Friendly fire is inadvertent firing towards one's own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, particularly where this results in injury or death. A death resulting from a negligent discharge is not considered friendly fire. Neither is murder, whether premeditated or in the heat of the moment, nor is deliberate firing on one's own troops for disciplinary reasons, as in these cases there is no intent to harm the enemy. Similarly, inadvertent harm to non-combatants or structures, usually referred to as collateral damage, is also not considered to be friendly fire.
The term friendly fire was originally adopted by the United States military. 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 units representing Warsaw Pact forces were identified by orange pennants. Another term for such incidents is fratricide, a word that originally refers to the act of a person killing their brother.
Addressing friendly fire
Friendly fire is often seen as an inescapable result of combat, and because it only accounts for a small percentage of casualties, can often be dismissed as irrelevant to the outcome of a battle. The effects of friendly fire, however, are not just material. Troops expect to be targeted by the enemy, but being hit by their own forces has a huge negative impact on morale. Forces doubt the competence of their command, and its prevalence makes commanders more cautious in the field.
Attempts to reduce this effect by military leaders generally come down to identifying the causes of friendly fire and overcoming repetition of the incident through training, tactics and technology.
Friendly fire arises from the "fog of war", which attributes friendly fire incidents 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 excuse for poor planning, weak or compromised intelligence and incompetent command. Fog of war incidents fall into two broad classes:
Errors of position
Where fire aimed at enemy forces accidentally ends up hitting one's own. Such incidents are exacerbated by close proximity of combatants and were relatively common during the First and Second World Wars, where troops fought in close combat and targeting was relatively inaccurate. As the accuracy of weapons improved, this class of incident has become less common but still occurs.
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.
In preparation for the invasion of Normandy "invasion stripes" were painted on Allied aircraft to assist identification. Similar markings had been used when the Hawker Typhoon was first introduced into use as it was otherwise very similar in profile to a German aircraft. Late in the war the "protection squadron" that covered the elite German jet fighter squadron as it landed or took-off were brightly painted to distinguish them from raiding Allied fighters.
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. The direction from which enemy fire comes may not be easy to identify, and poor weather conditions and combat stress may add to the confusion, especially if fire is exchanged. Accurate navigation and fire discipline are 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 operating the situation is even more complex, especially with language barriers to overcome.
Most militaries use extensive training 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. Difficult terrain and bad weather cannot be controlled, but soldiers must be trained to operate effectively in these conditions, as well as trained to fight at night. 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 are 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 percentage deaths due to friendly fire in American actions have risen dramatically. In the 1991 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 recognize 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 aircraft 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, seismic 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 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 has caused the American military to take significant steps to overturn a blasé attitude to friendly fire and assess ways to eliminate it.
There have been many thousands of friendly fire incidents in recorded military history, and no doubt before, accounting for an estimated 2% to 20% of all casualties in battle. The examples listed below illustrate their range and diversity, but should not be taken to indicate their increasing frequency; indeed, the rates of friendly fire, once allowance has been made for the numbers of troops committed to battle, have remained remarkably stable over the past 200 years.
Wars of the Roses
- 1461 – At the Battle of Towton, wind conditions 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 resulted in them being shot at by their own archers.
Nine Years' War
- 1690 - Two French regiments accidentally attacking each other during the Battle of Fleurus led to the practice of attaching a white scarf to the flags of the regiments - white being the colour of the kings of France.
French and Indian War
- On November 12, 1758, Colonel George Washington led a detachment of 500 Virginia Regiment soldiers from Fort Ligonier to investigate reports of a French raid. Lieutenant Colonel George Mercer led an additional 500 men of the Virginia Regiment by a different route. The two detachments encountered each other in the light of early evening and the haze of musket smoke, mistook each other for the enemy, and engaged each other resulting in 40 casualties.
American Revolutionary War
American Civil War
- During the Battle of Antietam on 17 September 1862, a Confederate regiment had maneuvered into a gap between two Union regiments and launched a surprise attack during a Union advance into a wooded area. The Union regiment hit by the surprise attack hastily began returning fire and unknowingly hit the other Union regiment with musket fire that overshot the Confederate regiment, causing the other Union regiment to return fire in confusion. The two Union regiments had sustained heavy casualties during the lengthy exchange of fire. This was one of eleven friendly fire events recorded at Antietam, which taken together, were thought to have accounted for 1150 killed and wounded, or approximately 5% of the total casualties.
- Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was wounded as a result of friendly fire in the Battle of Chancellorsville on 2 May 1863, and died eight days later. He and some of his men had been returning, under the cover of night, from an intelligence-gathering mission when a Confederate patrol misidentified them as a Union cavalry scout team.
- In the Battle of the Wilderness on 6 May 1864, Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet was wounded when his mounted column was mistaken for Federal troops. As a result of this, he did not return to command until October of that year. In the same incident, Brigadier General Micah Jenkins was killed.
World War I
- At the start of the Battle of Loos in 25 September 1915, the British used poison gas for the first time. However along parts of the line the wind instead of carrying the gas onto the German trenches blew it back onto the British lines.
