Friendly fire is an oxymoron. It means one unit firing upon another unit from the same side.
War is deadly. There were casualties from mistakes of identify. In combat, all but
your nearest buddies become a treat, and even buddies have been killed in a fire fight.
A PT boat on patrol in enemy waters is likely to be
attacked by Army aircraft searching for enemy in the same waters. The PT boat may have
to drive off the aircraft with machine gun fire. It has happened: that story was my first
exposure to the concept of friendly fire. In the reoccupation of Kiska,
Alaska, to retake that island from the Japanese, 35,000 US Army and
Navy units along with Canadian attacked and fought for three days in fogbound crags suffering
25 killed, 31 wounded. The Japanese had already evacuated their 5,000 men from the island.
All the fighting was between friendly units.
Pacific War, WW2
Ease of combat identification is a trade off. The bright red coats of the Tory
infantry identified them to their own artillery, but were certainly easy targets of colonial
marksmen. Modern units hiding in radio silence can understandably be considered hostile.
The anti-war press made much of friendly fire casualties in Vietnam, Desert Storm,
Afghanistan, and now Iraq.
A proximate cause can always be found in the rational aftermath and a guilty party pilloried.
Yet, war remains a hell on earth. It is fought in under pressure of imperfect information
with the urgency where one must kill or be killed. The faster one destroys the
enemy, the fewer friendly lives will be lost. If the odds are 50/50 that the unit you
are facing is enemy, do you fire or not? 80/20? 98%? After the battle,
statisticians with computers might be able to make a reasoned decision; prosecutors
certainly can. But they had neither a threat nor a trigger.
The number of acceptable friendly deaths has been reduced and must continue to be.
In WWI, going over the top entailed an acceptable risk from ones' own supporting artillery of 15% in order to keep the enemy from machine gunning the troops (100% fatal) as they advanced
through no-mans land.
Interservice operations under combat urgencies might find that radio frequencies are
incompatible or codes unknown. Multinational operations are worse. Training exercises
uncover such problems and try to correct them. There is no second chance to correct in combat.
Submarines on station as air guard, weather reconnaissance, or picket duty were routinely
attacked by surface and air units making combat sweeps through the area that attacked
anything that is not part of their own unit. Once in combat, units sometimes attacked
their own. Gunsight cameras were installed to record dogfight kills when fighter claims
exceeded known downings. The number of attacks against friendly planes was revealed and
aircraft silhouette identification training expanded.
Danger of friendly fire occurred from the first day of combat. When Japanese aircraft
attacked Pearl Harbor, every plane in the air became a target . A fighter carrying mail flew right down the channel as warships were exiting. From head on, all fighters look the same and a destroyer that had just downed a zero also destroyed the mail plane. A flight of B-17's,
stripped of arms to make the long overwater trip to Hawaii, were damaged while trying to land . Enterprise (CV-6) was returning to Pearl Harbor and off loaded her
aircrews by having them flown ahead to arrive short of fuel and were fired on as they
tried to land . The few Army P-40's able to sortie were also targets.
Civilian light planes
were forced to evade both Japanese and Americans . A Pan American Clipper was able to divert
to land away from the turmoil . Six naval planes returning after dark had four shot down by anti-aircraft
guns. Although warned to expect their return, one gun fired and the others felt compelled
to join in.
Minneapolis (CA-36) was sighted and bombers sent to the attack, but was fortunately
recognized before damaged. Portland (CA-33) was reported as a Japanese carrier disguised
as a cruiser (it was a cruiser) and Porter (DD-356) with anti-rust painting in progress was reported as having
a rising sun painted on her bow.
Coast Guard 78-foot patrol boat Tiger maintained a patrol off the harbor entrance during the night. In the darkness overly anxious Army units along the shore fired on the cutter.
Flight of B-17 seeking Jap cruisers after battle of Midway reported sinking one in
15 seconds. Submarine Grayling complained of being bombed by B-17's at that exact location.
Have you ever observed the Kamikaze scenes with intense anti-aircraft fire
and noticed the ships in the background. Perhaps you marveled that they were not hit.
