The weapon was a dual-purpose device in that it could also be used as a spade. When a leg was removed from the handle, the spade part of the weapon locked into position as a base plate for the mortar. The weapon was apparently intended to serve as a fire support weapon for every infantryman as it was designed to be operated by one man. There was no aiming device and the soldier simply pointed the mortar at its target. The soldier carried 15 rounds of ammunition on a fabric belt for the mortar.
The German Army designated the weapon the 3.7 cm Spatengranatwerfer 161(r), although the true Soviet designation was simply "37mm mortar" (Russian: 37-мм Миномет). The weapon was likely an attempt to boost the firepower of Soviet rifle units. Although a rifle grenade-launcher (which the Red Army also had) can fire shells of similar weight, they are slower to load and cannot serve as rifles while firing grenades. The spade mortar was used during the Winter War with Finland, where the weapon was found ineffective in the heavy snow. Initially used in the Russo-German War, the spade mortar fell into disuse after 1942.
During the Iran–Iraq War, the Iranian Army developed a similar device, the 37mm Marsh Mortar for use in marshy ground, as 37mm was the maximum shell size for which recoil did not drive the mortar into the soft ground.