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"Tactics: Under Mortar Fire" Topic

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World War Two on the Land

969 hits since 3 Jul 2018
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian04 Jul 2018 7:30 p.m. PST

When taking mortar fire, the correct response is to move toward the enemy so that the enemy is forced to stop the shelling.

True or false?

Dn Jackson04 Jul 2018 8:43 p.m. PST

False. I was in 81s for a while and the gunners could drop them right in front of themselves. They actually did it once by accident. They dropped one in the tube with no charge, only the base charge. Landed about ten feet in front of the pit.

D A THB04 Jul 2018 8:54 p.m. PST

Do you mean in a game or for real?

GreenLeader Inactive Member04 Jul 2018 9:26 p.m. PST

Better to be flat on your belt buckle.

foxweasel04 Jul 2018 10:44 p.m. PST

Sort of. In the attack you should aim to neutralize the enemy mortars before the infantry leave the line of departure. If this can't be achieved the commander will accept that he will take a certain amount of casualties due to mortar fire. To reduce this in a dismounted assault, speed of closing with the enemy is key, getting to about 50m from the enemy positions will force them to check fire (further if they aren't dug in) As Green Leader says, the best place to be is on your belt buckle, but if your in the assault and weight of fire has forced you to do this then in reality your attack has failed, or at least stalled until you sort the counter battery fire out.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP05 Jul 2018 2:29 a.m. PST

Of course, why would you not want to walk into an enfilade kill zone that has a defilade kill zone along your retreat path?

FABET0105 Jul 2018 3:36 a.m. PST

There is no correct response. Mortars are usually set back behind the line unit. You have to cross the line units and the FDF to get to them. The FPF (Final Protective Fire) is a "Danger Close" fire mission within 50 meters of the friendly line of troops. Even crossing the FPF the defending commander has the option fire in on his own position. And as Dn Jackson pointed out (all but the bigger caliber) mortars can drop rounds on themselves. Unlike games would have you believe, there is no minimum range for a bipod mounted mortar.

We were usually told to fight through these situations.

Andy ONeill05 Jul 2018 4:20 a.m. PST

Already been said, but my understanding is that this not a one size fits all thing.
A standing target is way more likely to be hit by shrapnel than one lying down.
Crawling is advisable. In one direction or another.

Dashing forward is likely to get you shot to bits by mgs if they're not suppressed. Unless of course you're aomost on top of the enemy.

Trying to surprise the enemy by speed or position is plan A. No stonk at all.

foxweasel05 Jul 2018 4:40 a.m. PST

Anyone carrying out a dismounted daylight frontal assault on unsuppressed enemy positions, while the enemy still has unhindered mortar support, deserves everything they get, it's 1945 (or now) not 1915

Legion 405 Jul 2018 4:56 a.m. PST

Based on terrain & situation as always :

Getting out of the impact area the direction is based on your location direction movement and any available cover.

Hitting the ground and take advantage of a any folds, etc. is another option depending on intensity and cover available. "Get Small !" Then get out of the impact area if you can and get to cover. I.e. Get out of the enemies FOF/LOS …

When moving dismounted on a patrol, you designate Rally Points along the route, as you advance. You can do the same when vehicle mounted also.

When incoming hits, etc., if you can, you designate, using the Clock Method the direction and distance the unit should got. E.g. " 3 o'clock, 200 meters !"

And/or the unit knows to scatter and go back to last designated RP. Then regroup, access and continue the mission.

If you are in solid cover, e.g. bunkers, urban, etc., you may just want to "hunker down". As you may be required to hold that position/location. When in a defensive position. You generally designate Primary, Alternate and Supplemental Positions.

Primary the current positions which gives you the best cover & concealment, FOF/LOS, etc.

Alternate Cover the same areas, FOF/LOS as Primary but in different locations.

Supplemental Different location covering different areas/FOF/LOS from different positions. But in the same generally area. E.g. if you are being out flanked or the enemy is moving to another route/axis of advance, etc.

And yes as Dn said, most well trained mortar/FA crews, etc., can lift and shift fires fairly quickly and accurately. Something to note if a round lands in front of you, then the next behind you … You are "bracketed" …

They are adjusting their fires. The next round will most
likely be directly on your position. frown

Anyone carrying out a dismounted daylight frontal assault on unsuppressed enemy positions, while the enemy still has unhindered mortar support, deserves everything they get, it's 1945 (or now) not 1915
Agree 100% … They are going to have a "very bad day". frown

CSherrange05 Jul 2018 6:17 a.m. PST

Dig Deep, lay down, take casulties

Wolfhag05 Jul 2018 6:53 a.m. PST

If you are troops in the open the mortars will most likely fire a 3-5 round barrage in 10-15 seconds with each round spaced about 25m-30m between each other. With two tubes you'd try to make an "X" over the target.

