The difficulties posed by terrain, poor visibility, and the type and size of operations all contribute to friendly fire. The immediate causes include mechanical defects, simple carelessness, poor spatial orientation, misidentification of the target, and miscalculation of firing data. Poor coordination of the movement of forces on the battlefield, lack of training, and poor discipline also play a role; but the fear, uncertainty, and excitement of the combat environment are perhaps the most important factors.
The statistical dimensions of the friendly fire problem have yet to be defined; reliable data are simply not available in most cases. Operational and medical reports suggest, however, that the relationship of friendly fire casualties to overall friendly casualties is between 2 percent and 25 percent. In the Persian Gulf War of 1991, there were 615 American casualties; 23 percent of the personnel (35 killed and 72 wounded) and 77 percent of the combat vehicle losses were attributable to friendly fire.
Whatever the statistical reality, friendly fire is known to have occurred in all of America's wars, and the victims have ranged from the rawest recruits to very senior officers. The Confederate general “Stonewall” Jackson died after being mistakenly shot by one of his own soldiers at Chancellorsville in 1863. In World War II, Lieut. Gen. Lesley J. McNair and 813 other Americans were killed or wounded near St. Lô in Normandy in one of the most costly incidents of friendly fire ever to occur. The use of American medium and heavy bombers to provide close support for ground troops in Operation Cobra, the breakout of Allied forces from Normandy, resulted in mistaken bombing of American positions on two successive days, 24–25 July 1944. The planned ground attack was delayed but ultimately succeeded despite the frightful toll.
Earlier, in July 1943, nervous American naval and ground troops Gela, Sicily, fired on aircraft carrying paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division and caused 319 casualties (88 dead, 162 wounded, and 69 missing) plus 80 aircraft destroyed or badly damaged. In the Pacific, a month later, 15–16 August, 28 Americans and Canadians were killed and 55 wounded during the invasion of Kiska in the Aleutian Islands. There were no enemy troops on the island; all of the casualties were from friendly fire.
As weapons have become more complicated and more deadly, the ability of human beings to control them has been stretched to its limits, and both the number and the severity of friendly fire incidents have increased. Modern armies search earnestly for ways to reduce or eliminate friendly fire. Improved training and sophisticated electronic devices are sure to have a positive effect, yet it is equally certain that the problem cannot be eradicated altogether. As long as men make war, friendly fire will continue to occur.
[See also Casualties.]
Charles R. Shrader , Amicicide: The Problem of Friendly Fire in Modern War, 1982.
Charles R. Shrader , Friendly Fire: The Inevitable Price, Parameters: The Journal of the U.S. Army War College, 22, no. 3 (Autumn 1992), pp. 29–44.
Kenneth K. Steinweg , Dealing Realistically with Fratricide, Parameters: The Journal of the U.S. Army War College, 25, no. 1 (Spring 1995), pp. 4–29.
Charles R. Shrader
Fire burning in a place where it was intended to burn, although damages may result. In a military conflict, the discharge of weapons against one's own troops.
A fire burning in a fireplace is regarded as a friendly fire, in spite of the fact that extensive smoke damage might result there from. Ordinarily, when an individual purchases fire insurance, the coverage does not extend to damages resulting from a friendly fire but only to loss resulting from an uncontrollable hostile fire.
Friendly Fire ★★★ 1979
Based on a true story of an American family in 1970 whose soldier son is killed by “friendly fire” in Vietnam, and their efforts to uncover the circumstances of the tragedy. Touching and powerful, with an excellent dramatic performance by Burnett. 146m/C VHS . Carol Burnett, Ned Beatty, Sam Waterston, Timothy Hutton; D: David Greene. TV
friend·ly fire • n. Mil. weapon fire coming from one's own side, esp. fire that causes accidental injury or death to one's own forces.