Famous American gunsmith John Moses Browning went to work for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1883 and, in 1887, he delivered the Model 1887 lever-action shotgun - regarded as the first true successful repeating shotgun anywhere in the world. Browning then went to work on the company's first pump-action slide repeating shotgun and this became the famous Model 1893 with its 12-gauge form and 30-inch barrel. Some 35,000 of the type were produced. Not one to sit on his laurels, Browning then perfected his Model 1893 into the Model 1897 complete with refined shoulder/pistol grip stock (longer and straighter than in the Model 1893), a reinforced receiver and steel buttplate as well as support for smokeless powder shells - a rarity for shotguns of the period. Spent shell casings were ejected through a side-mounted port. The weapon was also made quite safer over the original Model 1893 series thanks to inclusion of a slide-lock. Production of the Model 1897 began in 1897 and would last until 1957 to which 1,024,700 examples were delivered in 12- and 16-gauge forms and with multiple barrel lengths to suit customer tastes. The Model 1897 became one of those rare firearms to see combat actions in both World Wars as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars to follow.
The Model 1897 held an inherent "benefit" in which the trigger could stay pressed and the operator manage the pump for successive repeating fire - a powerful quality in short-range combat (the method known as "racking shells" or "slam firing"). This was carried over into the equally-popular Model 1912 which also saw service in World War 1 and World War 2.
At the start of World War 1, the American Army lacked much of the fighting tools required of war. With its commitment to war in Europe beginning in 1917, all manner of weaponry was procured - both foreign and domestic - to which many firearms producers sprung into action to net the potentially lucrative military contracts to follow. The Model 1897, already a popular firearm in America, was selected for military service as the "Model 97". It appeared in the basic Standard, Riot Gun and Trench Gun forms. Riot Guns were essentially Standard forms fitted with shorter barrels and intended to serve in guard duty. Trench Guns were given the military treatment, complete with shorter 20-inch barrels, a perforated heat shield over the barrel and mountings for the American Model 1917 field bayonet. The Model 1897 became the first shotgun to be selected for military service by the US Ordnance Department.
As a combat weapon, the Model 1897 proved resilient to the abuses of the modern battlefield, able to withstand damp conditions, dirt and debris and getting slammed about while still keeping its robust qualities. Such qualities are what endeared fighting men to their weaponry and the Model 1897 did not disappoint in that respect. As the war, once a fluid and mobile beast, had now ground down to a stalemate of trenches lining the European countryside, it was seen that short-ranged weapons to help clear such trenches were of particular value. America had always gone to war with shotguns since the 1850s and World War 1 proved no different where the Model 1897 was concerned, acting with exceptional brutality against entrenched foes. The Winchester Model 1897 fought alongside another drafted Winchester product - the Model 1912 (M12) - which served the same form and function as the Model 1897. The Springfield Armory had to design a special bayonet mounting for Winchester shotguns as the bayonets in use relied on a ring fitted over a .30-30 service rifle barrel. Model 1897 shotguns featured a substantially larger diameter barrel so an underslung mounting was developed in which an adapter fit over the barrel and the bayonet seated into the adapter. Use of a bayonet did not impeded the slide function though it made the overall weapon lengthier and, perhaps, a bit more cumbersome. Both the United States Army and Marine Corps retained their Model 1897s in inventory in the decades following the November 1918 Armistice.
Interestingly, the German Army protested the American use of shotguns during the war and threatened special "punishment" for prisoners caught in ownership of such weapons (such was the power of trench-clearing with a rapid-fire/repeat-fire shotgun). The protest ultimately went unheeded and the Americans counter-promised their own reprisals for German treatment of American shotgun infantry. Ironically, the German protest of the "barbaric" use of shotguns in the war came under the shadow of them utilizing poison gas against their Allied foes in the war.
Overall, the Model 1897 Trench Gun was a smooth weapon, complete with the Winchester-style boxy receiver now rounded out for modern times. The hammer spur protruded from the rear of the frame (hidden in the newer Model 1912) and a large ejection port was set to the right side of the receiver. The stock was well formed and solid, incorporating the pistol grip leading up to the trigger unit. The trigger sat within a thin ring guard in the usual way. The barrel tapered towards the muzzle to which a small front sight was identified as well as the bayonet attachment lacking in the civilian models. The pump action slide was of walnut and ribbed for a good hand hold and wrapped around the tubular magazine. Shells were loaded through a port under the receiver. The manual pump action worked the next shell into the firing chamber, the action also ejecting any shell currently in the receiver.
The Model 1897 was produced in eight major "grades" beginning with the basic model known as the Model 1897 Standard which was produced from 1897 to 1957. These sported 28- and 30-inch barrels and came in 12- and 16-gauge forms with a walnut stock and steel buttplate. The Model 1897 Trap was produced from 1897 to 1931 and was completed in 12- and 16-gauge forms with 28- and 30-inch barrels along with checkered walnut stocks. The Model 1897 Pigeon was also delivered in 12- and 16-gauge forms though only with 28-in barrels and a hand-engraved receiver. Production spanned from 1897 to 1939. The Model 1897 Tournament appeared solely in a 12-gauge form with a 30-inch barrel, a more refined glare-free finish and was produced from 1910 to 1931. The Model 1897 Brush was offered in 12- and 16-gauge forms with a 26-inch barrel, was produced from 1897 to 1931 and included a walnut stock, solid frame and decreased tubular magazine. The Model 1897 Brush Takedown was similar though produced with a "take-down" frame.
At the time of World War 2, the Model 1897 came into play once more. The Americans saw a critical shortage of small arms after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan (the event thrusting the nation into war) . The existing stocks of Model 1897 were not sufficient enough to meet the new wartime demand so production ramped up on all manner of shotguns once more. As in World War 1, the US government contracted for Standard, Trench Gun and Riot Gun types during World War 2 as well as a stock to serve in training aerial gunners. Winchester rose to the occasion by delivering Model 1897 and Model 1912 shotguns and both went on to see continued exemplary service, particularly in the Pacific Theater of War where close-quarters combat in the jungle environment proved regular. Some shotguns were also modified in-the-field with barrel extensions to help with accuracy. From 1941 to 1944 the US military procured 39,176 Model 1897 series shotguns though this was dwarfed by the 80,500 Model 1912s also purchased in that same span.
Shotguns eventually served in frontline, secondline, guard and state-side police duty during the conflict. Logistics limited its overall reach, particularly in that the shotgun required very specialized ammunition stores unlike machine guns and service rifles, several designs being utilized that could share a common cartridge. After the war, pre-war shotguns such as the Model 1897 began to see fewer numbers owing in large part to their expensive production and procurement costs. Over the decades, numbers dwindled naturally as US military forces simply worked through their existing stocks, replacing them with cheaper and more modern alternatives from Remington and Ithaca. Production of Model 1897s ended in 1957 and many went on to see extended combat service in the Korean and Vietnam Wars to follow.