Firearm of the Week, Winchester Model of 1897 Shotgun, M97 Trench Gun, Trench Broom

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.

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Comments (13)

  1. Probably the spring was getting weak or old in guns in good shape it usually is not an issue. The Model 12 also you could hold the trigger back and pump it it was as fast as a semi auto. I had a model 12 I did that more than a few times when I was young and never had an issue.

  2. I did not see this article till now and I have a 97 trench gun. My gun serial number puts it manufactured in 1904 with the 1917 bayonet. The only thing new is the bayonet mount. A very wicked looking gun. I read about holding the trigger and pumping to rapid fire. This is not a good thing to do as it will break something inside, I know, I did it. Broke the hammer spring. I also have a regular 97 long barrel for hunting but don’t use it.

  3. I’ve already got a few shotguns and I still want one of those trench guns. Having carried a 590 while in the Army I fully agree there value is definitely worth the extra weight. For having to clear a building there’s nothing better.

  4. One of the finest shotguns ever made for combat or shooting sports or in the field shooting birds. A true classic.

  5. We carried these with bayonet in the Berlin Brigade while guarding quick reaction M113s that were full “combat loaded” with ammo & .50 cals. This was in the 1980’s. The first and only time I ever used it. That bayonet was long and intimidating to others I suspect.

    We also had the 90 mm RR. This was another “outdated” weapon that proved useful for urban combat.

  6. My son has a replica Model 97 Trench Gun, and it is just plain scary! Tipped with a bayonet, it is longer than I am tall, so not easy to swing around in close quarters, but you will not likely ever face anything so intimidating. We have “slam-fired” it (pumping the action with the trigger depressed) and it empties the tube in seconds with devastating effect, though it is tough to control without practice. It’s no wonder it was feared in the trenches of WWI, loved by Marines in WWII, and worth the extra weight to GIs in Vietnam. Today’s troops may deploy with a Mossberg 500, but the wisdom of using a shotgun is incontrovertible. I love my AR, but when the SHTF, I’ll be carrying a 12-gauge and a .45!

  7. Some years ago I had the opportunity to fire a gun like the AA-12. The guy that had it called it the Street Sweeper. I can well imagine it could “sweep the streets” of all opposition as it held 25 rounds of 12 Ga. Although I think you could basically do the same with almost any multi round semi I believe the sound would be a definate scare factor. The M-97 Trench Gun is fierce looking. I often wondered about the 12 Ga used in Viet Nam. Thanks for the look.

  8. i used to own an m97, with the bayonet, i wish i still had it. there was a “trick” to that gun, it had no “discoonnector”, you could hold the trigger back and just work the pump and the hammer would fall just a split second late and fire the round as it chambered, almost as fast as a semi-auto. i once heard a local police chief say he’d seen me do things with that “riot gun” that he didn’t think were possible.

  9. Good article! I saw a few of the Trench Shotguns when in Vietnam. Many GI’s had semi-autos sent from home and cut down the barrel. I have a Winchester 120 I use for home defense filled with bird shot. I have never used it for home defense, and pray I never will; but it’s ready for action!

  10. Great article as it concisely speaks to the combat history of the shotgun (hard to fine combat shotgun information). I concur in that the SG is IMO the BEST CQB weapon man has ever seen. Ideally for home defense the 14″ barrel would be ideal but is hard to legally obtain. The 18/18.5″ is the next best option (just a tad bit more difficult to maneuver in tight quarters). I also love the reference to the late great John Moses Browning!

  11. As the saying goes, in home defense your handgun is best used to fight your way to your shotgun. In my case, that’s a Glock 17 and a Mossberg 500.

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