17 cm mittlerer Minenwerfer n/a (trench mortar) : Captain G F Lowther, 18 Battalion, AIF

Unit 18th Australian Infantry Battalion
Place Europe: France, Picardie, Somme, Bray Proyart Area, Framerville
Accession Number RELAWM05013.001
Collection type Technology
Object type Artillery
Place made Germany
Date made c1917
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

German 17 cm mittlerer Minenwerfer neuer art (medium trench mortar, new model). The weapon is a rifled muzzle-loading mortar, with six rifling grooves. The barrel length of 4.5 calibres identifies it as an 'new model'. The old model had a barrel length of 3.8 calibres. The weapon has three main components: a bed plate, a cradle, and the barrel and recoil jacket assembly.

The cradle and bed are fabricated from rivetted steel plate, while the barrel and recoil assembly are cast steel. The mortar cradle has two handwheels: one on the left side actuates a worm shaft and gear, engaging in a toothed arc which controls elevation of the barrel, while that on the rear of the base traverses the carriage on a toothed horzontal race by up to 12.5 degrees left and right of centre. Both handwheels are of composite wood and metal sandwich construction. Fastened onto the bedding plate at roughly the four corners are four cylindrical open-ended housings for carrying bars. A larger tapered cylinder on the extreme end of the baseplate was used to coarsely pivot the weapon. The weapon's serial number '1568' is stamped into this housing, as well as on the barrel.

The weapon has two recoil cylinders, one above the barrel and one below. The two cylinders are identical and function as buffer and recuperator. Four screw holes which formerly fastened the nomenclature plate are visible on the left side of the cradle, between two oiling points. The projectile used was a normal shell, with a driving band with lugs which fitted into the rifling. At the breech is a screw threaded hole, which would have received a friction primer.

The weapon has two axles, built into the side of the bedding plate. These receive two 10-spoked wooden wheelsr. The wheel spokes have metal 'shoes' connecting them to the wheel felloes, and both wheels are metal tyred.

The mortar is painted in a field-grey colour. This appears to post-date the weapon's service and capture, as it overpaints old corrosion jacking, lies quite thickly over most of the working parts, and continues unbroken over the area of the missing nomenclature plate. Telegraphing through the overpaint on the upper recoil cylinder can be seen the painted text 'F Lowther (indescipherable) 'Brigade' . The latter text probably dates near to the weapon's capture.

History / Summary

This weapon was one of 13 minenwerfers captured in an arms dump by 18th Battalion AIF between Warfusee and Framerville on 8 August 1918, the so-called 'Black day of the German Army'. The weapon has the text 'E F Lowther' 'BRIGADE' painted on its recuperator cylinder - a reference to Captain George Frederick Lowther, DSO, MC, 18 Battallion, 5 Brigade, who took part in the advance on that day, winning his DSO for his actions. The war diary does not record the capture of this specific weapon.

The medium minenwerfer was introduced into German service around 1912. It was a close infantry support weapon, emplaced very near the front trench lines, and used to deliver a 40 to 50 kg projectile at a high, arcing trajectory at a range of between 300 and 1,600 meters. It had a rate of fire of 30 to 35 rounds per hour. The minenwerfer was fitted with easily demountable wheels, and could be employed in small emplacements and narrow trenches which would not take a field gun. Far less expensive to make than artillery of a comparable calibre, they were also economical in powder, and could reach targets behind obstacles or reverse slopes, on account of the steep angle of fall of their projectiles. They suffered from the disadvantage of being dangerous to handle, took considerable time to emplace, and because of their proximity to the enemy, they were very hard to supply with ammunition, and could not continue firing from a single place for a long period. Around 1916, in an attempt to increase the range of the weapon, a longer (L/4.5) barrel version was developed. This was known as the "neuer Art" (n.A). Both the older "alter Art" and the n.A were in service at the end of the war, with some 2360 minenwerfers produced in both versions during the War.