Ithaca Model 37, trench gun, riot gun, Ithaca, shotgun

Ithaca Model 37 Trench and Riot Gun

Though not nearly as famous as the Winchester Model 1897, Ithaca’s Model 37 served with distinction in multiple conflicts.

By Rick Hacker (RSS)
April 18, 2011

The United States Army had been using smoothbore shotguns since the Revolutionary War, although the formidable weapon didn’t come into its own until World War I with the introduction of the Winchester Model 1897 “trench sweeper,” a 12 gauge, 20-inch-barreled pump-action scattergun. The weapon was so devastating, the German government unsuccessfully petitioned to get it banned from combat.

The Model 1897 went on to fight in World War II, but by then guns and parts were wearing out and replacement armament was needed. One of the most unlikely—yet obvious—candidates to carry on the effectiveness of an open-choked, short-barreled shotgun for close-range military use was the Ithaca Model 37, which, sharing a link with the Model 97, was based on the Remington Model 17, both John M. Browning designs.


Up until this time, the Ithaca Gun Company, located in western New York, was known for finely crafted double-barreled sporting smoothbores and superb single-barreled competition shotguns. Founded in 1883 by William Henry Baker, this well-respected company had become a favorite of such luminaries as trick shooter Annie Oakley and John Philip Sousa. But in May 1937, Ithaca introduced the appropriately named Model 37—a single-barreled pump shotgun.

Patented by factory manager Harry E. Howland, and working with Ithaca designer Nestor Smith, the gun was ready in May 1932, but production was halted due to patent infringement. It seemed the hammerless new Ithaca repeater ran afoul of mechanisms used on the hammerless Remington Model 17 as well as the older, exposed-hammer Winchester 1897. Although the Model 17 was discontinued in 1933, the patents did not expire until four
years later.

Ithaca Model 37, Model 37, Vietnam, shotgun, Model 37 in Vietnam

The Ithaca Model 37 served in a variety of wars, including World War II. Here it's seen in the hands of a G.I. in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

The Model 37 was a much more efficient design than the Remington 17, although both shared the dual bottom loading- and ejection-port feature. But, the Ithaca was lighter and used fewer parts. Its short-stroke pump was faster, a reversible cross-bolt safety made the gun adaptable for southpaws and unlike the Model 17, the Model 37 was brought out in 12 gauge. A 16-gauge version was introduced in 1938 and a 20 gauge came a year later. Although Ithaca’s commercial firearms production was halted by World War II, it was the Model 37 that brought Ithaca into the government’s arsenal.

By 1940, with war raging in Europe but the U.S. remaining out of the fracas, the Ordnance Department nonetheless realized the need to shore up its lagging supply of combat shotguns. At that time, the Ithaca Model 37 was one of only six commercially produced smoothbores deemed suitable. As a result, an initial order for 1,420 Ithaca Model 37 trench guns—with factory-fitted 20-inch, open-choked barrels, ventilated steel heat guards, lugs for the M1917 bayonet, sling swivels and without the standard Model 37’s takedown feature—was placed in November 1941. One month later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Rather than being Parkerized, these six-shot, World War II-era Model 37s sported finely blued steel and were stamped with a U.S. Ordnance bomb on the left side of the receiver, along with the “RLB” initials of inspector Lt. Col. Roy L. Bowlin, Chief of the Rochester Ordnance District. Although these Ithaca wartime guns were catalogued as “Riot Guns,” according to “U.S. Infantry Weapons of World War II,” by Bruce Canfield, “By the time of World War II, the trench guns were officially designated as ‘Shotgun, Riot Type, with Bayonet Attachment and Hand Guard.’” However, as the Model 37’s combat role continued, a number of smooth-barreled riot guns—sporting 18-inch barrels without trench-gun fittings—were also drummed into service.

Aside from some clearing operations, the open battlefields of the European theater were not conducive to the close-range limitations of the Model 37. But it was different story in the Pacific, where jungle fighting soon put these scatterguns in demand. Plus, a number of were issued for guard duty on military bases. Nonetheless, Ithaca’s Model 37 World War II trench gun tenure was relatively short-lived. After completing its initial contract order of 1,420 units, the company turned its manufacturing capabilities to the M1911A1, making its World War II trench guns an extremely rare collectible today.

