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Monday, October 5, 2015

Delaying Action Near Belchite, in Aragon, March 11th, 1938

In the first days of the Aragon Offensive, Nationalist forces pushed tired and disorganized Republican troops from the ruins of Belchite. Amid desertions, routs and disasters, the International Brigade once again demonstrated its mettle. The British Battalion was the last out of Belchite on March 10th, 1938, and the following day began a delaying action to allow their compatriots to withdraw and reorganize.

It's the afternoon of March 11th, 1938. The exhausted British volunteers have taken positions on a hill and need to hold off the onslaught for as long as they can. Meanwhile, Nationalist General Solchaga has ordered his own shock troops, La Legion, to seize the position quickly so that his artillery can set up on the heights overlooking the retreating Republicans. [Full Mission Briefing and historical background at the bottom]

This is going to be an exciting game of Chain of Command! We're using the "delaying action" scenario from the main CoC rules.  Fritz is taking up the filthy Nationalist cause while I am valiantly defending the democratically elected Republic.  Our two platoons are not exactly even, there's a 2 point difference in our force ratings in my favor, so Fritz will get 2 points of support beyond the 7 he rolled for in the scenario. I get a whopping 3.

Fritz went with a Pre-Game Artillery Barrage, an Off-Table Mortar section (with an on-table observer), a LMG for a single team, and Molotov cocktails for one team.

I spent all three of my points on an Off-Table Machine Gun barrage.

As we imagined it, the hill continued upwards past our table edge, and up on top of it (behind the British lines) was a machine gun company. The mountain was partially surrounded, and there were similar battles happening to the left and right, and Nationalist artillery behind Fritz's table edge. On the board itself there was a fair amount of cover, but also some wide open spaces which would have to be negotiated carefully.

Also, plenty of livestock which hadn't been informed that there's a war on.

The Nationalist objective is going to be a jump off point somewhere at the top of the hill, probably close to the house up there. There's a lot of ground to cover in between.

I'm judging that the safest approach will be through the vineyard, but it's hard to say. One thing that seems certain, the barn at the center of the board will be an area of contention.

Starting the game, we roll force Morale, and both roll relatively low. The Nationalists go first with an 9 and my Republicans have a 8. That means I can't afford to take too many losses.

Patrol phase however goes very well for me I think. The scenario has the attacker start with 4 stacked markers while I have three spaced apart. It allows me to move much faster than my opponent and lock him down ahead of the middle of the board. His jump off points will necessarily be pretty far back, behind the road and its hedges.

The closest enemy jump off point.

The other is on left approach, near the orchard.

And the is very far back, almost at the table edge in a quiet sector. You know, near the cow. No, the other cow.

My jump off points are mostly further back. The scenario objective JOP is next to the house on the hilltop. Yes, I'm using pack mules as my JOPs. That mule is the most important animal for miles.

Another is directly behind the barn, allowing me to deploy directly into it.

The last is at the rear of the orchard, in case the Nationalists try to advance in that cover, or in case any units in the barn area need backup.

Did I mention that there were sheep too?

The Nationalists attack! Deploying a section near the hedge row, and keeping the LMG team back behind the cover.  The section sergeant puts two teams on overwatch in case I manage to deploy.

However, that preliminary barrage really messes up my organization.  I like the way the support choice works though - no one is actually killed, but for the first turn (which can last a LONG time) units only have a 50% chance of deploying. So, for my first die roll, nothing managed to get on the board. This is already starting to feel like my last game of Cold War Commander...

Fritz takes advantage of the results of the barrage and moves his section up as rapidly as possible, gaining some shock in the meantime. He wants to deny me that barn, maybe even take the JOP.  He might well do it, and if he does, my force morale is going drop like a stone.

The good news is that Fritz is rolling poorly for movement, taking shock for a few inches of "running". If he'd rolled well, I'd have lost that JOP and the barn by now.

He also deployed the forward observer team for his 81mm (off-table) mortars, attaching them to this lead section. They made contact with the battery, but there still wasn't anyone to shoot at!

Meanwhile he deploys his second section on the left. I don't have a JOP over there, so it's clear he's going to try to flank me and go right for the hill. This could be trouble.

After failing to deploy several sections, I manage to finally get a single unit on the board. My observer for the Machine Gun Company in position at the top of the hill (off-table). He immediately makes contact with the battery. If I can't deploy any infantry onto the board, I might need to call in some machine gun fire to delay the Nationalist advance. Otherwise they're going to just waltz (paso doble?) their way to the objective unopposed at this point.

