doogal wrote: ↑
20 Feb 2019 18:49
You present the theory of company level engagements beautifully. But when this was put into practice across a huge front, encompassing hundreds of these engagements. Would not the methodology and manner of there use change during combat, depending on the local situation and circumstances ? .....
Absolutely. Situation dictates everything.
All it takes is a single supply difficulty and say good bye to company mortar support. Especially in terms of a standard horse mobile infantry division, supply isn't great at the best of times. How many rounds on hand is a mortar section going to have? Probably not that many. Each round is 3.5 kg/7 lbs, bulky as the rounds are moved in large carboard tubes. There is a reason nobody else had such a heavy caliber company level mortar, because supply is a bitch. But sometimes its worth it. I'd rather have a single 8 cm mortar round than a 250 rd box of machine gun ammo, the former will likely kill/wound a bunch of enemy, the latter will most likely just scare them. Killing/wounding is the best form of suppressive fire.
What about expertise? Firing a mortar is simple. Assemble bipod, baseplate, and tube, and drop round. To do so accurately is ridiculously complex. One must not only be very knowledgeable in the mathematical formulas, have access to firing data, aiming stakes, compass, maps, know how to properly set up everything, have FOs who can direct the fire, as well as leadership who understand the best way to implement the mortars. What happens when the highly trained mortar NCO is gone, dead, wounded, captured? Does the commander have someone who can replace him that is just as capable? What happens if the guns get taken out themselves, the gun teams too, in an enemy counter fire mission? Are they going to get replaced?
What about terrain or weather? What happens when dropping mortar rounds into deep snow? Or into mud? A point detonating quick fused mortar round is going to explode surrounded by packed snow or mud, severely limiting its kill radius.
Overall, the #1 use of mortars, doctrinal, is covering dead space, terrain that is incapable of being hit with direct fire. Pre-war German doctrine was that the light and heavy MGs were for direct fire and mortars were for covering the limited dead space they couldn't engage. Realistically, especially after battle experience watching the marvelous effectiveness of a 8 cm mortar round, which is an especially devastating weapon, suddenly one realizes that not only is it still very effective for covering dead space, its a better killer than the machine gun. The machine gun is generally ineffective once enemy are no longer exposed. Not so with the mortar. Go prone, you're just as exposed. The only safety is to find a hole and climb in and hope a mortar doesn't land on top of you. But machine guns, especially ones with a very distinctive sound that acts as a psychological weapon, can ground an attacking force, force it to stop advancing, with enough fire. At which point they become incredibly vulnerable to indirect fire weapons like the mortars, so creating a really simple battle drill a company commander has at his disposal to deal with a poorly supported enemy attack.
Now take all those "useless" riflemen in the German squad, who some claim are there to support the machine gun. We'll have them cover the areas the MG can't see, have them carry spare ammo too. But they're also going to carry lots of mines, AP and AT. And AT weapons, magnetic, bundle grenades, satchel charges, Panzerfaust, etc., to deal with all those T-34 and M4 Shermans the enemy have in bulk who regularly delegate to support most infantry attacks. As soon as the unit halts, everyone digs in, the mines are laid, obstacles are covered by direct fire, and the company mortars are registered on the most obvious avenue of advance. When the enemy attacks, even in a combined arms attack force of engineers, infantry, armor, supported by artillery, they will still have to deal with those mines, while being shot at with machine guns, rifles, AT weapons. If the attack looks strong, the company commander orders his mortars to be used and gets permission to use battalion mortars too. If it looks like the enemy's main effort attack, more firepower is available on hand: The Germans never had a ton of it, but they tried to mass it when they could to deal with main effort attacks (which is why they also pushed down a lot of heavy weapons at the lower levels, for when units were on their own, without fire support).
What stops an attack? Effective fire. What helps suppress at target to be attacked? Effective fire. Throughout Italy and NW Europe, the British and Americans both feared machine guns but the real killers were German 8 cm mortars. Because they were commonly used, effectively used (as the Germans were rather professional), and very deadly.