Mortar vs. Artillery

On the ground how does one tell if explosions are coming from mortar fire or artillery fire?

*Imagine you’re a deer. You’re prancing along. You get thirsty. You spot a little brook. You put your little deer lips down to the cool, clear water - BAM. A fuckin’ bullet rips off part of your head. Your brains are lying on the ground in little bloody pieces. Now I ask ya, would you give a shit what kind of pants the son-of-a-bitch who shot you was wearing?" *

  • Mona Lisa Vito (My Cousin Vinny)

Both artillery and mortar rounds exceed the speed of sound, so you won’t hear the one that kills you. You might be able to determine what was used based on the damage done but one collapsed building looks pretty much like another collapsed building. Metal shards and a chemical identification of the explosives used might help?

Or spotting the shooter’s location.

Thank you. Mortar rounds were said that have hit Kobani yesterday but since no news crews are with IS they would have no way of knowing if they were mortars. And on Band of Brothers I recall a scene where shells landed in town and it was proclaimed to be mortar fire.

Mortars usually have a higher rate of fire, so you can identify them by the shorter amount of time between barrages.

Mortar rounds do not exceed the speed of sound, at least not on the way down. Under some conditions it is possible to see the rounds themselves as they impact. You can tell by the trajectory if they are likely to be mortar rounds. (technically, you can also set artillery to make “high angle” shots that follow trajectories very similar to mortars)

You can also tell generally by the size of each explosion. Mortar rounds are usually a lot smaller and contain less HE.

With all this said, they are really both just 2 different forms of artillery. It’s kind of irrelevant exactly what kind they are using : your problems are mostly the same.

Pound-for-pound, mortars are more deadly than tube artillery.

The high-arc trajectory of mortar rounds creates a more circular “footprint” when they detonate. Artillery rounds have a more fan-shaped explosive footprint due to the lower arc-trajectory.

The lower velocity of mortar rounds allows for a thinner shell-wall, allowing for more explosives; artillery rounds need a thicker shell-wall to survive being fired at a higher velocity.

Also: the shorter range of mortars puts them closer to “the front,” and allows for closer support of front-line units, as well as quicker adjustments in a fluid combat situation.

I was always amazed by the old WW2 films of Russian Jeeps pulling up to the front with trailers full of mortars, a couple hundred in each trailer. In less than half a minute they would all take off. Glad I wasn’t a German soldier.

What’s the standard kill radius of a mortar round? IIRC for 155mm standard HE arty it was 50m - but my memory might be hazy as I got out over 20yrs ago. I was arty FDC for 155mm towed, considered medium artillery. Oh, and I never did any combat.

I think kill radius for mortars would be smaller, but that’s a guess.

Artillery is considered an indirect fire weapon, although of course it can be used in direct fire. Are mortars a direct fire weapon? What’s the max range for mortars? For 155mm towed, standard -issue charges, white bag powder (not green bag) it’s 14,700m, IIRC. I have an old TFT around here, somewhere, have to look that up.

Standard HE round for the 155 M-198 weighed 96lbs. And then there was the ICM and the DPICM round which could chop people up really well. Bouncing Bettys…

Anyway, big hole in ground = artillery, small hole = mortars.

Mortars and tubes same thing to me one just used for cloers range. Everyone seems to forget about the rocket and middle arty that can reach out and touch 300 clicks away and shoot a six pack to wipe the whole square out, too messy for you? While load up a guided rounds on a rocket and put it through the window of house and probably solved. Too bad all this rocket middle is money heavy or it would be used everywhere.

Sounds like you’re describing truck-launched Katyusha rockets, not mortars per se.

In this context, it’s relevant to note that mortars are smaller and lighter than wheeled artillery, typically transported by a squad of a few men. This is possible because the lower velocity permits a shorter, thinner tube. Man-portable mortars are much more survivable when hiding from aircraft and drones such as the US is using against ISIS.

You’d probably hear the mortar being fired and realise that its close range and a weak popping sound. Wouldn’t there be look outs on tops of hills , tall buildings, watching these things, … and sniping where they get a chance ?

Well, then there’s naval gunfire, where the old 23" guns had a range of over 20 miles. Amazing.

The firing solution for naval guns flabbergasts me. Artillery firing solutions are complicated enough, factoring variables like range to tgt, powder temp, elevation difference between guns and tgt, latitude for Coriolis Force, met (weather) for barometric pressure and also different wind speeds and directions at different altitudes for the projectile’s trajectory, and so on. But with naval guns you’re on a moving platform with the ship moving forward in the water and also pitching and rolling on the waves. It doth boggle, yes.

