The Ballester-Molina was a pistol designed and built by the Argentine company Hispano Argentina Fábrica de Automóviles S.A. (HAFDASA). The Ballester was originally called the Ballester-Rigaud (c. 1938–1940). The Ballester was created to give the Argentinian police and military a less-expensive alternative to the Pistola Colt Modelo 1927. Production of the Ballester-Molina began in 1938 and ceased in 1953.
The Ballester-Molina bears an uncanny resemblance to the Colt M1911, perhaps because Colt technicians took part in the weapon's development. The Ballester-Molina and the M1911 share an identical magazine. The Ballester-Molina, while it had its similarities to the Colt, also had its differences, like the safety and the trigger. The Ballester is also known as the "Hafdasa" after the initials of the company that made it.
The history of the Ballester-Molina dates back to 1929 when two enterprising Spaniards, Arturo Ballester and Eugenio Molina established a company for producing Hispano-Suiza automotive products in Buenos Aires. The name of this company was Hispano Argentina Fabrica de Automoviles Sociedad Anonima (HAFDASA), or Spanish-Argentine Automobile Factory, Incorporated. Several years later, HAFDASA hired a pair of engineers, the Frenchman Rorice Rigaud, and Carlos Ballester Molina (a member of both the Ballester and Molina families). Rigaud eventually became HAFDASA's chief design engineer, while Ballester Molina, originally responsible for metallurgy, heat treatment, and production methodologies, became HAFDASA's Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
HAFDASA won a contract with the Direccion General del Material del Ejercito (DGME), or General Directorate for Army Materiel, to supply the Argentine military with trucks, buses, and engines. The DGME later commissioned HAFDASA to investigate the potential manufacture of small arms.
Contract: Small ArmsEdit
In 1936, in response to the DGME request, HAFDASA began to design and manufacture small arms. There was nothing revolutionary about HAFDASA's work. The factory established a pattern of adapting existing designs to satisfy the requirements of the Argentine military and police forces using indigenous materials within HAFDASA's production capabilities. To this end, in 1936, HAFDASA unveiled a semi automatic carbine based on the Beretta M1918/30 in calibers 9 x 19 mm and .45 ACP.
Following the introduction of the two carbines, the DGME requested HAFDASA to produce a pistol chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge to serve as an (indigenously produced) replacement for the .45 ACP pistols then in service with the Argentine military and police forces. The contract required HAFDASA to produce a pistol along the general lines of the Modelo 1916 and 1927 Colt pistols then in service and to have barrels and magazines that were interchangeable with those pistols.
The HAFDASA engineers began work on this contract in late 1936/early 1937. The decision was taken modify the original Browning design to facilitate and economize production along the same lines as two Spanish companies Bonifacio Echeverria, S.A. (Star) and Gabilondo y Cia, S.A (Llama). The main changes introduced by these companies were the elimination of the grip safety, a backstrap integral to the frame, and a pivoting trigger with a side mounted sear bar and disconnector. These changes, as applied to the Star Model B pistol were of particular influence to HAFDASA's designers.
Compared to M1911A1Edit
Consequently, while the completed HAFDASA design bore a strong external similarity to the Colt M1911A1, only the barrel and magazine are interchangeable with the Colt pistol. Note: Barrels and magazines made by HAFDASA are identifiable by the marking "HA" inside a diamond. The following is a list of differences between the HAFDASA pistol and the M1911A1: a) The hammer strut on the HAFDASA pistol is much shorter than that of the M1911A1. b) The firing pin stop on the HAFDASA pistol is not recessed on the side as it is on the M1911A1. c) The safety lock on the HAFDASA pistol is redesigned with a larger diameter pin, and it can be applied with the hammer cocked or fully down. d) The mainspring housing on the HAFDASA pistol is an integeral part of the frame. e) The HAFDASA pistol has a pivoting trigger with a single extension along the right side that cams the side mounted disconnector and engages the sear. f) The magazine catch on the HAFDASA pistol is assembled differently. g) The HAFDASA pistol has no slide stop disassembly notch.
The HAFDASA pistol was adopted as the Argentine Army service pistol in 1938. Early pistols were marked "Pistola Automatica Calibre .45 Ballester-Rigaud, Modelo DGME 1938." These early pistols have checkering on the grips and backstrap, and there are twenty fine slide retraction grooves, as on the M1911A1. The slide right side is marked with the Argentine crest and the text "Ejercito Argentino."
The next iteration of the HAFDASA pistol were modified to speed up and economize on production accordingly: The backstrap checkering was replaced by horizontal serrations, the wooden grips had long vertical serrations, and the fine slide retraction grooves were replaced by groups of vertical grooves separated by wide gaps. Additionally, the Modelo 1938 designation was dropped, and the pistol was now known as the "Pistola Ballester-Rigaud."
At some point between 1940 and 1942, HAFDASA changed the trademark name of the pistol from "Ballester-Rigaud" to "Ballester-Molina," with the change reflected in the markings on the slide of the pistol. At the same time HAFDASA began to use plastic, instead of wooden, grips on the pistol. It was also around this time that HAFDASA received an order from the British government for between 8,000 and 10,000 .45 caliber pistols. Payment for these pistols was made, in part, with steel supplied by the British government. Due to the scarcity of raw materials in Argentina due to the Second World War, it is highly likely that the steel was of U.S. origin supplied to England via Lend-Lease, and consequently not prior to March 11, 1941. According to Alejandro Gherovici, noted expert on Argentine service pistols, no steel salvaged from the pocket battleship Graf Spee or any other warships was used to produce the British contract or any other HAFDASA pistols. Production of the British Contract pistols started in 1942 and continued until mid-1944. British Contract pistols are easy to identify as they bear a serial number prefixed by a "B," between the 12000 and 21000 serial number range.
After the end of the of the British Contract, HAFDASA continued to produce pistols for Argentine government and commercial usage until 1953. Starting in 1947, the HAFDASA pistols had been supplanted in Argentine use by the DGFM Sistema Colt M1927 pistol, a clone of the M1911A1. While the HAFDASA pistols began to be withdrawn from Argentine service in the 1960s, many served until the mid-1980s when they were finally replaced and sold as surplus on the US market. It is believed that HAFDASA produced between 80,000 and 90,000 .45 caliber pistols.
The Ballester-Molina was used by the Argentinian police force, and it was sold to the British to be issued to the British Special Operations Executives agents, to be used behind enemy lines. The Ballester-Molina is a recoil-operated short semi-automatic lock-breech pistol. The locking system bears a resemblance to the Colt M1911A1, with the swinging lock that is used to unlock the barrel from the slide. The trigger is single action, but pivots rather than slides like the 1911 trigger. The hammer is locked by the frame-mounted manual safety, and there is no grip safety.
The following is a loose serial number to year correlation:
|Serial Number Range||Date Range|
|1 - 12,000||1938–1942|
|12,000 - 23,000||1942–1944|
|23,000 - 108,000||1944–1953|
HAFDASA exported pistols to Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Gherovici, Alex, Military Pistols of Argentina, (Self Published, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 1994)
This volume can be purchased by writing to the author at: Alex Gherovici P.O. Box 58506 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102 U.S.A.