Spanish Civil War Squad Leader’s View: Madrid Looks An Awful Lot Like Stalingrad

A Boardgaming Life Replay

by Russ Lockwood

“Attencion! Attencion!” yelled the Spanish Republican propaganda officer into the loudspeaker. “Francisco Franco is still dead!”

Spanish Nationalist Corporal Juan Modica peered out the broken window on the ground floor of a bomb-ruined building. With a snort of derision, he turned to look at his squad and snarled, “If Franco was dead, we wouldn’t be here making a final attack on Madrid.”
His squad grinned with confidence. They had fought long and hard to get here. The ragtag bunch of Lefties and Democs hadn’t stopped them from reaching Madrid, and they sure wouldn’t stop them from taking it.

My Spanish Nationalist troops started out under Captain Lopez in the three-story building (right) and under Corporal Modica in a one-story building (left). Mortars under Captain Lusso at bottom right.

Modica glanced through the window again and muttered, “Then again, if Franco was dead, I’d be sipping sangria in a tapas bar.”

The fog was lifting, revealing other ruined buildings held by his fellow Nationalists. A giant three-story building held most of them, including a HMG and MMG placed on the third floor with Sergeant Pizzul and a trio of squads with squads on the second, first, and ground floors as well. Company commander Captain Lopez held a small outbuilding with even more squads. The three-story building was a fortress taken yesterday. They would not give it up easily.

Also on the third floor was Captain Lusso, in charge of the 81mm and 50mm mortars hidden in the rubble. A lone squad with MMG hid in a building off to the right to hold flank. Somewhere was an anti-tank rifle.

Modica felt safe, or at least as safe as he could be among ruined buildings that looked an awful lot like Stalingrad. A German Condor Legion company was to his left and another Condor Legion company was to his right. He knew little about them and even less about the Italians on the far, far right near the river. Above his pay grade, he reasoned.

The fog continued to thin. When Captain Lopez placed him here, he had little knowledge of what was in front. Modica hoped Lopez was right about the placement.

The Republican side (sans Keith) places troops behind an impenetrable wall of cardboard fog and cardstock ground fog: Dennis (top), Allen (middle), and Sean.

A Foggy Squaddie War

Eight of us gathered around the table on a Friday morning for a multi-player game of Squad Leader. It had been over a couple years since I last played — the linked Arnhem scenarios (featuring my dynamic duo of Fallschirmjager Regiment 6, Sergeant Dunz and Captain Dunzel) was back in 2013 and I recall, but cannot find the write up of, a Stalingrad game in 2014 or 2015. Thankfully, Dan gave us a quick overview of the rules prior to the fog lifting.

The sides were:
Republicans: Keith (Russians), Dennis (British), Allen (Polish), and Sean (French).
Nationalists: Dan (Condor Legion), me (Spanish), Ed (Condor Legion), and Fred (Italians).

Dan used the Stalingrad maps as stand-ins for Madrid, mostly because the Stalingrad maps had extra large hexes instead of the usual 1/2-inch hexes. My grognard eyes and chubby fingers thank him for that mercy.

Dan also doubled down on the fog. Usually, we put up a board barrier between the sides for secret set ups. This time, Dan added a white cardstock covering up the middle third, no man’s land section of the board. Folks like me, who do not memorize the Squad Leader boards, would set up with a lot of uncertainty in front of us. That added to scenario tension.

The Nationalist side: Ed (right), Fred (middle), and Dan (standing, although his sector was off map at bottom). Republican Sean at left. I run the green fellows at bottom of photo.

Three Stories, But No Tall Tales

We diced for initiative and the Nationalist side won, so we moved first. That was quite handy. I had a three-story building in the middle of my set-up zone. When the fog lifted, it dominated the generally flat terrain in front of it.

A key building was in no man’s land in front of my sector. I didn’t have to worry about flanks, so Corporal Modica boldly led a number of squads, along with some squads of the neighboring Condor Legion, to grab the building.

