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 Troops were reshuffled in response to alarming rumors that a good portion of the International Brigades would be withdrawn soon.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.
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.