The M1938 120mm mortar was a field mortar system accepted into service with the Red Army in 1939. The weapon system was nothing more than a copy of the excellent French-designed Brandt series of 1935, known specifically as the "Mortier Brandt de 120mm Modele 1935". The M1938 was used extensively by Red Army troops throughout World War 2, particularly in combat actions following the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, opening up the fabled "East Front".
The M1938 was made up of three components consisting of the reusable firing tube, baseplate and bipod assembly. The type was also known for its integrated wheeled towing carriage which allowed it to be transported or relocated by the fire team or mover vehicles. Another method of transportation involved breaking the system down into its three key aforementioned components, thus allowing one member of the fire team to carry a portion of the weapon to a new location.
The M1938 weighed in at 620lb when full prepared to fire. The fire tube was rated for 120mm mortar projectiles that each weighed 35lb. The mortar was operated in a conventional manner with the operator simply dropping the projectile into the launch tube through the muzzle. The projectile would then fall, hit a firing pin at the bottom of the tube and ignite the charge propellant. This sent the projectile out of the launch tube at 890 feet per second along the pre-determined fire arc. Elevation was controlled through an adjustment mechanism by the crew.
Once in action, the firepower inherent in a 120mm mortar system became wholly apparent and the mortar was used in conjunction with infantry assaults as a support weapon. The mass amounts of suppression and lethal firepower of a single high-explosive mortar was something to note, particularly for the receiving German Army troops. The Germans were so impressed with the caliber of power inherent in the Soviet M1938 that the weapon was outright copied to become the Granatwerfer 42 series mortar for the German Army in 1941. The German version exceeded the Soviet design in range, reaching out to 6,600 yards over the original's 6,200 yard range.
Regardless, the Soviet model endured long after the war and was a central performer in the Cold War to follow. The M1938 found its way into various inventories of Soviet Bloc and allied nations for decades after World War 2. This allowed the weapon to be fielded in notable numbers in such upcoming conflicts as the Vietnam War. The M1938 can still be found in lesser numbers today, a testament to its excellent design and qualities - with much owed to the French.
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