Hand Mortars - Late Production Examples?

Discussion in 'General Muzzleloading' started by hyuzu, Feb 17, 2019.

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  1. Feb 17, 2019 #1

    hyuzu

    hyuzu

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    I recently came across this example of a hand mortar, produced in France and dated to ca. 1780: https://armurerieduforestier.eu/htt...-hand-mortar-signed-moynat-a-lyon-circa-1780/

    From my limited knowledge, the 1780s was a bit on the late side for the usage of these particular weapons, so it was interesting to see. I'm now curious, is anyone aware of hand mortars produced later than 1780? For example, were any still in production (or use) during the Napoleonic era? I should point out that by "hand mortars" I'm referring to muzzle-loading, hand-held grenade launchers, such as the example above.
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2019
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  2. Feb 18, 2019 #2

    Rifleman1776

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    There was a thread here with some pictures of a company in Europe that still makes similar items. Very interesting and more than a mere handful. Some searching might find that thread for you.
     
  3. Feb 18, 2019 #3

    dave_person

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    Hi Hyuzu,
    I do not believe the gun dates to the 1780s. The hardware and lock are styles used on trade guns during the 1740s and early 1750s. I am also not convinced it was even military given the hardware and because it is not the product of St. Etienne, Maubeuge, or Charleville. Perhaps there were private military contractors in France but maybe this hand mortar was used for some non- or paramilitary purpose.

    dave
     
  4. Feb 18, 2019 #4

    hyuzu

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    Thanks, I know there are some modern repros made (Veteran Arms LLC is one company that sells them). But I was asking more about historical examples from the muzzle-loading era. Sorry for the confusion.

    I'd have to take your word on it, I'm no expert when it comes to dating flintlocks. Is it possible though, especially if it was indeed made by a private gunsmith in the 1780s, that they would have just made an earlier/simpler lock style?
    It's definitely possible it could have also been made for civilian use. I've heard stories of hand mortars used for things like fireworks displays back in the day.
     
  5. Feb 18, 2019 #5

    dave_person

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    Hi,
    Fireworks or signaling were two uses that crossed my mind. The lock is an old design without a pan bridle anchoring the frizzen. By the 1760s virtually all French military guns all had bridled frizzens. If it was made in the 1780s it likely was from old salvaged parts. I believe it was made earlier than stated on the web site.

    dave
     
  6. Feb 19, 2019 #6

    hyuzu

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    Thanks for your input, this is why I hang around here ;)
    Have you yourself come across any late 18th century (or even early 19th century) examples of hand mortars, whether from France or elsewhere? I remember seeing a book claim that such a weapon was used by Euro-Americans against Sioux in 1808, but from the digging I did it turns out the weapon was most likely a "coehorn" stationary mortar...
     
  7. Feb 19, 2019 #7

    dave_person

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    Hi,
    The hand mortars were used by troops that became known as "grenadiers", which is why a flaming bomb is their universal badge design. By the mid 18th century, their grenade shooting and throwing days were mostly over and they were turned in to large and imposing shock troops attached to infantry battalions. I've never seen or heard of hand mortars being used after about 1740 or 1750. Most of the references I am familiar with hardly mention them after 1700. Howard Blackmore shows a short lived cup device from about 1740 that attached to the muzzle of a musket much like a bayonet, that was used to launch grenades. Grenade launching was a dangerous business to the launcher as much as the enemy, which is why they eventually disappeared.


    dave
     
  8. Feb 19, 2019 #8

    Nyckname

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    The Japanese "knee mortars" from WWII were visually similar (no bipods), but they had to be braced on the ground, and aimed by guess (no sights).
     
  9. Feb 19, 2019 #9

    hyuzu

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    I'm the same, most sources I've read on these weapons seem to indicate they were falling out of favour by the first half of the 18th century. Despite the inherent dangers, I could still see a use for them in certain situations, particularly in naval combat where starting a fire on the enemy deck would be handy. I have wondered, whether there's any evidence of hand mortars being loaded with other forms of offensive ammunition, such as some form of smoke or incendiary device?

