As with so many armies past and present, the infantry man was the backbone of the US Army during World War II. Armed with the M1 rifle, his training and an enormous line of supply to the rear, the American soldier was arguably one of the most formidable combatants in the history of warfare.
That said, even the most effective foot soldier often needs support. Along with machine gun crews, US infantry companies commonly contained the M2 60mm mortar. Crewed by just two men, the M2 added explosive punch in a highly portable weapon which could move swiftly with ground advances through varied terrain.
M2 4.2 inch chemical mortar in use during World War II
At the battalion level, larger mortars with more diverse ammunition, longer ranges and greater effectiveness were also available. The M1 81mm mortar (pictured at the top of this post) was used throughout the war with its 3000 yard range and mix of explosive shells. The larger mortar, weighing in at about 150 pounds, required a larger team and was commonly transported by cart or mounted in the back of a halftrack.
By the time of the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943, the even heftier M2 4.2 inch chemical mortar was added to the American arsenal. Designed but never used for lobbing various weaponized chemical payloads like poison gas, the M2 was set on a large rectangular base plate with a pinion-like stand to stabilize firing large explosive or smoke payloads over 4000 yards. The weight and over-sized shells of the M2 did limit its portability significantly, but even so, it helped to very effectively fill out the small artillery arsenal at the infantry level.
Sprue detail for the PSC US Heavy Weapons set with 60mm, 81mm and 4.2 inch chemical mortars
I’ve been diversifying my mortar support when building my US force for our Flames of War Infantry Aces Campaign at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. The Plastic Soldier Company’s Late War US Heavy Weapons 1944-45 box offers a whole host of extra weapons for my infantry, including three types of mortars. My 92nd Infantry Division started out with a weapons platoon containing a few standard 60mm mortars along with some M1919 machine guns.
To my initial force, I’ve recently added both 81mm and 4.2 chemical mortar platoons (photos below). I continue to be impressed by the PSC sets both for their sculpting as well as their value. I love the mortar crews holding their ears as the mortars fire and the guys crouching with binoculars. The tiny arms can often be a bit wonky when gluing the figures up, but this also allows some flexibility in poses. I set up one pair of figures in a little vignette of one guy reaching over to console his comrade who has been rattled by all the noise.
Detail of 81mm mortar and command
Completed 4.2 chemical mortar platoon
Chemical mortar platoon observer and command stands
Detail of a 4.2 chemical mortar squad
I’m putting my new mortar support platoons to use already in the Infantry Aces Campaign we’ve been running at the club for more than a month now. Although their first outing this past weekend wasn’t very successful, I’ve been studying up on FOW mortar smoke tactics. With strength only in numbers with my relatively inexperienced Confident/Trained riflemen, I’m going to be giving my force another try soon with mortars raining smoke and pinning fire on my German opponents. My hope is the mortars will provide just the support my American infantry need to fight to another tabletop victory.