The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Month: June 1999

AUG I 1938

NATIONALIST AUG I 1938

Having cleared the Loyalisy Segre bridgehead at Lerida, the Nationalists got down to the hard work of trying to bulldoze their way into the “iron shield” main Catalan defense line that runs practically straight from Reus to the Sant Maurici mountains in the high Pyrenees (13:2927). They opted for a narrow-front attack out of their own bridgehead at the confluence of the Segre and Ebro rivers (13:3030). Both sides provided maximum air support, the Insurgents even diverting all of their bombers except the Savoia-Marchettis from their missions against Valencia. An attempt by Me-109s to intercept the Republicans ended in disaster (K by lowly old I-15), but at least this sacrifice kept the Ratas from interfereing with Insurgent ground support. The attack gained ground as far as Les Borges (13:3029), but, as so often before, the Loyalists managed to avoid any losses.

All other front sectors saw only minor reshuffling of troops.

The Barcelona red-eye continued, but remained ineffective. The diversion of much of the Nationalist bomber force to ground support in Cataluna presented Valencia with a welcome respite from the constant heavy air raids: Only a few SM-79s bombed the dock yards, but without causing significant damage.

LOYALIST AUG I 1938

Not daring to risk a possibly disastrous counterattack, the Loyalists contented themselves with shoring up their front and containing the bulge. Their position is still very strong: One of the two hexes flanking the bulge is a mountain hex, the other is shielded on two hex sides by the Segre river.

While the ground troops played their waiting game, the airforce bestirred itself to launch an attack on the Caspe airbase (13:3332), but with no success—and no losses to anti-aircraft fire either.

COMMENTARY

Another major Insurgent attack that caused no losses! To add insult to injury, Me-109 killed by I-15 (die rolls “12” and “2”), not even to mention the open French border and the lack of results of the air raids on Barcelona and Valencia. And soon the good campaign weather will end!

At least, the “iron line” east of Lerida has been dented (there was a small chance of AS and a minuscule one of AH), and this will stretch the Loyalist front. However, with only this one-hex break in the first line, two more lines to crack to get within 3 hexes of Barcelona, and summer almost over, chances of ending the campaign in 1938 now appear slim.

Only once, about 30 years ago, have I seen a greater streak of enduring luck. That was by a Wehrmacht opponent in an old pbm *Narvik* game, for whom at one time the probability of doing as well as he did dipped below 1 in 100,000 (needless to say, my Norwegians lost). Still a little more than a factor 100 to go to beat that record, Elias!

Well, I shouldn’t complain because this has kept the game going on for so long when both of us expected it to be over in the next few turns.

And another benefit: for lack of options to consider, our pace has picked up tremendously.

JUL II 1938

The war has been raging for two years. Loyalists control has been reduced to the city of Valencia and a small triangle in Cataluna, about 5 percent of Spain’s territory. Nevertheless, there is stalemate with no end in sight.

INSURGENT JUL II 1938

Finally, Lerida has fallen! The hapless and hopeless defenders were overwhelmed by a concentric attack. However, they fulfilled their mission of buying another two weeks of time for the defense of the Segre position.

Farther north, the Nationalists followed up on the Loyalist retreat and closed to the new defense line. No attacks were launched here.

The main action this time was at the coast. Here, the Insurgents attacked along the coast road with support from the Regia Marina, their own Navy, and fighter bombers. Against stiff resistance the Nationalists reached the halfway point between Tortosa and Reus, but once again the Loyalists managed to retreat without taking losses. Dogfights in the air, where Me-109s and Italian Fiats tried to challenge the massive Loyalist air support, saw some CR-32bs and Ratas go down in flames.

The ring around Valencia was tightened, but no attacks on the city were attempted.

Many of the weaker infantry divisions were pulled out of the line. With so short a frontage, there is no longer any use for them.

A massive raid on Valencia’s port caused minor damage (1 hit) and the Barcelona red-eye (SM-81 night bombers) destroyed some industrial facilities.

LOYALIST JUL II 1938

Sitting pretty, the Loyalists did no more than make a few adjustments to their now exceedingly strong front and to pull three Guardia de Asalto brigades out of the line in preparation for assembly of an elite divsion. Even General Miaja has become more sanguine, has even been reported to smile while looking at the situation maps.

