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Category: FWtBT AAR No 1 (page 1 of 6)

SPANISH CIVIL WAR: Highlights and Comments

This was a truly fascinating and exciting match. Here is a brief recap:

AUG 36: Great battle for Gijon, which changes hands three times, finally secured by Insurgents with help of Regia Marina which sinks the entire Republican Atlantic Fleet. Another RM squadron helps a weak Insurgent force to secure Malaga, whose main garrison had taken to the hills in a futile foray against Granada. Basques and Santanderos on offensive, but attack on Pamplona fails. PA cavalry raiders from Cataluna penetrate into Zaragoza but are overcome. Teruel is surrounded.

SEP 36: Insurgents break through overextended Loyalist lines to seize Bilbao and San Sebastian. Santander falls soon after. Breakout of pocketed Basques southward to join main Loyalist forces in Aragon fails. Loyalists take Zaragoza and Huesca. teruel supply by air drops holds out.

OCT 36: Mop-up in the Biscay gobiernitos is completed. Insurgents secure Sierra Guadarrama (north of Madrid), recapture Toledo, take Guadalajara. Almeria changes hands three times and Insurgents advance to just short of Lorca. Loyalists finally overwhelm defenders of Teruel.

NOV 36: Insurgents shred front south of Madrid. Alcazar de San Juan on Madrid-Murcia rail line changes hands three times.

DEC 36: Insurgents cut last rail line into Madrid north of Cuenca. Loyalists abandon supply corridor to Madrid, hole up in city.

FEB 37: Madrid falls. Insurgents shift troops to start offensive in Aragon. At south front Lorca is taken.

MAR 37: Insurgents recapture Zaragoza.

APR 37: Insurgents Aragon offensive reaches Cinca river. Barcelona revolts.

JUN 37: Insurgents stop Aragon offensive, initiate new one south of Madrid, take Albacete.

AUG 37: Loyalist front in Murcia breaks, Legion Condor’s 88 Regiment races through gap to cut vital coast road at Alcira, just short of Valencia, hold out until relieved.

NOV-DEC 37: Cartagena-Murcia-Alicante pocket is liquidated.

JAN 38: Insurgents start new Aragon offensive along Ebro.

APR 38: Condor 88 Regiment reaches sea just south of Tortosa. Loyalist attempts to break through corridor to sea fail.

JUN 38: Tortosa falls.

JUL 38: Valencia pocket implodes, Loyalists retreat best units into city, Insurgents mop up everyone else. Lerida falls.

OCT 38: After months of slugging, Insurgents finally break into Cataluna’s last, Pasionaria defense line shielding Barcelona. Loyalist counterattack fails to restore front, which disintegrates.

NOV 38: Cataluna collapses. Last-minute Insurgent attack on Valencia fails. Loyalist government surrenders.

The highlights were the great battle for Gijon, the breakthrough to Bilbao and San Sebastian that broke the back of the northern front, the capture of Zaragoza by the Loyalists, the siege of Teruel, the envelopment and capture of Madrid, the Condors’ 88’s two races to the sea at Alcira and Tortosa, and the final shredding of the Pasionaria line.

This contest certainly had the drastic changes of pace typical for Bell Tolls Civil War games: from the chaotic scrambling at very low unit density and raids far behind porous font lines to consolidation of positions, to World War One-style slugging to crack entrenched defenses hex by hex, to eventual disintegration of one side’s front. Early on there was ample opportunity for daring maneuver. Then, when the Insurgents had gained the initiative, it was their choices of where in Spain to attack to best effect. The last phase then a head-on pounding of maximum-strength stacks against maximum-strength stack on an ever narrowing front.

Yes, with no longer any room to maneuver, that last phase would have been quite dull, had it not turned into a race against time with everything depending on a very few nail-biter die rolls. The Insurgents made it just under the wire, on the last turn of fair weather with their last combat engineers and almost last ASPs (only 2 were left) and just before the Loyalists would have started to collect VPs for Cataluna and then the central government not having collapsed.

Success in that race gave the Insurgents a lopsided VP score, two-and-a-half times as high as needed for a “decisive” victory (see below), properly reflecting the sorry state of their opponents at the end: control shrunk to only 3% of Spains area, 274 RE in the pool, the Fleet gone except for two LCs, the airforce down to two squadrons, all that as opposed to the Insurgents with only 3 RE in the pool (combat engineers), over 200 replacement points accumulated, the airforce completely intact, the Fleet still at respectable strength, nine factories producing. However, the score obscures how close-run the game actually was. If the Cataluna front had held for one more turn, weather would have put a stop to attacks (3:1 -3 at best is a recipe for attacker’s disaster), the Loyalists would have started to garner VPs every turn and, if they had held out until May, the score would have dropped to a “substantial” or even only “marginal” victory (ratios below 4:1 and 3:1, respectively). That “marginal” (ratio above 1.5:1) as a minimum was never in doubt, however.

Victory Point Score

 

Insurgents:  
current score Oct II 300
Cataluna collapse 20
enemy surrender 100
pacified cities held 222
enemy pool 274
surrendering enemy units 108
total 1024
   
Loyalists  
current score Oct II 98
enemy pool 3
total  
   
VP Ratio (Insurgents : Loyalists) 14:1

 

I believe both Elias and I at first underestimated one another. Even later on, our attacks were well planned and executed, but often did not fully anticipate possible enemy reaction. I learned a lesson early on at Gijon, Elias a little later when he lost Bilbao and San Sebastian, but neither of us ever quite overcame that tendency.

In retrospect, my greatest mistake was not to switch my trucks earlier from supply ferrying to motorizing artillery for support of my puny unsupported m/c units to threaten overruns in exploitation. I could have forced Elias earlier to provide stronger back-stops, to the detriment of his front-line strength. Elias overextended himself early on in the north and in an attempt to link up with the Basques along the French border, and paid for it. Also, I believe it was a mistake to have his strongest divisions in the mountains at Teruel, backed-up even though they had overrun-proof cadres (he even fortified the mountain hex on the Teruel-Valencia RR) and in a position they later on had to abandon without a fight. Second-line divisions could have held that spot, that fort would have been better placed in Cataluna, and the elite was later sorely missed there. Instead, the heavies then languished in Valencia, whose fall would not have materially affected the game. But then, he might give you an argument to the contrary.

The last phase with its predictable slugging on a four-hex front to which all of Spain had been reduced was exasperating except for the suspense of seeing how the die rolls would turn out. But that is not typical of Bell Tolls: Normally, if the Loyalists were swept from everywhere into so little a corner, they’d collapse from attrition in a very short time. In our game, Elias managed to avid losses in almost all major attacks. In these, his luck index (probability of faring so well or better) in the end stood at abour 1 in 1000, and that kept his front and the game alive for so long.

To be sure, that fantastic luck index pertains only to the one-per turn major Insurgent attacks in Aragon and Cataluna. Overall, things were much more even, with the Loyalists only slightly ahead. Specifically, luck was against the Loyalist in their counterattacks to break the corridor to the sea that cut off Valencia and to restore the last, Pasionaria line (they fumbled the chance of trying to break the corridor that formed the Cartagena-Murcia pocket) as well as in air-to-air combat and destruction of the Loyalist Fleet by naval combat, bombing, and submarines.

The last phase with Republican units rotated on limited supply from Barcelona city hexes required a fearsome amount of bookkeeping: about fifty units with eventually seven different states of the U-clock, and few stacks with units in fewer than four different such states. We might have saved ouselves some work by stipulating that everyone would be in full supply as long as the Loyalists would convert at least 4 ASP per turn to GSP, but then we could have run into trouble if, because of poor French-border rolls come December, the stockpile of ASPs in Cataluna had run out. The effect of the U-clock being reset by limited supply may be right, but someone should come up with a better idea how to achieve it.

This wrap-up would not be complete without my stressing that Elias and I played this game WITH, not AGAINST one another. This was a friendly game played for enjoyment, not for the sake of winning. We pointed out to one another obvious goofs or clerical errors rather than trying to exploit them, and the frequent differences in rule interpretation (once or twice in the other party’s favor!) were always quickly settled in a spirit of friendly cooperation. In Bell Tolls with its convoluted, disorganized, and not always unambiguous rules this is a must, but we went well beyond that call of duty. From among all the opponents I have played in decades, if I had to choose one for my next game, it would be Elias.

