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.