World War 1 History: Germany Declares Shotgun Inhumane

Updated on August 2, 2017
UnnamedHarald profile image

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

Trench Gun

World War I: Model 97 Trench Gun showing bayonet and sling.
World War I: Model 97 Trench Gun showing bayonet and sling. | Source

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.

Captain John Pershing

Captain John Pershing, age 41 (1901).
Captain John Pershing, age 41 (1901). | Source

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.

Original Civilian Version

Winchester Model 1897 Pump-Action Shotgun. Original, civilian version.
Winchester Model 1897 Pump-Action Shotgun. Original, civilian version. | Source

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).

Military Version

WWI: Model 97 Trench Gun. Note the barrel's heat shield and bayonet adapter at the front of the barrel.
WWI: Model 97 Trench Gun. Note the barrel's heat shield and bayonet adapter at the front of the barrel. | Source

Slamfire

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.

General John J. Pershing

General John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing (1860 - 1948). Commander of the American Expeditionary Force during the First World War.
General John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing (1860 - 1948). Commander of the American Expeditionary Force during the First World War. | Source

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.

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.

Slamfiring the Model 97 Trench Gun

Effectiveness of Model 97 Trench Gun Buckshot

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 David Hunt

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      • profile image

        Sean McCluskey 

        5 months ago

        Great article! Detailed and fascinating.

      • profile image

        Hurley T. MacMaster 

        10 months ago

        Read about this in The American Rifleman. I love the greater detail of the story.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        11 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        True, the French used gas in August 1914, but it was tear gas. The first major use of poisonous gas was by the Germans in 1915.

      • profile image

        Jeff 

        11 months ago

        The French were the first to use gas in August 1914, not the Germans. The French were also the first to use the flamethrower at Vauquois.

        Although the Germans were the first to use gas on a large scale, it was used as a defensive strategy. Keep in mind, phosgene gas made up the vast majority of gas casualties in WW1, and it was invented by the French. Germany also used the flamethrower in far greater numbers at Verdun, but they were not the first to use it.

        Protesting the M1897 was not an unreasonable thing at all. Unlike poison gas (which was used as a defensive weapon), buckshot was designed to kill. The wounds were incredibly hard to treat and caused unnecessary suffering. The same goes for the sawtooth bayonet. Those weapons were unnecessarily brutal.

      • profile image

        Jimbo 

        11 months ago

        Great stuff! I have seen photos of civil war dragoons and light cavalry from both sides armed with double barrel shotguns. They were also used in the war of 1812 and the Mexican war. US forces have always used shotguns. Even the Army of the Republic of Texas used them against both the Mexicans and the Comanches. Maybe Europe found them unusual, but the US is always going to use them.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        15 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        The Declaration of St. Petersburg of 1868 (which predates the Hague Convention of 1899) prohibited the use of exploding bullets (small arms projectiles designed to explode inside human flesh), considered to be inhumane.

      • profile image

        Laurence Daley 

        15 months ago

        During the Cuban vs Spanish 1868-1878

        both sides were using Remington explosive bullets

        would that be considered inhumane

      • profile image

        Adrian Popa Chris 

        23 months ago

        I got so deep in the information about shotguns and i never thought that shotguns were actually used in a war,WW1 was one of the most cruel wars ever.When i read that shotguns got baned cause of their affectiveness on close quarters combat i was like,nigga this is some big bullshit...Germans complaining about shotguns.I dont know why Germans complain in the first place,that they"cause unnecessary suffering" well hell they do,but it's not worse than Gas and Flamethrowers.Even in video games shotguns are underpowered,when you shoot them you feel like you shot paper balls out of it,not pellet's or slugs. And even Armies around the world dont use shotguns and i dont know why,maybe because of the reload speed? Cause i know for a fact that a 44. slug coming out of a 12 inch barrel can kill someone even in 200-300 yards away..that's pretty far i must say.

        Great article,Maybe sometime soon shotguns will get the love that they deserve. I really enjoyed reading your article! Have a nice day/night

      • profile image

        AI 

        2 years ago

        To be fair, as a common grunt in the trenches, I'd consider being on the receiving end of an American trench gun AND a german flamethrower to be quite inhumane...

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        2 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Glad you liked it, Edward. Yes, the German objection to the shotgun was quite ironic. Apparently drowning with fluid-filled lungs and huge running blisters all over your body or being covered with burning napalm was preferred to having OO buckshot tear through your body. None for me, thanks.

      • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

        Ed Palumbo 

        2 years ago from Tualatin, OR

        I found this very interesting. The Model 97 was still in use by the U.S. Marine Corps when I was a young M.P. in the mid-'60s, but has since been "retired" and replaced by Remington and Mossberg 12 gauge pump shotguns. To its credit, the Model 97 was well-built and reliable. A shotgun loaded with OO Buck is a formidable weapon, but I hadn't realized the Germans perceived it as inhumane and against the rules of warfare. That seems bizarre since the Germans were quick to rely on chemical weapons that were clearly against the 1899 Hague Declaration. Thank you for an interesting Hub!

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        3 years ago from USA

        This was not only informative (given all that happened in both WWI and II who would imagine this?) but it also well written.

      • kenneth avery profile image

        Kenneth Avery 

        4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

        Hello, UnnamedHarald,

        You are more than welcome. Frankly, you DESERVE a lot more cudo's for such a fine work. I enjoyed reading this information that the documentaries about war times does not touch.

        Thank you again for sharing this priceless information. Keep up the fine work and hey, thank you too for the following.

        I will treasure that as long as I am alive.

