Battle of the Ebro – A Rapier Offensive Scenario

I keep getting inspired by Martin Rapier and in particular his ideas on operational level games. Most recently what captured me was his article “The Battle of the Ebro, July 1938: A Spanish Civil War Megablitz Scenario” (Rapier, 2007). I’m not too interested in Megablitz but I am into the Spanish Civil War and this seemed like a good opportunity to try out Martin’s own rules which I’ve summarised previously on my Rapier Offensive page.

Historical Situation

Setting: Ebro River; 25 Jul – 2 Aug 1938

The Ebro Offensive was the Republican’s last major initiative in the Spanish Civil War. Its primary objective was draw Nationalist troops away from the threatened attack on Valencia to the south. In this objective the offensive was successful. The secondary objective was to prolong the civil war until the expected European war broke out forcing the Allies to save the Republic. The offensive did prolong the war, drawing the Nationalists into a four month long campaign, but it didn’t prolong it long enough to save the Republic.

The main Republicans thrust was directed at Gandesa, a key communications hub in Catalonia, about 20 km behind the Ebro. XV Corps was assigned to take Gandesa and this account focuses on that unit during the first few days, but ignoring the activities of 11th Division in the Sierra de Pandols to the south.

The assault was planned in several phases:

  1. The initial force would cross, by-pass the Nationalist river bank positions, and concentrate on creating a bridge head. 3rd division would cross west of Flix and occupy La Fatarella in the Sierra de Fatarella. The 35th division would cross at Ascó and occupy the crossroads at Venta de Camposines
  2. The 3rd division at La Fatarella would then take Villalba de Los Arcos-Batea. The 35th division at Venta de Camposines would take Gandesa and push along the road to the west.
  3. The advance would continue but by this stage engineers were expected to have heavy bridges across the Ebro facilitating the crossing of artillery and tanks.
  4. Do whatever the high command wished.

Facing the onslaught was the Nationalist 50th Division of the Moroccan Army Corps. The defensive plan was to hold the river line with the minimum force possible and bring up reserves to counter any thrust. The river line was defended by small camouflaged emplacements surrounded by barbed wire; given Yague only ordered concrete blockhouses on 13 Jul 1936, these were probably entrenchments not pillboxes. The bridges were blown and the river fords were covered with barbed wire and kept under observation. Behind the front line troops the rest 50th Division was divided into small units. The rough Nationalist deployment in the Gandesa sector was 16th Merida at Ascó, 4th Gerona at La Fatarella, 12th Bailén at Venta de Camposines, 3rd Victoria south of the Camposines-Gandesa road, and 5th Tabor of Regulares of Melilla at Gandesa

As it turned the Republicans reached the outskirts of Gandesa on the first day but never took it. It took the Nationalists 3 1/2 months to push the Republicans back across the Ebro.

The crossing, in the early hours of 25 Jul 1938, was relatively easy and caught the Nationalist units completely by surprise. Some front line units were completely destroyed. Venta de Camposines was in the hands of the 13th International Brigade by 0800 hours. There the Brigadistas captured a Lt. Col. from 50th Division and an Artillery Regiment. 13th International Brigade then headed for Corbera where they encountered strong resistance by the 5th Tabor of Regulares of Melilla and other reserve units of 13th Division. By 1000 hours 50th Division was scattered between the river and Gandesa, but reinforcements were on-route from 10th, 13th, 82nd and 4th Divisions. At 1022 Nationalist reconnaissance spotted the Republican foot bridges over the Ebro and bombing began in earnest. In fact during the first three days (25-27 Jul 1938) the Nationalists had complete air superiority and continually attacked the Republican ground troops, supplies, and bridges. At 1115 the Nationalists opened the lock at the reservoir at Barasona and raised the level of the Ebro. At 1215 Franco ordered the front to defend the Villabla-Corbera line but during the afternoon Col. Rubio in Corbera abandoned the village and fell back on Gandesa. By the end of the day the Republican 35th Division had almost reached Gandesa, the 3rd Division was established in the Sierra de la Fatarella, the iron bridge at Flix was almost completed, as was the wooden bridge at Ascó. At Gandesa elements of the 13th, 11th and 15th International Brigades were within 500 m of the town centre. The local population built barricades and dug trenches for the Natonalist defenders. The initial defenders were: 5th Tabor of Regulares of Melilla in the town centre, the 3rd Battalion of Victoria to the north, 16th Bandera of the Legion, and part of the Tabor of Ifni-Sahara. During the night Nationalist reinforcements continued to arrive: 1st and 6th Tabors of Melilla, 6th Bandera of the Legion, and 4th Castilian Falange. A tank company of 105th Division was also sent north. At this point Tagüeña of the Republican XV Corps ordered the reserve 16th Division across the river, but Gen. Rojo countermanded him.

On 26 Jul 1938 the Nationalists opened the flood gates at Tremp and Camarasa causing the level of the Ebro to rise further. The river continued to rise into the next day (27 Jul). This, and the continued Nationalist air attacks, limited the Republican ability to bring reinforcements, heavy equipment and supplies across the Ebro.

In fact the Republican ground attack effectively stalled on the Villalba to Gandesa line. Fierce fighting continued from 26 Jul to 2 Aug at Villalba, the crossroads at Cuatro Caminos, and at Gandesa itself, but with little success. The Nationalist 74th Division arrived on 27-28 Jul. The Republican 16th Division joined the attacking forces on 29 Jul. The Republicans made a major attacks on 1 and 2 Aug, but on 3 Aug they went on the defensive.



