In the United States military, fragging (from fragmentation grenade) refers to the act of murdering members of the military, particularly commanders of a fighting unit. Additionally, the term can be applied to manipulating the chain of command in order to have an individual, or unit, deliberately killed by placing the personnel in harm's way, with the intended result being death. An example would be to order a soldier to perform a particularly hazardous task, and continue to repeat the order until the soldier met his demise. Originating among United States troops during the Vietnam War, the term was most commonly used to mean the assassination of an unpopular officer of one's own fighting unit. Such incidents have been documented in European military history back to the 18th century.
Current usage could apply to murder of any other member, enlisted or officer, and has nothing to do with rank. Initially, the killings were effected by means of a fragmentation grenade, making it appear as though the killing had been accidental, or the result of combat action with the enemy, thereby obscuring the assassin's true intentions. The term now encompasses any means of deliberately and directly causing the death of fellow military members.
The most common motive for choosing a fragmentation grenade or similar device is a perpetrator's desire to avoid identification and the associated consequences of punishment by one's superiors or dishonor brought to one's unit. Where a grenade is thrown in the heat of battle, soldiers can claim that the grenade landed too close to the person they "accidentally" killed, that another member of the unit threw the grenade, or that an enemy soldier threw it back. Unlike a firearm projectile, an exploded hand grenade cannot be readily traced to anyone with ballistic forensics or other means. The grenade is destroyed in the explosion, and the characteristics of the shrapnel cannot be traced to a specific grenade or soldier.
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The characteristics of the Vietnam War resulted in high stress for military officers and NCOs, and their troops. At the same time, relations within the military reflected social problems and issues in the US such as racial tension, drug use, and resentment toward authoritative leaders within the ranks. As the program of training Vietnamese for combat roles known as Vietnamization began, young American enlisted men lost a sense of purpose in fighting the war, and the relationship between enlisted men and their officers deteriorated. The resentment directed from enlisted men toward officers was exacerbated by their generational gaps, as well as different perceptions of how the military should be conducted. Enforcement of military regulations, especially if done overzealously, led to troops' complaining and sometimes threats of physical violence directed toward officers. Most incidents of fragging during the Vietnam War spawned from incompetent officers or personal philosophies on the war. However, other motivations such as religious intolerance could also contribute to fragging.
Fragging most often involved the murder of a commanding officer (C.O.) or a senior non-commissioned officer perceived as unpopular, harsh, inept or overzealous. As the Vietnam War became more unpopular in the United States, soldiers became less willing to go into harm's way. They expected their leaders to have a similar sense of self-preservation, even if these motives were obstructive to the goals of the overall war effort. If a C.O. was incompetent, fragging the officer was considered a means of self-defense for the men serving under him. Fragging might also occur if a commander freely took on dangerous or suicidal missions, especially if he was deemed to be seeking personal glory. Lower enlisted-rank soldiers used the threat of fragging to influence officers. Sometimes a warning would be given to the target by placing a grenade pin on his bed. Fragging would take place if his actions continued as before.
The use of fragging served to warn junior officers to avoid angering their enlisted men through recklessness, cowardice, or lack of leadership. George Cantero, who served as a medic in Vietnam during the early 1970s, later explained that incompetent officers who gave dangerous orders and refused to listen to reason or threats were fragged because that was the only way for the men to gain a new and presumably safer commanding officer. Underground GI newspapers sometimes listed bounties offered by units for the fragging of unpopular commanding officers. A potential catalyst for fragging incidents has been an unwillingness to tackle the issue head-on. By simply changing commanding officers after a fragging incident without evaluating the core issues presented, junior officers become even more incentivized to eliminate their commanding officers because there were no true repercussions. Unlike the Roman tradition of crucifying entire legions for disobedience or cowardice, swift administrative responses were ineffective at eradicating the source of the discontent.
Throughout the course of the Vietnam War, fragging was reportedly common. Cases have been documented of at least 230 American officers killed by their own troops, and as many as 1,400 other officers' deaths could not be explained. Between 1970 and 1971 alone, there were 363 cases of "assault with explosive devices" against officers in Vietnam.
Incidents of fragging have been recorded as far back as the 18th-century Battle of Blenheim.
- Biblical Times – King David of Israel had an affair with Bathsheba, whose husband was Uriah the Hittite. David sent a message to his commander Joab to put Uriah in the front of the heat of the battle to get him killed, and he was. (Bible verse 2 Samuel 11:15 states) And he wrote in the letter, saying, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die.”
- 1704 – Battle of Blenheim: An unpopular Major of the 15th Regiment of Foot was shot in the head by his own men after the battle had been won.
- 1718 – Charles XII of Sweden: It is speculated that the bullet that killed the King during the Siege of Fredriksten was shot by his own troops.
- 1815 – Battle of Quatre Bras: The commander of the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders) Regiment of Foot, Colonel John Cameron of Fassfern, was shot and killed by a man whom he had recently flogged.
- 1894 – Battle of the Yalu River: Admiral Ding Ruchang's legs were crushed due to the deliberate misfiring of his ship's main battery by the ship's Captain.
