Thursday, November 7, 2013

Worst Case Scenario #10 - 'Five Monks in the Bush are Worth One Against the Wall' - 'Chain of Command' set in the Spanish Civil War


A year or so ago I wrote a piece on historical wargaming and playing 'the bad guys'. In it I raised the question that if we take the time to painstakingly model the technical, tactical and aesthetic detail of our miniature battles, could we (or should we) try to replicate the moral ambiguity within our tabletop conflicts as well. So, with this in mind I put together a small Spanish Civil War scenario that, while fictional, contains historical elements which, I think, reflects the brutal nature of that conflict and also casts the accepted heroes in a different light. As is often stated: in war, there is no black and white.

The setting of the scenario is somewhere in southern Spain, near the Republican zone, during the Red Terror of the summer of 1936. In a nutshell, the Red Terror was a violent reaction by extremist elements of the Republican population against the supporters of the Nationalist cause, namely monarchists, a large portion of the officer class and the Catholic Church. As a result, the Terror saw an almost orgiastic killing of approximately 50,000 people linked to these groups, including around 7,000 members of the Catholic clergy. 

As counterpoint, the Red Terror was more than matched by Franco's Nationalists with their widespread purge of suspected 'reds and atheists'. While the Republican pogrom lasted a few months before it was brought under control, the Nationalist purge went on for years, even  long past the war, impacting hundreds of thousands of people. 

All wars are nasty, but civil wars are typically very, very bitter affairs.

Anticlerical Sentiment: A well known photo depicting Spanish Republicans shooting at a statue of Christ.
The scenario begins at a country church which has just been demolished by a Republican force (in platoon strength approximately). The reason for this is that the captain of the Republicans, a crippled veteran of the 1934 right-wing purge, is seeking a particular priest who denounced him and his family, causing his torture and their death. Now that the tables have turned, he searches for the priest throughout the countryside in order to exact his revenge. 

The Republican Captain's armoured command truck parked next to the smoking ruins of the church.
The trail of the priest has lead the Republicans to this small country church which is part of a monastic order. It is believed that the priest is hiding among the local monks, awaiting the time where he can escape to the Nationalist lines. 

Upon the Republicans' arrival the Captain finds his quarry still eluding him. Accordingly, he has those inside the church questioned and shot and the church itself lit on fire. Sitting in his armoured truck, the Captain has been informed by one of the unfortunate parishioners that five monks were last seen working in the surrounding fields and that one of the monks matches the description of the priest. The Captain orders his men to find the five monks and bring them back so he can identify which one amongst them is the priest. The other option is that they can simply hunt down and execute each of the monks in turn, but this will take time and they will have to kill all of the monks to be sure that the priest is dead. 

Anarchists taking a monk under custody...
Meanwhile, a Nationalist detachment stationed at a nearby village has heard the ringing of the church bells before they were silenced by the Republican assault.  The Nationalists are well aware of the Republican Captain's activities and wish him stopped. Accordingly they have dispatched a reinforced platoon to bring him to ground.

This is where the game begins.



The victory conditions are different for each side. For the Republicans it is to bring the priest to justice, through whatever means. For the Nationalists it is to capture or kill the Republican captain to end his anti-clerical pogrom. 

The Republican captain, due to his disability, cannot leave his armoured truck. The truck itself is a makeshift design which is carrying far too much armoured plate for its meagre engine and frame. Therefore each time it moves it has to roll to see if it breaks down (a 1 on a D6). If it breaks down the captain will have to be carried by his men, reducing their overall movement. 

The position of the five monks are secretly marked on a paper map of the tabletop. Once any unit comes within 6" of a monk he is placed on tabletop in that position. They are resigned to their fate and so will not run or fight. They need to be contacted to be brought into custody.

When we played the scenario Jeremy took on the role of the Republican captain and Stacy and John commanded the Nationalists. 

As the scenario progressed, Jeremy's Republican squads managed to round up 3 of the 5 monks on the right flank while under constant fire. Nonetheless the Nationalists, ignoring the plight of the monks, drove the majority of their forces in an assault straight up the center, through the cornfield, towards the Captain's command truck.




Once the Republican position was softened up by rifle fire the Carlists launched their assault. This resulted in a pitched close combat between the Carlists and a squad of Republicans in the graveyard. The Carlists were mauled but they managed to wipe out the Republicans in vicious hand-to-hand combat and gained a position within striking distance of the Captain's command vehicle.

Feeling the heat, Jeremy managed to maneuver the armoured truck away from danger without bogging it. He even coaxed it to come up to a Republican soldier who was holding the fourth monk near a treeline. The monk was questioned but it was not the priest. Nevertheless, he was detained and brought along with the Captain's unit.


Over on the other flank a squad of Anarchists had managed to capture another three monks but were pinned down by a light tank and rifle fire from a Morrocan unit. Fearing that they may be overrun and lose their opportunity to take the monks back to their Captain they chose instead to execute all three of them on the spot. When this happened there was a bit of tension at the table which I found interesting, but with the way the scenario was unfolding it somehow seemed frightfully 'in-character'.



