A DAO, Striker-Fired, Manually Cycled Pocket .45? The Radical & Rare LM-4 Semmerling – Full Review.

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The LM-4 Semmerling from American Derringer is a modern reproduction of a radically advanced pocket pistol design from the 1970s.

When you walk into your local gun store, do you ever get the feeling that it is “the same old stuff!” Absent something in the used counter, everything looks the same whether it is the ever-present polymer wonder guns or the plethora of 1911s. It’s just hard to find anything much to get excited about. About the only constant that we came up with was that the S&W J-frame is still the pocket pistol of choice for serious people!

Long before CNC five axis machines and CAD/CAM design, pistols were designed on paper and machined by craftsmen. There were some very innovative pistols. The Detonics Combat Master and the Star PD were the choice of pistoleros who wanted a truly compact pistol in the manly caliber of .45 ACP. For those who wanted a compact 9mm, the choice of professionals tended to be the ASP, a highly modified S&W Model 39, or a cut down Hi Power exquisitely modified by Austin Behlert. And, long before the zombie craze, we believed that Super Vel ammo would stop anything. Sometimes I miss those days.

A New Direction

Traditionally, pocket pistols have been in “mouse calibers” such as .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP.  In the mid-seventies, one company set out to break all the rules. The result was Semmerling LM-4, the king of the back-up pistols.  he brainchild of Phillip Lichtman, the LM-4 was designed around the .45 ACP cartridge as the ultimate back-up/hide-out pistol. It was a very little gun with a very big bite! The original drawings and design date back to 1974, and the patent was awarded in 1976. Source information is somewhat scarce, but I learned that the pistol was first offered to the U.S. military and other governmental agencies. While there were several different versions, only the LM-4 was sold on the public market. Each pistol was truly handmade and sources state that total production was less than 600 units.

The LM-4 is undeniably tiny, as shown by its size in this hand.

The Semmerling was totally different from anything the gun industry had ever seen. The fact that someone actually produced a palm-sized back-up pistol in .45 ACP was groundbreaking. However, the basic description of a magazine fed, manually operated (yes, you read that right), double-action-only, striker-fired pistol is both an over-simplification and confusing at the same time. The LM-4 was a mere 5.2 inches in length and only 3.7 inches in height. The genius of the design was fully appreciated when the LM-4 was compared to the Walther .380 PPK, which is 6.1 inches in length and 3.8 inches in height. Fully loaded, the LM-4 hit the scales around 24 ounces, which was only slightly heavier than an unloaded PPK. The Semmerling was a fistfull of dynamite that had the potential of being a game changer.

The original pistol was made from tool steel, while the new version is made from stainless steel. Note the unique cut-down 1911 magazine design with flexible raised tabs.

While the design of the LM-4 was very sophisticated, the pistol only had 33 parts. The pistol was made from tool steel and every frame and slide was Magnafluxed twice during the production process. The barrel was a mere 3.5 inches in length. The sights consisted of a fixed rear blade and a patridge-style ramped first sight. Interestingly, the LM-4 was void of sharp edges, something that some manufacturers still don’t get.

Here is an original Semmerling pistol. Image courtesy of the NRA.

The LM-4 held four rounds of .45 ACP ammunition in a highly modified, Colt-style 1911 magazine. The base of the magazine was redesigned to incorporate a flexible tab on each side of the magazine tube. These tabs locked into the magazine well to retain the magazine. The feed lips of the magazine were extensively modified to facilitate the unique reverse feed system. This, in and of itself, was an engineering accomplishment.

How It Works

While the caliber and overall size of the LM-4 was impressive, the manual of arms was revolutionary for the time. The most unique feature of the Semmerling was its manually operated slide combined with a double-action-only firing mechanism. The LM-4 fired from a locked slide/breech position. To chamber the next round, the slide was pushed forward. The spent round was held in place by the extractor as the barrel and slide moved forward. Ejection of the spent brass was accomplished via a ridge on the rear of the slide and the tension of the next round in the magazine. In the process, the next round in the magazine was moved slightly forward releasing it from the rear of the feed lip. When the slide was moved rearward, the next round was stripped from the magazine and loaded into the chamber. Grooves on the top and sides of the slide facilitated this action.

Step 1: Fire the pistol.

Step 2: Use your support-hand thumb to cycle the slide forward and eject the fired case.

Step 3: Pull the slide rearward to chamber the next round.

Step 4: The pistol is now ready to fire again.

The cycling of the slide could be accomplished by using the thumb of the support hand or, in some cases, a sharp flick of the wrist. The slide did not automatically lock in place when in battery. Instead, the design required the trigger to be pulled rearward approximately ¼ inch to allow a manual locking lever to be engaged. This locked the slide in place and allowed the LM-4 to be carried in a secure manner. To bring the LM-4 into action simply required the trigger to be brought to the rear.  Failure to use the manual lock would result in the slide moving forward anytime the barrel was pointed downward. The rear of the striker extended out of the rear of the slide during firing. In keeping with the design, the LM-4 had no safety or other manual controls to operate during the firing sequence.

At first glance, the pistol looks far too small to chamber the .45 ACP round—until you see the muzzle.

Shortly after the patent was awarded, Lichtman sold the rights to Bob Saunders, owner of American Derringer Corporation, where the design lay dormant for several years. Bob Saunders died in 1993 and Elizabeth, his wife, took over the company. Elizabeth had a passion for the little LM4 and resurrected production of the LM-4 on a very limited basis.  I have always been intrigued by the design of the Semmerling and was excited when I recently received one of these rare pistols for a short evaluation.

To give you an idea of the minute dimensions of the .45 ACP LM-4, look at it compared to a .380 ACP Ruger LCP.

Range Time

I must admit that I was a little cautious during our first range trip. I found that I had nothing to be concerned with. The ergonomics and weight of the LM-4 more than compensated for the .45 ACP cartridge. The user’s manual for the LM-4 states, “ONLY STANDARD MILITARY SPECIFICATION CARTRIDGES MAY BE USED IN THE MODEL LM-4. The weapon is designed for approximately 15,000 PSI chamber pressure. Hot hand loads, or even Super Vel cartridges, can break much larger guns than the LM-4.”

I selected to test the LM-4 with, now out of production, ASYM Precision’s 230 gr. FMJ Practical Match load. The Practical Match averaged a mild 737 fps out of the LM-4. The second load I selected was the soft shooting Winchester 185 gr. Silver Tip. While it is an older design, the Silver Tip bullet has a proven track record and I knew from experience that the Silver Tip was not a hot load. The Winchester load averaged 904 fps out of the LM-4. Both loads were very manageable with much of the recoil being offset by both the weight and the design of the grip.

Following the accepted protocol, the accuracy testing was fired from seven yards. It was here that the little LM-4 really shined. First, unlike some pocket rockets, the front sight on the LM-4 is actually large enough to use. Second, while the trigger pull was long, it was reasonably smooth and consistent. We fired several five-shot groups using both the ASYM and Winchester loads. The LM-4 consistently produced ragged one-hole groups. The best of these groups measured 0.35 inches with the ASYM and 0.49 inches with the Winchester Silver Tip.  With some practice, the Semmerling is more than capable of head shots at 15 yards.

The rear of the striker would extend out of the rear of the slide during the double-action trigger stroke.

Conclusion

The American Derringer LM-4 is a faithful copy of the original pistol, with one exception. The original Lichtman guns were all tool steel instead of the stainless that American Derringer Corp (ADC). uses. According to Elizabeth, the LM-4 is so labor intensive that only a small number are produced each year. In almost all cases, the pistols are sold before they are completed. ADC has one employee who builds each Semmerling. Each LM-4 takes between six and eight weeks to complete and represents a true labor of love. Elizabeth said that all of the Semmerling stocks are made from a 200-year old Mesquite tree that was taken from her ranch.

The sights are simple but effective. Note the serrated section atop the slide and forward of the rear sight for cycling the slide with the support hand.

To truly appreciate the Semmerling, the pistol must be examined from the context of 1976. Not only was there nothing like it in the market at the time, but it remains the smallest .45 ACP pistol ever commercially produced. Form truly follows function and the LM-4 fulfilled the requirements originally set forth by Lichtman in 1974. However, the market of the day never fully understood or appreciated the LM-4. Now, some forty years later, it remains as much of an enigma as in 1976. However, the LM-4 may be just as viable in 2017 as it was when it was introduced. Elizabeth tells me that many of her LM-4 customers carry the pistol on a daily basis for personal defense. This is a tribute to both the original design and American Derringer’s commitment to a true piece of firearm history.