        Kenneth

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Kenneth, I am speechless ( an unnatural condition) and humbled (again, unnatural) at such praise. Thanks for making my morning.

      • kenneth avery profile image

        Kenneth Avery 

        4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

        UnnamedHarald,

        I love this hub. And here are the reasons why:

        1. This is an excellent piece of writing. Honestly, it is amazing.

        2, I loved every word.

        3. Graphics, superb.

        4. This hub was helpful, informative and very interesting.

        5. Voted Up and all of the choices.

        You are certainly a gifted writer. Keep the great hubs coming.

        Sincerely,

        Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Alabama

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for your generous comment, Michael. Irony abounds in war. I didn't know anything about the American shotgun until very recently and when I saw that the Germans declared it inhuman, I knew I had a hub.

      • Michael Kismet profile image

        Michael Kismet 

        4 years ago from Northern California

        Wow, I always manage to learn something new and so interesting from your hubs. The Germans before world war 2 considering something "inhumane", that's some irony for you.. War is a bloody business, always has been, always will be, a sad truth indeed. Looking forward to more of your insightful and fascinating articles, great post!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for commenting, pmorries. Interesting about the "fish hook" gun. Never underestimate the ingenuity spurred by military need-- real or imagined.

      • pmorries profile image

        pmorries 

        4 years ago from Golden, CO

        ...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.

        What I fond interesting is that history repeats itself. American special forces have had to change their guns, because our guns are made to wound- not kill. The theory being you wound one soldier, and it takes another soldier to take care of him.

        Terrorist on the other hand, keep on fighting even when wounded, so we have had to move to bigger or stronger rounds.

        http://www.sofmag.com/army-wants-new-pistol?quickt...

        In closing, I have heard about a gun that fired a round that was similar to fish hooks (barbed rounds), but it was banned for being too cruel .

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for reading and and taking the time to comment, JMCecil. Feedback is always welcome-- especially when it's positive :)

      • JMCecil profile image

        James Cecil 

        4 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

        Well done and interesting. Thank you.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        War is crazy, insane and illogical. We cannot expect the rules of war to be otherwise. Thanks for reading and commenting, Larry.

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 

        4 years ago from Oklahoma

        Great read. I have always been fascinated by the regulatory rules of war. Just seems like such an abstract concept to me. It also is strange to want to outlaw something like a shotgun when poisonous gas is being used. Fascinating stuff.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        I know what you mean, Theresa. I sure wasn't thinking about writing a hub about a shotgun in WW1-- there were so many other technical "achievements" during that war. But when I read that the Germans protested about the humanity of such a weapon, I just had to write it. Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing!

      • phdast7 profile image

        Theresa Ast 

        4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

        Harald, how fascinating. I had never heard anything about this. What an amazing and unexpected weapon. And how unbelievable that the Germans, with flamethrowers no less, should have indignantly pronounced this an unacceptable and cruel weapon.! Great Hub. Sharing. Theresa

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Graham, great to hear from you. I also thought the brass cartridges were interesting. There are some shown at the end of the video of the woman shooting the Trench Gun.

      • old albion profile image

        Graham Lee 

        4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

        Hi David. A fearsome weapon indeed. It must have taken time to develop the heat shield to do a worthy job. Interesting to note the brass cartridge requirement. Great research as usual.

        Graham.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        CMHypno, the cynic in me has always wondered about the rules of war and what's really behind them. Violently inserted bits of metal into human bodies has been a time-honored tradition for a long time, but there are rules forbidding dum-dums (expanding slugs), non-jacketed slugs, use of .50 caliber machine-guns against individuals, etc-- all in the name of "humanity". War is hell on Earth, but I'm always left wondering... what else can you do when soldiers are attacking your town other than fight fire with fire? And it's not the soldier that starts a war, it's the boys in the back room. Thanks for commenting.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        sujaha, yes, peace would be nice... for a change.

      • sujaya venkatesh profile image

        sujaya venkatesh 

        4 years ago

        need peace unn

      • CMHypno profile image

        CMHypno 

        4 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

        Interesting but horrific. It makes you wonder what the world would be like if we employed our skills and intelligence to improve the world, rather than find ever more efficient ways of killing each other. I agree with Alastar it was ironic in the extreme that the Germans protested, but if they had come up with the idea first I have no doubt they would have used trench guns.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Hi Alastar. Ironic to the extreme. As a matter of fact, it was the irony of the German complaint about the shotgun that drew my attention and prompted me to dig deeper. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Alastar Packer profile image

        Alastar Packer 

        4 years ago from North Carolina

        What a great article on the topic. How ironic that the combatant that introduced the horrors of poison gas first in action should have a prob with the generally more merciful shotguns of the Americans. The 'trench gun' was an awesomely effective close in weapon in the closing months of WWI. Guess the Germans just didn't count on all those squirrel hunters showing up.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks for the comment, Phillbert. The Model 97 Trench Gun was still used in World War 2, though by then there were other, improved military shotguns. Glad you liked it.

      • Phillbert profile image

        Phillip Drayer Duncan 

        4 years ago from The Ozarks

        Great article! Very interesting to see where shotguns fell int0 military use. Personally, I feel that shotguns are the best home defense weapons available, and for the same reason that they were useful in a trench.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thanks, krillco. You're right. Pershing was concerned about the constant counter-attacks that all too often erased any hard-fought gains the original attacker made and the trench gun was used to great effect defending against them.

      • krillco profile image

        William E Krill Jr 

        4 years ago from Hollidaysburg, PA

        Very nice piece; looks to be a great defensive weapon.

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