The numerical modeling of failure mechanisms in plates and shells due to fracture based on sharp crack discontinuities is extremely demanding and suffers in situations with complex crack topologies. This drawback can be overcome by a diffusive crack modeling, which is based on the introduction of a crack phase field. In this paper, we extend ideas recently outlined in [1, 2] towards the phase field modeling of fracture in dimension-reduced continua with application to Kirchhoff plates and shells. The introduction of history fields, containing the maximum reference energy obtained in history, provides a very transparent representation of the coupled balance equations and allows the construction of an extremely robust operator split technique. The performance of the proposed models is demonstrated by means of representative numerical examples. (© 2012 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim)