Mortaio da 81/14 Modello 35
81mm Infantry Mortar
The 81mm Modello 35 infantry mortar was the heaviest mortar in service with Italian Army forces during World War 2.
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The Italian Army made use of two main mortar designs during World War 2 - the 45mm Modello 35 and the 81mm Modello 35, both introduced in 1935. The 45mm design was effective in its repeat-fire nature but was of an unconventional arrangement in which the tripod support structure was permanently attached to the launch tube. This made for a heavy and complex system that did worked against any wartime advantages in both its tactical use and wide-scale production. Additionally, the weapon relied on a separate base charge fed from a detachable box magazine and the 45mm fragmentation projectile proved weak in practice. On the other hand, the 81mm was of a more conventional design, being a licensed Italian copy of the famous French Brandt mortar weapon, itself inspired from the British Stokes mortar. The Italian Model 35 was given the formal designation of "Mortaio da 81/14 Modello 35" and became the largest-caliber mortar to see service with Italian forces in World War 2 as a standardized medium army mortar. The "81/14" in the designation marked the caliber (81mm) and the approximate length of the barrel (14 x 81mm).
Borrowing from the Brandt design, the Model 35 made use of three key components that made up the overall weapon system - the launch tube, baseplate and the bipod support structure. The barrel itself was internally smoothbore and open at the muzzle end while the base held a "striker". Collectively, the weapon was a tried-and-true system that provided exceptional indirect repeat-fire performance at range. A crew of two was standard in a design such as this - one to manage the mortar directly and the other to manage the ammunition supply. The entire system weighed in at 135lbs which required multiple hands to transport or, when possible, pack animals.
The Model 35 was a muzzle-fed weapon in which the ammunition handler dropped the 81mm projectile into the launch tube. The projectile naturally fell towards the bottom of the tube atop an awaiting striker. The striker activated the projectiles propellant resulting in the shell existing the launch tube back through the muzzle end. The projectile simply followed the predetermined arc set forth by the elevation controls. Adjustments were naturally made for wind and other environmental conditions, sometimes requiring multiple successive shots to be made in "training" the weapon onto a target area.
The Model 35 was cleared to fire two standard projectiles, both of the high-explosive type with one intended for short-to-medium ranges and the other for long-range support. The long-range (light) version was a basic 7lb projectile which ranged out to 4,050 yards. The short-to-medium range version was a 15lb shell (heavy) ranged for target areas within 1,500 meters. A well-trained, disciplined and experienced crew could loose some 18 rounds per minute. Elevation spanned +4 to +90 degrees with traversal limited to 8 degrees. Muzzle velocity was rated at 515 feet per second.
Interestingly, the Model 35 could make use of both German and American 81mm ammunition which meant that it was something of a logistically-friendly weapon. In the latter case, the operators could benefit from captured stocks of enemy ammunition. While the British 3-inch mortar utilized the same caliber, it was not entirely compatible with the Italian Model 35.
For the Italian Army, six mortars were attached to a standard mortar company as part of an infantry regiment. Reportedly, these systems gave great service in their time, proving a sound and reliable product.