- At night in foul weather on 16 September 1917, the British submarine HMS G9 mistook the destroyer HMS Pasley for a German U-Boat and attacked with torpedoes. Pasley, not recognising G9 as British until too late, responded to the attack by ramming G9. Nearly cut in two, the G9 sank. Only one of the G9's crew members survived.
- 15 April 1918, C.S. Lewis was wounded and two other British soldiers from the Somerset Light Infantry killed after being hit by a shrapnel from a British shell that had fallen short of its target in Mont-Bernanchon, France.
- 24/25 April 1918, during the battle of Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, soldiers of the Australian 50th Infantry Battalion, advancing in the dark under German machine fire, attacked what they believed was an enemy trench. They found out that the trench was instead occupied by British troops of the 2nd Devon and 1st Worcester Battalions who had not been informed of the Australian counterattack and "thought the Germans were attacking them from the rear".
- During the attack on the main wagon bridge over the Marne at Château-Thierry, American machine gunners described a night attack on 1 June 1918 of massed German troops, who were singing gutturally as they made a suicidal charge, some linked arm in arm. The victims were soldiers of the French 10th Colonial division from Senegal, who had been trying to get back across the river. Although reports of the incident were suppressed, it was discussed by American and French soldiers. There are no German records of any attack on the wagon bridge.
- In 13 July 1918, British soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon was wounded after being shot in the head by a fellow British soldier who had mistaken him for a German soldier near Arras, France. As a result, he spent the remainder of the war in Britain.
- In 16 July 1918, British flying ace Major Awdry Vaucour was killed in the vicinity of Monastier di Treviso, Italy when he was accidentally shot down by a Italian pilot.
- An estimated 75,000 French soldiers were casualties of friendly fire, mainly by the artillery, during World War I.
Spanish Civil War
- In 1937, the Nationalist Irish Brigade was fired upon by a Falangist unit, and the hour-long firefight resulted in 17 deaths. Neither unit had any battle experience.
World War II
- 6 September - Just days after the start of the war, in what was dubbed the Battle of Barking Creek, three RAF Spitfires from 74 Squadron shot down two Hurricanes from the RAF's 56 Squadron, killing one of the pilots. One of the Spitfires was then shot down by British anti-aircraft artillery while returning to base.
- 10 September - The British submarine HMS Triton sank another British submarine, HMS Oxley. After making challenges which went unanswered Triton assumed it must have located a German U-boat and fired two torpedoes. 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, killing 52 with only two survivors.
- 31 January - The German blockade runner Spreewald was torpedoed by German U-boat U-333, captained by U-boat ace Peter-Erich Cremer off Bordeaux.
- 20 February - British Commonwealth forces during the Burma Campaign were repeatedly bombed and strafed by RAF Blenheims during a break-out attempt by a battalion surrounded by Japanese troops in Sittaung River, Burma. More than 170 British Commonwealth lives were lost due to RAF air-strikes.
- 21 February - Pilots of the 1st American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers) strafed retreating Commonwealth forces who were mistaken for an advancing Japanese column during the Burma Campaign, resulting in more than 100 casualties. Around the same day, retreating Commonwealth forces with 300 vehicles were bombed and strafed by RAF Blenheims near Mokpalin, Burma, resulting more than 110 casualties and 159 vehicles destroyed.
- The Polish submarine ORP Jastrząb was mistakenly sunk by the British destroyer HMS St Albans and minesweeper HMS Seagull. She was attacked with depth charges and made to surface, there she was strafed with the loss of five crew and six injured, including the commander, despite yellow recognition smoke candles. The ship was damaged and had to be scuttled.
- The Italian submarine Alagi sank the Italian destroyer Antoniotto Usodimare on 8 June 1942.
- June 27- a group of RAF Vickers Wellingtons bombed the units of 4th County of London Yeomanry, British 7th Armoured Division and the British 3rd Hussars during a two-hour raid near Mersa Matruh, Egypt, killing over 359 troops and wounding 560. The aftermath of RAF raids at this time were also seen by the Germans: "...The RAF had bombed their own troops, and with tracer flying in all directions, German units fired on each other. At 0500 hours next morning 28 June, I drove up to the breakout area where we had spent such a disturbed night. There we found a number of lorries filled with the mangled corpses of New Zealanders who had been killed by the British bombs...
- On October 23, 1942, during the 2nd Battle of El Alamein, at 2140 hours under the cover of a barrage of 1000 guns, British infantry of the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division advanced towards the enemy lines. However, they advanced too fast into the area of fire from British artillery, causing over 60 casualties.
- During the 2nd Battle of El Alamein, RAF fighters bombed British troops during a four hour raid, causing 56 casualties. The British 10th Royal Hussars were among the victims; they did not know the proper signals to call off their planes.
- During the night attack of 12/13 November in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the already damaged light cruiser USS Atlanta was fired on by the cruiser USS San Francisco causing several deaths.
- The German blockade runner and minelayer Doggerbank was mistaken for a British freighter and sunk by the submarine U-43 in the mid-Atlantic. Of the 365 men on board, only one survived.
