[Weapons 101] How does a Mortar work?


A modern mortar is a weapon that provides short-range indirect fire at high angles, usually between 45 and 80 degrees. The first modern mortar was the so called Stokes Mortar. It was developed during the First World War. Unlike traditional mortars, it was relatively small and mobile, which made it well-suited for trench warfare, because unlike unwieldy artillery, it could be used directly by the infantry units at the front line. Of course, mortar design evolved since the Stokes mortar… …but the basic principles are still the same. So, how does a modern mortar work? A Mortar is basically just a huge tube, which is closed on the bottom side and mounted on a base plate. At the bottom of the barrel, there is a fixed firing pin. If a mortar shell is dropped into the barrel and hits the pin, the propelling charge is ignited. Then, the explosion of the propelling charge creates a gas that pushes the mortar shell out of the tube. The Mortar Shell is sometimes also called “Bomb”. Its main components are the impact fuze at the top, which triggers the Exploder, followed by the HE filler in the body, the primary charge in the tail section, and usually augmenting charges on the tail. As you can see the propelling charge is made up of two components: The Primary Charge, and the Augmentation Charges. The first is inside the mortar round, whereas the augmentation charges are usually outside of the mortar shell… …and can be added and removed in order to reduce the power and thus the speed and range of the shell. The addition and removal of augmenting charges increases the flexibility in terms of range, since a mortar usually operates at angles of 45 to 80 degrees. To give some reference, for the British 81mm L16 mortar, the maximum range of just the primary charge is 520 m, whereas with 6 augmentation charges a max range of 4680 m can be achieved. Yet, the minimum range with all charges is 1700 m, whereas with just the primary charge it can be used as close as 180 m. One interesting aspect about a mortal shell are its tail fins. Originally they were cheap and added to provide some stability, but during the Second World War, it became obvious that these fins had a major influence on both accuracy and range. Thus, emphasis was given to create efficient and well-produced fins. Now, a short overview on the basic advantages and characteristics of a modern mortar. It is a cheap and easy to produce weapon that provides infantry with quick and immediate indirect fire, unlike artillery, which needs to called in from behind. Furthermore, due to the weight and size, light and medium mortars are portable. Thus, they are usually part of the infantry and not the artillery units, as you can clearly see in my video about the organization of an US Army Battalion, which organized light and medium mortars into different sub units. Thank you for watching! Please like, comment, share, and suscribe! And… …see you next time!

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