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Posted on Sep 1, 2011 in Electronic Games

Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy – Seeing the Game Through Contemporary Field Manuals

By Charlie Hall

Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy. PC Game After Action Report Using World War II Army Field Manuals. Publisher & Developer: $55

Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy (CMBN) is a rich tactical wargame, an anachronism unto itself. Its meticulous blend of historical accuracy, sophisticated artificial intelligence, and outstanding mechanical integrity contribute to a rare experience where returning to primary historical documents is more rewarding than any strategy guide.


The words “real-time strategy” drip from the lips of some experienced grognards like a poison, heavy with a sense of missed opportunity and of perceived laziness. In the early nineties PC games took a turn away from the stately automation of classic historical pen-and-paper wargames. StarCraft was the poster child for this new genre, an abstraction of mixed unit combat smeared atop a blinged-out game of rock, paper, scissors. To move units across the map players “lassoed” them with neon boxes and picked a destination with the left mouse. To fire on a target they merely right-clicked. The frantic pace appealed to many gamers, but they were quite the opposite of the careful examination of period combat some were looking for.

While CMBN is reportedly built from the ground up to be a real time strategy game, and while it allows players to “lasso and go,” it only truly shines when it is played in its proprietary ‘WeGo’ format. Here players are tasked with issuing commands to their units during a pause in the action, taking as long as they like to give orders of great detail including turns, facings, pauses, and adjustable fields of fire. Then players hit the play button to witness their orders carried out in a minute of movie-like action.

But units don’t just blithely plod along toward the enemy lines. They are governed by their own sophisticated intelligence, a proprietary “TacAI” that tells them what their real-life counterparts would have done in a similar situation. But where the game’s simulation is, necessarily, lacking is in formations, unit cohesion, and directed fire. These three concepts are where the game is really played, where the challenge lies. CMBN is not a game about building up resources and throwing them against the front line. It is a game about planning, maneuver, and communication.

However,’s own nearly 200-page manual is itself almost completely devoid of a careful examination of these topics. What is a player to do? is billed as “The Public’s Library and Digital Archive”. Among many publicly available documents is a huge collection of digital versions of the period Field Manuals studied by U.S. soldiers and officers as they trained for deployment in World War II. For such a complex simulation as CMBN I have found no other resource quite like FM 7-10, the Infantry Field Manual: Rifle Company, Rifle Regiment, June 2 1942.

Most scenarios in CMBN begin the same way, with a deployment zone filled, cheek-by-jowl, with infantry and mechanized units. A Company will be intermingled with B Company, C Company may be mostly intact, but all three may potentially be entirely across the map from Regimental command. Graphic 1 shows an unfortunate situation where, among a sea of G.I.’s, this unit is out of command from both its section and its company, indicated by the red crosses in the lower left. If you were to begin the game like this, to push your units forward from this starting position, they would almost immediately break lines of communication. The result would be a meandering advance, entirely without the carefully coordinated concentration of fire and timing that fire and maneuver warfare requires.

Graphic 1 – Click to view larger image.

CMBN models period communication in great detail. The TacAI will rely on various forms of communication in order of ability, starting first with radio contact if available, then moving to verbal contact, and finally visual contact. Units outside of visual contact with their command will sluggishly respond to player’s orders, if at all.’s manual blissfully explains this, but only FM 7-10 explains how to assemble a company and move it through the battlespace as a cohesive fighting unit. (graphic 2)

Graphic 2.

“12. Approach March By Day. –a. In daylight the approach march must be made in formations which provide protection against artillery fire, attack by ground forces, and air attack; which permit maximum utilization of the terrain for concealment and cover and for protection against attack by armored forces; and which enable the company commander to maintain control of his company. Consequently, platoons will be separated laterally, or in depth, or both.” (FM 7-10 page 15)

Utilizing this didactic instruction you can quickly tease apart the pile of soldiers and assemble a fighting force fit for advance. (graphic 3) Moving clockwise from upper left, see that a group of scouts from 1st Platoon hugs the treeline, another peers over a gap in the fence in the middle of the image, and a third peers through heavy bocage in the upper right. 3rd Platoon maintains the right side of the formation proper (both on bended knee and prone), and is supported by a light mortar in the lower right of the image (shown deployed for easy identification). In the center, highlighted yellow, the flag of the L Company command unit is visible just below the command unit for the heavy weapons group, itself providing support with a pair of light machine guns in the center of the formation. The retinue is rounded out with a second mortar team in the lower left supporting 2nd platoon on the far left, shown prone.