At 800m the FO probably has a 10-15% range estimation error so 3-5 rounds should bracket the target. Ideally, this forces the target to hit the deck and he corrects for the next barrage FFE to be on target. Firing single spotting rounds would be OK for a fixed target but not a mobile one.

Depending on the range, you may be able to hear the rounds being fired and at night might see the flash from the tube. At that point, you know you have 15-25 seconds (time of flight) before the rounds start impacting. In that amount of time, depending on terrain, you can run about 40m to 75m. Running perpendicular to the mortar position gives you the best chance to get out of the barrage.

I've watched 81mm mortar fire and you can see the round when it comes to its apex and starts falling. At that point, you have 10-15 seconds before impact. I've heard of guys in VN pinned down in a rice paddy by mortars and rolling to one side or the other in an attempt to evade the round coming down.

This is somewhat theoretical as I was a Grunt, not a mortarman. I've heard guys say their most horrifying combat experience was being caught in the open in a mortar barrage.


foxweasel05 Jul 2018 8:48 a.m. PST

You can only follow the round from the mortar end, not the target end and then only in ideal weather conditions fired at a low charge.

Legion 405 Jul 2018 10:34 a.m. PST

Yes, I was a Grunt and worked with 81mms as well … If you are the target, by the time you know you are taking incoming … It's already too late … frown

Light mortars like 50-60mm don't have that long a range. And in some cases can be fired directly. I.e. they can actually see the target.

Larger mortars 81s on up generally fire indirectly as they have longer ranges. But I know we trained to fire directly with 81s at times as well. It not the "ideal" situation, but it could and in some situations did occur.

Wolfhag05 Jul 2018 1:12 p.m. PST

It was some VN vets that told me about seeing the mortar round coming down and rolling away from it. He wasn't bragging and I don't think he was lying.

Reacting to Indirect Fire: link

About 2/3 of the way down.

The tactical situation dictates the action:
If in the open and a battery of 6x 80mm or 120mm mortars open fire from 1000m+ range (cannot hear the round) and you are on a pre-registered point and they start FFE with a round coming out of the tube every 3-5 seconds – like Legion said, it's too late. Hit the deck and hope for the best.

If in the open and an incoming round you could not detect hits 50-75m away you have 2 choices. Hit the deck or maneuver. If you hit the deck and it's a spotter round you've done the FO and mortar crew a big favor. He'll call in a few more spotters then FFE.

An experienced Team Leader will make an immediate decision to rush towards cover, out of LOS, etc. It's a judgment call but you have about 15-30 seconds before the next spotter round hits. That's why a smart FO will try to bracket you with a 3-5 round barrage to get you to hit the deck and then adjust. Of course, there are always exceptions and SNAFU too.

If you heard the round when it was fired or saw the flash the mortar crew is probably sighting you directly without the need for an FO and less then 1000m away. A good crew may be able to keep you under fire if you move.

The normal ToF for a mortar at 1500m is about 20 seconds. If you are under fire from one tube it should be fairly easy to estimate where and when the next round would land. More than one tube makes it more complicated.

The Germans would register their mortar on a choke point with an MG overwatching the spot. When an infantry got to the spot the MG would open up and the infantry would hit the deck. The MG fire signaled the mortar for an FFE with each tube putting a round out every 2-5 seconds for up to a minute. In that situation, you are hosed and must hunker down.

In a FOB or firebase with overhead cover stay where you are and light up a cigarette.

I see evasion as a matter of the situation, nearby cover, and reaction/timing. Experienced leadership can get you through the worst of situations.

I doubt if this situation is covered in many games.


foxweasel05 Jul 2018 1:36 p.m. PST

When you're directly under mortar fire you can hear the rounds as they come down (the first ones anyway) that's probably what they rolled away from, they certainly wouldn't have seen them. Even if by some miracle they did, rolling away isn't going to do much good when the 82mm mortar has a lethal radius of about 25m.

Lion in the Stars05 Jul 2018 5:01 p.m. PST

With hand grenades (so probably also with 60mm and smaller mortars, not sure about the bigger tubes), it's been demonstrated that dropping flat will almost always get you below the fragments (unless the explosion is at your feet). I think it's because the fragments ricochet up off the ground.

