Mortar shells as grenades: Discussion continues
Yesterday I received my copy of the latest Checkerboard. I read with interest the Schaefer/Whitehead controversy about the use of a mortar shell as a grenade. As a mortar crewman in I/394 let me put in my two cents.
If my memory serves me, this is the way the firing takes place: There is a safety pin similar to that on a grenade that is pulled. The shell is still not armed. The round is dropped into the mortar tube, fin-end down. The shotgun shell hits the firing pin in the tube and it, with any increments, fires. The sudden reversal in direction of the mortar round causes a set-back pin (I believe it's called) to be depressed, releasing a third pin. The round is still not armed. This third pin is now free to exit the mortar round. However, it is prevented from doing so by the mortar tube. When the shell emerges from the tube this pin is ejected. Now, and only now, is this shell armed. Thus, if the shotgun shell fails to fire for any reason, the mortar tube can be inverted and the round slid out. Since the set-back pin has not been depressed, the original safety can be reinserted.
Therefore, the reason for rapping the shell fin first is to depress that set-back pin. Then there is no way that mortar shell is going to fire otherwise. I remember we discussed this during the war. Is it possible to apply enough force to arm the round in this way? Older more experienced mortar men than I couldn't agree. No one tried it, so the discussion went on. As I remember, the subject was brought up because Audie Murphy was reported to have done this, striking the shell on a window sill and dropping or throwing them on the enemy below. Half of us believed it and half did not.
Incidentally, to comment on the efficiency of this system: as an ammo bearer in a mortar squad I once discovered a hole in the cardboard cylinder the mortar shells were shipped in. Exposing the shell I found the head of that shell a mass of loose junk, having apparently been hit by a piece of shrapnel. I gingerly disposed of it. For all I know it is still buried in Germany, somewhere in the vicinity of Honningen. Heaven only knows how long I carried it, or what treatment and shocks it had endured.
I hope this lengthy description explains things.
I enjoy the newspaper, even though I don't know many members. As a replacement, (first week of January 1945), I never got to know many beyond our platoon.
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