By Rob Morgan
It’s a fair bet that no US reader examining these photographs will recognise this World War I trench mortar.
It’s one of the standard Allied types of the war, used all along the Western Front, and in other theatres. Some 3,300 were manufactured at Saint-Etienne between 1915 and the end of the conflict. The first example shown here, stands under the clock tower in the old walled city of Dinan in Brittany. It’s been stripped of the heavy back plate and forward carrying lug plates, though somehow it survived the following war, and is now over a century old.
The second photo I took at a War Memorial in Guerlescin, again in Brittany. Many of the “58’s” that survive are used in memorials across France. This example is more complete, but you can see how heavy these mortars were, some 850 pounds ( 417kg) or so in all. They threw six or seven types of bomb, on a rod inserted into the barrel. These were shaped like aircraft bombs, with fins and were some three feet long overall. The lightest bomb was 34 pounds, and the heaviest 90 pounds. The range varied according to the bomb, from 400 yards up to 1,200 yards. It must have had a strong recoil, as the plates were inevitably bolted to heavy timbers and sandbagged.
Interestingly, the French Army were not the only users of the Mortier de 58T No. 2. A few dozen found their way into the hands of the Serbian Army, for use in the Balkans, and a small number were given to the Greeks who used them at Salonika. However, several batteries of the mortar were provided, along with much other materiel, to Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force, and the American army used them until the war’s end. General Guy Francois’ “Les Canons de Victoire 1914-1918,” published in 2000 in Paris, gives greater detail of the mortar. It’s possible that an example remains in the hands of a US Military or Ordnance Museum, or even a photograph of one in AEF hands. Some French arms were taken back to the USA for training use post-war, I believe. Anyone have any information on that?