Mortar: 81 mm

The 81 mm mortar provides air assault, airborne, ranger, and light infantry rifle companies with an effective, efficient, and flexible weapon, typically found in the mortar platoon of an infantry battalion. The 81mm mortar is a smooth-bore, muzzle-loaded, high-angle, indirect fire weapon consisting of a barrel, sight, bipod, and base plate.

Snow camouflaged trooper with M-252 81mm Medium Extended Range Mortar
Snow camouflaged trooper with M-252 81mm Medium Extended Range Mortar.

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Medium Mortars: 81mm

Mortar company of the 92nd Division firing on German positions near Massa, Italy, November 1944. 81mm M1 Mortar
Mortar company of the 92nd Division firing on German positions near Massa, Italy, November 1944.
(81mm M1 Mortar).

The 81mm M1 Mortar was developed for use in World War II from a French design. The 136 pound M1 was designed to be man-portable when broken down into three components, the tube, the bipod mount, and the round baseplate, each about 45 pounds. The rectangular base plate allowed for firing in any direction. In its mechanized version, the M1 rode in the M4, M4A1 and M21 half-track Mortar Carriers. The photo to the right is an 81mm M1 Mortar preserved at the Highland Lakes Museum, Burnett, TX. Photo: Courtesy of Bob Pettit. Click for larger size.

81mm rounds, Camp Carson, CO, 24 April 1943

The 81mm M1 Mortar could cover a range of from 200 to 3290 yards (meters) with the M43A1 HE ammunition. Its tube was 3ft, 9.5 inches in length. The field manual was FM 23-90 "81mm Mortar M1", with 1942 and later dates. The M1 mortar was used during WW II and Korea. Photo, left, shows 81mm rounds in canisters, Camp Carson, CO, 24 April 1943.

The M-29 81mm mortar replaced the M1 in U.S. service in the late 1950s. The straight tube M-29 has a greater range and lighter weight, at 121.5 lb (55.1 kg), with its basic issue items.

The M29 was used in Vietnam and, like the M1, can be broken down into smaller loads for carrying. The rounds weigh about 15 pounds each. The M29 was replaced in the Army and Marine Corps by the M29A1 81mm Mortar in 1970. The M29A1 featured an improved tube that allowed for an increase in the rate of fire, and the new and lighter M3 base which could also be retrofitted to the M29.

The field manual was FM 23-90 "81mm Mortar M29", with 1958 and later dates.

By 1986, the M252 81 mm Mortar replaced the M29A1 in U.S. service. The M252 81mm Medium Extended Range Mortar has a greater range (4,500 meters to 5,650 meters) and effectiveness than the M29. It is distinguished by a short tapered cone at the muzzle that reduces blast. The breech end is finned for better cooling.

The M252 is an adaptation of the standard British 81mm mortar developed in the 1970s. Its components are the M253 Cannon (tube), M177 Mortar Mount, M3A1 Baseplate, and M64 or M64A1 Sight Unit shared with the M224 60mm mortar.

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