Marvel no more; they were hit. Mechanical stops were installed to keep a ships gunners from
hitting its own superstructure. Some of the scenes might have our planes within the
defensive barrage with pilots so intent on stopping the enemy attack they were oblivious to the
friendly fire. It happened all the time.
How common is friendly fire? Here are a few significant enough to be recorded.
Navy in the Pacific.
Dec 7, 1941 .
Enterprise (CV-6) returning to Hawaii from delivering aircraft to Wake Island, off loaded her aircrews by having them flown ahead. They begin to arrive off Oahu short of fuel as the Japanese attack unfolds; some SBD's meet their doom at the hands of Japanese planes SBD's; one SBD is shot down by friendly fire as they try to land.
Starting with Pearl Harbor
A flight of B-17,
stripped of arms to make the long overeater trip to Hawaii, were damaged while trying to land.
Anti-aircraft. What goes up must come down. Anti-aircraft
bullets and shells sent upwards at enemy aircraft fall into the surrounding
areas. Most of the property damage and civilian lives lost a Pearl Harbor
were caused by falling, spent anti-aircraft fire. In today's world, this can be complete AA missiles.
Of the handful of fighters able to fuel, arm and takeoff to engage
the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, a P-36 pilot was torn apart by anti-aircraft fire.
Submarine Thresher (SS-200), hurrying to port with an injured sailor, is to rendezvous with Litchfield (DD-336) for escort through restricted waters. Litchfield joins the general search for Japanese submarines. Light minelayer Gamble (DM-15) mistakenly fires upon Thresher off Oahu. Thresher dives, but the delay proves fatal to the injured sailor.
7Dec41 "Orders for the Day" distributed that afternoon said in part:
"All Japanese planes observed [in the morning raid] were
marked with red circle on wing tips and fuselage . . . . Many of
them . . . painted silver, but some are believed to be vari-colored.
It is quite likely that attacks will be made with planes bearing
Presumably all ships and shore installations were given similar
information. In the distance an antiaircraft gun cut loose at the
incoming planes. Several ships and shore batteries immediately joined
the kill, lighting the sky with star shell and tracers.
The firing lasted perhaps a minute. But that was enough.
Too late, the firing guns would soon learn that those overhead were
Enterprise (CV-6) scout aircraft were launched at dusk in an attempt to find Japanese ships reported off Oahu. Friendly fire, however, downs four of Enterprise's six F4F's, the strike group escort, that were directed to make their night landing on Ford Island. Other Enterprise SBD's make a night landing at Kaneohe Bay, miraculously avoiding automobiles and construction equipment parked on the ramp to prevent just such an occurrence.
Fleet in Battle
May 7, 1942, Battle of the Coral Sea.
After surviving Japanese air attack and causing the Japanese Port Moresby Invasion Force to withdraw, Adm Crace's cruisers are
mistaken for that force and are bombed by USAAF B-26s that straddle Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (flagship) and near-miss heavy cruiser Chicago (CA-29) and destroyer Perkins (DD-377).
Destroyer Farragut (DD-348) is damaged by friendly fire while engaged in repelling air attack.
June 4, 1942, Battle of Midway.
All the ships in TF 17 blazed away to defend Yorktown..
On Russell, a 20mm crew keeps firing even though another ship
has fouled the range. The skipper throws his helmet at
the gunners to make his over-enthusiastic men cease fire.
October 11, 1942, Battle of Cape Esperance, off Guadalcanal.
Farenholt (DD-491) is damaged by Japanese gunfire, possibly also by friendly fire from either Boise (CL-47) or Helena (CL-50).
October 26, 1942, Battle of Santa Cruz Islands
Destroyer Hughes (DD-410) is damaged by friendly fire. Destroyer Porter (DD-356) is accidentally torpedoed by battle-damaged and ditched TBF, and, deemed beyond salvage, is scuttled.