Graphic 3 – click to view larger image.

L Company is advancing in depth, providing for a quick reaction to contact with the enemy to either support each other or to exploit a gap in the enemy’s defenses. In the middle of the force sits its heavy weapons complement, its field of fire open to the left and right ready to deploy and provide suppressing fire. In time you can similarly situate your other companies and place Regimental command among them. Mutual fire support, as well as clear communications, are maintained and duplicated in depth throughout the battalion formation.

You are ready to advance, and’s TacAI ably moves units forward. At this point it is okay to “lasso and go” as individual models will hug the terrain, stop in or near cover as they are able, and maintain proper spacing. They will react to contact with the enemy realistically, but their inbuilt intelligence can only be useful if you know where to place them. Remember, you won’t be able to help them for a minute at a time!

The real fun begins when you eventually do make contact with the enemy. Fog of war is strictly maintained throughout CMBN. Soldiers have realistic “eyes and ears” capabilities, and can pinpoint muzzle flashes and the sound of movement. They do not, however, have prescience. Until full and proper identification can be made by multiple eyes-on enemy units will be marked on the map as contacts only. This requires a careful advance. If you overextend your units you run the risk of meeting a superior force head on, and unable to bring a timely rate of fire to bear. And unlike StarCraft you can’t just make more. Again, FM 7-10 comes to our aid. (graphic 4)

Graphic 4.

”(1.) Co A, having captured Hill T, has been directed to assist Co B in capturing Hill U. Assistance by direct fire is impracticable on account of intervening heavy woods. Co A therefore employs its support platoon to attack hostile position on Hill U in flank. Capt Co A arranges in advance for fire support from artillery, Co D, and Co B.

“(2) Co B, taking advantage of the woods on its right, captures Hill V. Co A is held up in front of Hill W. Co B employs its light machine guns to assist Co A and thereby assist its own advance by removing a possible threat to its own right flank.

“Co E has captured its final objective, Hill Z. Cos A and B are held up by machine-gun fire from the east nose of Hill Z. Co E employs the fire of its light machine guns and of part of its support platoon in order to assist the advance of Cos A and B.” (FM 7-10 page 43)

Like the tip books from early Sierra games, except without the vinegar infused markers, you have all you need in the pages of FM 7-10 to train yourself to leapfrog across the battlefield. Your units, complete with their TacAI training, behave like real soldiers on the WWII battlefield, and all you have to do is have the tools at your disposal to lead them.

FM 7-10 goes on at length over various situations: Night attack, attack in woods, of villages, and of a river line. Many pages are dedicated to setting up supply lines, and the successful implementation of ammo bearers (faithfully reproduced in CMBN as part of every heavy machine gun team) to support the assault. Attacking a fortified location, or raids across enemy lines. And it doesn’t stop there as additional period field manuals ( are available on topics like heavy weapons (FM 7-15), armored tactics and technique (FM 17-10), tank platoons (FM 17-30), and scouting (FM 21-75).

CMBN is a brutally difficult game, but one that rewards dedication to the source materials. Its artifice is quirky, but the concepts buried within it are sound. If anything, the pace of play for CMBN requires such careful forethought because you the player are taking up the role of not merely a single battalion commander, but every leader of every unit below them. If anything, the amount of time and precision required to play a solid round of CMBN illuminates the individual initiative and intense training required of the citizen soldiers who fought and won WWII.

About the Author

By night Charlie Hall is a writer for Gamers With Jobs. His relevant interests range from pen-and-paper role playing games, to board games and electronic games of all types. By day he is a writer for CDW Government LLC. Follow him on Twitter @TheWanderer14, or send him hate mail at He, his wife, and daughter make their home in far northern Illinois. This summer you can find him crouched over his newly built PC, or may have seen him prowling the vendor floor at GenCon in Indianapolis digging up new and exciting games to play and stories to write.


