07/10/2023 at 11:58 #191301John D SaltParticipant
Mortars in World War II
Pen & Sword, 2015
This is a very poor book. The topic is of considerable interest, and little has been written about the use of mortars in combat during the 20th Century. The opportunity to say new and interesting things about mortars has been missed, by a large margin. Most of the text is a very broad-brush description of the progress of land operations in WW2, which is unlikely to add anything to the average reader’s knowledge, and is in any case irrelevant to the stated subject of the book. What relevant information there is covers the most obvious performance attributes of mortars, such as range and bomb weight. This would better have been presented in tabular format than scattered through running text. Old fogeys like me would do better to consult Chamberlain and Gander’s WW2 Fact File “Mortars and Rockets”, new fogeys could get the same information from articles in Wikipedia. The only data not trivial to find elsewhere is the colour of the different natures of bombs used. No information is provided on the tactical employment of mortars by different armies, contrasting national doctrines on centralisation and decentralisation, what communications means were used by fire controllers, what doses of fire were recommended for different targets, the area of effect of typical bombs, and so on. This would have required some original research, and this does not seem to be something the author does much of. He mentions visits to “various regimental museums” and in particular the museum of the Small Arms School Corps at Warminster, but what might have been discovered on these visits is nowhere evident, other than a titillating reference to the “Palestine baseplate” seen in a picture of a 2-in mortar, which is not explained any further. The 40 references given in the bibliography include no primary sources, and only two works on mortars, one of which is an Osprey of which Norris is a co-author. The bibliography has been sloppily edited, and two references are missing their titles.
Not only is the coverage of the topic shallow and platitudinous, it suffers from numerous errors and omissions. Wilfred Stokes’ development of the original modern trench mortar is sketched lightly, with no mention of the fact that his original invention was a multi-stage munition for which the mortar was intended merely as a projector for experiments. Although the author gives the calibre of the three-inch mortar correctly as 81mm later in the book, initially he gives it as 76mm. He does not explain something that I find interesting, namely that the Stokes bomb was 3 inches, or in its larger version 4 inches, in diameter, and seated in the barrel by two seating rings — the only precision-machined parts of the projectile — a tenth of an inch thick. The diameter of the projectile was therefore increased by two tenths of an inch to 3.2 and 4.2 inches respectively — 81mm and 107mm, which became standard calibres internationally. Norris does not mention the Stokes 4-inch mortar at all, but wrongly states that the 2-inch Mk 1 (firing the well-known “toffee-apple” projectile) was a Stokes design. He credits the 3-in Mk 1 with a maximum range of 2,800 yards (2,560m), which was not achieved until the Mk 2 mortar received the Mk4 barrel. His claim that any 3-inch mortar barrel could fire captured German or Italian 81mm ammunition does not agree with my 1975 copy of Jane’s Infantry Weapons, which seems to believe this became possible with the modified striker in the Mark 5 barrel.
Some errors are doubtless due to sloppy editing: the author surely does not believe in the existence of a Russian SU-22 self-propelled gun, and the SU-122 is intended. The reference to an “Anglo-British” force in the defence of Norway is merely an amusing slip. However other errors seem to arise from a genuine failure to understand the subject. More than once the author speaks of mortar bombs “deflagrating”, when he means “detonating”. He retells the familiar story of people being killed by air blast, “without a mark on them”, which (with all due respect to Gen. Urqhuart, quoted on the matter) is almost certainly the result of imperceptible micro-fragments. Death by air blast — even if it were present in lethal intensities from mortar bombs — is not going to leave a tidy corpse. On the effectiveness of German mortars, the author tells us that “A detailed technical analysis of German weapons in the aftermath of the Normandy campaign concluded that the German GrW34 mortar inflicted a casualty rate of 65 per cent for every fifty-seven bombs fired”, a bizarre statement I find impossible to interpret. Since no reference is provided to the technical analysis, we cannot find out what original statement has been mangled here.
The Naval and Military Press are currently advertising this book for sale at a 75% discount. I cannot in all conscience recommend it as a worthwhile purchase. There are better things to do with a fiver.07/10/2023 at 12:34 #191304Tony HughesParticipant
All to often I find the same with Pen & Sword books but, when they are reduced to £4-£6, it can be worth a try as some turn out to be quite useful – not always the greatest, but useful.
Tony of TTT07/10/2023 at 19:39 #191308OotKustParticipant
Called as you see it- no interest to me but I have mentally noted in the past.
And frankly I’ve only been looking at books again since my ‘resurgence’ back into completing model ‘armies’ [or three maybe] since 2018- a gap of two decades in fact…
They and Helion, while doing a good job on some, seem to ‘pump and dump’ old tripe in new covers and expect all and sundry to buy, buy, buy. Well, new suckers anyway.
[Disclaimer- yes I own about 10 total from both now.]
He retells the familiar story of people being killed by air blast, “without a mark on them”,
Strangely, my father. a veteran (to use the current term for working soldiers) of WWII 2NZDIV Artillery in North Africa *probably Tunisia but I’m not sure he explained*, told me of a dead Ghurka frozen in place next to a track. He was in a kneeling pose with rifle held at 45º as if he was guarding something, just off to the side of track they were travelling along; instead of passing by they stopped to check him- stone cold dead and not a sight of injury, though he acknowledged it was night and they were using torches. A most bizarre incident and he/they concluded only explanation perhaps a result of the previous nights DAK barrage?
