INSURGENTS FEB II 1937
The Azores high-pressure system has finally moved into southern Spain, bringing unseasonably dry and sunny days. In the north meanwhile, wintery weather persisted.
As expected, the Nationalist onslaught on Madrid continued. Although beefed up by newly recruited units and expenditure of last supplies (attack supply converted to general supply to negate the effect of isolation), the demoralized defenders (halved because of government relocation) where quickly overwhelmed and disarmed. The entire city is now firmly in Insurgents’ hands. Insurgent losses have been light, but damage to factories is so severe that production is not expected to resume before October. Much of the airport has been repaired and rail service restored into, though not yet through the city.
Even before Madrid was fully secured, the Insurgents pulled out elite formations including the Foreign Legion to launch a major new offensive in Aragon. The Loyalist front was smashed with heavy losses to Catalunian troops at two places: the left bank of the Ebro opposite Zaragoza, and east of Calatyud. Zaragoza itself is under artillery fire and in danger of becoming isolated. However, a planned attack on the city itself had to be cancelled because of a bungled rail transfer (a hex in ZoC not occupied by a unit all turn long).
Farther south, Nationalists tangled with the ring enclosing their forward mountain positions southeast of Teruel and pushed patrols toward the Ebro plain. A narrow and tenuous corridor to the farthest outposts was establish and these were resupplied at night by Ju-52s from Valladolid.
Some troops were also drawn off from Madrid to strengthen the from in southern Castilla, where the Insurgents are out- numbered at this time.
In the south, a determined concentric attack spearheaded by three divisions of Italian volunteers finally led to the capture of Lorca and yielded a large number of prisoners. The Loyalists losses in artillery and anti-aircraft batteries were heavy. Also, a little farther north one of the last Anarchist mountain positions in the Sierra de Segura was stormed with air support. In addition to having taken Lorca, the Nationalists have now regained all territory lost late last year to Loyalist counterattacks in that area.
While the Nationalists had it all their way on the ground, they got trounced in the skies. Heinkel fighters of the Legion Kondor attempting to strafe Albacete airfield and its planes were driven off by unusually accurate flak (by just 1 point of position-AA). In a massive air battle over Lorca, both Nationalist and Italian CR fighters took a beating from Soviet- piloted I-16s and, to add insult to injury, from a group of ancient Vildebeest floatplanes (which, however, also suffered some losses). Yet, command of the skies over Lorca and unhindered ground support by the People’s Airforce could not save the city.
Italian submarines continued their patrols off the coast of Mucia. Otherwise, the fleet remained inactive.
LOYALIST FEB II 1937
The Loyalists hastily patched up their torn Aragon front and reinforced threatened Zaragoza.
A massive attempt by all People’s Army and Catalan mountain troops with the heaviest air support seen to-date failed to crush the advanced Nationalist mountain stronghold southeast of Teruel (a “1” on 5:1 -3). However, the ring around that position was closed again.
The other fronts saw no significant activities.
In the face of the continuing submarine threat the Fleet remained at anchor at Cartagena. In a replay with reversed roles, I-16 fighters attempting to strafe the Valdepenas airstrip were driven off with losses by accurate AA fire.
The front now runs from Lorca (Nat) to Albacete (Loy), Cuenca(Loy), Teruel(Loy), Zaragoza(Nat), and Huesca(Loy) in a fairly straight line, except for two Nationalist salients in the mountains east of Teruel and near Zaragoza and the isolated mountain position halfway to the coast (23:3401). The line is continuous and, except in mountain terrain, held with 4+CF per on both sides.
The capture of Madrid constitutes a major Nationalist victory. Quite apart from the effct on morale, the troops that were needed to contain the city are now free for use elsewhere. More importantly, Madrid as the transportation hub of central Spain is a prize that greatly eases the Natioalists’ logistics problems by providing shorter and better communications between the extremes of their front in north and south, helping to compensate for the Loyaliss’ advantage of interior lines.
The fall of Madrid had become inevitable. The city, left with only a modest garrison, had obviously been written off by the Republican high command. Nevertheless, the assault came earlier than expected. Even more surprising was Franco’s decision to launch the next offensive in Aragon rather than Castilla, where good campaign weather will arrive a month or so earlier. However, the impediments of snow and mud in the north cut both ways: The Loyalists will find it harder to reinforce their front in Aragon. What may have carried more weight in Franco’s mind, however, is the prospect of an invasion of Cataluna, where unrest has been growing and military setbacks might trigger a revolt that could well spell the end of the Republican cause.
Although the Loyalists are reeling from the loss of Madrid and the onslaught in Aragon, they still command over forces strong enough to launch offensives of their own, possibly in Castilla, where they actually outnumber their opponents by a good margin. The problem here is that a local gain would quickly be contained, and so would only lengthen the front, a “victory” the Loyalists can ill afford.
The factor now limiting both sides is supply and logistics. Supplies are so scarce that only a small fraction of the troops on either side can attack at full strength. Rail capacity to bring supplies forward is equally short. Inasmuch as a good chance of success of attacks in poor weather and difficult terrain calls for high odds and thus high strength and ample supply, only quite limited offensives will be possible until late spring brings better campaign weather. Although inferior at the outset in both factory production and rail capacity, the Nationalists now hold an almost 2:1 edge in both, in part thanks to a consistent effort to improve their rail net (use of RPs for permanent capacity increases). This advantage may well tip the scales in the long run.
If this were a regular Europa game, it would be over by now. The Loyalists have nothing to put up against the killer stacks that the Insurgents can now assemble. Wherever the latter would decide to strike, they would break through in short order and put an end to things. In BELL TOLLS, however, matters are not that easy. The severe shortage of attack supply (and rail capacity to bring it forward), combined with the fact that stronger fronts at this stage of the game make for greater supply consumption per attack, limit the aggressor to just very few attacks per turn. Moreover, neither side has more than a piddling of mechanized units that could exploit breakthroughs. So the game is likely to go on for a while as a slugging match (Elias has vowed continue fighting if on the streets of Barcelona). And although on the face of it the Nationalists have done a lot better than Franco in 1936-37, the victory point count (118:46) so far stands only at a “marginal victory” of theirs, and Elias may succeed in keeping it that way.
An annoying factor has surfaced: The ants don’t die! With conservative play, at least the Nationalist have an empty pool and a huge surplus of replacement points. So all these little battalions and regiments that had the map to themselves early on are still there among the new divisions and clutter things up annoyingly. Among the possible fixes: (a) units used to “form” a division are removed from play rather than being returned to the pool; (b) same for units that are killed in isolation; (c) additional “forming” of divisions is made possible (with forming units removed from play); (d) fewer infantry Rpls accruing.
As Elias points out, the penalty for relocation of the Loyalist government (combat strengths halved for one game turn) is rather harsh, given the fact that the Loyalist military were not a well-organized force run from the top to start with. The worst thing here is, the Nationalists in their player turn know exactly how weak their opponents will be at any given place. A better solution might be to have the Loyalists roll for each unit in combat on the success table (halved on F and F*), or reinstitute the militia reliability rule for one turn. But there should also be some incentive to keep the government in Madrid as long as possible, to make it unattractive for the Loyalists to move it right at the start of the game to a less exposed city, at a time when the penalty for doing so wouldn’t yet hurt them.