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Definitions?: Howitzer vs Gun vs Mortar?
A forum dedicated for the discussion of all kinds of artillery topics.
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Location: Arlington, VA
PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2008 3:28 pm
Post subject: Definitions?: Howitzer vs Gun vs Mortar?

This should be a good topic... What differentiates a howitzer vs a gun vs a mortar?

I had a Georgetown professor (teaching a class on conventional weapon systems) say it was caliber - guns are larger than 25 caliber (ie 25 times the projectile size), howitzers 15-25 caliber, and mortars are less than 15 calibers... This definition may have been true in the 18th or 19th century - but with 39 and 52 caliber howitzers...

The best modern definitions I have read/heard are that guns fire below 45 degrees, howitzers fire between 45 and 70 degrees. Mortars also fire at more than 45 degrees but use firing pins...

But what about WWII "assault howitzers" such as the StuH 42, etc? Should they still be considered howitzers when used in a direct fire less-than-45 degrees role? As my friend Kevin pointed out, are they really howitzers converted to assault guns at that point? Is there really a a true "assault howitzer"?

And breech mounted mortars? They also seem to cross the line into howitzers, or are they differentiated by the firing pins?

Enjoy, discuss...

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2008 8:22 pm
Post subject: Re: Definitions?: Howitzer vs Gun vs Mortar?

Nice idea, good forum Neil! I would like to hear folks share their views on this topic.
Well, everyone has an opinion, and there are many gray areas.
I always try to remember that a howitzer tends to have a low (lower) velocity and high trajectory, shorter range. Whereas a gun has higher velocity and low (flat) trajectory, longer range. Then when you understand that, you just realize you are still wrong. The howitzer is used more in the role of indirect fire, and the gun primarily used as direct fire.
Mortars have an even higher trajectory.
Usually projectile size/charge are factors too, but projectile size isnt always an indication of the cannon type. There are plenty of mortars that use some big ass projectiles!
And hey, rifled or smoothbore!

The definitions of the past have a very limited application. A mortar used to mean something that fired at a very high elevation (trajectory) with a very low charge to deliver a larger explosive projectile. A howitzer was a step up with a wider degree of trajectories, still delivering a (larger than a gun) explosive projectile. A field gun had a lower or flat (as much as blk powder can be, and technically not truly high velocity) trajectory, delivering an inert projectile (smaller in size/caliber than the howitzer/mortar).
Than along came the field gun-howitzer, the case shot and shells, and rifling...
It is all just one big evolution of the cannon...
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Power User

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Location: Razorback Country
PostPosted: Sun Jul 27, 2008 10:17 am
Post subject: Re: Definitions?: Howitzer vs Gun vs Mortar?

I have a very simple solution,

It is what the operators manual calls it. Since that is the official term recognized by the user and owner Razz .

Like Shawn said, the technology has pretty much blurred the lines. Breech loading Mortars, Direct fire Howitzers with AP rounds, Indirect fire capability Tanks with guided munitions, etc.

I know it's a cop out but I've been down this road before trying to explain the differences after being asked years ago (It happens when you have extra identifiers on your job description), eventually confusing myself. I finally wised up and came up with the answer above, avoiding a drawn out discussion with no end in sight.

Sorry Neil Neutral ,

Joe D

BTW, I also like this new forum.
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Posts: 1997
Location: El Paso & Ft Bliss, Texas
PostPosted: Fri Aug 08, 2008 12:49 pm
Post subject: Re: Definitions?: Howitzer vs Gun vs Mortar?

Hi to the new forum and everyone!

I have been confused about this issue for many years. A long time ago I had the mis-impression that mortars were just small howitzers that an infantryman could carry on his back. That idea fell out of use when I learned about mortars from other countries. The current US Army 120mm mortar comes with an axle and two wheels and weights something like 300 pounds!

What would you call the M110A2? It had the 8 inch (203mm) bore of the M110 howitzer with the barrel length of the 175mm M107 cannon.

I like Joe D's idea. Call it by the name on the user's manuel for the system.
Sgt, Scouts Out!

"You can never have too much reconnaissance."
General G.S. Patton Jr.
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 13, 2008 9:30 pm
Post subject: Re: Definitions?: Howitzer vs Gun vs Mortar?

US 12-inch M1890M1 mortar, it was capable of lobbing a 1000-lb deck piercing shell or 700 lb high explosive shell 14,610 yards in any direction. Battery Way, Corregidor Island, Philippines, most other countries called these howitzers

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