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"On the Way!" from Intelligence Bulletin

Report on Red Army use of mortars, from the Intelligence Bulletin, May 1946.

[Editor's Note: The following article is postwar information on foreign units, tactics, and equipment published for Allied soldiers. More accurate data on foreign armies is available in later publications.]

The Employment of Mortars in the Red Army

Mortars, the infantryman's artillery, play a far greater tactical role in the Red Army than they do in our own. Used by the U.S. Army as a supplementary weapon, with fire control decentralized to a small infantry unit, mortars in the Red Army are fundamentally used for massed fire as an independent striking weapon. Since 1942, this large-scale use of mortars has been developed into a definite tactical doctrine among Soviet troops.

Although fire requirements are set by the Red Army infantry, technical control and coordination are the responsibility of an artillery commander. Field artillery methods are used by Soviet mortar troops, who conduct massed fire missions for antitank-antipersonnel barrages, countermortar fire, and interdiction. They also will fire smoke missions, or in support of automatic weapons.

In the Red Army, mortars are classed either as light, medium, or heavy. The light mortar, a 50-mm equivalent of our own 60-mm mortar, is the standard weapon of the rifle company, there being a two-mortar platoon to each company. These mortars may either support their own company in action, or all the mortar platoons in a battalion may be combined into a six-piece provisional mortar company which fires missions in support of the whole battalion. In such a case, a fire direction center will be established, and fire conducted through the use of messengers and visual signals. Where possible, 50-mm mortar fire is coordinated with that of the medium mortar units.

The Soviet medium mortar is an 82-mm piece, the equivalent of our own 81-mm mortar. Each battalion 82-mm mortar company, with nine pieces, may fire in support of its own rifle battalion. It is normal practice, however, when on the defense or in a static situation, to combine the three medium mortar companies of a rifle regiment into a provisional battalion commanded by the regimental heavy mortar battery commander, whose pieces operate jointly with those of the three mortar companies. This provisional mortar battalion establishes a fire direction center with wire communication to observation posts, and to platoons through their company command posts. Observation posts are numerous, there being platoon OP's and company OP's in addition to those maintained by the battalion. The provisional battalion commander is in turn under the command and coordination of the division artillery headquarters. Thus the provisional medium mortar battalion, unlike our own decentralized control of 81-mm mortar platoons, may fire massed concentrations in support of the entire regimental front, or may on occasion fire into the sectors of adjacent regiments, range permitting.

[The crew of an M1941 50-mm mortar go into action during one of the Red Army's winter offensives.]
The crew of an M1941 50-mm mortar go into action during one of the Red Army's winter offensives. Although normally the weapon of a mortar platoon, the platoons within a battalion may be combined to form a provisional mortar company.

The Soviet standard heavy mortar is the 120-mm, there being seven of them in the regimental mortar battery. There is no equivalent organization or weapon in the U.S. Army infantry regiment. In 1942, the Red Army organized some GHQ mortar battalions and regiments that function much as do our own 4.2-inch chemical mortar battalions.

[The crew of an M1938 82-mm mortar displace forward to a new firing position.]
The crew of an M1938 82-mm mortar displace forward to a new firing position. In a fast-moving situation, the aggressive displacement of guns is one of the characteristics of Red Army mortar tactics.


Mortar troops of the Red Army conduct their fire according to a thorough procedure. Artillery intelligence is acquired aggressively, with platoons, batteries, and battalions, working with infantry and artillery patrols to push their OP's as far forward as necessary. Enemy information is carefully and thoroughly evaluated, and intelligence is exchanged by all echelons from field armies to mortar companies. Artillery intelligence reports, as issued by the artillery headquarters, contain the operational recommendations and requirements of even the lower echelon mortar units.

Based upon this intelligence, and upon a thoroughly developed firing technique, a comprehensive fire plan is established. Once established, the plan is not static, but changes continuously as the operational requirements of the supported rifle troops vary. Once in action. mortar units will determine the requirements of fire against various targets, make fire reconnaissance against minefields, register specific concentrations, and establish check points. Such preliminaries having been established, mortar units then concentrate on secrecy, surprise, aggressive displacement of guns, maneuver of fire, and varying their mortar tactics.

Constant coordination and liaison between the mortar units, the artillery command, and the rifle units is a strict rule. The result is a closely knit fire plan wherein a single system of terrain reference is maintained by all troops. This in turn facilitates the requests for fire by rifle units, and its delivery by any or all fire support units.

Officer supervision and centralized control of mortar batteries is stressed in the Red Army by assigning a larger number of officers to mortar units than will be found in the equivalent units of the U.S. Army. Also. the greater number of medium and heavy mortars found in the Soviet rifle division, give it a striking power, by weight of projectile, of two and a half that of an American infantry division.


