Wednesday 9 October 2019

Infantry and Mortars

To the Chief of Staff of Artillery of the 115th Rifle Corps
RE: #0574 May 29th 1945

On the use of mortars

The Great Patriotic War showed that the rifle division cannot complete objectives independently  in due time without sufficient organic artillery. Attached independent Supreme Command Reserve regiments are usually too late with their preparations and fire at squares on the map instead of individual targets, expending too much ammunition usually in vain. These operations do not result in desired results.

In order for the division to independently complete tactical objectives its artillery must be reinforced. The 50 mm mortar used by rifle companies have shown themselves useless while penetrating enemy defenses and during pursuit. In defensive battles, when both sides have constructed trenches at full depth, the 50 mm mortar is not very effective at ranges from 300 to 1000 meters. When these mortars fire the enemy usually detects them and responds with massed artillery fire, which causes disproportionate losses. The 50 mm mortar has little impact in offensive or defensive battles and should be removed from use.

The 82 mm battalion mortar with superior firepower should be moved down to the infantry company. Each company needs to have a gun battery of 3 mortars. Communication between the battery and forward observers can be performed by telephone.

With the 82 mm mortars passed on to rifle companies the firepower of a company will increase and fire can be brought to any enemy machinegun nests and direct fire artillery. This will prevent excess losses. Delivery of ammunition can be done by means of the battalion.

Offensive and defensive combat shows that the 120 mm mortar batteries typically fight not in the interests of the battalion, but against the second echelon of the enemy's defenses which is not required for the completion of immediate objectives. The battalion commander at his observation post does not have the ability to move the fire of the battery to concealed enemy strongholds. The enemy 81 mm mortars on the front line of defense are visible by the commanders of company commanders are not being destroyed and can fire freely until they are pointed out to the artillerymen, which takes too much time and allows the enemy to recover from a sudden attack.

To give the battalion commander the ability to complete objectives on his own the 120 mm mortars must be put under his direct command, improving the firepower of the battalion. The 120 mm mortar battery must communicated by wired telephones and radio.

The rifle regiment should keep its 76 mm gun battery and also receive a battery of 4 160 mm mortars.

Only with this distribution of mortars will the regiment have the ability to successfully complete its objectives.

Chief of Staff of Artillery of the 245th Valga-Rezhitsa Order of the Red Banner Rifle Division, Major Nechukhrin

May 31st, 1945"


  1. I wonder if this was put into effect in the Manchuria campaign in August

  2. Russia did call Artillery "The God of War". Grenade launchers are good to several hundred yards and don't draw counter battery fire like small 50 mm mortars do.

    1. *Nobody* had those in the Forties though; the closest being some German tinkering with explosive shells for flare pistols (look up "Sturmpistole") but the amount of payload you could stick into a ~23 mm projectile was pretty limited...

      Rifle grenades were an old friend dating to the Great War already ofc but the recognisable modern infantry GL first turned up in the early Sixties (and had some conceptual teething problems, cough M79 cough).

    2. I was talking about old style rifle grenades which were placed on the muzzle of a rifle and fired with blanks. They weren't as accurate, but they were portable enough for the time when noting else existed.

    3. Come think of it, I'm under the impression the Soviets didn't adopt rifle grenades at all before ye olde AK got a cup launcher for the RGD-5 (which was introduced in '54 according to le Wiki); wonder what's up with that. Maybe they felt the 50 mm mortar did the same thing better?

  3. One thing I find interesting is that broadly speaking the verdict of this report is the same as that of a German one from the early Fifties I once came across. It was an analysis of wartime Soviet artillery use written by an ex-Wehrmacht senior artilleryman for the benefit of "Western" armies and essentially concluded that Red Army artillery had been effective, professionally very competent and well equipped but hampered by rigid and unresponsive command and control arrangements - which problem they had clearly been working to correct already during the war, materially assisted by the proliferation of radios throughout the Army.

    1. As an old article by Nofi and Dunnigan once said, a lot of the "rigidness" of Soviet practice was simply a result of the Soviets having to take large numbers of men who had never done anything like this nor may have had the educational pedigree, and throw them into their jobs with not much in the way of training. Ergo, you promote what experts you have to the very top, so they can institute a list of 'best practices' recommendations for everyone else.

      Of course, it's only takes a bit of time for the other side to realize what these recommendations are, and counter accordingly, just like it's easy in a sporting contest for one team to prepare for another team that follows the same tendencies. However, as Soviet junior commanders become more experienced and gained confidence, they could be more flexible in 'calling their own plays', so to speak, and it was this gain in expertise that destroyed the Germans.

  4. It's really interesting to compare these conclusions with what the US and the Brits came out with. The British loved their 51mm mortar but treated it as a platoon asset (it helped that the British mortar weighed 4.8kg, compared to the 12.1kg of the Soviet mortar), something like a big grenade launcher. I don't know what their doctrine was with the bigger mortars, though--3-inch/81mm at battalion level, I assume.

    The US came out absolutely loving their 60mm company mortars, with two to a company. The 81mm stayed at battalion level, and above that the 4.2-inch rifled mortar eventually became a permanent part of the infantry regiment, replacing the cannon company's 105mm pack howitzers.

    I'm not sure that anyone bit on having 81/82mm mortars permanently at the company level? That surely seems like too much weight too far down. If memory serves, the Soviets increased the number of 82mm mortars at the battalion level to six (and would, much, much later, introduce 120mm at the battalion level), and kept the 120mm at the regimental level for the next few decades, but...160mm at regiment, good god no. Somehow I'm not sure Major Nechukrin put much thought into transportation and logistics when he proposed that one.

  5. Though this blog doesn't usually cover Japanese weaponry, the Japanese 50mm Type 89 Mortar was available at the squad level, extremely easy to use, and was one of the most effective Japanese weapons. Of course, it took literally no time to set up and use and only weighed about the same as a rifle.