But that’s for another thread.

I looked up standard ranges for mortars and in WWII it was typically about 2,000 - 3,000 yards, max range. And, mortars are an indirect fire weapon.

Those are logistics intensive weapons, and due communicatios links, fire control plotting, and flight times, aren’t suitable for close support/danger-close missions, unless wiping out your own people along with The Bad Guys isn’t “too messy for you.”

I don’t know your country of origin, but here, in America, we try not to kill our own people with weapon systems capable of saturating an entire grid square, or with CEP’s measured in tens or even hundreds of meters.

Mortar teams are typically deployed either in the FEBA or just immediately behind it, and are much more “handy” time-wise for a fluid combat situation.

The U.S. Army currently fields three mortar systems: the 60mm, the 81mm, and the 120mm.

Take a look at some of the ranges listed in the links I provided. On a modern battlefield, “close” is a relative term. Even the smallest mortar system can easily be well beyond the range of any sniper (unless you count an M1 Abrams gunner shooting SABOT a “sniper,” assuming a line-of-sight even existed).

Forward Observers aren’t noted for deploying in full Dress uniforms with marching bands; they wear camo, have radios, GPS systems, maps, etc., and can accurately call indirect (mortar or artillery) while remaining concealed. Mostly, they don’t have to be concealed, and are deployed as additional/attached assets to infantry and armor units.

Aerial observers and drones can also “spot” for indirect. The close C3 integration of a modern military often boggles the mind of the lay civilian.

Finally, your comments invoke the fallacy I often observed from young, ignorant infantry types who liked to boast that their squad/platoon/company could take out any tank that’s been made. True enough, I reckon, but tanks don’t come single-serving. They also come in platoon and company sized units, and aren’t just going to blithely sit still while under attack (well, some of the Armor and Guard units I’ve seen wouldn’t notice if you shoved an M67 up their rectum and pulled the pin; most Cavalry units were much more alert).

Similarly, mortar teams aren’t just dropped off in the wild all by their lonesome, unloved and unsupported. There’s lots and lots of combat support surrounding them, or otherwise close to hand. There’s dedicated, organic security elements (guys with guns) in the mortar unit, ready, willing, and able to take on anyone who wants to mess with their comrades.

And a mortar team can almost drop rounds right on their own heads by going to max elevation with a Charge One drop. They can, effectively, be their own close-support indirect.

Good mortar references, thanks ExTank. I saw max eff range but not CEPs, do you know what they are? My recollection of 50yds (okay, meters) CEP for 155mm arty is based on a hazy memory.

But you’re also firing 9x 400mm shells (plus 15 or so 120mm ones). Twice per minute for the big 'uns. So what if half that metal lands half a mile off-target ? The target’s *still *gonna feel much love :).

Personally, I’m more amused by the truly absurd siege mortars they rigged up in WW2 - the British with their “flying dustbins” (“Sir, what if we put a 40-pound mortar on a Churchill tank chassis, sir ?”), the Germans with the crap they flung at Stalingrad… 300 odd pounds of boom launched at a point target. Ain’t no kill like uselessly gross overkill.

Yessirree, as the old AT&T jingle went, (singing) “Reach out, reach out and touch someone.”

Fifty yards/meters rings a bell, but my own memory is similarly dated.

I do recall having more confidence that the gun bunnies could accurately hit any coordinates they were given than in the person giving them those coordinates, which is why I really liked having dedicated FOs and FIST Teams assigned to us, over some nugget holding a map upside down trying to call arty.

Plus, there was the (admittedly macabre) satisfaction factor in knowing that if the FO or FIST Team screwed the pooch, their own tender pink asses were right in the target basket/CEP as the rest of us schlubs.

Sniping at what? Because they fire at such a high trajectory mortars can hit targets in defilade behind hills, buildings, etc which are otherwise safe from conventional artillery because the flatter trajectory creates a dead space behind the hill that field guns can’t hit. Conversely, mortars can be fired from deep defilade that completely conceals them from both observation and direct fire. From FM 7-90

Light (60mm-ish) and medium (81-82mm) mortars are light enough to be broken down and man packed by the crew of 3 or 4 and have long been used as a weapon of harassment against fixed bases by irregular forces in guerilla wars. If the guerillas have enough control of the countryside, it’s very easy to set up a 60mm mortar, lob off a half dozen bombs, break the mortar down quickly move off.

That’s one way to motivate the troops now, isn’t it?