I know the last time someone tossed an airsoft grenade my direction the thrower thought I teleported about 30 feet I moved so fast. Right into his face. evil grin

Wolfhag06 Jul 2018 10:37 p.m. PST

Here is what I've come across in my research for mortars and artillery:

GreenLeader Inactive Member06 Jul 2018 10:52 p.m. PST


That is very interesting.

Do you know (or does anyone here know) what height a proximity fused mortar bomb will explode at?

Also and this is probably a very silly question is this a genuine proximity fuse ie. it somehow detects how close to the ground it is? Or is it just a timer, meaning the bomb explodes after a certain time in flight?

I was never in our mortar platoon, so don't know too much about them. I do remember being told that, if one were to put two soccer fields side-by-side, and drop an 81mm mortar bomb in the middle, then anyone standing on either soccer field had a chance of being hit. War films really don't give any impression of just want a devastating weapon the mortar is – in the films, all they really produce is a little puff of smoke next to the lead actor's feet.

Barin107 Jul 2018 12:59 a.m. PST

I was a field gunner (howitzers) and we had height-activated fuses, i.e. the shell would explode when reaching a certain height.\
I've found an original Soviet 82mm mortar manual
PDF link
and it seems that both types of the fuses, described there are contact type. You can regulate the distance with angle and a number of charges.
BTW, this is the mortar which was widely used in Vietnam…

Daniel S07 Jul 2018 1:07 a.m. PST

Seems to be a genuine proximity fuse at least if using modern tech such as link

A cheap alternative we used here in Sweden for a long time was simply mounting a long probe into the contact fuze which triggers the bomb at about the same 3 feet/90 height that the Near surface burst setting will get you.


Andy ONeill07 Jul 2018 1:13 a.m. PST

They are radar or radio rather than timed.

I think proximity fuses would be artillery only in ww2 and definitely not 81mm mortar.
This was super secret squirrel tech.

For a more modern US fuse, the answer is 2.5m up to 81mm and 4m for bigger.


Timed fuses were used for AA and experienced 88 crew could be really good with them. They were quite effective for direct fire.

There was also a german "bouncing" mortar bomb. It hit the ground, a charge fired some of it back up in the air and then the main charge went off. Depending on which source you go for this was uncommon to rare.

As has been said.
Mortars were and are very effective and particularly so against assaulting forces.

foxweasel07 Jul 2018 3:57 a.m. PST

Green Leader, modern British prox detonates at about 3m AGL, it is a proper proximity fuse. We use mechanical timed fuses for Illum and when marking for aircraft we practice getting it to pop about 5m so it burns on the ground. Proximity fuses are hard to get in peacetime.
I use your football pitch reference when teaching non-mortar NCO's and officers how to call in emergency fire. If an 81mm round has a lethal radius of 40m and there are 2 barrels in the mortar line 40m apart, the lethal area is going to be 120 x 80m, in reality this area will be bigger due to variation in each round fired. These distances would be smaller during WW2 as the rounds weren't as effective.

Wolfhag07 Jul 2018 5:07 a.m. PST

It looks as if the 81mm is about twice as effective as the 60mm mortar. It appears that if you are at least 5m away from a burst you have a somewhat fair chance of not being injured, especially if you are in a small depression.

Entry C-43 is interesting regarding surprise barrage that is on target surprising the enemy like Legion4 said.

I think "lethal" ranges are determined against standing targets.

From my reading, the max ordinate of a mortar round is about 1100m. If the round hit its max ordinate over you it would appear to come to a stop against the sky and have the best chance of spotting it.

The only time I watched 81's being fire was at a demo range but I could see them at their peak and fall from about 500m away. The accounts I've read of guys "dodging" mortar fire was running away from it.


UshCha07 Jul 2018 5:35 a.m. PST

From reading some US manuals the trouble with proximity rounds is that they often trigger on bedrock not soil surface. as such they need to be observed and corrected. Also one counter measure is corrugated iron in front of the position, triggers the proximity fuse early.

The US manual Mortar Platoon has some interesting data on Effects planning even though within the manual its a bit contradictory.

foxweasel07 Jul 2018 5:39 a.m. PST

That max ord of modern 81 is 10000ft fired at max charge, this is known as the culminating point. Generally in training you fire on lower charges and the average height will be 5000ft, we'll often try and follow the rounds as they go but generally give up unless the weather is absolutely perfect. From the target end not a cat in hells chance, picking out a 3inch wide foot or so long object coming out of a barrel a couple of miles away!😁 I'm not saying these people a liars, just doing what soldiers do best, embellishing the truth a bit.

