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The Stokes trench mortar was developed by an Englishman, Sir Wilfred Scott-Stokes, who was the managing director of a mechanical engineering firm, Ransome & Rapier of Ipswich, England. Although Stokes did not have a military background, he quickly grasped the need for a "portable gun" soon after war erupted in Europe. Stokes correctly reasoned that such a weapon would be valuable for reducing the deadly machine gun nests that were beginning to wreak much havoc on the Western Front. Stokes had a working prototype of his trench mortar ready for testing in December of 1914, barely four months after the war started.
Like many notable inventions, Stokes' mortar was ingenious in its simplicity. Stokes' mechanical engineering background enabled him to design a weapon and ammunition that was easy to manufacture and use. The weapon consisted of a smooth bore tube 3 inches in diameter with a metal end cap that fitted into a flat base plate. The 51-inch barrel was supported by a bipod that could be adjusted for range. The weapon was broken down into three sections for easy transport — the barrel (tube) which weighed 43 pounds, the base plate (28 pounds) and bipod (37 pounds) for a total of 108 pounds.
The mortar fired a high-explosive shell weighing about 11 pounds. The maximum range was approximately 800 yards. Due to exploding fragments, the minimum safe range was about 100 yards. The range was adjusted by varying the amount of explosive propellant attached to each shell (or "bomb") and adjusting the tube's angle of elevation. The mortar was sighted by the simple expedient of lining it up with the target by means of a white line painted on the tube.
The Stokes mortar shell was loaded by dropping a shell down the tube barrel. The exploding cartridge ignited propellant rings attached to the shell. The ammunition used with the weapon was variously termed "shell," "round" or "bomb" in contemporary military manuals.