The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Month: August 1999

OCT I 1938

INSURGENT OCT I 1938

Storm clouds racing overhead, but no rain yet (roll of “5” when a “6” would have produced mud). On the ground, Franco’s elite is racing against time to plow through the Pasionaria line while the sun still shines. The best troops, the last combat engineers, all the heavy artillery thrown in, all the mechanized forces held ready to exploit or at least consolidate any gains, the entire airforce called upon for support including even the lumbering Savoia-Marchettis that used to blast Barcelona’s industry and Valencia’s docks. From an assembly area around Guissona and Tarrega (13:3227 and 3328) the main thrust was launched along the Lerida-Barcelona highway and rail line toward Cervera and Calaf (3327), with Manresa and then the Catalan capital as the final shining objectives.

In the skies over the battlefield, the greatest clash of the war occurred, with disastrous results for the Republican Airforce. National and Italian Fiats took on the escorting Ratas and brought down a good number (one K) at no own losses to speak of. With the Ratas kept busy, Condor and National Me-109s lit into the hapless SB-2s and shot down or chased away every one of them (one K one A). This left the skies free for the Insurgent ground support aircraft to roam as they pleased.

On the ground, however, things didn’t go so well. Despite all the best effort the attack stalled (a “1” at 4:1 -1, a 1 in 6 chance to avert capitulation, and Elias’ legendary luck returned). All will now depend on whether the weather will allow another attempt, one that certainly would be against even stiffer opposition.

Northwest of the Segre, a concentric attack overwhelmed the hapless 71 People’s Army Divison, defenders of what was left of the Tremp salient (13:3128). About 5000 prisoners were taken. The capture of this position opens up a good supply line to the troops in the high Pyrenees all the way to near the Andorran border.

To the south, troops following up on the Loyalist withdrawal moved into the rugged Sierra de Montsant and occupied Falset (13:3429) without meeting resistance. Both Ebro banks are now controlled by the Nationalists along the entire length of the mighty river.

Italian submarines took up station on the approaches to Barcelona, standing by to intercept expected large convoys with materiel reportedly on their way from the Soviet Union.

In Barcelona, emergency meeting after emergency meeting. Near panic and a scramble to secure a way to get to France. Then the news that the front has held despite all odds. For the time being, at least.

Meanwhile in Valencia, unrest between the citizenry and soldiers of the International Lister and Campesino Divisions mounted. Open calls of “go home” are becoming ever more frequent, even though the departure of those foreigners would almost certainly deliver the city into Franco’s hands. (The Loyalists must withdraw 7 RE of Internationals, and at least one of them will have to be a division from Valencia because there are not enough other RE left.)

In France, Leon Blum is preparing a challenge to the government and hopes to force re-elections by end of November. If he succeeds, the French border might well be opened again (we start rolling again DEC I if the game hasn’t ended before).

COMMENTARY

This is indeed a race to the wire. On the possibly last day of fair weather the Insurgents finally got to attack a hex within the magic 3 hexes from Barcelona. To have a unit in supply so near to Big B at the start of a game turn would result automatically in the collapse of the Catalan government (-2 die roll modifier starting OCT I 38), and with all gobernietos (Carlos’s spelling) collapsed and Madrid in Insurgent hands, the central government would follow suit. Only an Insurgent combat roll of “1” could prevent that, and Elias promptly got his wish. Now the Insurgents might get one more chance: the weather must hold (50% probability) and the next attack, certainly at less favorable but probably still acceptable odds must succeed (at 3:1 -1 a chance of 2 in 6, but with risk of a disastrous AR).

Once mud arrives, the negative combat modifiers make attacks against the strong, fortified line a practical impossibility. There is still the summer of ’39 to come, but from November on the Loyalists collect VPs for survival of the Catalan government, from January on for that of the central government. This one single die roll may well have made the difference between an overwhleming decisive Insurgent victory (at about a 6:1 VP ratio when only 4:1 is needed for decisive) or a merely marginal one (at a ratio between 1.5 and 3).

This was a race to the wire in still another respect: For this last attack the Insurgents were down to their last three RE of combat engineers, whose +1 modifier against the entrenchments or forts is so desperately needed in the attacks on fortified positions (some of the DR results in the past suddenly don’t look quite so bad anymore!). Lack of combat engineers alone would have called for a pause in the operations until some stock was build up again at that miserly rate of 1 RE per month.