Legion 407 Jul 2018 6:11 a.m. PST

Good diagrams Wolf !

Entry C-43 is interesting regarding surprise barrage that is on target surprising the enemy like Legion4 said.
Yes, 60mm, [we didn't have those when I was on active duty, just 81 & 4.2s] and 81mm don't have that long a range. And the rounds don't move that fast as we know.

Plus a good crew could have a 2-3 rounds in the air at the same time based on range to target, charge, etc. In some cases based on terrain & distance from target, charge, etc., you may hear the rounds being fired before they hit. But regardless you may be taking incoming before you know it. Then react as I posted above.

FYI Here's an old TMP link and ranges posted are still pretty accurate generally … link

Wolfhag07 Jul 2018 8:08 a.m. PST

There was a book I read about a Marine mortarman in WWII (Helmet for my Pillow?). On Okinawa, the Japs were using a reverse slope defense and repulsed a number of assaults. Their position could not be hit by naval gunfire and too close for air support. The mortar crew put together a barrage knowing the exact location of the Jap defenders. The next assault went up the slope without a shot being fired. They found 40 dead Jap defenders all killed from the mortar barrage. They were surprised in the open thinking they were safe.


RudyNelson07 Jul 2018 8:09 a.m. PST

Tongue in cheek, boy you 81mm guys are playing with toys. I had 4.2" mortars twice as a LT. Once was with a Cavalry unit and once was with a tank battalion HHC.
Both Legion and Wolf make very good comments. Though the distance range, I tossed rounds would make closing the distance difficult. Also as a mortar FDC, dropping range to keep rounds on target was the easiest adjustment to do. Even easier than extending range.
When a unit went from open area to a more cover area, we preferred to mix WP rounds to burn the area.

uglyfatbloke Inactive Member07 Jul 2018 9:29 a.m. PST

I'm going to go and re-write my mortar rules. Not sure if I'm grateful to you all or exasperated…quite possibly both.

foxweasel07 Jul 2018 10:15 a.m. PST

Chris, If you've got any questions on modern mortaring I'd be happy to help, 20 years on mortars, advanced mortar instructor and platoon commander. I still go on the range occasionally but just to act as a safety supervisor now.

uglyfatbloke Inactive Member07 Jul 2018 12:18 p.m. PST

I'll take you up on that. My interest is 1944/5 (though my wife just got loads of desert stuff so that'll need to be stretched) but I don't think the principles have changed radically. I'll marshal my thoughts (as far as I can…) and maybe get back to you with some questions, though several have been addressed above (cheers chaps). Ammo supply/exhaustion is a thing though… I want mortars to be powerful (when available), but not totally dominant. Our games are mostly company-level, so the battalion mortar platoon may not be available at a given moment, or maybe not for long given other tasks and ammo supply.

Legion 407 Jul 2018 2:58 p.m. PST

The next assault went up the slope without a shot being fired. They found 40 dead Jap defenders all killed from the mortar barrage. They were surprised in the open thinking they were safe.
That is the why it's supposed to work ! thumbs up

boy you 81mm guys are playing with toys. I had 4.2" mortars twice as a LT.
Yes, our Rifle Co in the 101 had a Mortar Plt and I as the PL at times.

But our Mechs Bns had a 4.2 Plt. Even after the Company 81s were gone from the TOEs.

But Rudy does make good point, mortars have a minimum range as well.

20 years on mortars, advanced mortar instructor and platoon commander
Well Fox is the "go-to-guy" on this topic ! grin

Wolfhag07 Jul 2018 4:09 p.m. PST

We still used the same 60mm and 81mm mortars as in WWII. The 60's were at Company level and the 81's at Battalion level. The 60's were good because you could carry them on patrols. They always tried to set them up with a direct sight to the target. This was much quicker than setting up aiming stakes.

The 60's were most useful for FPF and a two tube team could drop a round 25 yards in front of us with a round hitting about every 1-2 seconds and the gunner moving the impacts back and forth across our front. If the enemy got too close they could drop a round down the tube with 0 increments. There was the equivalent of a 12 gauge shotgun shell at the bottom of the round that would kick it out 10-15 yards depending on the angle. The 81's would conduct interdiction or hit assembly points.

On Guadalcanal, a master mortarman Lou Diamond bracketed a Jap destroyer with an 81 barrage and chased it off. The scuttlebutt legend grew to he put a round down the stack and blew it up.


GreenLeader Inactive Member08 Jul 2018 1:10 a.m. PST

Thanks, Foxweasel

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