Although medium (82-mm) mortar platoons may be assigned to separate support missions, or medium mortar battalions may be formed for massed fire under certain operational circumstances, the medium mortar company is the standard operational unit among Red Army mortar troops.

When on the offense, the medium mortar company must supply supporting fire for the most forward rifle battalion troops. During the general artillery preparation that precedes a Red Army infantry attack, the mortars concentrate on neutralizing enemy infantry positions, and breaking gaps through minefields and wire entanglements. As the Soviet infantry deploys, the mortars join with the artillery in providing general covering fire, and during the attack the mortars fire concentrations against the foremost enemy positions, known weapons emplacements, and counterattacking infantry.

[The crew of an M1941 82-mm mortar move to a new position during the battle for Stalingrad.]
When on the offense, the medium mortar company must supply supporting fire for the most forward rifle battalion troops. Here the crew of an M1941 82-mm mortar move to a new position during the battle for Stalingrad.

When on the defensive, Soviet mortar companies, besides providing the normal support fires, must be prepared to put concentrations on concealed approaches anywhere within a mile and a half range, fire barrages to separate counterattacking enemy infantry from their tanks, and neutralize enemy forward support weapons. If enemy troops break into the Soviet defenses, the Soviet mortars are expected to aid in the destruction of these enemy elements by cutting off their path of retreat, and supporting the Red Army counterattack.

The Red Army mortar company moving into action is preceded by a reconnaissance section from the company, which selects the firing positions and observation posts. Whenever possible, the company OP is established near or in the same locality as the rifle battalion OP, since the mortar captain and the battalion commander maintain the closest liaison. Meanwhile, each mortar platoon establishes its own OP in front of its position, but not too far to prohibit the passing of verbal orders or signals from the OP's to the platoons. Telephone communication is established from each of the platoon OP's to the rifle battalion OP, and from there to the mortar company headquarters hack at the firing position. There is also wire communication between the battalion OP and the battalion command post.

When the company moves into its firing position, the usual procedure is to deploy the platoons in line with no more than about 35 yards between platoons, each platoon front also being approximately 35 yards. Thus the mortars would be roughly dispersed in battery along a front of between 150 to 200 yards. This procedure varies with the terrain, of course, and mortar platoons may often be arranged in echelon, rather than line, but along a general, common front.

As the pieces are moved into position, a company base piece is designated, it usually being the mortar farthest to one flank. In turn, base pieces are designated for each platoon, again usually a piece on the flank of the platoon. The mortars are then laid to fire a parallel sheaf; that is, each mortar is laid to fire on the same azimuth. This is done by setting the platoon base pieces in parallel with the company base piece, usually by using an artillery aiming circle. Then the mortars of each platoon are laid in parallel with their respective base pieces, usually by reciprocal laying.

When the company firing position has been established, the company commander, his second in command, a telephone operator, and an observer from each platoon make a reconnaissance for an alternate firing position and observation posts. However, if the company is continually displacing forward to accompany rifle troops on the offensive, each platoon may reconnoiter and advance independently with the infantry company it is supporting. But in the more stable situation, the company commander may select a reserve firing position not less than 200 yards from his mortars, have mortar positions prepared at this alternate location, and have camouflaged communications trenches dug between the two localities.

[Members of a battalion medium mortar company set up an M1941 82-mm mortar among the ruins of Kharkov.]
Members of a battalion medium mortar company set up an M1941 82-mm mortar among the ruins of Kharkov. The distance—about 35 yards—between this crew and the one in the background is SOP in the Red Army for medium mortars going into battery.

[Red Army mortarmen lay their guns much the same way we do, however the sight they use may be either simpler or more complicated than our own.]
Red Army mortarmen lay their guns much the same way we do, however the sight they use may be either simpler or more complicated than our own. The sight on the 82-mm mortar (left) may be used for laying a parallel sheaf among mortars in battery.

After the company's sector of fire has been designated, probably by the artillery staff, the company commander prepares the company firing data with the aid of his observer. From five to seven reference points are selected in the company's sector, one of these being designated as the base point. Among these reference points are those which have also been selected by the rifle battalion commander for his own purposes.

It is not unusual for the mortar company commander then to assign separate fire missions to his platoons, particularly if several targets have previously been marked for destruction. In such cases, platoon commanders prepare additional firing data of their own, including such things as range determination, charge selection, and the determination of angle of fire and deflection shifts. But when the whole company fires a concentration on one target, the preparation of firing data again becomes the responsibility of the company commander.

Registration on base points, reference (check) points, planned concentrations, etc., is by observed fire using the bracket method. This is done by the company commander using his base piece, firing first on the base point. Successive corrections are made during registration until the ratio of overs to shorts in a narrow fork does not exceed two to one in successive bursts. Then the sheaf is adjusted by firing all pieces at the determined range. On occasion, the ladder method is also used. During fire for effect, transfers of fire are computed from base points or from previous targets. Smaller sectors, or individual targets, may be designated to platoons, which then will register independently.

