For both monotonic and fatigue loading conditions, debonding is the subcritical micromechanism which leads to transverse cracking and ultimately influences final failure of the composite structure. Previous studies show that tension-compression fatigue is more detrimental than tension-tension fatigue to transverse and multidirectional laminates. By analysing the debonding mechanisms and modelling thereof, the macroscopic fatigue behaviour can be better understood. Also, the dominant crack-propagation mode can be identified which may be of use in selection of constituent material properties to optimise fatigue resistance. In this study, glass-fibre-reinforced vinyl-ester was used. The adverse effect of compressive load excursions was verified by counting the transverse cracks in cross-ply laminates. The mechanisms were studied in low-cycle fatigue of a specimen containing a single transverse fibre. Compressive load cycles led to significantly increased debond growth. In tension, contact zones developed at the crack tips for sufficiently large debonds. Because of the mismatch in elastic properties, an opening zone appeared at the tips of the interfacial crack when the same debond was subjected to a compressive load. Since debond propagation is more susceptible to mode I loading, the sensitivity to tension-compression fatigue is explained by the effective crack-tip opening in compressive loading for sufficiently large debond cracks. This has also been verified by finite-element analysis. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.