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
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
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
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.
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
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!