Premature mortar shell?


There is a video circulating around the internet of an Iraqi insurgent firing what appears to be a 60mm mortar of some sort. Right after he drops in the fourth shell, there is an explosion, and the video ends. It looks to me like the shell exploded in the tube, and this is the description generally associated with the video, but other descriptions of this video say it was counter-battery fire. Can a mortar shell explode in the tube? How and why? Boobytrap or tampered with maybe? In all of my years in the military, mortars are something I never got to learn much about. I know about wet increments and short rounds, etc… but never heard of a premature except with artillery. (Saw the damage from a bore-burst on a self propelled 155mm once. Yikes!)



The only thing I could think of would be that he had a stuck round (happens quite allot if you don’t clean the tube), and he dropped another one down on top. Either you force the original one down enough so it fires as designed or it did fire originally with a squib prop charge but had enough power to arm the fuze. Either way, the original round’s fuze comes in sharp contact with the second round, and the M5 type fuze doesn’t have much in the way of safeties. We had to respond to an incident like that in the late '80’s at Lejeune with 81mm mortars and M524 series fuzes. Fatalities were involved and we had to look for materials for the investigation.

P.S. I Haven’t watched the Video, just relating past experience.


It appears as though the gunner fires three rounds successfully then when the fourth drops there is an explosion. I’ll look at it again. Maybe the third round did not fire…



I know of that video. It is awesome! I also heard that it was US ordnance that hit the mortar position and that we have some kind of equipment that can pinpoint a mortor’s firing position exactly after it fires and take it out???



May someone post this video?


According to a friend of mine, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, APFSDS is correct. There is evidently some sort of tracker that basically tracks incoming “mail” back to its source. It takes about two to three rounds fired from the source to zero right in on it. I know nothing more about it than what he told me. We never had such things in the Army when I was in. I have seen this video many times - no round was dropped on top of another. Three rounds are fired successfully and about the time the fourth is dropped, their is a big explosion.

These devices must be fairly scarce even in combat zones, because according to people who were in one of the Middle East confrontations or another, mortar attacks are still a problem. But it also seems true from what I have heard that mortar attacks now usually are only three or four rounds dropped quickly. They then probably change positions and attack again. If true, that would mean they pretty much know about the trackers, and that would materially reduce their effectiveness in eliminating mortar teams. Of course, it would eliminate the effectiveness of the mortar teams as well, not be able to launch sustained attacks.

John Moss


In Vietnam when we had rockets hitting the air base, there was a special team of VERY brave people who ran out in the middle of the rocket attack with a quadrant type device. This was put in the crater left by a rocket explosion and could be adjusted to give the direction and angle of the impact. Once they had that information it was simple geometry to pin point the source. These coordinates were then relaid to a battery of 105 Howitzers around the base (Camn Ranh Bay, in my case) which made short work of the launch site. Of course this all took about 5-10 minutes and the enemy was usually gone by then, but I bet it at least scared them as they could not have moved very far. Also, they usually fired 25-50 105 rounds to saturate an area around the actual launch site. Nobody, to my knowledge ever went to the site to count the body parts, so it is hard to tell how many we actually got. It was quite a sight at night.


I think that even in Vietnam manipulating enemy ammo to cause premature explosions was common too…


Pivi, there were at least three operations in Vietnam executing exactly these tasks:
Pole Bean
Italian Green
Eldest Son


…and so in Iraq…


It would appear to me that this gunner fired his three mortar shells too rapidly for any counter-battery radar to fix his position, relay the coordinates to an artillery or mortar battery and effect a counter fire.

The mortar is sans-bipod, so the gunner must have intended on leaving the area quickly…



60 mm mortar rounds have been declared dangerous and the system taken out of use temporarily after a premature detonation killed two soldiers and wounded three other recently here in Denmark. We’re still waiting for the final report to come out, but the fuze seems to be the culprit.


Mortar shells can most certainly prematurely detonate in the tube. anything made by man can malfunction and there are two charges, the launching charge and the bursting charge. Its not too difficult to imagine how the inertia forces of launching could set off the main charge if there was something amis in the nose. Possibly having been shaken up badly in transit.


maybe I am wrong…but who cares?

…I hope it was something our men did to cause it, whether it be the fuze, main charge, or a high tech defensive sensor weapon, etc., etc., to make it go bang

(too bad it didn’t go bang on the first round) because two others made it out of the tube.

God Bless(ed) the troops the rounds were fired at



In the British Army they call that an “own goal”
( From soccer when a player accidently puts the ball in his own team’s net)


I recall reading an article on this subject in a manufacturing trade journal of some sort. The topic was high volume Non Destructive Testing relative to casting defects in U.S. manufactured mortar shell bodies. It seems there was a catastrophic failure with the main bursting charge detonating in the mortar tube at launch and a resulting fatality. Subsequent investigation of the cause showed the integrity of the body castings to be the problem and steps were implemented to improve inspections with the NDT technology available.

Yes, mortar shells can detonate in the launch tube and being near such an event would be unpleasant to say the least.

I found this other related article: … 7035b70fd5 …but it states in the abstract that no “safety-critical incidents” had happened and that failures would be estimated to occur in less than 1 in 1,000,000 rounds fired. I wonder if they specially mark that lucky 1,000,000th round?..

I think this is a link to the video in question:



This video has also been on the BOCN forum. One of the posters on there said that he had seen the condition of some of the stuff these insurgents fire when he was working in EOD. He said that he classed alot of it as too dangerous to handle let alone use.


Falcon and DaveE
I think that the assessment that these munitions have just degraded through age and poor storage is probably nearest the truth. Add to that the fact that they have been transported many time and handled over and over again gives all sorts of possibilities for speculation as to why it failed.

Lets just hope its not an isolated incident. Mortar design it a bit of a tricky balance because you want them to explode reliably at the end of their journey but not at the start I belive failures of this sort were not unknown with the Stokes Mortar (British) in WW1


The video of an insurgent firing a mortar repeatedly until he disappeared in a puff of smoke has been around for a while. However, when I first saw it it was portrayed as poor(stupid) practice by the mortar firers who stuck around too long - until counter fire from the target troops hit them. I didn’t think that it was his own mortar which blew up.



The larger FOBS have radar to detect POO (Points of Orgin) sites. No secret there. That info can be instantly fed to the artillery. The other side almost never fires more than 2 or 3 quick shots and moves out fast.