The Republicans were on the other side of a great gully with cliff-like sides that ran the width of the board. The good news was that it basically formed a firepower-proof covered highway. The bad news was that it channeled attacks to the limited egress spots. The situation unhinged the British commander, who filtered squads through the gully and into nearby buildings.

2d6 Hide and Seek

Although not a regular Squad Leader player, I learned enough over the years to understand that the 2d6 firepower results chart is stacked in favor of forming large stacks of units with a NCO or officer nearby. “8 at 8” is the only result I’ve memorized, which translates as 8 factors firing need an 8 or less on 2d6 to force anything (a morale check in this case). Eight firepower factors add up to about two average squads’ worth of gunnery.

“It took a heroic shot (snakeeyes) from one of Ed’s nearby squads to disrupt the crew.”

No problem, except just about every hex offers a terrain modifier. In an urban environment, that’s +2 for wooden buildings and +3 for stone/concrete buildings. If entrenched, the modifier is +4. Remember, rolling low is good. Thus, two squads shooting at troops in a concrete building means you need to roll a 5 or less on 2d6 to do anything — low odds indeed at 27% or so to hit. Then the targets get a 2d6 saving roll, usually 6, 7, or 8 or less, to pass. Even with a minus or two, that drops the odds of actually doing damage to half of that — call it a ballpark, overall 1 in 6 chance.

Hence, you load up squads with MG support weapons (6 more firepower points for a HMG, 4 for a MMG, and 2 for a LMG). Then, you stick an officer or NCO with a stack so he can “coordinate” two stacks’ firepower so now you roll on the 20+ columns. Then you start to see some results with average die rolls instead of heroic die rolls.

German Dan (top left) and Russian Keith watch British Dennis maneuver through the gully on the Republican half of Turn 1. Allen sets a trap for Ed.

Battlelines and Crying Times

My Spanish and Dan’s Condor Legion secured the building, now renamed Casa la Domenic the Donkey, and established various firefights with the encroaching British. Keith’s Russians tried the end around, but Dan’s Legion thwarted most early efforts, although Russian quantity has a quality all its own.

The Russians took heavy casualties, but picked off the odd German, bowing back our left flank. In a snakeeyes roll, one of Dan’s units generated a “hero” — an extra counter with some firepower and staying power.

In an amusing show of perseverance and futility, my 81mm and 50mm mortars zeroed in on Allen’s entrenched 76mm gun for several fire phases and never harmed crew or gun. It took a heroic shot (snakeeyes) from one of Ed’s nearby squads to disrupt the crew. Meanwhile, Ed’s Condor Legion advanced in the center, trading shots with troops commanded by Allen and Sean. The Italians at the far right by the river also advanced, helping push back Sean’s French troops.

Vroom, Vroom: Boom, Boom

Dennis’ British drove a tankette of some type armed with MGs over the gully bridge and up the road, curling around Casa Donkey and hammering Condor Legion troops with its MGs. The Germans, tough they might be, fled, leaving only a leader and one squad. Dan decided to close assault the tankette. The Leutnant passed the pre-assault morale check, but the squad failed and fled. I had added Pedro the Magnificent with his Anti-Tank Rifle (ATR) to the assault and Pedro passed his morale check. Pedro the Magnificent turns the British tankette into a wreck.

Under Leutnant Luger, Pedro the Magnificent shoved the business end of his ATR against the rear armor, pulled the trigger, and watched the tankette engine explode. Pedro was showered with German and Spanish praise and only a little burning petrol. He immediately attracted British covering fire and fled, taking a siesta as a reward for a job well done.

Pedro, back inside Casa Donkey without his ATR, takes a siesta at the beginning of Turn 4.