- 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, forcing the column to return fire which resulted in the downing of one aircraft. A parachuting pilot from the downed A-36 was brought before Bradley. 'You stupid sonofabitch!!' Bradley fumed. 'Didn't you see our yellow recognition signals!?' The pilot replied 'Oh, is that what that was?'.
- During the Allied Invasion of Sicily, Operation Husky, 144 C-47 transport planes passed over Allied lines shortly after a German air raid, and were mistakenly fired upon by U.S ground and naval forces. 23 planes were shot down and 37 damaged, resulting in 318 casualties including about 100 paratroopers killed.
- During Operation Cottage after Allied forces occupied Kiska Island, US and Canadian forces mistook each other as Japanese and engaged each other in a deadly firefight. As a result 28 Americans and 4 Canadians were killed with 50 more wounded. There were no Japanese troops on the island two weeks before US and Canadian Forces landed.
- 28 April. Exercise Tiger, a nine-day rehearsal for the D-Day landings on Utah Beach, was marred when troops landed at Slapton Sands during a live firing exercise. American soldiers crossed into an area which was being shelled with live ammunition by the British heavy cruiser HMS Hawkins. One source put the number of deaths at 308 American soldiers. The exercise is also notorious for casualties suffered during an attack by German E-boats; losses were compounded by failures in Allied organization and training. A total of 946 American servicemen died during the exercise. It was the most costly Allied training incident in World War II and the death toll was four times greater than in the action at Utah Beach itself.
- June 5–6, several RAF Avro Lancasters attempting to bomb the German artillery battery at Merville-Franceville-Plage attacked instead friendly positions, killing 186 soldiers of the British Reconnaissance Corps and devastating the town. They also mistakenly bombed Drop Zone 'V ' of the 6th Airborne Division, killing 78 and injuring 65.
- 6 June 1944, RAF fighters bombed and strafed the HQ entourage of 3rd Parachute Brigade (British 6th Airborne Division) near Pegasus Bridge after mistaking them for a German column. At least 15 men were killed and many others were wounded.
- June 8, 1944, a group of RAF Hawker Typhoons attacked the 175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division (United States) on the Isigny Highway, France, causing 24 casualties.
- During Operation Cobra, bombs from the Eighth Air Force landed on American troops on two separate occasions, killing 241 and injuring 620. Lieutenant General Lesley McNair was among the dead — the highest-ranking victim of American friendly fire.
- July 26, 1944, USAAF P-47s mistakenly strafed the US 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion near Perrières, France. 20 men were badly injured but causing no fatalities.
- On July 27, 1944, the former HMS Sunfish was sunk by a British RAF Coastal Command aircraft in the Norwegian Sea during the beginning of its process of being transferred to the Soviet Navy. The Captain, Israel Fisanovich, supposedly had taken her out of her assigned area and was diving the sub when the aircraft came in sight instead of staying on the surface and firing signal flares as instructed. All crew, including the British liaison staff, were lost. Later investigation revealed that the RAF crew were at fault.
- August 7, 1944, a RAF Hawker Typhoon strafed a squad from 'F' Company/US 120th Infantry Regiment, near Hill 314, France, killing two men. Around noon on the same day, RAF Hawker Typhoon of the 2TAF was called in to assist the US 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion in stopping an attack by the 2nd SS Panzer Division between Sourdeval and Mortain but instead fired its rockets at two US 3-inch guns near L'Abbaye Blanche, killing one man and wounding several others even after the yellow smoke (which was to identify friendlies) was put out. Two hours later, an RAF Typhoon shot up the Service Company of the 120th Infantry Regiment, US 30th Division, causing several casualties, including Major James Bynum who was killed near Mortain. The officer who replaced him was strafed by another Typhoon a few minutes later and seriously wounded. Around the same time, a Hawker Typhoon attacked the Cannon Company of 120th Infantry Regiment, US 30th Division, near Mortain, killing 15 men. An hour later, RAF Typhoons strafed 'B' Company/US 120th Infantry Regiment on Hill 285, killing a driver of a weapons carrier.
- Allied heavy bombers bombed the headquarters of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and 1st Polish Armoured Division during Operation Totalize, causing several hundred Allied casualties.
- Two battalions of the 77th Infantry on Guam exchanged prolonged fire on 8 August 1944, the incident possibly started with the firing of mortars for range-finding and angle calibration purposes. 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.
- August 8, 1944, near Mortain, France, RAF Hawker Typhoons attacked two Sherman tanks of 'C' Company, US 743rd Tank Battalion with rockets, killing 5 tank crewmen and wounding 10 soldiers. Later that day, two Shermans from 'A' Company, US 743rd Tank Battalion were destroyed and set ablaze by RAF Typhoons near Mortain. One tank crewman was killed and 12 others wounded.
- August 9, 1944, a RAF Hawker Typhoon strafed units of the British Columbia Regiment and the Algonquin Regiment, 4th Canadian Armoured Division, near Quesnay Wood during Operation Totalize, causing several casualties. Later that day, the same units were mistakenly fired upon by tanks and artillery of the 1st Polish Armoured Division, resulting in more casualties.
- 12 August 1944, RAF Hawker Typhoons fired rockets at Shermans of 'A' Company, US 743rd Tank Battalion, near Mortain, France, causing damage to one tank and badly injuring 2 tank crewmen.
- 13 August 1944, 12 British soldiers of ‘B’ Company, 4th Wiltshires, 43rd Wessex Division, were killed and 25 others wounded when they were hit by rockets and machine gun attacks by RAF Typhoons near La Villette, Calvados, France.
- 14 August 1944, RAF heavy bombers hit Allied troops in error during Operation Tractable causing about 490 casualties including 112 dead. The bombings also destroyed 265 Allied vehicles, 30 field guns and two tanks. British anti-aircraft guns opened fire on the RAF bombers and some may have been hit.
- 17 August 1944, RAF fighters attacked the soldiers of the British 7th Armoured Division, resulting in 20 casualties, including the intelligence officer of 8th Hussars who was badly injured. The colonel riding along was badly shaken when their jeep crashed off the road.
- 14–18 August 1944, the South Alberta Regiment of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division came under fire six times by RAF Spitfires, resulting in over 57 casualties. Many vehicles were also set on fire and the yellow smoke used for signalling friendlies was ignored by Spitfire pilots. An officer of the South Alberta demanded that he wanted his Crusader AA tanks to shoot at the Spitfires attacking his Headquarters.
- On August 27, 1944, a minesweeping flotilla of Royal Navy ships came under fire. At about noon of the 27th, HMS Britomart, Salamander, Hussar and Jason came under rocket and cannon attacks by Hawker Typhoons of No. 263 Squadron RAF and No. 266 Squadron RAF. HMS Britomart and HMS Hussar took direct hits and were sunk. HMS Salamander had her stern blown off and sustained heavy damage. HMS Jason was raked by machine gun fire, killing and wounding several of her crew. Two of the accompanying trawlers were also hit. The total loss of life was 117 sailors killed and 153 wounded. The attack had continued despite the attempts by the ships to signal that they were friendly and radio requests by the commander of the aircraft for clarification of his target. In the aftermath the surviving sailors were told to keep quiet about the attack. The subsequent court of enquiry identified the fault as lying with the Navy, who had requested the attack on what they thought were enemy vessels entering or leaving Le Havre, and three RN officers were put before a court martial. The commander of the Jason and his crew were decorated for their part in rescuing their comrades. At the time reporting of the incident was suppressed with information not fully released until 1994.
- 12 September 1944, a group of RAF Hawker Typhoons destroyed two Sherman tanks of the Governor General's Foot Guards, 4th Canadian Armoured Division in the vicinity of Maldegem, Belgium, killing 3 men and injuring 4. One Canadian soldier from the 4th Canadian Armored Division wounded recalled this incident saying "....while so deployed the tanks were suddenly attacked, in mistake, by several Typhoon aircraft. Lt. Middleton-Hope's tank was badly hit, killing the gunner Guardsman Hughes, and the tank was set on fire. Almost immediately Sgt. Jenning's tank was similarly knocked out by Typhoon rockets. Meanwhile the Typhoons continued to press home their attack with machine guns and rockets, and, while trying to extricate the gunner, Lt. Middleton-Hope was blown off the tank. In this tragic encounter Guardsmen Baker, Barter, and Cheal were seriously wounded."
- In October 1944, Soviet troops liberated the city of Niš from occupying German forces and advanced on Belgrade. At the same time the U.S. Army Air Force was bombing German-Albanian units entering from Kosovo. The U.S. planes mistook the advancing Soviet tanks as enemies (probably due to a lack of communications) 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.
- Canadian artillery units were rushed in to support the retreating American forces as a counter attack against the advancing German Army during the early stages of the Ardennes Offensive. When American troops were making a retreat north of the Ardennes, the Canadians mistook them for a German column. The Canadian artillery guns opened fire on them, resulting in 76 American deaths and many as 138 wounded.
- Major George E. Preddy, commander of the 328th Fighter Squadron, was the highest-scoring US ace still in combat in the European Theater at the time when he died on Christmas Day in Belgium. Preddy was chasing a German fighter over an American anti-aircraft battery and was hit by their fire aimed at his intended target.
- Operation Wintergewitter (Winter Storm) - Italian Front: American forward observer John R. Fox called down fire on his own position to stop a German advance on the town of Sommocolonia, Italy. In 1997 he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for this action.
- Operation Bodenplatte (Baseplate): 900 German fighters and fighter-bombers launched a surprise attack on Allied airfields. Approximately 300 aircraft were lost, 237 pilots killed, missing, or captured, and 18 pilots wounded — the largest single-day loss for the Luftwaffe. Many losses were due to fire from Luftwaffe anti-aircraft batteries, whose crew members had not been informed of the attack.
- On January 23, 1945, a group of Royal Air Force fighters strafed the assault gun platoon (105mm Sherman tanks) of US 743rd Tank Battalion, near Sart-Lez-St.Vith, Belgium, killing 6 men and wounded 15.