The Model 37 trench and riot guns came into their own when called back into action during the Vietnam War. The effectiveness of these six-shot, hand-held firestorms was heightened by the fact that the Model 37 did not have a trigger detent. Thus, by holding the trigger back, the gun could be slam-fired as fast as a “boonierat” could work the pump. The first volley of shots cleared out the brush, vines and spider holes, while the rest of the magazine eradicated whatever—or whoever—was left.

No wonder Model 37 trench guns were issued to the infantry squad’s point man. It was also a favorite weapon for detonating land and water mines, and was frequently carried by the bow sentry aboard watercraft. They were adapted for the same M7 bayonet as the M16, and some guns issued to the Special Forces were stamped USSF on the receiver. A few were even outfitted with shot spreaders that widened their patterns horizontally. Approximately 22,500 Parkerized Model 37 trench guns were produced during the Vietnam era. These guns were stamped “U.S.” on the right side of the receiver along with a “P” proofmark on the barrel and receiver. Many were rebuilt after Vietnam.

In 1987 Ithaca Acquisition Corp brought back the Model 37 as the Model 87, and in late 1996, Ithaca Gun Company resumed manufacture of Model 37. Today, the Ithaca 37 exists in a number of guises, but the glory of the Model 37 trench and riot guns lives on in the revamped Model 37 Defender. Thus, the gun that first served in World War II is still making a mark on the law enforcement and home-defense front today.

Tags: , , , , ,


23 Responses to Ithaca Model 37 Trench and Riot Gun

  1. Butch Mckie says:

    Some “EXPERTS” declare that the m37 WWII guns began with a serial # in the 5x,xxx range. This is NOT true commercial production stopped in Feb. ’42 and a few guns were converted, stamped & shipped to Uncle Sam before the specific contract production began in August of ’42. This are engraved in the usual Ithaca style,and had the parkerized bayonet/heat shields attachment. A few were sold by the CMP in the early 60′s. These are the truly rare guns.

    • glenn thompson says:

      . ithaca 37 serial no. 64xxx. lots of these came to aust. in 1995 and lots destroyed in 1996 by aust. gov. so i have read. this example is 1943 going by ithaca serial no. records. no engraving. no bayonet/heat shield. 20 inch barrel. sling swivels factory fitted. barrel and receiver are both marked S162XX and marked ‘P’. receiver has serial no.64XXX on right back. U.S is stamped on right front. is this a rare 37.any help would be great.

      • Marzio says:

        Dear Glenn, I have one of these shotgun, in the same ’43 s/n range. I’ve been told these guns were part of military aid to the south Vietnamese army, thus the second set of s/n present in both barrel and frame, within the 22.000 range. No much more infos are available about these M37′s, teoretically the ones with factory sling swivels should be Vietnamese issue, while thise without US army issue, but i’ve seen several period pics showing US personnel bearing the sling swivel version.

  2. Pingback: Best 3 Gun Combination - Page 3 - Stormfront

  3. funlover says:

    I thought the winchester scatter guns used in ww1 were the model 12.

  4. Pingback: Ithaca Model 37 Defense | Shooting Illustrated

  5. Jeff says:

    I have a model 37 riot gun with serial # 61317. I’m looking for as much info as possible on this weapon. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks jeff

  6. ohiotrooper says:

    I (we) carried an Ithaca M37 20″ in SE Asia for the better part of 3 tours. We were allowed to “test” or evaluate Flechette shotgun rounds vs. 00 Buckshot. After my USMC days, I spent 35years in civilian LE, where again, I had an Ithaca upfront with me. I NEVER had a failure to feed or fire. My Dad gave me a “Sweet-Sixteen” 28″ Mod., that he bought in 1947, when he came home from WWII. I still use it for small game….And have a “newer” M37 Home Defence…loaded with Flechette rounds.