COMMENTARY

The Loyalists’ phenomenal luck still continues: another major attack with close to 50% chance of inflicting losses failed to do so, and Insurgent bombing results again well below statistical expectation, French border remained open, guerrilleros succeeded, no one in Valencia surrendered. Yes, Lerida has fallen, but to a 7:1 attack with result guaranteed, and the loss of the coastal hex near Tortosa will not have serious consequences.

Our game is turning stale. The Loyalists in Cataluna now hold a front with only 3 non-mountain hexes, all entrenched, none attackable from more than 2 adjacent hexes of which one or both are cross-river. With 20 to 23CF per hex, the strongest possible Insurgent attacks can achieve 3:1 odds only with lucky percentile rolls. Against the four mountain hexes of the front the odds are even worse. Two back-up lines with only slightly lesser natural obstacles are by now largely fortified or entrenched. There is no room for maneuver, no opportunity for finesse. All the Insurgents can do is keep attacking despite poor odds and hope the occasional HX or EX results will cause more casualties than the Loyalists can replace, and so wear them down eventually. With almost 200 Inf and about 20 Art replacement points accrued, the Insurgents need not fear even AH results and so can risk poor odds. The Loyalists have no choices either: Attacks are out of question as they would consume precious supplies and possibly entail losses. Moreover, an advance upon success of an attack would only be into a more exposed position and invite losses. Even to follow up on Insurgent AH or AR results, the Loyalists would have to stick their neck out, possibly into a noose.

Thanks to their unbelievable luck in avoiding losses to this point, the Loyalists now have enough reserves to make up for the losses in the first three exchange results, reinforcements and replacement will be coming in at a slow but steady pace, and and the end of good weather approaches and will make Insurgent attacks impossible. How the game will go on now depends exclusively on the Insurgent die rolls in their major attacks.

What a shame that this memorable match has to degenerate into a mindless die-rolling contest as it approaches its end. This is not necessarily a critique of the design, however. With less lopsided die rolls than we have seen, the Loyalists are quite unlikely to have much strength left if they ever are reduced to this last patch of Catalan territory. Yet, our experience seems to reveal a viable and practically unbeatable Loyalist strategy to stave off capitulation when things go awry, and so avoid a substantial or decisive Insurgent victory: fortify this line in Cataluna with improved forts, stack ample ASPs at Barcelona (for conversion to GSPs when the French border is closed), see to it that the strongest units retain a path of retreat into the stronghold, and just let the rest of Spain go to hell in a handbasket as slowly as possible.

Last time I commented on some strange facets of the port rules as interpreted by our guru. Meanwhile John Astell was so kind to send me explanations. The guru rulings indeed correspond to what John intended, but in any future game that will have natural harbor(s) and the “functioning” concept, there will be a special rule for the latter.

 

JUL I 1938

INSURGENT JUL I 1938

Undaunted by their earlier failure, the Insurgents renewed their attempts to dent the Cataluna front north of Lerida. This time they succeeded and reached the Segre at Balaguer (at 23:3129), upstream of Lerida. The latter city is now in what has become an endangered bridgehead. However, the Loyalists once again beat the odds, managing to retreat without taking losses.

Over the battelfield, the largest air battle of the war to date was fought. Insurgent fighters attacked well-escorted Republican ground support aircraft. While losing some outclassed Fiat CR-32s (one K) they brought down some Ratas and SB-2s (one A each) and forced the R-Zs to turn tail, leaving only a lone squadron of SB-2 over the trenches. While this was going on, Nationalist fighter bombers provided ground support undisturbed.

Meanwhile, mop-up around Castellon was completed. The last defenders of the smoldering town, the 22 Infantry Division, were overrun after their supporting artillery had called it quits. Construction brigades were brought in to build an air strip for fighters to protect the Navy blockading Valencia, repair the coastal rail line to connect Tortosa with Sagunto and Teruel, and start to get the port repaired.

