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With the Trench Mortars in France

Chapter I The History and Evolution of the Trench Mortar

page 11

Chapter I The History and Evolution of the Trench Mortar

Until early in the Great War, Trench Mortars were called Trench Howitzers, as they have a high angle of fire and the propelling charge is varied.

They were first used in the War by the Germans at Liège, and were a heavy pattern Howitzer, firing a big shell, useful for wrecking fortifications. The Bosche again used them at Ypres when he first used poison gas, and the type was a tin canister holding about 1801b. of high explosive and a rod at the end. Bombs came into use about that time, and then the smaller type of Trench Mortar was gradually adopted.

It was found that craters and saps could not be reached with bombs, and a sort of drainpipe was brought into use that fired black page 12powder, and then a bomb for a distance of 200 or 300 yards. These weapons were extremely unpopular with the Infantry, as they continually burst. The Royal Engineers supplied the personnel. Then the 4-inch and 3.7-inch weapons came into use, and were worked by the Royal Garrison Artillery. The 4-inch had a range of 600 yards, had a rifled barrel, was fired by guncotton, and threw a shell weighing 81b. It had an artillery pattern fuse, which alone cost three times as much as a Stokes shell complete. The 3.7-inch was a similar weapon with a range of 400 yards, fired by guncotton, and threw a bomb weighing 41/2 pounds. They were very dangerous, owing to the barrels frequently bursting. The principle on which they were fired was that the charge of guncotton was dropped into the barrel by a T tube or rifle mechanism and a blank cartridge. There were two guns to a division and the 3–7-inch was the first mortar to be brigaded, and there page 13were four guns to a Brigade, usually worked by the Royal Garrison Artillery.

At the Battle of Loos (15th September, 1915) Trench Mortars became better known and were used with considerable effect.

We intended to use the 2-inch Trench Mortar and the Stokes Light Trench Mortar, which had not been long invented, and of which there were very few yet in France, in this battle, but the organisation went to pieces. The first time they were actually used was at the Bluff, South of Ypres, on February 16, 1916, when they did wonderful work, and by this time the Stokes Mortar had made good, but had seldom been seen in the trenches.

The Bosche realised the possibilities of the Trench Mortar, and organised a battery to every brigade, and about the same time we armed our brigades as fast as possible with mortars, beginning with the Fourth Army. The personnel of the batteries were volun-page 14teers from the Infantry, and they went through one week's course of training, and were then sent into the line. Thus it may be seen that the early training of batteries was rather rough and ready, but, notwithstanding this drawback, surprisingly good work was accomplished by them.

Very soon the Stokes Mortars were in full swing, and the Bosche had nothing to approach the Stokes, either in mobility or rapidity of fire, for this wonderful invention of ours could throw 40 shells per minute, although the average was not so high as that. At first it was impossible to take the mortars across with the Infantry in the attack, but much was learned in the Battle of the Somme, where they were very useful, and our New Zealand Batteries did extraordinarily good work in blowing out enemy machine guns and strong posts that were holding up the attack.

A Division at this time had three batteries of 3.2-inch Stokes Trench Mortars—one bat-page 15tery to each brigade, and each battery consisted of eight guns with four officers and about 60 other ranks.