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MilSurp: U.S. Military Remington 870 Shotguns

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The Remington 870 saw use with the US military in the Vietnam and post-Vietnam eras. An M870 Riot Gun is shown in use here with a U.S. Navy SEAL.

The Remington 870 saw use with the U.S. military in the Vietnam and post-Vietnam eras. An M870 Riot Gun is shown in use here with a U.S. Navy SEAL. U.S. Navy image.

To learn more, visit http://gunandswordcollector.com/Templates/book%20pages/canfield_combat_2.html.

To purchase a Remington 870 on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=remington%20870.

uscombatshotgunsEditor’s Note: This piece was written by Bruce N. Canfield, author of the book Complete Guide to U.S. Military Combat Shotguns. If you would like to explore this subject in greater detail, you can obtain a copy of the book from Mowbray Publishing, 54 East School St., Woonsocket, RI 02895. The price is $49.99 plus $4.50 domestic shipping.

The Remington Arms Company had been a supplier of shotguns to the United States military since before the First World War. The Model 10 and Model 31 slide-action shotguns and Model 11 autoloader were part of America’s military small arms during both World Wars. The Model 870 (M870) so familiar to shooters today has also played an important role with the United States military.

The M870 utilized a breechblock that securely locked into a hardened steel barrel extension and featured dual action bars for smoother and more reliable operation. The gun had a conventional side-ejection, bottom-loading design with an under-barrel tubular magazine. The M870 has been in continuous production since 1950 with a wide array of options and configurations.

When the Model 870 was introduced, the United States military was not in the market for new shotguns, thus little interest was shown at that point in the weapon despite its outstanding characteristics. From the time of the M870’s introduction until the mid-1960s, there was no widespread acquisition of these shotguns by the military with the exception of the approximately 38,500 riot guns sent to the South Vietnamese government in the early 1960s. Even when new Savage M77E and Ithaca Model 37 shotguns were being manufactured under government contract for the U.S. military, there was no known large-scale procurement of 870 shotguns from Remington. This situation changed in the late 1960s.

Remington Model 870 Mark 1

In the late 1960s, the U.S. Marine Corps was seeking a new combat shotgun to replace the WWII vintage guns that made up the bulk of its weapons of this type. As stated in The World’s Fighting Shotguns:

Shown here is the the 870 Mk.1 with an M7 bayonet attached. Note the extended magazine tube and bayonet adapter. Images courtesy of the author.

Shown here is the the 870 Mark 1 with an M7 bayonet attached. Note the extended magazine tube and bayonet adapter. Images courtesy of the author.

“What the Marine Corps wanted was an advanced fighting shotgun capable of effectively filling all those military roles in which shotguns proved to be desirable.”

In 1969, a special version of the Model 870 was developed for the U.S. Marine Corps that was standardized in the Spring of 1969 as the “Model 870, Mark 1.” Remington received a production contract for a total of 3,230 M870 Mark 1 shotguns on May 13, 1969.

The Mark 1 was essentially a standard Remington M870 “Wingmaster” slide-action shotgun with a 21-inch barrel fitted with a bayonet adapter (for the M7 bayonet as used with the M16 rifle), rifle sights, an extended magazine tube with an eight-round capacity (seven in the magazine and one in the chamber) and sling swivels. The Mark 1 had a parkerized finish (termed “Parco Lubrite” in the government contract) and an oil-finished stock with beavertail fore-end. The Mark 1 was unmistakably a military combat shotgun with a functional, serious, “no-nonsense” appearance. As stated in The World’s Fighting Shotguns:

“The Model 870 Mark 1…complete with all its accessories, appeared very striking and businesslike. When the bayonet was attached, it appeared very fierce, indeed, and would instantly capture the attention of anyone facing it. Marines familiar with the gun often referred to it as a beautiful weapon. From the point of view of a fighting man it was beautiful.”

The United States Marine Corps adopted the Mark 1 variant of the tried-and-true Model 870 Remington.

The United States Marine Corps adopted the Mark 1 variant of the tried-and-true Model 870 Remington.

