Abstract Thin foil of fcc and bcc metals subjected to tensile deformation has been found to exhibit an anomalously high density of small vacancy clusters, probably in the absence of dislocations. Deformation of fcc Au and bcc Fe containing pre-introduced He bubbles is carried out, at strain rates ranging from 10 −3 to 10 5 s −1 to a 10 2% strain at −180 and 25 °C. Microstructures in the deformed regions are examined by transmission electron microscopy. Rows of bubbles are formed due to extreme elongation of bubbles under stress and its subsequent division into smaller pieces in response to vacancy diffusion around the bubble surfaces. The bubble rows are parallel to the low-index crystallographic directions, 〈001〉, 〈011〉, and 〈012〉 for Au and 〈011〉 and 〈001〉 for Fe, which can be resolved into ‘slip directions’. The results indicate that displacement of atoms in these thin-foil specimens during tensile deformation progresses while conforming to the nature of the crystal, even in the absence of dislocations.