Schlegelmilch Automatic Pistol

Aside from being one of the more unfortunately-named early repeating pistols, the Schlegelmilch is also one of the earliest and more unusual mechanically. It also the only example I am familiar with of a pistol made entirely with square-headed bolts rather than slotted screws, for what it’s worth.

Schlegelmilch automatic pistol
Schlegelmilch, right side (click to enlarge)

The gun was designed in (or about) 1891 by Louis Schlegelmilch, who was at the time the chief armorer at the Spandau Arsenal in Germany. It is chambered for a proprietary 7.5mm cartridge, and was built for a series of trials in 1891/2 to find a replacement for the 1884 Reichsrevolver. The trials failed to find a gun worthy of adoption, and the Schlegelmilch was never manufactured again.

In total less than 20 examples were made, of two different variations. Only one of each variation is known to survive today (the other one in the collection of the Koblenz museum). I am not familiar with how the other variation differed form this example, but the mechanics of this one are quite interesting enough on their own.

The Schlegelmilch is not actually a semiautomatic pistol, really, but rather a mechanical repeater. The difference being that in a semiauto, the mechanism is operated by energy from the firing, in the form of either gas or recoil. Mechanical repeaters have no system for utilizing the energy of a fired cartridge and instead rely on the shooter to provide all the input to cycle the action. Other examples of mechanical repeaters include the Volcanic, the Berger, and the Schulhof (among many others).

Schlegelmilch automatic pistol
Schlegelmilch left side (click to enlarge)

The Schlegelmilch can be used as a double action weapon by simply pulling the trigger or as a single action weapon by manually cocking the hammer and then releasing it with a shorter trigger pull. The James D Julia catalog entry from when this pistol sold a couple years ago has a good description of the mechanical action:

Bringing the hammer to half cock moves the bolt horizontally to the left, exposing the entire chamber, while simultaneously moving the extractor rearward to eject a fired cartridge case. The magazine is fed from above with a stripper clip. Continuing the hammer cock pushes a loading arm forward that feeds the next round into the chamber. Near the end of the hammer movement the bolt returns to the right into the closed position, aligning a freely moving pin in the frame with a concentric firing pin in the bolt. After pulling the trigger to drop the hammer, the trigger springs back to its original position during which time the loading arm retracts and the cycling arm repositions the bolt for the next operation phase. Mounted to the left frame is checkered safety lever that blocks the mechanism when moved up. 

Schlegelmilch automatic pistol
Schlegelmilch action open (click to enlarge)

In short, pulling the trigger causes the bolt to move left, an extractor to pull out the fired round, a loading arm to load a new cartridge, the bolt to return to the right, and the firing pin to fall and fire the chambered round. How’s that for complicated? As with many of the other early repeating and automatic pistols, this design was technologically advanced but complex and ungainly enough to not actually be more effective in use than a standard old-fashioned revolver.


  1. The bolt works like an odd cross between a Jarre’ “harmonica pistol” pinfire and the breechblock of a 17th century Kalthoff wheel-lock repeating rifle.

    The lifter assembly look like it was copied from either the Mauser 71/84, the Kropatschek, or the Vetterli. (The latter was itself basically copied from the Henry Model 1861 and Winchester Model 1866.)

    Extraction and ejection is part-Winchester, part-Mauser.

    IOW, overall the action is a rifle-type setup.

    I suspect that the 7.5mm cartridge was kept relatively small purposely to keep operating masses down so that they could be “powered” by the DA trigger pull or thumb-cocking the hammer. Either way, I would still expect trigger pull and SA cocking effort to be heavy.

    It might have worked very well in a lever-action rifle, and might have “gotten around” a couple of existing patents. Although I suspect Winchester’s legal staff might have had a few rude words to say.

    As a pistol action, it would be more trouble than it was worth.

    Moral; manual repeaters such as revolvers work very well as handguns. Rifle-type actions, not so much.

    NB: “Bolt-action” pistols like the Remingtons are actually “short rifles” sans stocks. They have telescopic sights, long barrels compared to conventional handguns, and fire rifle ammunition. They are only “handguns” in the sense that they lack stocks. They would be highly interesting if they were semi-automatic firing such high-intensity rounds, but as they are, they are only of limited utility, specialized tools for a single purpose, i.e. bopping coyotes, etc.