  1. A well-written piece, but the unwritten conclusion here is that a gamer can only benefit from period tactical manuals if the game he is playing rewards true-life tactics. And so much is unknown about how they really did things. For example, look at how buildings are portrayed in tactical wargamers, CM:BN especially – a topic I discussed in my own blog here:

    I can’t say if CM:BN’s AI is “right” or “wrong” in the example given; period after action reports from units as good as the First Special Service Force can’t even agree what the “proper” thing to do was when faced with defending a building.

    Sometimes, all a game developer can do is squeeze his eyes closed and try and get something that looks and feels enough like the subject to satisfy a bunch of paying customers. CM:BN is no different than any other World War II themed game in that regard.

  2. I think your whole ‘indefinite’ view of what so many people went through is just stupid. You do not have the ability to research, and understand, technical matters. That is why you try to blow smoke into any situation. It covers up your failings and you think it raises up your staure in a rapidly diminishing circle of people that care what you say.

    Please don’t try to steer this into another sales-point for your lulu products. Thank you.

    • Just a reminder of Armchair General’s policy – Don’t use personal insults. Commenters are free to express disagreement with an article or with other comments but must do so without resorting to name-calling.

  3. FM 7-10

    I think the insane asshole that wrote this might want to know that the FM 7-10 was so out of touch with the situation at hand in Normandy 1944 as to be reprehensible.

    Nice try, jackass. bad enough we have M. Dorosh CD to suffer through.

    • See reply to comment #2. No name-calling, no personal insults in comments on ACG.

  4. The last two posters seem to be more interested in being abusive than offering constructive comments to a well presented article. The comment about FM 7-10 especially misses the point. The U.S. Army’s training was not up to the challenge of Normandy, but the basics are the basics. Normandy’s unique challenges were ones of terrain, and the U.S. Army’s failings were in inter-operation and combined arms. The FM 7-10 and other training manuals dealing with the basics of field craft are not at issue, and comparing them to basic maneuvers in the game are valid measures of how well the computer modelling has been done. Charlie has done a nice job of this.

  5. good article by Charlie and agree with the first comment regarding how vague the war experiences of veterans were. learning to play games from manuals offers realism – cm Normandy is a blast in real time and having the links to actual manuals will now make it that much better

  6. This is a bit confusing. The game is designed from the ground up to be played in ‘real-time’ but the author says that it should be played in ‘turns’?

    Also, the game takes place in mid to late 1944 but the author is using a 1942 field manual?

  7. Comment (#6) seems to mis-understand how military manuals work, or indeed, how they are developed. A good book to read on this theme, though not directly concerning GIs, is Timothy Harrison Place’s volume on Military Training in the British Army 1940-1944, which discusses how the British struggled to develop their own infantry manuals during the Second World War. It took them years to study section-based tactics, and even when they managed to put down on paper how squads and platoons should be doing things, they found from after action questionnaires and surveys that no one actually did them in battle anyway. The gulf between the books and the battlefield could be – and was – large, depending on what aspects you are discussing, and which era. On the face of it, I don’t see anything to suggest that a 1942-era manual would be not of use for a 1944-era engagement – the basic fieldcraft manuals for British infantry were written in 1937, for example. Most armies updated them periodically through the war; things like – as shown in Charlie’s examples – field formations and company level tactics – may not have changed much. The meat of the changes were lower down, but at the sharp end, it is doubtful the manuals were all that meaningful. What may be more interesting reading are after-action reports – the British and Canadians distributed questionnaires widely to junior officers and senior NCOs. At least one author has published an entire book from some of the Canadian ones. I’ve read some examples of these in the local regimental archives and they do cast a unique perspective on tactics that aren’t found in period manuals – things like using anti-tank weapons in anti-personnel roles, or the practice of deliberate under-manning of infantry squads by factors of 50%. Riveting stuff.

  8. I think the author, with his gushing tones, needs to do a bit of basic research into the Normandy battles.

    The ‘plan’ did not work and commanders on the spot had to come up with ways to make a ‘win’ without a book from 1942.

    The hedgerow battles were unique and no book could have covered them. Using some suicidal ‘tactics’ did not work and good commanders got jobs done with the least casualties by using hard earned experience.

