January 11, 2014


The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That's the time to listen to every fear you can imagine!  When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead!
George S. Patton

The goal in any scenario is to put yourself in a position superior to your opponent and to hit weakness with strength... how can you do that if you don't know where the enemy is or what he is up to?  What kind of force are you facing?  Additionally do you know any of the following?
  • Where is the enemy’s main line of resistance (MLR)?
  • Where is the enemy’s mounted counter-attack force concentrated?
  • Where are the enemy flanks?
  • What are the enemy main avenues of approach?
  • Where are the enemy forward defensive positions?
  • Where are the enemy’s reserves located?
The goal of any in game reconnaissance is to come to a point where you are able to ‘see’ the enemy force to such a degree that making the decision on where the best point to strike becomes obvious.
According the current US Army manual on tactics:
The fundamentals of a movement to contact are:
  • Focus all efforts on finding the enemy.
  • Make initial contact with the smallest force possible, consistent with protecting the force.
  • Make initial contact with small, mobile, self-contained forces to avoid decisive engagement of the main body on ground chosen by the enemy. This allows the commander maximum flexibility to develop the situation.
  • Task-organize the force and use movement formations to deploy and attack rapidly in any direction.
  • Keep forces within supporting distances to facilitate a flexible response.
  • Maintain contact regardless of the course of action (COA) adopted once contact is gained. 
 FM 3-90 – TACTICS
 All of these points are important, but I have bolded several parts of this quote that I believe are fundamental and go to the heart of this subject.  First, Focus all efforts on finding the enemy might seem like common sense, but you would be surprised at the number of players who make a complete plan without knowing anything about the enemy other than what was in the scenario briefing.  See Decision Process

This allows the commander maximum flexibility to develop the situation –- use movement formations to deploy and attack rapidly in any direction –- Keep forces within supporting distances to facilitate a flexible response –- BE FLEXIBLE!!  Maximum flexibility is the important theme in all of these statements.  The only way to do that is to gather information and then when satisfied that you have a handle on the enemy disposition, force makeup, and intent, or at least can hazard an educated guess, then you can then make plans that take that information into account.  With the correct timing and with a synchronized force it is almost not fair to your opponent, and if that is the case for you then you are doing it correctly!

Even Sun Tzu knew that knowledge is the best combat multiplier (bold is mine):
Determine his (the enemy's) dispositions and so ascertain the field of battle..
Probe him and learn where his strength is abundant and where deficient.
Now an army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strengths and strikes weaknesses.
Sun Tzu
I will put up to a third of my force in the scouting role and the rest of my force I will either place in assembly areas to wait the results, or they will follow up the scouting force ready to converge on any weakness identified.  In the image below the lead squad from a platoon (other platoon squads are off screen at the bottom of the image) split into teams and move ahead of the platoon scouting the terrain ahead.  Whether the platoon follows them into that valley depends on what the scout teams find there.

Infantry teams scout a valley
When you are moving into unknown territory try not to have all of your scout teams moving at the same time.  Teams spot best when stationary, so always try to have at least one stationary team in a position to overwatch the movement of the other teams.

Try to keep your scout teams in at least pairs so that they can spot for each other as they move through their assigned zone.

Scout team in position listening and watching for enemy activity

Over time you will start to identify enemy force dispositions and intent, the art is in taking these scattered bits of information and beginning to recover the enemy order of battle, then using that recovered information as the basis for your planning.

Enemy formation movement being watched by recon teams

For example: in the image above I had several recon teams in position watching as the enemy units in the screenshot moved into the small gulley in the center of the image.  Over several turns they spotted and identified:
  • Two FJ Rifle Squads
  • One Pz Schreck Team (FJ)
  • One Light Mortar Team (FJ)
From this information I can say with confidence that my opponent is moving at least one complete FJ Platoon into the gully.  I can say that even though I have not seen a third squad, nor have I seen an HQ unit.  If I had identified some of the company support assets moving with this platoon then I could have raised my estimate to at least elements of the FJ Company in the general area.  You are putting the pieces together, but you are not totally working in the dark.

Real world tactical intelligence shops have many base templates on hand so they can quickly refer to standard enemy orders of battle, enemy formation templates etc. to help make their conclusions.  You also have something similar in CM.  Say you are in a game and you see the forces I outlined above, it is a simple matter to go into the scenario editor and pull up the FJ organization to use as a comparison. 

In our example above, you know that the organization of an FJ Platoon is the following, you can quickly identify the missing components and know better what to expect.  
FJ Platoon
  • Platoon HQ
  • Panzerschreck Team
  • Light Mortar Team
  • FJ Rifle Squad 1
  • FJ Rifle Squad 2
  • FJ Rifle Squad 3
Units not yet identified are in red and you can either expect to see those units in this same general area or can expect to have to deal with them if you decide to attack this formation. 

If you see three tanks in an area and you know five tanks make a full platoon you can conclude that you probably are seeing a portion of a full platoon.  There might actually be only three or four tanks, but always estimate by formation.  If you see more than half of a platoon chances are you have a complete platoon.

Often all you will have is a mass of sound contacts as illustrated in the following image.  In this case you have to be patient, as over time and perhaps for a second or two at a time some of these sound contacts will firm up and you can get a better idea of what you are facing.  A situation like this is one of those areas that you will probably want to avoid until you know more.
Enemy activity identified through sound contacts
Reconnaissance Types:  There are two types of reconnaissance.  Which to use is determined by mission, time available to accomplish the mission, and however your preference, skill, comfort, or playing style dictates.  The two types are either Command Push or Recon Pull.


  1. Excellent explanation, Bil. This series of posts on recon has helped to refocus my attention on this subject and these approaches, not just for CM, but in other games as well.

    1. Thanks Doug, I appreciate the feedback. By the way when I came here to respond to your comment I noticed that one image, a very important one, was missing. That has now been added and I hope it all makes a bit more sense.

    2. I wondered about that. That image does help considerably!

  2. Superb article Bil! I always hurry too much and always finish getting in the middle of unsuspected enemy formations. Surely your article will help a lot.