More Arcane Mortars?

Ok, then, if you want more, you’ll get more.

As the Great War (WW1) turned from a Napoleonic war of maneuver to the trench slugfest we now know it as, the French army found itself in a dire situation. Their artillery’s poster boy, the famed canon de 75, was essentially useless against anything it couldn’t fire directly at, and all the mortars still in use were bronze antiques relegated to fortress defense.

Said antiques, the Mortiers à la Gomer Modèle 1838, were a range of cast bronze mortar ranging from 15cm to 32cm caliber based on the designs of Louis-Gabriel de Gomer in the 18th century. They had received minor upgrades along with new designations over the decades, which is also what I would do if I had to disguise using ordnance so old its heyday was the siege of Sevastopol. That is unfortunately all the French army had to match the German Minenwerfers.

  De Gomer’s design, featuring a truncated conical powder chamber allowing the bomb to center itself naturally for increased accuracy, was the last significant improvement to French mortar up until 1914.


  The similar 15cm caliber mortar, seen in service in French trenches c.1914.

Putting the Mle1838 back in frontline duty necessitated a change in ammunition, as the old cast iron blackpowder bombs were lacking in the weight to payload ratio.  The incomprehensible grapeshot canisters were added the wooden Bombe Nicole – a high-explosive payload of several sticks of cheddite – and the odd-looking Système Moisson.


As it happens and in a turn of event that should have shamed France for the rest of time, there were in fact two weapons that were over 60 years old in French arsenals.

The Mle1847 grenade, the other one, with its only improvement before 1914 being a waterproof fuse plug. Someone looked at those along with the mortars and thought well, might as well kill two germans with one grenade. Or forty-seven grenades. Apparently inspired by a similar Russian device used during the siege of Sevastopol (we’ve come full circle), the Moisson system was made of half an empty wooden gunpowder barrel fitted with a large ventilated wooden plug or sabot which fit inside the mortar’s muzzle.

The weapon delivered by a payload of 13 to 47 grenades, depending on whether they were the old Mle1847 model or newly made smaller ones and of course the caliber of the gun. The grenades’ very simple fuses were lit by the propelling blast venting through their glorified bucket’s base and probably scattered on their way down.

The Mle1838 mortar was very common, and in use by the French Army during the early years of the war, and its nickname the “crapouillot” (toad) would continue to be used by the devices that replaced it. Embarrassingly enough the Moisson system was still described in artillery manual c.1935.


Human Development Index 2020 by Group and Ranking. There has been a discussion of the HDI on this blog before. You can make of it what you will. The map, below is illustrative.


Plague Vaccines


Goodbye C-2A

The U.S. Navy has ordered an additional CMV-22B Osprey carrier-onboard delivery aircraft. The Navy’s CMV-22B replaces the C-2A Greyhound for the Carrier On-Board Delivery (COD) mission. Its mission is to transport personnel, mail, supplies and cargo from shore bases to aircraft carriers at sea. Forty-four of the 48 Navy program of record aircraft will be delivered under the June 2018 multiyear procurement contract.

The CMV-22B differs from the MV-22B by having a high-frequency radio, extra fuel capacity, improved fuel dump capability, improved lighting for cargo handling and a public address system. The aircraft can carry up to 6,000 pounds up to a range of 1,150 nautical miles. It is capable of internally carrying the F-135 engine power module for the F-35 Lightning II.

While I understand that the VTO advantages of a CMV-22B, there is a certain nostalgia associated with the old Greyhound.



  1. The Greyhound will be missed, though I gather it was somewhat creepy to fly.

    Seems a shame that we’re replacing it with something slightly less capable; I’ve always thought we should have been able to come up with something with considerably more range and cargo capacity to operate with the CVs. Maybe could have made a big air tanker out of it, too.

    Oh, well.

    • COD drivers loved their Greyhounds, because while the aircraft carrier’s air wing was on the ship, they darted between different ports of call, often overnighting. Only young aviators jeered at the COD. It was great duty. The Osprey is a different sort of platform with shorter range, some reliability problems, etc.

    • The E-2D will remain in service for some time (same parts as the Greyhound) so it’s all the more mysterious as to why they are being phased out.

      • The only reason I can see for getting rid of the Greyhounds is they are getting old and that means either a complete rebuild or more and more and more maintenance time, with parts becoming scarcer.

        And the COD can’t land on the baby flat-tops, which are able to use the F-35Bs.

        Of course, if anyone asked me, they’d have done a COD version of the Viking or done a rebuild of the Greyhounds AND bought the Osprey-CODs. Or all three. But, well, nobody asked me.

        • True, the LPH/LHA classes don’t have arresting gear or cats, but they already have Ospreys that do the COD work. Since the large decks already stock the parts for Greyhounds/E-2D’s it would make some sense to keep buying them because they’re reliable and stable. Greyhounds can’t land on DDG’s, LSD’s or a number of other ships that would benefit from VERTREP (vertical COD’s) and I think that’s where the Navy is going. They’re buying a lot of the new OV-22’s.

        • Concur, Beans – I wish to hell we still had the sort of carrier air wing capabilities we used to, back in the ’80s. Now we’re down to 2 combat planes, the Hawkeye, and some rotorcraft. The 2 combat planes aren’t even the equal, adjusted for time and tech, of what they replaced, and we’ve thrown away entire type categories.


  2. A bell-mortar of whatever you call it lasted so long because they just worked, and one could futz and update the ammunition as new stuff came along. It’s part of the feature. They went from firing solid projectiles to shells to cluster ammo and other sub-munitions (like tossing out caltrops or other anti-personnel/anti-horse devices.)

    Yes, in comparison to tube mortars, they were heavy, and not as accurate, but when you’re smushing an area rather than a pin-point target, precise accuracy really doesn’t matter.

    It’s basically the reason mountain howitzers or pack howitzers stayed in the inventory long after being introduced. A simple gun, able to be disassembled and carried by many whatevers, whether horses, mules, helicopters, jeeps, tossed out of planes etc. I am referring to both the black powder versions introduced pre-Civil War and the venerable US M1/M116 pack howitzer. Just basic tubes, which can be modified by different carriages or mounts or by modifying the ammo.

    Heck, full tension or torsion catapults or onagers have a place in static trench warfare. You’re just throwing something farther than one can with one’s arms.

    Don’t discount ‘outdated’ and ‘simple.’ If it works, it works. Look at what works and if one must futz with it, improve it, make it lighter, stronger, able to handle a heavier charge or ammo or whatever.

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