Winchester Model 97 Shotgun

The Winchester Model 1897 (or M97) 12 gauge shotgun is the original trench gun, made famous by its use by the U.S. Army in World War I.

Marine carrying Winchester M97, World War II
Marine carrying Winchester M97, World War II.

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Winchester Model 97 Shotgun: The Original Trench Gun

The Winchester Model 97 was designed by John M. Browning as an improved version of the Winchester Model 93. The shotgun's firepower was used to stop German attacks cold, something previously only a crew-served machine gun could do. Fitted with a bayonet and barrel heat shield it was a soldier's best friend in close quarters, when hand-to-hand fighting was upon him. For these reasons, it was called a "trench gun" or "trench broom."

Winchester Model 97 Shotgun History

Winchester Model 1897 Shotgun with trench gun heat shield and bayonet adapter.  M1917 bayonet shown below.
Winchester Model 1897 Shotgun with "trench gun" heat shield and bayonet adapter
M1917 bayonet shown below.

At the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War I, Gen. John J. Pershing ("Black Jack") was given command. He was determined that U.S. forces would not settle into the static trench warfare that had already chewed up tens of thousands of lives on the European battlefield. The key was the ability to stop short any German attack from their own trenches before they could overrun American positions, while being able to infiltrate and clean out the enemy trenches in turn.

The ideal weapon would be shorter than the standard rifle and easier to bring to bear on nearby targets in tight spaces like a trench or building, superior in these characteristics to the 1903 Springfield or 1917 Enfield infantry rifles. The Model 97 proved quite capable in all respects as well as being low maintanance and reliable. It quickly became known as the "trench broom". In the military version, with its ventilated handguard over the barrel and M1917 bayonet attachment, it was legendary for its tremendous firepower. It became so feared by the Germans that they tried to get shotguns outlawed in combat.

The Model 97 continued to be used by the U.S. military in World War II, along with the similar design Winchester Model 12 Combat Shotgun. Collectors will notice that there was a change in the ventilated heat shield during WW II from the WW I design of six rows of holes to only 4 rows starting in 1942.

The M97 shotgun was extremely successfull, both with the military and in civilian markets for hunters and law enforcement, remaining on sale until the late 1950s by which time over 1 million had been shipped. The Model 97 continued to be used by U.S. forces in the Korean War, in Vietnam and even the Gulf War at which point the design was almost 100 years in use. All branches of the U.S. armed forces made some use of the Model 97 over its service lifetime.

Winchester Model 1897 Shotgun Description

The 12 gauge Winchester M97, in trench gun or riot gun style, was a pump-action shotgun with an exposed hammer and a 5 round tubular magazine beneath the 18 inch barrel. One round could be in the chamber bringing capacity to six rounds total. It was chambered for the short 2 3/4-inch shells only.

The design did not have a trigger disconnector so the magazine could be emptied by holding back the trigger and firing as fast as the forearm could be pumped. Originally shipped in solid frame only, after number 833,000 it was made with a takedown receiver. The finish on the metal parts was light blue until 1945, after which it was black.

The best book on the Model 1897 shotgun is U.S. Winchester Trench & Riot Guns by Joe Poyer. This small and inexpensive book has in depth coverage not found elsewhere.

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