The term fragging was coined by military personnel of the United States during the Vietnam War. Fragging is the assassination or attempted assassination by a solider of a fellow soldier, usually a superior officer or non-commissioned officer. Initially, the killings were most often attempted with a fragmentation grenade, sometimes making it appear as though the killing was accidental or during combat with the enemy. The term fragging is now often used to encompass any means used to deliberately and directly cause the death of military colleaugues. Documented fragging incidents and suspected during the Vietnam War totaled nearly nine hundred. Fragging has not been as frequent since the Vietnam War.
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Soldiers have killed colleagues, especially superior officers, since the beginning of armed conflict with many documented examples throughout history. However, the practice of fragging seems to have been relatively uncommon in American armies until the Vietnam War.The prevalence of fragging was partially based on the ready availability of fragmentation hand grenades. Grenades were untraceable to an owner, nor did they leave any ballistic evidence. M18 Claymore mines and other explosives were also occasionally used in fragging, as were firearms, although the term, as defined by the military during the Vietnam War, applied only to the use of explosives to kill fellow soldiers. Most fragging incidents were in the Army and Marine Corps. Fragging was rare among Navy and Air Force personnel who had less access to grenades and weapons than did many soldiers and marines.
The first known incidents of fragging in South Vietnam took place in 1966, but events in 1968 appear to have catalyzed an increase in fragging. After the Tet Offensive in January and February 1968, the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular in the United States and among American soldiers in Vietnam, many of them conscripts. Secondly, racial tensions between white and African American soldiers and marines increased after the assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968. With soldiers reluctant to risk their lives in what was perceived as a lost war, fragging was seen by some enlisted men "as the most effective way to discourage their superiors from showing enthusiasm for combat."
Morale plummeted among soldiers and marines. By 1971, a U.S. Army colonel declared in the Armed Forces Journal that "The morale, discipline, and battleworthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at anytime in this century and possibly in the history of the United States."
The U.S. military reflected social problems and issues in the US such as racial tension, drug use, and resentment toward authoritarian leaders. 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 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.
A number of factors may have influenced the incidence of fragging. The military reflected social problems and issues in the US such as racial tension, drug use, and resentment to authority which characterized U.S. society during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The demand for manpower for the war in Vietnam caused the armed forces to lower their standards for inducting both officers and enlisted men. The rapid rotation of personnel, especially of officers who served only 6 months in command roles, decreased the stability and cohesion of military units . Most important of all, perhaps, was the loss of purpose in fighting the war, as it became apparent to all that the United States was withdrawing from the war without having achieved any sort of victory. Moral and discipline deteriorated.
Most fragging was perpetrated by enlisted men against leaders. Enlisted men, in the words of one company commander, "feared they would get stuck with a lieutenant or platoon sergeant who would want to carry out all kinds of crazy John Wayne tactics, who would use their lives in an effort to win the war single-handedly, win the big medal, and get his picture in the hometown paper." Harassment of subordinates by a superior was another frequent motive. The stereotypical fragging incident was of "an aggressive career officer being assaulted by disillusioned subordinates." Several fragging incidents resulted from racial tensions between African American and white soldiers. Attempts by officers to control drug use caused others. Most known fragging incidents were carried out by soldiers in support units rather than soldiers in combat units.
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|Note: Statistics were not kept until 1969.|
According to author George Lepre, the total number of known and suspected fragging cases by explosives from 1969 to 1972 in Vietnam totaled nearly 900 with 99 deaths and many injuries. This total is incomplete as there is evidence that some cases were not reported, nor were any statistics kept before 1969 although several incidents from 1966 to 1968 are known. Most of the victims or intended victims were officers or non-commissioned officers. The number of fraggings increased in 1970 and 1971 although the U.S. military was withdrawing and the number of U.S. military personnel in Vietnam was declining.
An earlier calculation by authors Richard A. Gabriel and Paul L. Savage, estimated that up to 1,016 fragging incidents may have taken place causing 86 deaths and 714 injuries of American military personnel, the majority officers and non-commissioned officers.
Fragging statistics include only incidents involving explosives, most commonly grenades. Several hundred murders of American soldiers by firearms occurred in Vietnam but most were of enlisted men killing enlisted men of nearly equal rank. Fewer than 10 officers were murdered by firearm. However, rumors and claims are common of deliberate killing of officers and non-commissioned officers by enlisted men under battlefield conditions, but the numbers deliberately killed cannot be quantified.
- 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 Quảng Trị 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 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
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- Lepre, George (2011), Fragging: Why U.S. Soldiers Assaulted their Officers in Vietnam, Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, pp. 1, 19,; Brush, Peter, "The Hard Truth About Fragging' (2010), http://www.historynet.com/the-hard-truth-about-fragging.htm, accessed 25 May 2014
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- 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
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- theguardian.com: "Death sentence for Muslim soldier" 30 April 2005
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