“Close Combat” and Learning Infantry Tactics




Major Brendan B. McBreen USMC



I have learned more about small-unit infantry tactics from the “Close Combat” simulation than I have from thirteen years of Marine Corps infantry experience.


“Close Combat” is a computer combat simulation published by Atomic Games. The focus of the simulation is on infantry combat at the small-unit level. The series currently consists of five versions: Close Combat I: Omaha Beach, II: A Bridge Too Far, III: The Russian Front, IV: Battle of the Bulge, and V: Invasion Normandy.


I am an infantry major with thirteen years commissioned service, seven years with 5th Marines, two years in schools, and three years as an infantry training officer with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. I have deployed overseas with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines four times. I have commanded two infantry platoons and one rifle company. I have served as a battalion operations officer and regimental operations officer. I am a student of tactics. I have taught NCOs and officers infantry tactics. I have participated and led tactical decision training.


None of these activities or learning experiences can match the effective and focused tactical learning that I have experienced through repetitive fighting of the small unit scenarios in “Close Combat.”


“Close Combat” permits a player to fight hundreds of scenarios, make thousands of tactical decisions, experiment with different tactics, and learn from his mistakes. I would be a far more qualified platoon commander now than I was twelve years ago. Through fighting the “Close Combat” simulation, I have internalized significant platoon-level tactical lessons:













Good Marine leaders know all of these lessons. They have been taught, they have read, they have trained to do them. But I, and those Marines who have fought “Close Combat,” know these lessons in our bones. We know the penalty for mistakes, for mis-reading the situation, for making decisions too late. Hundreds of simulated men have died in botched assaults, poorly laid positions, and as a result of unexpected enemy actions in order to teach these lessons. We have examined the ground, checked the line-of-sight, positioned the units, and supervised the units in contact so many times that the key tactical principles have become ingrained as second nature.


I have defended three hundred road intersections. Not just the first step of putting a defensive scheme on paper, but all the way through to initiation of combat, falling back to supplementary positions under pressure, and sometimes being overrun by the enemy because I failed to protect my machine gun positions. I cannot now walk across a street without seeing in my mind the intersection occupied: “An anti-tank weapon tucked into that low position with an oblique field of fire and good defilade, machineguns here and here, one squad forward with a alternate position near the guns, one squad on the corner in case they put infantry down that alley.”


The historical methods for teaching tactics, walking the ground, working through the examples in the manuals, tactical decision games, and actual field exercises, are important and must be done by all leaders. Schools and units must focus on real leaders, real units, and real ground.

To augment this practical training however, leaders need to experience the chaotic challenges of combat hundreds of times. As an inexpensive and easy-to-use tool to teach a Marine leader the dynamics of tactics, the “Close Combat” simulation is matchless.





The Marine Corps Training and Education Command at Quantico is currently evaluating a Marine version of “Close Combat” for training use.  “Close Combat” is a valuable teaching tool. I recommend it to all Marine leaders interested in improving their small-unit tactical skills. Fight the scenarios. Fight your peers. Fight to learn to lead.




Major McBreen is currently a student at the School of Advanced Warfighting.