- Cap Arcona incident - Although it did not involve troops in combat, this incident has been referred to as "the worst friendly-fire incident in history" On May 3, 1945, the three ships Cap Arcona, Thielbek, and the SS Deutschland in Lübeck Harbour were sunk in four separate, but synchronized attacks with bombs, rockets, and cannons by the Royal Air Force, resulting in the death of over 7,000 Jewish concentration camp survivors and Russian prisoners of war, along with POWs from several other allies. The British pilots were unaware that these ships carried POW's and concentration camp survivors, although British documents were released in the 1970s that state the Swedish government had informed the RAF command of the risk prior to the attack.
- 14 May. Several days after the German surrender, U-boat ace Wolfgang Luth was shot and killed by a sentry while walking after dark at the German naval base at Flensburg-Marwik.
Arab-Israeli war 1948
- 10 June 1948: Mickey Marcus, Israel’s first general, was shot and killed by a sentry while returning at night to his headquarters.
- On July 3, 1950, eight F-51s of No. 77 Squadron RAAF strafed and destroyed a train carrying thousands of American and South Korean soldiers who were mistaken for a North Korean convoy in the main highway between Suwon and P'yongtaek, resulting more than 700-1000 casualties. Before the attack, the Australian pilots had been assured by the United States 5th Air Force Tactical Control Centre that the area under attack was in North Korean hands.
- On September 23, 1950, Hill 282 was attacked by 1st Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, part of the British 27th Infantry Brigade in the United Nations force. Having captured it and facing strong North Korean counter-attacks, the Argylls, devoid of artillery support, called in an allied air-strike. A group of F-51 Mustangs of U.S. Air Force's 18th Fighter Bomber Wing circled the hill. The Argylls had laid down yellow air-recognition panels correctly in accordance with that day's planning, but the North Koreans imitated similar panels on their own positions in white. The Mustangs, confused by the panels, mistakenly napalm-bombed and strafed the Argylls’ hill-top positions. Despite a desperate counter-attack by the Argylls to regain the hill, for which Major Kenneth Muir was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, the Argylls, much reduced in numbers, were forced to relinquish the position. Over 60 of the Argylls’ casualties were caused by the friendly air-strike.
- During the Battle of Wawon, fleeing soldiers of the South Korean II Corps were mistaken by the Turkish Brigade as Chinese which led to an exchange of fire. As a result 20 South Korean soldiers were killed and 4 others wounded with 14 Turkish deaths and 6 wounded.
It has been estimated that there may have been as many as 8,000 friendly fire incidents in the Vietnam War; one was the inspiration for the book and film Friendly Fire.
- January 2, 1966: In Bao Trai in the Mekong Delta during joint Australian/American forces fighting the Vietcong, a USAF Cessna O-1 Bird Dog flying at low level accidentally flew through Australian and New Zealand artillery fire. The aircraft tail was blown off and the aircraft dived into the ground, killing the pilot instantly.
- At midnight on January 3, 1966, near Bao Trai, Sergeant Jerry Morton from 'C' Company, the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment had called in marker white phosphorus rounds ahead of the company from the supporting New Zealand gun battery on a suspected enemy position. However, due to the bad coordinates given by Morton, the rounds instead landed on the Australian forces. Morton along with another Australian soldier were killed and several others wounded.
- January 3, 1966: Two rounds fired by 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery accidentally landed on the US 173rd Airborne Brigade, killing three paratroopers and wounding seven during Operation Marauder.
- While supporting Operation Market Time, USCGC Point Welcome (WPB-82329) was attacked by USAF aircraft, resulting in the deaths of two Coast Guardsmen on 11 August 1966.
- In 6 February 1967, twelve rounds from New Zealand artillery accidentally landed on the Australian 'D' Company 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, killing four and thirteen injured in west of Song Rai river between Nui Dat and Xuyên Mộc District.
- A U.S. F4 Phantom aircraft dropped a 500 lb (230 kg) bomb on the command post of the 2nd Battalion (Airborne) 503d Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade while they were in heavy contact with a numerically superior NVA force on 19 November 1967. At least 45 paratroopers were killed and another 45 wounded. Also killed was the Battalion Chaplain Major Charles J. Watters, who was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor.
- On 11 May 1969, during the Battle of Hamburger Hill, Lt. Col. Weldon Honeycutt directed helicopter gunships, from an Aerial Rocket Artillery (ARA) battery, to support an infantry assault. In the heavy jungle, the helicopters 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.
- 1 May 1970, on military operations in Phước Tuy Province a burst of machine gun fire followed by a calls for the Medic split the night, an Australian machine gunner opened fire on soldiers of the 8th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment without warning, killing two and wounded two other soldiers.
- In 20 July 1970, Patrol units of 'D' Company 8th Battalion, 1st Australian Task Force outside the wire at Nui Dat called in a New Zealand battery fire mission as part of a training exercise. However there was confusion at the gun position about the fire corrections issued by the inexperienced Australian officer with the patrol. The result was two rounds fell upon the patrol, killing two and wounding several others.
- New Zealand artillery guns accidentally shelled an Australian platoon, 1 Australian Reinforcement Unit, (1 ARU), killing two and wounding another four soldiers in July 24, 1970.