12-13Nov42, Naval Battle of Guadalcanal --
Night Warfare. Ships column was thrown into confusion when ordered to stop
firing on friendly ships. Several ships stopped firing altogether. Among the first to
resume firing was the aggressive ship that had fired on a friendly. There are risks in war.
You more or less know where the ships of your side are when first going into a battle,
instantly conditions change, your ships maneuver for whatever reason --to avoid torpedoes,
to avoid a collision, to uncover guns to give a better field of fire or to chase an enemy,
because of partially received commands and dozens of other reasons. Ships fired with main
guns in which forward and rear turrets are firing at different targets, the secondary
battery of dual purpose guns may be independent of those, and in the close quarters of
Iron Bottom Sound, the antiaircraft machine guns -- 40mm. 20mm and 50 cal -- fired at close
A daylight battle adds visibility but also adds submarines and aircraft to the mix of confusions.
The two admirals killed on the first night of Naval Battle of Guadalcanal
were probably killed by friendly fire shooting at enemy ships with
the admirals ships passing before or behind the targets.
Fletcher (DD-417) saw the Barton (DD-599) disintegrate and the destroyers ahead of him scatter to starboard.
Fletcher engaged several targets in turn with radar-directed 5-inch fire for the next quarter hour, but
we do not know how many rounds she fired, or at what. All we know is
that her targets were generally east of her track. There is the
possibility that besides her initial targets among DesDiv 6 that
she also showered 5-in. in rapid salvos on Juneau, Helena, Monssen,
Aaron Ward, San Francisco and Sterett besides whatever Japanese ships she may have intended to engage; targets were selected by radar and did not appear to have been overly fussy as to which side they were on.
Destroyer Buchanan (DD-484) is hit by friendly fire.
Light cruiser Atlanta (CL-51), irreparably damaged by Japanese naval gunfire and torpedo as well as by friendly fire from San Francisco (CA-38), is scuttled. Friendly fire damages destroyer O'Bannon (DD-450).
Already battle damaged, a submarine torpedo caused
Juneau (CL-52) to blow up and disintegrate from the mass-detonation of a magazine.
Although no one at the time would have believed it, about 100 men
survived the cataclysmic sinking. Although Helena asks a passing B-17 to signal ComSoPac, the message "fell through the
cracks" and the men were left in the water. Less than 20 men would
ultimately survive the sinking out of a crew of some 700.
Ships at Sea
28Dec1941 . Destroyer Peary (DD-226) is damaged when
mistakenly bombed and strafed by RAAF Hudsons off Kina, Celebes, N.E.I.
20Aug42 . Small seaplane tender Mackinac (AVP-13) is damaged
when mistakenly bombed by SBD's from carrier Wasp (CV-7)
off Ndeni Island.
1Nov42 . Destroyer Buchanan (DD-484) is hit by friendly fire.
Anything unknown is an enemy to be destroyed before it can destroy you and can not
be allowed to continue to exists to damage our side in the future. A naval battleship squadron, returning from the bombardment that convinced the Japanese to evacuate Kiska, tracked by radar and attacked
an unknown enemy unit that turned out to be a heavy weather phenomena in Arctic waters
-- the amusing Battle of the Pips.
Light cruiser Mobile (CL-63) accidentally fires one of her 5-inch guns
into one of her own 40-millimeter mounts ; destroyer Taylor (DD-468) hit by friendly fire from light cruiser Oakland (CL-95).
Sometimes the only way to survive is to fight, that is what men do in combat.
When out on a pre-dawn patrol on April 29, 1944,
off the island of New Britain in the Solomons, Patrol Boat P-347, runs up onto a reef in Lassul Bay.
Patrol Boat P-350 attempts to tow the P-347 off the reef but while doing so both boats
were strafed by US Corsairs whose pilots mistook them for enemy gun boats.
Soon, another Patrol Boat, P-346 appeared on the scene to assist in the tow but
more planes made their appearance and began their strafing run in spite of the
crew of the 346 waving the Stars and Stripes. The Patrol Boats opened fire and
shot down two of the planes. One bomb made a direct hit on the P-347 just after
the crew had abandoned ship. The planes continued strafing the men in the water
before heading back to base. On the boats involved in this tragic incident,
fourteen men were killed, another fourteen wounded and two pilots lost.