Supporting British troops suffered from Condor Legion fire and about half fled the scene. Meanwhile, more sneaky Brits crept out of the gully. Allen’s 76mm gun finally scored a low-odds hit on my supporting squads on the top floor of Casa Donkey, forcing them back and allowing the creeping Brits to dash into the ground floor.

Inspired by Pedro, Corporal Modica grabbed three squads armed with LMGs and close assaulted the intruders. British defensive fire failed but Spanish ardor succeeded in wiping out the group and capturing a LMG in the process.
Corporal Modica overruns a British squad.

La Grande Can-Can

About this time, Sean finally got his radio working with his 155mm off-board artillery. The Italians took a shell in the meatballs. Then the Germans took a shell. Then Captain Lopez took a shell on the third floor of his building. All his troops fled to inner safety and the MGs were unmanned. It took two turns to get reserve squads back into position. By that time, Sean trained his gun somewhere else. Lopez eventually rallied himself and his men and then went back to firing long-range and low-odds shots at Allen’s Polish troops.

The rest of the French were being churned up although the line stagnated on our right. In the center, Ed’s Condor Legion was a little strung out from his advance and was being countered by Allen.

My Spanish held Casa Donkey and I filtered reserve squads forward to make sure I kept it. One squad with a MMG pushed up on the right behind a Condor Legion stack. It never really got into position to do much except threaten the enemy, which was enough at times. I sent one squad across to the left because the Russians were pushing deeper and deeper into our left flank and starting to curl inward. Admittedly, they had far fewer troops than when they started, but still held a numerical, if not quantitative, edge.

End of Game

So the game ended after five full turns in about five hours and given the final positions, I’d give the Nationalist side a minor victory in this land grab of victory conditions.

End of game on left flank: Russians curling around while Germans and Spanish hold the central position.

Each player had 800 points. In my case, that translated into about 25 or 30 counters, including support weapons and leaders. I am not sure what losses other players suffered, but I only lost two squads the entire game, although at times had half a dozen or so trying to regain morale from artillery and mortar strikes. About a third of my troops at the three-story building never moved, content to be a fire base that hammered away at Dennis and Allen with HMG, MMG, and mortars and denied access to the relatively open no man’s land.

Overall, everyone smartly took advantage of the heavy cover, although generally the more aggressive you were, the more casualties you took. I’m glad half the players knew the rules. Although the basic, basic Squad Leader system is straightforward enough, the multitude of nuances contained in successive modules add more and more complexity that goes over my head. Of course, it’s those detailed nuances that created the most entertaining events of the game and it still holds up after all these years.

About the Author

Russ Lockwood has been bouncing around the wargaming world for the last 25 years in one capacity or another. Most know him as creator and CEO of (on-line archive of 162 military history and related magazines from Coalition Web, Inc. from 1996-2009). He appeared on camera on The History Channel (Modern Marvels), ABC, NBC, Fox, and various cable TV shows. MagWeb was also covered by the NY Times, USA Today, and other newspapers, a variety of trade and consumer magazines, and a multitude of on-line sites. He’s given lectures at various HMGS conventions, Origins War College, and various professional meetings and seminars. Although MagWeb closed in 2009, those white MagWeb rulers still appear on wargaming tabletops across the country.

On the prior professional front, Lockwood was Editorial Director of AT&T’s web division, Senior Editor at Personal Computing Magazine, Assistant Editor at Creative Computing Magazine, Telecommunications Editor for A+ Magazine (Apple), tech writer at AT&T, Staff Writer (Financial) NY Times Information Service, and freelancer for PC Sources, Windows Sources, PC, MacUser, Byte, Restaurant Business, Hotel Business, Computer Buyer’s Guide and Handbook, and other magazines. He also hosted a radio show, ComputerWise, for five years, and was an on-line editor for ZiffNet on Compuserve and Ziffnet on Prodigy.

He is currently a freelance editor and writer covering financial and defense news, with a concentration on the retail industry. If you are really interested, go to Linked In, where he maintains a profile.

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