  9. Some useful advice culled from interesting reading, thanks for posting it.

    The wisdom of using military manuals to lay a foundation for training shouldn’t be in question – it’s as applicable to games as it was to the armies going into Normandy. No doubt the bocage calls for unique solutions – Michael Doubler talks about this in the famous article online, which has been discussed many times at the battlefront forums. I don’t think anyone who has played Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy is confusing basic military principles with the unique tactics required for fighting in hedgerows. Except maybe Mr. Shmutz/SteefGavone/HockenShpurtz who seems intent on having his voice heard.

    Am enjoying my experiences with CM:BN and hope to read many more enjoyable articles like this one, whether at Armchair General, or other websites, in future.

  10. Does the author mean ‘marquee’?

  11. Would it not be wiser to use a German field manual for finding out how to win a fight? I mean; the US only won when they outnumbered the Germans by at least 5:1 in manpower, tanks and aircraft. They NEVER won a battle unless they outnumbered the Germans! No exceptions!

    So I would definately use a German field manual if I wanted to win the fight. Those guys knew how to fight…. the US Army did not.

    Oh, and when the US army did win (when outnumbering the Germans by 5:1, of course) it was because the pinned down or panicking US troops kept screaming “air support” and “artillery support” in their radios. And thankfully for the US troops, they had plenty of both — and the Germans had very little of either.

    Sorry if this hurts yanks, but this is the truth. 🙂

    • You sound confused; American, British, Canadian battle doctrine was based on artillery – and overwhelming firepower – not “manpower”. Local concentration of force, however, is an age old military principle going back to antiquity. You act like it was fighting “unfairly”.

      German defensive doctrine was predicated on the use of mortars and machine guns, and they too relied on firepower, no different than their Allied counterparts. But their defensive doctrine was in many ways costly and stupid; they launched hazardous and unnecessary counter-attacks and used up their resources very quickly.

      In northwest Europe, all the western Allies often out-fought the Germans at the tactical level – witness the costly and stupid counterattacks by supposedly elite units and commanders such as the Hitler Youth Division right after D-Day, Panzer Lehr at le Desert on July 11, or the charge straight down the Arnhem bridge ramp by Viktor Graebner, and tell me the Germans were universally better at the tactical level.

      As for studying German field manuals on how to fight in the hedgerows – they didn’t have any. Post-war interviews revealed that Normandy was number 4 on a list of 7 possible major invasion sites – they figured the bay of the Seine, or Upper Normandy, or Pas de Calais were far more likely to be the invasion site. One officer from Panzer Lehr simply fumed that they arrived in the bocage country in 1940 and sat there for four years never imagining they would have to fight there. As poorly equipped for offensive operations in the bocage as the British and Americans were – the Germans were actually worse off.

      • Fighting unfairly is when you bomb the children, daughters, fathers, mothers and grandfathers from the air whilst the sons fight to defend their fatherland, but I guess that’s another story…

        Sure, the Germans made mistakes too, but that was the exception, not the rule. The US (but not really the British, French and other Western Allies) made mistakes as a rule, and did good things as an exception to this rule.

        I was referring to German field manuals in general, by the way.

        When it comes to the lack of a field manual for hedgerow warfare I guess the Germans didn’t have the capacity to imagine that the British would be so bloody stupid and continue the war after France fell. Why would they? What did they gain from doing so? Only Gibraltar is left of their once 1/6 of the world Empire.

        Further, the Germans where fighting the real enemy, namely the Soviet Union. More than 90% of their fighting forces fought on the Eastern Front. The feeble German forces holding back the whole Western Allied Armies made up only 10% or so of their forces — and still it took 6 months for the Allies to reach the German border….

        The Germans let the Allied forces advance, in order not to let the Soviet Union take all of Germany. They knew they fought a losing battle, and wanted the Western Allies to take Berlin. Even with this attitude, the Soviets took Berlin, by the way.

        WWII is not an honourable chapter for the US. Their terror bombing campaign was no better than the 9/11 attacks. Terrorism against civilians.

        The Russians won WWII. The US only won the peace following WWII — with lies.

  12. I believe the point of the article was to show how this game can be played by following the actual period manuals. Not necessarily WON, just played enjoyably. It also states that the manuals MAY even be more help to a neophyte player of the CM series than the shipped manual.

    Any ‘gushing’ can be ascribed to yet another new player discovering something that is better than the rest of the offerings currently available. Not perfect, just the best we have to date.