- World War I: An unpopular Sergeant was killed when one of his men came up behind him and dropped an unpinned hand grenade down his trousers.[need quotation to verify]
- Vietnam War (American forces):
- On 21 April 1969, a grenade was thrown into the company office of K Company, 9th Marines, at Quang Tri Combat Base, RVN; First Lieutenant Robert T. Rohweller died of wounds he received in the explosion. Private Reginald F. Smith pleaded guilty to the premeditated murder of Rohweller and was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment; he died in custody on 25 June 1982.
- On 15 March 1971, a grenade tossed into an officer billet at Bien Hoa Army Airfield killed Lieutenants Thomas A. Dellwo and Richard E. Harlan of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile); Private E-2 Billy Dean Smith was charged with killing the officers but was acquitted in November 1972.
- Vietnam War (Australian forces):
- On 23 November 1969, Lieutenant Robert Thomas Convery of the 9th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment was killed when a grenade exploded while he was sleeping in his tent at Nui Dat, South Vietnam. Private Peter Denzil Allen was convicted of Convery's murder and served ten years and eight months of a life sentence in Risdon Prison.
- On Christmas Day 1970, Sergeants Allan Brian Moss and John Wallace Galvin were shot dead and Sergeant Frederick Edwin Bowtell injured when Private Paul Ramon Ferriday opened fire with his rifle into the Sergeant's Mess of the Royal Australian Army Service Corps at Nui Dat, South Vietnam after an all-day drinking session. Ferriday was convicted on two counts of manslaughter and one of assault with a weapon, and served eight years of a ten-year sentence.
- War in Afghanistan: 17 August 2002 – British Army Sergeant Robert Busuttil of the Royal Logistic Corps was shot dead by subordinate Corporal John Gregory during a barbecue at Kabul International Airport. It was later revealed that Corporal Gregory had been drinking and the two men had earlier been involved in an altercation. It was in the immediate aftermath of this that Corporal Gregory returned with his weapon loaded, and fired up to ten rounds killing Sergeant Busuttil as he lay in a hammock before turning the weapon on himself.
- Iraq War (American forces):
- On March 23, 2003, in Kuwait, Sergeant Hasan Karim Akbar cut power to his base, threw four hand grenades into three tents where fellow members of the 101st Airborne Division were sleeping, and opened fire with his rifle when the personnel ran to take cover; Army Captain Christopher S. Seifert and Air Force Major Gregory L. Stone were killed, and fourteen other soldiers were wounded by shrapnel. Akbar was tried by court martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 2005. He had written a diary entry in 1997 that read: "My life will not be complete unless America is destroyed." On 21 April, 2005 Akbar was found guilty of two counts of premeditated murder and three counts of attempted premeditated murder and was sentenced to death on 28 April.
- Captain Phillip Esposito and 1st Lieutenant Louis Allen were killed on 7 June 2005 died as a result of the explosion of a Claymore mine placed on Esposito's office window at Forward Operating Base Danger in Tikrit, Iraq. The unit's supply sergeant was charged with the murder, but was acquitted at court martial.
- On May 11, 2009, Sergeant John Russell opened fire on Camp Liberty with an M16A2 rifle and shot dead five U.S. military personnel (U.S. Army Specialist Jacob D. Barton, Sergeant Christian E. Bueno-Galdos, Major Matthew P. Houseal, Private First Class Michael E. Yates, and U.S. Navy Commander Charles K. Springle). Russell pleaded guilty to five counts of premeditated murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
- Courage Under Fire (film)
- United States v. Hasan K. Akbar
- Deaths of Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen
- Friendly fire
- Platoon (film)
- Military historian examines Vietnam-era fragging cases— including details of many that may never be resolved Texas Tech University Press, 16 May 2001
- "frag". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. "To throw a fragmentation grenade at one's superior officer"
- Lepre, George (2011). Fragging: Why U.S. Soldiers Assaulted Their Officers in Vietnam. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press.
- “Interview with George Cantero, 1981.” 05/12/1981. WGBH Media Library & Archives, Web. 3 Nov 2010.
- Robert D. Heinl, Jr. (7 June 1971). "The collapse of the armed forces: Bounties and evasions". Armed Forces Journal.
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- Lindqvist, Herman (2009-11-29). "Karl XII:s död ger inte forskarna någon ro". Aftonbladet.
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- Regan, G. Backfire: A History of Friendly Fire from Ancient Warfare to the Present Day, Robson Books, 2002. page?
- George Lepre, Fragging: Why U.S. Soldiers Assaulted Their Officers in Vietnam (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press), 89-93, 51-57.
- Private Allen sentenced to life in jail for killing Convery
- Private Ferriday killings
- "Army accused over soldier deaths". BBC News. 17 September 2003. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- theguardian.com: "Death sentence for Muslim soldier" 30 April 2005
- "Akbar Convicted of Murder", Fox News
- "Military's death row: Hasan Akbar case", ABC News
- von Zielbauer, Paul (February 21, 2009). "After Guilty Plea Offer, G.I. Cleared of Iraq Deaths". New York Times. Retrieved February 23, 2009.