Suppressing Mortar Fire

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Jeff Leach
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Suppressing Mortar Fire

Post by Jeff Leach » 12 Apr 2019 08:30

I have been reading Soviet documents and it is very common for them to use artillery fire to suppress enemy mortars. Was this a common practice in all armies?

Gary Kennedy
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Re: Suppressing Mortar Fire

Post by Gary Kennedy » 12 Apr 2019 12:57

There was a lot of work by the RA and RCA in Counter Mortar organisations both in Italy and latterly Northwest Europe. I think the earliest official WE I've seen is for a British Counter Mortar Organization of 9th June 1944, published for units in Italy. This included a specific role of 'Crater NCO' which helped established where the enemy mortar fire had likely originated. The RCA had a Counter Mortar Officer's Staff WE published in June 1944 for units in 21 Army Group, which was followed by the RA in September 1944. You also see plenty of references to counter mortar work in the intervening months on a local or unit basis, so it was not being ignored.

There was, I seem to recall, a bit of schism re US and Br/CW solutions, in that the US didn't want to set up a separate subunit and reckoned that it could be dealt with using Fire Direction Center resources. The July 1945 US Infantry Regiment T/O did include a Counterfire Section in the Regtl HQ Company with plotter and 'computer' personnel, so perhaps that was a move towards establishing something not too different from the Br/Cdn system (which had CMO Sections out to Brigades).

So in short, a lot of effort put in by Br/Cdn/US units in devising methods for locating and destroying enemy mortars in both NWE and the Med. I did see a rather downbeat assessment from the German side of the impact on mortar tactics in Italy, I'll have to see if I can find it again.

Gary

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Re: Suppressing Mortar Fire

Post by Art » 12 Apr 2019 16:30

Both British and US Armies employed radars for detecting mortars. See:
http://nigelef.tripod.com/tgtacqcb.htm#Radar

In general, spotting mortars was in many respects more difficult than spotting "normal" artillery guns. Size, ease of concealment, little noise etc.

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Re: Suppressing Mortar Fire

Post by Jeff Leach » 12 Apr 2019 16:54

I see I forgot to mention that the documents I was reading were from the early phase of Operation Barbarossa (June - August 1941). I have read the German source material for the same time period and area and they make no mention of using artillery to suppress mortar fire.

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Re: Suppressing Mortar Fire

Post by Gary Kennedy » 12 Apr 2019 20:37

From what I've seen the introduction of units to specifically locate and call in artillery to neutralise enemy mortars was a late war development in western armies. As Art mentions, it was very difficult to spot and target such small and mobile weapons until four pen recorders and radar were used for the job.

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Re: Suppressing Mortar Fire

Post by Jeff Leach » 13 Apr 2019 06:12

Thanks for the information.

Here is one of the accounts. It is from the 48th Rifle Corps Artillery Staff on 15 July 1941, which at this time occupied defensive position along the eastern bank of the Răut River in Moldavia. Facing the corps where the Romanian 8th (?), 13th and 14th Infantry Divisions.

"The 300th Artillery Regiment (176th Rifle Division) at 16:00 tried to silence an enemy mortar battery in the region of HILL 164.8. At 14:30 it fired on an enemy column of motor vehicles with trailers near the farmstead (фл. фольварк) two kilometer south of Dubna. The regiment also repelled an attempt by an enemy infantry company to attack the 591st Rifle Regiment.

The 59th Light Artillery Regiment (30th Mountain Rifle Division) silenced an enemy mortar battery west of HILL (2)24.0."

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Re: Suppressing Mortar Fire

Post by Art » 13 Apr 2019 09:14

In 1942 the Leningrad Front discovered by trail and error that mortar positions could be located using standard sound-ranging equipment provided that sound stations are situated very close to the the front and to each other. This improvised practice was deemed efficient and later adopted universally. There were also more mundane methods to locate mortars:
Mortars are initially detected by direction of sound just like artillery batteries. After that keeping this sector under surveillance it is sometimes possible to spot rings or plumes of smoke produced by a shot or a narrow ascending smoke plume, in fog - a short burst of fire (with reddish or even brightly red flame). Sometimes firing positions or mortars can be located by careful surveillance on hauling of ammunition.
From "Combat employment of artillery", 1943
Firing positions of mortars, especially of heavy caliber, can be located by tracking the trajectory of rounds. After finding the departure point of rounds study the terrain and find the location of mortars.
"Battery's HQ platoon commander's handbook", 1943
Unlike "classical" artillery relatively slow-flying mortar rounds were detectable by human eye when in flight.
In mobile warfare daylight march of columns and deployment of mortars at firing positions can be frequently observed. Finally "prophylactic" shelling of suspected mortar positions (ravines, hollows, groves), although expensive in terms of ammunition, could be sometimes resorted to.

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Re: Suppressing Mortar Fire

Post by Michate » 24 Apr 2019 11:25

I see I forgot to mention that the documents I was reading were from the early phase of Operation Barbarossa (June - August 1941). I have read the German source material for the same time period and area and they make no mention of using artillery to suppress mortar fire.
Later (somewhere in the period 42-44) specialised anti-mortar sound ranging platoons were formed, using more sensitive soudn ranging equipment than the artillery sound ranging units. Initially, these platoons belonged to the infantry, but, IIRC, some were later transferred to the artillery's Beobachtungsabteilungen. These platoons then collaborated with artillery batteries (sometimes also with infantry guns) to place counter-fire on the mortars.

Rolf Hinze in his "Die Hannoversche Artillerie", Vol. 1 (on Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 19 of the 19. Panzer-Division) vividly describes the difficulties said regiment had in its efforts to suppress Soviet mortars positioned behind trees and dug deeply into the ground near Kraida (sp?) station on 5 July 1943 (first day of Zitadelle). Due to their steeper trajectiroes, the mortars could still fire over the trees, while, due to its less steep trajectories, the German artillery counter-fire mostly detonated from hitting the trees.

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Re: Suppressing Mortar Fire

Post by South » 24 Apr 2019 19:02

Good afternoon Art,

Ref the 1943 combat employment of artillery quote; ... just might be the original translation ... shouldn't the quote read to find the destination crater, glance at the angle of the fin stabilization section in ground, then "guesstimate" the trajectory, factoring in the terrain - and then the enemy mortar becomes the target for counter-attack.


~ Bob

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