Friendly fire

Friendly fire or non-hostile fire, a term originally adopted by the United States military, refers to fire from one's own side or allied forces, as opposed to fire coming from enemy forces.

Many North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) militaries refer to these incidents as blue on blue, which derives from military exercises where NATO forces were identified by blue pennants, hence "blue", and Warsaw Pact forces were identified by orange pennants.

The term is also used in many video games for a setting which determines if players in the same team can damage and kill each other.


Friendly fire incidents fall roughly into two categories:

The first classification is "fog of war" which generically describes accidental friendly fire incidents due to the confusion inherent in warfare. Friendly fire that is the result of apparent recklessness or incompetence may fall into this category. The concept of a fog of war has come under considerable criticism, as it can be used as an all-encompassing excuse for poor planning, weak or compromised intelligence and incompetent command.

Fog of war incidents fall roughly into two classes:Errors of position

Where fire aimed at enemy forces accidentally ends up hitting one's own. Such incidents were relatively common during the First and Second World Wars, where troops fought in proximity to each other and targeting was relatively inaccurate. As weapons have become more accurate in recent times, this class of incident has become less common but still occurs, the most recent and highly publicized case in Operation Enduring Freedom was where a laser-guided bomb was mistakenly called in on friendly forces, causing heavy casualties.Errors of identification
Where friendly troops are mistakenly attacked in the belief that they are the enemy. Highly mobile battles, and battles involving troops from many nations are more likely to cause this kind of incident as evidenced by incidents in the first Gulf War, or the shooting down of a British aircraft by a U.S. Patriot battery during the Invasion of Iraq. According to CNN, the best-known case of such an accident was the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, although the exact circumstances of that incident are yet to be definitively determined.

The second classification is "murder" where friendly fire incidents are premeditated. During the Vietnam War, some officers who overtly risked the lives of their soldiers were murdered by those men in incidents known as “fragging.”

Use of the term "friendly fire" is appropriate where there was intent to do harm to the enemy which causes injury to one's own side: a death resulting from a negligent discharge is not considered friendly fire.

Addressing friendly fire

Friendly fire is often seen as an acceptable necessity of combat. Attempts to reduce this necessity by military leaders generally come down to identifying the causes of friendly fire and overcoming repetition of the incident through training, tactics and technology.


A number of situations can lead to or exacerbate the risk of friendly fire. Poor terrain and visibility are major factors. Soldiers fighting on unfamiliar ground can become disoriented more easily than on familiar terrain. When being fired upon by enemy troops, the direction from which shots are coming isn’t easy to find, confusing troops. The addition of poor weather conditions and combat stress can lead to separation of forces, and its easy to see how a soldier mistakenly believes that he or she is shooting at the enemy, especially when fire is exchanged. Accurate navigation and 'fire discipline' is vital.

In high-risk situations, leaders need to ensure units are properly informed of the location of friendly units and to issue clear, unambiguous orders, but they must also react correctly to responses from soldiers who are capable of using their own judgement. Miscommunication can be deadly. Radios, field telephones, and signalling systems can be used to address the problem, but when these systems are used to co-ordinate multiple forces such as ground troops and aircraft, their breakdown can dramatically increase the risk of friendly fire. When allied troops are added to the mixture, maintaining lines of communication can be even more difficult, especially if language barriers need to be surmounted.



Most militaries use extensive training to their soldiers to ensure troop safety as part of normal co-ordination and planning, but are not always exposed to possible friendly-fire situations to ensure they are aware of situations where the risk is high. Terrain and weather can't be controlled, but soldiers must be trained to operate effectively in these conditions, as well as training to fight at night, in all weather conditions. Such simulated training is now commonplace for soldiers worldwide. Avoiding friendly fire can be as straightforward as ensuring 'fire discipline' is instilled in troops, so that they fire and cease firing when they're told to. Firing ranges now also include 'Don't Fire' targets.

The increasing sophistication of weaponry, and the tactics employed against American forces to deliberately confuse them has meant that while overall casualties have fallen for American soldiers in the late 20th and 21st centuries, the overall deaths due to friendly fire in American actions have risen dramatically. In the 1990 Gulf War, most of the Americans killed by their own forces were crew members of armored vehicles hit by anti-tank rounds. The response in training includes recognition training for Apache helicopter crews to help them distinguish American tanks and armored vehicles at night and in bad weather from those of the enemy. In addition, tank gunners must watch under fire in drills for "friendly" robotic tanks that pop out on training courses in California's Mojave Desert. They also study video footage to help them recognise American forces in battle more quickly.