    The game was NOT “designed” to be played in RealTime. RT was included in the new engine to compliment the existing WEGO system, so more click-happy folk could enjoy the game. RT allows faster play at the expense of losing tactical immersion.

    Above posters may want to remember that a logical critique presented in a negative manner will not be given the same attention as the same point presented in a more respectful manner.

    A few more months and the first of a series of expansion Modules will be available, so the need for specialised Normandy tactics will fade a bit once we break out of Bocage country.

    Is the game perfect? Of course not.

    Is it the best we have? In my opinion, yes.

    Is it in a constant state of improvement, with developer interaction? Yes.

    Never let any comment, positive or negative, swing a decison when there is a free trial version waiting for download.

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

  13. So Byelo Bog, you’re here to rewrite World War II history because you’re an Amerophobe with a political agenda? Isn’t that a lofty goal for someone replying to an article about a simple video game? Your lack of understanding of what actually transpired on the ground is unfortunately getting in the way of your comments – beginning with the suggestion that the Germans “let the western Allies win.” As any veteran who fought in northwest Europe would tell you, or as any historian who has devoted serious time to its study, there was nothing phony or half-hearted about it.

    No one would seriously suggest that Germany’s main theatre of war wasn’t the Soviet Union. Allied victory was a team effort; the Soviets themselves, if grudging in their acknowledgment, have themselves noted the large number of Sherman tanks, “Studebaker” trucks and other raw materials that went through the costly Murmansk run and helped keep them in the war.

    None of which is the point here – which is why you probably keep deviating from it so badly. The Germans, in the east, the west, it doesn’t matter – were lucky enough to beat up on horribly prepared enemies in the first two years or so of the war. By 1944, the shortcomings of the German war effort were fully in view. The Red Army was mastering deep operations – even beyond any ability the Germans had ever shown – while the poorly structured economy of the Third Reich strained to crank out equipment from a series of cottage industries, fuelled by unwilling slave labour, in a bizarrely organized effort that only late in the game did anyone think to consider referring to as a “war.”

    That the Americans were able to harness their industrial might, organize effectively, and then fight to win (never losing a major battle against the Germans after Kasserine Pass) is not something they should be ashamed of, as you seem to strangely think. Nor is the fact they managed to work with their allies, Britain and the Soviet Union, despite serious differences in world outlook.

    As for the dissolution of the British Empire – recognizing the rights and freedoms of people instead of fighting to the death to suppress them was not anything I would ever have considered shameful. Very strange that you think otherwise.

    • You are right; I would like to rewrite history, because the official history is of course a load of — pardon my French — crap. I am probably not the right man to do such a thing though, not because of prejudice, but because I know only much about little, and little about much, so to speak.

      We all have a political agenda, so I am no different from you or anybody else in that context. Most games (and of course films) today are actually released by individuals with a strong desire to brainwash us all, and if you think otherwise I would say you are very naive.

      The Germans didn’t “let the Allies win”, when you put it that way, but they intentionally sent more resources to the Eastern Front than to the Westenr Front to make sure the Western Allies reached Berling first. That’s a fact. I am sure the troops on the Western Front did all they could to win each and every fight they had with the Allies.

      Sure, the US helped the SSSR a lot with trucks, but I think you guys overestimate the effect this had on the outcome of the war. The Soviets found the Shermans to be useless, both in relation to offroad abilities and in pure fighting usefulness, so they hardly ever used them in frontline service — if at all. The Shermans were given to 2nd line troops not intended to fight the Germans.

      A friend of mine is the son of one of the Red Army soldiers, who fought under Zhukov. He told his son that they were once sent to take a village held by the Germans. Zhukov sent a battalion and ordered them to charge. It was mowed down by German machine gun fire. Instead of changing tactics Zhukov just sent another battalion. That too was mowed down. So he sent another battalion, the one my firiend’s father was in, and they were not mowed down and took the village — because the Germans had ran out of ammo by then. So, not skills or tactis, but a complete disrespect for Russian soldiers led Zhukov to victory. The SSSR won because they had plenty of manpower, and for no other reason. Some of the men they sent into their certain death didn’t even have a rifle or uniform.So much for Red Army tactics. They used prisoners to clear mine fields, by forcing them to run back and forth until there were no more mines left. Nice allies you guys had…

      I think Uganda was better off without Idi Amin, so to speak. I think most of the African states today were much better off under European colonists. Even the tribes in Belgium Congo. Today they are the slaves of the WTO and IMF. Is that better?

