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"Friendly Fire"

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Sadurian Mike
286958.  Thu Feb 28, 2008 9:40 pm Reply with quote

So called "blue-on-blue" or "friendly fire" incidents received a lot of publicity during the recent Iraq war, and tragically still crop up occasionally in Afghanistan.

Now, without trying to indicate that the Americans are responsible for more than their fair share of friendly fire, here is a QI description of Operation Cottage (and its sister, known as the "Battle of the Pips") to retake the island of Kiska in the Aleutians; August 15th and 16th, 1943.

The Japanese had taken the island in June of 1942, together with its sister island, Attu. The US decided to retake the islands in 1943, and successfully took Attu on May 29th. A combined US and Canadian force of 35 000 men assembled to retake Kiska.

On July 27th, the naval task force assigned in support of the landings received reports from a flying boat that it was picking up multiple radar contacts south west of Attu, and reported that it believed it had found seven Japanese ships. US warships in the area confirmed radar contacts and engaged. The task force (TF 16.22 which included USS Mississippi and USS Idaho, both modern battleships) fired 518 14" shells at the contacts, plus about an equal number of smaller weaponry. Torpedo wakes were reported, near misses felt, but the weather was so bad that no visual sighting was made.

In August the landings took place. 35 000 men landed in heavy fog and the shooting soon began. Firefights raged in the confusing, and the troops struggled with an elusive enemy and rugged terrain until nightfall.

In the morning it was found that 28 soldiers were dead (including 4 having stepped on mines) and about 50 were wounded. The destroyer, USS Abner Read, had lost 71 men when it hit a mine and was badly damaged. 47 men were missing.


The Japanese had no ships within 200 miles of the island when the US task force "engaged" them. The radar contacts leading to the "Battle fo the Pips" were found to have been reflections from the mountains which gave false readings.

Not only that, but as soon as the Japanese realised that the task force was on its way, they evacuated the island. When the US 7th Division and Canadian 13th Infantry Brigade landed, there wasn't a single Japanese military person on Kiska; the US and Canadian troops had been firing at each other all day.

cardinal guzman
325115.  Fri Apr 25, 2008 8:57 pm Reply with quote


The Germans used to have a saying; "When Germans open fire, the Tommys duck. When the tommys open fire, Germans duck. When Americans open fire, everybody ducks".

325767.  Sun Apr 27, 2008 3:28 am Reply with quote

A British D-Day veteran told me this:
"There we was, all dug in nice and snug in a small wood; Jerry was pasting us from a couple of tanks, and Stukas came down on us; but we was OK - and then the bloody Yanks came along and blew us all to buggery."

epicurian riddler
327509.  Tue Apr 29, 2008 6:01 pm Reply with quote

'Friendly Fire' can also be termed as, the more popular term,'fratricide' or the also acceptable 'amicicide'.

"Friendly Fire" being possibly the most ironic and biggest oxymoron in battlefield terminology, heck in vocabulary in general probably.

More famous incidents of friendly-fire:
[list]One of the US' highest-ranking losses during WWII was that of Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair, killed by a pre-attack bombardment to Operation Cobra - the operation to break out of Normandy
[*]Fourteen percent of casualties during the Vietnam war, totalling 8,000 soliders, were from American fratricide

As Dara O'Briain once said about Iraq, "British soldiers shot at on a daily basis, although obviously it'll get much safer when the Americans leave and it's only the Iraqis firing at them."

Last edited by epicurian riddler on Tue Apr 29, 2008 6:10 pm; edited 1 time in total

330983.  Mon May 05, 2008 3:00 pm Reply with quote

Are there any accurate figures for friendly fire deaths in Iraq? There are certainly many anecdotes/news stories of American soldiers having a blase attitude to who they're firing upon, but is it true that friendly fire figures are proportionally higher for US forces than most other forces?

Sadurian Mike
331109.  Mon May 05, 2008 5:14 pm Reply with quote

They don't tend to publish friendly fire incidents so much, usually posting them as "unknown" or "in combat". The famous ones during the Iraqi War(s) have been all the Coalition tanks destroyed by other Coalition tanks (one of which was a British incident), and the notorious US air strikes against just about everyone.

The first British aircraft loss during the first Iraqi War was shot down by a US surface-to-air missile.

331130.  Mon May 05, 2008 6:38 pm Reply with quote

Friendly fire is sadly a part of war and has always been. Even in the days of the Greek phallanx, men were crushed by the men behind, skewered by their spears or slashed by errant swords.

The most heartbreaking example I've heard of was during the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940. A veteran was speaking on a BBC programme about it. He was a mortar fire controller, and was observing a British retreat infront of German tanks. Mortar fire was called in to cover the withdrawl. Sadly, the rounds fell short, amongst the retreating British troops.

The mortar fire controller pulled out his revolver and tried to shoot himself, but was wrestled to the ground by his men. Unsurprisingly, he broke down on the programme.

Once on an exercise as a army recruit I was taking part in a night attack with an infantry platoon. This consists of three sections of eight men. Generally, one section provides a fire base while another section attacks the enemy. On the night the ground looked completely different to the model we had seen. After the attack began flares went up, shots (blanks thankfully) were fired and my section moved toward the enemy, who were to the right of a road, as we'd been told. We started firing at them, when a few soldiers noticed shots coming from the left. With the warning 'Contact Left!', some of us started firing at this position. Unfortunately this was one of our sections providing support for us.

All it took was for one tired soldier to perhaps forget or fail to listen to a briefing, the rest of us obeyed because we were tired, disorientated and frankly scared shitless, even though it was only an exercise with blanks. From the angle we fired from, we probably would have hit four or five of our own blokes. It brought home to me how bloody dangerous a battle could be, even without an enemy. I would stress that at the time none of us had had much training, and it was our first attack with more than four men. We did much better the next day.

On a slightly lighter note, during the First World War, a German artillery unit, the 79th Artillery Regiment, was renamed the 78 and a 1/2ths because they always fell short.

332895.  Thu May 08, 2008 2:16 pm Reply with quote

There was an incident early on in the Great War when some British troops attacked the German trenches and took some prisoners. After a German counter attack they retreated back over to their lines, taking the PoWs with them. On seeing this mix of both German and British uniforms coming their way troops on the Allied lines believed it to be some form of German trick and machine gunned the lot of them. Not much for the annals there.

344354.  Sat May 24, 2008 9:40 pm Reply with quote

I spent some time in the infantry (British) we always refered to the artillery as the "drop shorts" & the guards regiments as "woodentops".

During the 1st gulf war US tankbusting planes attacked a convoy of British APC's carrying HUGE orange flags (to show they were allies). The investigations that followed revealed that US pilots were only taught to recognise US vehicles & had to guess if anything they didn't know was friend or foe. It transpired that come the 2nd invasion of Iraq US pilots still were only trained to identify US vehicles.
After the incident in the 1st gulf invasion George Bush Snr offered to pay compensation to the families of the victims; Major refused the offer & said we would look after our own; the families got less than half the money that Bush offered.

A possibly apocrophal story I have been told (by people who were there) relates to a British chinook helicopter full of marines which was patroling the Basra - Bagdad highway (after the dissapearance of Saddam) which was fired on by a US Army convoy. The pilot took evasive action, got out of range & then set up a road block, when the convoy arrived the pilot then explained to the officer commanding (in baby talk) that the Iraqi insurgents didn't have any airborne capability & had never had a single chinook (a US built helicopter) concluding with the threat that if another conoy fired upon his beloved helicopter he would take great joy in destroying said convoy.

Sadurian Mike
344356.  Sat May 24, 2008 10:01 pm Reply with quote

Just to even things up a bit, a WW2 story:

War between Britain and Germany was declared on September 3rd 1939.

On September the 6th of the same year, the first RAF fighter pilot, John Hulton-Harrop, age 26, was shot down and killed whilst flying a Hurricane out of RAF North Weald. A second pilot flying with him was also shot down, but survived.

The aircraft had been shot down by John Freeborn, another RAF pilot flying a Spitfire. This was, coincidentally, the first aircraft shot down by the famous Spitfire.

Battle of Barking Creek

361623.  Mon Jun 16, 2008 5:49 am Reply with quote

I believe also that the first casualty after the americans entered vietnam was a marine on patrol shot by another marine in the patrol behind him.

Oolon Colluphid
361889.  Mon Jun 16, 2008 11:12 am Reply with quote

Magister wrote:
I believe also that the first casualty after the americans entered vietnam was a marine on patrol shot by another marine in the patrol behind him.

The only American casualty sustained at the My Lai massacre was a soldier who stabbed himself in the foot so he could be excused from killing people.

366379.  Sun Jun 22, 2008 11:34 am Reply with quote

I think that all the above anecdotes suggest that, for all the practice Man* has had for millenia, we are still not very good at waging war.
Maybe we should give it up.

*(And I mean that, not 'the human race')

Sadurian Mike
366484.  Sun Jun 22, 2008 5:26 pm Reply with quote

One of the highest (if not the highest) ranking soldier to be killed by friendly fire was US Lieutenant General McNair, killed in 1944.

A couple of very familiar aspects of the situation; he was killed by the US and was killed by an air strike.

McNair's death bizarrely helped the US war effort because he was largely responsible for their poor anti-tank capability, being an exponent of towed AT guns over self mobile ones, and one of the higher ranking staff who wanted tanks to be built to tackle infantry targets and for tank destroyers and anti-tank guns to take on opposing tanks. Tank design after his death was free from such shackles and began to produce far better tanks.

366490.  Sun Jun 22, 2008 5:40 pm Reply with quote

I don't think it's a matter of being good or bad it war - it's just that battlefields are very confused and chatic places.

A chap called Nick Lapos had many things to say about wars, my favourite being "Don't worry about the bullet with your name on it - concentrate of keeping away from the ones marked 'to whom it may concern'... "



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