The M224 60mm lightweight mortar is a man-portable, smoothbore, muzzle-loading, high-angle-of-fire weapon used for close-in support of ground troops, airborne and special operations forces. It is currently in use with both the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps. It was used extensively along with the M252 81mm mortar in the War in Afghanistan.
Better in Every Way
The M224 LWCMS (Lightweight Company Mortar System) was first adopted in 1978. It replaced the older (WWII-era) 60mm M2 Mortar and the inaccurate M19 Mortar.
While the M2s and M19s had an effective range of only 2,000 meters, the M224’s new primary rounds gave it a range of effective indirect fire of 3,489 meters. Meanwhile, it could still fire all types of older ammunition.
In 2011, an improved M224A1 version came into service. Thanks to its new lighter components the weight of the weapon system decreased from 46.8 to 37.5 pounds.
The M224 mortar is composed of these parts:
- M225 Cannon: 14.4 lbs
- M170 Bipod: 15.2 lbs
- M7A1 Baseplate for use in conventional mode: 9.6 lbs
- M8 baseplate for use in handheld mode: 3.6 lbs
- M64A1 Sight Unit (The M67 Sight Unit is now widely used for the system): 2.5 lbs
The mount consists of a bipod and a base plate, which is provided with screw-type elevating and traversing mechanisms to elevate/traverse the mortar. The M64A1/M67 sight unit is attached to the bipod mount. The mortar can be fired in the conventional gravity fire mode or the handheld mode by using a manual spring-loaded trigger.
The 60mm mortar is typically fielded at the infantry company level. A small mortar section with two mortars is organic to Army rifle companies (light, airborne, air assault) and Ranger companies. Marine rifle companies have a section with three 60mm mortars in the company weapons platoon.
The mortar can fire a sustained 20 rounds-per-minute with 30 rounds-per-minute in certain circumstances and for short durations. The ranges for the M224 extend from 70 meters to 1,340 meters for hand-held firing and 3,490 meters for the conventional firing mode. A crew of three can operate the mortar extremely efficiently.
The 60mm Mortar’s Ammunition
The M224 Mortar can fire the following principal classifications of training and service ammunition:
- High explosive (HE): These are used against personnel and light materiel targets.
- M1061: Improved HE with insensitive munitions performance-enhancing fragmentation warhead.
- Smoke Cartridge (White Phosphorous): Designation M722. Used as a screening, signaling, or marking munition.
- Illumination (ILLUM): Used in night missions requiring illumination for assistance in observation.
- Red Phosphorus: Can be seen with or without a Night Vision Optic.
- Full Range Practice Cartridges (FRPC): Designation M769. This round is used for practice or clearing misfires.
- M1061 MAPAM: SAAB Technologies produced a Multi-Purpose Anti-Personnel Anti-Material round.
While mortars are indirect fire weapons, in mountainous terrain if the mortar crew is located on the high ground where the target is visible, they can be pinpointed right on the target. An example and amusing story of how this can play out happened while an A-Team from the 7th Special Forces Group deployed to Honduras back in the day.
Hey, you gotta have an anecdote with these stories, after all, right?
The M224 60mm Mortar in Action in Honduras
Our A-Team was moving farther up in the mountains to work on pack animal configurations (see Wilson, Charlie) with the 6th Infantry Battalion (Centaurs) at Ojo de Agua, which we regularly called “Ojo de Nada.”
The Centaurs were located in the mountains and had a large base for the Contras. The Centaurs had enough U.S.-made GP Medium tents where a battalion could refit and rest. They also had a large shooting range built on several of the base’s rolling hills.
When we had first arrived the weather had been cold, raw, and rainy. But about a week later, it had dried out and was hot and sticky. A stiff wind had dried everything out to where it was like tinder.
We were high up on a hill with our Honduran counterparts shooting at targets located about 300-400 meters away. We were using M-60 and M249 (SAW) machine guns as well as their Russian 82mm mortars and our M224s. The Honduran kids, not used to having this much ammo, were having a ball, blazing away at the silhouettes with reckless abandon. Those short controlled bursts we had discussed in training were quickly forgotten.
