Astra Unceta y Cía. was a Spanish weapons manufacturer founded on July 17, 1908 under the name of Esperanza y Unceta by Juan Esperanza and Pedro Unceta. First located in the city of Eibar, the stronghold of the Basque arms industry, the company moved in 1913 to Guernica
Juan Esperanza Salvador (1860–1951) and Pedro Unceta (1854–1934), both from Eibar, founded the company in 1908 under the name P.Unceta y J.Esperanza for the purposes of the “sale of machinery and accessories of all types”. At this stage there was no mention of the sale or manufacture of arms, although both partners were engaged in this field on their own account. In 1908 Juan Esperanza had six full time staff, and in 1910, ten staff. In 1911 he formed a partnership with Isidro Gaztañaga - Gaztañaga y Esperanza. This new company had between 20 and 30 staff. From 1911 onwards patents for firearms began to be issued to P.Unceta y J.Esperanza , concerning improvements to self-loading pistols. In 1913, manufacture of pistols began at their new factory.
In 1912 a new pistol was adopted by the Spanish military, designed by a retired military officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Don Venancio López de Ceballos y Aguirre, Count of Campo-Giro. The new gun was designated the Pistola Campo-Giro de 9mm Modelo 1912, but is generally referred to as the Campo-Giro after its inventor. After an unknown number of Modelo 1912 pistols had been manufactured, the army became aware that an improved version of the pistol that had been developed, and in January 1914 this was adopted as thePistola Campo-Giro de 9mm Modelo 1913. The Model 1913 was manufactured by Esperanza Y Unceta and the increased orders triggered their move to a new factory in Guernica. During 1914 1,300 pistols were made before production was halted to include new modifications.
The Modelo 1913 was a delayed blowback design, unusual in a gun chambered for a powerful military cartridge. The Campo-Giro used a powerful spring to handle the recoil of the 9mm Largo cartridge, and had a smaller spring beneath the barrel to serve as a shock absorber and delay the opening of the breach. It retained an external hammer and a top ejection port like the Bergmann-Bayard, but had its magazine in the grip instead in front of the trigger guard, thus allowing a much longer barrel to be fitted. The magazine release lever was just behind the oval-shaped trigger guard between it and the front of the frame. The slide was fixed to the frame by a transverse wedge behind the breech that in turn was held in place by the firing pin. The Campo-Giro was over 225mm (9 inches long), weighed over 900 grams (2 pounds) unloaded, and had an 8-round magazine. It produced a greater muzzle velocity from the 9mm Largo round than did the Bergmann-Bayard, due to its 165mm (6 5/8 inch) longer barrel. The pistol was well made and accurate, but difficult to disassemble.
Campo-Giro patented new improvements in 1913,1914,and 1915, resulting in a redesigned frame, redesigned mainspring and the magazine release being moved to the bottom of the grip. Because of the First World War, the supply of black buffalo horn that was used for the grips was interrupted and wood was substituted. The improved model was adopted in September 1916 as the Pistola Campo-Giro de 9mm, Modelo 1913-16. The company manufactured 13,625 examples between 1916 and 1919.
First World War
During the First World War the firm supplied the Allies with an estimated 150,000 Ruby-type self-loading pistols. Ironically, the company had first introduced this design in 1911 as the Victoria , a pistol based on the Browning M1903 with improvements patented by Pedro Careaga in 1911, and by the Esperanza y Unceta company in 1912. These patents may have covered the dual-purpose frame-mounted safety (instead of a grip safety), and the method of machining the serrations on the slide using a lathe. The Victoria was in turn copied by Gabilondo y Urresti in 1914, the only real improvement being to increase the magazine capacity to 9 shots and fit a military style lanyard ring. In 1915 Gabilondo sent examples of the pistols to the French government, and after testing was completed in May 1915, the French decided to accept the Ruby as the Pistolet Automatique, Type Ruby. Substantial contracts were awarded to Gabilondo and eight partner companies, and eventually desperation led to over 40 Spanish arms makers, including Esperanza y Unceta receiving contracts totaling at least 710,000 and perhaps as high as 950,000 pistols. Esperanza y Unceta marked their Ruby-types Model 1914, Model 1915, Model 1916, Astra,Brunswig, and Victoria. They were also stamped with the French Military identification mark EU on the frame and on the base of the magazine.
The Spanish Army, faced with growing complaints that the Campo Giro was proving to be less durable than expected, and that disssembly was too difficult, began to search for a new service weapon. The response was swift, with Esperanza y Unceta submitting their newly designed Model 400, and Star their Model A. The Model 400 was designed by Pedro Careaga. Trials took place in 1920 and 1921 and included a 800 round endurance test and harsh condition testing. Under- and over-loaded ammunition was also used, and the pistols measured for wear after 1000 rounds had been fired. In September 1921, the Astra was adopted as the Pistola de 9mm Modelo 1921 They had a long career and stayed into production until 1967 and 1946 respectively. Two versions were envisaged: The 400 intended for the army as well as the carabineros or frontier troops and the 300, a slightly smaller version, intended for naval and air force officers. The Model 300 would be emblematic of the firm.
Caliber for the 400 was the 9mm Bergman-Bayard, named after the first semi-automatic pistol in use with the Spanish Army. The caliber is known in Spain as the 9mm Largo (Long). During the Spanish Civil War, it was found it chambered the 9mm Parabellum cartridges supplied by Germany. Offered in .32 ACP, 9mmP, or .380 ACP, 153,085 copies were produced; 63,000 of these in .380 delivered to Germany, 22,390 in .32 ACP. The final destination of this large quantity of weapons remains an enigma. The Astra 200, a clone of FN Model 1906, was produced with 234.105 specimens in several versions and calibers .25 ACP and .22 Short primarily. Manufacture ceased in 1967, mainly because of new customs rules in the United States. In 1926 Juan Esperanza left the consortium and created his own company. The company changed name and became Unceta y Compania.
The following year, the Spanish Army launched a new program aiming at modernizing its armaments and it is once again Unceta which won the contract.
Astra Arms S.A. – Switzerland
In the year 2008, 100 years after the foundation of Esperanza y Unceta (Astra Unceta y Cía), a Swiss firearms manufacturing company, founded by the Italian entrepreneur Massimo Garbarino and located in the city of Sion, has adopted the name Astra Arms S.A. and took over the rights on the Astra trademark. Astra Arms S.A. has established a manufacturing line for high level 1911-type pistols (the U.S. model and the Daytona model), as well as a manufacturing line for AR-15 rifles (the StG-15 & StG-4 models), to be distributed on those civilian markets which are at the time lacking similar American products, whose export requires the issue of an End user certificate. At present times, the Astra Arms S.A. products are distributed on the European civilian market and Central and South American, Asian and African Military market.