A video on combat shotgun training with information on gun safety, ammunition, and more.
A combat shotgun is a shotgun that is intended for use in an offensive role, typically by a military force. The earliest shotguns specifically designed for combat were the trench guns or trench shotguns issued in World War I. While limited in range, the multiple projectiles typically used in a shotgun shell provide increased hit probability unmatched by other small arms.
While the sporting shotgun traces its ancestry back to the fowling piece, which was a refinement of the smoothbore musket, the combat shotgun bears more kinship to the shorter blunderbuss. Invented in the 16th century by the Dutch, the blunderbuss was used through the 18th century in warfare by British, Austrian, and Prussian regiments, as well as in the American colonies. As use of the blunderbuss declined, the United States military began to load “buck and ball”. Buck and ball was used extensively by Americans at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814 and was partially responsible for the disparate casualty rates between American and British forces. Many of the British wounded recovered quickly as they had been struck by the buckshot rather than the ball. Buck and ball had a greater chance of hitting the enemy but did not cause as severe wounds at longer ranges. Fowling pieces were commonly used by militias, for example during the Texas Revolution. However buck and ball worked as well or better in standard or even rifled muskets. Buck and ball loads were used by both sides of the American Civil War, often by cavalry units.
The development of the repeating pump action shotguns in the 1890s led to their use by US Marines in the Philippines insurrections and by General “Black Jack” Pershing’s pursuit of Pancho Villa, and “riot” shotguns quickly gained favor with civilian police units, but the modern concept of the combat shotgun was fully developed by the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. The trench gun, as it was called, was a short-barreled pump action shotgun loaded with 6 rounds containing antimony hardened 00 buckshot, and equipped with a bayonet. The M1897 and M1912 also could be slam fired: the weapon having no trigger disconnector, shells could be fired one after the other simply by working the slide if the trigger was held down. When fighting within a trench, the shorter shotgun could be rapidly turned and fired in both directions along the trench axis. The shotguns proved effective enough at short combat ranges to elicit a diplomatic protest from the German government, claiming the shotguns caused excessive injury, and that any troops found in possession of them would be subject to execution. The US Government rejected the claims, and threatened reprisals in kind if any US troops were executed for possession of a shotgun.
The shotgun was used by Allied forces and Allied supported partisans in all theaters of combat in World War II, and both pump and semi-automatic shotguns are currently issued to all branches of the US military; they have also been used in subsequent conflicts by French, British, Australian, and New Zealand forces, as well as many guerrillas and insurgents throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Latin and South America, and Southeast Asia.
Gen Douglas MacArthur attempted to restrict the use of shotgun even though the shotgun had proven its worth amongst the Marines in the Pacific war during close combat in trench and jungle fighting. General Alexander Patch was seen being armed with a Winchester shotgun when he personally led an attack in Guadalcanal.
In the jungle warfare during the Malayan Emergency, the British Army and local forces of Malaysia used shotguns to great effect due to limited space in the jungles and frequent close combat. In the Vietnam War, the shotgun was used as an individual weapon in the American army during jungle patrol and urban warfare like the Tet Offensive.
In current operations in post-invasion Iraq, the US forces are using their official combat shotguns to clear out suspected insurgent hideouts in house to house fighting. One notable experimental shotgun used in limited numbers during Operation Enduring Freedom is the XM26 for breaching doors or close-quarter battle (CQB).
The most common type of shotgun used for this purpose is the manually operated, slide-action/pump-action type, because it is less prone to malfunction (particularly when dirty) than semi-automatic designs. Pump-action shotguns are also less expensive than their semi-automatic counterparts. Even so, semi-automatic shotguns such as the SPAS-12 and Benelli M1014 are currently seeing service in NATO-aligned armed forces. The Mossberg 590A1 is currently the pump-action of choice for US armed forces and has seen service with other militaries.
Combat shotguns typically have much shorter barrels than shotguns for hunting and usually, though not always, have magazines of modified design to hold more than the 3 to 5 shots normal with sporting or hunting shotguns. Most combat shotguns have tubular magazines to hold the cartridges, mounted underneath the barrel, identical to those of hunting shotguns except for being longer to hold more ammunition, though some recent designs have detachable box magazines.
Combat shotguns for military use are mostly similar to the police riot shotgun; but the military versions may have provisions to mount a bayonet and may be fitted with ventilated steel or plastic hand guards over the barrel to reduce the danger of a soldier burning his hand on the hot barrel during rapid fire. Riot shotguns are also more likely to trade off the increased magazine capacity for the decreased size that entails.
The combat shotgun has evolved from its original role as a short range combat weapon into a wider role in modern times. With proper configuration, ammunition and training, the modern combat shotgun plays three roles:
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Effective range of the shotgun with standard buckshot is limited to about 30–40 meters with a full stock (depending on the sights on the gun), and 10 when equipped only with a pistol grip due to the difficulty in accurately aiming without a full stock. Slug rounds, if available, can extend the effective range of the shotgun to 100 meters, although this is also dependent on the shotgun’s sighting system.