In the environs of Valencia the defenses of the Chiva outpost were crushed in a massive assault by no less than 15 infantry divisions (though second-rate ones) and assorted support troops. Now only the city of Valencia itself is still firmly in Loyalist hands. However, the commander’s stinginess in allocating supplies backfired: A Guardia di Assalto battalion and an artilley regiment quit their positions in disgust and deserted to Franco’s soldiers.

The Nationalists withdrew security guards from the Miranda de Ebro-Valladolid rail connection so they could take over new duty on the recently conquered communication lines in Valencia province.

The entire Insurgent bomber force was called upon for massive raids on Valencia’s factories by all available aircraft: Junkers, Heinkels, Savoia-Marchettis, new Dorniers, and others in scrapped-together squadrons. Unbelievably, none of the six attacks scored a hit. However, the SM-81 red-eye finally managed to cause some damage to factories in Barcelona.

LOYALIST JUL I 1938

Swayed by the entreaties of Loyalist emissaries, the French Parliament decided once again to open the border to Spain. As long as it lasts, this takes the sting out the impending loss of Lerida by providing supply bases. (Three connected cities are needed, and without Lerida the Loyalists have only Barcelona and Tarragona, but France counts as a third if the border is open.)

In northern Cataluna, the Loyalists gave up ground in the Pyrenees to consolidate their troops in a shorter front forward of the upper Segre. They also withdrew most troops from Lerida. Only one infantry division and some construction workers were left behind in the city, where they busied themselves destroying everything that could be of value to the enemy.

In southern Cataluna, small corrections were made to improve the defenses. Preparations were initiated for construction of a third line of defense running from Tarragona to the Pyrenees.

The Loyalists command also managed to reconstitute two more infantry divisions that will make their front stronger than ever.

The airforce remained inactive, licking their wounds.

COMMENTARY

The Loyalists’ phenomenal luck continued unabated. What a turn! Another major attack weathered without loss, massive raids on Valencia causing not the slightest damage, the French border reopened, guerrillero strike successful, Natinalist imports to S.Sebastian turned back. The only flies in the ointment: air combat results no better than average, a night hit on Barcelona, and higher than statistical surrender losses at Valencia (not that that matters much).

Since the Aragon-Cataluna offensive started in MAR II, there have been 11 major attacks, all but one with higher than 50% chance of inflicting losses, but only two of them did that. The chance of getting away with losses no heavier than this is 6 to 7 in 1000. If it had been the other way round, a statistically somewhat more probable outcome, not a single CF would now be left in Cataluna. Frustration in the Nationalist command is reaching the boiling point. Interestingly, the only two attacks causing casualties occurred at the time when the Loyalists were receiving their massive reinforcements, so the disruption remained minimal. On the other hand, they were among the more important attacks as they helped to open the way to the coast.

On another matter, our guru reversed an earlier ruling regarding port damage: Engineers repairing an artifical harbor now remove 2RE of damage per 4MP spent rather than only 1. Also, he ruled the column headed “Maximum” in the Port Summary is to be read as the number of HITS that can be inflicted, NOT the maximum damage in RE capacity. This has very strange consequences: To make an artificial port non-“functioning” now calls for more than twice as many hits as are needed to reduce its capacity to zero; In contrast, a natural port (if there were one in Bell Tolls) would stop “functioning” when still having almost half its RE capacity operative. Based on his recollection of a conversion with John Astell regarding ports in an earlier game (with practically identical wording of the relevant rules) he had at first ruled that bombs or demolition score double hits of damage, but engineers still repair the damage only one RE at a time per 4MP spent, as would seem more logical. This new Supreme-Court ruling profoundly changes the situation at Valencia, which will now be very much harder to conquer: a Malta in Spain! The guru’s interpretation can be construed from the rules as written, but I can’t believe it is what the designers intended. If they did, I’d be interested in hearing their rationale re artificial and natural ports. In any event, I hope the rules for these will be worked over before we get to Grand Europa or another game with such ports.

 

JUN II 1938

INSURGENT JUNE II 1938

Having consolidated their position around Tortosa and being faced with natural obstacles and strong defenses, the Nationalists shifted their Schwerpunkt once again to the north, attacking from the Noguera river north of Lerida toward the upper Segre. However, the Loyalists held fast, as they did in the first attack on that front way back in …..

