When the Winchester M97/17 shotgun arrived in Europe in the hands of 'Doughboys,' the Germans were livid. The Kaiser's military forces found the idea of a 12 gauge shotgun so deplorable in combat, they tried to have it outlawed as inhumane.
But at the end of the day, the Winchester is just a pump action shotgun...brutal and effective then as now. The M97 was pretty much the same 'duck gun' most American hunters have known for over a century.
The Winchester M97 was an updated and militarized version of the earlier pump action shotgun used by U.S. forces during the Philippine Insurrection. The M97 went to Europe with two additions to its envelope, a full length barrel heat shield and a hefty bayonet lug. The former improved cooling when the weapon was fired and cycled rapidly. The latter, fitting a lengthy M1917 bayonet, pushed the shotgun into intimidating heights in close quarters.
However, to get the shotgun to Europe required overcoming some skepticism by U.S. Army brass. Many general officers found the shotgun useless. Yet General 'Black Jack' Pershing- Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force and veteran of the Spanish-American War; as well as the Philippine Insurrection- saw the value of combat shotguns in the trench and barbed wire wastes of the Western Front. Ultimately 25,000 M97 Trench Guns went to war.
When raiding a German trench, the M97 quickly proved its vicious effectiveness. Once in a trench, American soldiers armed with the M97 would effectively move forward, clearing trenches with the devastating 12 gauge buckshot. The swarm of lead balls, nine in total per shell and each measuring .32 caliber, would remove any threat with the accuracy of aimed fire and near the power of a grenade.
Shotgun teams were deployed to clear trenches rapidly and the M97 quickly gained popularity among its users; and hatred from its enemies. In addition to effectiveness in trench raids, the M97 could send out rapid clouds of buckshot at the wave formations of German infantry.
Uniquely, the M97 could be used in what is known as "slam fire." Lacking a disconnect mechanism inside the trigger assembly, if an operator held the trigger back and cycled the action, it created a merciless rapid fire. Every time the forearm slide pushed forward, it was slam fire, emptying the five round tubular magazine as quickly as the operator could manipulate the forearm.
A negative of the design was a operating piece that pushed from the rear of the receiver upon a rearward cycle. This, due to its position near the firing hand wrapping the stock, led to some hand injuries. Also, the paper walled shotgun shells were a weak point in the weapons system, replaced by the end of the war with complete brass 12 gauge shells.
The M97 would serve the United State through World War II, and found in smaller batched into Korea and even Vietnam.