For more information, visit http://www.amderringer.com/lms.html.

To purchase an American Derringer firearm on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?Keyword=American%20Derringer.

{ 32 comments… add one }
  • ejharb June 29, 2017, 1:54 am

    The doubletap 45acp is smaller and thinner and weighs 10oz less.of course it only 2 but you can send those 2 quicker

  • Joseph King June 11, 2017, 6:50 pm

    I remember many years ago that gunwriter/protection specialist Leroy Thompson was a fan of the Semnerling. Once one learned the manual of arms, it was a most formidable backup of its time. Would like to have one, but I would never pay more than $1K

  • Capacitygear June 7, 2017, 1:46 pm

    Ok, just taken fire from a perp- pull out my $5k Semmerling- “BANG!” Just missed… now waitaminute what’s the manual of arms for this?
    BANG… your last thoughts are now splattered on the wall behind you.
    No thanks

  • Rogertc1 June 7, 2017, 7:22 am

    Another pistol by American Firearms LM5 is a stainless .25 cal thst American Derringer has on their site. as the LM5. Cir 70’s. Mine was made in San Antonio before AD got the rights. Interesting pistol. Google it.

    Interesting how there have and have not people that are pro- gun? Some seem so pissed off at the price they start to swear and call everyone names. WHY. these are collector pieces. Ever price a Broom handle lately?
    Ive have them all in my collection Semmerling, Downsizer, COP Derringer, Stinger Pen gun, AMT 45 Back up, and many many more.

  • Rangemaster11 June 6, 2017, 9:41 pm

    I recall the original incarnation of the Semmerling in the 1970’s. They were costly even then. I had no idea they were still being made. I carried the AMT .45 Back-up for a while, with an action job and carry “melt” by TJ’s Custom Guns. It was within my budget, but despite the pocket gun size, it was still a heavy little chunk of stainless steel!

  • JS June 6, 2017, 10:04 am

    At that price, only a pimp could afford one.

  • rogertc1 June 5, 2017, 9:05 pm

    So many unnecessary foul mouth replys. Makes Randy, Cyrus and Scott look like trailer trash.

  • rogertc1 June 5, 2017, 8:53 pm

    I got mine in new1982. No internet back than, All done on the phone with Lichtman, my FFL and the US Mail. One of the gems of my gun collection. They are as rare as hens teeth. sr. #397 blue.

  • K.H. June 5, 2017, 6:02 pm

    Some of the comments are a little unfair, if perfectly accurate! I remember back in the ’70s when every other issue of the gun magazines of the day had yet one more in the unending parade of the “30-06 is the best deer/all purpose rifle” articles. Without articles like this, magazines and websites would become little more than endless repeats of the same basic articles on the same basic guns/cartridges with a few articles raving about whatever latest trivial modification or new manufacturer of the same is getting its 15 minutes of fame. That said, even if I had Bill Gates’ money, before I spent 4K+ on this thing, I’d buy any of the many excellent subcompacts in 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45acp on the market, learn to live with it being trivially bulkier, not to mention infinitely easier to get holsters, accessories, spare mags, etc. for it, and pay for a trip to the Czech Republic to tour the CZ plant with the money left over.

  • K.H. June 5, 2017, 5:57 pm

    Some of the comments are a little unfair, if perfectly accurate! I remember back in the ’70s when every other issue of the gun magazines of the day had yet one more in the unending parade of the “30-06 is the best deer/all purpose rifle” articles. Without articles like this, magazines and websites would become little more than endless repeats of the same basic articles on the same basic guns/cartridges with a few articles raving about whatever latest trivial modification or new manufacturer of the same is getting its 15 minutes of fame. That said, even if I had Bill Gates’ money, before I spent 4K+ on this thing, I’d buy any of the many excellent subcompacts in 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45acp on the market, learn to live with it being trivially bulkier, not to mention infinitely easier to get holsters, accessories, spare mags, etc. for it, and pay for a trip to Czechoslovakia to tour the CZ plant with the money left over.

