Tag Archives: Decimation

Fragging – The deliberate killing or attempted killing by a soldier of a fellow soldier

Fragging –

The deliberate killing or attempted killing by a soldier of a fellow soldier………

Fragging is the deliberate killing or attempted killing by a soldier of a fellow soldier, usually a superior officer or non-commissioned officer (NCO). The word was coined by U.S. military personnel during the Vietnam War, when such 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 colleagues.

What was ‘Fragging’? (The Vietnam War)

The high number of fragging incidents in the latter years of the Vietnam War was symptomatic of the unpopularity of the war with the American public and the breakdown of discipline in the U.S. Armed Forces. Documented and suspected fragging incidents totaled nearly nine hundred from 1969 to 1972

Motivation

Soldiers have killed colleagues, especially superior officers, since the beginning of armed conflict, with many documented instances throughout history (one such attempt was on unpopular Civil War general Braxton Bragg). 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 and did not 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 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 any time in this century and possibly in the history of the United States.”

The U.S. military reflected social problems and issues in the U.S. such as racism, drug use, and resentment toward authoritarian leaders. As the U.S. began to withdraw its military forces from Vietnam, some American enlisted men and young officers lost their sense of purpose for being in Vietnam, and the relationship between enlisted men and their officers deteriorated.

The resentment directed from enlisted men toward older officers was exacerbated by generational gaps, as well as different perceptions of how the military should conduct itself. 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 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 (on average) less than six 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. Morale 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 alleged racism 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.

Soldiers sometimes used non-lethal smoke and tear-gas grenades to warn superiors that they were in danger of being fragged if they did not change their behavior. A few instances occurred—and many more were rumored—in which enlisted men collected “bounties” on particular officers or non-commissioned officers to reward soldiers for fragging them.

Fragging: Why U. S. Soldiers Assaulted Their Officers In Vietnam

M26 grenade, issued to the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines in the Vietnam War, used in many fragging incidents

Fragging incidents

1969197019711972
Army9620922228
Marine Corps30+50+30+5
Suspected306211131
Total156+321+363+64
Deaths4638123
Note: Statistics were not kept before 1969.

According to author George Lepre, the total number of known and suspected fragging cases by explosives in Vietnam from 1969 to 1972 totaled nearly 900 with 99 deaths and many injuries. This total is incomplete as some cases were not reported, nor were 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 even though 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 1,017 fragging incidents may have taken place in Vietnam causing 86 deaths and 714 injuries of U.S. military personnel, the majority officers and NCOs.

Fragging statistics include only incidents involving explosives, most commonly grenades. Several hundred murders of U.S. soldiers by firearms occurred in Vietnam but most were of enlisted men killing enlisted men of nearly equal rank. Fewer than 10 officers are known to have been murdered by firearms. However, rumors and claims abound of deliberate killing of officers and non-commissioned officers by enlisted men under battlefield conditions. The frequency and number of these fraggings, indistinguishable from combat deaths, cannot be quantified.

Response

The U.S. military’s responses to fragging incidents included greater restrictions on access to weapons, especially grenades, for soldiers in non-combat units and “lockdowns” after a fragging incident in which a whole unit was isolated until an investigation was concluded. For example, in May 1971, the U.S. Army in Vietnam temporarily halted the issuance of grenades to nearly all its units and soldiers in Vietnam, inventoried stocks of weapons, and searched soldier’s quarters, confiscating weapons, ammunition, grenades, and knives.

This action, however, failed to reduce fragging incidents as soldiers could easily obtain weapons in a flourishing black market among nearby Vietnamese communities. The U.S. military also attempted to diminish adverse publicity concerning fragging and the security measures it was taking to reduce it.

Only a few fraggers were identified and prosecuted. It was often difficult to distinguish between fragging and enemy action. A grenade thrown into a foxhole or tent could be a fragging, or the action of an enemy infiltrator or saboteur. Enlisted men were often close-mouthed in fragging investigations, refusing to inform on their colleagues out of fear or solidarity.

Although the sentences prescribed for fragging were severe, the few men convicted often served fairly brief prison sentences. Ten fraggers were convicted of murder and served sentences ranging from ten months to thirty years with a mean prison time of about nine years.