Prototypes of the weapon had a sheet metal ventilated handguard, but the production version dispensed with this feature. The utilization of the M7 bayonet was the first instance where a bayonet other than the Model 1917 rifle bayonet was standardized for a U.S. military shotgun. The fact that the M7 bayonet was in production and large numbers were “in the system” for issue with the M16 rifle simplified logistics. The M7 bayonet was also unquestionably handier and less unwieldy than the M1917 bayonet. The use of rifle sights on the Mark 1 was an unusual feature for a military shotgun but had the advantage of permitting better accuracy when firing slugs. Any advantage of rifle sights when firing buckshot or similar ammunition was probably more theoretical than real. In any event, with the bayonet adapter, extended magazine and rifle sights, the M870 Mark 1 was an impressive combat weapon.

Delivery of the Mark 1 to the Marines was scheduled for September 1969. Although few of these weapons were likely used to any large extent in combat during the Vietnam War, they were immediately popular with the Marines.

The U.S. Navy employed the Riot Gun variant of the Remington Model 870 where it saw use in Vietnam. U.S. Navy image.

The U.S. military also employed the Riot Gun variant of the Remington Model 870, where it saw use in Vietnam and beyond. U.S. military image.

The first significant combat use of the Mark 1 shotgun was reported to have occurred in May 1975 during the Mayaguez crisis when an American ship was captured in international waters by hostile Cambodian forces. U.S. Marines eventually recaptured the ship and participated in combat operations against the Cambodian perpetrators on a nearby island. The M870 Mark 1 reportedly played a large role in these engagements, and the weapon quickly gained a reputation as a reliable and effective combat shotgun. A few Mark 1 shotguns were later fitted with Remington folding metal stocks, but most retained the standard wood stock.

The Mark 1 remained an important part of the U.S. Marine Corps’ small arms inventory into the first decade of the 21st century and saw combat use in numerous operations around the globe, including the Persian Gulf. None are known to have been released for public sale, and genuine examples are very rarely seen on the collector market.

M870 Military Riot Gun

In addition to the special Mark 1 variant, a number of Model 870 shotguns were procured by all branches of the service, especially the United States Navy. Most of these were standard M870 plain barrel riot (typically 18-inch to 20-inch barrels). Most such guns purchased by the government had factory parkerized finishes, but a surprising number had standard commercial blued finishes. Most of these guns were purchased in the early to mid-1970s, several years after the Mark 1 contract was completed.

Some M870 Riot Guns employed by the US military featured extended magazine tubes and bayonet adapters, as with this example.

Some M870 Riot Guns employed by the U.S. military featured extended magazine tubes and bayonet adapters, as with this example.

Some of the Model 870 riot guns were fitted with sling swivels, and an extended magazine tube/ bayonet adapter kit that was developed by Remington. Such guns resembled the USMC contract Mark 1 but had shorter barrels and were not fitted with rifle sights. Remington made both parkerized and blued extended magazine/bayonet adapter kits that were also sold to the law enforcement and civilian arms markets. Conversion of existing riot guns was accomplished by simply screwing on the magazine tube extension and clamping on the bayonet adapter, which was secured by three screws. It is reported that the U.S. Air Force as well as the U.S. Navy utilized these conversion kits on some of their M870 riot guns.

Model 870 riot guns were popular with U.S. Navy “SEALS” as well as a number of other units. After Vietnam, the weapons were used for various duties, including the protection of American embassies around the world. Some of these shotguns were also fitted with folding stocks and a few had their barrels cut back to as short as 14 inches to make them handier for use in confined spaces such as embassy guard houses and the arms racks of Navy warships (including submarines). Some Model 870 shotguns are still in use today by the U.S. military.

uscombatshotgunsAlthough the weapons only saw limited action in Vietnam, the Remington Mark 1 and M870 riot guns were among the best of the U.S. combat shotguns of the era.

Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Bruce N. Canfield, author of the book Complete Guide to U.S. Military Combat Shotguns. If you would like to explore this subject in greater detail, you can obtain a copy of the book from Mowbray Publishing, 54 East School St., Woonsocket, RI 02895. The price is $49.99 plus $4.50 domestic shipping.

