AbstractLaser shock peening (LSP) is successfully applied to retard fatigue cracks in metallic lightweight structures by introducing specific, in particular compressive, residual stress fields. In this work, experiments and a multi-step simulation strategy are used to explain the fatigue crack retarding and accelerating mechanisms within these LSP-induced residual stress fields. Crack face contact is identified as main mechanism to retard the fatigue crack as the stress distribution changes and the stress intensity factor range decreases. Crack face contact is experimentally detected by load vs. crack opening displacement (COD) curves and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of the crack faces, as well as during numerical simulations. The convincing agreement between experiment and simulation, especially regarding the specific crack face contact areas, allowed the proper evaluation of the stress intensity factors depending on the crack length. It is found that crack closure is indeed one of the main reasons for the efficient application of LSP for fatigue crack retardation. Furthermore, the occurrence of crack closure does not indicate a zero value stress intensity factor in complex residual stress fields, as the areas of crack face contact depend strongly on the LSP-induced compressive residual stresses.