    A handgun is a general-use defensive/utility arm. There is nothing “general” about the practical purposes of the one-hand, scoped “bolt guns”.

    I have no argument with people who enjoy smacking Wile E. with a 7mm BR Remington. Everyone to their own taste, is my motto.

    And personally, I prefer a rifle with an actual stock for that sort of job.



    • “Moral; manual repeaters such as revolvers work very well as handguns. Rifle-type actions, not so much.”
      How long is trigger pull in Schlegelmilch? How long that 7.5mm cartridge was?
      If I am not mistaken trigger pull length must be equal or greater than cartridge overall, unless some leverage is used.
      Is example of produced (mass? I don’t know how many was produced) manually repeating pistol, notice that is use very short cartridge – 8mm Gaulois is (according to municion) 14,76mm overall length, 8,95mm case length – respectively in inch units: ~.58 and ~.35)

    • “They would be highly interesting if they were semi-automatic firing such high-intensity rounds, but as they are, they are only of limited utility, specialized tools for a single purpose, i.e. bopping coyotes, etc.”
      I’m not sure what you consider to be high-intensity rounds but if it contain 5.56 NATO then semi-automatic rifle-like pistol exist: KEL-TEC PLR-16

      BTW: I think that automatic pistol firing rifle cartridge is rather mediocre idea, considering that rifle cartridge powder charge are devised for rifle-length barrel, so in shorter barrel, they have less time burn and part of powder is wasted.

      • I’m thinking more in terms of a specialized round intended to burn its powder in a shorter barrel but still deliver near-rifle ballistics. .221 Remington Fireball, 7mm Remington Bench Rest, etc.

        The Herrett .30 and .357 rounds would be highly interesting in rimless versions designed to feed through a self-loading action. As would the old .17 Bee, .17 Ackley, or especially the .14-222.

        The FN 5.7 x 28mm round would be interesting if it could just produce something better than .22 WRFM ballistics. Necked down to .17 and starting a 20-grain bullet at over 3500 F/S, or necked down to .14 and launching a 10-grain at 4500, it could point the way to an entirely new approach to handgun “stopping power”.

        To see why, read “The Last Enemy” by H. Beam Piper. You can find it online for free at Project Gutenberg;



        • “The Herrett .30 and .357 rounds would be highly interesting in rimless versions designed to feed through a self-loading action.”
          As .30-30 Winchester has its rimless counterpart, named .30 Remington Autoloading
          that .30 Herrett has its rimless counterpart, named .30 Herrett Rimless Tactical

          .30 Herrett is descendant of .30-30 Winchester
          .30 Herrett Rimless Tactical is descendant of .30 Remington Autoloading (via 6.8 Remington SPC)
          When the Herrett and Rimless are clear for me, I don’t know what I should understand under Tactical cartridge?
          I heard about Tactical Art of War but Tactical cartridge?
          Are there Operational cartridge and Strategic cartridge then?

        • “The FN 5.7 x 28mm round would be interesting if it could just produce something better than .22 WRFM ballistics”
          Is 5.7mm Johnson (.22 Spitfire) answer? It launch heavier bullets at higher velocities so it should have better performance.

          “Necked down to .17 and starting a 20-grain bullet at over 3500 F/S, or necked down to .14 and launching a 10-grain at 4500”
          But about barrel life? Bigger powder charge to barrel inside diameter ratio mean shorter barrel life, unless better metallurgy is used.

          • Better metallurgy is something firearms have needed for a long time. Carbon steel and stainless are all well and good, but a .300 WM rifle burning out its rifling in 5,000 rounds or less just won’t do.

            I’m thinking the next generation of firearms might be more aircraft-type composites than “traditional” metal. With barrels made of high-strength ceramics similar to, but tougher than, those used for high-end knife blades today. (Those can fracture if force is applied in the wrong direction.)

            The metal cartridge case may be an anachronism as well, to say nothing of propellant powder. Look up Plastic-Cased Telescoped Ammunition (PCTA). Keep in mind that it can have either percussion or electric ignition, and that liquid propellants have more energy per gram than the smokeless powders we’re familiar with.

