Gun Review: Star Model B

I’ve posted previously about how to get a type 3 FFL and become a Collector of Curios and Relics. That’s the license that will let you have WWII era firearms shipped straight to your door with no mucking about with the local gun store to do the transfer. But once you have that power, the next question becomes “what do I buy first?” And the answer, my friends, is this . . .

Well, actually the answer is a Mosin Nagant. But if you already have one, then feel free to skip to the “classy” option. Which is the Star Model B.

I know, it looks like a 1911, but its not. First, a little history lesson:

After John Moses Browning delivered his One True Design for handguns to the world, a whole bunch of manufacturers decided to incorporate those same design elements into their own handguns. The Soviets adopted Fedor Tokarev’s slimmed down design and dubbed it the “TT”. It’s now one of the most widely available handgun designs ever produced (mainly because of the sheer numbers in which they were cranked out in Soviet manufacturing plants).

The Spanish were also keen to copy the design, and in 1922 Star Bonifacio Echeverria, S.A. (one of the major Spanish arms makers) came out with their Model 1922 handgun. It incorporated most of the features of JMB’s masterpiece, but the design made it handle much differently. Star would go through two more permutations before finally resting on the second generation Star Model B in 1931, which we see today and has recently become widely available on the market.

During the Second World War, Spain was officially neutral. Neutral in terms of actually firing the bullets, that is, not making them. Spain provided material support to the Axis powers, specifically Nazi Germany. And one of their exports was case after case of Star Model B (second generation) handguns.

Being made in a neutral country, the High Command didn’t see the need to have the typical Waffenmark stamped on the guns when they entered service and so these handguns are one of the only examples of a Nazi firearm that doesn’t bear that mark. They do, however, have the code N, Ñ or O stamped on them which denotes a manufacture between 1942 and 1944 and implies (along with some other things which we’ll get to shortly) that they were indeed German at some point.

While the Third Reich made their own handguns and in enough numbers to supply front-line troops, they still needed to arm their civilian police force and other rear echelon units. The Star Model B was a cheap import and used the same ammunition as the rest of the German handguns, so it fit right into the supply chain for those lower priority troops and civilians. In other words, these handguns have the highest probability of any former Nazi firearm of never being fired with a human being in the sights.

Let’s put the history on pause for a second to talk about the gun itself. And if you’ve ever held and fired a 1911 before, everything will be more or less the same. The second generation Model B was closely resembles the 1911A1, and that design certainly shines through. All of the exterior lines follow JMB’s gun and the pistol even takes down exactly like an original 1911A1. The only major difference between the two is that the Star Model B lacks a grip safety, instead relying solely on the thumb safety.

There are, of course, some differences. Unlike the 1911A1′s trigger (which moves straight back and trips the sear), the Model B has a trigger that pivots on a roll pin. Other differences include the detent on the slide stop (which appears to keep the slide from locking back without the proper application of force) and the lack of an easily removable mainspring as in the 1911A1.

Speaking of the trigger, despite the design change, the break is still pretty damn sweet. In fact, it beats the pants off of some of the triggers I’ve played with on modern guns, and even guns that I’ve owned. Heck, I’d even rank it above my old Springfield 1911A1. It has a very short takeup, and then a glass smooth break. It’s unfortunately followed by about seven miles of overtravel, but you get what you pay for I suppose.

There is, however, a rather big problem with these guns. And for the reason there’s a problem, we need to look at the extractor.

Anyone who knows anything about military surplus firearms knows immediately what that color means, and knows where I’m going with this.

Obviously, Nazi Germany lost World War II, but you knew that. Following the end of the war, the Soviets snapped up as much materiel as they could carry and carted it back to Rodina Mat to stockpile it and prepare to repel the next great invasion. Among those massive truckloads of loot from the ruins of Germany were enormous quantities of Star Model B handguns, along with the supply of K98 rifles that we’re still buying from.

The second those captured firearms hit the loading docks of the Russian armories, they were disassembled and the parts strewn into massive barrels. Each part was then cleaned, and the guns reassembled from the barrels. Parts that were prone to breaking, like the extractor in a 1911 model handgun, were replaced with a new part that was blued in the standard Soviet post-WWII solution which turned everything a mucky purple color (which is what makes Russian captured weapons so recognizable).

