The German infantry support mortar of WW2 is an extremely effective weapon, dreaded and revered by the Allies. Mortars are a classic indirect fire weapon at short ranges. The mortar is a valuable weapon for infantry units, akin to a personal artillery battery dedicated to a small infantry unit commander. Some German units went so far as to have a mortar assigned to every platoon. The mortar, as with the hand gun, was thoroughly embraced by the German Army as essential.
A mortar does not have to see the target to fire at it. Mortars can fire blind over hills, buildings, banks and rivers. So long as targets are pre-registered, the main advantage of the mortar is its ability to bring down rapid fire on multiple targets with minimum delay. And it operates under the most appalling conditions, be it night, oppressive fog of the Hartz Mountains, Russian winter snow, or in rain. But performance does suffer. Mortars fire rounds at slow speeds. So the angle of fire is high to achieve any range. For this reason a mortar round is in the air for a long period of time. Gusty wind can reduce accuracy dramatically with range. Rain or damp weather can also reduce range.
Mortars are man portable. It can be moved into and out of action quickly. The mortar has no recoil system so it is essential that the weapon is situated on firm ground, able to absorbed the recoil. Mortars work very well against infantry and light vehicles but against hardened targets like tanks and bunkers, their effectiveness is limited.
Mortar ammunition varies. The primary round of World War II is the high explosive fragmentation round. Lethality was up to 50 yards away from impact. Mortars were also effective for production of smokescreens and illumining rounds to provide light at night.
A mortar crew usually consists of at least three members. The gunner controls the deflection and elevation of the weapon. The assistant gunner loads the round at the command of the gunner. The ammunition man prepares and hands over ammunition to the assistant gunner.
The mortar was ‘born’ in World War One. Originally the mortar was built to arch a round accurately enough at a high angle to land inside narrow enemy trenches. Mortars did a magnificent job in the ‘War to end all Wars.’
After the Great War, all major armies embraced this new weapon. In the period of time between the World Wars, German weapons designers had a clean slate on which to design the next generation . The first released infantry mortars was the 5-cm leichte Granatwerfer 36 or leGrW 36 (light grenade-launcher model 1936). The date, 1936. This mortar was a failure. The weapon was overly complicated, under-powered and lacked range. In relation to its poor performance, the mortar was expensive to make. By 1941, the 36 was withdrawn from front-line service. Many found their way to the Italian Army.
The 8-cm schwere Granatwerfer 34 or 8-cm sGrW 34 (heavy grenade-launcher model 1934) earned a reputation in line with the fearsome 88 anti-aircraft gun and the Tiger Tank. Among allied front-line soldiers this mortar was dreaded for its accuracy and rate of fire. Captured 34s were eagerly employed against the Germans.
The design was straight forward. Its designer and manufacture Rheinmetall-Borsig produced a high-quality weapon. Yet the mortar’s reputation had little to do with innovation. Its high status was primarily the result of through training of German mortar crews . They were experts at their craft. German mortar crews always seemed to possess the ability to engage in and out of action rapidly. They paid careful attention to pre-registration and other fire control aids. The enterprising German mortar crews were able to bring fire down rapidly on their adversary.