See PT-347 webpage.
USS Enterprise (CV-6) damaged by friendly antiaircraft fire, had to
withdraw from air operations for 24 hours while repairs to her flight
deck took place during a raid on southern Kyushu.
Weather. Adm Halsey, using what meteorological data he had, steered
around the heart of a typhoon, but chose to stay near to hide behind
the weather. The typhoon did not track as expected, or for whatever
reason, several US destroyers, the smallest of the fleet warships,
were rolled over in the storm. Three? destroyers went down. Fortunately the whole fleet was in the area and many were rescued.
Radio Silence. Ships are sent on various assignments. Wartime requires
radio silence. The daily course of the ships is plotted on a big board
and updated every few hours to keep track of where a ships is supposed to be.
This is used to warn off friendly submarines and bombers. The destination
is advised of an expected arrival so as to make harbor space available.
We know how much information we were able to derive from enemy radio signals,
so no radio reports are made in transit or on arrival because this would give
the enemy targeting information. However, USS Indianapolis, (CA-35) traveling
alone, became silhouetted in moonlight to a Japanese submarine and was down
before a distress call could be sent. Nobody missed her. The port of
expected arrival just assumed she had her orders changed in transit.
The survivors spent 3-days in the water before being noticed by a scout
plane on routine long distance patrol. During that 3-days, men
died of exposure. This was the largest loss at sea by the US Navy.
7Dec41. Thresher (SS-200) fired upon by a destroyer as she tried
to return to Pearl Harbor from a month-long patrol off Midway. She
immediately went deep to avoid the attentions of "friendly forces."
She again tried to enter the harbor on the 8th, but was driven off by
depth-bombs from a patrol plane. A few weeks later, another overzealous
Navy plane attacked the sub on 24 February but, fortunately, did not
damage the submarine.
20Dec41 . SBD's from carrier Enterprise accidentally bomb
submarine Pompano (SS-181) - twice.
24Jan42 . Submarine S-26 (SS-131) is accidentally rammed and sunk by submarine
chaser PC-460 in Gulf of Panama. PC-460 rescues three
survivors. Despite a search by the patrol craft and the other three
submarines in company, no other survivors are found; 46 men lose their lives in the mishap.
7June42. Submarine Grayling (SS-209) is bombed (but not damaged) by USAAF B-17's in aftermath of the Battle of Midway.
USAAF B-17's and B-24's raid Kiska.
Submarine Plunger (SS-179) is damaged when emergency identification flare explodes as she makes signal to friendly aircraft.
Submarine S-16 (SS-121) is accidentally damaged by USAAF plane off
coast of Panama.
19Nov43. At Tarawa, mistaking her as an enemy, USS Ringgold fired at Nautilus (SS-168),
sending a five inch shell through the conning tower
03Oct44 . Shelton (DE-407) is sunk by Japanese submarine
RO-41 off Morotai. During the ensuing antisubmarine operations,
unaware of the proximity of friendly
submarines, Richard M. Rowell (DE-403), accidentally sinks Seawolf (SS-197), which is transporting U.S. Army
personnel to the east coast of Samar, P.I.
Circling torpedoes :
16May41. USS Tautog, goes deep to escape.
23May43. one of Whale's torpedoes circles back toward her,
forcing the boat to "go deep" but then heads back
and hits the target.
26March44. Submarine Tullibee (SS-284) is sunk by circular run
of own torpedo, north of the Palaus
24May44. Submarine Flying Fish (SS-229) is damaged by premature
explosion of own torpedo, Philippine Sea, but remains on patrol.
24Oct44. Submarine Tang (SS-306) sinks Japanese merchant cargo ship
Ebara Maru in Formosa Strait and damages tanker
Matsumoto Maru, but is herself sunk by the circular
run of one of her own torpedoes.
Now that is friendly fire.