The Soviets were counting on the parts for each gun to be interchangeable, as on any other modern firearm of the time. Unfortunately, the Star Model B required a little bit of fitting to get it just right. As a result, the most common malfunction on a Model B is that the safety won’t engage properly when at full cock. Some minor gunsmithing is required to get it to work.

Also of note, is that these guns were treated to the same relaxing day at the Cosmolene bathhouse as every other Soviet weapon that was stockpiled. Which means that you’ve got a fun few hours of cleaning and degreasing ahead before you fire round #1 from your gun.

The history of these guns doesn’t stop there, however. Starting around 1966, the film industry started using Star Model B handguns instead of actual 1911 handguns due to the fact that they were easier to make work with blanks than the real McCoy. For example, anyone who has seen Pulp Fiction knows the famous “say what again” scene where Jules plugs a guy with his nickel plated 1911. A nickel plated 1911 that was actually a gussied up Star Model B, the one pictured above to be exact. Everything from District 9 to The A Team (the original) replaced the 1911 with the cheaper and easier to use Star Model B (more info at the IMFDB). [thanks to Jim in the comments for the heads up!]

One issue that arises when you have parts that don’t quite fit right is malfunctions. This one in particular — the much loved stovepipe — happened more than once in the course of 100 rounds. It’s quick to fix, and on a gun that’s 68 years old isn’t completely unexpected, but its still pretty annoying.

While those two imperfections might be maddening enough on the range, it throws this gun COMPLETELY out of the running for a concealed carry option. Just in case you were thinking about putting your grandfather in your waistband. Wait, that sounds wrong. Moving on . . .

So how does this thing shoot? The answer is “pretty damned well.” The action feels smooth, the trigger is nice and it’s capable of “good enough” accuracy, even at 25 yards. It does suffer from the same problem as the 1911A1 — it makes the webbing on the palm of your hand cry for mercy if not held properly. Specifically, for large pawed individuals it has a tendency to “bite” your hand with the hammer spur. Smaller hands will have no problems, though.

The Star Model B is an interesting piece of history available at a reasonable price. It gives you all of the cool points of a 1911, it’s an obscure gun AND it hits all three squares on WWII milsurp bingo card (USA design, Nazi use, Soviet capture). And it does all of that while keeping ammo costs low.

Specifications

Caliber:            9mm Luger
Barrel:              5 Inches
Capacity:         8 rounds
MSRP:              about $400

Ratings (Out of Five Stars)

Accuracy: * * *
Its no Wilson Combat, but we were getting “minute of bad guy” groups with no problems.

Ergonomics: * * * * *
If you like the ergonomics of the 1911, you’ll find this similarly awesome.

Ergonomics Firing: * * *
I have big hands, so I walked away with slightly bloody webbing on my hand. Other than that, everything about the gun feels just about perfect.

Reliability: *
Yeah, not so much. If you get this worked on by a competent gunsmith, you might have yourself a fine handgun. But as it comes from the importer, I wouldn’t even leave this around with a loaded mag anywhere near it.

Customize This:
Yes, that’s a zero. Finding replacement parts is hard enough, let alone spare magazines. Especially when the market for these was in 1944…in Nazi Germany.

Overall: * *
While this may not be a very good gun for practical purposes (self defense, concealed carry, competition shooting…generally anything where you need a guaranteed round downrange when you want it and a good safety when you don’t), it IS a fantastic handgun for the historical nift and its overall sexy design. Needless to say, when my amended FFL03 comes in, this will be my first purchase on the new license.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

33 Responses to Gun Review: Star Model B

  1. avatarWade says:

    Now THIS is the kind of review we want more of. Older, more different guns.

    • avatarReader says:

      Agreed! Maybe some classic S&W or unusual Soviet guns soon?

      • avatarWhit says:

        I agree, great review. Not sure if anyone will read this, as it’s been a couple weeks since this article came out, but here goes…

        I’d like to see more classic gun reviews as well. Not having a Browning Hi Power review on this site is criminal. Review a Mk. I, Mk. II, the newer Mk.III, whatever. I’d also like to see a review of the surplus Walther P1s that are making the rounds now.