    I always thought the flaming bomb symbol for grenadiers was because they were originally intended to throw hand grenades. I've never heard of whole units being outfitted with hand mortars, although I know individual soldiers/specialists were...

    Not visually similar at all, imo. Hand mortars were more like a 17th-18th century version of the M79.
    And Japanese "knee mortars" weren't fired by "guess". The user would adjust the size of the chamber space in the weapon to allow for greater or shorter ranges.
     
  10. Feb 19, 2019 #10

    Col. Batguano

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    TRS advertises one as one of thair "kits" they sell. Whether it's a recreation of a historical weapon or just a fantasy piece I couldn't tell you, but it sure looks cool and fun. Not so cool and fun that I would want to invest the time and money to build one though.
     
  11. Feb 20, 2019 #11

    Grenadier1758

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    My unit has used the hand held grenade (mortar) launcher and the grenade attachment to a long land pattern musket. These are not shoulder fired weapons. Recoil is fierce. The butt is placed on the ground and roughly aimed. A properly designed grenade launcher for attachment to a musket has a gap between the cup and the muzzle in order to prevent the cup from becoming a barrel obstruction and bursting the barrel. Yes, that too must be fired with the butt on the ground.

    Note: The fuse on the grenade is lit by the blow by of the discharge. There is more than enough flame to light the fuse. We have demonstrated the use of grenades (tennis balls with a mix of black powder and flour) launched from such launchers. Our hand mortar was built from the Rifle Shoppe's kit. We built our own attachment to the musket. The launcher must fit tight to the muzzle. The bayonet lug is a position guide. You can remove the bayonet lug and most of the fore stock if the launcher mates to the bayonet lug.

    Grenadiers were throwing grenades long before these helpful aids were developed. Once mortars became more practical and portable, the need for grenadiers to run up to a wall or barrier and toss grenades over the obstacle was eliminated. Then the grenadiers became the elite infantry unit. Yes, the flaming grenade and the match case are still seen on grenadier uniforms.
     
  12. Feb 20, 2019 #12

    hyuzu

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    Are you saying weapons like this were not hand-held, but fired from the ground? https://armurerieduforestier.eu/htt...-hand-mortar-signed-moynat-a-lyon-circa-1780/

    Can I ask what sources you got that information from? Most things I've read say that hand-mortars were designed to be hand-held grenade launchers. But I'm no expert.

    That's one way they were fired. The other was to light the fuse before inserting the grenade. However, that could have an unfortunate result if the gun misfired and you were stuck holding a lit grenade inside the barrel...

    I've read also that the method of lighting the fuse by the discharge of the gun (as you mentioned) could sometimes have the unintended consequence of the fuse being forced inside the grenade and detonating prematurely. Do you have any input on the truth of that?

    That's about the way I heard it too.
     
  13. Feb 22, 2019 #13

    Grenadier1758

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    Yes, the launcher was fired in the fashion of a mortar under direction of the embedded artillery officers. The launcher was hand held with the butt firmly placed on the ground. Since one of the members of our unit had one of the hand launchers, he just had to fire it from his shoulder. Needless to say he learned that the direction as stated according to the artillery procedures was quite correct. Firing one of these launchers even with a tennis ball with some black powder and flour to make a smoke cloud was something you didn't want to do twice.

    We also have a grenade launching cup that is placed on the muzzle of the Land Pattern musket. Since there is a gap between the muzzle and the cup, the launching cup does not present an obstacle that will cause a pressure spike that will burst a barrel. The firing of that launcher using powder from a cartridge will send a tennis ball about 200 feet and considerably higher than the walls of a fort. A musket with such a launcher is also fired with the butt of the musket placed on the ground.

    As far as having the fuse pushed into the grenade on launch, that is something we have not experienced. The fuse is pointed away from the charge and relies on the blow by flash to light the fuse. If the fuse is pointed at the launching powder, I can see it being possible for the fuse to be blown into the grenade.

