The General Staff Archives

Europa Games and Military History

Category: FWtBT AAR No 1 (page 2 of 6)

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).

 

JUN I 1938

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.

COMMENTARY

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.

COMMENTARY

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.

 

MAY II 1938

INSURGENT MAY II 1938

Still riding the wave of their successes, the Nationalists at the Ebro kept pounding away at an opponent now reeling from their blows. A massive, tank-supported attack cleared the Ebro bend, taking Flix and Asco (13:3430) and eliminating the last Loyalist bridgeheads. This time the Loyalists managed an orderly evacuation with only minimal losses (a lucky DR). Meanwhile the Navarrese Corps pushed forward along the coast road against scant opposition and reached Alcala de Chivert (13:3633), halfway between the Ebro estuary and Castellon. Loyalist rearguards in the Maestrazgo mountains were rounded up, and forward elements reached Morella (13:3533). The corridor to the sea now appears safe.

Farther north, Franco’s troops closed to the Catalan border, mopping up remnants and advancing on Lerida, which by now has been heavily fortified.

The Republican airforce switch tactics and began aggressive patrolling of the coastal waters, which are still beyond interception range of Insurgent fighters. They scored no hits, but caused Franco to recall the Fleet and halt the ferrying of troops from Cartagena to the fishing ports of the Ebro delta. The loose blockade of Barcelona was lifted, and that of Valencia and Castellon is now left to submarines.

Bombing raids on industrial targets in Barcelona and Valencia continued and caused moderate damage. To the delight of the populace, some hated Italian Savoia-Marchetti bombers were felled by unusually accurate anti-aircraft fire (snake eyes for an “A” on the 3-column +1).

LOYALIST MAY II 1938

The Loyalists sent strong reinforcements to Lerida in hopes of turning it into a hero city. They also shored up their defenses along the Ebro south of that city. Troops were pulled back from outflanked positions in the Ebro delta, and the defense of Tortosa and the river crossing were left to a single infantry division that stayed behind as a rearguard.

In the Valencia pocket, a gradual and cautious retreat from positions north and northeast of the city was ordered. Here, too, rearguards were left behind as the strongest units were pulled out of the front lines into a tighter perimeter. the supply situation has become critical: Front-line troops complain of shortage of food and ammunition as resources are being horded for a last-ditch defense of Valencia city.

The airforce received additional reinfrocements, but kept to their now heavily protected fields in and around Barcelona.

COMMENTARY

With the cleaning out of the Ebro bend and the Loyalist retreat from the exposed positions nearest to Tortosa, the corridor to the sea is now rock-solid. However, the Nationalists still have no convenient line of communications: The only way to their positions on the coast is via bad roads along the Ebro past Tortosa or even poorer ones over the Maestrazgo mountains. This will make it hard to sustain any further drive toward Castellon.

The successful evacuation of the Ebro bend has given the Loyalists in Cataluna a new lease on life (a stack of 19 CF escaped unharmed on a 1-in-3 chance). They still hold a very strong front that runs largely behind rivers and is by now securely entrenched at all critical points. The Insurgents will have to take their chances with odds that give no guarantee of success. They can afford losses and even retreats, but until late fall they will suffer from an acute shortage of attack supply.

Franco’s other option, of course, is to treat Cataluna with benign neglect and concentrate on squashing the Valencia-Castellon pocket. With supplies running low, the ports blockaded, and U4 status to start in another two weeks, that should not pose too much of a problem, but would not force the Loyalist government to surrender. That ultimate goal can only be achieved by an advance on Barcelona.

 

MAY I 1938

INSURGENT MAY I 1938

In an attempt to prevent the Loyalists from digging in, the Nationalists
stepped up their attacks between Lerida and the coast. Strong forces
crushed the Cinca bridgehead opposite Fraga (13:3230), clearing the entire
western bank of that river of enemy troops and edging closer to Lerida. In
the Ebro bend, Gandesa and the hills in its vicinty (13:3431) changed hands
for the third time in two weeks as they were recaptured in a tank-supported
attack. Both sides took heavy losses in these Ebro battles (two EX with
large stacks).