Improved technology to assist in identifying friendly forces is also an ongoing response to friendly fire problems. From the earliest days of warfare identification systems were visual and developed into extremely elaborate suits of armour with distinctive heraldic patterns. When radar was developed during World War II, IFF systems to identify aitrcraft developed into a multitude of radio beacons.

Correct navigation is vital to ensuring units know where they are in relation to their own force and the enemy. Efforts to provide accurate compasses inside metal boxes in tanks and trucks has proven difficult, with GPS a major breakthrough. Government contractors are rushing to perfect infra-red and carbon dioxide laser beacons that can be mounted on armored vehicles and that will identify themselves to their own forces.

Other technological changes include hand-held navigational devices that use satellite signals, giving ground forces the exact location of enemy forces as well as their own. The use of infra-red lights and thermal tape that are invisible to observers without night-goggles, or fibres and dyes that reflect only specific wavelengths are still in their infancy, but may prove to be key identifiers for friendly infantry units at night.

There is also some development of remote sensors to detect enemy vehicles - the Remotely Monitored battlefield Sensor System (REMBASS) uses a combination of acoustic, sesmic vibration, and infrared to not just detect, but identify vehicles.


Some tactics make friendly fire virtually inevitable, such as the practice of dropping barrages of mortars on enemy machine gun posts in the final moments before capture. This practice has continued throughout the 20th century since machine guns were first used in World War I, and the high friendly fire risk has generally been accepted by troops since machine gun emplacements are tactically so valuable, and at the same time so dangerous that the attackers wanted them to be shelled, considering the shells far less deadly than the machine guns. Tactical adjustments include the use of "kill boxes," or zones that are placed off-limits to ground forces while allied aircraft attack targets, which goes back to the beginning of military aircraft in World War I.

The shock and awe battle tactics adopted by the American military - overwhelming power, battlefield awareness, dominant maneuvers, and spectacular displays of force - are employed because they are believed to be the best way to win a war quickly and decisively, reducing casualties on both sides. However, if the only people doing the shooting are American, then a high percentage of total casualties are bound to be the result of friendly fire, blunting the effectiveness of the shock and awe tactic. It is probably the fact that friendly fire has proven to be the only fundamental weakness of the tactics that the American military has taken such significant steps to overturning a blase attitude to friendly fire and assessing ways to eliminate it.

History: pre-modern age

  • War of the Roses:
    • 1461 –At the Battle of Towton, wind conditions often resulted in arrows falling amongst friendly troops as well as the enemy.
  • 1471 - Battle of Barnet: The ‘radiant star’ battle standard used by the troops commanded by the Earl of Oxford was misidentified as an enemy standard (which depicted a ‘brilliant sun’) and were fired on by their own archers.
  • 1690 - Two French regiments accidentally attacking each other during the Battle of Fleurus led to the habit of attaching a white scarf to the flags of the regiments - white being the colour of the kings of France.
  • Napoleonic Wars
    • 1801 - Battle of Algeciras Bay: Spanish ships Real Carlos and San Hermenegildo mistakenly engaged each other in the dark after British ships sailed between them and fired at both. 1,700 are killed when the two ships explode.
  • 1809 - Battle of Wagram: French troops mistakenly fired on their allies from the Kingdom of Saxony. The uniforms of the Saxons were grey and misidentified as white, the colour of uniform worn by their Austrian enemy.
  • 1815 – Battle of Waterloo: Famously, Marshal Blücher’s Prussians came to the aid of the British, and defeated Napoleon decisively. Lesser known is that Prussian artillery mistakenly fired on British artillery causing many casualties, and British artillery returned fire at the Prussians.
  • American Revolutionary War
  • American Civil War
  • World War I
    • During the attack on the main wagon bridge over the Marne at Chateau-Thierry, American machine gunners described a night attack on 1st June 1918 of massed German troops, who were singing gutturally as they made a suicidal charge, some linked arm in arm. It was later discussed between American and French soldiers that the victims were the French 10th colonial division from Senegal, who had been trying to get back across the river. There are no German records of any attack on the wagon bridge.
    • The French estimated that more than 75,000 French soldiers were casualties of friendly artillery in the four years of World War I.

