- Composite structures for mechanical and aerospace applications are designed to retain structural integrity and remain durable for the intended service life. Since the early 1970s important advances have been made in characterizing and modelling the underlying mechanical behaviour and developing tools and methodologies for predicting fracture and fatigue of composite materials. This paper presents a review of the concepts and analyses related to this area, and illustrates these by a few examples. The topics discussed are composite material strength in tension, compression and shear, damage and its progression in monotonic and cyclic loading, fatigue life prediction and damage induced changes in visco-elastic response. 2006 The Author. Journal compilation 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.