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Friendly Fire, Vietnam 1951 - 1954

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Hello readers.

For military personnel on the ground involved in active operations being fired on by the enemy is accepted. However receiving fire from one's friends is resented and more so when casualties occur.

During a recent search for members of my former regiment who lost their lives during the French conflict in Vietnam on the official French site listing the fatal losses there (SGA Memoire des Hommes) I stumbled across the listing of Trooper NGUYEN, Xuan Hung, born in 1933, 1er Regiment de Chasseurs, killed by friendly artillery fire on 5 December, 1952 .

This triggered my memory of incidents while on active duty in the north of Vietnam 1951 to 1953 and again from early 1954 to the end of hostilities with the 1er REC. Some notes kept by me reveal some instances of friendly fire losses:

-Friendly losses caused by French aviation support:

During an operation in February, 1952 a battalion based on Haiduong and operating with us lost a captain and three soldiers from a missed drop of Napalm. Anyone having witnessed the bodily damages inflicted by Napalm...

-Friendly losses caused by French Navy fires:

May, 1953 Company Quenican (sp), placed in ambush position on the bank of the River Day, also the route Ninh Binh - Gin Kauh was fired on during the night by an LSSL or LCI, (heavily armed shallow draft landing vessels designed for fire support and only limited transport). This company had operated with us on a number of occasions and consisted of mainly Vietnamese personnel with French colonial cadres. It lost that terrible night seven dead and 14 wounded.

-Friendly losses by French artillery fire. The causes unknown but could be defective ammunition, worn barrels, incorrect fire direction by the advanced observers accompanying formations or incorrect relay of fire commands. Also sometimes friendly infantry was unable to respect the established safety distances between enemy locations and own positions due to being nailed down in place.

December 1952 a mounted infantry company of the 1er Chasseurs endured friendly artillery fire while on foot and operating with us. The losses were one killed and two or three wounded.

While this writer was the company radio operator he only saw the company commander Capitaine ( later colonel) Andre Viard nervous only once and that was when he observed the movement of some of our company's elements in wet rice paddies. Artillery fire was to be laid down on the far flanks of the advance but the first six guns salvo landed squarely only a few meters in front of our spread out men.Captain Viard grabbed the radio combination micro/earphone and shouted to stop the firing because it was about to kill his men. The firing stopped , not to resume again. With all 6 rounds coming down like this together one wonders.

One other friendly fire incident took place either in May or June 1953 when elements of the Commandos 24 and 42 encountered each other at night. The ensuing firefight left one dead and one wounded. We were told that only the use of tracer rounds of the submachine guns when noticed caused a stop because the enemy did not use these with that weapon. On dit ( rumors) had it that the authority issuing the orders messed up the unit numbers thus causing both commandos hitting the same objective at the same time.

Such is war !

Bernhard H. Holst

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