One of the tracer rounds from the SAW started a range fire on top of the hill. Our Hondo allies had a pickup truck, an old beat-up piece of junk that looked like it would fall apart at any minute. It came loaded with soldiers who raced down there and quickly put the fire out. Kind of like a Keystone Kops fire brigade.
After lunch, we had a second group, their mortar section, who were beginning to get the U.S. 60mm mortars. We did some crew training with them and their crew drills were pretty good. They had a few old Soviet 82mm mortars, from God knows where. They looked like antiques. So firing them seemed like an iffy proposition. They used the U.S. 81mm mortar rounds, which we didn’t have any.
I had never fired a U.S. round through that Soviet system (I had started as a heavy weapons guy), but one of our other guys had. He said that a weird sound was made when dropping the round. Instead of that metallic sliding, sucking sound, it was a click, clickety-click, sound as the slightly smaller American round would ever so slightly bounce down the tube. Although you could fire those, Luis, our heavy weapons guy, said, they weren’t the most accurate… no kidding.
So, after doing some crew drill on the 60mm M224 mortar, the mortar guys got their turn on the machine guns. After a few moments, one tracer round hit in front of one target, bounced backward about 10-20 meters, and started a small fire in the grass. The fire was burning in a small neat circle.
Danny, our Team leader, was reaching for the radio to tell the Hondos in the beat-up truck to put out the fire when Bruce, one of the other guys, spoke up. “I can put that range fire out, sir,” Bruce said. Bruce was a huge guy who was loaned to us from the 2nd Ranger Battalion for this deployment. He was also the weapons platoon sergeant in the Battalion.
The Hondurans were in awe of his size. He was easily double their diminutive height, so, they were scared shitless of him. Bruce had a very typical Ranger haircut buzzed on the sides. In the Honduran army, they only did that to the criminals, “Los Castigados” in their terminology.
He grabbed the smaller M8 baseplate for the 60mm mortar and put a round in the tube while lining up his range estimation. Giving himself a bit of windage, he pulled the trigger and we all waited a few seconds for the round to go downrange. Bruce grabbed another round and was preparing to fire again when the mortar landed with that flat-sounding explosion. It landed squarely on the fire, which was no more than three-four meters wide at that point.
The results were electric. We whooped, “Good shot bro,” while the Honduran mortar section sat there dumbstruck with their mouths literally wide open. It was a shot in a million. And to put things in perspective, they were used to firing 81mm mortar rounds through a Russian 82mm antique mortar. “Holy shit,” Bruce said to Danny. “I’ve never hit one on the first shot before.”
“Look at them,” Danny said, motioning to the Honduran mortar section. “They are going to kneel and ask you to bring back the sun any minute.” We all cracked up. The Hondos sat there mesmerized for a few more seconds. “Hijo de puta! Their lieutenant yelled. He turned with a big grin and began to bark at his troops. We all cracked up. Bruce, who at that time had a very limited Spanish vocabulary, asked Danny what they said.
“Basically, he is telling them that until they can learn to shoot like that, he’s going to shave all their heads.”
Bruce again tried to tell us that he’d never hit anything like that on the first shot. Danny told him to act as if he did it all the time. Bruce played along, set down the tube, and told the Hondos, “Eso fue fácil” (that was easy).
After that, every time Bruce walked through the compound, the Honduran kids would salute him like he was a field grade officer. Not long after we returned from that deployment, the Special Forces had ruined Bruce with the Ranger Battalion.
He reported to the sergeant major (SGM) with his hands in his pockets, put his feet up on the SGM’s desk, and said, “Hey SGM, I’m back.” His SGM at the time was also a long-time SF NCO. He laughed and said, “Report to RIP in the morning.” Not long after that, Bruce joined SF and went through the Special Forces Qualification Course as an 18E. He later became an officer… and a very good one.