World War 1 History: Germany Declares Shotgun Inhumane
Worse Than Poison Gas? Ask the Moro
Having been the first to unleash unrestricted submarine warfare, poisonous gas and the flammenwerfer, a one-man flamethrower, on their enemies, the Germans finally found a weapon too horrific for use during the Great War. It was the shotgun that American troops brought to the front in 1918.
In 1900, during the Philippine Insurrection, Captain John Pershing saw combat against the Juramentados, fanatical Islamic Moro swordsmen who sought martyrdom while killing their enemies. The Army Colt .38 didn't stop their suicidal attacks and even the Springfield rifle didn't always do the job. In such close quarter fighting, the Model 97 Riot Gun, a pump-action shotgun, usually gave the Juramentados their desired martyrdom.
General Pershing Remembers the Moros
As commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France, then General John “Black Jack” Pershing, saw the need for close-range firepower when fighting in the trenches and remembered the Juramentados. He had the Ordinance Department work with the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to modify their Winchester Model 1897 shotgun.
The Weaponized Shotgun
What evolved was the Model 97 Trench Gun, a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun with a 20-inch barrel, a sling swivel and a bayonet adapter with a perforated metal heat shield over the barrel. Without the heat shield, the barrel could get too hot to hold when using the bayonet. With one “in the spout” (chambered) and five in its tubular magazine, the Trench Gun could hold six shotgun shells. Normal cartridges made of a brass base with a cardboard tube were unfit for the terrible conditions at the front. The cardboard, when wet, swelled up and jammed, so all-brass cartridges were issued. Each 2-3/4 inch shell contained nine 00 (double-aught) buckshot pellets, each with a diameter of 8.4mm (.33 inch).
The Winchester shotgun also had a slamfire mode. With an ordinary pump-action shotgun, the shooter ejects any spent cartridge and chambers a shell by pulling back on the pump (the sliding forearm handle) and pushing the pump forward. Then the shotgun can be fired by pulling the trigger. By squeezing and holding the trigger while pumping, the Trench Gun would fire every time the pump was pushed forward. A trained soldier could fire six shotgun blasts with devastating effect against unarmored targets in less than two seconds. A canvas pouch held an additional 32 shells, but, if he couldn't reload, he still had his bayonet.
Trench Brooms and Sweepers
By June 1918, there were only enough to supply each division with 50 Trench Guns, but they were put to devastating use. When soldiers equipped with Model 97 Trench Guns jumped into an enemy trench, they were able to clear it quickly in both directions using the slamfire mode. The relatively short barrel length allowed them to quickly swing in either direction in the narrow, confines of the trench. In a matter of seconds, 54 8.4 mm balls of buckshot with an effective range of up to 50 yards tore up anyone in the way. Such firepower, restricted to close-in fighting, had a greater hit probability than any available automatic weapons of the time. They became known as trench brooms or trench sweepers.
Sergeant Fred Lloyd?
There are many references to an American soldier single-handedly clearing a German-held French village on September 27, 1918. Supposedly, Sergeant Fred Lloyd methodically moved through the village pumping and firing his Trench Gun and routing thirty German soldiers until he finally collapsed with exhaustion from the effort. Many of the references are identically worded. Until corroborating sources are found, this shall remain a questionable sidebar.
Soldiers With Trench Guns Will be Executed
The enemy didn't like the trench broom one bit. In September 1918, the German government issued a diplomatic protest, complaining that the Model 97 Trench Gun was illegal because “it is especially forbidden to employ arms, projections, or materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering” as defined in the 1907 Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land. When the Americans rejected this, the German high command then threatened to execute any soldier caught with a Trench Gun or even just Trench Gun shells. General Pershing replied that, henceforth, any Germans caught with flamethrowers or saw-bladed bayonets would be lined up and shot. As far as is known, no American or German POWs were executed under such circumstances.
Slamfiring the Model 97 Trench Gun
Effectiveness of Model 97 Trench Gun Buckshot
© 2014 David Hunt
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