Just west of Quinto de Ebro, August 24th, 1937. The Abraham Lincoln Battalion moves up to occupy the former Nationalist forward trenches, taken by the Dimitrov Battalion earlier in the day. The organize themselves for a heavily supported push against the main Nationalist lines, manned by the conservative Catholic Requetes. I'll be playing these defenders, led by Alfarez (2nd Lt.) Cipriano Ortega, a former professor of theology at the University of Salamanca. In the early days of the revolt, he led his students against the local reds, and now leads a platoon of Requetes in this supposedly quiet sector. His men are green, but eager.
Full character bios can be found here.
The high plateau to the west of the town is dry and barren, "Like the surface of the moon" said one Lincoln soldier, a phrase echoed exactly by my opponent Fritz when he saw the table.
This is, however, pretty accurate. Below is a google street view, with the church visible just behind the edge of the white walls of the cemetery.
The patrol phase. Fritz surprised me by pushing hard on my left, managing to get a marker nearly to my side of the board.
With a few rises and some scrub for cover, jump off points were pretty far back for both of us.
The defenders (me) have had a year to prepare these defenses. For the scenario the defenders get, for free, a trench for a section, a bunker, and four stands of barbed wire.
I positioned them near the jump off points so that I could deploy directly into the trench and bunker. I got five additional points of support and chose a tripod-mounted machine gun and Molotov cocktails for a team. Further, the men were in high spirits, with 11 force morale.
While I got the free defenses, the international meddlers (the Lincolns) got two Soviet-made T-26 tanks. Unfortunately, the history is clear - the Nationalists had one AT gun in the whole town, and it was positioned at the old gate on the main road, nowhere near this fight. To fight these tanks my requetes only have the Molotovs, grenades, and of course, prayer.
Beyond the tanks, the Lincolns get ten additional points of support, which Fritz spent on an off-table artillery battery and a tripod-mounted machine gun. Unfortunately for Fritz, his men were feeling a bit tentative that morning, with only an 8 on Force Morale even after his bonus +1 on the roll.
Fritz makes the obvious moves and brings his tanks on first. I roll my command dice, collecting fives (for CoC dice) and deploying nothing. As the tanks move up, a team of Machine Guns from the Lincolns' "Tom Mooney" Company sets up in some light cover ready to support the infantry.
The artillery observers deploy further back, with a good view of everything.
Still, no movement from the Nationalists in the trenches. No one fires. Finally, the Lincoln Platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Vasilie Serban, orders two scouts to try to flank the bunker.
Seeing them in the open, the machine gun team in the bunker opens fire.
With the bunker protecting them, I decided to risk the overwatch on the tanks and machine gun. Fritz rolled very well, actually managing several kills (the first is ignored in a bunker) and shock.
Tank fire added to the machine guns.
My machine gun tried to concentrate on theirs, whittling down the crew.
Soon, fire erupted from the trench line.
Two thirds of the section (11 men) were on the firing step, and one team held behind out of sight.
Soon, the Lincolns' MG was pinned, and down to three men.
Despite throwing some shock on the observer team, I was unable to pin them and they called in the artillery on the trench.
Worse, my machine gunners had become pinned in their bunker, and reduced to only two men.
Going in to this battle, my intention was to mount a resistance, but to try not to risk the platoon doing so. The fortifications were an advantage, sure, but I didn't think it likely that my men could really win here, not with two tanks that I could do so little about. The question burning continuously in my mind was "when do I order the retreat?" This was the first moment of decision. Everything I had on the board was pinned. While I immediately ended the turn, Fritz spent a CoC die to keep the barrage going. I either needed to double down, and try to unpin the machine gun team, or commit nothing else and retreat as soon as the barrage let up.
"Sargento, get out to that bunker and keep them firing," came the order from the alferez. Platoon Sergeant Loredo Guzman, a seminary drop-out turned defender of the faith, rushed into the bunker and reminded the men of their duty.
With his encouragement, they managed to wipe out the Lincoln scouts. As part of the platoon, these casualties would count for next battle, unlike whatever I inflicted on the observers or MGs.
Shortly after, I was able to end the turn again, and the barrage came to an end, at least for the moment. Further, having reduced their shock, the MG was unpinned. God is with us!
Concentrating all fire on the MG team, the Requetes were able to break them! While the Lincolns benefit from the anti-fascist rule (they don't break, just "retire" and become pinned), their support does not. Between them and the scout team being wiped out, the Lincolns were already down to a 6 morale.