Influence

In the Vietnam War, the threat of fragging caused many officers and NCOs to go armed in rear areas and to change their sleeping arrangements as fragging often consisted of throwing a grenade into a tent where the target was sleeping. For fear of being fragged, some leaders turned a blind eye to drug use and other indiscipline among the men in their charge. Fragging, the threat of fragging, and investigations of fragging sometimes disrupted or delayed tactical combat operations. Officers were sometimes forced to negotiate with their enlisted men to obtain their consent before undertaking dangerous patrols.

The breakdown of discipline, including fragging, was an important factor leading to the creation of an all-volunteer military force by the United States and the termination of conscription. The last conscript was inducted into the army in 1973. The volunteer military moderated some of the coercive methods of discipline previously used to maintain order in military ranks.

Notable incidents

World War I

Vietnam War (U.S. 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.

Middle East peacekeeping

In Country: A Vietnam Story

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 (U.S. forces)

  • On 23 March 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. 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 TikritIraq. The unit’s supply sergeant was charged with the murder, but was acquitted at court martial.
  • On 11 May 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.

Royal Navy

  • On 8 April 2011, during a port visit to Southampton, Able Seaman Ryan Donovan abandoned his sentry post at the boarding ramp of submarine HMS Astute, and opened fire on CPOs David McCoy and Chris Brown after they confronted him at the submarine’s weapons locker; he then forced his way into the control room and opened fire, killing Lt Cdr Ian Molyneux and wounding Lt Cdr Christopher Hodge before being tackled to the ground by a visiting dignitary as he reloaded. Donovan pleaded guilty to Molyneux’s murder and the attempted murders of Hodge, Brown, and McCoy and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 25 years.

See: The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest – Rome’s darkest hour

See: Decimation in the Roman Army – Brutal!

Decimation in the Roman Army – Brutal!

Decimation

Decimation.

Etching by William Hogarth in Beaver’s Roman Military Punishments (1725)

Decimation (Latindecimatiodecem = “ten“) was a form of military discipline used by senior commanders in the Roman Army to punish units or large groups guilty of capital offences, such as mutiny or desertion. The word decimation is derived from Latin meaning “removal of a tenth”.

The procedure was a pragmatic attempt to balance the need to punish serious offences with the realities of managing a large group of offenders

 

Procedure

Image result for Cohort (military unit)

cohort (roughly 480 soldiers) selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten. Each group drew lots (sortition), and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his nine comrades, often by stoning or clubbing. The remaining soldiers were often given rations of barley instead of wheat (the latter being the standard soldier’s diet) for a few days, and required to camp outside the fortified security of the camp.

As the punishment fell by lot, all soldiers in a group sentenced to decimation were potentially liable for execution, regardless of individual degrees of fault, rank, or distinction.

Usage

The earliest documented decimation occurred in 471 BC during the Roman Republic‘s early wars against the Volsci and is recorded by Livy. In an incident where his army had been scattered, consul Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis had the culprits punished for desertion: centurions, standard-bearers and soldiers who had cast away their weapons were individually scourged and beheaded, while of the remainder, one in ten were chosen by lot and executed.

Stele des Polybios.jpg

The stele of Kleitor depicting Polybius, Hellenistic art, 2nd century BC, Museum of Roman Civilization

——————————————–

Polybius gives one of the first descriptions of the practice in the early 3rd century BC:

 

If ever these same things happen to occur among a large group of men… the officers reject the idea of bludgeoning or slaughtering all the men involved [as is the case with a small group or an individual]. Instead they find a solution for the situation which chooses by a lottery system sometimes five, sometimes eight, sometimes twenty of these men, always calculating the number in this group with reference to the whole unit of offenders so that this group forms one-tenth of all those guilty of cowardice. And these men who are chosen by lot are bludgeoned mercilessly in the manner described above.

The practice was revived by Marcus Licinius Crassus in 71 BC during the Third Servile War against Spartacus, and some historical sources attribute part of Crassus’ success to it. The number of men killed through decimation is not known, but it varies between 1,000 (used on 10,000 men), or a cohort of around 480-500 men, meaning that 48-50 were killed.

Julius Caesar threatened to decimate the 9th Legion during the war against Pompey, but never did.

Plutarch describes the process in his work Life of Antony.

After a defeat in Media:

Antony was furious and employed the punishment known as ‘decimation’ on those who had lost their nerve. What he did was divide the whole lot of them into groups of ten, and then he killed one from each group, who was chosen by lot; the rest, on his orders were given barley rations instead of wheat.

