British Ballester Molina for Special Operations Executive

During World War Two, the British government contracted for about 8,000 Ballester Molina pistols from HAFDASA in Argentina. They were produced between 1942 and 1944, and are easily identified by the application of a second serial number on the left side with a “B” prefix. The exact details of the contract are lost, but the British appear to have paid at least in part in steel (in very short supply in Argentina at the time) and also supplied the steel needed to make the pistols, probably via US Lend-Lease. Some of these Ballester Molina pistols were supplied to SOE agents or resistance organizations, while others remained unissued at the end of the war. Those unissued guns were purchased by InterArms in the 1950s, and exported to the US. The guns had not originally been given proof marks, but a British proof law introduced in 1955 required proofing when the surplus ones went to InterArms, and you can see those marks on this example.

Thanks to Ozark Machine Gun for loaning me this pistol! Check out his cool machine gun rental range in Missouri, and his sales on GunBroker.

Reference: The information for this video came primarily from Alex Gherovici’s monograph “Military Pistols of Argentina”.

15 Comments

  1. 1. “Ordinary SOE agents were also armed with handguns acquired abroad, such as, from 1941, a variety of US pistols, and a large quantity of the Spanish Llama .38 ACP in 1944. Such was SOE’s demand for weapons, a consignment of 8,000 Ballester–Molina .45 calibre weapons was purchased from Argentina, apparently with the mediation of the US.”

    2. Why not just get 8,000 M1911A1’s via Lend-Lease, which began in 1941, before a single British BM was delivered, rather than go through the rigamarole of shipping US steel to Argentina (shipping was always tight in WW2), etc. With 1.9 million M1911’s produced in WW2, the US could have afforded to give the UK 8K pistols (indeed, they could have met the demand in 1940 using WW1 production weapons in storage). Using BM as a cut-out might have made sense in June 1940, but by March 1941, the requirement to obfuscate US involvement had been overtaken by events.

    • For that matter, the reasoning for a .45 ACP pistol is difficult to understand.

      One objection to the Thompson SMG was that like the guns themselves, every single round of .45 ACP ammunition had to be convoyed across the Atlantic, as there was no facility for manufacture of that round in Britain.

      It also was difficult to obtain on the Continent, for the same reason.

      Considering that Spanish companies had been making 1911-type pistols in .38 ACP, .32 ACP, 9 x 23mm Largo, and even 9 x 19mm since the end of World War One, contracting with them sub rosa for such pistols would have made more sense from an ammunition resupply standpoint. Not to mention probably cheaper.

      And before anyone says Franco was an ally of the Axis, I would point out that technically, so was Argentina at the time. All those “missing Nazis” didn’t end up there after VE Day by accident, you know.

      cheers

      eon

        • Spain was neutral primarily because it was in no shape to participate in WWII due to the Civil War that ended in April 1939.

          Franco and Hitler met on a train in Hendaye for six hours of fruitless negotiations. Führer Directive No. 18 called for German forces under General Ludwig Kübler to transit through Spain and attack Gibraltar. Hitler was insulted by Franco’s skepticism and doubting Germany could win the war… He contemptuously called Franco “that fat sergeant” while Franco expressed that Hitler’s persona was that of “a stage actor.” The Spaniards did contribute a “Blue Division” of phalangists to join the anti-Bolshevik crusade as part of the Army Group North besieging Leningrad.

          The Germans at one point contemplated taking over Spain’s North African colonies in order to site U-boat bases there, but nothing came of that of course.

          The U.S. contemplated taking over the Azores islands should the need arise, both during the lead up to U.S. entry in WWII and during the April 1974 “carnation revolution” in Portugal, which led to a power vacuum that might have been filled by Euro-communist factions.

      • Like Sálazar’s Portuguese corporatist Catholic dictatorship, being pro-Axis did not discredit a regime with Great Britain. Argentina suffered a golpe by corporatist quasi-fascist general José Félix Uriburu y Uriburu in 1930. This was the start of a half-century of army coups and involvement in politics that lasted through the 1970s and 1980s “National Reorganization Process” or dirty war and the epic fail of war with Great Britain in the South Atlantic over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands in 1982. The junta of generals deluded themselves into thinking that their generous assistance to U.S. foreign policy objectives in Central America would win them Washington’s support in a dispute with Nato ally UK.

        The most pro-Axis faction carried out a golpe de estado in 1943. This regime tilted closer to the RSI of Mussolini and the Germans but lacking a middle-class base, their labor minister Juan Domingo Perón cultivated a corporatist labor union movement instead, resulting in his political career with his sainted wife Evita as a propaganda maven.

        Certainly the doors of Argentina were opened to Nazi and fascist criminals of all kinds, including the Croatian Ustase, but the conduit was the “rat line” operated with the connivance of U.S. agents like anglophile John Jesus Angleton while dedicated OSS agents actively hunting such people were stymied. You are correct, certainly, that research by Argentine historians like Uki Goñi has shown just how active Argentina’s role under Perón was–“no accident” indeed.

