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.
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.