A cautionary tale


A 2″ mortar tail fin found on Berkhamsted Common, and left by the British army seventy five years ago, reminds us of past activities.

Collected as modern day litter it serves as a reminder of a quiet bucolic country life being interrupted by a violent period. In fact Berkhamsted Common has seen acts of warfare for the last two hundred years. Target butts can still be seen from Napoleonic times when it was used as a volunteer rifle range, and the first World War trenches used for training have recently been restored.

The ordnance SBML two-inch mortar, or more commonly, the “two-inch mortar”, was a British mortar issued to the British Army and the Commonwealth armies, that saw use during the Second World War and later.

It had the advantage of being more portable than larger mortars which needed vehicles for them to be carried around, and the two-inch (51mm) gave greater range and firepower than rifle grenades.

The standard service version of the 2-inch (51 mm) mortar had a barrel length of 21 inches (530 mm) and could fire a high explosive bomb weighing 2.25 lb (1.02 kg) out to a range of 500 yards. With such a short barrel the normal firing method, where the bomb was dropped down the tube and a pin in the base of the barrel struck the detonator in the tail of the bomb, would not work so firing was by a small trigger mechanism at the breech. Originally the two-inch mortar was fitted with a large collimating sight with elevating and cross-level bubbles, but this was soon dropped as unnecessary for front-line use. It was replaced with a simple white line painted up the length of the barrel. The firer only had to line this up in the direction of the target and fire a number of bombs for effect. While this method of operation appeared rather haphazard, it worked well and the practice continued long after the war.

Thanks to Barbara

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