        Josef Mengele, Adolf Eichmann, the author of the Ardeantine caves massacre in Italy Erich Priebke, Eduard Roschmann of the Riga ghetto, and others all escaped to Argentina.

  2. I have watched Ian use a Ballester-Molina pistol for some of his 2 gun matches and heard him refer to it his “Ballerina-Molester a few times.

    • And it would have been nice of him to talk about the shooting qualities of the species in this video. I seem to remember that gun and shooter both acquitted themselves admirably.

  3. Just a comment about neutrality in general and Argentina specifically. The US couldn’t just give 8,000 1911s to Britain while still neutral in ’40-41, partly because war production was not yet ramped up and partly because various members of Congress, the Senate, and the populace were either rabidly isolationist or in fact Nazi-leaning. Never mind what the Germans would have done diplomatically or militarily if it was found out. Roosevelt was hard-pressed to pass lend-lease. A deal in which steel was sent to neutral Argentina and paid for by the British, if made public, would have been way more palatable to the public than straight military aid — and not even military aid, aid to spooks and saboteurs.

    All the neutrals of WWII leaned wherever it was safest to lean, regardless of whatever ideological bent their leadership or even populace followed. Nazis fled to Argentina post-war (Dave forgot to mention Hans Ulrich Rudel, the tank-buster and unrepentant Nazi), but so had Jews before the war, and Irish during the potato famine, and Spaniards during Napoleon. (And before condemning Argentina too harshly let us not forget Werner Von Braun and Reinhard Gehlen operating happily under US auspices as matters of anti-Communist convenience.) Every neutral country walks a tightrope. Switzerland was one balancing act, Argentina, within the US sphere and economically vulnerable, was another. I hope Argentine Ballester pistols killed some Nazis in Europe, before Argentine politicians housed other Nazis after the war.

    • Before Lend Lease, this was the “work around” of the FDR administration:

      On 4 June 1940, date of the Winston Churchill “fight on the beaches” speech, the U.S. Department of Defense declared that U.S. war reserves did not require half a million bolt-action rifles [1917s mostly], 25,000 automatic rifles or BARs, thousands of machine guns [mostly ex-biplane armament], and hundreds of howitzers and mortars. These went to a U.S. army port in Raritan, New Jersey where the surplus weapons were transferred to U.S. Steel Corporation, and then duly signed over to the UK for $37.6 million dollars. Initial shipments included a quarter of a million U.S. rifles, mostly the Model 1917 “American Enfield” conversion of the P-14 rifle produced for the UK in WWI. This weapon consisted of a .300 caliber (.30-06) Mauser-derived bolt-action rifle that had equipped the majority of AEF “doughboys” in 1917 and 1918. Also sent to the UK: fully a quarter of the ammunition in U.S. reserve stocks, some 130 million rounds, or enough for approximately 250 cartridges per rifle, and 80,000 machine guns, mostly modified aircraft models from obsolete biplanes. Many North Americans, entertaining beliefs that privately owned guns protected households from government repression, donated personal firearms to residents of the UK.

    • PS I just coincidentally found out after posting the above that one of the refugees fleeing to Argentina after the war was none other than the very non-Nazi Oskar Schindler. I suppose Argentina took in all types on a separate but equal basis.

      • Yes, Argentina has the largest Ashkenazi Jewish population in Latin America. Also an uncommonly high number of Nazis, who went to places where Germans lived in Latin America, primarily Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Supposedly, a journalist once asked Juan Domingo Perón why so many Jews and Nazis lived in Argentina and he was supposed to have said something like “The British Empire was built by good men, but also by pirates…” Unfortunately, Argentina slammed the doors shut to Jews during the persecution in the 1930s before the Shoah/ Holocaust, so there is much to answer for, as with very many other nations.

  4. SOE files at the National archives in London show that the initial order for SOE of the pistols was 12,000. Other Ministry of supply files show a figure of 15,000 with the option to purchase a further 35,000 if all went well with the fist order. In reality only 8,000 were deliverer. These were very late in delivery the main problem not being steel but the machinery to make the guns. UK authorities looked at assisting the factory with purchasing extra machinery, but the machines the factory specified were not really applicable to making small arms, but other products.So this slowness of manufacture and Lend Lease being in full song, meant that no further orders were placed. The file on this saga at the National Archives in London shows that the pistols were shipped in batches of 500 via New York to the UK.
    The fist shipments of Llama pistols that the SOE Arms Section History states arrived in 1944, acutely began to arrive in late 1943 and were used in training male agents, females getting the Colt Pocket Hammeless, which suits a small hand. The bulk of the shipment did arrive in 1944, as the Arms Section History states.
    Regards
    AlanD
    Sydney
    Australia

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