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The Spanish Civil War: Designer Notes #4

Hello to All,

In the latest installment of Javier Romero's designer notes for his forthcoming game, The Spanish Civil War, we take a look at the air power employed by the combatants. For those that know something of the conflict or have followed the notes you'll notice the same trend or theme- international material and involvement in this Civil War. It is remarkable how the myriad powers used this stage to test, experiment, show-off and to even train their planes and pilots.

Please see The Spanish Civil War folder on Consimworld for more information on the game. Javier is very responsive and open to thoughts and questions.


Andy Young


International Air Wars

by Javier Romero

Air Support in TSCW is abstracted in the form of air units that add combat factors to the ground battles. Various participants in the conflict sent planes and volunteers to fight in the skies above Spain from the USSR to Germany to even Mexico. In addition to ground support, air power was used against civilian targets. The Nationalists (read: Luftwaffe and Italian Air Force volunteers), for example, conducted aerial bombings of cities in Republican territory.

Air Units are offered with strength differences illustrating the differences in equipment and doctrine, as well as the difference between the obsolete planes of the pre-war air force and the well-equipped air forces organized by both sides later in the war. Early War Air Units add a +1 combat factor- their effect being more psychological than anything else (especially when used against the green militia columns). Late War Units could add as much as +6 as is the case with the Legion Kondor planes.

At the beginning of the war the pre-war Spanish Air Force sided mostly with the Republican government: about two thirds of approximately 300 planes and some 250 pilots. Therefore, during the first turns of TSCW the Republicans have air superiority: two Republican air support units vs. a single Nationalist air unit. With the Republican controlled navy blockading the strait of Gibraltar (this blockade would last until October 1936), the Nationalist aircraft in Morocco were decisive in transporting the crack units of the Army of Africa to Seville and Granada. The Nationalists succeeded in organizing the first ever air bridge in history using a handful of civilian and military DC-2 and Fokker F-VIII aircraft later reinforced by Ju 52 transports sent from Germany. The units of the African Army allowed Franco to consolidate control of Southern Spain before marching on to Extremadura, Toledo and Madrid.

The arrival of the first Italian air units in September 1936, represented by a single +5 Italian air unit (comprised of Fiat CR-32 biplane fighters and Savoia 81 bombers), tipped the scales tactically in favor of the Nationalists. The Republican air force was comprised of mostly outdated French planes: Breguet XIX, Loire, Potez, Dewoitine or Nieuport 52. The Italian Aviazione Legionaria (technically they were attached to the Spanish Foreign Legion) gave the Nationalist air superiority for at least two months. That superiority, however, was contested in November 1936 by the arrival of Soviet aircraft and pilots (factor +4, representing I-15 “Chato” fighters and Tupolev SB-2 “Katiuska” fast bombers). The Soviet bombers were actually faster than the He-51 and CR-32 enemy fighters! In mid-November 1936, arrived the first Polikapov I-16 fighters (called “Rata” –rat- by the Nationalists, and “Mosca” –“fly”- by the Republicans) for the Republican side. Not to be outdone, later that month Germany shipped to Spain the Kondor Legion (represented by two counters). Despite these powerful Luftwaffe machines, the Republicans seemed to enjoy the tactical edge in the skies with Italian defeats mounting, including at Guadalajara (March 1937).

During early 1937, the Republican enclave in the North received a few Soviet planes but the successful Nationalist blockade of the Northern coast of Spain made shipments by sea very difficult. Some aircraft sent (including a few American planes) were even captured at sea. Fighters of the era (Soviet I-15 fighters basically) had little range to fly to the North from the central Republican zone. Several expeditions were organized to ship aircraft to the North, usually with a two-engine plane acting as a pathfinder. These expeditions are simulated in the game by the “Sending Aircraft to the North” chits. In all, however, the Northern theatre saw very little air combat due to the sealed French border and to the coastal blockades.

Although by the Summer of 1937, the Republicans had more operative aircraft (377 planes with Spanish, Soviet and foreign mercenary crews, including Americans such as Frank Tinker who achieved “ace” status flying a Polikarpov I-15). The Nationalists still could achieve air superiority in the North at this time by concentrating its air force against the small Republican air force there. In game terms, the Republican player has some 4 or 5 air support units by this stage of the war, but only the “N” air unit can support ground forces in the Northern zone. The Nationalists are free to concentrate everything in the North if they please. It should be mentioned that it was during the Northern campaign, when the Legion Kondor experimented (under combat conditions) with dive-bombing with a handful of Ju 87A and Ju87B Stukas.

The fall of the Republican Northern Zone with the battles of 1937 and early 1938 (Brunete, Belchite, Teruel and the offensive towards the Mediterranean) was marked by severe losses in planes and pilots for the Republican side. However, the Nationalist blockade of the Mediterranean coast, coupled with the Italian submarine activity against Soviet shipping (also represented by a chit in the game, “Italian Submarine Campaign”, which decreases the number of Republican Resource Points received that turn), prevented the arrival of new Soviet planes for several months, while the Italians and Germans kept sending more and better aircraft during the winter of 1937-38, including Me109s that could fight on equal terms the I-16. (Represented by chit, “New German Planes”). With air superiority achieved, the Nationalists would keep it until the end of the war. In any event, you can see how shipping airplanes to Iberia became a game of showmanship for the international combatants. In addition, it was a fertile field for the foreign powers to test their new ‘toys’ against their future enemies in World War II.