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In the United States military, fragging (from fragmentation grenade) refers to the act of murdering members of the military, particularly commanders of a fighting squad. 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,[1] 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.


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.[2] 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.[3] Underground GI newspapers sometimes listed bounties offered by units for the fragging of unpopular commanding officers.[4]

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.[5] Between 1970 and 1971 alone, there were 363 cases of "assault with explosive devices" against officers in Vietnam.[6]

Incidents of fragging have been recorded as far back as the 18th-century Battle of Blenheim.

Notable incidents

  • 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.[7]
  • 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.[8]
  • 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.[7]
  • 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.[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • 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.[11]
  • 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.[12] 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.[13]
  • Iraq War: Captain Phillip Esposito and 1st Lieutenant Louis Allen died as a result of the explosion on June 7, 2005, 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.[14]

See also


  1. "frag". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. "To throw a fragmentation grenade at one's superior officer" 
  2. Lepre, George (2011). Fragging: Why U.S. Soldiers Assaulted Their Officers in Vietnam. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press. 
  3. “Interview with George Cantero, 1981.” 05/12/1981. WGBH Media Library & Archives, Web. 3 Nov 2010.
  4. Robert D. Heinl, Jr. (7 June 1971). "The collapse of the armed forces: Bounties and evasions". Armed Forces Journal. 
  5. Hedges, Chris (2003). What Every Person Should Know About War. Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-5512-7. 
  6. Hixson, Walter (2000). Military Aspects of the Vietnam Conflict. Taylor & Francis. p. 154. ISBN 0-8153-3532-6. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Regan, G. (2004). More Military Blunders. Carlton Books. ISBN 1-84442-710-2. 
  8. Lindqvist, Herman (2009-11-29). "Karl XII:s död ger inte forskarna någon ro". Aftonbladet. 
  9. Paine, S.C.M. (2003). The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perception, Power, and Primacy, Cambridge University Press. pp. 179–189.
  10. Regan, G. Backfire: A History of Friendly Fire from Ancient Warfare to the Present Day, Robson Books, 2002.
  11. George Lepre, Fragging: Why U.S. Soldiers Assaulted Their Officers in Vietnam (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press), 89-93, 51-57.
  12. Private Allen sentenced to life in jail for killing Convery
  13. Private Ferriday killings
  14. von Zielbauer, Paul (February 21, 2009). "After Guilty Plea Offer, G.I. Cleared of Iraq Deaths" (Newspaper article). New York Times. Retrieved February 23, 2009. 

Further reading

External links

The dictionary definition of fragging at Wiktionary

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