Explosive Doom: How the Soviets Used 37mm Mortars Against the Nazis

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March 8, 2021 Topic: World War II Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: RussiaSoviet UnionMortarsArtilleryWarMilitary

Explosive Doom: How the Soviets Used 37mm Mortars Against the Nazis

These mortars served the Soviet Union well as they fought for survival against a full-on invasion.

Large stocks of the 82-PM-36 and improved 82-PM-37 were captured or destroyed during the rapid German advance in 1941. However, the Soviets developed a new—and arguably superior—mortar in the 82-PM-41, which went into mass production by the end of 1941. Developed as an infantry battalion mortar, it differed from the previous model in that it included a removable wheelbase, and also featured an arched construction base plate. Wheels could slip over the semi-axis of the bipod feed but be removed during firing. This provided greater mobility to the mortar, which weighed 123 pounds with the bipod—the barrel itself weighed 41.9 pounds and had a length of 48 inches.

However, it proved to have a worse center of gravity and the subsequent 82-PM43, which featured an improved bipod design that incorporated the wheels permanently. This eased stability but retained the mobility, and allowed the crew to be able to pull the mortar as they advanced. These two versions were used concurrently throughout the second half of the Great Patriotic War. Both models were fitted with a fixed firing pin and utilized the drop method of firing. The 82-PM-41/43 could achieve a firing rate between 15 and 20 rounds per minute, and these fired an HE (high explosive) round that weighed 7.4 pounds and had a maximum range of 3,400 yards. The 82mm mortars could be traversed three degrees on either side of centerline on the bipod, while for even greater traverse the wheels allowed the entire mortar to be quickly repositioned.

The Soviets designed the 82mm mortars as “Batalyonny Minomyot obr. 1936, 1937, 1941.”

Shovel Mortar

One final mortar that saw limited use by the Soviets was the 37mm light infantry mortar, also known as the spade or shovel mortar. It was produced as a dual-purpose device from 1939 until the end of 1941. It could be used as a spade or shovel as well as a mortar.

The spade portion also allowed the spade part of the weapon to be locked into position as a base plate for the mortar. The idea was that in this capacity the weapon could provide support fire for the infantry and be operated by a single soldier. There was no aiming device and the soldier instead pointed the mortar at the target and lobbed shells accordingly. The operator could carry 15 rounds, and each of these weighed 1.1 pounds, while the mortar weighed 3.5 pounds.

This particular weapon was devised as an alternative to a rifle grenade-launcher, as it could be faster to load and fire. The 37mm mortar was used in the 1939-40 Winter War against Finland, where it was found to be ineffective in the heavy snow. It was removed from service after the German invasion. Few examples are known to survive.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.comThis first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.