The Condors bid farewell to the seashore to join the fray at Gandesa,
having been relieved by reinforcements brought in over land and by sea. In
their place the crack Navarrese 1st Division with support from ships’ guns
pressed forward along the coast road toward Castellon and took Vinaros and
Benicarlo (13:3632), the towns where their brethren in an alternative
history first reached the Mediterranean.

The corridor to the sea still has an only about 15 kilometers wide
bottleneck opposite Tortosa, but this position (13:3532) has been
strengthened. Moreover, attackers from the Catalan side would have to
contend with the Ebro river, and those from the Valencia side would have to
wind their way through the forbidding Maestrazgo mountains, and even a
success here would still leave the coast road blocked at Vinaros. However,
there is no telling what the Loyalist in their desperation might be driven
to try.

The fronts north of Lerida and around Valencia and Teruel remained quiet.

The Republican airmen lay low licking their wounds, so their Nationalist
counterparts were free to roam the skies over Ebro country and provide
effective support of ground attacks. (Well, sort of. I had jumped the gun
with stating the Insurgent attacks and having them resolved, misreading a
“no air” message as referring to the combat phase instead of the initial
phase. The Loyalists might have attempted ground support with their lone
SB-2 despite having to fly into interception range, but the way the die
rolls turned out, this could not have changed the combat results, so they
wisely passed.)

Savoia-Marchetti and He-111 bombers resumed their raids on Barcelona and
Valencia. The night raids on Barcelona proved ineffective, but some damage
was done at daytime at Valencia. Also, fighter bombers attacked Tarragona.
While Ratas and Me-109s tangled indecisively, Fiats wrought havoc at the
airbase, but caught no planes on the ground.

The blockade of Valencia and Castellon was intensified, but this was
possible only by loosening that of Barcelona and Tarragona. The idea seems
to be that a blockade of Barcelona, no matter how tight, would remain
futile if the French border opens again.

LOYALIST MAY I 1938

Despite pleas by another delegation from Barcelona, the French government
decided against opening the border to Spain.

Judging the mounting risks to have become unacceptable and discouraged by
constant fighter-bomber strafing of the Catalan coast, the Loyalists gave
up their attempts to link the two pockets. In Cataluna they consolidated
their main defenses into a practically straight-line front from the slopes
of the Pico de Aneto along the Noguera river to Lerida and on to the Ebro
estuary at Tortosa. One infantry division, the 20th, was left behind at the
lower Cinca for a suicidal stand to buy more time for improving the
defenses of Lerida. That city is now under artillery fire from the
northwest and south. The northwestern half of the Ebro bend was evacuated
without a fight, but a strong bridgehead at Flix and Asco 13:3430) was
retained–the last toehold anywhere on the mighty river’s right bank.
Tortosa was reinforced.

The Valencia front began to feel the strain. A good portion of the
stockpiled supplies were spent to prevent a breakdown. Civilian men and
women of all ages were drafted into labor battalions, hastily armed, and
rushed to the front forward of Castellon. To add depth to the defense, the
most exposed positions in the Maestrazgo mountains closest to Tortosa were
thinned out and are now only lightly held by rearguards.

The Republican airforce received new Ratas and spare parts from the Soviet
Union, but made no attempt to contest Nationalist control of the air.

COMMENTARY

What a turn! After so much tedious slugging, the contest has suddenly
turned quite lively and bloody. Between Lerida and the sea the Insurgents
managed to have their opponents on the run with no time for digging in, and
to provoke counterattacks that achieved little and cost much: While both
sides suffered losses, the Insurgents can take them in their stride, the
Loyalists can ill afford them. Moreover, the counterattacks consumed a good
number of supplies which the Loyalists may soon desperately need to feed
their troops. On the other hand, the Insurgents paid for their successes
with a profligate expenditure of attack supply (8 to 9 ASP per turn the
last three turns), a rate they cannot possibly sustain.

Franco’s two key priorities now are obvious: to make the corridor to the
sea immune to Loyalist counterattack, and to take Lerida. With Valencia
separated from Cataluna, the loss of Lerida would deprive the Loyalists of
a general supply source unless the French border is open, and that border
will close for good in September no matter what. In this respect, the
failure of the attack out of the Cinca bridgehead north of Lerida end of
April was a serious set-back for the Nationalists because it gave the
Loyalists time to dig in around that city and strengthen its defenses.
Thanks to mountains and rivers, a straight-line, well-entrenched, and
strongly manned front along the Catalan border from the Pico de Aneto to
Lerida is hard to crack, and so is its continuation along the Ebro from
near Lerida to the sea. If Lerida falls, the northern portion of the front
still has the even stronger Segre river position to fall back to, but
resistance may then erode rather quickly for lack of supplies.

