“The end product of CQB training must be automatic and instantaneous killing.”

About the author

Present at the beginning of U.S. Army Special Forces’ involvement in CT operations, James Stejskal has written both the narrative history Special Forces Berlin and a series of Cold War espionage / special forces novels called “The Snake Eater Chronicles.” His two latest novels, Appointment in Tehran and Direct Legacy, describe what it was like to go through SF Berlin’s and SAS CQB training in the 1970s and 1980s.



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Special Forces Berlin and the Beginnings of Counter Terror Ops and CQB in the US Army

The Article

© 2022 by James Stejskal

Close Quarter Battle. CQB.

Just hearing the words brings back memories of hours on the range and in the shooting house practicing everything from basic individual marksmanship to room and building entry dynamics with teams.

Close Quarter Battle is one of those monikers that gets tossed about like a salad.

Everyone has his own version.

Which is a cautionary tale because not all versions work.

But not so long ago, CQB started with a single and consistent methodology.

William Fairbairn: The legendary CQB pioneer

The principal pioneer in the field is, of course, William Ewart Fairbairn.

A former Royal Marine and British colonial policeman, China, Fairbairn joined the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) in 1907.

The SMP was manned by Japanese, British, American, Sikh, and Chinese volunteers. Fairbairn was both a street cop and a trainer—he observed both police and criminal tactics to develop better operational procedures.

Later in his tenure with the SMP, Fairbairn created the Reserve Unit (RU), essentially the first Special Weapons and Tactics unit in the world.

The RU officers were trained in what Fairbairn called ‘Gutter Fighting’ — that is how to take down the hardest criminals of the Triad gangs and their ‘Hatchet-men’ when no backup was to be expected.

Fairbairn learned his “tactics, techniques, and procedures” the hard way — on the streets.

After one nasty encounter and a lengthy medical recovery, he learned Judo from a Japanese instructor.

After that, he picked up various Chinese systems.

Incorporating all that was good in each, he developed his own fighting system called “Defendu.”

It was a complete system of armed and unarmed methodologies that he taught to the SMP and reportedly to the 4th Marines, the “China Marines,” a 1,000-man regiment who served in Shanghai’s International Settlement before World War II.

Fairbairn’s cohort and co-designer of the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, Eric Anthony Sykes, the chief of the RU’s sniper section was at his side and co-developed many of their CQB techniques during their time together in China.

Fairbairn returned to England at the onset of WWII and was recruited, along with Sykes, to teach CQB to the operatives of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), the forerunner of the American OSS, as well as commandos and the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) also known as MI6.

Additionally, he instructed the Home Guard’s secret Auxiliary Units, who would act as stay-behind forces should Germany invade Britain.

Fairbairn was then detailed to SOEs Special Training School No. 103 aka “Camp X” located near Lake Ontario, Canada.

There he trained Canadian and American operatives in his “quick and dirty fighting” skills ranging from unarmed combat, and knife fighting, to the use of small arms in close quarters. Probably the most important aspect of Fairbairn’s methods was that he sought to instill the mindset to kill an enemy in combat without hesitation.

Likewise, Sykes tried to do the same and ended all his demonstrations with the words, “and then, kick him in the testicles.”

The key to Fairbairn’s methodology was “instinctive fire.”

Instead of carefully aimed shots at fixed targets, trainees went into a crouched position and quickly squeezed off two rounds — a “double tap.”

Kill the enemy before he killed you.

With submachine guns, he encouraged trigger control and the same double-tap method rather than full automatic bursts.

One of his training tools was what he called “the fun house,” an innovative shooting facility his students preferred to call “the house of horrors.”

First used in Shanghai to train SMP officers.

Fairbairn and Sykes built a similar building at SOE’s Lochailort, Scotland training base.

Based on a small cottage that incorporated pop-up targets, trainees entered through the roof to engage targets in darkened rooms filled with smoke, disorienting lights, and soundtracks of gunfire and explosions.

Fairbairn ensured similar training facilities were built at STS 103 and OSS training sites in the United States. These killing houses have since become standard training fare with special operations forces worldwide.


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A brief history of CQB “influencers”

Another influential instructor was American Rex Applegate who learned his basic marksmanship as a youngster in Idaho from professional hunter Gus Peret, his uncle.

