The 17cm mittlerer Minenwerfer was a portable mortar (or "mine projector") used by the Imperial German Army during World War 1. Having understood the significance of such siege weapons during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) - particularly in their use to destroy fortifications during the Siege of Port Arthur - the Germans enacted a mortar-building program that produced several excellent mine projecting type weapons, all made portable by two-wheeled carriages managed by several personnel. Since their primary enemy, in the event of total war, would become France and its string of frontier fortresses, the mine projector would itself become an utterly important siege weapon for the German Army and their intention to advance on Paris proper. The 17cm mittlerer Minenwerfer - otherwise known as the "17cm mMW" - was produced by the German concern, Rheinmetall, from 1913 onwards and was adopted by the Imperial German Army that same year. Only about 150 were available at the start of war in August of 1914. Production would continue to the end of the war in 1918, by which time approximately 2,360 were produced, thus showing the importance of the weapon by the end of the conflict.
Mine projectors served the useful battlefield role of destroying fixed, fortified enemy emplacements that usually housed machine gun teams, artillery systems or both. In any case, these fortresses prevented further advancement by ground forces and mine projectors provided a solution. The weapon type could also be used to remove field obstacles (i.e. barricades, barbed wire fields) that threatened or contained allied troop movements, cavalry and vehicles. The design of the 17cm mMW was such that it could attack these targets at range utilizing a short rifled barrel, which made for good accuracy. The 170mm (6.69") 110lb shell was specific to the 17cm mMW weapon in that it was designed with a thin outer casing which allowed for more internal filler, hence, more explosive capabilities within. The shells were loaded down into the open muzzle-end of the launch tube in the normal muzzle-loading mortar fashion (still utilized today). A hydro-spring suspension system offered the necessary recoil function and the wheels of the transport carriage were typically removed before firing. The wheeled nature of the carriage did, however, allow a team of four to pull the weapon into position with some work. Overall weight was 1,065lbs which naturally required multiple crew (or pack animals) to move. A pit was dug to protect the weapon and gunnery team whenever possible and elevation served projectiles between +45 to +90 degrees with traversal limited to 25 degrees to either side. A trained crew could loose up to 20 rounds per minute out to a range of 1,700 yards though more accuracy was attained at ranges under 325 yards. Sighting was done through a panoramic sighting device integrated into the design.
After some practice, the original 17cm mMW gave way to a revised design sporting a longer barrel which increased overall range. The original's barrel measured just over 2 feet while the revised variant added a further 5 inches to the length. The manufacturing change, therefore, created two distinct designations - the earlier short-barreled versions became the 17cm mMW a/A (for "alter Art") and the later, longer-barreled versions became the 17cm mMW n/A (for "neuer Art"). The "alter" and "neuer" markings simply designated them as "old" and "new" respectively.
In action, the 17cm mMW series gave a good account of itself. They were utilized by engineering units charged with all manner of demolition of enemy fortifications, obstacles and emplacements. The massive 170mm shells could certainly deliver firepower against targets and utterly destroy concrete and steel structures with some ease. Such weapons were, however, cumbersome to maneuver in the heat of battle and in confined spaces so early-war designs eventually gave way to more streamlined, lighter forms by war's end. In addition to their base explosive projectile, such mine projectors could also make use of incendiary rounds as well as poison gas rounds to further the hellish nature of trench warfare.
17cm mittlerer Minenwerfer - Base Series Designation; production by Rheinmetall between 1913 and 1918; 2,361 examples produced.
17cm mMW - Abbreviated German Army Designation
17cm mittlerer Minenwerfer a/A - Initial production mark fitting 2 foot, 1 inch L/3.8 barrel.
17cm mittlerer Minenwerfer n/A - Revised production mark fitting 2 foot, 6 inch L/4.5 barrel; increased overall range.
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