As are planes that flew so low they were destroyed in the
blast of their own bombs.
USS Atule (SS-403) was lost with the loss of an unknown number officers
and men when it was sunk (as Peruvian submarine Pachocha) after being
rammed by a Japanese merchantman off Callao, Peru.
The Atule's death is rather ironic. A warship that was built for the
sole purpose of sinking Japanese merchant and warships was sunk 43 years
later by a Japanese merchant ship.
16Feb1941. Tanker Blum split in half after blundering into mine field off Cape Henry.
27Feb1941. HMS Jupiter went down during the Battle of Java Sea while passing a known friendly mine field.
23May42. YP-277 was blown up by a "friendly" mine while protecting French Frigate Shoals.
4August1942. Destroyer Tucker (DD-374), uninformed of its presence, is sunk in U.S.
minefield laid the previous day by Gamble (DM-15), Breese (DM-18), and Tracy (DM-19),
in Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides.
25Oct42. Chartered transport President Coolidge is sunk by mine while arriving Expiritu Santo,
(same mine field as Tucker on Aug 4)
Troops are saved, their equipment is not.
The Chicago Tribune "patriotically" published to the world, the U.S. basic war plan in the Pacific, "Rainbow", as evidence of the "duplicity" and "Warmongering" of the Roosevelt Administration. The plan was published a few days before Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Japanese plans to invade New Guinea circulate in Australian newspapers
was leaked by MacArthur from Ultra reports in an attempt to get more
Congressman May credited with sinking 10 subs, killing 800 men.
Two heroes of Lexington at Coral Sea, one the Executive Officer, the other a newsman, shared a bond and information. The reporter printed that we knew the Japanese Midway fleet was coming days before they arrived.
Congressman Holland denounced the Tribune story as "unthinking"
providing "help to our enemies" and then went on to reveal the secret
that "our Navy had broken the secret code of the Japanese Navy." This
story, too, was unthinking printed.
German sub sinks British freighter carrying Italian POW
s to Canada. Rescue U-boats attacked by British cruiser.
results in orders to make no attempt to rescue in the future.
U.S. bomber attacks a rescue submarine.
France -- Vichy Honor-- Allied or enemy?
[ Sub and air attacks on North African invasion fleet - US losses.
Submarine attacks near Madagascar.]
Think of the bombardment of France on D-Day. Think of the bombing of industrial sites
in cities across Europe and Asia. Attacks must be made without warning to the target,
else our troops, ships and planes are endangered by a prepared enemy. However, in the
last months of the war, Japanese civilians were warned days before their city was
April 26, 1942 Submarine Pickerel (SS-177) damages Japanese hospital
ship Takasugo Maru in Manipa Strait, Malay Archipelago.
May 1, 1942. Submarine Grenadier (SS-210) mistakenly torpedoes and
sinks Soviet merchant ship Angarstroi about 90 miles west-southwest
of Nagasaki, Japan . What was Angarstroi doing there?
Japanese Pilot Nishikaichi Shigenori, short down on the island of Niihau, during the raid on Pearl Harbor, terrorize the inhabitants with aid of Harada Yoshio, a Japanese resident of island.
A fully loaded bomber crashes on takeoff into a convoy of soldiers arriving
at that airport for transport. Killed by a friendly, but this is clearly an accident.
How about two fighter pilots practicing dog fighting that collide and
kill each other?
Bombers out of formation such that one drops its bombs on a lower plane.
POWs killed in attacks.
1July1942. Sturgeon (SS-187) sinks Montevideo Maru carrying 1,050 POWs from Philippines to Japan.
Great care was taken to identify Prisoner of War camps. Prisoners too had a vested interest
to mark their location. However, unmarked sites where military activity is observed, is a
valid target. POWs detained in an enemy headquarters are as subject to death as the other
occupants. People can be in the wrong place at the wrong time with no fault on either side.
