Friendly Fire

Accidentally firing on your own troops or allies occurs in almost every war. It can involve any form of weapon; artillery, bombs, small arms fire, air strikes, etc. I’m aware that some “friendly fire” incidents were actually intentional, such as fraggings, but I’m sure the vast majority were simply mistakes; mistakes made in the heat of battle or maybe even a routine mission.

Having twice been on the receiving end of such incidents during my tour in Vietnam, I can assure you that I view the term “friendly fire” as a misnomer. A more correct term might be something like “errant fire from friendlies” (EFFF for short) or something along that line. In any case, we were fortunate that no one got hurt or killed. The first incident occurred at Ben Cau in September of 1969. We were at an ARVN infantry/basic training camp. Unlike most of the camps we stayed at, this one had many permanent buildings. Most had sandbags lining the exterior walls, which might’ve prevented injuries when the errant howitzer rounds impacted inside the camp. We never did learn where they came from. Thankfully, it was only one volley and not a continuous barrage.

The other incident occurred under rather strange circumstances. We were based at a small ARVN infantry camp near Loc Giang. About 1/2 mile to the east was FSB Jackson, an American camp. One day the howitzer battery at Jackson conducted a fire mission during a very heavy rain storm. I’m not real sure of the cause, but some of the howitzer projectiles detonated prematurely right over our camp. The heavy rain might have disturbed the proximity fuses in some way, I don’t know. In any case, it sure sent those of us in our tent scrambling for cover!

A 1Lt. Advisor at our camp quickly made a land-line call to the commander at Jackson and explained the problem. I think two more rounds exploded over our camp before they believed the message. It was no surprise that tempers ran a little hot for a while. As far as I know, my radar team was not involved in any out-going friendly fire incidents (thank God). During my year with the team, we detected hundreds of targets and many were fired upon by the artillery people. Thanks to good work by everyone involved in the chain; TOC, the gun batteries, FO’s, the infantry in the field and our own radar team, we managed to avoid any unfortunate incidents.

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