World War II

The Pentagon estimated 21,000 American incidents alone during World War II.

  • 1939
    • 6 September - Just days after the start of World War II, in what was dubbed the Battle of Barking Creek, an RAF Spitfire squadron shot down two reserve Hurricane aircraft. One of the Hurricane pilots was killed.
    • 10 September British submarine HMS Triton sank another British submarine, HMS Oxley, mistaking it for a German U-boat and having received no responses to challenges. Oxley was the first Royal Navy vessel to be sunk and also the first vessel to be sunk by a British vessel in the war.
  • 1940
  • 1941
  • 1942
  • 1943
    • General Omar Bradley recalled that his column was attacked by American A-36s in Sicily. The tanks lit yellow smoke flares to identify themselves to their own aircraft, but the attacks continued, so the tanks were forced to fire and downed an aircraft.
    • Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair was killed during Operation Cobra after D-Day by a pre-attack bombardment by the Eighth Air Force near St. Lo.
    • Sinking of the submarine FS Surcouf was initially attributed to a collision with the U.S. freighter Thompson Lykes, but a later report stated that the Surcouf was mistaken for a U-boat and destroyed by U.S. planes. Historians differ on which account is true.
    • Sinking of the submarine USS Dorado by U.S. planes. This sinking is also disputed.
    • Likely sinking of the submarine USS Seawolf by destroyer escort Rowell
    • During Operation Husky (Allied Invasion of Sicily), 144 C-47 transport planes passed over Allied lines shortly after a German air raid, and were mistakenly fired upon by ground and naval forces. 33 planes were shot down and 37 damaged, resulting in 318 casualties.
  • 1944
    • An airplane carrying famed Big Band musician and US Army Air Force bandmaster Major Glenn Miller disappeared over the English Channel on December 15, 1944 en route from England to France. Most evidence indicates that the aircraft strayed into a zone designated for the safe dropping of unexpended bombs by allied aircraft, and was knocked out of the sky by the blasts of British Royal Air Force bombers returning from an aborted mission over Germany.
    • The death in Belgium on Christmas Day 1944 of Major George E. Preddy, commander of the 328th Fighter Squadron and the highest-scoring US ace still in combat in the European Theater at the time. Preddy chased a German fighter over an American anti-aircraft battery and was hit by their fire aimed at his intended target.
    • Allied heavy bombers carpet bombed the headquarters of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and 1st Polish Armoured Division during Operation Totalize, wounding Major General Rod Keller and causing several hundred Allied casualties.
    • British flotilla attacked by RAF Hawker Typhoons, off Cap d'Antifer, Le Havre. HMS Britomart and HMS Hussar sunk. HMS Salamander damaged beyond repair and scrapped. HMS Jason escaped major damage.
    • Two battalions of the 77th Infantry on Guam exchanged prolonged fire on 8th August 1944, possibly started from firing of mortars to calibrate them. Small arms and then armour fire was exchanged. The mistake was realized when both units tried to call in the same artillery battalion to bombard the other.
    • In October 1944, Soviet troops liberated the city of Nis from occupying German forces and advanced on Belgrade. At the same time the U.S. Air Force was bombing German-Albanian units entering from Kosovo. The U.S. planes mistook the advancing Soviet tanks as enemies (probably due to lack of communication) and began attacking them, whereupon the Soviets then called in for air support from Nis airport and a five-minute dogfight ensued, ending after both the U.S and Soviet commanders ordered the planes to retreat.
  • 1945

Vietnam War

The Pentagon estimated 8,000 incidents during the Vietnam War; one was the inspiration for the book and film Friendly Fire.

  • USCGC Point Welcome was attacked by USAF aircraft, with two deaths resulting.
  • USS Boston, USS Edson, USCGC Point Dume, HMAS Hobart and two U.S. Swift Boats, PCF-12 and PCF-19 are attacked by US aircraft on June 17 1968. Several sailors were killed and PCF-19 was sunk.
  • On May 11, 1969, during the Battle of Hamburger Hill, Lt. Col. Weldon Honeycutt directed Cobra helicopter gunships, known as Aerial Rocket Artillery (ARA), to support an infantry assault. In the heavy jungle, the Cobras mistook the command post of the 3/187th battalion for a Vietnamese unit and attacked, killing two and wounding thirty-five, including Honeycutt. This incident disrupted battalion command and control and forced 3/187th to withdraw into night defensive positions.
  • Sergeant Michael Eugene Mullen killed by American artillery on 18 February 1970.

Operation Desert Storm


  • Invasion of Afghanistan (2002 –): 6 Canadian (7 % of Canadian fatalities); 2 American, 3 British
    • The Tarnak Farm incident refers to the accidental killing of four Canadian soldiers and the injury of eight others from the Canadian Light Infantry on the night of April 18, 2002 by an American F-16 fighter jet. U.S. Air National Guard Major Harry Schmidt, fired a laser-guided 227-kilogram (500 lb) bomb on the Canadians conducting a night firing exercise near Kandahar. Schmidt was charged with negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, and dereliction of duty, found guilty of the latter charge and fined nearly $5,700 in pay and reprimanded. During testimony Schmidt revealed pilots were told by their superiors to use "go pills" on missions, and blamed the incident on the drugs combined with the 'fog of war.'
    • Pat Tillman, former famous American football player is shot by American fire in Afghanistan. The subsequent cover-up and untruths told regarding his death become a bigger outrage than the actual incident.
    • Operation Medusa (2006): 1 - Two U.S. A-10 Thunderbolts accidentally strafed NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, killing Canadian Private Mark Anthony Graham.
    • Canadian Pte Robert Costall and Vermont National Guard Sgt. John Thomas (2006) accidentally shot (from behind) and killed by a U.S. machine gunner near Kandahar, in Afghanistan.
    • An USAF F-15 called in to support British ground forces in Afganistan drops a bomb on those forces, killing Privates Aaron McClure and Robert Foster, both 19, and John Thrumble, 21, of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, and severely injuring two others.
    • U.S. forces kill seven Afghan police officers.


Other incidents

  • 1948 - 1948 Arab-Israeli War: Col. Mickey Marcus, returning on foot to base, was shot dead by a young Israeli soldier, due to confusion and miscommunication.
  • 1956 - Suez: Attacks from British Royal Navy carrier-borne aircraft caused heavy casualties to UK 45 Commando and HQ.
  • 1967 - During the Six-Day War conflict between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq, the U.S. Navy signals intelligence ship, USS Liberty was attacked by Israeli fighter planes and torpedo boats in international waters about 12.5 nautical miles (23 km) from the coast of the Sinai Peninsula, north of the Egyptian town of El Arish, on June 8.
  • 1974 - Turkish Destroyer Kocatepe was sunk by Turkish aircraft during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
  • Falklands War
  • 2006
    • British Marine Jonathan Wigley, 21, is killed during an intense battle in Helmand province possibly by American fire.
  • 2007
    • Two Danish soldiers from The Royal Life Guards were killed by British Javelin anti-tank missiles during combat operations in the Helmand province, Afghanistan.
  • It is also confirmed from Danish forces that the British fired a total of 6-8 heat seeking Javelin missiles, over a 1 1/2 hour period and only after the attack was completed did they realize that the missiles were British, based upon the fragments found after the incident.
  • 2008
    • Two Dutch soldiers are shot by fellow soldiers in Uruzgan, Afghanistan.
    • British Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment fired missiles on a group of dwellings in the Sangin district in Helmand Province Afghanistan, killing four people and wounding 2 other, women and children were among the dead.
    • First British on British friendly fire in Afaganistan, 6 British Paratrooper from the 2nd Battalion were injured, after being fire upon by British Army Apache Helicopter while on patrol in Afghanistan July 9th, 2008

Use in Comedy

'"Friendly fire, but it's not really friendly if someone is shooting at you"-- Dave Lyons NC '67 (inducted to NC Hall of Fame in 2008) Due to the number of UK personnel killed by U.S. forces, in Britain the term 'friendly fire' is used in an ironic way to imply U.S. Military incompetence It is a frequent source of satirical humour. Examples include

See also



  • Shrader, Charles R. Amicicide: the problem of friendly fire in modern war, University Press of the Pacific, 2005. ISBN 1-4102-1991-7
  • Regan, G. More Military Blunders. Carlton Books, 2004.

External links

Search another word or see amicicideon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature