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.
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.