As the Japanese were being pushed back from western Asia and the
Philippines, they attempted to evacuate prison camps by crowding
prisoners into a ship's hold where many suffocated. Some too ill
to travel were beheaded. The ships were attacked with many POWs
killed by our planes and subs or by guards who shot those trying
to escape from drowning. Some unmarked POW camps were also bombed
as military installations.
Snook (SS-279) sank Japanese army cargo ship Arisan Maru with Allied POWs (including survivors of "The Bridge over River Kwai") being transported to Japan. Virtually all the POWs, being locked below decks, died. This was during the Battle for Leyte Gulf. The US
and Japan had established a set of paths, times, signs ,and lights for protected transport of POWs. The Arisan Maru
was delayed, traveled outside of the protective box and did not show lights are agreed. On that same day, Hospital ship Comfort (AH-6),
fully illuminated in accordance with the dictates of the Geneva Convention, was bombed by Japanese 22 miles
southeast of Leyte. The next day started the kamikaze phase of the war. The Japanese did not have the same respect for human life, ours or their own, as we do.
[ Philippines 1/5 killed
Pappy Boyington story]
Not all friendly errors are committed by our side.
19June1942. Seaplane tender (destroyer) Ballard (AVD-10), rescued 35 survivors from Japanese carrier Hiryu that had been scuttled by
destroyers Kazegumo and Yugumo on 5 June in the Battle of Midway.
They had been members of the engineering department, left below for
dead in the abandonment of the ship.
The Brits knew friendly fire, too:
6Sept1939. Early in the war, the ground radar operator believing he was coordinating an attack on enemy machines, RAF Spitfires from No.74 Squadron shot
down two Hurricanes. There was no IFF equipment (Identification Friend or Foe)
at this stage of the war.
At about the same time, ground anti-aircraft fire brought down an
RAF Blenheim bomber. One pilot was killed. There were no German
aircraft in the area at the time. This was the first time that
Spitfires had fired their guns in anger. The Spitfire pilots were
subsequently exonerated from any blame at a court martial and from
then on the highest priority was given to the production of
Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) equipment. http://members.iinet.net.au/~gduncan/facts.html
During the period 1939 to 1942, twenty
Blenheim fighter-bombers were shot down through mis-identification
by RAF pilots and anti-aircraft fire (Seven were shot down by
Hurricanes). This resulted in the deaths of thirty-two aircrew with
seven others injured. Nineteen other aircraft were damaged by being
fired upon by mistake.
This website is primarily about WW2 Pacific, 1942, and naval oriented.
Some of the worst friendly fire incidents occurred later with the Army in Europe.
Over 4% of US deaths in the invasion of Sicily were from one incidence of friendly fire when 151
paratroopers on 23 C-47s troop carriers were shot up (and down) delivering the 82nd airborne to the island.
Advancing into enemy territory can be dangerous.
Headlines in the 'Stars and Stripes' proclaimed 'American troops at Anzio bombed by Germans
flying American planes'. Actually,
on May 26, 1944, the beachhead at Anzio/Nettuno ceased to exist. It had now become a bridgehead.
British and American troops had broken out and were pushing forward to cut the retreat of
Kesselring's forces on Route 6, the main highway leading to Rome. A few minutes after noon on
the 26th. on the outskirts of Cori, a squadron of five American P-40 fighter/bombers of the
99th Fighter Group, US 12th Air Force, flew over the Anzio/Nettuno area, turned back and
prepared for a strafing run. Soldiers of the US 15th Infantry froze in terror as bombs
started falling in their midst. Within seconds, 120 men were either dead or wounded.
A number of bombs hit their jeeps which were loaded with ammunition and the exploding 37mm
anti-tank shells caused additional casualties, some of the bodies were never found.
This held up the advance to Giuglianello for five to six hours.
D-Day. As many French civilian were killed on June6, 1944 as the total of Allied and
Nazi combined. Numbers are about 7K Germans, 12K Allies, 20K French. The civilians could not be warned to "leave the area immediately" until after the fighting had started.
Probably the biggest case of American friendly fire took place at the breakout from Normandy near St. Lo.