    Artillery practice for use of the grenade launchers was under control of the artillery officer and proper artillery procedures would have been followed. Grenades and mortar rounds were essentially the same device only differing in size.

    My unit has spent considerable time to research proper use of the rounds we fire. We also have established our safety procedures.
     
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  14. Feb 22, 2019 #14

    hyuzu

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    Assuming this isn't classified info for reenactors only, I'd be interested to know what period manuals/instructions you guys got all this info from. :)
     
  15. Feb 23, 2019 #15

    Grenadier1758

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    We have done some more research. According to De Witt Bailey, here is the entry on Grenade / Mortar launchers.
    Small Arms Cover.jpg

    The text indicates that the musket mortars were indeed shoulder fired with 6 drams, 165 grains, (powder grade not mentioned) of powder to launch a grenade 250 yards. Most that Bailey encountered were cups attached to the muzzle of a musket in the manner of a bayonet. While examples exist from the 1680's The Brown Bess musket mortars were in service from about 1720 through the 1750's.

    Note: I am not including a picture of the page of a copyright publication.
     
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  16. Feb 23, 2019 #16

    hyuzu

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    Thanks very much for the reference, I'll see about finding a copy of that book to have a read through.
    By the way, I don't suppose any of your sources indicate whether hand mortars may have been fired from a rest, rather than just braced against the ground? A certain illustration on the interwebs caught my eye, but I'm unable to track down a source or any verification for it.
    Russian soldier with a hand mortar, using a polearm as a rest, early 18th century:
    [​IMG]
     
  17. Feb 24, 2019 #17

    hyuzu

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    Sorry to double-post, but regarding hand-mortars (in this case referred to as "firelock mortars") being shot from a rest, I did find this brief mention in a military dictionary from 1810:

    "Firelock-Mortars ... are small mortars, fixed at the end of a firelock: they are loaded as all common firelocks are; and the grenade, placed in the mortar at the end of the barrel, is discharged by a flint-lock; and, to prevent the recoil hurting the bombardier, the bombard rests on a kind of halberd, made for that purpose."
    Source: https://books.google.com/books?id=wElKAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Of note, this military dictionary refers to "hand mortars" as a different kind of weapon, in this case being: "fixed at the end of a staff 4 1/2 feet long, the other end being shod with iron to stick in the ground: while the bomardier, with one hand, elevated it at pleasure, he with the other hand fired."

    I'm now curious, @Grenadier1758 , were your sources (instructing hand-mortars to be fired from the ground) perhaps referring to this other type of hand-mortar, which was attached to a staff planted on the ground? Or do your sources make it clear that they are talking about mortars "fixed at the end of a firelock"?
    I'm asking because this isn't the first time I've come across different historical uses of the terms "hand mortar" and "firelock mortar" to refer to different kinds of weapons...
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2019
  18. Feb 26, 2019 #18

    Rifleman1776

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    That illustration appears to me to be heavily influenced by 'artistic license'. The shooter, as I see it, is asking for a bunch of hurt. He is sighting with something that has no sights. He is leaning into the mortar and trying to hold in place. Methinks when that goes off he will wish he was in another profession.
     
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  19. Feb 26, 2019 #19

    hyuzu

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    Could well be, that's why I brought it here for our resident experts.
    I am curious though what is meant in that military dictionary I quoted re: "firelock mortars" being shot from a rest on a "kind of halberd".

    Also, for the evaluation of our flintlock / hand mortar experts here, I found what is described as a "British Naval Grenade Launcher" made by "Lacy of London", dated to 1772: http://www.theswordpattern.co.uk/Flintlock_Hand_Mortar_Lacy_Grenade_Launcher_p/ll1772.htm
    You can see the date on the 6th image.
     
  20. Feb 26, 2019 #20

    hyuzu

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    It seems the image of the "bombardir" above was inspired by this image:
    [​IMG]

    As of now, I haven't been able to track down what source it's from. The web-page I found this on was a Russian article about hand mortars during the time of Tsar Peter I, and did not provide a source.
     

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