- 10 May 1972: A VPAF MiG-21 was shot down in error by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile near Tuyen Quang, killing a pilot.
- 2 June 1972: A VPAF MiG-19 was shot down in error by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile near Kep Province, killing a pilot.
1974 Turkish Invasion of Cyprus
- The Turkish destroyer D-354 Kocatepe was sunk by Turkish warplanes after being mistaken for an enemy ship.
- A flight of Greek Nord Noratlas aircraft transports carrying reinforcements from Greece was mistaken for a flight of Turkish aircraft by the defenders of Nicosia International Airport, who opened fire. Heavy Greek casualties were sustained.
1982 Falklands War
- Argentine A-4 Skyhawks attacked the Argentine Merchant Navy ship ELMA Formosa. No bombs exploded and there were no casualties.
- A Dassault Mirage III was shot down by Argentine Anti-Aircraft and small arms fire at Port Stanley while an A-4 Skyhawk was downed by a 35mm antiarcraft battery near Goose Green. Both aircraft belonged to the Argentine Air Force.
- Companies A and C of the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, British Army engaged each other in an hour-long firefight in the Falkland Islands involving heavy weapons and artillery strikes, resulting in eight casualties.
- June 2- A friendly fire incident took place between the SAS and the Special Boat Squadron (SBS). An SBS patrol had apparently strayed into the SAS patrol's designated area and were mistaken for Argentine forces. A brief firefight was initiated during which one of the SBS patrol, Sergeant Ian Hunt, was killed.
- 1982 British Army Gazelle friendly fire incident - Due to a lack of communication between the Army and the Navy, the destroyer HMS Cardiff shot down a British Gazelle helicopter over the Falkland Islands. Four British soldiers were killed.
1991 Gulf War
- During the Battle of Khafji, 11 American Marines were killed in two major incidents when their light armored vehicles (LAV's) were hit by American missiles fired by a USAF A-10.
- An American AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter fired upon US Army Bradley Fighting Vehicles during night operations, killing two US Army soldiers.
- A British officer was severely injured when his FV510 Warrior vehicle was attacked by a Challenger 1 tank of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
- An American A-10 during Operation Desert Storm attacked British Warrior MICVs resulting in nine British dead and numerous casualties.
- During the Battle of Phase Line Bullet, American M1 Abrams tanks in the rear fired in support of American troops facing dug-in Iraqi troops. American Infantry Fighting Vehicles were hit by fire from the tanks, resulting in two fatalities.
- Several friendly fire incidents took place during the Battle of 73 Easting, wounding 57 American soldiers, but causing no fatalities.
- One American soldier was killed by friendly fire during the Battle of Medina Ridge.
- Two soldiers from 10 Air Defence Battery, Royal Artillery, were badly injured when two FV103 Spartan from which they had dismounted were fired upon by Challenger 1 tanks from 14th/20th King's Hussars with thermal sights beyond the range of unaided visibility (about 1500 m). The rearmost vehicle was hit and burst into flames. The other vehicle was also damaged in the ensuing fire.
- A large number of friendly fire incidents took place during the Battle of Norfolk, resulting in 5 American casualties.
- A Challenger 1 tank fired several rounds at the British artillery position. At least 4 casualties.
- In the 1994 Black Hawk shootdown incident, two U.S. Air Force F-15Cs involved with Operation Provide Comfort shot down two U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters over northern Iraq, killing 26 military and civilian personnel.
War in Afghanistan from 2001
- In the Tarnak Farm incident of April 18, 2002, four Canadian soldiers were killed and eight others injured when U.S. Air National Guard Major Harry Schmidt, dropped a laser-guided 500 lb (230 kg) bomb from his F-16 jet fighter on the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry regiment which was conducting a night firing exercise near Kandahar. Schmidt was charged with negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, and dereliction of duty. He was found guilty of the latter charge. During testimony Schmidt blamed the incident on his use of "go pills" (authorized mild stimulants), combined with the 'fog of war'. The Canadian dead received US medals for "bravery", but no apology.
- Pat Tillman, a former professional American football player, was shot and killed by American fire in April 22, 2004. An Army Special Operations Command investigation was conducted by Brigadier General Jones and the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that Pat Tillman's death was due to friendly fire aggravated by the intensity of the firefight. A more thorough investigation concluded that no hostile forces were involved in the firefight and that two allied groups fired on each other in confusion after a nearby explosive device was detonated.
- On April 6, 2006, a British convoy in Afghanistan wounded 13 Afghan police officers and killed one, after calling in a US airstrike on what they thought was a Taliban attack.
- In Sangin Province, an RAF Harrier mistakenly strafed British troops missing the enemy by 200 metres during a firefight with the Taliban in August 20, 2006. This angered British Major James Loden of 3 PARA, who called the RAF, "Completely incompetent and utterly, utterly useless in protecting ground troops in Afghanistan". British paratroopers even said that they rather prefer US air-support over the RAF.
- Canadian soldiers opened fire on his white pickup truck, about 25 kilometres west of Kandahar, killing an Afghan officer with 6 others injured in August 26, 2006.