[Red Army mortarmen fall in for inspection at a Soviet training camp. The M1941 50-mm mortar, here shown in carrying position, is a weapon of the rifle company.]
Red Army mortarmen fall in for inspection at a Soviet training camp. The M1941 50-mm mortar, here shown in carrying position, is a weapon of the rifle company.

When in action, the company commander generally conducts the fire when his whole company is engaged on a single fire mission. However, if several targets are engaged at the same time, targets and fire missions may be allotted to the different platoons, in which case the platoon leaders will conduct the fire for their own pieces.

The Red Army medium mortar company is capable of laying a fixed barrage across a front of about 275 yards. It is the usual Soviet practice to allot 14 rounds per piece when conducting such a fire mission. Action is begun by firing two company concentrations of three rounds each, followed by four platoon salvos at 5-second intervals.

Defensive barrages against tank-borne infantry attacks are fired according to a prearranged plan. A series of phase lines between 300 and 400 yards apart are selected along the expected route of approach, the closest phase line being about 300 yards from the forward friendly positions. The ranges of each of these phase lines are determined in advance, and fire begins at the furthest phase line at the moment the lead tanks cross it. Fire is then shifted to each succeeding phase line until the attack is either repulsed, or has penetrated the last line.

Zone fire is conducted against enemy assembly areas and troop concentrations, the zone engaged by one medium mortar company being not larger than about 7 acres. When the zone contains troops in extensive fortifications, the mortar fire will probably be preceded by artillery firing for destructive effect. Zone fire is conducted at the rate of about 18 rounds per 2 acres per minute. Elevation and deflection is shifted in order to cover a zone adequately, each platoon firing 2 to 4 rounds for every shift of about 50 yards.

Short, intense concentrations are fired at visible targets in exposed positions. These concentrations usually last for 2 to 3 minutes, with the ammunition expenditure being about 50 rounds per 2 acres per concentration.


Massing the medium mortars of a regiment to form a provisional medium mortar battalion, is a Red Army practice more likely to be encountered when Soviet troops are on the defensive, or when the situation is relatively stable. Placed under the command of the regimental heavy mortar battery commander, the 27 medium mortars, plus the 6 heavies (120-mm), can fire a barrage 600 to 700 yards wide.

When a provisional mortar battalion organizes its firing position, the companies are echeloned in depth along the front, with intervals of about 100 yards between companies. Dummy and alternate firing positions are prepared, but the battalion usually goes into position rather far forward in order to get the maximum range for its pieces.

When the battalion commander has received the battalion fire mission, he allots separate missions to each of the companies. The battalion sector may be divided among the medium mortar companies for general support purposes. He also designates the reference points, sectors for antipersonnel barrages, accompanying concentrations, and platoon and company phase lines for antitank-antipersonnel barrages, aimed at infantry riding on tanks.

Once the battalion is in position, the pieces are not registered until the order to do so is received from the headquarters of the artillery which is supporting the rifle troops on that particular front. This headquarters designates both the time and duration of the mortar registration. The order in which companies will register their mortars, and the methods of registration, are then set by the battalion commander in order to reduce the registration period, and to avoid interference among the companies.

Within the battalion, communication is by telephone, but for communication with the artillery headquarters and the infantry, radio is used. Once this communication has been established, the battalion commander is able to fire all companies as a single unit. This massing of fire is probably the outstanding feature of Soviet mortar tactics.

When firing a massed antipersonnel barrage, each company is given the coordinates of its right sector line. The pieces are laid so that each company's barrage will fall with the extreme right burst near its sector line. The other bursts then extend to the left across the sector. The command to fire is not given until the enemy infantry has approached to within 200 to 250 yards of the Soviet front-line positions. Then the command to fire is given only on the orders of the infantry commander, or the commander of the artillery group supporting the infantry. If the enemy approaches to within 150 to 200 yards of the front with no orders to fire having been received, then the battalion commander can open fire on his own initiative.

In frontal antipersonnel barrages, fire is conducted in a parallel sheaf fired from fixed settings. Ammunition allotment for such a barrage is 112 rounds per company, and duration of fire is from 2 to 3 minutes. If the enemy attack penetrates the barrage, adjustment is made immediately to reduce the range 100 yards, thus forcing the enemy to advance through another curtain of mortar fire.


On the whole, Red Army mortar technique is, for the great part, very similar to that of the U.S. Army. The Soviets, however, seem to place greater emphasis on the role of the mortar as a support weapon, and therefore the mortar fire power of a Red Army unit is much greater than its U.S. Army equivalent. The most outstanding feature of the employment of mortars in the Red Army is the standing operating procedure for combining mortar units under one commander and firing the pieces in mass. Although some U.S. units have, on occasion, experimented with this technique, it is not a common practice among our own troops.

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