The 5-cm Granatwerfer 36 (abbreviated as "leGrW 36") was the standard light mortar utilized by the German Army in the early years of World War 2. Engineers tried to make a useful portable 50mm system that could benefit squad-level operations but instead created an overly complex and heavy system with limited range that proved to be a detriment to a resource-strapped Germany by the middle and end years of the war. In the end, the leGrW 36 had a limited existence and was ultimately passed down to second-line units as more favorable weapons replaced it. The leGrW 36 was utilized by Nazi Germany, Bulgaria and Slovakia.
Germany held something of an advantage during the inter-war years following World War 1. While other national armies were being downsized and the world, as a whole, was war-weary, thoughts of rearmament played through the heads of German authorities. The standing German Army had essentially been dismantled down to the rivet following the cessation of hostilities, but the rise of a new Germany meant that the nation held little reservation in resurrecting a new modern army from scratch. Attempts by the Free World to curtail such growth eventually fell to naught, for Hitler and his underlings were quick to bypass any international restrictions at their leisure, assuring that a Second World War was at hand. As such, general thinking in terms of weapons development during this time often combined necessity with novel concepts, often times producing sophisticated and complex systems beyond the scope of a wartime economy.
With rearmament there came the need for a light 50mm infantry mortar system to complement squad actions. The German firm Rheinmetall-Borsig AG went about designing their new leGrW 36 (leichte Granatwerfer 36) along a different set of ideas beginning in 1934. The launch tube would be fixed to the baseplate while trajectory support would come from a simple monopod-type assembly. In contrast, most mortar systems utilized a separate baseplate attached to the firing tube with an accompanying bipod assembly for support. A collection of traverse controls were integrated into the baseplate itself and an telescopic sight was added to promote accuracy at range. The leGrW 36 was also made somewhat portable by a single infantryman thanks to an integrated handle though the overall weight of the little system left something to be desired (just over 30lbs). The firing action was accomplished through use of a trigger as opposed to an impact firing pin common in other light mortar designs. The leGrW 36 had the added benefit of being made ready to fire almost immediately thanks to its design - the operator needed only to set the system down, adjust traverse and elevation and introduce a 1.98lb projectile into the firing tube. Interestingly, the leGrW 36 was designed to fire only HE (High-Explosive) projectiles and nothing more. Conversely, most other mortar-type weapons made use of smoke, illumination and incendiary rounds to make the most of such a frontline weapon. The projectile itself was of a teardrop shape with a tapered base, adorned by eight smallish stabilization fins.
The weapon fired a TNT-filled 50mm projectile at a muzzle velocity of 246 feet-per-second within a minimum range of 55 yards and out to a maximum range of 558 yards. The operator could adjust the trajectory of the mortar from 42- to 90-degrees with traverse as well. A trained crew of two could fire off between 15 and 25 projectiles per minute.
The LeGrW 36 officially entered service with the German Army in 1936 and was fielded up until 1945 despite production being abandoned in favor of cheaper and more capable systems in 1941. In practice, the nifty little weapon proved too complicated for the utilitarian task at hand. The German soldier generally found operation of this weapon too complicated in the heat of battle and the overall weight worked against it when transporting the system under fire, both offsetting any potential benefits. The projectile itself was found to be too "light" to be effective in the intended role. Additionally, where the mortar carrier went, his ammunition carrier needed to follow and this weight of ammunition came at a price all its own. To help compound issues, the range of the leGrW 36 was quite restricted when compared to her contemporaries, meaning that the novel telescopic sight was all but useless for a simple line drawn about the barrel itself proved enough to assist the operator in aiming the weapon. As such, the telescopic sight was dropped from production by 1938. The leGrW 36 also relied upon complex construction utilizing valuable materials, making it a dispensable item when it came time for Germany to cut back on the overly complicated and expensive war equipment plaguing her efforts. The limitations often times sent German soldiers clamoring for captured Soviet and French 50mm systems, preferring those in most cases.
The leGrW 36 led a relatively short operational life. She was gradually removed from frontline service and those numbers already in circulation were passed down to second-line units, defensive units and some Italian forces in need of ranged firepower. Some leGrW 36s were known to be in defensive action along Hitler's "Atlantic Wall" to the West.
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