To clear the area of enemy, their defensive line was
attacked by US heavy bombers. Targeting of the later part of the bomber stream was obscured by
heavy smoke from the first bombers; these later groups sighted on the smoke. Unfortunately, the smoke had blown over the American lines.
813 men were killed, from Private Jones to LtGen McNair.
Some 35 minutes after sunset on April 20, 1944, the convoy was spotted and tracked by the Germans, who launched a three-pronged attack with Junkers 88 and Heinkel 111 medium bombers. Each flew very low, using the shoreline as a background, thus confusing the search radar of the Allied ships. The first wave struck from dead ahead, torpedoing SS Paul Hamilton and SS Samite. The former, which had been inexcusably carrying both a load of ammunition as well as hundreds of Army Air Force personnel, blew up in a shattering explosion--and all 504 men on board her were killed in the blast.
IFF - Identification Friend or Foe. Safety Measures for aircraft were recognized early.
29August 1940--The exchange with the British Tizard Mission of scientific and technical information touched upon means of identifying friendly aircraft which develops into IFF used extensively since.
28March 1941. The Commanding Officer of Yorktown after five months operational experience with the CXAM radar, reported that aircraft had been tracked at a distance of 100 miles and recommended that friendly aircraft be equipped with electronic identification devices and carriers be equipped with separate and complete facilities for tracking and plotting all radar targets.
A Glance at History
Friendly fire is not new. General "Stonewall" Jackson was shot while returning from surveying Union lines, by his Confederate troops. Lee said Jackson was his right arm, which he would rather have lost than this General.
In Russo-Japanese War, 1904, the Japanese
laid mines and tempted the Russian fleet into them. Two months later
the Japanese blundered into their own minefield killing over 500 sailors.
As war becomes more mechanized and technical, the statistics change.
The number killed appears to go up, but because more wounded survive by improvements in all aspects of medical care : anesthetics in the Civil War ; inoculation against typhoid and improved surgical techniques later in that century ; sulfa and penicillin in WW2 ;
helicopter in Korea ; an average 35 minutes till evacuation in Vietnam.
Here are some statistics : Numbers from various times use different basis for computation, so the numbers are only for use in general area of magnitude. For example, is a percentage based only on forces engaged or of all forces in uniform?
The Normandy Invasion suffered 9,000 casualties of 130,000 men landed on D-Day. Yet on Utah beach, there
were only 197 casualties of 23,000 men who landed.
Battle Deaths : Mexican War - 15%; Civil War - 7%; WWI - 9%;
WW2 - 4.5%; Korea - 2.4%; Vietnam - 2.5% (80% returned to duty).
Disease historically caused the most casualties in warfare. *
Revolutionary War - 90% of all deaths; Mexican War - 10%; Civil War - 71%; Spanish-American - 34%; WWI - 17%; WW2 - < 1%; Vietnam - 75%.
Desert Storm .
Iraq, 1991, 22% of casualties were from friendly fire -- 35 killed, 72 wounded, as were 77% of vehicle losses.
* - "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond
The outnumbered US Navy was able to stop the Japanese advance because of superior naval
intelligence, first with radio interception and code breaking, second with radar for
nighttime and aerial defense.
Although IFF transponders for identification friend or foe was recognized and in large measure
provided during the air war, there was no way to coordinate the location of all units in
a combat theater. War cannot be made safe, but we must continue to try to protect our own.
Additional data to organize - after "the early years".
7Apr43. Tug (ex-minesweeper) Rail (AT-139) is damaged by friendly fire as motor torpedo boat tender Niagara (AGP-1), moored alongside, fires through the former's rigging.
Elsewhere off Tulagi, destroyer Sterett (DD-407) is damaged by friendly fire from adjacent ships (six men are wounded).
20July43. USAAF B-25's, unaware of friendly naval vessels in their patrol area, mistakenly sink motor torpedo boat PT-166 and damage PT-164 and PT-168 in Ferguson Passage, Solomons.
