German mortar fire before and after Normandy

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by Chris C, May 17, 2022.

  1. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    I may be looking at things through an overly narrow lens, but some elements of the British Army seem to have been caught off guard by the degree of danger from mortar fire in Normandy. See the attached bit from a report, the part about officer casualties. Later in the report the author forwards the request for overhead protection for self-propelled guns but adds a bit which is basically "the fighting in Normandy may be abnormal, wait and see whether we really need to do this".

    My questions are
    - was there a failure to pay attention on the part of Home Forces to reports from the Mediterranean? Had 8th Army already encountered this?
    - was there a difference in the number of mortars that German units were equipped with, in North Africa, Sicily/Italy, or France?

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  2. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    Well there might be an argument for a larger allocation of mortars to German units by 1944 than had been experienced in earlier campaigns. Very briefly, the standard German Infantry Battalion, and the various types of Motorised and Motorcycle Bns, started the war with six 8-cm mortars. In early 1943, units began to receive 12-cm mortars, with a Platoon of four (which could be trimmed to three) that was to replace the 8-cm Platoon; the 8-cm weapons were then to be allocated two per Rifle Company. On that basis a standard German Grenadier Battalion was authorised ten mortars. The priority for the 12-cm mortars was the Eastern Front (and the German 12-cm was a straight copy of the Soviet 120-mm), so quite how many were in Normandy by June 1944 I don't pretend to know.

    Then in May 1944 the Grenadier Battalion organisation was tweaked, with the 8-cm Mortar Platoon being reformed, still with six tubes. The official substitute for the 12-cm Platoon was a second Platoon of six 8-cm mortars, which resulted in a total of 12 for the Grenadier Battalion. Also certain Static Divisions were authorised two or three medium (rather than light 5-cm) mortars per Rifle Company, with a Regimental Mortar Company (12 weapons) replacing the traditional Infantry Gun Company in some Divisions. Again placing these in formations in Normandy is a project in itself.

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  3. Nick the Noodle

    Nick the Noodle Active Member

  4. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    I think this is the key point. In the desert and Italy through 1943 German mortars were much weaker (calibre and numbers) than in Normandy. It's not just at battalion level that the 12-cm mortar arrived, but they also replaced infantry guns at regimental level, with a regimental gun company having eight of these, instead of the much lighter 75mm IG18 in 1944. So if a battalion was supported by the regimental gun company it could call on 12 of these, plus the 81mm mortars. That's a lot of firepower.

    The 12cm mortar was a superb weapon, and one of the few types that is still in use in many armies around the globe.

    All the best

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  5. Wg Cdr Luddite

    Wg Cdr Luddite Active Member

    Could another factor be the numerous SS units facing 21 AG ? Would these have been more likely to have a full complement of mortars than a Heer unit ?
  6. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    In the official history of Army Medical Services, there are some tables detailing casualties suffered in Sicily. These are broken down into the different areas of the body injuries were suffered and also the causes of the injuries. That volume is available on-line here:

    The Army Medical Services

    Page 519 for example.


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  7. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Thanks, so the answer there basically seems to be "no" Far more casualties from artillery than mortars.
  8. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Turn the page

    Chris C asked:
    was there a failure to pay attention on the part of Home Forces to reports from the Mediterranean? Had 8th Army already encountered this?
    - was there a difference in the number of mortars that German units were equipped with, in North Africa, Sicily/Italy, or France?

    Generally speaking the 8th Army advanced up the Adriatic Coast of Italy to take advantage of the flatter terrain.
    Inland the ground rose to mountainous proportions.
    They turned left at Ravenna to advance towards Bologna. In both cases thy encountered many river crossings which slowed down their armour to such a degree that thy failed to enter the Po Valley before winter set in with its heavy flooding on the lowlands and snow in the mountains.

    Fighting was more of an infantry slugging match in the hills and mountains. The Germans using Parachute Divisions who honed their skills at Casino carrying them into the Apennines over the winter.

    The mountain crests presented a major problem. The Germans were employing many mortars including the Nebelwerfer, a heavy multi barrelled rocket launcher often fired from the blind side of a hill.
    The missile was a 21cm 109kg shell which created a distinct sound during travel.
    They were highly mobile so would fire a salvo and move away to avoid counter mortar fire.

    The Americans used the 105mm Howitzer which was heavy and not as manoeuvrable as the British 25 pounder but the 25 pdr gun did not have the
    range or elevation for effective use in the mountains, even when employing Supercharge cartridges originally designed for anti tank use.

    At Anzio the gunners had devised the technique of firing at upper register, mounting the guns in a deep gun pit with the trail dug into the ground and wheels placed on top of empty ammunition boxes. This allowed an elevation of 50 to 75 Degrees.
    They were able to break up enemy attacks forming up out of sight in the dead ground of the surrounding Wadi’s.
    This technique was used again at Monte Grande to hit the blind side of hills for counter mortar fire. The technique was not perfect being subject to atmospheric conditions in the mountains, the distances to be covered and drift due to cross winds.
    It filled a gap as there was a shortage of options particularly in Italy in late 1944.
    It was subject to criticism by some senior infantry officers.
    The reverse slopes were steep and easily over shot but the technique proved effective particularly when harassing supply routes, according to enemy POW reports.
    Although overshooting reduced the effect having missed the enemy, drop shorts proved unpopular with friendly infantry.
  9. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    Artillery equipment and tactics, Pemberton's (1951) classified history of artillery in WW2, divides the chronological narrative into themes, with chapters subtitled the battle against the tank and the dive bomber. The chapter covering El Alamein to Tunisia is about counter battery and the 1944 chapter is the battle against the mortar. The Gunners thought they had mastered the threat of German artillery and took to Normandy an array of locating devises, such as sound ranging, air recce and flash spotting and a counter bombardment organisation operating at Corps level. There was an awareness of the need to deal with mortars before D Day.

    Quoting from Gunners in Normandy, a volume of the Regimental history of the Royal Artillery historu

    There is more in chapter 17 of Gunners in Normandy
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