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A unique convergence of design elements makes this Argentine pistol a real collector's piece -- and a very enjoyable shooter.

Argentina's armed force used the Colt Model 1911 pistol for many years -- the Argentine Navy purchased 321 Government Model handguns in 1914 and then formally adopted it as the "Modello 1916." The Argentine army ordered another 10,000 Model 1911s, which were delivered in May 1919.

In 1927, Argentina ordered additional pistols from Colt. The resultant "Modello 1927" featured the 1911A1 modifications recently adopted by the United States Army. After Colt delivered 10,000, the Argentine government built 74,866 more at its "Domingo Matheu" factory in Rosario.

As the Argentines built the Modello 1927, engineers suggested a few changes to simplify production, though these changes did not appear in the Modello 1927. One of these engineers was Dr. Arturo Ballester of the Hispano Argentina Fabrica de Automoviles, S.A (HAFDASA) of Buenos Aires, a firm created in 1929 by Ballester and Eugenio Molina to build cars, buses, trucks and diesel engines.

Meanwhile, z the Bonifacio Echeverria factory in Spain was building a series of Model 1911 clones known as the "Star" pistols. Though based on Colt's design, the Star lacked some of its refinements, making it easier to produce. The .45 caliber Star Model P influenced the Ballester-Molina pistol's design.

In 1937, with war clouds gathering ominously over Europe and Asia, the Argentine military gave HAFDASA a pistol contract. The resultant pistol is known variously as the Ballester-Rigaud, Ballester-Molina or HAEDASA, and was the HAFDASA firm's first gun.

Foreign Yet Familiar

The Ballester-Molina is virtually the same size and shape as the U.S. Model 1911A1: 8.5" long, with a 5" barrel and a 36-oz. unloaded weight. The Ballester-Molina uses the same seven-shot magazine as the M1911A1, and all operating controls are in the same locations.

The Ballester-Molina differs from the Model 1911A1 in lacking a grip safety and in using a pivoting trigger rather than a sliding type; however, the serrations used to operate the Ballester-Molina pistol's slide are most distinctive. Instead of the M1911's 18 evenly spaced vertical serrations, the Ballester-Molina's eight slide serrations appear in three groups, with three in the forward group, three in the middle and two in the rearmost group.

The hardwood stocks use a distinctive pattern of 19 vertical serrations. The stocks are also thicker than those of a Model 1911, so the pistol feels slightly wider. The trigger guard is slightly narrower at the front than the Model 1911's; neither pistol is well-suited to handling while the shooter is wearing heavy gloves, an unfortunate omission shared by most contemporary military handguns.

Another problem the Ballester-Molina shares with contemporary military pistols is undersized sights. Operation of the Ballester-Molina pistol, including shooting and field-stripping, is identical to the Colt Model 1911.

The Ballester-Molina's internal mechanical changes from the M191 include a shorter hammer strut, a firing-pin stop without relief cuts on its sides and a larger-diameter safety lock pin. While none of these changes alter the Ballester-Molina pistol's handling, they greatly degrade parts interchangeability between a Ballester-Molina and an Argentine Modello 1927 or U.S. Model 1911A1. A Ballester-Molina slide will fit loosely and function on a Colt or equivalent Argentine-made frame, but a Ballester-Molina frame is too wide to accept a Model 1911 slide.

The Ballester-Molina is well-made, with a highly polished blue-black finish. A "Ballester-Rigaud" (Rorice Rigaud being the chief engineer) slide marking disappeared after 1939 in favor of the better-known "Ballester-Molina" slide inscription.

The right side of the slide may include an Argentine government crest just ahead of the slide serrations. Also on the right side of the slide, the name of an official Argentine military or police agency may appear.

Serial numbers occur inside the slide (visible only when the slide is removed from the frame) and on the left side of the mainspring housing on the frame. An issue number may also appear on the top of the slide, ahead of the rear sight.

In addition to the standard .45 caliber service pistol, from 1940 to 1953 HAFDASA also produced smaller numbers of .22 Long Rifle Ballester-Molinas. Identical in size and appearance to the .45 caliber weapon, these used a blowback bolt to accommodate the lower recoil of the rimfire cartridge. These guns were issued for training to Argentine military and police agencies. Compared to the .45 caliber service pistol, .22s are rare today due to limited production.

Into The Fray

The Ballester-Molina's appearance was timely, and the Argentine government lost no time in issuing the pistol, first to military units, followed by police issue. While Argentina managed to stay out of World War II, many Ballester-Molina pistols made it to the fighting.

In 1940, the British Purchasing Commission visited the Americas to buy war materials. Fresh from their forced evacuation at Dunkirk, where British soldiers had escaped but left their equipment behind, the British bought every firearm they could.

To the hard-pressed British, the Ballester-Molina looked good. It used the widely respected 45 ACP cartridge. The British were well acquainted with its parent pistol, the Model 1911, having issued it to the Royal Air Force during World War I. They purchased about 15,000 Ballester-Molina pistols.

A top-secret espionage and sabotage unit called Special Operations Executive (SOE) received many of these guns. Secret agents of the SOE, carrying Ballester-Molina pistols, were dropped behind enemy lines in occupied Europe, working closely with local resistance forces to make life tough for the Nazis and their collaborators.

The Nazis fought back hard, and losses among SOE operatives were heavy. Many SOE agents never returned from their missions, so Ballester-Molina pistols show up in Europe on occasion.

The British issued another 10,000 Ballester-Molina pistols to their 8th Army fighting in the North African desert against Italian and German forces. The pistols served well, despite the region's extremely harsh climactic conditions.

After World War II, Ballester-Molina issue continued in Argentina. Production finally stopped in 1953. Exact figures have not been published, but the manufacturing run certainly ran into the tens of thousands.

In the 1960s, a locally produced variant of the 9mm Browning High Power pistol began supplanting the Ballester-Molina, at which point some were released for export. Ballester-Molinas remained in limited service, particularly in naval and police hands, as late as the 1982 South Atlantic War, which Argentina fought against Britain over the Falkland Islands. In the 1990s, Argentina released its remaining Ballester-Molina pistols from reserve stocks, and many of these were imported into the United States. Other commercial sales were made in Latin America.

From Service To Sport

The Ballester-Molina pistol demonstrated excellent accuracy, for a service pistol. Moreover, its reliability proved flawless, even with hollowpoint bullets that sometimes jam older military guns not designed for such ammunition.

Like the MI91lA1, the Ballester-Molina pistol points well and has a solid, reliable feel that inspires great confidence. During its heyday, this was one of the best military pistol models. Indeed, this old dog can teach a few tricks to the newcomers!

Colt collectors once turned up their noses at the Ballester-Molina, regarding it as a cheap copy. Today it gets more respect as a well-made, interesting and high-performing handgun with a rich history.
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Author:Gangarosa, Jr., Gene
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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