15Aug43. Naval task force under land U.S. Army and Canadian troops to retake the island of Kiska, Aleutians, from the Japanese. 35,000 US Army and Navy units along with Canadian attacked and fought for three days in fogbound crags suffering
25 killed, 31 wounded. They find Kiska had been evacuated of the 5,000 Japanese on 28 July 1943. the only casualties in the operation occurred because of accidents or friendly fire incidents. All the fighting was between friendly units.
23Aug43. Coastal minesweeper Crow (AMc-20) is sunk by erratic running friendly aircraft torpedo, Puget Sound, Washington.
10Nov43. Albacore (SS-218) was again bombed by an American aircraft. This time, the submarine suffered considerable damage and plunged to a depth of 450 feet before her dive was checked.
19Nov43. Submarine Nautilus (SS-168) is damaged by friendly fire from light cruiser Santa Fe (CL-60) and destroyer Ringgold (DD-500) off Tarawa, Gilberts. Nautilus remains on patrol until she accomplishes her mission of supporting the landings.
16Dec43. U.S. freighter Blue Jacket, mistaken for a German blockade runner while proceeding toward her destination of Cardiff, Wales, is engaged in a running surface gunnery action by three British frigates. Armed Guard gunfire keeps the "friendly" ships at bay, saving the American merchantman.
28Jan44. Off Anzio, motor torpedo boat PT-201 -- that has LtGen Mark Clark, Commanding General of the U.S. Fifth Army, on board -- is damaged by friendly fire from minesweeper Sway (AM-120).
22Feb44. Eniwetok Atoll. Infantry landing craft LCI-365, LCI-440, and LCI-442 are damaged by friendly fire.
17Mar44. Motor torpedo boat PT-283 is sunk by friendly fire from destroyer Guest (DD-472), Solomons.
27Mar44. Motor torpedo boats PT-121 and PT-353 are mistakenly sunk by friendly bomber, Bismarck Archipelago.
30Mar44. Submarine Tunny (SS-282), while on lifeguard duty off the Palaus, is attacked accidentally by TBF from carrier Yorktown (CV-10). Damage forces Tunny to terminate her patrol.
24Apr44. Hollandia, Tingey (DD-539) is damaged by friendly fire.
17Jun44. Marianas, LST-84 is damaged by friendly fire.
18Jun44. Off Saipan, battleship California (BB-44) is damaged by friendly fire.
19Jun44. Battle of Philippine Sea, destroyer Hudson (DD-475) is damaged by friendly fire.
12Oct44. Formosa, destroyer Prichett (DD-561) is damaged by friendly fire.
25Oct44. Albert W. Grant (DD-649) is damaged by both friendly and Japanese gunfire at the Battle of Surigao Strait
4Nov44. U.S. freighter Frank J. Cuhel with 500 troops is damaged by friendly fire while anchored off Tacloban, Leyte; 3 wounded.
29Nov44. U.S. freighter William C.C. Claiborne, anchored off Leyte, is hit by what is most likely friendly fire; 3 wounded.
Freighter James H. Breasted is bombed by what is probably a U.S. plane, touching off her cargo of gasoline. Ship is abandoned but the survivors come under friendly fire that causes no casualties. PT-77 is damaged, probably accidentally bombed by friendly aircraft.
9 Aug44. Charles Lindbergh, ex AAC colonel, flying a full combat tour of 50 missions as a civilian technician, mostly in P-38's, was fired on by ships in harbor.
16Apr45. Destroyer McDermut (DD-677) is damaged by friendly fire.
There are about 35 instances of friendly fire in the final months of the Pacific War, most caused by anti-aircraft intended for Kamikaze, the last being :
6 Aug45. Nine US POWs died at Hiroshima: 7 air force (an aircrew), 2 navy pilots.
9 Aug45. Off Honshu, retaliatory air strikes by Japanese planes result in friendly fire damage to destroyer John W. Weeks (DD-701).
Return to: WW2 Menu
About this page: Friendly - Friendly fire, another hazard of war.
Last updated on May 22, 2003 - draft 3
Contact us at -- on second thought, I don't want to hear more horror stories.