A mortar is an instrument of warfare. A mortar uses explosive shells that do damage on impact, sort of acting as a portable bomb. It's basic design is a tube fashioned upon some type of pedestal which can be quickly aimed and moved to a new position if necessary. Aiming is usually set in between 45 and 85 degree angles to the ground, with the higher angles giving a shorter distance to target. This high parabolic trajectory gives the mortar the unique ability to hit objects behind obstacles, such as hills or structures. Usually, one person aims the mortar, while another drops in the charge.
As far back as 1453, historians have evidence of mortar use. These early mortars were very simple but allowed long distance impact. Often, targets would have people designated to observe incoming mortar fire so that casualties could be avoided by warning of their trajectories. Even earlier than this, it is believed that the Korean Choe Museon (1325 - 1395) may have invented an early type of gourd shaped mortar.
The main purpose of a mortar is not accurate, pinpoint killing, but broad swaths of destruction, taking out structures like barbed wire, and even some bunkers. In WWI, the Germans had approximately 1234 heavy mortars, 2361 medium mortars, and 12,329 light mortars, according to records. They made a versatile and portable weapon that could easily be manned by most troops.
WWI was a bloody war. Often times, during trench warfare, thousands of men would be killed to gain a few hundred yards of ground. The mortar proved extremely useful in the trenches of the western front, as they could be fired to fall directly into the trench, killing people who thought they were taking cover. This was an advantage over artillery shells which have a much flatter trajectory. It is unknown how many people died during WWI from mortar fire, but undoubtedly tens of thousands suffered death or gruesome injury because of their effects.
WWI became known as the Great War in which more people died than had ever died before during warfare. Mortars, in particular, have no discrimination in who their target is and as a result, governments continued to use and exploit their advantages right up until modern times. Modern mortars are thin, stabilized, and provide enough accuracy to be helpful on the modern battlefield in close fire support, more so than any other weapon.
Another example of a mortar.
Example of a troop using a mortar.
An example of a modern mortar.
Having seen how effective the mortar was in WWI, nearly all countries involved in WWII used the mortar to some extent. By then, it had evolved to have much longer range, and much higher accuracy. In modern times, mortars are accurate enough to hit a small target from miles away. That being said, they are not even in the same category of accuracy as modern laser-guided precision weapons, and would still be considered a ground and troop clearing weapon, and is usually used by infantry units.
A specific example of its effectiveness and undeniably effective usage, was during WWI in barbed wire zones known as No Mans Land. Wire would generally be laid so that advancing enemy troops had to go into machine gun firing lanes. By using mortars, they were able to clear the barbed with so that men could advance through these areas without coming under fire.
In conclusion, WWI proved how effective the mortar was on the battlefield. As long as wars