Abstract Four kinds of surface hardened-specimens (ordinary structural steel with carbon content of 0.45% C) having hardened thicknesses of 0.7–1.8 mm were prepared using a ‘super-rapid induction heating (SRIH) system’. Rotation bending fatigue tests were performed with special focus on the effect of a hardened thickness on fatigue properties. Measurement of residual stress and observation of the fracture surface were also carried out to investigate the fracture mechanism of the specimen with a shallow hardened layer. It was found that there is not much improvement of fatigue strength at 10 7 cycles for specimens with shallow hardened layers in spite of having a high compressive residual stress of about 1000 MPa. This is because the fatigue crack originating from inside the hardened layer leads to the final fracture of the specimen (internal fracture mode). Improvement of fatigue strength has been achieved on the specimen with thick hardened layers, such as those about 1.8 mm thick. In this case, fatigue cracks originate from inclusions located in hardened layers, which leads to final fracture (hardened-layer fracture mode).