  2. avatarKoop says:

    Is it compatible with 1911 holsters?

  3. avatarLoyd says:

    I like quirky little historic guns. Exactly like this. Damn it, now I have to get one. And the C&R FFL.

  4. avatarjwm says:

    Nazi germany was unique in it’s use of pistols and uniforms. Damn near everybody had a uniform, meter readers and utility workers and practically all public employees. And most of these people were issued pistols to go with their uniforms. And if you were a german civilian during a job in occupied territory you got a pistol. Even the civilian secratery’s working in places like Paris got a pistol.

    The biggest problem with using your Star for self defense is even if it functions reliably it will only do so with FMJ. This was a common trait of auto pistols made during that time.

  5. avatarjim says:

    Also interesting to note that every “1911A1 .45″(which doesn’t function worth a darn with blanks) you’ve ever seen in a movie was actually a Star B which blanks up just fine.The closeups may have been of a real .45 but the firing scenes were Stars. At least according to Stephen Hunter, who knows a thing or two about both movies and guns.

    • avatarST says:

      Prop armorers today seem to have resolved the 1911 .45 Auto blank problem, but movies made in the 90′s and before did have the Star model B doubling as a 1911. The crime movie “Untouchables” has this pistol in it ,as does Pulp Fiction.

      Interesting movie trivia ; Samuel L Jackson carries a Star Model B while his partner John Travolta has a legit 1911. The two nickel plated handguns are neigh identical on screen. At the end of the movie, Jackson’s character says a line describing his pistol as a “9mm”. I used to think that was a typical Hollywood gaffe calling a .45 by the wrong caliber-until I got in the shooting hobby and discovered the joke was on me, as indeed he DOES have a 9mm.

    • avataranonymous says:

      See the Internet Movie Firearms Data Base ( imfdb ) page for the Star Model B

      http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Star_Model_B

  6. avatarChuck says:

    Before you run out and get a the C&R FFL, know that your state gun laws can still trump the fed laws. Example – In the un-free state of NY you are still required to transfer C&R pistols through a dealer and can not have them shipped to your house even with a C&R. Some day I will move :(

    • avatarBill F says:

      In NYS, the C&R FFL still has value when acquiring listed rifles. Especially Mosin’s, where without the C&R you’d otherwise pay a $30 transfer on a $100 rifle. But I’m in the same boat as you. Have a C&R, but still have to do C&R handgun transfers at dealer. And I tend to buy more C&R handguns than rifles.

    • avatarJoe Grine says:

      Technically, it is incorrect to say that state and local will “trump” federal law. There are areas of federal laws where Congress has not intended the federal law to be preemptive, and in those situations, state and local governments may be free to enact additional laws on the same topic. Your overall point, nonetheless, is well taken: citizens must be aware that federal laws may not be the last word on any given topic related to guns.

  7. avatarspeedracer5050 says:

    These are neat guns. I have actually got to fire a magazine or two in one( don’t remember if it was a model B tho), and it was chambered in 9×21 Largo.
    I like the kind of obscure WWI and WWII firearms and wish I had been able to buy it at the time as the trigger was smoother than butter and broke like a glass rod so to speak.
    Guess that C&R license is going to get applied for a little earlier than I planned on!!! LOL!!!
    BTW: does anyone here know where I can get Original parts for a 1914 New Model/Second Edition Mauser Pocket Pistol??? Mine works great but would like to find some extra springs, etc since I do shoot it monthly. It is the updated version of the 1910 Mauser Pocket Pistol without the side latch plate.

  8. avatarJoshinGA says:

    Awesome. I love the look of the 1911, but I have a good bit of 9mm stocked up, so Id like to get a 1911 style in 9mm. Problem is most of the 1911′s in 9mm are prohibitively expensive for me. Was looking at STi Spartans, which are available in 9mm, but still close to $600. These look to be a fun range gun that will allow me to indulge my want without breaking my wallet. Thanks for the review Nick; top notch as usual.

  9. avatarRoll says:

    Is the British sten considered a C&R? I’d love to have one of those.