The Nationalists now began to move their entire force to intercept or cut off the Captain in his armoured truck. As if on cue, the truck broke down while trying to reverse out of a field and the Captain had to be retrieved and carried by a nearby squad.

Finally those Republicans carrying the Captain found the 5th and final monk in a nearby field. This monk would either be the priest or, if not, then he had already been anonymously executed on the right flak by the Anarchists. Jeremy rolled to see if he was the priest and discovered he was not. At this point the Captain realized that the object of hatred had been slain without him. His vengeance seemed hollow and bittersweet as he had not been there to witness the act. Feeling empty he released the two surviving monks and ordered his men back to their own lines. 

We ended the game there as I reasoned that the Captain would ultimately be overrun by the faster moving Nationalists. Very shortly, he and his men would find their end, much like the monks and many others that summer, against a nondescript wall in the Spanish sun.

Yes, a nasty little scenario but somehow fitting for the period. All of the guys seemed to appreciate the tone and thought it was good to have a realistic setting for these period pieces. Personally, I don't know if I'll make a habit of this, but I think it's good to attempt from time to time.

So I'll end this post with a historical footnote in order to provide some real-world perspective. Below is a remarkable photograph taken by Hans Gutmann (aka Juan Guzman) of Martin Martinez Pascual, a Spanish priest, aged 25, near Teruel in 1936. 


What makes this photo particularly poignant is that it was taken just a few minutes before Pascual was executed by Republican forces. It is a hauntingly beautiful image, with Pascual in full possession of himself, confident, even showing a faint, whimsical smile. 


It is reported that the young priest held no animosity towards his executioners and even blessed them. He asked to stand facing the firing squad and, just before he was shot, he called out 'Viva Cristo Rey' (Long live Christ the King). I'm not a religious person but I can't help but admire this man's conviction of spirit. Remarkable.

52 comments:

  1. A grim era of history, great batrep and Pascual was a true martyr!

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    1. Thanks for your comment Fran, much appreciated.

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  2. Great ARR! And I really love the title!

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    1. Thanks, the title just sort of lept off the keyboard when I was typing-up the report.

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  3. Pretty deep stuff, Curt. Wonderful figs and terrain as always. Best, Dean

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  4. A very interesting report, thank you for writing it and for showing, in a small way, the horrors of civil war.

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    1. It was certainly grittier than our normal fair but the SCW is good for attempting a more narrative approach.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, its much appreciated.

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  6. A great read. The Spanish Civil War even now evokes such polarising responses, it is ideal for exploring a scenario that is inherently morally ambiguous. It helps one see things from different perspectives when you are forced to make the sorts of decisions they had to on the battlefield. Have you modelled Durruti per chance, wouldn't mind seeing more of him and his Anarchists.

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    1. Thanks Dan. I'm always a little wary writing up SCW posts as many of my blog-friends are Spanish and I don't want to insult them or pay disrespect to this painful chapter of their history. Nonetheless, I think its important to try to explore these topics as it brings, at least to me, a greater sense of honesty/realism to the tabletop.

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    2. Curt, you are really respectful with this dark chapter of our history, as you say. In fact there are too many Spaniars that are not so respectful as you are.
      Thank you a lot for your interest in the SCW.

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    3. Thanks very much Juan. As I've said before, I think we should balance our fascination in these matters of warfare without being vulgar or losing the idea of the human cost associated.

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  7. Interesting battle report and tale told.

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    1. Cheers Simon, I'm glad you found it an interesting read.

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  8. This was a war of convictions, and a dirty one.
    Very nice scenario and battle report!

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    1. Well said Juan. Thanks for coming by to comment.

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  9. I really liked this report as it's a quite different approach than one is normally used to.

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    1. Thanks Nick. It was good to explore something a little different for a change. But as usual, it's the players that make it a success or a failure. In that way I'm very fortunate to have a great bunch of guys who'll let me indulge in these things.

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  10. A brave game that sensibly explores the ambiguities that most of us gloss over. I can only applaud the mature realistic approach.

    Needs a bigger audience if you ask me.

    Regards,

    Pete.

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    1. Thanks very much Pete, I'm flattered by your comments. As I've mentioned before it has alot to do with the maturity/sensitivity of the players.

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    2. Would you mind if I post a link to it on my blog?

      Cheers,

      Pete.

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    3. Of course, I'd be honoured. Thank you!

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    4. Done. I hope you approve.

      Cheers,

      Pete.

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    5. Thanks very much Pete. And great blog by the way!

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  11. A very insightful post Curt and a very different take on wargaming the SCW capturing very well the less spoken aspects of the conflict. Very well done.

    Christopher

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    1. Cheers Christopher, I really appreciate your comments.

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  12. A very interesting scenario and AAR, with a lot more depth than most games. Fitting with remembrance day coming up.