- Operation Medusa (2006): 1 - Two U.S. A-10 Thunderbolts accidentally strafed NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, killing Canadian Private Mark Anthony Graham.
- On 5 December 2006, an F/A-18C on a Close Air Support mission in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, mistakenly attacked a trench where British Royal Marines were dug-in during a 10-hour battle with Taliban fighters, killing one Royal Marine.
- Lance Corporal Matthew Ford, from Zulu Company of 45 Commando Royal Marines, died after receiving a gunshot wound in Afghanistan on January 15, 2007, which was later found to be due to friendly fire. The final inquest ruled he died from NATO rounds from a fellow Royal Marine's machine gun. The report added there was no "negligence" by the other Marine, who had made a "momentary error of judgment".
- Canadian troops mistakenly killed an Afghan National Police officer and a homeless beggar after their convoy was ambushed in Kandahar City.
- Of two helicopters called in to support operations by the British Grenadier Guards and Afghan National Army forces in Helmand, the British Westland WAH-64 Apache engaged enemy forces, while the accompanying American AH-64D Apache opened fire on the Grenadiers and Afghan troops.
- August 23, 2007: A USAF F-15 called in to support British ground forces in Afghanistan dropped a bomb on those forces. Three privates of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, were killed and two others were severely injured. It was later revealed that the British forward air controller who called in the strike had not been issued a noise-cancelling headset, and while he supplied the correct target co-ordinates, in the confusion and stress of the battle incorrectly confirmed one wrong digit mistakenly repeated by the pilot, and the bomb landed on the British position 1000 metres away from the enemy. The coroner at the soldiers' inquest stated that the incident was due to "flawed application of procedures" rather than individual errors or "recklessness".
- British soldiers in operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, fired Javelin anti-tank missiles at Danish soldiers from the Royal Life Guards, killing two. It is also confirmed from Danish forces that the British fired a total of 6-8 Javelin missiles, over a 1½ 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.
- On January 12, 2008, two Dutch soldiers and two allied Afghan soldiers were shot dead by fellow Dutch soldiers in Uruzgan, Afghanistan.
- In the night on 14 January 2008 in Helmand Province, British troops saw some Afghans "conducting suspicious activities". Visibility was too bad for rifle-fire and they were too far away to call in mortar strikes. The squad decided to use a Javelin anti-tank missile missile they were carrying. British soldiers fired their missile on the nearby roof but the victims were their own Afghan army sentries. One Afghan soldier was killed.
- On July 9, 2008, nine British soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment were injured after being fired upon by British Army Apache helicopter while on patrol in Afghanistan.
- A statement issued jointly by the American and the Afghan military commands said a contingent of Afghan police officers fired on United States forces on 10 December 2008 after the Americans had successfully overrun the hide-out, killing the suspected Taliban commander and detaining another man. The US forces after securing the hideout came under heavy small arms fire and explosive grenades from the Afghan Police forces. "Multiple attempts to deter the engagement were unsuccessful," and the US forces returned fire. Afghan police have stated that they came under fire first and that the initial firing on the US forces came from the building next to the police station. This has led the US forces to conclude that the Afghan police forces might have been compromised. Initial reports indicate that this was a tragic case of mistaken identity on both parts.
- Captain Tom Sawyer, aged 26, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, and Corporal Danny Winter, aged 28, Zulu Company 45 Commando Royal Marines, were killed by an explosion on 14 January 2009. Both men were taking part in a joint operation with a Danish Battle Group and the Afghan National Army in a location north east of Gereshk in central Helmand Province. The MoD subsequently confirmed that two men died from friendly fire when they were hit in error by a Javelin anti-tank missile from British troops.
- A British Military Police officer was shot dead by a fellow British soldier while on patrol. It was reported that no charges are to be brought against a British army sniper who killed a British Military Policeman because he was allowed to open fire if he believed that his life was in danger.
- German soldiers killed six Afghan soldiers in a friendly fire incident on their way to attack a Taliban. Afghan soldiers were traveling in support of other Afghan troops in the area. The German Patrol opened fire killing six.
- Sapper Mark Antony Smith, age 26, of the 36 Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers, was killed by a smoke shell fired upon by British troops in Sangin Province, Afghanistan. The MoD is investigating his death and said a smoke shell, designed to provide cover for soldiers working on the ground, may have fallen short of its intended target.
Iraq War from 2003
- In the Battle of Nasiriyah, an American force of Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) and infantry under intense enemy fire were misidentified as an Iraqi armored column by two U.S. Air Force A-10s who carried out bombing and strafing runs on them. One U.S. Marine was killed and 17 were wounded as a result.
- A U.S. Patriot missile shot down a British Panavia Tornado GR.4A of No. 13 Squadron RAF, killing the pilot and navigator. Investigations showed that the Tornado's Identification friend or foe indicator had malfunctioned and hence it was not identified as a friendly aircraft.
- Sgt Steven Roberts, a tank commander of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, was accidentally shot and killed by a fellow British soldier during the incident at a roadblock at Az Zubayr near Basra on March 24, 2003. It was reported that no British soldiers were to be charged for his death.
- A British Challenger 2 tank came under fire from another British tank in a nighttime firefight. The turret was blown off and two of the crewmembers were killed.