To learn more, visit http://gunandswordcollector.com/Templates/book%20pages/canfield_combat_2.html.

To purchase a Remington 870 on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=remington%20870.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • ejharb October 30, 2016, 9:57 am

    But now they are selling them because they bought mossberg 590s.
    And that is,,,,,,,the rest of the story

  • Rem870 October 16, 2016, 6:57 am

    I am fan of the 870. It is one of the best pump-action shotguns you can get. Remington 870 Mk1 looks awesome. It is a pity that you can no longer buy that barrel/mag tube clamp. That clamp looks rock solid.

  • Jim Crowley October 11, 2016, 12:07 pm

    The M870 was still being issued to USCG boarding teams in 1981 when I enlisted. It had the rifle sights but the bayonet mount was gone. Some had slings, some didn’t. I suspect that these were USN castoffs. If I recall correctly the changeover to the Mossberg 500 started in 1984/85. I bought a Mossberg because at the time the M870 wasn’t readily available outside the Federal Stock System, while a 500 with an 18.5 inch barrel AND a 24 inch modified choke barrel would set you back $125 at “finer stores everywhere”.
    I always preferred the fit and finish of the Remington. The Parkerizing was tremendously durable, even in a salt water environment. The action stayed nice and tight, while on the Mossberg some part of the bolt carrier would sometimes slap back and forth while you were moving. It didn’t affect the operation of the piece, it was just annoying and seemed a little “shoddy” for a military weapon. Okay, I talked myself into it, I’m going on GA to buy one!

  • Joe H October 10, 2016, 7:24 am

    M870s old stock were replaced in the security forces career field by the new modular M870. Several hundred of those older and tired 870s that were turned into depot were they were reallocated by USAF Civil Engineering units for pest and BASH management in a variance of deployment environments. The SFS armorers refitted those old wood stocks with fiberglass and new 28″ Barrels. Second life of those great Guns strive on….

  • Veteran Gunsmith at large October 10, 2016, 4:32 am

    I’ve been working on and with the Remington 870 since 1973 – as a US Army armorer, and later as a civilian gunsmith. The only thing that seems to cause problems for these guns is wear and tear – and I mean extreme wear and tear. You really have to use one of these guns to break anything on it – or should I say abuse… The parts inside the action/receiver simply do not break, unlike other shotguns, and that is the secret of their success. Remington makes these to last a couple of lifetimes, to the point of being over-built, and for a gun that is as reasonably priced in the police and military magnum riot gun configuration, that isn’t a bad thing. You see, if you are going to have to rely on a weapon to work every time, and keep doing it for years and years with very little maintenance besides cleaning, the Remington 870 is in a class by itself. Sure, it’s been replaced by the Benelli and Mossberg guns, but I would bet you that the Mossberg will last half as long as the 870, and the Benelli maybe half of that in the severe conditions that the military puts their shotguns to.

    In Vietnam we had an M79 and an 870 for getting rid of snipers at close range, and the 870 did a good job with 00 buck inside of 20-30 yards. We’d have them deployed in the field that way, with the M-79 taking on targets from 40 to 100 yards – if you got 100 yards to shoot in – which was rare anywhere but the central highlands. The M-79 was a particular nasty weapon because of the different rounds you could use – frag/HE, buckshot, and the ever popular flechettes. We never had any slugs issued for the shotgunner, apparently because the quartermaster deemed them unnecessary in view of the M-79’s range and flexibility. The 870 was great for firepower and a good gunner could empty it downrange to provide suppressive fire in seconds.

    I own an 870 Police Magnum with an 18 inch smoothbore cylinder barrel, and a rifled slug barrel for deer hunting. I’ve owned it for more than 20 years and I expect someone in my family will be handing it down to their grandchildren for at least a couple of generations to come. It’s all steel, and it’s tough as hell. Not only can it dish out the punishment, but it can take it too.

    But maybe I’m a bit prejudiced… for good reason.

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