Despite the heavy losses the Loyalists suffered in the last four
weeks–over 60 CF or about one fifth of their strength), including a good
share of precious artillery and more than half their tanks–, the ample
reinforcements raised in that time have made it possible to keep the
Cataluna front almost as strong as before. However, the regime has scraped
the bottom of the barrel, and reinforcements will now slow to a dribble.
Another Verdun on the Ebro as at Gandesa and Fraga might spell the end.

The Insurgents’ dash to the coast has split the Loyalist forces about
evenly between Cataluna and Valencia. However, the Valencia front is about
to turn brittle for lack of supplies (U2 now), and any hope of reconnecting
the pocket with the fleshpots of Cataluna has faded for good. The great
question now is, will Franco exploit that weakness and accord priority to
mopping up the Valencia-Castellon pocket, or will he keep concentrating on
a “Cataluna first” strategy?

Spirits in the Loyalist camp have plummeted. General Miaga, the supreme
military commander and the most rational and realistic of the Barcelona
leadership, allegedly gives his cause no more than another two to three
months, less if Barcelona should be declared an open city as Franco’s
soldiers approach.

A perverse situation has developed: At this stage, the only Anarchist
supply base is Barcelona, the only city at which Anarchist replacement
points arise is Valencia. If the corridor and naval blockade hold tight,
reinforcements raised with such points can only be brought in where they
start out of supply. Also, not having read all the fine print of the rules,
the Loyalists had done their best to shift Anarchist units to Valencia,
believing that city rather than Barcelona could provide supply for them.
And in Cataluna, where they would have remained in supply even when the
People’s Army no longer is, the only two Anarchist units left behind just
bit the dust, giving the Loyalists 1.0 special replacement points in the
Barcelona district where they can’t be used. Shake a clenched fist at a
design that adds insult to injury!

APR II 1938

LOYALIST APR I ADDENDUM

Because of a misunderstanding, the previous report went out prematurely, before the turn was finished. It was not: The Loyalists still had something up their sleeve.

Spurred on to make a supreme effort, new Russian tanks that had been ferried by ship to Tarragona moved into the Ebro bend for a wild charge, coordinated with a cavalty and armor foray out of Alcaniz (13:3432). The pincers were to close at Caspe (3332) and pinch off the Nationalist spearhead at Gandesa (3431). However, despite strong artillery support the operation fizzled (a “1” on 1:1 +2) and the disorganized attackers streamed back, not even stopping at their jump-off positions where they were heaped with scorn by their comrades.

COMMENTARY

True to form, APR I turned out to be an all-fools’-day affair. Elias overlooked that I could block his land route to Tortosa by harassment. I wasted a good bomber on that mission, thinking abatement would negate a bombing factor rather than a two-factor hit. I also underestimated what he could ferry in by sea and how respectable a pincer attack he could launch with his armor. Moreover, he had commented that all but retreat and concession of my corridor would invite disaster, and I had taken that as an indication that he would not attack, and so I did not bother to assign defensive air support. But after looking things over, he decided to attack after all. Then, through no fault of his other than a poor die roll, the attack gave an AR, costing him 2ASP for nothing and weakening the positions it was launched from. So my laxness gained me an advantage. Well, that’s gaming, and it beats the hex-by-hex slugging we have been at for so long.

INSURGENT APR II 1938

Eager to capitalize on their successes, the Nationalists pressed on with their offensive without pause and regardless of risks.

The new thrust out of the widened Cinca bridgehead at Barbastro and Monzon (13:2929 and 3029) met with determined Loyalist resistance and ground to a halt at least temporarily. Lerida appears safe for the time being.

Farther south, Nationalist forces closed to the Cinca river, mopping up stragglers in the process and reducing the Loyalists to a bridgehead opposite Fraga (13:3230).