At the beginning of World War II, Applegate was developing armed and unarmed fighting courses for the Army when he was recruited for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) by Brigadier General William Donovan specifically to instruct hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting, and pistol marksmanship.

Applegate was sent to England to experience the training being given to British special operatives and commandos and the newly-formed American Ranger formations.

It was here where he came into close contact with Fairbairn from whom he absorbed close quarters combat methods.

Applegate came back to the OSS’s Area B which would become Camp David.

There were many other early practitioners of “quick kill” shooting, such as FBI Agent Jacob Aldolphus Bryce aka “Jelly.”

He was a member of the FBI’s “Gunslingers,” a group of agents who were specifically tasked to engage highly violent criminals to take them down fast.

But Bryce did not pass on his skills.

There are conflicting reports that he instructed at the FBI Academy, but the Academy itself has no record of this.

Another SOE officer, lesser known today but just as formidable, was Colonel Leonard Hector Grant-Taylor, who instructed SOE operatives at a base in Egypt.

In the United States, with the dissolution of the OSS and the Rangers after WWII much of the expertise associated with CQB was lost or subordinated to other, less complicated (and easier to teach) marksmanship training.

On the whole, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts did not require the same close-quarters fighting skills although the Marines and Army kept up “quick-kill” rifle training to some degree.

In 1990, the USMC even re-issued Shooting To Live, a book written by Fairbairn and Sykes in 1942, as a reference publication called FMFRP-12-81, an indication of the considered value of their skills.

The instruction and techniques which Fairbairn, Sykes, and Applegate developed serve as the foundation for modern CQB.

Jeff Cooper is probably the best known of recent “influencers.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, Cooper emerged as the American father of the “modern technique” of shooting.

Cooper, a U.S. Marine, developed a style that included the “Weaver Stance,” a two-handed pistol grip used in competition that differed slightly from Fairbairn’s stance.

Cooper adapted his from that used by California County Deputy Jack Weaver for shooting competitions.

It featured isometric tension through a “push-pull” holding technique.

Cooper’s techniques have been woven into practical pistol instruction and adopted by many police units.

It was the 1970s when CQB began to make its resurgence

It was the 1970s when CQB began to make its resurgence in the U.S. military.

But it had already done so in the United Kingdom, spurred by the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment’s operations in Aden during the mid-1960s.

Fighting an insurgency in urban areas highlighted the need for tactics to eliminate a hostile terrorist threat that might emerge in the middle of an unarmed civilian crowd.

That required being able to eliminate the threat completely without endangering innocent lives.

In 1966, the 22nd SAS Regiment started a CQB course to fill that need.

Its basic requirement was for an undercover operator (in civilian clothing) to draw his weapon and fire six rounds into a playing card at 15 meters.

This was followed by the creation of the Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) Wing, a specialist group of trainers initially created as a response to rising terrorism in Europe and especially the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre in Germany.

The CRW was (and remains) responsible for training the entire cadre of operational SAS soldiers in CQB counterterrorist (CT) tactics, as well as selected troopers for Body Guard (BG) operations.

Once trained the SAS Squadrons would rotate to serve in what was first called “Pagoda Troop” and later the “Special Project Teams” on standby for CT incidents.

It’s first acknowledged mission was the successful 1980 assault of the Iranian Embassy at Princes Gate in London which ended with 19 hostages rescued and 5 of 6 terrorists killed in an 11-minute take-down dubbed “Operation Nimrod.”

Terrorism had begun to make U.S. Government leadership uneasy

In the United States, terrorism had begun to make U.S. Government leadership uneasy.

Slowly efforts were launched to form counterterrorism capable units to combat it.

Quickly ruling out military police units as inappropriate, the task fell to the U.S. Army Special Forces.

In Europe—the epicenter of terrorist incidents against American interests—Special Forces Berlin was tasked to form an “anti-hijacking” capability by the U.S. European Command in 1975.

Close Quarter Battle would form the core of its initial train-up.

Instruction was developed and presented by the unit’s soldiers who had served with the Studies and Observation Group (SOG) in Vietnam along with several who’d served with the 22nd SAS and been trained in CQB and BG tactics.

SF Berlin would be followed by other units trained for the CT mission including the short-lived 5th SF Group’s “Blue Light” program, then in 1978 by SF Operational Detachment Delta, and in 1980 by SEAL Team Six.

Many other nations launched similar programs during that period, Israel, Germany, and France among them.

No matter the origin, it is important to note that CQB techniques have never been fixed in their presentation, but are always adaptable to the situation and the weapons used.

The key to CQB, therefore, is not the instruments used but the spirit behind them.

This attitude is nowhere more eloquently described than in this training guidance issued in the early 1970s.

It is reprinted here without change to its original form.

A legendary CQB training guidance issued in the early 1970s

The aim of CQB training is to guarantee success in killing.

It is much more of a personal affair than ordinary combat.

And it is just not good enough to temporarily put your opponent out of action so that he can live to fight another day.

He must be definitively and quickly killed, so so that you can switch your whole attention onto the next target.

Besides obvious physical abilities, the CQB operator must be cool-headed and above all, remorseless.

Opponents must never be given “gentlemanly” chances.

He must be kicked whilst he is down so that he stays down.

This is imperative.

The pistol and submachine gun are the main weapons used by the CQB operator.

These weapons are generally regarded by the ignorant as”dangerous” and “useless”.

In the hands of a trained. CQB operator, these weapons are extremely lethal.

However, for the CQB operator to maintain a high degree of professionalism he must train continuously in an aggressive manner.

The end product of CQB training must be automatic and instantaneous killing.

The general coverage of CQB is under six headings:

A. Surprise

The operator must gain complete surprise over his opponents in all possible situations.

This is achieved by good intelligence, planning, briefing, method of approach, choice of weapon for the job, choice of footwear, etc.

If these principles are adhered to, they will result in the success of the operation, and also ensure that the operator himself is never surprised.

B. Confidence

Successful CQB is largely a matter of confidence.

Confidence in himself, the situation, and his weapon play a very big part in ensuring the success of an operator.

The confident handling of his weapon makes lethal CQB shooting from almost any angle as easy as punching a drunk on the nose.

C. Concentration

Another abbreviation of close quarter battles could well be CTK (Concentrate to Ki11).

The operator shoots to kill, not hit.

He must build up a clear, defined picture of every aspect of the job at hand.

Nothing must distract him from his purpose of killing in a systematic fashion.

The mind does wander quite easily, but this must not be tolerated in CQB.

It must be emphatically stressed upon from the moment the student starts his training.

A wandering mind is usually detected in training by a fall-off it results and, of course, in the real thing by a vacancy for a new operator arising.

D. Speed

In CQB, contact is over in a matter of split seconds.

Therefore speed is vital but it must be the correct type of speed.

The mad, wild, planless rush is not only foolish but in most cases, catastrophical.

The speed must be of a cool, unruffled deliberate nature.

Accuracy and success go naturally with this speed.

The tempo of all CQB is “Careful Hurry”.

This tempo must be adhered to throughout the training.

Keenness and excitement are natural amongst students, but it does develop the incorrect sort of speed.

It must be stamped out from the word “Go”.

The Battle-crouch with its ensuing good, deft footwork, must be strictly adopted.

An exited student will get himself into the oddest firing positions and so become off balance.

The CQB Operator must never become flustered and stray from the “Careful Hurry”.

E. Teamwork

Individual CQB operators in Special Forces are exceptional and normal operations are carried out by small teams or patrols.

Due to the close proximity and speed of the participants in CQB, the absolute essence of teamwork is of primary importance.

Who goes where and when.

Who kills whom and how.

Synchronized timing, etc. must be spot on.

A team going on an operation must be given all the time possible to study their target and plan its execution.

They must rehearse time and time again, taking into account all the possibilities of target routine change.

After initial CQB training, students should be made to work in pairs, covering each other during tactical approach and withdrawal, etc.

Afterward, add a third and fourth man building up to patrol strength,

F. Offensive Attitude

In CQB from the very start, the gloves are off.

It is a simple matter of “his life, or yours”.

Squeamishness, pity, remorse or mistakes are fatal.

Nothing should be done in self-defense.

All actions must be of an extremely offensive nature.

Operators should develop a hatred and contempt for the opposition, but, never, never, underestimate him.

Students should be edged into this determined and offensive spirit from the commencement of training.


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Photos courtesy by NARA and James Stejskal