            For that matter, so do kinetic high explosives, which can be “tailored” to generate exactly the gas-expansion rate (burning rate) you want. Think of a propellant with the burning rate of detonating cord launching a projectile at up to 10,000 m/s. (Direct fire with no discernible projectile trajectory “drop” out to 2000 meters, flight time under .25 sec…)

            Less emphatic than either of the above, but still more “powerful” than conventional smokeless powder, are monolithic-grain propellants similar to solid-rocket “grains”. (Not the same thing as grains of propellant powder as weight measure; a SR “grain” can be the size of a space shuttle solid-rocket booster.)

            The old Dardick “tround” pointed the way to PCTA. A combustible PCTA (CPCTA) would have most of the advantages of caseless ammunition and very few of its drawbacks. And it could use any or all of the above propellant “alternatives”. Different types of arm might even use different propellants for different missions; liquid-prop CPCTA for artillery, solid-rocket type for handgun, kinetic type for rifle and MG, etc.

            As for recoil, really small, low-mass projectile at ultra-high velocity vs. typically-massed “launch platform” probably = felt recoil not too far off what we’re used to. One of those “problems” that really aren’t once you do the math.

            So, the future personal weapon might be a micro-bore with ceramic barrel, composite structures, liquid or other advanced propellants, and a “plastic” cartridge case that only needs “ejecting” if you have to cycle past a dud round (which should be a rarity with this setup).

            Not quite a “phaser” or a “gausspistol”, but short of a hand laser about the most lethal pistol or rifle you can probably come up with, near-term.

            Of course, what will probably never change (short of pure-energy weapons) is that the most cost-effective way to “stop” somebody or something is to hit them with a solid projectile going as fast as possible.

            Technology changes quite a bit over time. Physics, not so much.



  2. The Remington XP-100 has been heavily used in the long range siluoutte matches for some years and are extremely accurate. I have owned two of them myself and can testify to their strength and accuracy.
    Thanks for the interesting articles and video’s. I look forward to them everytime I open my e-mail.

  3. While probably mechanically overly complex it would have in principle have several advantage over a 1880 revolver type. Faster reload would be one, compared to a loading gate (or worse, extracting the cylinder on the Reichsrevolver). Gas tight design is another, the bolt is supported directly by the frame for plenty of strength needed with the new smokeless rounds, and the recocking process doesn’t have to overcome the force of a main spring, only the mechanical resistance of the loading lever. Now image this with a decocker instead of a safety that allows you to carry the gun with a round in the chamber and simple “fire only” DA and you’d get something reasonable.

  4. thanks for the interesting articles,I got the mannlicher and bergmann pistols after your videos, so, now, you say the Koblenz Museum??/

  5. Schlegelmilch apparently was also primarily responsible for the action design of the ’88 Commission Rifle. This according to Colin Webster’s Argentine Mausers book.

    • I find it amusing how “revolver-like” it looks in profile — that being the paradigm of how a handgun was supposed to look at the time. One might otherwise assume that utilizing a different action would be an opportunity to develop a better balanced, less front-heavy design, as later semi-automatics seem to have done, or is it driven, in this case, by the ergonomics of thumbing the hammer?

      • One reason for the early crop of automatics with the magazine in front of the trigger guard was a desire to retain “revolver” like handling and balance. Remember, the pistol was seen as primarily a cavalry weapon for fast, semi-accurate rapid-fire shooting from horseback, with the gun in one hand and the reins in the other.

        The Broomhandle Mauser is typical of the concept. Revolver-like grip, magazine approximating the “center of mass” of the revolver’s cylinder, and a slender barrel, all resulting in balance and handling very like a revolver.

        The Knoble automatic Ian covered here a while back falls into the same category, except with the magazine in the grip. A feature that was controversial in its early days, as experts felt it rendered the grip too bulky and thus ruined the “feel” of the handgun. Because, well, it no longer “felt” like a revolver. Time proved them incorrect.

        Probably the most successful of the “revolver-handling” automatics was the Parabellum. The Nambu was a somewhat less successful example. The last such ever adopted by any major military formation was the Walther P.38.

        The latter was an odd anachronism. While being the last full-service auto designed around the concept of a slender, revolver-like barrel, it had a selective double-action mechanism, the type that is more or less standard today. Which the Knoble attempted, but failed to make work.

