Here is a firearm that when introduced to the battlefield, an outcry arose from the German high command. They claimed it was too dastardly for combat. This from the same country that chose to use lethal gas on its opponents and said, “It is especially forbidden to employ arms, projectiles, or materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering.” While I disagree with the hypocrisy, I do agree that this gun will cause suffering. Say hello to the Winchester Model 1897 12-gauge shotgun, or simply the M97 Trench Gun.
This should not come as a surprise, but this epic weapon came from the mind and hands of John Moses Browning. In the 1897 Winchester catalog, it originally sold for a stunning $25. While this may not sound like much, in 1897, that was equal to around $695 in 2012 currency. That was an expensive pump shotgun. Well worth every penny if you could afford it.
Here is where the real money comes in, the upgraded models with engraved receivers and fine checkered wood ran up to $100. That equals about $2,777 in 2012 dollars. This may seem expensive, but that is about the starting cost today of a fine trap, skeet, tournament, or field bird gun. These field guns were not the ones that saw action in subsequent wars.
The guns that took the field for larger targets in war were the ones referred to as Brush, Brush Takedown, Riot, and later Trench guns. These M97s were the guns of the mud. The guns the Central Powers feared so much that they would risk the hypocritical label. Bayonet lug and barrel heat shields added, it became a gun to reckon with, and the Central Powers had that reckoning.
The mule inside the M97 was ultimately nine 00 (double aught) buck shot pellets. When unleashed, the impact was devastating. Furthermore, the aim did not have to be as accurate as a standard rifle. It is a fallacy that shotguns do not need to careful aiming to be accurate. However, shotguns are far more forgiving in accuracy in high-stress close-quarters situations. If accurate and precise, then they are a frightening adversary. This is why they have not left the battlefield since their introduction. However, they are a close-in weapon as distance is obviously their downfall.
Used through both world wars and into Vietnam, the M97 Trench Guns would see their final production in 1953. The Winchester Model of 1912 would replace the M97. However, like good ballistics and physics, an object or idea set in motion is hard to stop. This was and still is true with the combat shotgun. As a close-contact tactical weapon, it has few rivals. Later versions of the pump shotgun, like the Ithaca M37, Remington 870, and Mossberg 500 would expand the military use into the law enforcement community and now into the home. The shotgun has become the preferred gun of choice for home defense and I concur since I keep both a Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 in my home.
Once again, we see an idea launched by none other than John Moses Browning, which continues into the next century. The Winchester M97 Trench Gun, now a valued collector’s piece, was the basic concept for the likes of the AA-12 Automatic Street Sweeper. That concept, whether in the trench, the street, or protecting the home, he who brings the most the fastest, wins.