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.