Mortar Weapon

A Mortar is a short piece of ordnance with a very wide bore, the width of which in early pieces equalled the length of the Mortar. It was formerly employed against forts during sieges owing to its power to develop high angle fire. Before the First World War Mortars were heavily constructed and unsuitable for fields work, but during that war more lightweight Mortars were introduced (the Stokes Mortar) which could provide a more accurate destructive fire at short range. These proved invaluable for destroying hostile machine-gun emplacements, snipers’ posts or any other structures on the front line which could not be destroyed by rifle fire. The main drawback was that these Mortars had to be sited well to the front to be effective, which meant that ammunition re-supply often proved extremely difficulty.

Second World War

In the Second World War they were expensively used as an infantry support weapon. Owing to their smooth bore and less complicated recoil system, Mortars could be more speedily and cheaply manufactured, than field guns, and were also well suited for transportation by air. In the German army, handicapped by its insufficient establishment of artillery, Mortars tended more and more during the War to replace the infantry support gun, particularly in airborne divisions.

Early in the War, British battalions received the 1940 model 2-in (51mm) Mortar, which was generally allocated on the scale of one per infantry Platoon, and could throw a bomb about the size of a hand-grenade to a range of about 500 yards. The Battalion would also have additional 2-in Mortars in the unit’s Carrier platoon (often one per section).

In addition British battalions included in their support company a Mortar platoon armed with the 3-in (76mm) Mortar (again often carried in Bren-carriers) which could throw its bomb to a range of between 1,600 to 2,800 yards. As pieces of this calibre could conveniently be broken down into loads for one pack animal, they were extensively used in mountain warfare. Their high trajectory permitted their used in wooded country where the problem of crest clearance could not be surmounted by light artillery at short range.

On the northern sectors of the Russian front, Mortars tended to replace the light field gun as the preferred close support weapon. As a result of experience by both sides in this theatre heavier models were developed, of which the Finnish Tampela (120mm) Mortars was one of the first. This and similar weapons up to 150mm had a round instead of a square baseplate, with detachable wheels, and could be towed like a field gun, but with the muzzle foremost.

Post World War II

Since 1945, Mortars have remained an important weapon in the arsenals of the world’s armed forces. Due to their relatively cheap cost and ease of transportation they have proved particularly popular with insurgents where the easily concealed Mortar can effectively be used in ‘Hit and Run’ attacks on larger and more technologically advanced opponents. During the Viet Nam War, for instance, the Communist Viet-Cong guerrillas regularly employed light Mortars to strike at American and ARVN bases.

List of Modern Mortars

France

  • Mortier LLR: 81mm Mortar
  • Mortier MO-120-RT-61: 120mm Mortar

United Kingdom

USA

USSR

  • M-1937 82mm Mortar
  • M-1943 120mm Mortar
  • M-160 160mm Mortar
  • M-240 240mm Mortar
  • M-107 Pack Mortar
Bibliography
: * Everymans’ Encyclopaedia * US Combat-America’s Land Based Weaponry * The British Army-A pocket guide 2002-2003 * The US War Machine * The Soviet War Machine

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