The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Month: July 1998

SEP I 1936

The hectic pace of the Spanish civil war has picked up even more as both sides appear to scramble to make best use of the remaining weeks of fair weather before onset of the rainy season.

SEP I INSURGENT

Events took a dramatic turn in the northern separatist provinces. As expected the Asturian “government” collapsed after the fall of Gijon. The remaining, not yet fully assembled Asturian forces surrendered. National Guadia Civil is restoring order in Gijon. Only small groups of loyalists and separatists are still holding out in the mountains. Meanwhile, the strong Galicia Corps of Moroccans and Carlists advanced along the coast, squashing the last major defense position on the road to Santander about 30 miles from that city. In the mountains to the east the nationalists broke through the overextended separatist lines. A massive attack along the main Burgos-Bilbao highway by elite troops transferred from Asturias and Extremadura struck the seam between the Santanderos and Basques, crushing the main defense position. A mobile spearhead supported by bomb-carrying Ju-52s had bypassed that position and reached the coast at Laredo, then swung east toward Bilbao to overpower the hapless local police and firefighters to whom the safety of that city had been entrusted. Large depots were destroyed and most of the armament factories were seized almost intact. Still farther east, a commando of engineers and mountain troops managed to infiltrate the Basque lines near the French border and seize control of San Sebastian, whose local militia had been shaken by a naval bombardment. The capture of Laredo, Bilbao, and San Sebastian has deprived the Basques of their bases and all ports through which they could be reinforced. In Aragon the nationalists frantically attempted to patch up their badly shaken front. The People’s Army raiders were cleared out of Zaragoza with the help of reinforcements from Navarra, and a local counterattack near Huesca successfully restored a coherent line. However, Zaragoza and Huesca are now in the front line and must expect an even more furious onslaught as the “ideological purification” of the Catalan cities approaches completion and the troops engaged in it will become available. The insurgent mountain battallion that had penetrated to the Mediterranean coast between Castellon and Tortosa blew up portions of the coastal highway and rail line and still blocks all traffic. The mountain position near Teruel still holds out in isolation, blocking the main rail line from Valencia to the interior. In Castilla the loyalist raiders astride the Burgos-Zaragoza rail line near Soria were surrounded and overwhelmed. Nationalists infiltrated the widely spaced loyalist positions in the Jarama valley and sneaked into Guadalajara, cutting off a loyalist detachment at Siguenza. Otherwise the Madrid front remained quiet, with most of the Guadarrama range now in nationalist hands. In Andalucia the nationalists accelerated their offensive along the Cordoba-Madrid axis and initiated a second one from Granada toward Lorca. Both gained ground and yielded prisoners in substantial numbers. The northern thrust is about to emerge into open country on the approaches to Cuidad Real and Valdepenas, almost halfway from Jaen to the important rail junction Alcazar de San Juan, whose fall would threaten Madrid from the rear. The southern pincer advanced through difficult mountain terrain. The main loyalist defense position east of Guadix was outflanked and overpowered. Vanguards penetrated to within 35 miles of Lorca. A small task force was split off to seize Almeria and isolate a loyalist detachment in the Sierra Nevada. The loyalist front between Toledo and Almeria is in shambles. Reinforcements sealifted from Morocco finally put an end to anarchist reign in Huelva. Practically all of Andalucia is now under insurgent control. Largely owing to pressures from Britain and France, Mussolini withdrew the cruiser and battle squadrons of the Regia Marina. This put an end to the blockade of Valencia and Cartagena. However, the destruction of the republican Atlantic fleet by the Italians, the commissioning of the new heavy cruisers *Baleares* and *Canarias* at ElFerrol, and the acquisition of four Italian destroyers have given the nationalists parity in surface forces. On paper the loyalists still have a superiority in submarines. However, with Italian submarines covertly operating on the nationalist side, the latter in effect have the upper hand at sea. At this time the nationalists have been concentrating their surface forces in the Gulf of Biscay while trying to keep the loyalists bottled up in the Mediterranean by a submarine blockade of the Straits of Gibraltar. In the air, a squadron of Fiat CR-32b fighters arrived from Italy and attempted to contest the previously absolute republican control of the skies over Aragon. However, more aircraft will be needed to make a definite impact.

SEP I LOYALIST

Thoroughly demoralized by the fall of Bilbao and San Sebastiant and the relentless bombardment by the nationalist fleet, the Basques holed up in the rugged terrain of the interior rather than mounting counterattacks to regain their cities. The Santanderos meanwhile retreated into their capital for a last- ditch stand, thoroughly blowing up roads and rail lines on their way. In Aragon the loyalists initiated their long-expected offensive. Surprisingly, they attacked the strongest point of the insurgent line, the city of Zaragoza. Overcoming unfavorable odds they achieved complete success and inflicted substantial casualties. Mountain troops advanced along the French border to outflank the insurgent position. The mountain battalion that had blocked the Barcelona- Valencia coast road was finally overpowered. Also, Albacete was stormed by Anarchists troops. On the Madrid front the loyalists shortened their lines and started constructing a fortified inner defense ring. The exposed position in the Jarama valley east of Guadalajara was vacated. In central Castilla the loyalists withdrew from Ciudad Real and Valdepenas to concentrate in a new defense line just forward of the strategic Cartagena-Madrid rail line and road. All that could be spared at other fronts was thrown in here to stop the nationalist drive on Alcazar de San Juan. The threat to Madrid from this direction now seems averted. “No pasaran!” At the Mediterranean coast, newly raised reserves disposed of the nationalist spearheads in the mountains near Lorca. With support by the entire republican fleet the troops cut off in the Sierra Nevada managed to recapture Almeria and reestablish tenuous contact with the forces advancing from Lorca. Substantial reinforcements were sealifted from Barcelona to Cartagena. Anticipating the fall of that port city, loyalist merchant ships put to sea from Santander, giving up a first attempt to reach the Mediterranean when the Italian submarines could not be lured into lifting their blockade of the Straits, then sailing back into the Biscay into internment in Bayonne under the noses of the nationalist fleet (five failed interception attempts, each with 50% chance of success!). Laxness of rear security in Cataluna came home to roost: A large shipment of field gun components from France destined for Barcelona was held up at the border by the manufacturer because portions of the rail net were still controlled by renegade elements.

STRATEGIC COMMENTARY

The loyalists now pay a price for their impetuosity. In the Biscay provinces the overextension of their lines proved fatal: The Basques’ surrender is a foregone conclusion, and Santander, without artillery, is expected to follow suit. The nationalist Aragon front is still holding, if barely, so the loyalists’ dream of a Catalan-Basque link-up is fading. Meanwhile, the failure to guard rear ares adequately and to reinforce Castilla and Andalucia from Cataluna in time has precipitated a crisis in the south and has left Madrid vulnerable. The natioalists are in dire straits in Aragon and may well have to concede that province entirely unless a very early arrival of the rainy season grants them a reprieve. This is to a large part because their strained logistics make it hard to get substantial reinforcements to the front that is farthest from Morocco and Sevilla, their sources of strength (the insurgents started with only about half as much rolling stock as the loyalists, and Zaragoza is roughly twice as far from Sevilla as Madrid and Almeria are from Barcelona via Valencia). The insurgents’ inability to transfer large forces and supplies over long distances practically dictates offensives along the Cordoba-Madrid or Granada-Murcia axis or both. The options for additional operations were against Santander, Bilbao, or Madrid (from either Talavera or Avila). Rightly or wrongly they chose Bilbao, no doubt because of its armament industry and with the rationale that the best way to counter the loyalist Aragon offensice is to eliminate the Basques before the Catalans can relieve them. This turned the contest in Aragon and the Basque provinces into a race with time, which the nationalists now appear to be winning. The French, staunch allies so far, are beginnig to ask, “are we supporting a losing cause?” and may not keep their border open much longer. In the span of two weeks, six cities have changed hands: Bilbao, SanSebastian, Huelva, Albacete, Zaragoza, and Almeria, the latter two twice. However, stockpiled supplies are beginning to run low on both sides, so the tempo of fighting is expected to slacken.

 

AUG II 1936

AUG II 36 – Insurgent

The Italian navy made a dramatic appearance intervening in favor of the insurgents. Two cruiser squadrons steamed into the Bay of Biscay and made short shrift of the Red Atlantic Fleet that was still lingering at Gijon. In a very brief encounter the loyalist forces were obliterated, at the loss of only one Italian destroyer to mines. Meanwhile a battle group shelled Malaga and helped a small nationalist detachment overwhelm the terrified garrison. The Italians then proceeded to blockade Valencia and Cartagena. In Asturias the insurgents easily restored control over Gijon but, in the face of complete loyalist control of the air space, failed to dislodge remaining raiders from the nearby mountains. The thin line containing forces of the other Biscay gobernitos was taken slightly back to better defensive positions. In Aragon two divisions were formed in haste in Zaragoza to serve as anchors of a defense line just short of that city. Raiders slipped through the loyalist defenses to cut the coast road near Tortosa and the Valencia-Madrid rail line northwest of Valencia. Also, troops raised in Albacete and Toledo sortied from these cities to wreak havoc in the loyalist heartland. Combined with the blockade of Valencia and Cartagena these actions effectively cut communications between Cataluna, the Valencia-Murcia-Cartagena area, and Madrid. The Madrid front remained quiet, with both sides not strong enough to attempt more than setting up screens to shield their vital centers and lines of communications. The mop-up of the weak loyalist froces in Estremadura was completed. Badajoz and the important rail link to friendly Portugal was secured. This also has removed the danger to the crucial rail link between Sevilla and the north. The sea lift of Moroccan troops to Algeciraz, Cadiz, and Sevilla was continued and has given the insurgents a sizeable superiority in that theater. In addition to the capture of Malaga a strong thrust through Jaen and across the Quadalquivir was developed. The mountains between Malaga and Granada were cleared and yielded a large parcel of prisoners. Maneuvering for positions in the mountains north of Almeria continued. Although a lot of small towns still remain to be “pacified,” all of Andalucia and Estremadura except Anarchist-held Huelva and the area around Almeria are now in firm nationalist control.

AUG II 36 – Loyalist

In Asturia the People’s Army hold-out in the mountains overlooking Gijon passed up the chance to make another stab at that city and retreated toward Santander. Newly raised Santandero reinforcements dug in on the coast road and strengthened the defenses forward of Santander city. Reinforced Basque troops went on the offensive and advanced in various places across the lateral Burgos-Pamplona rail line. However, an attack on Pamplona was repulsed. In Aragon the loylist offensive continued full-tilt. Major forces closed to the Zaragoza-Huesca line. In a daring maneuver a cavalry regiment exploited the success of a massive attack south of Zaragoza, outflanked the nationalist line, and seized that key city, throwing the nationalist defense out of kilter. This has been a major loyalist victory and at least some compensation for the early loss of Gijon and Malaga. The nationalist mountain position at Teruel was surrounded but not attacked. The Madrid front remained quiet, except for a raid by a bicycle battalion that managed to cut the Burgos-Zaragoza rail line at Soria, causing further headaches to the insurgent command. In Andalucia the situation is becoming critical for the loyalists. With scant reinforcements little could be done other than improvising blocking positions on the two key axes Jaen-Madrid and Granada-Almeria. A major effort was devoted to restoring order in the rear area. Toledo was taken and all nationalist raiding porties cornered and disposed of, except one mountain battalion that still blocks the Barcelona-Valencia coast road, and Anarchist-surrounded Albacete still holds out.

STRATEGIC COMMENTARY

The positions of the combatants are developing a very strong imbalance. The loyalists are far superior in Aragon and will be even more so when the forces still tied down in the purification effort in Barcelona become available at the front in September. Unless winter starts early, the nationalist Aragon front is likely to collapse. On the other hand, the nationalist have decidedly the upper hand in Andalucia and threaten emerge into open terrain and take Madrid from the rear. Only at the Biscay front is there some balance of forces. This has not entirely come about by design. Certainly, the loyalist command is following a strategy of hitting early and hard wherever possible, and the best possibilities are offered by the very strong forces and massive reinforcements in Cataluna. In all likelihood the prospect of linking up with the Biscay gobernitos through Zaragoza and Pamplona has been on their mind. Early on they made little effort to reinforce the other fronts from Cataluna, as they could have done. Now the pressure in Andalucia and around Madrid is on, but the only rail link has been blocked for two turns. On the other hand, the nationalists had little choice because their much lower rail capacity and longer lines do not provide them with much opportunity to shift major contingents around (Malaga-Zaragoza via Salamanca and Burgos is about twice as far as Barcelona-Madrid via Valencia). It will be interesting to see whether the loyalist gamble will pay off: Can the war be won in Aragon, or is victory in Aragon bought with the loss of the war?

 

AUG I 1936

AUG I 36 – Insurgent

The insurgents succeeded in linking up all portions of their rail net except Granada. This enabled them to rail strong forces into Oviedo and capture Gijon with naval support. The air and sea lift of troops from Morocco continued full-tilt. In Andalucia a strong insurgent force approached Malaga, scattering an Anarchist rearguard. The substantial People’s Army forces stationed in Malaga took to the hills. Nationalist troops advancing from Granada secured the port of Motril and penetrated into the mountains north of Almeria. Farther north, however, an insurgent attack on Jaen failed when Falangists broke rank. Loyalists hold at the Quadalquivir river. In Estremadura loyalists still constitute a threat to the tenuous line of communications between Sevilla and the north. In the north the insurgents operations are directed toward screening the vital Sevilla-Caceres-Salamanca-Valladolid-Burgos railway against both the substantial loyalist forces in the Madrid area and the hostile troops of the Biscay gobernitos. In Aragon the weak insurgent forces are attempting to form a line forward of Zaragoza and Huesca. Patrols have been pushed forward to the Cinca river. The mountain position at Teruel was reinforced to fend off a threat by strong People’s Army forces from Valencia. Albacete and Toledo, isolated deep in loylist-controlled territory, are still held by the insurgents.

AUG I 36 – Loyalist

In Asturias event took a dramatic turn with a determined raid against Gijon by government troops from Santander, supported by the Atlantic Fleet and all available aircraft. The raiders managed to recapture the city, which the insurgents had left too weakly protected. The few Bre-19 of the insurgent airforce attempted to bomb the fleet but failed ingloriously with heavy loss (2D6 roll of 2 on the AA table!). In Santander and the Basque provinces substantial local reinforcements were used to form a front line well forward of the three key cities Santander, Bilbao, and San Sebastian. On all other fronts, too, the loyalists started furious attacks with lavish expenditure of attack supply and resources for rail transport. Although massive forces are still tied down in ideological “purification” of Barcelona and other Catalan cities, a major offensive was launched in Aragon and is threatening Zaragoza. A second pincer, though not nearly as strong, advanced from Guadalajara and endangers the rear of the insurgent line in Aragon. In Andalucia a relief force from Murcia made headway toward Granada, taking the pressure off Almeria. Meanwhile, the Malaga troops attacked eastward toward Granada in an attempt to break out. However, this effort failed. Except here and at Caceres the loyalists were remarkably successful.

AUG I 36 STRATEGIC COMMENTARY

The insurgents succeeded to link up all portions of their rail net. This and expenditure of a resource point allowed them to transfer strong forces by rail to Oviedo and capture Gijon. However, they advanced so weak a detachment into the city that the loyalists were able to recapture it with air- and navy-supported PA troops from Santander. They now have a tenuous hold on the city with naval and air support. A nationalist attempt to bomb the ships failed ingloriously (a 2D6 roll of 2 resulting in an abort, putting the unit out of action for quite some time). An insurgent attempt to capture Jaen failed when Falanghists broke ranks. Malaga’s loyalist troops took to the mountains attempting a charge toward Granada, but where stopped. Strong insurgent forces are poised to attack Malaga after overwhelming an anarchist readguard. On all fronts the loyalists attacked fiercely and with liberal expenditure of attck supply and a resource point for rail cap increase. They inflicted significant losses at Guadalajara, San Sebastian, and in Aragon, where they are now threatening Zaragoza. An attack on Caceres from Badajoz was their only failure. Two still very porous front lines appear to be crystallizing: One around the northern coastal cities from Gijon to San Sebastian, the other forward of the loyalist-held cities Almeria, Jaen, Ciudad Real, Talavera, Madrid, Guadalaja, Valencia, Lerida. Loyalist forces in Estremadura still block Insurgent communications between Andalucia and Castilia.

 

JUL II 1936

July II Insurgents

The murder of Calvo Sotelo seems to have forced the insurgent leaders to start their revolution prematurely. The outcome is in doubt. Much of the traditionally conservative countryside, especially in Galicia and Navarra, have joined the uprising, but in the industrial centers the loyalists have retained control. Of the big cities, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Murcia, Cartagena, Malaga, Gijon, Santander, Bilbao, and San Sebastian are in loyalist hands; Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, Salamanca, La Coruna, Leon, Valladolid, Burgos, and Zaragoza have joined the insurgents. The success of the revolution will hinge to a good part on the insurgents’ ability to transfer troops from Spanish Morocco to mainland Spain.

Jul II Loyalists

Treason! A military coup attempt against the rightful government has failed, but instead resulted in an armed uprising. Luckily, large parts of the army, navy and air force remains loyal to the Spanish republic, and large masses of people are already volunteering for military service. The wide range of political alignments, and the lack of officers can prove to be a future problem however.

The turn

Because general chaos has severely limited mobility, little combat between military units has occurred so far. In Andalucia, Moroccan troops landed at Cadiz have seized Jerez de la Frontera and cleared the way to insurgent- controlled Sevilla. In the north, nationalist aircraft have damaged Santander’s airfield while loyalist attempts to bomb rail lines at Leon remained unsuccessful. A nationalist naval taskforce with battleship Espana has made an ominous appearance off the Asturian coast, and insurgents have seized the little port of Aviles close to Gijon, possibly in preparation for a troop landing. However, the Asturian militia is getting organized and should be able to out up a strong defense. A relief force has also started an overland advance from Santander, but likely won’t get there in time. In Cataluna, chaos reigns. While parts of the army scrambles to meet the threat from Zaragoza, and possibly link up with the northern Gobernitos, other units are securing the loyalties of the citizens of Cataluna. In Barcelona, the Durrutti column and the POUM legion are “ideologically purifying” a half of Barcelona each, a good picture of the confusing situation in the region.