  7. itelecom says:

    Military Firearms: Ithaca Model 37 Combat Shotgun

    Vietnam SEALs in LSSC (Light SEAL Support Craft), Ithaca 37 at left.
    The Ithaca Model 37 shotgun came into U.S. service during World War II, but in limited quantities since Ithaca was focused on production of the M1911A1 .45 cal. automatic pistol. It was the Vietnam War that made the Ithica 37 an important combat shotgun. At that time, available stocks of older shotguns were depleted and new sources were needed. Approximately 25,000 of the plain riot gun version of the Ithaca 37 were ordered by DoD based on proven reliability and available production capacity.
    Use of the Ithaca Model 37 in Vietnam

    Capt. Robert Kermen, USNR, Brown Water Navy in Vietnam, with Ithaca 37 used to destroy mines.
    The Ithaca Model 37 combat shotguns used in Viet Nam were riot guns with 18-inch barrels or trench guns with 20-inch barrels, with wood stocks and forearms and parkerized metal parts. The point man of a SEAL team or the bow sentry of other craft would carry an Ithaca 37. It had plenty of firepower in a small package, with a disconnector mode that allowed one trigger pull to discharge a full magazine as fast as the forearm can be cycled.
    Description of the Ithaca Model 37 Shotgun
    The Ithaca Model 37 shotgun was introduced in 1937, based on a design originally patented by John M. Browning in 1915, with both loading and ejection through the same bottom port. The Model 37 is known for its light weight and easy handling by left and right handed shooters.
    A cross-bolt, push button type manual safety is located at the back end of the trigger guard. The forearm latch (bolt release) is at the right front of the trigger guard.
    The trench gun model had a ventilated heat shield over the barrel and an adapter for the M1917 bayonet or, later, the M7 bayonet used with the M16 series rifles. Swivels for attachment of standard military web slings are provided.

  8. itelecom says:

    # 774 – US Military Ithaca Model 37 Shotguns
    Troy, Flagstaff, AZ, USA
    Maker Model Caliber Barrel Length Finish Serial Number
    Ithaca Model 37 12 Gauge Shotgun Approx. 30 Inches Unknown 45XXX

    I understand the Ithaca Mod 37 was used by US forces in WW2. I am curious if the old model 37

    have might be one of them, or how I might be able to find out if it is.

    Troy, when the Ithaca Model 37 was standardized on August 7, 1941, it was envisioned that
    the company would turn out large numbers of the weapons in the event of war. After Pearl Harbor,
    Ithaca was given several contracts for the production of military shotguns, but after the
    delivery of 12,433 shotguns, it was decided that Ithaca should concentrate on increasing
    its production of the M1911A1 .45 pistol and the production of shotguns was halted. Ithaca
    delivered three types of model 37 shotguns to the military during WWII, trench guns, riot guns and training guns.

    Ithaca Model 37 trench guns manufactured under government contract during WWII were fitted
    with ventilated metal handguard/bayonet adapter assemblies. The Ithaca handguard had six rows
    of ventilation holes. The WWII Model 37 Ithaca trench gun was finished in commercial grade blue,
    including the handguard/adapter assembly and had standard sling swivels. The stock was plain and
    unadorned and was not stamped with an inspector’s cartouche. The forend had parallel grasping grooves.
    The only martial markings observed on the trench guns were “RLB” stamped on the left side of the receiver
    next to a small Ordnance Department flaming bomb and a small “p” proof mark on the left side of the barrel.
    The “RLB” initials were those of inspector Lt. Col. Roy L. Bowlin, Chief of the Rochester Ordnance District.
    Observed trench gun serial numbers range from: #61038 to #61856. All known original WWII Model 37
    trench guns have the “RLB” marking on the left side of the receiver.

    Ithaca delivered a number of riot gun versions of its Model 37 to the government during WWII. Most
    of the WWII M37 riot guns were converted from commercial shotguns and will have such features as
    checkered wood and finely blued metal. Riot gun martial markings varied somewhat and many of the
    early riot guns did not have the “RLB” marking found on the M37 trench guns. A few of the later
    riot guns were essentially identical to the WWII Model 37 trench guns except for the ventilated
    metal handguard/bayonet adapter and sling swivels. Some Model 37 riot guns underwent arsenal
    rebuilding during and after WWII. There were large numbers of Ithaca Model37 riot guns manufactured
    after the Second World War. Most of them were for police and civilian use but some were made under
    government contract for use in Vietnam.

