Chapter Six: Mortars
A successful commander appreciates the significance of firepower and understands that the effective use of all available fire support will determine the outcome of a battle. Mortars are the commanders primary source of responsive, accurate indirect fire support. Their rapid, high-angle, plunging fires are invaluable against dug-in enemy troops and targets in defilade, which are not vulnerable to attack by direct fires.
In the little world of each combat commander, mortars represent another gem in their empire. The fact that my mortars as my commander once put it, were always ready and available to fire at his whim, is a priceless fire support commodity.
Mortars are particularly effective against lightly protected personnel, causing over 50% of casualties in WWII. They are also effective for suppression, obscuration (smoke) and illumination.
Mortars are organic to foot infantry, mechanized infantry, airborne and armored units. A company mortar squad typically consisted of 2-6 tubes of 50mm to 82mm size.
At the battalion level, a mortar platoon consisted of 4-8 tubes of 80mm to 120mm guns. This support was always considered DS (direct support) and on call for the battalion commander to provide support to the company or companies engaged in combat.
The Company Mortars were always employed as a squad, firing at the same target. They typically moved and deployed in close proximity to each other since fire missions were simply yelled across the group. Many times the company mortars used line of site to fire at their targets.
The battalion mortar platoon may be employed by platoon, by section (half a platoon), or squad. When employed as a platoon, all mortars respond to a mission as a unit. This massing of fires is much more effective than dispersed fires.
If firing by sections the sections do not have to be positioned immediately adjacent to one another for the platoon to be employed as a platoon. The battalion mortar platoon has the necessary equipment and personnel to conduct such fire missions from distinctly different locales by sections. If used by squads, the mortars are typically given to a company commander to employ at his discretion.
In the Attack
In a movement to contact (like across Russia in 41, the Desert in 40-43, or France 44), sections will be leap frogged forward so that at any one time, only one section is available for support for the battalion and the other is moving. Thus the amount of support available was considerably less than in a deliberate attack or deliberate defense, where the whole platoon will be moved forward as far as possible to provide additional firepower to support the units in combat.
In a deliberate attack, mortars provide support to neutralize, suppress, or destroy the enemy while the assault element moves to the final coordination line, screens friendly movement by obscuring the enemy's vision with smoke, neutralizes resistance during the final assault, and isolates the objective.
Mortars accomplish this by positioning near the front line, staying within one-half to two-thirds maximum range of the target, and then moving forward. Having mortar firing positions in deep defilade is often more important than the one-half to two-thirds maximum range rule. If a good defilade position is located closer to the front line, it should be used.
Mortars neutralize and suppress enemy defenses during the final phase of the attack by short, violent preparations targeted against frontline defenses and OPs. Mortar fires are lifted or shifted at the last possible moment before assault elements close on the enemy's position.
In the Defense
In the defense, mortars are plotted just like artillery, having targets identified along the enemy avenue of approach, as well as having an FPF plotted to the front of the friendly battle position. Mortar targets should be plotted in front of friendly barriers and obstacles. These fires are often critical to the defense.
Any obstacle not covered by both direct and indirect fires can be obscured and breached. High explosive fires can effectively prevent enemy dismounted forces from breaching an obstacle. Mortar fire is preferred for this task since it is always available to the battalion commander. Its use permits the field artillery to concentrate destructive fires against enemy formations backed up behind the obstacle.
Closely coordinated mortar fire can increase the effectiveness and survivability of antitank weapons significantly. The antitank unit commander can be given priority of mortar fires or even control of mortars. Mortar sections and platoons support the antiarmor battle in many ways. The HE fires force tank crews to button up. This reduces their field of view and their ability to detect friendly forces.
Mortar smoke rounds can be fired to isolate the lead element of an advancing enemy force from the main body. The antitank guns can then attack this isolated element, free from enemy fires. Mortar smoke can be placed between the antitank guns and the enemy to aid the guns in their displacement out of initial firing positions to alternate ones. As the smoke clears, the enemy will be hit from previously undetected (new) positions.
Like Field artillery, the mortars have three basic missions; destroy, neutralize or suppress the enemy.
Realistically, most players can expect to fire Suppressing and Neutralizing fires with their mortars; mortars just do not travel with large amounts of rounds, unless in the defense. The unit commander does not want to give away the batteries location to counterbattery fires (because of their high trajectory and inherent long flight time, mortars are particularly susceptible to counterbattery fire). A skillful player will synchronize his mortar fires with his direct fire units (tanks, inf, etc) by pinning the enemy with indirect fire while his ground units finish the killing.Sources:
SH 20-19 Artillery Employment and Capabilities, US Army, 1994