The Enemy Over the Bridge

by Capt John F. Schmitt

The following is an example of a tactical decision game like those in use at the Marine Corps University as a tool for developing military judgment and decisionmaking ability. The basic idea behind these deceptively simple games is to create a hypothetical battlefield dilemma of some sort and require the players to develop a solution under pressure of a time limit. The games work best in groups up to about a dozen, where Marines can argue the merits of various plans. The games are designed to teach students how to think rather than what to think, the rationale being that since each battlefield situation is unique it is futile to try to provide the right answer in advance for every conceivable situation. In fact, as in war, there are no absolute right or wrong answers. As long as a solution reflects the tenets of maneuver warfare, it is the "right" answer.

The Situation

You are the commanding officer, 3d Battalion, 6th Marines. Your battalion consists of two rifle companies on foot, one rifle company in trucks, a tank company (minus), and a TOW section on HMMWVs.

Friendly forces hold the bridge and the riverline. (You believe the river to be unfordable.) Reconnaissance elements are operating north of the river. Tomorrow morning the division begins a major offensive north across the river, with the division's main effort in 6th Marines' zone. Your battalion will spearhead the regiment's attack.

You are to occupy the assembly area shown on the map west of Hamlet in preparation for the morning attack across the river commencing at 0400. You are moving north toward the assembly area as shown. At 2000, your surveillance and target acquisition (STA) platoon, which is forward reconnoitering the route, reports enemy infantry occupying your assembly area in strength and continuing to reinforce. The size of these enemy units is unknown but estimated to be at least a company. Further, the STA platoon commander reports he has just met a reconnaissance team that was operating north of the river but has been forced south across the river under fire. The reconnaissance team leader reports there is no sign of friendly forces holding the riverline or the bridge and that enemy infantry with some light vehicles has been moving across the bridge for at least 30 minutes. This is all the information the STA and reconnaissance Marines can tell you.

As the battalion commander, what will you do?


Within a five-minute time limit, give your solution in the form of the fragmentary order you would issue to your subordinates-to include the intent behind your plan-and support it with an overlay sketch. Then give a brief (200 words or less) explanation of the reasons behind your decision, the key considerations that led you to choose your course of action. Since there is no school solution to a problem like this, the emphasis is not so much on the course you take as in the reasons behind that course. Send your solution without delay to the Marine Corps Gazette, care of Tactical Decision Games, P.O. Box 1775, Quantico. VA 22134. My solution and one or two others chosen by the editor will be published in the June issue.