-d07/10/2023 at 21:49 #191311John D SaltParticipant
Strangely, my father. a veteran (to use the current term for working soldiers) of WWII 2NZDIV Artillery in North Africa *probably Tunisia but I’m not sure he explained*, told me of a dead Ghurka frozen in place next to a track. He was in a kneeling pose with rifle held at 45º as if he was guarding something, just off to the side of track they were travelling along; instead of passing by they stopped to check him- stone cold dead and not a sight of injury, though he acknowledged it was night and they were using torches.
Such stories are widespread: there is no living doubt that there were many combat deaths whose cause was not at all obvious by visual inspection. The mistake people then make is attributing such deaths to air blast. The intensity of air blast produced by mortars and field artillery is not remotely enough. It was not widely appreciated until Zuckerman’s WW2 work on fragmentation casualties that quite tiny fragments — under a gram — can kill when driven at the velocities achieved by high explosive.
An analogous myth from the Napoleonic era was belief in “death by wind of shot”, where people — usually sailors in the accounts I’ve heard — were supposed to have been killed by the near passage of roundshot. Absolute piffle, and the idea was exploded something like a century and a half ago, but if you hang around the wrong neighbourhoods of the interwebs you’ll find some people still determined to believe it.
For people who enjoy stretching their gullibility muscles, one of the errors in “Mortars in World War II” — I didn’t by any means list them all — was the statement that the training standards of British airborne forces required them to run 200 yards in 16 seconds in full kit. If you would care to engage in a modest amount of calculation, that turns out to be 11.43 m/s, or a bit over 41 km/h, faster than Usain Bolt over a similar distance.
How many impossible things can you believe before breakfast?
All the best,
John.07/10/2023 at 22:08 #191312OotKustParticipant
How many impossible things can you believe before breakfast? All the best, John.
How about nearly impossible?
Again, my father, this time deployed in combat, Southern Tunisia past the ‘Tebaga Gap’ left hook offensive, in 1943 was under fire from the DAK again.
This time tho, their long range ‘medium 210mm’ shells were those doctored by Mr. Schindlers workers who replaced the explosive with Czech papers.
After the CB died away (the enemy were retreating to Tripoli?). My father and crews examined the shells that arrived- they landed in the soft desert sand in 18″-24″ deep impression all around their battery. They knew what they were but not why.
At this time our Division, I hesitate to conjour the word elite, but were picked for mobile strategic assaults and moves, were officially a ‘Corps’ with several British Army units under command (including armor). As our Divisional artillery was limited to 3 regiments of 25pounders (72 in service guns), to equal any German ordnance, we had 10th Medium Battery Royal Artillery as well. They provided distance reach beyond what our guns could provide, especially CB.
Sadly I never knew and my father didn’t either as had died 10 years before in ’86, until it came out in Schindlers List. Had that been real explosive, theres chances I may never have existed (b:57)!
cheers davew08/10/2023 at 06:26 #191315EtrangerParticipant
was the statement that the training standards of British airborne forces required them to run 200 yards in 16 seconds in full kit. If you would care to engage in a modest amount of calculation, that turns out to be 11.43 m/s, or a bit over 41 km/h, faster than Usain Bolt over a similar distance.
I knew the paras were fit, but that would be seriously impressive, especially whilst carrying the baseplate for a 3″ mortar.
Mistakes in writing/copying occur, especially when using secondary or foreign language sources, which multiply the opportunities for error. Editors & proof readers usually weed the worst out, but may lack the specialist knowledge needed. Sometimes though it can just be carelessness. It happens in professional journals too, at least in Medicine.
The former Mdm Etranger once put in an advertisement for candidates to perform research into ‘Gender Bias in Law’. Unfortunately the published advert was for ‘Genre Bias…’, which got past the Law Society and it’s secretary, copywriters, the advertising manager and the type-setters at the newspaper too.18/10/2023 at 17:00 #191669Albert of WinterpigParticipant
Cannot comment on odd deaths by Mortars, but dad a Navy man recounted once an oddity at sea. On a destroyer and in action, afterwards 2 missing crew were found dead in a forward compartment that had been hit. Neither had a visible mark, and the MO, had a poke (Drs are like that when they have time ans the skipper wanted to rule out vapour or gas death(a build up of explosivepoisonous gases on a small ship in a confined space, was/is not a good thing so he wanted to check structural issues.)). One had totally collapsed lungs, the other had internal organs scambled.
No idea could be found that explained the injuries, except perhaps sudden decompression of the area on them.
Dad was posted on shortly afterwards (upgraded to a cruiser as he put it) so never heard if the Dr had come to any further conclusions.18/10/2023 at 17:26 #191670hammurabi70Participant
The Czech Skoda works are well known for the sabotage of munitions they manufactured for the Germans. They were not the only ones to be doing it and there are a myriad of similar stories that contributed to defective supplies to the German frontline.
The result has been a lot of ‘odd’ stories.
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