        The P.38 was probably the most “revolver-like” of all that category of automatic pistols. Yet by the time it arrived, it was already obsolescent in spite of its advanced searage, due to the near-hegemony of the Colt-Browning concept in its various iterations. The Colt in the U.S., FN/Browning in Europe, Vis.35 in Poland, the various Llama, Star, and Ruby types in Spain, the Tokarev in Russia, etc.

        Even today, the Colt/Browning locking system, as modified by Petter in the French MAS 1935S, is the “default” system used on full-power service autos. Ironic that the most advanced service pistols on Earth use a lockup that’s over a century old.

        Of course, the searage of the Glock is only slightly younger. Look at the Roth Steyr Model 1907 pistol’s searage sometime; it’s basically the same principle as the Glock “Safe Action”, just minus the trigger-mounted safety thingie.

        I never had much confidence in that little plastic widget, actually. I kept my finger well off the trigger on a Glock until I was ready to shoot.



        • “The last such ever adopted by any major military formation was the Walther P.38.”
          Воеводин later designed their “revolver barrel” pistol
          the requirement for slender barrel was caused by fact that tank forces want to replace aging Nagant revolver and TT pistol was not compatible with firing ports for Nagant. In trials against other it proved to be superior, but it was not accepted into service before Great Patriotic War broke out – later question of new service handgun was of low importance as automatic pistol don’t decide outcome of battles, but anyway 1000 – 1500 examples were made.
          What is interesting: despite the somewhat antique look it had magazine for 18 cartridge.

        • I think that it’s almost as ironic that the current military service pistol of John Browning’s own country does NOT use the Browning locking system… But yes, it is probably the “default” system for locked breech semiauto pistols, even though alternatives like rotating barrel locks have been making somewhat of a comeback recently. Whether it is the best ever designed is another question, which I am not qualified to answer or even argue, but it’s certainly good enough and well understood.

  6. Hmm… This is probably a step above the Berger pistol in terms of theoretical reloading speed, but it still gets beaten by true semi-autos and revolvers in terms of cost-effectiveness.

    Would anyone prefer the Langenhan FL service pistol over this?

    • Provided that all the screws were tight on the FL, absolutely.

      Although frankly, I’d settle for a Gasser revolver firing the 11mm Werder rifle round over this gadget.



        • 8mm Rast-Gasser;

          Bullet; 115-126 grains.

          MV: 750-785 F/S.

          ME: ~157 FPE.

          Slightly more powerful than the .32 ACP, approximating the middle loadings of the .32 H&R Magnum. Rather weaker than the .32-20 WCF in a revolver-length barrel.

          It would probably get the job done if you shot precisely for the heart or brain. Of course, you can truthfully say that about a lot of the .32 caliber-class rounds. Not to mention .25s, .22s, etc.

          I find it difficult to take any .32 caliber-class load seriously as a service round, other than the 7.63 Mauser/7.62 Tokarev. Loaded as its creators intended, the 7.62 x 25mm can generate ballistics close to those of the .30 Carbine round in an SMG-length barrel, and still has respectable velocity and power from a pistol-length tube.

          Small bullets can be highly effective. They just have to be going fast to do it.

          The First Rule of Stopping Power is exactly the same as the First Rule of Highway Safety; E= M(V\2)/2G, where G=32.16(the acceleration of gravity at the Earth’s surface in ft/sec; 9.8 m/s if you’re using KMS for everything else).

          Or in plain English, Speed Kills.



          • I think you forget the 7.65mm Luger. The 7.65x20mm Long was 90 grains @ 1000-1150 fps (yes, the muzzle velocity really varies that much in different sources).

            The 7.5mm Swiss Ordnance smokeless military loading for the M1882/29 was also very hot; 107 grains @ about 1200 fps. Similarly the smokeless loading for the French 8mm Lebel (Mle. 1892 revolver) was about 25% more powerful than the original black powder loading, putting it in the same class or even slightly above the 8mm Rast-Gasser (of which you have used the lower end numbers for the energy calculation, the high end would give 171 ft·lbf).

            Much have been written about the 7.62x38mm Nagant, but I think it has been pretty well proven by this point that the Russian military loading was fairly hot, somewhere around 185-250 ft·lbf. The available factory loads are based on the Russian reduced power target loading introduced in the 1960s, which also found its way to the C.I.P. standard.

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