Well, here you’ve had my story. Elias might add a few words from his perspective of the game, maybe even point out some errors of mine I still haven’t realized. And if we ever play again, we’ll be sure to let you in on it.

this game report (c) 1999 Friedrich Helfferich

 

NOV II: SURRENDER !!

Azana, Negrin, and the communists Togliatti and La Pasionaria fled to France to join ex-Premier Largo Caballero in exile. The government has ceased to exist (with the last gobiernito collapsed and Madrid Insurgent-held, the game’s surrender conditions were met). Franco’s troops entered Barcelona in a victory parade.

Meanwhile, the Republican leadership in Valencia succeeded in negotiating surrender under the condition of no reprisals except against criminals. The Nationlist troops entered the city, showered with flowers from balkonies in the middle-class sections, met with stony silence in the workers’ districts.

After more than two years, the war is over.

You will still receive the final victory-point count (to be confirmed by Elias) and a wrap-up to put the entire game. For now: it truly was an absolute great and exciting game which both Elias and I enjoyed very much.

 

NOV I 1938

INSURGENT NOV I 1938

Companys has thrown in the towel, the Catalan military command has ceased to exist. Catalan troops everywhere laid down their arms and just went home (automatic with the -2 modifier after OCT I). However, the central government has not yet capitulated, though Azana and Negrin have moved to Gerona, a step closer to sanctuary in France.

Nationalist mountain troops moved into La Seu d’Urgell (13:3225) and disarmed the Catalan garrison. Farther south, the Nationalists in an almost desultory fashion advanced into positions around Cardona (3326), Calaf, and Igualada (3426) abandoned by the Republicans when beaten back at Cervera. The only real combat action was at Sta. Coloma de Queralt (3427) where a hapless People’s Army division was evicted from their sector of the Pasionaria line. The Nationalists are within sight of Manresa and Terrassa and within less than 50 km from Barcelona. A Republican corps is entirely cut off in the mountains at Solsona (3226) and strongest remaining People’s Army contingent around Reus, and Montblanch (3428) is outflanked.

The main action was at Valencia, where a radio appeal by General Queipo de Llano for unconditional surrender, given in his famed, sherry-seasoned voice had fallen on deaf ears, whereupon General Varela had ordered an all-out assault. Most of the elite divisions and heavy artillery had been transferred from the Catalan front to join the Navarrese Corps, and the entire Insurgent airforce gave support. However, despite this concentration of strength the attack was beaten back (AR).

LOYALIST NOV I 1938

The demoralized People’s Army remnants in Cataluna, largely abandoned by their leaders and in untenable positions, took no action. The command in Valencia, well aware that supplies are running low and that their successful defense against a first assault had only postponed the inivitable, is still negotiating.

 

OCT II 1938

INSURGENT OCT II 1938

Although weather has turned cloudy and windy in the north, the rain has held off so far. This has given the Insurgents one more chance to gain victory before offensive operations have to be stopped because of mud. With only minor adjustments, the assault on Cervera and Calaf (13:3327) on the Lerida-Barcelona axis was renewed, this time against even stronger opposition.

In the skies over the battlefield, the Republican airforce bestirred itself to a last, heroic effort. The just rehabilitated SB-2s with puny Rata escort attempted to aid their troops on the ground. The Italian Fiats tangled indecisively with the Ratas while the Me-109s made mincemeat out of the SB-2s (K). So far, the Me-109D has lived up to its reputation, scoring kills in each engagement at no own losses.

On the ground, Franco’s elite, stung by their failure last week, had vowed now to crush resistance or die in the attempt. This time they succeeded in breaking into the Pasionaria line and taking hard-fought-for Cervera and Calaf. True to form, the Loyalists managed to avoid substantial losses (DR) but, with their last line of resistance before Barcelona cracked open, their chances now look dim to say the least.

