The Origin And Use of Siege Mortars

Key Point: Siege mortars originated in the 17th century and were used to lob explosive shells over walls or fortifications. Their high trajectory allowed them to bypass defenses, making them effective in siege warfare for breaking down fortifications and causing disruption behind enemy lines.

This article will cover siege mortars. What siege mortars are. How they were used. And how effective they were as siege weapons. So, by the time you finish this article, you will know everything there is to know about siege mortars and their use as a siege weapon.

Now before we continue we should answer a couple of questions. Namely: What are siege mortars? And … When were siege mortars invented?

A siege mortar is a type of artillery that is used to bombard fortifications during a siege. It is a large, short-barrelled cannon that fires explosive shells at high angles. The earliest known use of siege mortars was during the 16th century when they were used by the Ottoman Empire during the Siege of Vienna in 1529. The use of siege mortars became more widespread in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly during the wars of Louis XIV of France.

That was a short introduction to siege mortars. Now, let’s explore their origins.

The Origin Of Siege Mortars

According to this article, the use of mortars in a siege dates back to the siege of Constantinople in 1453. These early siege mortars were relatively small, but they were effective in destroying fortifications. Over time, siege mortars became larger and more powerful, and they played a significant role in many historical battles and sieges.

At that particular point in time, the Ottoman Empire was at the forefront of cannon technology. This technological know-how helped them dominate a continent for a few centuries. If you wish you can take a look at another siege weapon they invented, the “Great Turkish Bombard” right here.

From there the use of siege mortars quickly spread throughout Europe. And became a standard part of a military’s arsenal during sieges. In the 18th century, the design of the mortars continued to evolve, with improvements to the design of the shells and the construction of the barrels.

Why Were Siege Mortars Developed?

The siege mortars were designed with a short, wide barrels that could fire large, heavy shells at a steep angle. The shells were typically filled with gunpowder and other explosives and would rain down on the enemy fortifications, causing significant damage. The high trajectory of the shells meant that they could strike targets behind walls or other obstacles, making them a particularly effective weapon in siege warfare.

The main purpose of siege mortars was to cause havoc behind the walls of fortifications. Now, it’s time you see how the siege mortars worked. And how effective were they?

How Did They Work?

Siege mortars work by using gunpowder to launch large, heavy shells at a high angle. The shells are typically filled with explosives, such as black powder. And as you have seen are designed to cause significant damage to fortified enemy positions.

The operation of a siege mortar typically required a team of several people. These individuals would work together to load the mortar with the appropriate amount of powder and shell. Aim the mortar, and then fire the weapon. The exact number of people required to operate a siege mortar actually varied. It depended on the size and design of the weapon, as well as the particular needs of the military.

Range Of Siege Mortars

Generally, siege mortars had a range of several hundred yards or more, which allowed them to strike enemy positions from a safe distance.

Number Of People Operating Them

Over time, the number of people required to operate a siege mortar changed as the weapons themselves evolved. In earlier designs, siege mortars were often operated by large teams of men who were responsible for a wide range of tasks. Which included loading, aiming, and firing the weapon. However, as the design of the mortars became more sophisticated, the number of people required to operate them decreased, and specialized teams of highly trained soldiers became more common.

That’s all fine and well. But what kind of things did they shoot over the walls? You can see that in the next segment.

Projectiles Used In Siege Mortars

The projectiles used by siege mortars have evolved significantly over time. In the early days of siege warfare, the shells fired by mortars were typically solid iron spheres. Those were designed to cause blunt-force trauma to enemy fortifications. However, as the design of the mortars improved, so too did the design of the shells themselves.

Later designs of siege mortars used shells that were hollowed out and filled with explosives, such as black powder. These explosive shells were significantly more effective than the solid iron spheres. Since they could cause significant damage to enemy fortifications and personnel.

Over time, the design of the shells continued to evolve, with new materials and explosive compounds being developed that made them even more effective.

Projectiles Developed In The 20th Century

For example, during World War I, the British developed a new type of shell called the Stokes mortar, which used a combination of high-explosive and smoke-generating compounds to create a highly effective weapon.

And, during World War II, the German army developed a new type of mortar called the Nebelwerfer, which used a rocket-assisted projectile to increase its range and accuracy.

In The End How Effective Were Siege Mortars Really?

All in all siege mortars were an effective siege weapon. That is why it stayed in use over centuries. It stopped being used in the 20th century when armies realized firing indiscriminately into a city filled with civilians isn’t quite … nice.

To say the least. And they got access to other forms of weapons that they could aim better without harming civilians.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. If you wish to continue learning about siege weapons I suggest taking a look at my article on the Korean rocket launcher that was used as a siege weapon all the way back in the 16th century. Go here to learn more.

You can also see a more traditional siege weapon the springald. A useful siege weapon for an attacking army. To check out that article simply go here to learn more.

Take care!

Source: “Artillery: An Illustrated History of its Impact” by Jeff Kinard