Meanwhile, the Valencia pocket is falling apart. The defection of the 36th Division entrusted with guarding the Teruel-Valencia highway opened up an avenue to the sea. Nationalist infantry poured through the gap and reached the shore at Sagunto and Vall de Uxo (23:3703 and 3702), cutting the pocket in two. Mop-up in the foothills north of Castellon bagged some more Loyalist die-hards, including the glorious 2nd Shock Brigade, which, however, fought to the last man and inflicted serious losses on the attackers. Castellon itself, in ruins and with its port facilities completely devastated by sappers, was not attacked, but the situation of its defenders is desperate. At the fringes of the Valencia portion of the pocket, Nationalists following the Loyalist retreat flooded over the Jucar river and closed to the city proper from the south and east. An Anarchist brigade northwest of the city was wiped out after its supporting artillery had surrendered. At Chiva (23:3704) on the Cuenca-Valencia rail line, a lone, strongly manned and artillery-supported outpost is still resisting. Valencia itself is securely garrisoned by the Loyalists’ finest, including the two best International Divisions, and is well-stocked with supplies (25CF and 10ASP).

The Insurgents started to pull their strongest units out from the Valencia front, including the Navarrese Corps that had been advancing on Castellon from the Ebro estuary. Reduction of the Valencia and Castellon pockets is now left to the B-team. Also, with supply lines to Valencia from both Albacete and Calatayud now well in hand, the Insurgents withdrew their security forces from the Aranjuez-Cuenca-Valencia road and rail line

.

After having nursed their wounds and rebuilt to respectable strength, the Republican Airforce made an appearance over the battlefield north of Lerida in aid of their brethren on the ground. Me-109s of the Legion Condor rose to the challenge and shot down some escorting Ratas, but were unable to hold off the figher bombers. Nevertheless, their keeping the Ratas busy enabled Nationalist fighter bombers to intervene in the ground combat.

Valencia’s port came under attack by He-111 and Ju-52 bombers. Despite remarkable accurate anti-aircraft fire that forced the He-111s to turn back, the old Ju’s flown by Nationalist crews caused some damage. The Barcelona red-eye continued, but once again remained ineffective.

LOYALIST JUNE II 1938

Having weathered the Nationalist onslaught at the Noguera north of Lerida, the Loyalists in Cataluna contented themselves with minor adjustments to their front.

At Castellon the defection continued. Only the 22 Infantry Division and one artillery regiment are still holding out in the destroyed city. The defenders of Valencia and the Chiva outpost on the Cuenca rail line (23:3704) are bracing for whatever may come.

Influx of materiel continued despite the naval blockade. Supplies reached both Barcelona and Valencia. the Airforce remained inactive, but was strengthened by another squadron of Ratas.

COMMENTARY

After their streak of misfortune in their two attempts to reopen the way to Valencia, the Loyalists’ traditional spectacular luck has returned. All major Nationalist attacks since then have failed with the worst possible die rolls. The chance of getting away scot-free as they did, and with loss of territory only when that was guaranteed by the odds, was less than 2%. If this continues, capitulation by game’s end can still be averted. However, a similar streak in favor of the Insurgents would end the game then and there.

This turn of events has given the Loyalists time to rebuild entrenchments or forts all along their short front and along most of a back-up line one hex behind. This and the good defensive terrain now make it impossible for the Insurgents to get attack odds that preclude AS, and will force them into some that risk AR or even AH. Moreover, they can get even such odds only in good weather and with combat engineers that negate the fortification effect and will be lost in HX or EX results. Attrition in combat engineers, replaceable only at a rate of 1 RE per month, may could even bring the Cataluna offensive to a halt before the weather turns nasty. More than ever, the Insurgents’ only hope of achieving more than a “marginal” victory now is in avoiding a continuation of the adverse die rolls (the VPs for continued Catalan resistance and avoidance of capitulation, accruing from late ’38 onward, are apt to bring the final VP ratio down to less than 3:1 if a front three or more hexes forward of Barcelona can be held).