Fritz splits off a team from the section at the left. They're skirting the wall and moving rapidly (with shock) towards the hill. the rest of the section seems poised to approach on the other side, behind the barn. And still, I can't get a damned bit of infantry on the board! Damnable dice...

Ok, I figured out what's going on with my dice... my office manager brought me back this thoughtful gift from her vacation, and I started wearing it last week. I kind of like it. Pretty right?

The beads are sandlewood and smell wonderful.  The bracelet was consecrated to Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. I'm starting to think that this may be the problem. The first game that I wore these to was the absurdist comedy that was my recent game of Cold War Commander. Seriously, have a look. It was ridiculous. And now, I can't roll above a 3 on a d6 to get my army on the board.

As an experiment, I took the bracelet off at this point and put it in my pocket.  For science.

Meanwhile, Fritz again took shock and rushed his men forward. This time, a few just barely made it into the barn. We took some careful measurements, and found that he was just inches shy of denying me the jump off point. The four lead men got into the cover inside the barn, but the rest were still running up when my turn came...

And that's when I finally managed to deploy a section. Oh what a moment.  Surprise boys!

The whole section immediately opened up on the fascist scum below them at point blank range. Only the height kept them from being in an assault. The enemy LMG team took the brunt of it (as the section was in the open, I got to allocate casualties). In the next two phases of firing, both the platoon sergeant (senior leader) and section sergeant (junior leader) were caught in hail of bullets and was killed instantly causing a massive morale drop (3 points I think!).

You know what I learned from this?  


That bracelet is going to stay in my pocket any time there are dice that can see them.

I managed the roll to deploy another section as well.  It was a mistake, but I deployed my mortarless mortar section (armed with rifles) into the vineyard. I probably should have tried to stop the attack on my left, but I was hoping they'd be able to do both. From the vineyard they could cover both the front of the barn and the approach to the hill on the left (in open ground).

Meanwhile Fritz deployed his senior leader (along with the two riflemen that come with him) near the barn to try and save the section ambushed there. Without a senior or junior leader, there was no way for them to remove shock otherwise.

Meanwhile the team on the left was making rapid progress, accumulating shock as they went. At the same moment, Fritz got his first Chain of Command die. Now I started to really sweat. As good as things were going at the barn, if that single team got to the top of that hill, Fritz could use his CoC die to end the turn and win the game right there. I had a section held in reserve to deploy in that area, but I'd still been unable to get it on the board due to that damned pre-game barrage.

The rest of his section moved cautiously, waiting for my reserve section that wouldn't come out to play.

The scene at the barn was one of slaughter.  Shock and casualties accumulated, and when Fritz activated them he chose to shoot back instead of dive for cover. He took down two of my men and gave a point of shock, pretty mild compared to the punishment he was getting.

The mortarless mortar section set up to cover two directions.

They took shots at the still-advancing Nationalist team now almost up the hill but couldn't stop them.

The rest of that section finally started moving up on the other side of the orchard, so I felt it was time to call on that hill-top machine gun company. I got lucky, and their aim was right on target, pinning down the whole section without casualties.

Still unable to deploy my last section to stop the rapidly advancing team of infantry, I started to move my mortarless mortar team to intercept.

At the barn, the Nationalists finally decided to get in out of the rain, holing up directly beneath the Republican section. The LMG team was down to just the gunner and the attached 2-man Observer team - they didn't quite make it into cover.

The LMG was finally silenced (another drop in morale!), but the observer team got into cover on the next phase. Thankfully, they had nothing in line of sight to call the barrage on!

With the nationalist section now directly under my men, the only thing to shoot at was the senior leader. Shock accumulated quickly. The horse in the courtyard also went down, poor bugger. A few more nationalists below were also killed by some grenades dropped from above.

All the senior leader could do was keep accumulating/reducing shock (he was attached to his 2-man HQ team) and keeping to cover. Fritz tried to withdraw him, but he couldn't manage to extricate himself.

Meanwhile there was a blessed run of turns without Fritz rolling a single 1 to activate his team which was in position to win the game quickly. As fate would have it, I finally got my last section on the board at the perfect moment. The whole section opened up on the team point blank and in the open.

Losing two men and having already accumulated plenty of shock from running across the board, they were immediately pinned.

As was the senior leader's team.

The mortarless mortar section fired at the pinned team, adding shock.

...and finally breaking them. Another morale hit, causing the Nationalists to lose a command die.

At almost the same moment, the Platoon Teniente (Lieutenant) was shot dead in a hail of bullets from the barn. Now the Nationalist force morale was down to a three.

The broken team on the hill was then wiped out, dropping morale to a 1.

