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After a century of almost static development, recently the combat shotgun has evolved quickly, responding to the soldier's need for new capabilities that meet the challenges of 21st century warfare.

The first English colonists brought an armory of weapons, including the matchlock-ignited rifle and the blunderbuss. The rifle was used for long-range targets, the blunderbuss for short-range targets. The blunderbuss was the weapon of choice for close-range Indian attacks and shipboarding. This had the added advantage of using for ammunition whatever small, sharp objects could be crammed into the barrel on top of the black powder. Over time, the blunderbuss was replaced with single- and double-barreled English fowling pieces. During the Revolution, in the South, colonists faced with a shortage of muskets used the fowling piece as a close-quarters combat weapon. Within a century, the fowling piece was replaced by the shotgun. As settlers moved west, the musket was loaded with shot to hunt birds and small game and single balls to hunt large game.

The Civil War was fought with every conceivable firearm available. Muskets, carbines, numerous repeating rifle systems, and shotguns were all employed. The double-barreled shotgun had been developed by midcentury and, in an era of single shots and slow loading, was a major contributor in the conflict. The shotgun was used extensively in all theaters of the Civil War, but most prominently by the Confederate cavalry. They used it to skirmish with the Union cavalry at close range. The writings of Union cavalrymen contain indignant passages about horses and riders being shot with rocks, nails, and screws that were fired from the barrels of Confederate sawed-off shotguns.

By 1865, the Army had replaced percussion system weapons with centerfire cartridges similar to those in use today. The newly developed "trapdoor" Springfield rifle was also built in a shotgun configuration using its same Allin system (named for the armorer who developed it). Through the end of the 19th century, this shotgun was used by soldiers in the West to fight Indians, guard prisoners, and hunt game. By the the 1880s, the demand for a shotgun with more firepower (needed for market hunting) produced the first true combat shotgun--the Winchester[R] Model 1897 (known as the Model 97).

The rifle and machine-gun fire of the Allied and Central Powers forced men to seek the safety of trenches. Taking to these trenches also underscored the weaknesses of the long Springfield and Enfield rifles in trench fighting. The conventional bolt-action infantry rifle was too long and lacked the firepower needed to overcome the interlocking trenches and determined German defenders carrying machine guns. The Winchester Model 97 -- firing a modern 12-gauge shell -- with pump action; six-round magazine capacity; and short, 18-inch barrel was brought over by American military police and infantrymen and soon became known as the "trench sweeper." An infantryman breaking into a trench could sweep both sides of it (to the depth of a passageway) with multiple buckshot rounds. Once leaders understood the 50-meter range of this weapon, it was employed with skill. A soldier with a shotgun, fast to pump and fire, could quickly suppress German trench assaults and clear dugouts with devastating effectiveness. Out of the trenches, the Model 97 cleared Germans out of farmhouses and buildings in French villages with equal effectiveness. On 27 September 1918, Sergeant Fred Lloyd, using a Model 97, advanced alone into a German-held village and began methodically clearing it, pumping and firing the shotgun as he moved. He finally collapsed with exhaustion after routing thirty German soldiers. The combat shotgun had earned its place as an Army secondary weapon.

By the end of World War I, the Army had 19,600 Model 97s on hand. These were used by Military Police to guard prisoners and mail in the 1920s and 1930s. In this era civilian law enforcement agencies added birdshot to crowd-control ammunition inventory. Birdshot was seen as a less lethal alternative when fired over the heads of rioters, but often had tragic results. Civilian law enforcement agencies soon embraced the pump shotgun, and it can now be seen in almost every police cruiser.

At the outbreak of World War II, the Army was woefully short of the number of shotguns needed for jungle and house-to-house fighting. Shotguns were procured in great numbers and from multiple firearms manufacturers. As a result, there was no standard shotgun during the War [a situation that was not rectified for many decades thereafter]. The shotgun was the secondary weapon of choice in the jungles of New Guinea. In the European theater, it was widely used in the house-to-house fighting across France. The shotgun had one major deficiency: it forced the soldier to carry two weapons -- the rifle (for long-range shots) and the shotgun. This was roughly 18 pounds of weapons. The result was that usually one man in the squad was assigned to carry the shotgun, sacrificing the longer-range fire of the M-1 rifle.

With the formation of the Military Police Corps in 1943, the shotgun was used to guard prisoners and supply lines in the extended rear areas and lines of communication back to the continental United States. Its capabilities were ideal for the professional law enforcement missions taken on during the war.

During the post-World War II era, numerous attempts (over a fifty-year period) were made to develop a semiautomatic combat shotgun that was reliable under combat conditions and firing all varieties of ammunition. None proved to be entirely satisfactory, and the American infantryman and military policeman fought in Korea and Vietnam with pump-action shotguns that re-validated their effectiveness. In Vietnam, the pump-action combat shotgun was the weapon of choice for point men and dog handlers on combat patrols. Specially modified shotguns were developed to engage and neutralize the North Vietnamese guard force during the unsuccessful 1970 Son Tay raid that attempted to free American prisoners of war located deep inside North Vietnam.

The recent involvement of the Army in small-scale contingencies and stability and support operations brought the requirement for an effective combat shotgun into the forefront of small-arms development. Operations in Somalia demonstrated the need to address the dilemma of a soldier carrying a rifle and a shotgun, multiple types of ammunition, and the added burden of additional ballistic armor that is essential to survival in house-to-house fighting. The soldier also had to have a response to noncombatant crowds that might threaten lines of communication. To effectively fight in cities, the soldier was becoming overloaded with weapons.

By 1993, the combat shotgun had undergone little evolution since World War I and, in size and weight (8.5 pounds), still resembled the venerable Model 97. Additionally, technology had caught up to the requirements of civilian law enforcement with the development of effective, less lethal shotgun ammunition. The Army soon adopted a family of commercial off-the-shelf nonlethal (NL) munitions for the shotgun; it used rubber buckshot pellets (the M-1012) and fin-stabilized rubber bullets (the M-1013). These munitions were paired with the Mossberg[R] 500 (M-500) series shotgun associated with the Nonlethal Capability Set (NLCS) that was fielded in 1999. Both munitions and the M-500 proved to be highly effective in the hands of the military police who were encountering hostile crowds in Kosovo in February 2001.

The blunt trauma produced by these munitions was sufficient to produce the pain necessary to make the most ardent rioter leave the most organized mob. The high volume of fire produced by the shotgun also enabled the military police to effectively gain the initiative and rout the rioters who were threatening their freedom of movement. However, the age-old problem remained: lethal weapons were still required to overwatch the soldiers who were armed with the less lethal loaded shotguns. The best solution would be to combine lethal and NL capabilities into one highly effective weapon with exceptional target acquisition capability.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:48:18 ZULU