There are few military firearms more iconic than the Winchester 1897 "Trench Gun". Developed during the Great War, these short barreled shotguns were fit with unique heat shields that incorporated a bayonet lug - a perfect addition for trench warfare. These devastating firearms were so effective, that the Germans filed an official complaint in Geneva protesting the American use of the shotguns. When US authorities declined to withdraw the guns from service, the Germans announced that they would summarily execute any American soldier caught with a trench shotgun. The US responded by saying that they would provide similar "quarter" to captured German POWs if they were made aware heard any doughboys being executed for using their trench guns. This hardline stance was enough to convince the Germans to drop the issue.
The Trench Gun would go on to see widespread use during WWII; particularly in the Pacific Theater, where the marines often encountered intense close quarters fighting in thick jungle. It was here that the Trench Gun proved particularly handy. One veteran, Richard Wickenhauser, recalled putting his Winchester Trench Gun to good use on multiple occasions:
"While serving with a detached unit in Guam, I was frequently called upon to fire eight or twelve rounds through dense foliage to 'clear out' an enemy who might be ready to ambush us. I usually fired at ground level in the direction we wanted to advance. After four or five rounds, I would raise my point of aim until I even covered the treetops for possible sniper positions. We would move forward about fifty yards and repeat the procedure. This operation was used when we had reason to believe that we were close to the enemy. Our assignment was primarily to 'mop up' after the major engagement was over. On Iwo Jima, my shotgun was used to stop an attack my a group of about eight Japanese. I fired a full box of 00 buckshot over my head while sitting in a deep foxhole. I really did not need to expose myself to enemy fire as the pattern on that open bore found the target simply by pointing it in the right direction. Let me assure you that shooting twenty-five 12 gauge shells with all the recoil being absorbed by one's wrists is something you will always remember. When the adrenaline is running, you just do it."
After the war was over, the Federal government was left with a huge supply of combat shotguns made by Winchester, Remington, Ithaca, and Stevens. As the US began de-arming; transitioning its "Arsenal of Democracy" to a small peace-time military, a large number of Trench Guns were sold to the civilian market beginning in late 1945. The majority of these guns were purchased and subsequently converted to sporting guns - most had their heat shields removed and their barrels replaced with 28" full choked offerings made available by Winchester. Apart from civilian sportsmen, there was another sector that found surplus combat shotguns particularly appealing: Law Enforcement. In fact, an overwhelming number of Police Department shotguns used during the second half of the 20th Century were purchased "second hand" from the Federal Government.
Combat shotguns were particularly attractive to PD's as they could be purchased much cheaper than a new production gun and already featured short, cylinder bored barrels which were handy and effective in short range urban environments. Some departments utilized the Trench Gun in its original configuration; complete with bayonet adaptor and heat shield. But most found the heat shield to be a nuisance - it was easily snagged on uniform buttons and squad car interiors, and because it was made from thin sheet metal, it often bent; obscuring the shooters vision when sighting down the barrel. For these reasons, combined with the fact the average cop wouldn't have much need to be able to affix a bayonet to the end of his duty weapon, most departments removed the heat shields and bayonet adaptors and converted the guns to a "Riot" configuration; which is identical to a Trench Gun but without a bayonet adaptor and heat shield.
These surplus combat shotguns were used by Police Departments all over the country, with many still in service as recently as the 1990's. Many Law Enforcement-owned shotguns, like the one offered here, were stamped with the initials of the department that owned them in order to allow the guns to be more easily identified should they become lost or stolen. This particular 1897 Trench gun was owned by the Dauphin County Pennsylvania Police Department; as denoted by the letters "D. PD" stamped on the gun's receiver.
This Winchester originally started life as a WWII-era Trench Gun, and the markings left by the three screws that secured the bayonet adaptor to the barrel can still be seen on the bottom of the barrel. Further evidence of this gun's former life as a Trench Gun can be found when examining the gun's markings. According to 20th Century arms historian Bruce Canfield, in his book Complete Guide to United States Military Combat Shotguns WWII M1897 Trench Guns can be identified by several distinct features: first the serial number must have an "E" prefix and fall between 921,300-986,300 range. Next the left side of the receiver must be marked with a large "US" and "flaming bomb" (WWI guns were either unmarked, or featured small martial markings on the right side of the frame). Additionally "flaming bomb" markings also appear on the barrel, as well as a "CYL" stamp to denote a cylinder choke. Finally, Trench Guns feature oil-finished stocks with an inspector's initials stamped in the left side of the butt.
This M97 meets all of these criteria with the exception of the inspector-stamped stocked. Evidentially, this shotgun received some degree of refinishing as part of its conversion from Trench Gun to police weapon. In addition to the removal of its bayonet adaptor and heat shield, this shotgun received a replacement Winchester factory butt stock and a re-bluing of the metal. This is not surprising considering the condition of most combat shotguns by the end of the war. In fact, the US Ordnance Department was aware of the poor condition of the military's shotguns as early as 1944 and initiated an overhaul program in June of that same year; writing, "Overhaul Program by June 1 1944, it was evident that while a surplus of shotguns, in quantity, existed, yet the quantities available of serviceable shotguns of the proper types were scant". The shotgun overhaul program resulted in the rebuilding of 20,412 Winchester Model 1897 and Model 1912 shotguns out of a total of 85,843 guns that Winchester delivered to the government between 1942 and 1944. The overhauled guns were kept in Federal armories and would later be issued in various military conflicts including Korea, Vietnam, and to a very limited extent Desert Storm. The remaining 65,000 Winchester shotguns were either sold as surplus or sent to allied nations. Given the state of most surplus combat shotguns, its likely that the Dauphin County Police Department found the condition of this gun to be too worn for duty and opted to replace the stock and reblue the gun as a result. In addition to its refinishing, Dauphin PD also had the front bead remounted on the end of the barrel and added a civilian-style Winchester magazine clamp to secure the magazine; a modification made necessary by the removal of the bayonet adaptor; as the Trench Gun's magazine tube was originally secured in place via the bayonet adaptor itself.
It is not known how long this gun remained in active police service, but like most duty guns, this shotgun doesn't appear to have been fired very much after it was reconditioned and remains in excellent condition. The bluing is excellent with no pitting or major rust. The action works well and the barrel mates up to the receiver perfectly without any wiggle or slop; and with plenty of adjustment left in the barrel's adjusting sleeve.
The stocks are very good with no major cracks or damage. The original hard rubber butt plate is in good condition without any cracks or pieces missing.
The barrel is in excellent condition with beautiful markings. The bore is excellent with no rust or pitting.
*This weapon was made after 1899 and MUST be shipped to Federal Firearms License holder for transfer. Never bought a gun through an FFL before? Give us a call at (262) 473-5444 and we'd be glad to walk you through this simple process