Abstract Foreign-object damage associated with the ingestion of debris into aircraft turbine engines can lead to a marked degradation in the high-cycle fatigue (HCF) life of turbine components. This degradation is generally considered to be associated with the premature initiation of fatigue cracks at or near the damage sites; this is suspected to be due to, at least in part, the impact-induced residual stress state, which can be strongly tensile in these locations. However, recent experimental studies have shown the unexpected propensity for impact-induced fatigue crack formation at locations of compressive residual stress in the vicinity of the impact site. To address this issue, in situ and ex situ spatially-resolved X-ray diffraction and numerical modeling are utilized to show that the initial residual stress state can be strongly relaxed during the fatigue loading process. The magnitude and rate of relaxation is strongly dependent on the applied loads. For a Ti–6Al–4V turbine blade alloy, little relaxation was observed for an applied maximum stress of 325 MPa (0.35σy, where σy is the yield stress), and cracks tended to form in subsurface zones of tensile residual stress away from the damage sites. In contrast, at an applied maximum stress of 500 MPa (0.54σy), equal to the smooth-bar 107-cycle endurance strength, cracks tended to form at the damage sites in zones of high stress concentration that had initially been in strong compression, but had relaxed during the fatigue loading.