SEMMERLING LM4: SUB COMPACT .45 ACP PISTOL.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, I normally carried a Browning High-Power, though when I wanted better concealment, I usually carried a .380 Walther PPK or a .32 Walther PPK-L. For various reasons, it was often desirable to carry a pistol that did not require a holster. I worked overseas sometimes in countries where 9x19mm Makarov pistols were available and would carry those, as they offered a bit more power than the .380 round but were still relatively concealable, especially, the Polish P-64 or Hungarian RK 59/61, as they were basically Walther PPKs in 9x18mm Makarov.
Power and concealment were my principal criteria in a pistol during those years. As a result, I tried some custom-chopped S&W Model 39s, a chopped High-Power, and a couple of chopped 1911s or Commanders. One chopped Commander, one chopped High-Power, and one chopped Model 39--Hardcastle customs--were reliable and carried readily. They still weren't pocket guns, though I did carry the chopped 39 in a topcoat pocket for a while. What I really wanted, though, was a pistol that I could tuck into a jacket or trousers pocket, as I did my Walther PPK, but which fired a more powerful round. The 9x19mm Makarov Faux PPKs were appealing, especially since I could acquire them in "far away places with strange sounding names" and they could be ditched without much chance of saying, "Hi, I belong to Leroy!"
Sometime in the late 1970s, I discovered the Detonics compact .45 ACP pistol. It was small enough that I could carry it in a jacket pocket, though it was still relatively heavy. Unlike many attempts to downsize the 1911, though, the Detonics was reliable and accurate. But, in the pocket it was too heavy. I was a fan of the Detonics, but it didn't really fill the compact powerhouse niche for me. Actually, a .44 Special Charter Arms Bulldog with 2 1/2-inch barrel proved a better pocket gun.
Although I didn't know about it when it was introduced, in 1978, production began of the Semmerling LM-4. Patents had been filed by the inventor, Philip Lichtman, in 1976. The LM-4 was as small as most .32 autos, but was chambered for the .45 ACP round. Its magazine only held four rounds, and it was not a semi-auto. It was manually operated, requiring the user to push the slide forward to eject a spent case and rearward to chamber a round. But, it was small, really small for a .45 ACP repeating pistol. The Semmerling was originally supposed to be only available for government sales, presumably as a "spook" pistol. At least some were produced with barrels threaded for suppressors.
Although the LM-4 resembles a self-loading pistol at first glance, it uses a locked breech that is manually operated after each shot. Flicking the slide forward, then rearward, ejects a spent case and chambers a fresh round. While retaining the grip with the shooting hand, the thumb of the support hand may be used to flick the slide forward smartly, then to the rear smartly. With practice, operation of the slide is actually quite smooth. It is possible to carry out an injured-hand drill with either hand by holding the LM-4's grip with the palm of the hand and hooking the thumb over the rear sight to manipulate it. No safety was needed, as the pistol is a double-action only. Additional internal safeties include an inertial striker. While firing the LM-4, the slide is locked by a cutaway tumbler in the trigger that rotates to block the slide block as the trigger is pulled. When the trigger is relaxed, the slide lug can move through the tumbler, allowing the slide to be cycled. One additional safety is incorporated on LM-4s above serial number 031. A holster lock to prevent the slide going forward as the pistol is drawn consists of a small lever on the right side of the frame that may be applied by pulling the trigger back slightly, thus locking the slide in the firing position. The lock is released by pulling the trigger.
Because there is no recoil spring to absorb some of the energy, recoil of the small pistol is noticeable. On the plus side, due to the lack of controls such as slide lock, thumb safety/de-cocker, or magazine release button, the Semmerling is slimmer for concealment (0.8125" at the widest point).
It could be made even slimmer using the "'slim kit" available for the weapon. This kit consists of a replacement right side plate to cover the internals after the grips are removed and a special screw to replace the standard grip screw. I've fired a Semmerling with the "slim kit" in place. It does, indeed, make the pistol slimmer, but its already-stiff recoil is even more noticeable.
Designed for durability, the LM-4 has only 33 parts in total. As part of the manufacturing process, each LM-4 was magnafluxed. then X-ray tested, reportedly by not one but two independent labs. SAE S-7 tool steel, normally used for parts such as drill bits, was used for the LM-4, each pistol being cut from a solid block of steel. LM-4s were basically hand made in Boston, with production running perhaps 10 per month. The figure I have consistently seen for total production is around 600.
Semmerling LM-4 sights are actually pretty good, better than most pocket pistols. An interesting point I've seen made about the Semmerling is that its desigmallows the back strap to have a high arch, which aids in instinctive pointing. Based on my relatively limited shooting of the Semmerling over the years, I would say that has some truth. The magazine holds four rounds and incorporates a squeeze release built into the bottom of the magazine requiring thumb and forefinger. I have always found it takes quite a bit of effort to squeeze the release and pull the magazine free of the pistol.
I hadn't shot a Semmerling LM-4 for more than 20 years, so took one to the range in preparation for this article. Literature that came with the Semmerling LM-4 stated that the pistol was designed for standard 230-grain FMJ loads. Recommended as not exceeding intended pressures for the LM-4 were Federal and Winchester-Western 230-grain FMJ loads. Later, Semmerling issued a notice that only Winchester-Western 230-grain FMJ loads were recommended. This notice indicated that Remington 230-grain FMJ loads developed pressures that were too high. In specifying Winchester-Western 230-FMJ loads, it was not indicated that pressures of all others were too high; just that the W-W loads performed best. I did not have any W-W ammo available, but I did have Federal American-Eagle and Black Hills standard velocity 230-grain FMJ. I also had some ZERO 185-grain SWC loads that were of standard velocity. Those are what I used to test the LM-4.
