Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Cannons and Mortars and Things

Reading this story over at Peter's about a doofus with a bowling ball cannon.  Go on. Click over and read it.  I'll wait.

I am reminded of a story I heard once (cough, cough) about a guy who had a bowling ball mortar.  This thing would fling a bowling ball several hundred yards with no problem.

A little history is in order:

 Originally designed to fire over fortification walls, a mortar is a specialized piece of artillery.  If you've ever used real mortars, you know that this particular weapon doesn't make a whole lot of noise.  From several hundred yards away, you'll hear a guttural "THUMP".  Very distinctive and sometimes un-nerving.  Someone just fired a mortar!  If you, personally didn't make the Call For Fire, you tend to seek overhead cover.  Because a mortar fires its rounds in a high ballistic arc, it may be over a minute before the round comes crashing to earth.

I was taught to use mortars by one William Cantrell, a Major of Infantry at Fort Riley, KS.  With a name like William Cantrell, it wasn't long before he was known as "Wild Bill" Cantrell, and he was a magician with a 4.2" mortar.  I once saw him, on the first round out of the tube, drop that charge into the open hatch of a M113 APC that they were using for a target.  Understand that Wild Bill didn't fire the charge himself, he was standing a couple of thousand meters away, talking into a radio, teaching a bunch of pre-commission students how to adjust mortar fire.  He made his Call For Fire, we heard the thump of the mortar firing, and a minute of so later, we saw the round impact inside the M113.

Mortars are not precision weapons, but they can be fairly accurate, and Wild Bill knew how to wring all the accuracy he needed from a battery of mortars.  It made quite an impression on us, especially since hack then, the M113 was the standard infantry vehicle.

But, I digress.  Back to the guy with the bowling ball mortar.

You can Google around for images.  These things are a heavy piece of iron tube, elevated to about 70 degrees that fits a charge of black powder and a bowling ball.  This guy had a mortar and a long pasture, way out in the country.  Playing with his mortar, he noticed that it favored one particular bowling ball and one particular charge of powder, and on a still evening, it would drop that bowling ball, if not in the same hole, then fairly close, about 300 yards downrange.  He had his mortar on his back patio, and he'd load it, fire it, open a beer and go out and find the bowling ball.  It was something to do on an afternoon.

He also had a stray cat problem.  Several dozen stray cats in the immediate area, his barn, the woods behind the house, you name it.  He was struck, as they say, with an inspiration.   He started feeding the cats, out behind the barn.  Simple aluminum pie pans, the kind we all throw away.  He'd put out food, let the cats gather, and fire the mortar.  The cats would jump around, initially, but they were far from where that ball came down.  After a few days, the THUMP didn't bother them and he started moving the pie plate around, making the cats follow him.  After a week or so, he put the pie plates on the beaten zone,   Walked back up to the house, and opened a beer.  Touched off the mortar.

Many of the cats survived.  Those that did, I'm told, suffered serious psychological damage.  They'd look up at the sky for no apparent reason.  Didn't want to eat out of aluminum pie pans.  You get the idea. The feline version of PTSD.

I can't attest to the truth or veracity of the story.  It's just something I heard about (cough).


Old NFO said...

Uh huh, the old I wasn't there, you can't prove a thing, no photos, no proof... :-)

Funny as hell though! :-D

Flugelman said...

Really enjoyed this post as an old four deuce FDC'er. A good FO could indeed wreak havoc with it.

jon spencer said...

The cat story is like this deer hunting with a howitzer one.

Mortar stuff.
The new 120mm PERM rounds are coming along nicely, with the Marines buying 4000+ rounds for further testing.
Some of the technology used in those rounds is working its way down to the 81 and 60's.
But that will take awhile as you can only shrink some stuff so far.
For now anyway.

Bibliotheca Servare said...

I...I think I just had a near death experience...I laughed so hard I thought I was going to die... Picturing those poor cats, randomly jerking their eyes skyward, twitching every time they saw an aluminum pie pan...oh lord...

Farmist said...

"Those that did, I'm told, suffered serious psychological damage"

How do you tell? Aren't cats psycho anyway?