The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Month: July 1999

SEP I 1938

INSURGENT SEP I 1938

With summer time beginning to run out, the Insurgents kept pressing their attack on the Pla d’Urgell along the Lerida-Barcelona rail line. They ran head-on into the elite Asalto and Choque formations the Loyalists had newly assembled and sent to this most threatened spot of their front (stack of 26CF, strongest so far). Possibly for lack of combat experience of their troops, this time for once the Loyalists suffered heavy casualties (HX). With ample support by almost the entire Insurgent airforce, Franco’s men broke into the bunker lines and reached Tarrega (13:3328), only about 100 km from Barcelona. However, this success was paid for with heavy losses of combat engineers.

The Legion Condor was overjoyed finally to receive some long-requested new Me-109D fighters, superior to the newest I-16/t10 Ratas. Their presence and the licking suffered last week over the Pla d’Urgell discouraged the Republicans airmen, who did not dare leave Barcelona’s anti-aircraft umbrella. A few of the new 109Ds, along with what remained of the older B types, were passed on to the Nationalists, whose training with them should be completed by October (good die roll of “2” for becoming operative).

The Barcelona red-eye continued like clockwork but, as so often before, neither anti-aircraft fire nor bombs had any effect. Meanwhile at Valencia, the docks suffered more damage from SM-79s attacking at daytime. More than 80% of the port’s capacity is now destroyed.

The Insurgent Navy changed tactics. Submarines under fighter cover now roam off the Catalan coast while the surface fleet has taken over the blockade of Valencia.

LOYALIST SEP I TURN

The defeat at Tarrega saw the three best Loyalist divisions reduced to cadres. Nevertheless, the Loyalists managed to patch up their front in a fashion and held onto most of their positions. They retreated in the high Pyrenees to La Seu d’Urgell (13:3126), but left a major force of corps strength in the salient at Tremp (13:3128). Also, most of the troops in the rugged Sierra de Montsant (13:3429) were withdrawn and the defense of that stronghold left to one infantry division.

No news at Valencia.

The Loyalist naval command decided to attempt sneaking a convoy of empty freighters from Barcelona to Valencia at night with the intent of evacuating some personnel from the beleaguered city. For lack of escort vessels the convoy had to sail without protection. Off Tarragona it was set upon promptly by Italian submarines that mercilessly hunted down every one of the ships, sank the last at daybreak (it took 4 rounds of combat), then radioed to Tarragona to invite coastal craft to pick up survivors.

Because of the submarine menace, new Ratas from the Soviet Union originally destined for Barcelona were diverted to Valencia, from where they transferred unhindered to Catalan fields.

COMMENTARY

The Insurgents finally inflicted a loss! (They just sneaked by with a percentile roll of 84 when 89+ would have given another DR.) Ironically, they did so on the lowest-odds of the major attacks during the Aragon-Cataluna summer offensive. Previously they had often “rolled too high,” that is, getting a DR when a roll lower by 1 or 2 would have produced a much more favorable exchange result.

The capture of Tarrega (13:3328), on the Lerida-Barcelona rail line, constitutes the first crack in the second-from last Loyalist defense line shielding the Catalan heartland. If they want to end the war in ’38, the Insurgents now have gain broad enough a basis for an attack on the last, Pasionaria line and break it before the rainy season starts. In mud and even in winter weather that line will be hard to crack. (In game terms, what is needed is for October still to be fair and that at least two of the next three major attacks will succeed.) Once the Pasionaria line is broken, the Catalan government is apt to call it quits and drag the central government down with it (with Madrid in Insurgent hands and the -2 modifier on the Success Table from October ’38 on, Cataluna will collapse if an Insurgent unit is within 3 hexes of Barcelona and can trace a supply line). However, an early arrival of the rainy season may give the Loyalists the respite they would need to make this last-ditch line almost impregnable by ’39. (It’s all in the die rolls now!)