The main action was at the lower Ebro. The mechanized taskforce reinforced by two infantry divisions pushed forward from Gandesa (13:3431) along the south bank of the river. Although again suffering substantial losses (EX), tanks and infantry reached the coast road opposite Tortosa in strength. The Condor 88 Flak Regiment, as usual in the van, raced on and reached the coast at Sant Carles (3631) in the Ebro delta to jubilant shouts of “das Meer, das Meer!” Meanwhile massive infantry attacks widened the breach by taking Alcaniz (3432). Loyalist losses were heavy. Cataluna and Valencia are split apart for now, but whether the Insurgents at the coast and on the coast road can hold out until they are reinforced is still anyone’s guess on even money.

All other fronts remained quiet.

Over the Tortosa sector, a battle for control of the air ensued. Nationalist Fiats bravely took on superior Ratas and held their own (1 A on each side) while Me-109s chased off Loyalist bombers and kept the sky clear for Nationalist ground support aircraft.

The Nationalist Fleet sortied from Maddalena. A surface taskforce stands off the Ebro delta to support the Condors at the coast while submarines blockade the ports of Tarragona, Castellon, and Valencia.

LOYALIST APR II 1938

As was to be expected, the Loyalists collected all their armor in a new attempt to break through again at the coast road and reestablish communications between Barcelona and Valencia. However, once again the Soviet tanks were stopped in their tracks by the Insurgent mechanized taskforce (AS on 1:1 +2).

Farther northwest in the Ebro bend, another fierce Loyalist attack was mounted against the weak Nationalist group holding Gandesa (13:3431). This attack succeeded with some losses (EX at 4.5:1 -1) and Gandesa is now firmly in Loyalist hands. However, the Insurgents still have a secure line of communications to the coast through Alcaniz (3432) and over the mountains.

Untouched by all the brouhaha farther inland, the Condors at Sant Carles enjoyed peace and quiet under the protection of the guns of the Nationalist Fleet, and many a soldier relished a swim in water not as cold as at home.

Some inconclusive engagements were fought in the air over the Tortosa front, resulting in no losses to either side. Both Loyalists and Insurgents called in ground support, but not to much effect.

COMMENTARY

This was a dramatic turn. The Nationalists risked a dsh for the coast instead of opting for a safe but tedious further push into the Ebro bend and toward Lerida. They succeeded in getting across the coast road and then holding their ground on even chances against the inevitable counterattack by armor. The corridor to the sea was held and can now be reinforced. This is bad news for the Loyalists in the Valencia district: They will be U2 next turn and isolated.

On the other hand, the failure of the Nationalist attack in the north out of the Cinca bridgehead has given the Loyalists time to consolidate their front and dig in. Although Lerida already seemed within grasp of the Insurgents, it now looks at though it will be tough nut to crack.

 

APR I 1938

INSURGENT APR I 1938

Spring has awakened, and with a big bang at that! Warm sunshine and dry winds from the North African deserts dried up the snow melt’s slush. Another Azores high is on its way and promises continuing fair spring weather for all of Spain (fair weather now automatic).

Eager to strike before all those new Loyalist division reach the front, the Nationalists not only intensified their pressure at the Ebro, but started a second offensive out of their Cinca bridgehead at Barbastro (13:2929), attacking southward along the east bank of the river in the direction of Lerida. At the Cinca, the Nationalists broke into the entrenched Loyalist positions and reached Monzon (13:3029), but once again the Loyalists managed to fall back in good order. Not so at the Ebro: Although their elite Foreign Legionnaires and vaunted 13th Divison suffered losses (EX result), the Nationalists routed the defenders at Caspe (13:3332). Light armor, artillery on trucks, and the Legion Condor’s 88 Flak of Alcira fame stormed on across the Ebro bend and reached the river again near Gandesa (13:3431). Some unsuspecting Loyalist tank and construction crews taking the sun were rudely rounded up and led into captivity. The bulk of the taskforce is now at the Ebro less than 40 km from the Mediterranean coast, and a few patrols have pushed on across the river to the vicinity of Tortosa, causing disruption of traffic along the coastal highway (zone of control exerted).

Activities in the skies over Aragon slackened as both sides licked their wounds. Reconstituted Me-109s patrolled over Caspe, fending off Ratas and keeping Loyalist ground support away. The Barcelona red-eye continued its routine, as usual with no losses and to no effect. Renewed raids on Valencia achieved more: Savoia-Marchettis and Heinkels caused extensive additional damage to manufacturing facilities (2 more hits) while low-level attacks at the airbase wrecked the last few Republican bombers on the ground.

LOYALIST APR I 1938

Swayed by the impassioned pleas of envoys from Barcelona, raucously supported by the delegates of the left-wing parties, the French parliament took pity on the plight of the Republican cause and opened the border once again. Sadly, this is apt to do little more than provide a boost in morale. Whoever feels compelled to volunteer has already done so, and arms manufacturers are leary to ship to Spain on credit when all her gold has long been turned over to Stalin.

The Nationalist advance on Tortosa has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Nationalist bombers flew harassment missions against the coastal highway around Tarragona to hamper reinforcement of the Tortosa position. In response, the Republican merchant navy was awakened from its slumber to ferry troops, tanks, artillery, and anti-aircraft batteries to Tarragona, but the last proved ineffective. Meanwhile, repaired SB-2 bombers flew missions against the Zaragoza-Tarragona rail line at Escatron (13:3232). Me-109s tried to intercept, but were driven off with losses by Ratas bent on revenge. The bombers had a clear run, but failed to disrupt traffic.

Meanwhile frantic efforts were made to plug the gap at Tortosa with new divsions, artillery, and armor, some of it ferried at night by Barcelona’s taxis, some shipped through Tarragona to avoid bombing and strafing on the coastal highway. Also, construction brigades were summoned in an attempt to improvise a new fortified line.

To the north, the Nationalist advance to Monzon (13:3029) threatened to cut off the substantial Loyalists forces still forward of the Cinca, and a retreat behind that river was hastily odered, with only a bridgehead at Fraga (13:3230) still to be held. However, some stragglers did not make it in time because of overcrowding of the retreat routes, and now face certain annihilation.

The front between Teruel and Valencia remained unaffected by all this tourmoil, except that a few units were pulled out of line to help shore up the line at Tortosa.

COMMENTARY

With the breakthrough at Caspe into the Ebro bend, the Nationalists have reached the scene of one of the largest and hardest battles fought in an alternative history, but with reversed roles: with the Republicans as the attackers. Combined with the gains at the Cinca, the Ebro breakthrough has greatly increased the pressure on the Loyalists. The only saving grace for them has been one of timing: The near-disaster coincides with a whole slough of new divisions becoming operative, and that made it possible to patch up the front in a fashion, even though all entrenched positions between the Pyrenees and Teruel have now been lost. In the foothills of the Pyrenees, the Cinca river line is being outflanked, and a retreat behind the Segre, the next natural obstacle, would entail giving up Lerida. To the south at Tortosa there was just enough time to organize a defense of sorts forward of the coast. Whether it can hold is anyone’s guess. Between the Ebro and Teruel the imposing coastal Maestrazgo mountains form a formidable barrier but, as at Tortosa, its defenders have their backs against the sea: any Nationalist breakthrough here will split Valencia from Barcelona. And there is still a long, long summer ahead! Oh, Pasionaria, where are you when we need you!

This has been a very lucky turn for the Insurgents: good weather on a chance of 1 in 3 at a time when 2 “no change” and 4 clear results next turn guarantee good conditions into the summer; then the breakthrough at the Ebro with successful exploitation almost to the coast; and lastly 2 factory and 1 airbase hits at Valencia without losses to own aircraft.

The two aims of Nationalist strategy in Aragon are now becoming increasingly clear: Lerida and the coast. If both are achieved (and the French border is closed, as it will be for sure starting SEP I 38), the People’s Army and International Brigades will no longer have a general supply base, and Anarchists and Catalans around Valencia will have to rely on a naval supply line to Barcelona that is easily blocked. Although the Loyalists have ample supplies stockpiled in Barcelona and Valencia (over 40 ASP to date), these will no last forever once the troops have to start drawing on them. The next few turn will go a long way towar showing whether the Loyalists can still prevent that from happening.

Suddenly, what was a tiresome inch-by-inch slugging match has become a matter of options, motion, and maneuver once again. For how long, however, is anyone’s guess.