With the machine gun team breaking for the rear, the observer team was next. While it turns out that observers are never pinned according to the rules, only a chance to be killed, we couldn't find that in the rules and played it like any other team. Despite being pinned, they still managed to contact the battery, which spelled trouble if they could activate again.
But between the rifle section and MG, they broke (or were killed, or whatever the rules say!). The Lincoln force morale sank to a 5.
Fire from the tanks was starting to take a toll on the riflemen however. And now that everything else was gone, there was nothing left to shoot at. While I now had more than twice the enemy's force morale, there seemed like little I could do against two tanks. Again the question came, is it time to withdraw? The whole Lincoln platoon (excepting the two scouts) was still safely off the table.
The men look helplessly as the tanks advance. The Lincolns remain far back in safety.
The gruff old Carlist section soldier (the oldest man in the platoon at 40 and a Quinto native), Dario Rodrigues, ordered his men off the firing step to avoid the tank shells. They kept as low as possible, waiting for a target.
The tanks turned towards the cemetery walls, angling for the bunker.
With the tank barrage, the MG crew once again became pinned, despite Sargent Guzman's best efforts.
It was a waiting game, since firing wasn't an option. I rolled a remarkable amount of fives, securing numerous chain of command dice. At one point I had four, a personal record.
Firing at the bunker as they moved, the tanks kept the machine gunners down and tried to flank the Nationalist lines.
At the moment they began to crush down the barbed wire, the Requetes launched their ambush with the Molotov cocktails. They were totally unsuccessful, perhaps getting caught up in their own wire.
After the failed ambush the men vanished behind the lines and I spend another CoC die to pull back the jump off point from the bunker to prevent its capture.
The tank rolled over the wire, despite the machine gun trying to drive it off by firing at the view ports.
Turning its turret gave the Soviet tank an enfilade shot down the trench, killing a man before I could rush them out of it.
Another choice - dare I continue to fight against two tanks? Do I risk losing more men for a battle I'm unlikely to win? Then again, my opponent is down to 5 morale, if he loses any more he starts to lose command dice. Further, if I somehow CAN take out one of those tanks, it won't be back if I did win and forced him to play the scenario again. It was a terrible gamble, and the Alfarez, a good Catholic, felt bad about risking his men, but he decided that if the Americans could be held here, it might be worth it. The Molotov team rushed out once again!
Again they failed, dropping to half their original number and taking serious shock. But rather than pull them off after the ambush I decided to leave them on, as I'd had a double six (two phases on a run), and wanted to try again. I decided if they failed a third time, I'd have no choice but to sound the retreat.
Sargent Guzman reminded them why they were there - "Por Dios, Rey, y PATRIA!!"
This time the Molotovs found the tank's treads and fire spread up the whole right side of the tank.
The fire spread, and the Russian crew bailed out in a panic! The Lincoln's force morale dropped to a 3, the lowest it could be for them to still win. Further, they were down to 3 command dice.
The other tank was by then moving up towards the trench. The tactic was clear - Fritz was going to move the tank as close as possible and then move his jump off point up behind it so that his infantry could assault the trench.
Alfarez Ortega rushed out in person to exhort the men. "At the ready, prepare grenades". It was desperate, and the men knew it. But many of them had family in the town they were protecting and were not going to give up easily.
The tank reared up on the hill and Ortega ordered his men over the top...
Surrounding the unescorted tank on all sides, young Requetes climbed up and shoved their grenades into the view ports at point blank range. Three grenades were sufficient to kill the whole crew, ending the threat for the moment. With Fritz's morale down to a 2, he could no longer with the scenario, and the Lincolns aborted their assault for the moment.
An entirely unexpected victory. I had honestly expected to get trounced here, but some lucky breaks and tight defensive tactics won the day. Or did it?
While the Requetes held the field for the moment, they'd lost 9 men from the platoon (not counting the MG crew), of which only two are lightly wounded enough to return to duty for the next game. While the Lincolns lost their free tanks (they'll have to pay for them if they want them next time), they only lost their two man scout team, one of which is coming back. The rest of the platoon was never even deployed.
When the Internationals come again, they will have less support, but I'll be down 7 men, a considerable amount. I'm not sure I'll be able to hold them off a second time...
A VERY intense game, with a surprise outcome. After the battle, the Lincoln's C.O. was pretty disappointed with the platoon's performance (although the men were happy to be kept out of harm's way), while the Requete's commander, an ex-Civil Guard Captain, was naturally quite pleased with Alfarez Ortega's persistence. However, the men were heard to be grumbling about their losses, despite the destruction of the tanks (-1 relationship with the men).