Initially, I fired three magazines at pepper poppers at 15 yards just to reacquaint myself with operating the LM-4's slide. I have to admit, a couple of times I forgot I wasn't shooting an autoloader and failed to manipulate the slide! As with many DA-only pistols, the LM-4's trigger tends to stack just before let-off. That, combined with the intended use of the LM-4 up-close, convinced me to do my accuracy testing primarily at 15 yards. Results were more than acceptable, with five-shot groups running 1 1/2" to 2 3/4". I did shoot a group at 25 yards as well. Although the five shots went into 4 3/4", the first three had actually gone into 2 1/2". The LM-4 is definitely accurate enough for its intended use as a clandestine weapon or hard-hitting deep-concealment pistol.
The first five rounds, with the magazine topped off after chambering the first round, can be fired relatively quickly with practice, but due to the effort required to pull out an empty magazine and replace it, reloads are slow. Recoil was noticeable but not intolerable. I'd gladly fire 50 rounds through the LM-4 in one session rather than 50 rounds of .357 Magnum through my S&W Scandium 360PD. As I mentioned earlier, the sights on the LM-4 are better than on typical pocket pistols, which aids accurate shooting. I'm undecided whether the manual operation of the slide is a plus or minus for accurate shooting. It forces the shooter to take his time but also breaks the rhythm. There was one problem with the LM-4 I was shooting. On some of the commercial rounds, I needed a second hit on the primer to fire the cartridge. This was not the case with reloads. As the LM-4 is a DA, a quick second trigger pull fired the round. According to the manual accompanying the pistol, the striker can be adjusted to hit harder, which is probably what is needed.
A brochure with the LM-4 I tested shows the original list price as $645. That translates to about $1,950 in 2018 dollars. Given that each LM-4 was virtually custom built, that doesn't seem unreasonable. Original Boston-built LM-4s have become desirable collectors items, with prices ranging to well over $5,000, depending on finish and accessories, such as a "thin kit" and extra magazines. American Derringer currently produces a version of the LM-4 with an advertised price of $4,250.
As a curiosity, the LM-4 is an interesting weapon. In its day, it may have appealed to a very small niche market. During the years since the introduction of the LM4, however, various compact .45 autos have been offered that aren't that much larger. For example, I use a Kimber Ultra RCP II that is quite thin and conceals very well. Still, at 6.8 inches overall, it is almost 1 1/2 inches longer than the LM-4. But, it holds seven rounds and doesn't require manual cycling. Today, the real successor to the LM-4 is the ultra compact 9x19mm pistol loaded with +P or +P+ ammunition (i.e. Glock 43).
Caption: LM-4 right side view with electroless nickel plating, which added an additional $86.00, and ebony stocks. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Service)
Caption: Basic Semmerling with black plastic stocks and semi-matte blued finish; this version sold for $645.00 circa late 1970s. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Service)
Caption: Left side view of the LM-4 with optional ebony stocks, which cost an additional $41.00. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Service)
Caption: Original patent drawing for the LM-4 showing principal parts. (US Patent Office)
Caption: Patent drawing showing internal parts of the LM-4. (US Patent Office)
Caption: Top left: The support side thumb is used to push the LM-4 slide forward to eject a spent cartridge or prior to loading the first round.
Caption: Top right: To chamber a round, the slide is pulled back by the thumb to pick up a cartridge from the magazine.
Caption: Right: Pulling the slide into the locked position as the round is chambered.
Caption: Semmerling LM-4 with the slide all the way. forward.
Caption: Close-up of the way in which the LM-4 magazine presents a cartridge for chambering.
Caption: Thompson shown firing the LM-4 offers a good idea of how small the pistol is; note that care must be taken that the hand does not stray in front of the muzzle.
Caption: Top left: The LM-4's sights are better than most pocket autos; shown is the rear notch.
Caption: Top right: LM-4's ramp front sight.
Caption: Thompson firing double taps on plates with the LM-4--good practice to remember to flip the slide forward and back for each shot!
Caption: View of the LM-4 with the slide all the way forward prior to chambering a round; the holster lock is visible just in front of the grip below the ejection port.
Caption: Semmerling LM-4 four-round magazine; note the built-in squeeze magazine release.
Caption: 15-yard 1 1/2" group with Federal American Eagle 230-grain FMJ.
Caption: 15-yard 2 1/2" group with ZERO reloads.
Caption: The LM-4 was designed as a deep concealment pistol for clandestine operators or others who need stopping power in a small package. It will even fit in an inside suit-jacket pocket.
Caption: Currently, American Derringer advertises a Semmerling for sale. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Service)
Caption: The LM-4 at bottom shown for comparison with the Kimber Ultra RCP II, which is also designed for maximum concealment; nevertheless, it is not as concealable as the LM-4.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON PRODUCTS MENTIONED, SEE:
SEMMERLING LM4 SHOOTING RESULTS Five Shots, 15 Yards ZERO Commercial Reloads 2 1/2" 185-graln SWC Black Hills 230-grain FMJ 2 3/4" American Eagle 230-grain FMJ 1 1/2" Five Shots, 25 Yards American Eagle 230-grain FMJ 4 3/4" (Three shots 2 1/2") SEMMERLING LM-4 SPECIFICATIONS Action: Manually operated slide, DA-only trigger Caliber: .45 ACP Overall Length: 5.3 inches Barrel Length: 3.7 inches Weight: 19.8 ounces loaded Magazine Capacity: 4+1 Sights: Rear Notch, Front Ramp