  • fee June 5, 2017, 5:08 pm

    Using slides manually can be tricky in a tight spot. Too many videos of CCW racking their slides partially resulting a misfed or making noise taking surprise away in first shot situations. Perp will start shooting while the CCW is trying to rack again and dodging bullets. Imagine working this weapon in a tense situation. Bang, work slide, oops did not do it right, try again while the perp is firing at you. Want a manual handgun, stick to the revolver.

  • Darek June 5, 2017, 3:40 pm

    I’m familiar with the Semmerling from being a long time fan of the Repairman Jack series of novels, in which the hero is a guy named Jack who is sort of a combination private detective/guy who handles delicate situations that the law can’t touch (though he always emphasizes he is not a hit man). He carries a Semmerling in most of the books in the series until he has to get rid of it after using it in a way that might get traced back to him, when he replaces it with an AMT Backup. Several times in the series he shoots at people with it (in self-defense, of course), and the book describes the process of him moving the slide back and forth with his other hand. It’s downright painful to listen to.

    A handgun that you need to hands to work the controls? What is this, 1820? Who would ever carry such a thing, especially when it’s really not much smaller than a snub-nosed .38 revolver.

    I’m curious to look up videos of people shooting one on YouTube, but I can’t imagine ever buying such a thing. Impossible to use for self-defense, and too small and awkward to have fun with at the range. I really can’t think of any possible use for this thing, even if the price were in some sane dimension.

  • Charlie June 5, 2017, 2:33 pm

    With all that hand work needed to cycle this expensive pistol,you might as well have a pocket full of rocks. Much less costly.

  • davud June 5, 2017, 2:17 pm

    the trigger doubles as a breech locking lever? oy.

  • Steve June 5, 2017, 12:25 pm

    “Interesting” from the aspect of creativity. Not particularly practical. In my opinion it falls into that category we know as “first, have a gun” (any gun is better than no gun). And COSTLY. Surprised that the very fine DAO AMT Backup in .45 was not mentioned. Only a bit larger: L 5.75/H 3.87 and priced right. And 5+1 capacity. AMT built excellent guns (took over production of the famous AutoMag) but AMT was driven out of business by California’s anti-gun insanity and the costly AutoMag takeover. I carried the AMT Backup for years. Badass .45 stopping power; self-loading with no “wrist-flick.”

    • john s. June 5, 2017, 2:53 pm

      I thought the very same thing as i was reading the article. \”Why aren\’t they mentioning the amt back-up?\” These were very reliable, very compact, and very concealable little guns that really packed a punch, at a fraction of the cost of one of these semmerlings. Back in the day, I had a friend who worked at the amt factory in Irwindale, CA. He raved about these little guns. And, to spend an outrageous $4250 on a semmerling is borderline insanity, unless you just have more money than sense. You would be better off lighting your cigars with those $100 bills.

  • Craig Ramsey June 5, 2017, 11:28 am

    That’s crazy expensive. I’d rather have the COP .357 4 barrel, break open derringer… a collectable from the same era. But I prolly don’t want to shoot it much. LOL Allot less money.
    I have a Seecamp mouse gun and love it. The best gun is the one you have with you.

  • R.W. June 5, 2017, 11:06 am

    I think there must be a typo; looks like somebody put the decimal point in the wrong place. If I’m being polite and generous, that impractical backup might be worth $425; especially since there are countless better backup options that would push this thing to safe queen duty.

    If somebody found the very first one ever produced, that might draw a few thousand dollars from a collector; but there’s no way I’d carry that thing as a legit personal defense weapon. And I don’t believe for an instant that buyers are backed up on some waiting list to get one, either.

    “A fool and his money are soon parted” may apply here; but it’s hard to believe there are enough fools that a long waiting list had to be created. Being rich enough to buy a novelty like this is one thing. Being stupid enough to consider this anything other than a novelty is one thing. Being both rich and stupid enough is rare, so I won’t be on the lookout for one of these at the range any time soon.

  • Scott Smith June 5, 2017, 10:40 am

    Honestly, why the hell does GA even write such articles for these astronomically priced guns??? Do they really believe the majority of their reader base can afford something like this? What the hell every happened to the People’s Gun, the People’s Choice, whatever that is or was or every will be? Oh wait, it’s called the Glock 19, the Beretta 92, the 19-fucking-11.
    It’s also cute and funny, even insulting, that they compare it to a Walther. But really, for the 1% who can sum up the change to afford this diamond infused paper weight (because for those who can afford it it’s really pocket change by this point) they need a special website other than GA, maybe: Expensive Guns America: Gun Reviews specified to the $4,250 Handgun Enthusiast.