In the Pyrenees, Nationalist mountain troops followed up on the Loyalist retreat and closed to the Andorran border and the upper Segre river. They are now within sight of La Seu d’Urgell (13:3225), the anchor of the new Loyalist line and still very strongly held.

Forces no longer needed at the much shortened front in the Pyrenees were moved to Valencia, possibly for an all-out assault on that city should the weather hold.

The Fleet and Italian submarines continued their patrols off the Catalan coast and Valencia.

COMMENTARY

Finally: a hex within 3 of Barcelona gained! For sure, the Loyalists will mount a desperation counterattack to either regain the position or cut the supply line to it. They still have respectable strength and armor to support such an attack, but it will be at poor odds. If they don’t succeed, the Catalan government will fall and drag the central government down with it.

The outcome is still in doubt. The best-laid plans of men and mice (or was that cabbages and kings??)…, and “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings,” as the saying goes. So keep tuned in!

LOYALISY OCT II 1938

As expected, unperturbable General Miaja scrounged together what he could lay his hands on to stage a desperation counterattack against Cervera (13:3327) to restore the Pasionaria line. The attack was spearheaded by all available armor including a battalion equipped with brand-new Soviet BT-5 cruiser tanks (of American Christie design). Also, most of the anti-aircraft batteries were brought forward from Barcelona for protection.

Despite enemy air superiority, the remnants of the Airforce were called in as well. Again, they suffered a crushing defeat as National and Condor Me-109s shot up Ratas and Chokas. Nationalist attack bombers roamed at will, except only a few obsolete He-51s failed to get through. However, the heavy bombers were missing as they could not reach the scene in time from their distant fields at Zaragoza and Albacete (B types at half range for DAS, a mistake not to have them shunted to closer fields).

On the ground, the Republican tanks and brigades ran head-on into heavy fire by Nationalist artillery, tanks, and the vaunted Condor 88’s. There was heavy fighting at Calaf, but the attack was repulsed (AR) and the Republican masses flooded back toward Solsona (13:3325) and Igualada (3425), leaving the Pasionaria line a shambles.

At sea, Italian submarines had a field day against merchantmen attempting to ferry Soviet materiel to Barcelona. A number of freighters were sunk, a few turned tail.

In Barcelona, Companys, the President of the Catalan “Generalidad,” tried to call his cabinet into emergency session, but few of his ministers appeared. Catalan collapse appears imminent. Azana, President of the Republic, and Negrin, his Premier, are huddled trying to decide their further course. Both are inclined to hold out hoping that international pressure might make Franco more inclined to accept their suggested terms of surrender.

Despite the ominous build-up of Nationalist besiegers, the calmest place in still Loyalist-held Spain was Valencia. With the Nationalist bombers busy in Cataluna, the denizens are enjoying a respite from the constant air raids. Much of the port has been repaired. Communist dominance has declined with the depature of the Campesino and Dombrowski bullies, and a bid by Lister to take control of the city for the Party failed. Military Governor Aranguren and local Army Chief Menedez have matters firmly in hand. They have vowed continued resistance, but are believed to try in secrecy to negotiate for favorable surrender terms.

COMMENTARY

Elias’s good luck has finally let him down. He had an about 9% chance of achieving an EX and retaking the critical hex. However, his losses would have seriously weakened him, and he might not have been able to hold his line for long.

With the called-for conditions met at the start of a game turn and with a -2 modifier in effect, Cataluna will automatically surrender this coming turn. With that, the conditions for complete Loyalist surrender are also met. However, that surrender is checked *before* gobiernito collapse, and so will not occur until NOV II, leaving one more game turn of play.

We might or might not play part of that NOV I turn. The Insurgents can only lose if they attack anywhere: Any losses of theirs will go into their pool and increase Loyalist VPs. Any Loyalist losses will also go into the pool, but since the units surrendering do so anyway, no additional points accrue.

As to Valencia, a possible Insurgent objective, that city provides no VPs regardless of who owns it at the end of the game: not the Loyalists because the city is isolated, not the Insurgents because it will not yet be pacified when the game ends NOV II. But then, we are not playing for points, and an attack on Valencia might be a fitting finale.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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