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    1. Thanks very much Sean. Yes, this time of year always makes me a bit contemplative about our hobby.

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  13. I find this kind of post absolutely enthralling, The last part about Martin Martinez Pascual is seriously gripping stuff. What about the character of the man to face his own death with that kind of composure and lack of animosity to his executioners?!? Just amazing. Thanks for sharing Curt...

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    1. Thanks for your comment Millsy, I'm very happy you found it worthwhile.

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  14. Fascinating scenario and lovely figures.... like you I am not religious, and am often mystified that people can get so wound up in it to want to go to war over a difference of belief... the world would have been a much more peaceful and dare I say happier place without it! That's my belief! ;-)

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    1. Yes, I'd tend to agree. If you took nationalism and religion out of the mix we'd have much fewer things to fight about. Other than ethnicity, poverty, water, clean air, sports... ;)

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  15. Really interesting scenario, Curt. Playing wargames often seems a little sterile compared to reality. I think you've achieved a realistic compromise.

    On another note, we reviewed our rules in the last year or so, and I raised the issue of units with no line of retreat surrendering after failing a morale check. I suggested that the nearest unit from the opposing force detach a certain number of troops to supervise the captured unit. It was decided to knock this on the head when it was pointed out a particularly ruthless player (no names mentioned!) would probably resort to shooting all prisoners out of hand rather than lose any unit strength to escort prisoners to the rear!

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    1. Thanks Johnny! I like your rules mod for surrendered combatants. If I were you I'd just make it mandatory that x many prisoners require the removal of y number of guards with no shenanigans allowed. That, or you penalize the offending player with grievous loss of victory points, prestige, etc. Of course this would have to be put on a sliding scale based on the period being gamed. As we see here, the SCW was a very bad war to be taken prisoner whereas the war in the West during WWII was comparatively civilized once you were out of the combat zone. Interesting (if not sobering) topic.

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  16. This is brilliant, from start to finish. I know so little about this, so I appreciate the background material. Very moving and a very powerful ending. This is something I'll be thinking about long after I leave your fine blog Curt.

    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hey, thanks very much Monty. I'm delighted that you enjoyed reading it.

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  17. Interesting post

    A bit too grim for my taste in wargaming I am afraid

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    1. Thanks for your honest comment, David. I can sympathize that this type of scenario would not be to everyone's taste. It IS very grim. But I guess that was the mood I wanted to achieve. I'm a bit of a closet nihilist and so like to delve into these themes from time to time. (Then once its out of my system I'll watch Mary Poppins with the wife and not feel like pillorying the neighbourhood teenagers - well, for a few hours anyway.)

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  18. That's a pretty remarkable post, Curt - from start to finish. You're a pretty brave man to even try something like this. You've clearly got a wonderful group of gamers.

    Sometimes there are moments in a wargame which, when the players stand and reflect, really do bring out the horrible, random, terrifying, feral nature of war. But it's something else to try and focus a game on this - so bravo for giving that a go.

    As regards war crimes - a little goes a very, very long way on the wargames table. I still remember games in which prisoners have been killed, or where there has been some random slaughter of non-combatants on the table. Those kind of things stick in the mind - and always leave me unsettled (which is, perhaps, the point).

    Thanks also for your wonderful end-piece about Martin Martinez Pascual. Hauntingly beautiful.

    A really great post, Curt. Up there with your very finest.

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    1. Thanks for your considered words Sidney. Yes, we have a very good group here. They allow (and encourage) me to indulge in these sorts of capers, so I'm pretty darn lucky.

      I'm a bit of a contrarian at heart and an agent provocateur so I like to challenge the guys with these narrative scenarios from time to time. As I often state, (and this frequently makes fellow hobbyists shift in their seat), we in this hobby make a game out of war. It sounds ugly but it's fundamentally true. So with that being the case I think it good to realize on the tabletop, from time to time, even a tiny portion of the ugliness of that human condition. I think 'Victory conditions', 'winning' and 'losing' should be seen a wider context.

      Thanks again for contributing to the dialogue Sidney.

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  19. Great game as usual dude - and as always, lots of depth to your scenarios! Looking forward to seeing you guys this weekend!

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    1. Thanks Greg. We can't wait to see you so we can catch up!

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  20. I found it a little unsettling just to read this, I imagine it would be even more challenging to try to game it. But you seem to have pulled off a tricky subject with respect and maturity, not that I'd expect any different.

    A really interesting post on the subject once again, thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Phil. The scenario was surprisingly easy to come up with (the sources are all there) but you're right, you have to strike the right tone with the players or it all seems vulgar. I think we did a decent job of it and the lads treated the exercise in the appropriate manner yet again not holding back. On the whole it was a good thing to try and I'll do it again.

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  21. Every so often it does us good to run a scenario/game that might make us uncomfortable. It makes us consider the history around the toy soldiers on the table top a little more.

    Nicely done.

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    1. My thoughts exactly Clint, thanks so much for commenting.

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