- 190th Fighter Squadron/Blues and Royals friendly fire incident - March 28, 2003. A pair of American A-10s from the 190th attacked four British armoured reconnaissance vehicles of the Blues and Royals, killing L/CoH. Matty Hull and injuring five others.
- British Royal Marine Christopher Maddison was killed when his river patrol boat was hit by missiles after being wrongly identified as an enemy vessel approaching a Royal Engineers checkpoint on the Al-Faw Peninsula, Iraq.
- US Patriot missile batteries fired two missiles on a US Navy F/A-18C Hornet 50 mi (80 km) from Karbala, Iraq. One missile hit the aircraft of pilot Lieutenant Nathan Dennis White of VFA-195, Carrier Air Wing Five, killing him. This was the result of the missile design flaw in identifying hostile aircraft.
- American aircraft attacked a friendly Kurdish & U.S. Special Forces convoy, killing 15. BBC translator Kamaran Abdurazaq Muhamed was killed and BBC reporter Tom Giles and World Affairs Editor John Simpson were injured. The incident was filmed.
- Fusilier Kelan Turrington, of the 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was killed by machine-gun fire from a British tank.
- American soldier Mario Lozano killed an Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari and is suspected of wounding Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena in Baghdad. Sgrena had been kidnapped and subsequently rescued by Calipari; however, it is claimed that the car they were escaping in failed to stop at an American checkpoint, and U.S. soldiers opened fire. This claim has been later denied by video proof that the car was respecting speed limits and proceeding with front lights turned on. The shooting commenced well before 50 meters, in contrast with what Lozano and other marines testified.
- During a raid on 16 July 2006 to apprehend a key terrorist leader and accomplice in a suburb of North Basra, Cpl John Cosby, of the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, was killed by a 5.56 mm round from a British-issued SA80. It was ruled to be a case of friendly fire by the coroner. It was reported that the British forces who shot him were unclear about the rules of engagement.
- An American airstrike killed eight Kurdish Iraqi soldiers. Kurdish officials advised US helicopters hit the men who were guarding a branch of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Mosul. The US military said the attack was launched after soldiers identified armed men in a bunker near a building reportedly used for bomb-making, and that American troops called for the men to put down their weapons in Arabic and Kurdish before launching the strike.
- Dave Sharrett, II was shot and killed in a firefight with insurgents near the village of Bichigan, north of Baghdad in January 2008, during Operation Hood Harvest. The incident has since been described as friendly fire.
- On 1 June 2009 an Israeli tank fired on a building occupied by Israeli troops after mistaking them for enemy fighters, killing three soldiers and wounding 20.
- ^ a b Regan, Geoffrey (2002) Backfire: a history of friendly fire from ancient warfare to the present day, Robson Books
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- ^ Battle for Mortain: The 30th Infantry Division Saves the Breakout: August 7–12, 1944, Alwyn Featherston, p.136 ISBN 978-0-89141-662-3
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- ^ Ashley Ekins, Death Due to Friendly Fire: The Life and Death of WO Jack Kirby, Wartime, Issue 21, p. 37
- ^ Neil Sheehan's, A Bright Shining Lie
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- ^ British convoy shoots 13 Afghan police in darkness
- ^ Major calls RAF support 'useless
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- ^ Probe clears Canadians in Afghan police death
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- ^ Nine British soldiers injured in 'friendly fire
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- ^ British Soldier 'Killed By Friendly Fire
- ^ Video: Funeral for The 'lovable, scruffy' Kent hero killed in Afghanistan
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- ^ "US air strike kills Iraqi troops". BBC News. 9 February 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6346901.stm. Retrieved 3 May 2010.
- ^ Jackman, Tom (26 February 2012). "David Sharrett’s family still wants justice for friendly fire death in Iraq". The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/david-sharretts-family-still-wants-justice-for-friendly-fire-death-in-iraq/2012/02/22/gIQA097ScR_story.html. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
- ^ Gaza: 3 soldiers killed, 24 injured in friendly fire incident
- Garrison, Webb B. (1999) Friendly Fire in the Civil War: More than 100 True Stories of Comrade Killing Comrade, Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, TN; ISBN 1-55853-714-7
- Kemp, Paul. (1995) Friend or Foe: Friendly Fire at Sea 1939-45, Leo Cooper, London; ISBN 0-85052-385-0
- Kirke, Charles M. (ed., 2012) Fratricide in Battle: (Un)Friendly Fire, Continuum Books; ISBN 978-1-4411-5700-3
- (French) Percin, Gen. Alexandre (1921) Le Massacre de Notre Infanterie 1914-1918, Michel Albin, Paris
- Regan, Geoffrey (1995) Blue on Blue: A History of Friendly Fire, Avon Books, NY; ISBN 0-380-77655-3
- Regan, Geoffrey (2004) More Military Blunders, Carlton Books
- Shrader, Charles R. (1982) Amicicide: The Problem of Friendly Fire in Modern War, US Command & Staff College, Fort Leavenworth; University Press of the Pacific, 2005; ISBN 1-4102-1991-7