      What about the rights of the Germans? You guys didn’t even give them a proper democracy, but one where they are not even allowed to change their constitution if they want to.

      Only 37% of the Germans ever voted for Hitler, by the way. Bombs don’t see the difference between a human being voting for Hitler or one who doesn’t. Or one who is in a German concentration camp when the bombs start raining from above.

      When it comes to my Amerophobia, I can tell that you are partly right, of course, but my prejudice is based on empirical evidence. We have the US (and the Brits, Canadians and Germans) for Nato winter excersises (in Norway) every single year, and the US never fail to make complete fools of themselves. The Brits are bloody competent, but a bunch of hooligans. The Germans are bloody competent too, and behave exemplary as well. The US troops are bloody useless the moment they step out of their over-sized vehicles and behave like f***ing retards all the time. Sorry, but ghetto Negroes and red necks who think they can teach us Norwegians how to dress during winter can just stay home. They are brainwashed by your bullshit propaganda into thinking they are “the best”, but I can assure you they are not. They don’t even know how to use half of their fancy equipment.

      I have no experiences with the Canadians so I will say nothing about them.

      Oh, and by the way; Norwegian special forces even managed to steal the golden toilet (!) from the presidental suite on the (I think it was the) USS Enterprise (carrier) on one excersise, their flagship at the time. They still have it in their barrakcs in Modum/Norway. The US Navy pretended it never happened and has yet to this day to claim the toilet back. Ha ha.

      With all that said; I think Combat Mission is a great game. I have all of them (save the Shock Force add-ons), and have spent too many hours on CM1, CM2 and now CM;BN. And I will repeat myself; I think you shoule read German field manuals in order to beat your enemy — even if you have to rely on less-than-perfect US machine guns instead of the amazing MG42s. We still use a version of these MGs in the Norwegian army (and we use German tactics), and we LOVE them….

      Oh, maybe the economy of Hitler’s Germany wasn’t so good, but making money is not that important. Not in a healthy society/population anyway (*hint*, *hint*) Well, unless the rest of the world want to destroy you, that is…

      • Wow…..

        ……just wow.

      • Anders? Is that you?

  14. Great article!

    A good understanding of basic textbook tactics is a great starting point for learning this game. It’s no different than learning the basics in the Army (that’s why they call it Basic Training).. you must have a good foundation in tactics, techniques, and procedures before you can intelligently apply different/more advanced tactics, forced upon you by terrain, situation, and enemy, in order to attain your end goal.

    The amount of vitriolic and uneducated posters in this reply thread are truly frightening. For the guy who stated that we should be studying German FMs… well, you might not know it but many of the US FMs were in fact based on their German counterparts. Compare the German and US Army Tank Platoon manuals for example… the similarities are striking.

    Please keep them coming Charlie, I’ll be here reading every installment.


  15. Yep, a very interesting article – good work. I have never read a field manual and doubt I ever will but I have played a lot of CM in the past and can say that the ‘panel beating’ I have received through the game experience has driven me to use tactics similar to the theory briefly presented by Mr. Hall. There’s nothing like destroying a strong enemy line with a well delivered attack to the flank, I think you will all agree!

    One other thing I will say, however, is that one needs to vary tactics from time to time in order to beat experienced players that one plays regularly – if you always do things by the book you become too predictable. It’s worth trying some outrageous tactics from time to time (that I’m sure the FMs would never recommend) and, even if you lose, your opponent will be sweating next time round trying to imagine your set-up. Play with the virtual lives of your soldiers, that’s what they are there for.


  16. Good article! It’s a very good compliment for a game when you can say that the best strategy guide is a real world field manual. It’s a great place to start, even though, as pointed out in previous comments, you should not stop there. You should also study the tactics actually used on the ground, as the standard FM tactics always have to be adapted to suit the real world.

    I’m surprised that no one has pointed out the obvious error in Graphic 3. That is a platoon with 3 squads, not a company. The highlighted unit is the 1st platoon HQ, not the HQ for company L. Company L is further up in the chain of command.