U.S. Army Spc. Patrick Kirby

9 Reasons Mortarmen Are So Deadly

Mortars used to be considered artillery weapons because they lob hot metal shells, sometimes filled with explosives, down on the enemy’s heads.

Mortars used to be considered artillery weapons because they lob hot metal shells, sometimes filled with explosives, down on the enemy’s heads.

But the mortar migrated to the infantry branch, and the frontline soldiers who crew the weapon maneuver into close ranges with the enemy and then rain hell down upon them. Here’s what makes the mortarman so lethal:

1. Mortarmen can emplace their system and fire it quickly

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Ryan R. Ball, mortarman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, loads a M224 mortar while conducting final protective fires during the mechanized assault course in Twentynine Palms, Calif., Oct. 25, 2016. Bravo Company is participating in Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 1-17 and preparing to support Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Sarah N. Petrock, 2d MARDIV Combat Camera)

Mortars are basically a tube, a site, and a baseplate, so they can be assembled at the front and placed into operation quickly. In some situations, the tube can even be sighted by hand and fired without the baseplate, though both of these things reduce the accuracy. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Sarah N. Petrock)

2. Mortars can maintain a relatively high rate of fire

U.S. Army mortar teams with Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, fire the M120 Battalion Mortar System at Aibano Training Area, Japan, Sept. 13, 2016 as part of Orient Shield 2016. Orient Shield is an annual bilateral training exercise held in Japan. (U.S. Photo by Spc. Patrick Kirby/released)

Because mortar rounds move at a lower rate than howitzer rounds, they require less propellant and generate less heat. This allows them to be fired more quickly. For instance, the M120 120mm mortar system can fire 16 rounds in its first minute and can sustain four rounds per minute. The M1911 howitzer can fire 12 rounds in two minutes and sustain three rounds per minute. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Patrick Kirby)

3. The mortar crew is located near the front, so it can observe and direct its own fire

Spc. Scott Davis, mortarman with 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, adjusts the sights of an M252A1 mortar system, November 7, 2016 at Fort Stewart, Ga. Mortarmen and artillerymen supported forward observers during a forward support coordination exercise hosted by 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd IBCT. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Petke/released)

Mortars generally maneuver forward with the other infantrymen, meaning that they can see where their targets are and where they land. If necessary, the mortar can still fire from out of sight if a forward observer or other soldier provides targeting adjustments. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Joshua Petke)

4. Mortars are often in direct communication with battlefield leaders, allowing them to quickly react to changes in the combat situation

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kenjarvis Chavous, right, mortarman with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division relays the order during urban operations in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructor course (WTI)1-17 at WISS Airfield, Ariz., Oct. 5, 2016. The urban operations were part of Weapons and Tactics Instructor course (WTI) 1-17 , a seven-week training event, hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) cadre, which emphasizes operational integration of the six functions of Marine Corps aviation in support of a Marine Air Ground Task Force. MAWTS-1 provides standardized advanced tactical training and certification of unit instructor qualifications to support Marine Aviation Training and Readiness and assists in developing and employing aviation weapons and tactics. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez 1st MARDIV COMCAM)

Since the mortars are moving with the maneuver element, they can see friendly forces and are often within yelling distance of the battlefield leadership. This allows them to shift fire as friendly troops advance and hit changing target priorities in real time. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez)

5. Mortars can be equipped with different fuzes, allowing the weapon’s effects to be tailored to different situations

A 120mm mortar shell airbursts, during a combined mortar training exercise with U.S. Soldiers from Gunfighter Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, and Iraqi soldiers from 1st Battalion, 46th Brigade, 12 Infantry Division, on April 4, 2009, at the Saber Range, outside Mansurya village, Diyala province, Iraq.

A 120mm mortar shell airbursts. Mortars can be set to detonate a certain distance from the ground, after a certain time of flight, upon hitting the surface, or a certain amount of time after hitting the surface. It all depends on what fuzes are equipped and how they are set. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Gustavo Olgiati)

6. Most mortars are relatively light, allowing them to be jumped, driven, or even rucked into combat

Paratroopers assigned to 1st Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, move M121 120 mm mortar system ammunition while conducting live-fire training on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, April 3, 2015. The infantrymen directed accurate 81 mm and 120 mm mortar fire on simulated hostile targets under stressed conditions testing reactions times, and their mastery with the crew-served weapons. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alejandro Pena)

These paratroopers are carrying the M121 120mm mortar system. Mortars can be airdropped into combat and the mortar ammunition can be jumped to the battlefield in soldiers’ rucks, as bundles dropped from the plane doors, or as pallets from the rear. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Alejandro Pena)

7. This mobility allows them to “shoot and scoot” and to stay at the front as the battle lines shift

Corporal Craig Larkin, a mortarman with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, pulls the lanyard to fire an Expeditionary Fire Support System 120mm Mortar system aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Nov. 17, 2016. The Marines conducted a live fire demonstration to display the capability and mobility of the mortar system.

(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Timothy Valero)

8. Mortarmen are still infantry, and they can put their rifles into operation at any point

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Martin Sele, a mortarman with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa, sights in on a target during a training exercise at Morón Air Base, Spain, Aug. 24, 2016. U.S. Marines and Sailors assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa Command support operations, contingencies and security cooperation in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Tia Nagle)

If a mortar position comes under direct attack or if the battle shifts in a way that makes mortars less useful than rifles, the mortarmen can move into action as riflemen. After all, mortarmen are infantry. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Tia Nagle)

9. Also, machineguns

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Patrick Phelan, mortarman, 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, posts security as part of a military operation in urban terrain training exercise during the Infantry Small Unit Leaders Course (ISULC), Camp Lejeune N.C., Sept. 11, 2016. The purpose of ISULC is to develop an infantry sergeant that trains and leads their unit in a complex operating environment to achieve their commander’s intent. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Careaf L. Henson, 2d MARDIV COMCAM)

A U.S. Marine Corps mortarman pulls security during a modern operations in urban terrain exercise. Mortarmen can even be equipped with machineguns, though we don’t envy the guy rucking a mortar baseplate and a machinegun. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Careaf L. Henson)

 
By Logan Nye
Jan 12, 2017 11:25:36 am

Logan is a former Fort Bragg paratrooper who deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.

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