, and reintroducing the Schnellfeuer, this time with the Westinger patent mechanism.

By 1935, the political situation in Spain had continued to deteriorate, though not yet to the point of open warfare, and the financial squeeze on manufacturers continued. The Beistegui brothers, clearly suffering since 1931, finally abandoned the gun business altogether, after making only a few hundred specimens of their new MM34. The brothers appeared again after the end of the Civil War, but this time making bicycles.

Slightly afterwards, perhaps in 1936, Mauser made the next obvious step, offering a semi-auto version of the Schnellfeuer. This had the standard Schnellfeuer detachable magazine, a Schnellfeuer frame (without the select switch), and M-30 lock parts. But apparently Mauser saw no future for the gun in the big market, China, and made only a feeble effort to sell it elsewhere. With an eye on the National Firearms Act of 1934, which made machine guns (including select-fire pistols) and short-barreled rifles (including pistols with detachable shoulder stocks) prohibitively expensive, Mauser made a very few - maybe a dozen - of these semi-autos, without slots for shoulder stocks, and shipped them off to their main American distributor. Stoeger (having replaced the previous agents, von Lengerke & Detmold, as US distributors - Abercrombie & Fitch bought VL&D circa 1928) failed to find much of a market in the US. So far as is known today, Mauser made no attempt to sell the semi-auto elsewhere. Thus the detachable magazine semi-auto C-96 was allowed to die. That of course didn't keep others from assaulting the US market some sixty years later, reworking old Schnellfeuers which had been marooned in China into semi-autos and selling them by the boatload to those crazy American collectors - who, as we all know, will buy anything. But that had nothing to do with the Mauser factory.

But back to the Chinese market in the 1930s. Things went from bad to worse in China, with the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Arms shipments to China were through trading houses either in Japan or Shanghai. Once hostilities broke out, the supply route via Japan was blocked. After the Battle of Shanghai (August through November, 1937) and the subsequent Japanese occupation of the town, shipments from outside were essentially cut off. And there went the market for the two remaining competitors, Mauser and Unceta. Mauser made a last batch of guns, probably a mix of both M-30s and Schnellfeuers, then shut down the production line for good. The situation for Unceta was much more interesting, what with the Civil War in Spain, and the Fascist bombing of Guernica, and all. 900 Series production went on hiaitus in 1937, leaving a large stash of parts for uncompleted guns. Unceta certainly made no 900 Series guns at all in 1938, but, obviously suspecting that a market was soon to develop in Europe, finished two thousand Model 903s (select-fire) in 1939 and 1940.

Sure enough, the next World War brought some C-96-style guns back into circulation. Nearly 8000 Schnellfeuers were issued to the Luftwaffe in 1940 (issued from Army stores - when they had actually been bought from Mauser is unknown). Although Spain never joined the Axis, the Fascist government allowed Unceta to sell about a thousand Model 903s to Germany in 1940. Unceta finished another thousand Model 900s (semi-auto) in 1940-41, and sold them and the remaining stock of a thousand Model 903s to Germany in 1943. That used up essentially all of the stock of completed guns Unceta had stashed away.

Around 1949-1951, Unceta assembled a last batch of just over 500 guns from, basically, old Model F parts with some new machining, and sold them to various Third World customers. The very last one was sold in 1961.

And so ended the Spanish invasion.

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