With that, it was decided that the trapped Nationalists in the barn would have to surrender. Whether the British volunteers would accept that surrender after such bitter fighting in Belchite is an open question. Would the captured Nationalists end up in a shallow grave on the hillside, or would the British volunteers have compassion?
You be the judge.

An excellent game of Chain of Command. After a few games of this (actually played the scenario again as the Nationalists this weekend), I can say that without a doubt I like it better than Bolt Action in terms of rules and game play. I can see the appeal of going a-historical and building your own units (BA uses a point system), but Chain of Command is definitely my favorite skirmish game.


On March 7th, 1938, Nationalist forces began what would become the most decisive offensive of the war. The Aragon offensive would, by mid-April, split the Republic in two and break its armies. Before Franco could realize his objectives, his men would have to take several Republican strongholds and march through unfriendly territory that had seen social revolutions at the beginning of the war.  One of these was the hilltop town of Belchite, which the Republic had taken at great cost the summer before.
            The armies of the Republic, which had spent the winter in a futile battle around the city of Teruel, were exhausted and outgunned.  For propaganda purposes, the Republic had tried to make the battle of Teruel an all-Spanish affair, but in the end they were forced to bow to necessity and brought in the International Brigade as shock troops. After the lengthy battle, the Republican forces were exhausted and depleted, and were completely caught off guard by the Nationalist offensive. They had wrongly assumed that the Battle of Teruel had left the Nationalists in just as rough a shape as it had them.
            In the first few days, the Nationalists swept all before them. Spearheading their forces were the Franco's best troops, including the Foreign Legion and the Moroccan troops that followed them. These faced resistance in pockets, but even where the Republican units put up strong resistance, they were soon obligated to withdraw as surrounding units routed or even deserted. The town of Belchite, over which so much Republican blood had been spilled, was heroically held by Internationalist volunteers, but on March 10th, these too were forced to withdraw, the British Battalion being the last to leave the town.  
            By the morning of March 11th, chaos reigned in the Republican lines. Desertions from regular units were rampant, as many of the units on the frontline were completely green, some lacking even rifles. The best troops had been pulled from the line for rest and refitting after Teruel.  Those which remained, including the Internationals, were too thinly spread to stop the offensive, especially in the face of Nationalist (German and Italian) air superiority. Thus began a long retreat to the rear positions which all hoped could be held in the face of Franco's legions.

Current Situation:
            This is the situation on the afternoon of March 11th. The commander of the British Battalion, attempting to give the rest of the Republican Army time to reorganize, is trying to buy time for his fellows by denying Nationalist artillery a hill that would give them good sighting on the retreating forces. One company is left behind at the hill as the rest withdraw, its platoons spreading out near the base of the hill, waiting for the attack that must come.
            Meanwhile, General Solchaga orders a company of crack Foreign Legion troops to drive them off and take the position. These professional soldiers gathered their strength for the attack.
            If the Legion can push the Internationals out of the area, General Solchaga can capitalize on the gains of the past few days and continue the push into Aragon. If the Internationals hold out against all odds, the retreating troops might reorganize during the night, safe from Nationalist artillery.


  1. Looks like it was a fun game with lots of tension. A couple of points however, troops can't cross hedges or wall while moving flat out & units can't be placed on overwatch the turn they deploy.

    1. It certainly was. I caught the hedge/wall/flat out thing after the game (and played accordingly in the game over the weekend) but I didn't know about the overwatch thing. It does make a certain amount of sense of course, but I guess I'm confused about what you can do when you deploy a section with a "3" die. What can you use the junior leader's command initiative for. Firing, but not moving, but what else? Can you go tactical? Covering fire?
      Thanks for the catch.

  2. You could use the co to order each team to fire at different targets (that is if anybody used teams in the SCW), if the section is hit by overwatch or by use of a command die you could remove shock, order guys to throw grenades or fire rifle grenades. That's all I can come up with off the top of my head but there may be other things.

    1. Thanks for the help. I wasn't able to find that rule about overwatch in the book - as far as I can see, it just says the leader can't order any newly deployed unit to move, but I saw no other restrictions. Could you enlighten me?

      And yes they used teams in the SCW - each section has 3 teams typically, at least in the regular army. Militias just have massive single squads like Soviets.

  3. Very entertaining battle report! Cheers!

  4. "I wasn't able to find that rule about overwatch in the book"

    Rich wrote that in reply to a question on the CoC forum.

    1. Ah, ok, I'll start digging around there for more info. Thanks again.

  5. Fun! Thanks for covering the patrol/scout version of the game a bit.