Mistakes are unavoidable. That goes on everything, regardless of how meticulous and careful we might be. In all the wars that we’ve had throughout history, there were numerous times that mistakes were made in the form of friendly fire incidents— when allies accidentally attack allies. Multiple factors could cause this, like visibility on a foggy day, wrong calculations, or unintentionally giving incorrect coordinates for planes dropping bombs or artillery fire missions. As the saying goes, “Friendly Fire is not friendly”
Like retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, military historian and commentator on national security affairs, said, “War is a very human endeavor, and mistakes inevitably will occur.”
Here are five notable incidents of friendly fire through the years:
Battle of Barnet, 1470s
This was one of the engagements during what was called the War of the Roses, a series of civil wars fought between two rival cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet— Lancaster, and York.
On April 14, 1471, the House of York led by Edward IV started a war against the House of Lancaster, a supporter of Henry VI in the War of the Roses. The attack was an attempt by Edward IV to regain the English throne after the Lancastrian army defeated them, led by their former ally Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. He veered away after disagreements about Edward’s questionable personal and leadership decisions. The Yorkists, under cover of darkness and thick fog, moved close to the Lancastrians and attacked at dawn. While the battle was happening, the Earl of Oxford named John de Vere on the Lancastrian team routed the Yorkists before him and chased them well off the battlefield. When his forces returned to the fight, the Lancastrian center led by Warwick brother Richard, Marquess of Montagu misidentified them as Yorkist reinforcements and showered them with arrows. The ensuing chaos and cries of treason by Richard Warwick(who had switched loyalties a couple of times) spread and crushed the morale of Oxford’s Lancastrians, and many of them fled from the battlefield. Oxford himself was felled by a blow from a Yorkist soldier and was left for dead badly wounded on the field. Richard Warwick was also brought down by an ax blow perhaps delivered in revenge by one of Oxford’s men. The battle of Barnet began with Warwicks House of Lancaster troops greatly outnumbering Edward’s, but this mistake cost Warwick not only the battle but his own life and that of his brother as well.
Battle of Bolimów, World War I
It was in the Battle of Bolimow that the Germans first attempted to utilize large-scale use of poison gas. They readied 18,000 gas shells of xylyl bromide, a type of tear gas. They fired it to the Russian Second Army under General Smirnov who were camped near the Polish village of Bolimów on the railway line connecting Łódź and Warsaw. Unfortunately for the German Ninth Army under August von Mackensen, the wind did not agree with their plan and blew back the tear gas on their line. They were lucky that the weather was cold at that time, causing their tear gas to freeze, causing fewer casualties. German commanders called off their attack due to the confusion and injuries to their own men, but the Russians seized the opportunity and launched a counter-attack, sending 11 divisions swarming out of their trenches to attack the German lines. The Germans took almost 40,000 casualties.
The Battle of Hill 282, Korean War
On September 23, 1950, The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, part of The United Nations Command’s British 27th Infantry Brigade, called in a UN airstrike. Lacking artillery support(which had been called away to another battle), and facing a North Korean People’s Army counter-attack to recaptured Hill 282, a group of US Air Force F-51 Mustangs of the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing was sent, and the Argylls laid down Red and Yellow air-recognition panels so the Air Force pilots could mark them as friendlies. The North Koreans produced white recognition panels of their own and placed them in their own positions. The correct color of that day was supposed to be Red/Yellow. The Argylls found they could not raise the P-51s by radio and as it turned out the Forward Air Controller had either not advised the Mustang pilots on use of recognition panels or mistook ground fire he thought was coming from the hilltop as the North Koreans retaking the hill. Seeing all targets then as hostiles, the three Mustangs rolled in and strafed the Argylls with 20mm cannons and dropped napalm on them.
89 of the Argyllls were killed or wounded in the action on Hill 282, 60 of them by the Mustangs. the rest were driven off the Hill.
Following the incident, both the British and America clamped a tight lid on the incident and how it occurred. Unit histories for the Air Force and the Argylls both omitted the incident and the British government classified it as top secret until the year 2025.
April 6, 2003, Incident, Iraq War
Perhaps one of the worst friendly-fire incidents, an F14 aircrew from VF-32 was cleared to attack what was thought was an Iraqi tank, 30 miles southeast of Mosul. He fired a laser-guided bomb, and it hit the target, only to find out that he targeted a vehicle convoy consisting of US Special Forces and Kurdish resistance fighters. Investigations showed that the pilot had been cleared without the target coordinates provided by the Forward Air Controller, who was said to be “operating under great stress” at that moment. The mistake cost the lives of 18 Kurdish fighters, 4 US soldiers, and a BBC translator. Eighty other people were wounded in the incident.
Anti-Ship Missile Test, Gulf of Oman
In May 2020, the Iranian media reported that a new anti-ship missile being tested by the frigate Jamaran accidentally hit the support ship Konarak during an exercise. According to reports, The Konarak had been putting out targets in the water near the Strait of Hormuz when it failed to veer off away from one. The incident killed nineteen sailors while 15 others were injured.