The map is for a 2’x6′ table. Each 6″x6″ sector on the table is 3.75 km across. That means the ground scale of the:

Table is 1:25,000
Map is 1:375,000

All Republican units start off table in the reserve areas (R1, R2). The Nationalist defenders can deploy anywhere on table.

The Ebro River is off table and included in the map purely to orientate the viewer and to mark the entry point of Republican units.

The green sectors are open terrain and the brown sectors are difficult terrain (i.e. hills). The difficult areas have a game effect. Roads (solid lines) and tracks (dotted lines) somewhat counter the effect of difficult terrain. Gandesa, the various villages, and one crossroad, are marked and named, but this is only for flavour and to aid in understanding the account in the historical situation. The red line on the western corner of the map indicates the valid entry points for Nationalist reinforcements, and potentially Republican exit points should I choose to include that as a victory condition.

Pre-game preparation

Nationalist Player (Defending)


Hold Gandesa and prevent Republicans existing troops to the west.

Forces Available

The Nationalists have the following order of battle.

Nationalist Order of Battle

  • 50th Division
    • 1 x HQ
      6 x Infantry Battalions, Tercios, or Tabors
      1 x 75mm Artillery Regiment
      1 x Supply Base
      1 x Artillery Supply Base (Ammo)
      10 x Fortifications
      20 x Dummies
  • Aircraft
    • 2 x Fighter Bomber
      2 x Bomber
      1 x Fighter


The Nationalists can deploy anywhere on table. Place the counters for the original troops face down on-table.


?? TODO ??

Nationalist Reinforcements

  • 26 Jul 1938 Reinforcements
    • 13th Brigade
  • 27 Jul 1938 Reinforcements

Republican Player (Attacking)


Capture Gandesa, hence cutting Nationalist north-south communications, and exit troops off the western corner edge.

Forces Available

The Republicans have the following order of battle.

Republican Order of Battle

  • 3rd Division
    • 1 x HQ
      8 x Infantry Battalions
      4 x Communist Infantry Battalions (Assault)
      1 x Supply Base
  • 35th (International) Division
    • 1 x HQ
      12 x International Brigade Battalions (Assault)
      1 x 75mm Artillery Regiment
      1 x Supply Base
      1 x Artillery Supply Base (Ammo)
  • 16th Division
    • 1 x HQ
      12 x Infantry Battalions
      1 x Supply Base
  • Corps Level Assets
    • 1 x T-26 Tank Battalion
      1 x Bilbao Armoured Car Battalion
      1 x Cavalry Regiment
      2 x Anti-aircraft Batteries
      2 x Pioneer Battalions
      2 x 75mm Artillery Regiment
      2 x Artillery Supply Base (Ammo)
      1 x Pontoon bridge (can carry motorised but not armour)
      1 x Light Bridge (can carry motorised but not armour)
      1 x Heavy Bridge (can carry motorised and armour)
      8 x Truck Company
  • Aircraft
    • 1 x Fighter


All Republican units start on the wrong side of the Ebro, i.e. in the Division Reserve (R1) or Corps Reserve (R2). At the start of the game at most 30 units can be in Division Reserve (R1). Historically the 3rd and 35th Divisions were in Division Reserve (R1) and the rest in Corps Reserve (R2).

On Turn 1 the Republicans can ferry up to 16 units from the Division Reserve (R1) across the Ebro and onto the table. That is 16 units total not 16 per Division. The Corps Commander decides which units cross.


From Turn 2 onwards the Republicans can ferry 4 units, per turn, from Division Reserve (R1) across the Ebro and onto the table. The Corps Commander decides which units cross.

Republican Reinforcements

  • 26 Jul 1938 Reinforcements
    • Aircraft
      • 1 x Fighter
        1 x Bomber

Victory Conditions

?? TODO ??


The game uses the Rapier Offensive rules with some minor tweaks.


A day comprises:

  • 5 x Day Light Turns of 3 hours
  • 1 x Night Time Turn of 9 hours

The Night Time Turn can only be used for moving units, not for attacking/fighting/shooting.


Terrain has an effect on the game. Each sector is either open or difficult (hills). Units go faster when following a road in open terrain. Tracks allow some troop types into difficult terrain which would otherwise be impossible.

Horse drawn guns, motorised troops and armour cannot move through the difficult terrain unless following a track. These types of units can deviate from their axis of attack (i.e. move sideways) to avoid impassable terrain. They must, however, stay within the Division Frontage.

Unit Type Open Terrain Difficult terrain
Moving into contact Not moving into contact Not following track Following track
Off road On road
Fortification, minefield
Supply Base
Motorised Supply Base 2 4 1
HQ, infantry, dummy 1 1 2 1 1
Horse drawn guns 1 1 2 1
Cavalry 2 3 3 1 1
Motorised infantry, motorised gun 2 2 4 1
Armour 2 2 4 1 1

Crossing the Ebro River

The Republicans can ferry 16 units across the Ebro on the first turn and 4 units per turn there after.

Tanks, trucks, Supply Bases and Artillery have to cross by a bridge.


Units have to keep in supply. It takes one supply point per division and firing artillery regiment per day. Supply range is within horse range of a logistical unit. Logistical units are immobile except during overnight redeployment or if transported by the limited number of trucks during the day.


Rapier, M. (Winter, 2007). The Battle of the Ebro, July 1938: A Spanish Civil War Megablitz Scenario. The Journal: The Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers, 60, 4-9.

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