The Model 1897 Trench Gun is an old lead dispenser indeed, but it is the Great Granddaddy of our modern day combat shotguns.
Shotguns have come a long way since John Moses Browning introduced the M97 to the world. In modern day warfare shotguns serve to solve a number of different tasks such as breaching, close quarters battle, and even nonlethal methods of adversary control. They are truly the multi-tool of weapon systems.
When the United States decided to enter WWI they understood the brutality of trench warfare. They learned this by observing our allies and the casualties they sustained the three years prior to the U.S. entering the war.
The trench gun was developed for one main purpose. The goal was to provide American troops with the capability of delivering a maximum amount of destruction at close range in a short amount of time.
The M97 quickly accomplished this goal and was so efficient at this task that the German government tried to have it outlawed in 1918 under the umbrella of the “law of war.” They pleaded that the M97 “Trench Sweeper” was inhumane and caused unnecessary suffering. This is also the only known documented occasion in which the legality of a shotgun has been raised in combat.
Needless to say, the U.S. ignored their plea and continued to field the weapon throughout the war and years after with great success.
The Winchester Model 1897 Trench Gun is unique in a couple ways. Unlike shotguns of modern times, the M97 has an external hammer. It is outfitted with a 20 inch barrel, which makes it a nice compact package for tight spaces. It is also outfitted with a steel heat shield to protect the operator’s hands from burns under high rates of fire.
A bayonet lug attachment was also added to allow the attachment of the M1917 bayonet. I mean, how cool is that! A bayonet on a shotgun, “the ultimate close quarters weapon”. Just in case 00 buck doesn’t do the trick, you can stab the enemy to death too.
The M97 can be broken down completely in half in less than 10 seconds. That is nice in the event you want to throw it in a pack or conceal it.
The feature I like the most about the M97 is the lack of a trigger disconnector. This allows the shotgun to “slam fire”, which means the operator can continually depress the trigger and work the pump action until empty, making the shotgun one of the fastest pump actions ever produced.
I think it’s important we recognize that we as American gunmen have a tendency to over-complicate and trick-out our tools of the trade. I do however believe there is something to be said about an old school down and dirty force multiplier. I believe the M97 is a perfect example of this.
I have to say I have an M97 and to this day it is my favorite go-to weapon for close-in work. I’m not saying I don’t get wrapped up in the modern day tools of the trade, because I do, but there is something cool about wielding a weapon that is almost a century old with confidence.