LOYALIST OCT I 1938

The first of the expected shipments of materiel from the Soviet Union arrived in Barcelona. The blockading Italian submarines sank one freighter and forced several others to turn back, but could not prevent about half of the ships to reach their destination.

After the “Miracle of Cervera” in which they improbably weathered the assault by the very best the enemy could field, the Loyalists had an easy time to reinforce their Cataluna front. Two shock division were rehabilitated and several artillery regiments equipped with the new materiel from Stalin, and all were sent post-haste to the front. Any further attacks will now meet with even stiffer resistance, not even to mention that rain is bound to come sooner or later and put a stop to offensive operations.

In Valencia, new units were raised by yet another draft and new artillery fielded from factory production. Also, with more citizenry pressed into labor, some damage to the port was repaired.

The hardest decision for the Loyalist command was how to deal with the problem of the International Brigades. In the end, a compromise was reached in Valencia with the withdrawal of the most rambuntious Campesino Division and Dombrowski Brigade, but with Lister’s staying on. (How the troops sneaked out under the noses of the Nationalist Fleet is another miracle that kind rules of the game provided for.) In Cataluna, the Thaelmann, Garribaldi, and Marty Brigades were relunctantly let go.

The Airforce once again licked its wounds, but was able to put some SB-2 attack bombers back into service. None the less, the airmen find themselves outnumbered in the skies by worse than 5:1.

COMMENTARY

After all the excitement, an anticlimactic and rather predictable player turn. The only question was how the Loyalists would deal with the mandated withdrawal of 7 RE of International Units. They split the load between Cataluna and Valencia. With the newly raised units, the front in Cataluna is now stronger than before, and Valencia still musters 20 CF.

All the excitement now is what the weather will be. There are low-pressure areas approaching, and the chance of substantial rainfall is about fifty-fifty. Everyone is watching the barometer and listening to the forecasts, though they are cronically unreliable at this time of the year.

 

SEP II 1938

INSURGENT SEP II 1938

To make most of the remaining days of fair weather, the Insurgents kept pressing their offensive in northern Cataluna. Their main thrust was just south of the Segre, to widen the breach in the second defense line and secure a broader basis for an attack on the last, the Pasionaria line. The Loyalists were still shaken from their losses at Tarrega (this time a stack of “only” 19CF), but the offensive has now run out of the open Pla d’Urgell and must contend will more rugged terrain. Heavy losses were taken on both sides (EX). The Nationalists advanced to Ponts and Igualada (13:3227). This makes the position of the Loyalist mountain salient at and south of Tremp (13:3128) even more precarious.

The Nationalist troops enjoyed massive air support while the Republican Airforce studiously kept out of the way in understandable fear of the new Me-109-Ds. Also, there is now some fuel shortage (Barcelona airbase has no supply line, and resource points must be used to keep the aircraft at full performance).

Inexplicably, the Sierra de Montsant (13:3429), though only weakly held, was not attacked. The local Nationalist commander, General Conte de Monte, a reputed alcoholic, was promptly fired and will be court-martialed (a miscalculation).

The Barcelona red-eye continued, but accurate anti-aircraft fire brought down some of the Savoia-Marchettis night bombers and spoiled the aim of the rest. Their sisters revisited Valencia’s docks, but caused no damage either.

The Fleet returned to Cartagena while the submarines resumed their tight blockade of Valencia.

LOYALIST SEP II 1938

The Loyalists had to scramble a bit to shore up their front after having suffered substantial losses. Their saving grace: the mountains (13:3226) on which they can now anchor their most threatened right flank.

In the north, the bulk of the Loyalist troops withdrew from the Tremp salient, leaving only one infantry division behind as rearguard. In the south, the Sierra de Montsant (13:3429) was evacuated to shorten the front. Reus is now in the front line.

All remained quiet at Valencia.

Neither Navy nor Airforce carried out operations.

COMMENTARY

By now, the only remaining position of the first, “iron” defense line is the mountain salient south of Tremp (13:3128). The second, intermediate defense line is breached from the Segre at Ponts to Tarrega (13:3227 and 3328). The third and last defense line, named after La Pasionaria and her “no pasaran,” is still intact but threatened.

In game terms, what the Insurgents now need is another turn of good weather (a 5 in 6 chance) and success with an attack on the last defense line, a chance of a little over 60% (calculated with incremental percentile odds). If they succeed, the game is likely to be over because a Loyalist counterattack has almost zero chance of success. If they fail and the weather turns poor in OCT II, the game can still drag on for quite some time.