    There were a number of skeet/trap type Model 37 shotguns delivered during WWII for training purposes.
    Some of these guns were standard civilian production guns with no modifications except government ownership markings.
    Training shot gun barrel lengths were 28″ and 30″. John tells me that most serial numbers of the
    examples of these that he has seen are in the 51,000 range. There is a “U.S.” under the “R.L.B./ordnance bomb”
    on some of these.

    If your Model 37 does not have any government markings it is unlikely that it is US Military issue… Marc

  9. cody smith says:

    I have one of these shotguns in the 30 inch barrel and it has all the military markings serial # 51353. I have no use for it so if you want it let me know. My grandfather used this in WW 2 and brought it home with him.

  10. Seb308 says:

    I just received an Ithaca 37 #S17701. It shows stamped US on the right side of the receiver, a P both on the barrel and reveiver.
    Can you tell me more about it?

  11. Jason says:

    I was given an Ithaca 37 from my Dad when I was about 8. After looking at the post I have found out I have on of the WWII ones that has a serial number 613**. It has the RLB and flaming ball along with the P on the barrel. I have one question the ventilated metal handguard doesn’t have the lugs for a bayonet but it does appear to be broken or modded. Is that normal? It also is missing the sling hook on the stock, but its a basic stock no graphics on the stock and the rubber cushion is also factory. Any Idea its worth?

  12. Roy says:

    The afore mentioned U.S. stamped M-37 with the 30″ barrel would have been used for anti aircraft training. Usually from the bed of a moving truck shooting at thrown targets.

  13. Lee says:

    I have what appears to be an Ithaca model 37 trench gun serial # 6204X. It’s been in the family for 3 generations. I would like to know if it is a WWII model 37. It is blued, 20″ barrel, matching serials on the barrel and receiver. The stock is plain and
    unadorned and is not stamped with an inspector’s cartouche. The forend has parallel grasping grooves. The only martial markings are “RLB” stamped on the left side of the receiver next to a small Ordnance Department flaming bomb and a small “p” proof mark on the left side of the barrel. The article mentions the WWII serial numbers didn’t go beyond 61XXX yet this site’s serial number chart lists the weapon as being made in 1942 (WWII). Can someone let me know definitively if this is one of the rare WWII models?

  14. Kilroy says:

    The grass hut GI is carrying a military produced Savage 77E not a Ithaca 37

    • Kilroy says:

      *correction……. a Stevens 77E

      • fled says:

        The stevens 77′s turned out to be unsuitable as a combat arm as the reciever extension housing the trigger group and safety would stress and cause the stock to break off with heavy use.

  15. Dusty says:

    Ithaca Model 37- 1973 Vietnam Era 18″ Riot: Does anyone know where I can find the front sling swivel- I assume a factory item– The front barrel frame (where the mag tube and barrel are assembled ) has a threaded hole on the down side of itm perendicular to the barrel–just in front of the pump grip. The stock has a swivel screwed into the wood. I would just like to put it back to original or close.

  16. Kilroy says:

    Uncle Mikes brand swivels package them as a part of a complete kit or…

    Ebay has a few listing for the posts only

  17. Gunner 162 says:

    I went to Vietnam in 1966 and bought a Model 37 Deerslayer at the Sigon PX a month later. My CO authorized me to use it and carry it in my chopper in case we went down. I carried the gun for 13 months in Nam, 6 more in Korea and brought it home with me and still have it and have used it for over 40 years in Law Enforcement Added a Surefire light, Choate youth stock and side saddle to it It gets a lot of grins and looks at firearms classes but it stays with all those fancy Remingtons and Mossbergs It might be old and not pretty anymore but it still gets the job done

  18. Gunner 162 says:

    I forgot to mention that the deerslayer had a 20″ barrel with a modified choke It looked exactly like the 37s carried by our security except it had engraving on the fame and theirs didn’t. For some reason shells were easy to come by I had to unass the chopper twice and it went with me along with an unauthorized tanker 14. By the time I left Nam our CO had managed to find a bunch of 37s for any gunner that wanted one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>