After the thorough drubbing the Republican airforce received in August over the Pla d’Urgell and with the new Me-109s at the front and more to come into service in October, the Insurgents are now assured of almost complete control of the skies. This comes at an opportune time because the troops on the ground will need all the air support they can get in order to break through the last defense lines.

 

AUG II 1938

Insurgent AUG II 1938

The Nationalists continued their Cataluna offensive, keeping their Schwerpunkt on the Pla d’Urgell, northeast of Lerida and south of the Segre river. Storming the towns of Balaguer and Artesa de Segre (13:3228), Franco’s soldiers cut the main supply roads to the Republicans up north in the high Pyrenees. But the Loyalists managed yet another time to retreat without incurring losses.

Over the battlefield, another Battle Royal ensued as both sides fought for control of the skies and tried to provide ground support. The shamed Condor Me-109s avenged their recent abysmal performance and redeemed themselves, taking on the escorting Ratas and raking up a record number of kills (one K one A) at no own losses. Italian and Nationalist fighters then attacked the escorted Loyalist ground attack missions and brought down a good many of the bombers (two A) at the loss of some Italian Fiats (1A).

All other sectors remained quiet.

The Barcelona red-eye continued, but again without yielding results. Valencia was a different story: Unincumbered by anti-aircraft fire (batteries out of ammunition) an armada of Savoia-Marchettis, Heinkels, Dorniers, Junkers, and assorted other aircraft hammered the docks and added to the previous damage (2 more hits).

LOYALIST AUG II TURN

The French border has remained open, but for how long? With elections coming up in France and Daladier’s new right-of-center coalition assured to gain the majority, the gates are bound to snap shut.

The Loyalists withdrew from their forward positions in the high Pyrenees to a new line that can be supplied through La Seu d’Urgell near Andorra. At the main Cataluna front they had no trouble containing the break in their “iron line” but did not venture to counterattack. Troops were reshuffled in response to alarming rumors that a good portion of the International Brigades would be withdrawn soon.

The Republican Airforce, down to just one squadron each of Ratas and SB-2, was able to rehabilitate a few more fighters, but otherwise did little but argue among themselves over the disaster at Balaguer.

COMMENTARY

The Insurgents had to choose between a northern and a southern strategy: whether to continue pushing in northern Cataluna along the Segre and the Lerida-Barcelona rail line, or at the coast to liquidate the bothersome Sierra Monsant mountain salient (13:3429) and then advance on Barcelona via Tarragona. The North won out. It offers slightly lesser terrain obstacles, but there is now no realistic chance of getting to Tarragona, vitally important as a supply city, before the leaves fall.

With the Nationalist advance on the Pla d’Urgell, the Loyalist “iron line” is now a shambles: Its sole remains are the mountain positions of the Sierra Montsant (13:3429), now a precarious salient, and around Tremp (13:3027 and 3128) in the Pyrenees. There are, however, two more lines to crack. The intermediate line from Reus to the Noguera headwaters (13:3026) has only two clear-terrain hexes plus two rough and two mountain ones. The last-ditch line from Tarragona to La Seu d’Urgell (13:3126) just southwest of Andorra is even stronger with only a single clear-terrain hex (Tarragona), and that attackable from only one adjacent hex, plus two rough, one wooded-rough, and two mountain hexes. The Insurgents are in a race against time: They now need quite a bit of luck to crack both these lines before the raindrops fall and put an end to the offensive.

Once again the Loyalists managed to remain unharmed. Their record now stands at doing so eight times in a row and in 12 out of the last 14 major attacks, most of them with well above 50% probability of causing loss. The probability of faring so well is now down to about 1 in 1000. However, this streak has remained confined to the major ground attacks. In the air the story has often been quite different. For example, this turn the Loyalists suffered one K and three A while inflicting only one A in combat with on the average only slightly inferior odds. And in the past the Insurgent airforce had some quite improbable luck in attacks that wiped out the Loyalist Navy. Unfortunately for the Insurgents, it’s the major ground attacks that matter most, especially at this stage of the game. An HX or EX in the last attack would probably have broken the back of the Cataluna defenses; now the game is still wide open.