  • Cyrus June 5, 2017, 10:31 am

    I wouldn’t buy this gun even if I had “Fuck You Money”!

  • PeterC June 5, 2017, 10:22 am

    I had some experience with an even smaller .45 ACP pistol…the single-shot Downsizer WSP (World’s Smallest Pistol). It was a tiny double-action break-open handgun, all stainless steel, with square edges. I tested it with eight different cartridges, ranging from a 115-grain alloy hollow-point to a standard 230-grain GI Ball. At the end of the test, I was shaking so badly, I had to take a one-hour break before shooting a standard 1911. Most of the rounds, fired at 7 yards, keyholed. It was a thoroughly unpleasant little gun, and I sold it to a large Polish individual, apparently insensitive to pain, who after trying it out, proclaimed, “I LOVE this gun! I must have it! In retrospect, I shouldn’t have sold it. After a short production run, the individual who created it ran Venezuela with the downpayments on pending orders. It’s now a pricey collectors item.

  • Norm Fishler June 5, 2017, 9:56 am

    Truly a blast from the past! I saw one on a table at a gun show in Washington perhaps 35-40 years ago. The price at the time was, as I recall over $1000. I fondled it briefly and then moved on. Its owner was less than pleased with it & seemed anxious to get rid of it. It seemed to me as being almost as handy as a miniature pocket brick. I you’ve got the $4+k to sink into one then go for it & have a *B*L*A*S*T*!* To my way of thinking, it’s little more than a novelty item.

  • Scott June 5, 2017, 9:38 am

    I concur with Randy: you’ve lost your fucking mind

  • Jeffrey L. Frischkorn June 5, 2017, 8:40 am

    \”However, the market of the day never fully understood or appreciated the LM-4. Now, some forty years later, it remains as much of an enigma as in 1976…\” Oh, I think the market both understood and appreciated the weapon. That\’s why it didn\’t sell very well.. As ingenious as it is, the LM-4 is little more than a novelty of design and engineering with much less practicality than that is achieved with countless other concealable handguns.

  • Tim Tucker June 5, 2017, 8:17 am

    How cute…an even FASTER way to castrate oneself. One need not get married and subsequently get divorced to do so now! Technology advances!!!

  • Jay June 5, 2017, 7:51 am

    The Lm’s and the XLM (semi auto version for military) were by design last ditch effort pistols for those who might have their main weapon stripped from them and was truly a conceal hide away pistol. I don’t think it would be advisable to carry a manually operated pistol in today’s world for self defense as one would be out gun by almost every one out there! These are truly historic weapons and nice to see again!

  • William Spencer June 5, 2017, 7:20 am

    Agreed that is 7 to 10 other guns these guys are nuts….

  • Heavy10mm June 5, 2017, 5:02 am

    I love when people talk about the recoil of a 45 like it’s something special. I love the 45ACP. FANTASTIC caliber. But if you want to feel real recoil from a semi auto, try a decent 40SW, a “real” 10mm, or even 38 Super from a compact

  • Randy Sims June 3, 2017, 12:23 pm

    $4.250! Your out of your Fucking minds!

    • Lloyd Dumas June 5, 2017, 7:15 am

      I agree, they got to be out of their mind or crazy in the head. Who can afford it, where are the customer base, I’ll stick to what I already have.

  • Will Drider June 3, 2017, 12:19 am

    A very interesting firearm and well written article. I do feel there are some issues not addressed. The undercut behind the trigger guard would appear to force the trigger finger to pull at an awkward angle: down and in line with the middle finger. One hand operation “may” be possible if you can flick the slide forward but can it be flicked back chambering a round or would you need to press the muzzle against something to close it (other then your body) and do the 1/4 trigger pull to lock it? Hopefully one round will do the job if your support had is full of BG. Lastly, you list a Federal load in the Chart but N/A on accuracy and don’t adress its use in the text, problems?

    This manual operation pistol reminded me of a current production high dollar reverse pump action long gun, I just can’t recall the name!

    • roger June 7, 2017, 10:22 pm

      The only lock it has is a holster lock. The trigger pull is glass smooth and breaks at under 3 lbs. remember this was hand made decades ago.

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