 

MAR II 1938

INSURGENT MAR II 1938

The Azores high has move on and warm air has invaded Spain in its wake. Melting snow has produced a sea of mud in the north, but the south is enjoying dry, spring-like weather.

In Aragon, an impatient Nationalist command insisted on continuing the Ebro offensive despite poor ground conditions. Starting out from Escatron and Hijar (13:3232 and 3233) the tired troops trudged forward through slush and sleet and gained ground toward Alcaniz (3432), presumably their next major objective. However, once again the Loyalists were able to fall back in good order.

In clear skies overhead, the battle royal continued. For the first time some Me-109s bit the dust, but not before having taken three times their number of Ratas with them (1K and 1A versus 1A). The 109s kept Loyalist ground support aircraft away, but could not fully protect their brethren: some obsolescent He-45s fell to the Ratas.

Meanwhile, the Barcelona red-eye continued: Savoia-Marchetti night bombers kept attacking, but not to much effect. A different story at Valencia: Here, Heinkel-111s caused additional damage to factories while fighters and light bombers savaged the airbase, destroying the two squadrons of hated SB-2s on the ground, at the loss of some hapless Italian Fiats to the ever sharp AA gunners.

Except for these hotspots, all fronts remained quiet.

LOYALIST MAR II 1938

Concerned about the worsening supply situation at their front east of Teruel, the Loyalists pulled back from their entrenched positions in the Alfambra valley (23:3303), el Pobo mountains, and foothills of the Sierra de la Canada (23:3302 to 13:3334). Even so, logistics remained a nightmare and mule trains were mobilized to get at least a modicum of supplies forward to the troops (attack supply converted to general supply and brought forward with SMPs).

Some troops freed by the shortening of the front near Teruel were transferred to Aragon. Otherwise no significant activities.

While the Me-109s still licked their wounds, new Ratas were got operational and attacked the air strip at Monreal in the Jiroka valley (23:3103), forcing Fiats to scramble, but doing no harm to ground installations. R-Z attack bombers did better, damaging the railway station at Cuenca.

COMMENTARY

The Ebro winter offensive so far has produced a tidy gain of territory (14 hexes), close to 14% of still Loyalist-controlled Spain and reducing that hold to barely more than 10% of the countries total. However, it has fallen short of reaching its greater objective: to inflict crippling losses. (In the eight “big” attacks in Aragon since November, with on the average a better than 50& chance of causing casualties, only two did so.) As a result, the Loyalists are now stronger than at any time since the collapse of the Murcia pocket. Moreover, a grand wave of reinforcements will become available starting early April (thirteen infantry divisions, a handful of brigades, ample artillery and armor points). The Insurgents will have a hard nut to crack! On the other hand, by now the Loyalists between Teruel and the Ebro almost have their backs against the wall, with only one mountain range between the current front and the sea. A further Insurgent advance of 80 km would split Valencia from Barcelona. If despite more difficult terrain Franco’s troops do better in summer than they did in winter, the Loyalist cause is apt to become critical.

The last few weeks have seen more activity in the air than at any time before. Losses have been heavy on both sides and about evenly distributed. However, having entered this round with inferior numbers (though with better fighters), the Loyalists can less afford the losses. They are now down to two squadrons of Ratas and one of R-Z fighter bombers while the Insurgents, in addition to two squadrons of Fiats, still have six of heavy and light bombers.

 

MAR I 1938

INSURGENT MAR II

A strong high from the Azores stalled over the Iberian peninsula, bringing sunshine with cold temperatures in the north (winter) and spring-like days in the south (clear).

To make hay while the winter lasts, Franco’s finest continued their drive on the Ebro’s south bank in Aragon. Overhead in clear skies another battle royal: A swarm of Ratas pounced on the patrolling Fiats and scarce Me-109s. The Insurgents again took the heavier losses (the Fiats just are no match for the monowing I-16s, and the Messerschmidts can’t be everywhere) but managed to protect their bomber friends and keep the Republican bombers away. Advancing with strong air and artillery support close to the river, the Nationalist ground forces pushed forward to Escatron (13:3232), but once again the Loyalists managed to fall back in good order.

