Direct Fire Mortars in Crossfire

Some musing on Direct Fire Mortars in Crossfire. Special Rule 6 in Hit the Dirt (HTD) is Direct Fire Mortars. I queried Bill Rutherford – the author of HTD – on some aspects of this rule. See also my own house rule for Direct Fire Mortars – similar to the HTD version, but some key differences.

Interview with Bill Rutherford

Steven’s Questions

If a direct fire mortar fails to hit, does initiative pass? This is what we did last night, but
the comment was – why would you take a direct fire mortar when an FO won’t lose initiative?

And what about protective cover – normally protective cover varies depending on whether the fire
is direct or indirect. Is this still true when a on-table mortar fires either direct or indirect,
i.e. the same target in the same feature might be in cover or not to the mortar depending on how
the mortar is firing? There is an argument for both.

So if a mortar is just another heavy weapon, can can a mortar firing direct group fire with
infantry like a HMG can? You see I believe in reality small mortars (50-60mm) didn’t have an FO so
I wasn’t fielding one, but if there is not some additional benefit to using them direct the guys
will insist on FO with off-table mortar thus wasting my energy in getting the mortar stands in the
first place.

I do wonder what you would have done if the conservative voice of reason hadn’t held you back.

Bill Rutherford’s response

Wow – I’ve not thought about direct fire mortars in some time…

Your questions go directly back to things we (John and I) discussed extensively with the rules
author – he, the conservative voice of reason (i.e., make it work with rules as-is) and John and I
the voices of radicalism (i.e., change it all!)

One line that managed to get left out of Special Rule 6 was the one that said that some mortars,
based on scenario, may both directly and indirectly fire and so, would have an assigned FO.

When directly firing, a miss costs one the initiative.

When indirectly firing, a miss does not cost one the initiative.

The net effect is that a mortar that can only direct fire (e.g., if the scenario didn’t provide an
FO) is generally just another heavy weapon.

A mortar that can both directly and indirectly fire, though, has a significant advantage because
it can rely upon its own, as well as on its FO’s, lines of sight to acquire targets.

As regards terrain, (per the author’s instructions) we fell back on the basic rules for direct and
indirect fire. For simplicity, if a mortar fires direct, it uses direct fire cover rules. If it
fires indirect, it uses the indirect fire cover rules. This isn’t terribly realistic but it keeps
the mortars consistent with the rest of the rules (basically, mortars in this regard are analogous
to infantry guns in their fire modes).

The short version is: You’re right – there IS an argument for both types of cover…

Special Rule 6 was, I’m afraid, the least well-done of our special rules, simply because we had to
a) keep it simple, b) use as much of the basic rules as possible, and c) there always seemed to be
two ways to address just about every aspect of the things!

I hope this helps with your questions…

Actually allowing direct-fire mortars to combine with other direct fire weapons was something
we’d not thought about but I don’t see why not, certainly as regards things like the 50/60mm
mortars. I would suspect that an 81mm mortar or mortar section would only group fire “with its
own”, that is, an on-board mortar battery might group fire as a whole but it doesn’t seem all that
reasonable to me for a big mortar to group fire with a rifle platoon located elsewhere on-board.

Something I didn’t specifically mention in my last note was what you point to below – some mortars
were ONLY direct fire in real life; these wouldn’t get FOs.

I would look at things in terms of scenarios; it’s not so much that a player *wants* a 50mm mortar
in his force; sometimes he simply *has* one… Looking at (especially) early-war OOBs, sometimes a
direct fire
mortar, owned by the company or battalion, is available but the heavier mortar, higher up in the
battalion or regiment, isn’t…

If Arty hadn’t been insistent, the biggest thing we’d probably have fooled with was the terrain
modifiers for direct and indirect fire. We also wanted to fool with command control rules for
AFVs, muddy up the
terrain rules for deep forests, and several other things. In Arty’s defense, he was generally
right when we got to the end of things! Treating heavy woods (like in Green Hell) as open with the
copses being wooded areas had much the same effect as what we wanted to do, which was treat the
open areas as woods and have additional modifiers for the copses, etc.

Steven’s Thoughts post conversation

Relates to:

HTD Special Rule 6 Direct Fire Mortars
CF11.1 Vehicular Actions
CF4.4 Feature Capacity/Protective Cover
CF6.2.1 Reactive Fire
CF6.3 Target Proximity (for Phasing Fire only)
CF7.0 Indirect Fire

Mortars were often fired over open sights at the enemy not relying on an observer to spot the fall of shot. Smaller mortars especially fell into this role, often lacking an indirect fire capability entirely.

All on-table mortars:

  • Fire once per initiative like a gun.
  • Suffer protective cover depending on the type of fire used (Direct versus Indirect).
  • Are a crew served weapon in close combat.
  • Expend Fire Missions normally regardless of whether they are firing direct or indirect.

Normal Indirect Fire rules apply, however, all on-table mortars using Direct Fire:

  • Are subject to the Infantry Gun target proximity and target priority rules, i.e. in phasing fire these fire at the closest target.
  • Use a Heavy Weapon arc of fire.
  • May not fire at targets closer to themselves than the width, in squad stands, of their smoke pattern.
  • Can shoot through any stands, friends or foe (because in reality they shoot over them).
  • Benefit from the Direct Fire HE versus Buildings rule.
  • Can reactive fire.
  • Pass initiative when they fail (barrage or smoke)

Small (2″, 45-60mm) on-table mortars:

  • Lack an associated FO, so cannot use Indirect Fire.
  • Move around like a HMG hence can move and fire in the same initiative;
  • Can be be attached to a platoon like a HMG, and can group fire with their comrades.

Large (>60mm) on-table mortars:

So the benefits for an on-table mortar over the same mortar off-table but using an on-table FO would be:

  • Can group fire with other squads.
  • Is better against buildings, bunkers, entrenchments and prone stands (Direct Fire HE versus Buildings rule).
  • Can move and shoot (if a small mortar).


  • Loses initiative if it fails.

I’d say this balances out.

It is better than the equivalent gun ’cause it can move and shoot. But on the other hand it still has FM.

Steven’s Final, and Rather Simple, Thoughts

The simplest rule is to treat an on-table mortar exactly like the FO for that type of mortar. This is particularly suitable for small mortars (up to 60mm) which were always fired direct.

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