History of Combat Shotguns

The character of the modern military shotgun is a multiple-projectile weapon for close-range combat. Development of the high-velocity, small-caliber rifle which possesses greater range and accuracy, resulted in an initial decline in the use of the shotgun in combat, a trend which began to reverse in World War I.

Shotguns, probably Remington Model 11, NAS Jacksonville FL in the 1940s
Shotguns, probably Remington Model 11, NAS Jacksonville FL in the 1940s.

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History of the Military Use of Shotguns

A shotgun is a multiple projectile weapon for close range combat. Since it is simpler than modern rifles, it was developed quite early. In the American Revolution, Gen. George Washington encouraged his troops to load their muskets with "buck and ball," a load consisting of one standard musket ball and three to six buckshot, to increase the probability of a hit. Shotguns were used at the Alamo, by the Marnes in the war with Mexico in 1846, and in the Civil War by Union and Confederate forces, primarily by cavalry units. Followin ghte Civil War, U.S, Cavalry units employed shotguns during the Indian wars between 1866 and 1891. Shotguns saw service during the Philippine insurrection (1899 to 1914), and by Brigadier General John Pershing in the 1916 punitive expedition into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, General Pershing’s forces employed 12-gauge pump action shotguns, loaded with six No. 00 buckshot shells, for close-range defensive fires against enemy infantry assaults, trench raids, and assaults on enemy trenches and machine gun positions. The shotguns were fitted with bayonets and a heat shield so the barrel area could be gripped when the bayonet was employed. This style of gun, with heat shield and bayonet, was the "trench gun". Shotguns without these features were "riot guns". Later, when trench warfare was no longer a military concern, all shotguns were referred to as "riot guns" even if equipped with bayonet and heat shield.

The highly-effective use of the shotgun by United States forces had a telling effect on the morale of front-line German troops. On 19 September 1918, the German government issued a diplomatic protest against the American use of shotguns, alleging that the shotgun was prohibited by the law of war. After careful consideration and review of the applicable law by The Judge Advocate General of the Army, Secretary of State Robert Lansing rejected the German protest in a formal note.

The German protest is the only known occasion in which the legality of actual combat use of the shotgun has been raised.

Shotguns were employed by Allied-supported partisans and guerrillas in Europe and Asia during World War II, and by the United States Army and Marine Corps in the Pacific and China-Burma-India (CBI) theaters. The short range of the shotgun made it of limited value for conventional forces in the open European battlefields, but its close-range effectiveness made it invaluable in the dense jungle battlefields of the Pacific and CBI theaters.

Shotguns were employed in combat in the Korean War, primarily for command post security and close-range protection for machine-gun positions. Human-wave attacks by North Korean and Chinese forces led to the development of the Claymore mine, a multiple-fragmentation antipersonnel munition that performs like a shotgun in its directed dispersion of fragments.

In the post-World War II insurgency/counterinsurgency era, shotguns were employed by guerrilla and military forces in virtually every conflict in sub-Sahara Africa, Latin and South America, and Southeast Asia. In their successful counterinsurgency campaign in Malaya (1948-1959), British forces employed shotguns in jungle operations, as did British, Australian, and New Zealand special operations forces in their 1963-1966 Borneo campaign.

Shotguns were employed by Viet Minh and French forces in the Indochina War (1946-1954) and by the Viet Cong against the military forces of the Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (1956-1975). United States, Australian, and New Zealand units employed shotguns in their operations against Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese military forces in the Republic of Vietnam (1965-1972). They also used the Claymore mine and a shotgun round for the M79 grenade launcher.

United States Marine Corps personnel employed shotguns in the recapture from Cambodian forces of the container ship Mayaguez on 12 May 1975. United States Air Force security police employed shotguns in base security operations in Saudi Arabia during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (1990-91) to protect them from attack by terrorists or Iraqi military units, and some personnel in British armored units were armed with shotguns as individual weapons during that conflict.

The foregoing was adapted from DA-PAM 27-50-299 16, Joint Service Combat Shotgun Program, October 1997 THE ARMY LAWYER.

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