SM-81 night bombers kept up the pressure on Barcelona, but without much effect. Making use of the better weather farther south, SM-79 and He-111 bombers attacked factories in Valencia and caused some damage. He-51 fighters attempting to strafe a Valencia airfield fared less well, being driven off after taking losses to deadly accurate light flak (“3” on a D2 roll!).

National merchantmen ferried imported supplies from ElFerrol to Bilbao to circumvent neutral non-intervention patrols at the latter port.

LOYALIST MAR I 1938

Being spared losses, the Loyalists managed once again to raise enough new troops to patch up their Ebro front. However, obviously being concerned about the safety of their lines north of that river, they pulled back from their well-entrenched positions in the Alcubierre hills (13:3031) to a shorter front still 20 miles forward of the Cinca river.

Construction of defenses in depth continued in the Valencia sector. All other sectors saw no action.

Ratas resumed their routine of attemting to attack forward Insurgent airfields in Aragon. As usual, they were met by Me-109s and had to jettison their bombs. Neither side suffered losses. SB-2 light bombers attacked the Pamplona-Zaragoza rail line and caused extensive damage.

COMMENTARY

The luck with the weather could have brought the Insurgents a decisive advantage. Had they inflicted losses in their Ebro attack (a chance of a shade less than 50%), the Loyalist front would probably have been weakened enough to allow a continuation of the offensive even in mud. However, the Loyalists again got off once again without a loss (the sixth time out of eight). Now they are likely to get a respite in mud weather until their massive reinforcements start arriving in April. However, the Escatron bulge in their front has caused them enough concern to trigger a retreat north of the Ebro to a shorter line. So, luck with the weather has netted the Nationalists at least a gain of three hexes, two of them entrenched, one of these in rough terrain.

 

FEB II 1938

INSURGENT FEB II 1938

Normal winter weather has returned to Spain, with freezing temperatures (winter) in the north and continuing rain and mud in the south.

Making use of the hardened ground, Franco’s troops renewed their attacks in Aragon south of the Ebro. Overhead, Nationalist and Republican fighters clashed for control of the air space. Although the Nationalist took higher losses, they held fast so that their brothers on the ground could enjoy air support by bombers from Zaragoza (one of four fighters on CAP killed at no Loyalist loss). This time the ground attack succeeded. Hijar (13:3233) was taken and the Loyalist driven back with substantial losses (HX at 3:1 -1). Forward Nationalist elements now are barely more than 100 km (4 hexes) from the coast, but from here on they will have to contend with stiffening resistance, more difficult terrain, and poorer weather.

All other fronts remained quiet.

Savoia-Marchetti and Heinkel bombers kept up their day- and nighttime attacks on Barcelona, but neither anti-aircraft fire nor bombs had any significant effect.

LOYALIST FEB II 1938

The ever fickle French government, true to its long-established role as the Comedie Francaise, decided to close the border once again. Not much effect, except perhaps as a show of vaning confidence in the Loyalist cause.

The Loyalist military command scraped together whatever manpower it could and managed to form or reconstitute and equip two more infantry division, the 6th and 18th, which were immediately thrown in to seal the gap the Nationalists had opened at Hijar. To shorten their front and avoid being outflanked, they also pulled back from their well-entrenched position in the foothills facing Nationalist-held Montalban (23:3201). The Barcelona government is rumored to have invited Navajo medicine men to perform rain dances.

All other fronts remained quiet.

Fortification work continued at a hectic pace. Guerrillas persisted in attacking railway installations near Soria on the only loosely guarded Calatayud-Burgos line, but failed.

COMMENTARY

It is ironic that of the Nationalists’ seven “big” attacks so far, the only two that succeeded in causing losses were those with the least favorable odds (3.51:1 -1 or worse). Interestingly, in both those cases a better percentile role or another ASP spent or stronger air support would have spoiled the success by raising the odds to the next higher level to give a DR instead of an HX. With the Nationalists’ enormous surplus of Rpls — 150.0 infantry and 14.0 artillery not counting Italian and Kondor points, and 24.5 infantry coming in with every replacement cycle — an HX is the optimum result for them short of a DE. This is an unusual situation and makes one think of perhaps interchanging the DR and EX/HX results on the CRT at this stage. But of course in our game we’ll stick to the rules.

 

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