Compact, accurate and deadly, mortars remain an important weapon for soldiers around the world.
Design and Purpose
Mortars fire shells over short ranges using an arcing trajectory. A typical mortar is comprised of a long tube that soldiers drop an explosive shell into. A firing pin at the bottom of the tube detonates on contact with the shell and fires the shell at enemy targets. The firing tube is usually set between a 45 and 85 degree angle, which results in the shell traveling up and across a short distance towards an enemy position.
Compact, light weight, and easily transported, mortars are ideal for use by infantry units. The weapon provides infantry soldiers with explosive firepower from a trench or enclosed area. Mortars are often used in situations where artillery support is not available or practical. Mortar shells can range in size from 60 millimeters (small) to 120 millimeters (large). They are mostly used for short-range attacks. Mortars are not able to fire explosive shells over long distances.
History and Popularity
Mortars have existed for more than 200 years. Early versions of the weapon were large cast iron bowls that could not be transported. The name mortar comes from the "mortar" that is used in kitchens and pharmacies to grind up food and medications. Mortars became popular in trench warfare because they fired at a high, arcing trajectory. This meant that mortars seldom landed back in the trench where they were launched.
Over the years, mortars became increasingly light weight, compact and transportable. Additionally, the weapon’s accuracy and explosive impact increased. Today, mortars are frequently used in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. forces, as well as enemy combatants. Terrorist organizations often use makeshift mortars against better equipped militaries.
The Biggest Mortars
The biggest mortar ever recorded was the "monster mortar" developed by the French military in the 19th Century. This mortar measured 975 millimeters. The U.S. military developed a giant mortar for use in World War Two. Named "Little David," the mortar measured 910 millimeters. However, the Little David mortar was never used by the U.S. military in combat as it did not make it past the development stage.