    • avatarRalph says:

      The Sten is an NFA weapon that is a C&R based on their date of manufacture. The Sten is subject to all of the controls of the NFA, “however, licensed collectors may acquire, hold, or dispose of them as Curios or Relics subject to the requirements of 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44 and 27 CFR Part 478.” That’s from ATF Publication 5300.11, Section IV: National Firearms Weapons Classified as Curios or Relics Under 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44.

  10. avatarThomas Paine says:

    you forgot to mention that these are probably the skinniest single/double action pistols in 9mm available. What’s the slide, like .75″?

  11. avatarJohn says:

    I have one of these and have had it for several years. It’s a sweet shooter and I’ve never had feeding problems with it. But…..I pulled the trigger on an empty chamber and broke the firing pin. So it’s a closet queen, until I can find a replacement firing pin.

    • avatarKoop says:

      Find a machine shop and see if you can pay one of the guys to make you one out of a small chunk of tool steel they have laying around.

    • avatarSteve says:

      Go to the Spanish Pistol section over at the Gunboards forum. There are several members there who might be able to set you up with a replacement firing pin.

      For anyone reading NO dry firing of any Star pistol (though I’m not 100% sure on later Ultra & Mega Stars.)

  12. avatarRalph says:

    I have my 03 FFL and can buy any C&R firearm by mail order — except those that the state of MA deems dangerous. Which includes all handguns. Of course, I can have a C&R dealer ship to my local 01 FFL — except that when it comes to pistols, my local dealer cannot transfer a handgun that’s not (1) on The List and (2) tested and certified as meeting the AG’s “consumer safety” regulations. Guess how many C&R handguns meet the criteria.

  13. avatardustyvarmint says:

    Dad has a model BM, reportedly Israeli. True or false, I dont know. Functions great and I would carry it. If spare parts were available and spare mags affordable, I’d shoot one for action pistol sports. However, those things make the RIAs more suitable for that.

    Happy shooting, dv

  14. avatarPaul says:

    This was definitely a fun handgun to fire but as you said when showing me how to take the handgun apart, we did have the long process of removing the cosmoline from every crevasse of the handgun. Even with my thinner but still large hands I had minor side swipes they gave me tiny red marks.

  15. avatarSteve says:

    Owning a, uh, couple of Stars there is a minor clarification I can make.

    Nick is incorrect about the Germans not stamping them with a Waffenamt acceptance mark. All that were accepted into service for Army or Navy use were so marked. It is more likely you have one of the identical Bulgarian contract models that were shipped around the same time. I have two, 1 with a fake Waffenamt added by an unscrupulous importer (or exporter). The serial # listings of those shipped to Germany or Bulgaria are available with an internet search for verification.

    I also have the extraction problem on one of the B’s, but the other one works great. The triggers on all my Stars are great, but the hand fitted internal parts can cause problems if repair is required.

  16. avatarSteril says:

    Not all were sold to Germany, 1943 production did go to Bulgaria. The piece on the pictures is from that batch (Ñ stands for production year 1943).

  17. avatarg says:

    And people wonder why Foghorn is everyone’s #1 favorite writer?

    Great gun review, Nick… good balance of historical tidbits and technical info.

  18. avatarElnonio says:

    Since the original caliber was the 9mm largo, the 9mm para rounds kind of float in the magazines. I purchased a 9 largo barrel, and brass from starline. FTW!

  19. I have a Star model B what would be the best round to use for target shooting..I was told 115 grain ball amo…do you agree,or is there something better..thanks for your help…neil

  20. avatarRobin Clark says:

    My dad brought one back with him from WW2. Had a broken firing pin. Decided to get it working again as a tribute to him. We were just able to have a pin manufactured, and it was wonderful to shoot for me. My husband had the hand size issues though. Wish I could find another magazine and that we’d done it sooner before he passed. I think he’d be pleased.

  21. avatarMub says:

    The major problem is the lack of spares and there are ZERO customization options here…
    No sights, grips etc…

    I did buy one just because i loved its looks but thats about it…

    Its not practical… Good for collection and ocassuonal shooting though ..

  22. avatarRick Bell says:

    I had a squib and should replace my Model B 9×19 barrel would like to hear from anyone that has one for sale

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