The influence of microstructure on fatigue crack initiation and crack growth of a hardened and tempered high speed steel was investigated. The evolution of fatigue cracks was followed in four point bending at room temperature. It was found that a carbide damage zone exists above a threshold load value of maximally 80% of the yield strength of the steel. The size of this carbide damage zone increases with increasing load amplitude, and the zone is apparently associated with crack nucleation. On fatigue crack propagation plastic deformation of the matrix occurs in a radius of approximately 4 microns in front of the fatigue crack tip, which is comparable with the relevant mean free carbide spacing.