Decimation was still being practised during the time of the Roman Empire, although it was very uncommon. Suetonius records that it was used by Emperor Augustus in 17 BC and later by Galba, while Tacitus records that Lucius Apronius used decimation to punish a full cohort of the III Augusta after their defeat by Tacfarinas in AD 20.

G.R. Watson notes that “its appeal was to those obsessed with “nimio amore antiqui moris” – that is, an excessive love for ancient customs – and notes,

“Decimation itself, however, was ultimately doomed, for though the army might be prepared to assist in the execution of innocent slaves, professional soldiers could hardly be expected to cooperate in the indiscriminate execution of their own comrades.”

 

Stefan Lochner 004.jpg

Theban Legion

According to legend, the Theban Legion, led by Saint Maurice, was decimated in the third century AD. The Legion had refused, to a man, to accede to an order of the Emperor, and the process was repeated until none were left. They became known as the Martyrs of Agaunum.

The Eastern Roman Emperor Maurice forbade in his Strategikon the decimatio and other brutal punishments. According to him, punishments where the rank and file see their comrades dying by the hands of their own brothers-in-arms could lead to a collapse of morale. Moreover, it could seriously deplete the manpower of the fighting unit.

 

 

Post-classical instances

During the Battle of Breitenfeld (1642), near Leipzig, one of the many battles of the Thirty Years’ War, Colonel Madlon’s cavalry regiment was the first that fled without striking a blow.

This was followed by the massive flight of other cavalry units, which was the final turning point in the battle. The battle was a decisive victory for the Swedish army under the command of Field Marshal Lennart Torstenson over an Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire under the command of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria and his deputy, Prince-General Ottavio Piccolomini, Duke of Amalfi.

 

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm

 

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm assembled a court-martial in Prague which sentenced the Madlon regiment to exemplary punishment. Six regiments, which had distinguished themselves in the battle, were assembled fully armed, and surrounded Madlon’s regiment, which was severely rebuked for its cowardice and misconduct, and ordered to lay down its arms at the feet of General Piccolomini.

When they had obeyed this command, their ensigns (flags) were torn in pieces; and the general, having mentioned the causes of their degradation, and erased the regiment from the register of the imperial troops, pronounced the sentence that had been agreed upon in the council of war, condemning the colonel, captains and lieutenants to be beheaded, the ensigns (junior officers) to be hanged, the soldiers to be decimated and the survivors to be driven in disgrace out of the army.

Ninety men (chosen by rolling dice) were executed at Rokycany, in western Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic, on December 14, 1642 by Jan Mydlář (junior), the son of Jan Mydlář, the famous executioner from Prague.

On the first day of the execution, the regiment’s cords  were broken by the executioner. On the second day, officers were beheaded and selected men hanged on the trees on the road from Rokycany to Litohlavy.

Another version says that the soldiers were shot, and their bodies hanged on the trees. Their mass grave is said to be on the Black Mound in Rokycany, which commemorates the decimation to this day.

On Sept 3, 1866, during the Battle of Curuzu, during the Paraguayan War, the Paraguayan 10th Battalion fled without firing a shot. President Lopez ordered the decimation of the battalion, which was accordingly formed into line and every tenth man shot.

In 1914, in France, there was a case in which a company of Tunisian tirailleurs (colonial soldiers) refused an order to attack and was ordered decimated by the divisional commander. This involved the execution of ten men.

Italian General Luigi Cadorna allegedly applied decimation to underperforming units during World War I However, the military historian John Keegan records that his “judicial savagery” during the Battle of Caporetto took the form of the summary executions of individual stragglers rather than the formalized winnowing of entire detachments.

Certainly one specific instance of actual decimation did occur in the Italian Army during the war, on 26 May 1916. This involved the execution of one in ten soldiers of a 120 strong company of the 141st Catanzaro Infantry Brigade, which had mutinied. Officers, carabinieri and non-mutinying soldiers had been killed during the outbreak.

Decimation can be also used to punish the enemy. In 1918, in the Finnish Civil War, the White troops, after conquering the Red city of Varkaussummarily executed around 80 captured Reds in what became known as the Lottery of Huruslahti.

According to some accounts, the Whites ordered all the captured Reds to assemble in a single row on the ice of Lake Huruslahti, selected every tenth prisoner, and executed him on the spot. The selection was not entirely random though, as some prisoners (primarily Red leaders) were specifically selected for execution and some good workers were intentionally spared.

Current usage of the word

Outside of references to the historical punishment, the word decimation in English is used to refer to an extreme reduction in the number of a population or force.

 

See : The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest