INSURGENT JUN I 1938
The Nationalist onslaught continues unabated. Having cleared the Ebro bend, Franco’s troops attacked across that river and the lower Segre near their confluence, gained a substantial bridgehead, took Maials (13:3330), and are approaching Lerida from the south. Once again, however, the Loyalists managed a retreat in good order (DR one one chance in three).
In the Ebro delta, another strong corps crossed the river and overwhelmed the badly outnumbered defenders of Tortosa.
Operations against the Valencia pocket continued. The Navarrese Corps (1, 4, and 5 InfDivs) pushed forward along the coast road as far as Orpesa de Mar and Benicassim (13:3734), within sight of Castellon de la Plana, where labor brigades are busy demolishing harbor installations. The advance into the coastal mountains of the Sierra de Gudar, slowed as much by the difficult terrain as by resistance from rearguards, made little headway. The People’s Army 2nd Shock Brigade held a crucial mountain pass near pass near Villafranca del Cid (13:3534), surrounded and outnumbered ten to one against unbelievable odds (a 2% chance of survival!). If the situation in the pocket has become hopeless, someone forgot to tell those guys.
The front north of Lerida saw no action. Also, despite signs of impending disintegration of the Loyalist front facing Teruel, no attacks were launched here as yet. “Let them wither on the vine,” the local Nationalist commander was heard to say.
Insurgent aircraft supported the operations at Castellon and in the mountains, taking care to stay out of range of Barcelona-based Ratas, while Italian Fiats provided some protection for the submarines blockading Valencia. Unwilling to risk his ships while squadrons of SB-2 bombers roamed over the Catalan coast, Admiral Sanchez kept them safe at anchor in Cartagena.
Raids on factories in Barcelona and Valencia continued, and some additional damage was done at the latter city. Also, Messerschmidts and Fiats attacked Lerida and put its airbase out of action.
To have got across the Ebro at Mequinenza is an important Nationalist success: The bridgehead is south of the Segre estuary and therefore amounts to a first breach of the strong Segre-Ebro river position. It also poses a threat to Lerida from yet another direction. On the other hand, the Loyalists luck in avoiding losses will enable them to put up a very strong defense around Lerida, the presumed next target.
The second bridgehead, at Tortosa, is strategically less important. While Tarragona certainly is a shining goal for an advance along the Catalan coast, this avenue is narrow and relatively easy to obstruct, for the Loyalists good enough a reason to make no serious effort to hold on to the outflanked Tortosa position. Of course, the final conquest of that famous city has propaganda value. (Tortosa is said to be the world’s seond-largest city, after Madrid: It took Franco’s soldiers months to advance through the suburbs.)
In isolated Valencia, the Loyalists had suddenly decided to hoard their remaining supplies rather than parcel them out to the troops holding the pocket’s perimeter. The intent appears to be to concentrate exclusively on holding the city proper with a few elite units as long as these can be kept in supply. This has not been well-received in the front lines, where morale is at its lowest. An implosion of the pocket onto the city now seems to be a matter of only days.
LOYALIST JUN I 1938
With help of shipments from the Soviet Union, the Loyalists were able to field new artillery units to strengthen their Cataluna front. Labor brigades and civilians from Barcelona worked feverishly to construct fortifications at the coast to forestall any Nationalist attempt to advance toward Reus and Tarragona, and reserves were fed into the front line around Lerida.
The perimeter of the Valencia pocket is collapsing. Except for a few hold-outs–among them the valiant 2nd Shock Brigade in the mountains near Villafranca del Cid–units are disbanding, soldiers are deserting. By a rough count, the equivalent of about 12 infantry divisions have ceased to exist, and the number of prisoners has exceeded 100,000. A few favored elite units have been pulled back into the city and are preparing for a protracted siege. There is resentment that preference was accorded to International Brigades over Spaniards, militarily a sound decision, but one that did not go over well with the natives.
A strong collection of still loyal troops has been assembled around Castellon de la Plana, where engineers and civilians are blowing up the harbor installations. All positions in the high mountains were given up, but a screen is forward of Valencia, Sagunto (23:3703), and Castellon is still maintained.
The end is near for the Valencia pocket. The city itself is still well-stocked with supplies and its garrison (25CF) should be able to hold out for a long time, but all else is bound to be ground up in short order.
This will lead to an end game for the patch of Cataluna still held by the Loyalists. The front between high mountains and sea is very short–4 hexes or less–entrenched, and in part obstructed by the Segre river and the mountains near Reus. The Loyalists have still about 120 CF, enough for a defense with 20+ CF per hex and overrun-proof back-up forward or at the crucial 3-hex distance from Barcelona. There is no room for maneuver, and all will depend on the luck of the die: Two or three HX, EX, or even DH results (DE is out of reach) and the front will collapse. If these do not materialize, the Loyalists can still avoid capitulation.
By comparison, the fate of Valencia is relatively unimportant. Capture of Valencia alone is unlikely to change the victory level, and Catalan collapse will lead to capitulation even if Valencia survives.