Ring of Iron – A Crossfire Scenario in the Spanish Civil War

A scenario for Fuego Cruzado – my variant of Crossfire for the Spanish Civil War – set in the Basque Country. The Nationalists are trying to penetrate the “Ring of Iron” around Bilbao.

Historical Situation

Setting: Basque Country, Spain; Apr 1937

Early 1937

Through early 1937 the Basques built a series of fortifications on hills around Bilbao called the “Ring of Iron” (Military Aspects of the Spanish Civil War: Bilbao). The Ring of Iron had some short comings (Thomas, 1986) as it lacked:

  • depth with only two lines about 200-300 m apart
  • flank protection
  • camouflage

But the biggest problem was that in Mar 1936 Major Alejandro Goicoechea, the Basque officer that had been involved in building the Ring of Iron deserted to the Nationalists with the plans (Thomas, 1986).

22 Mar 1937

Franco articulated his new plan of attack (Thomas, 1986). The Madrid front would go on the defensive and the Nationalist artillery and aviation would be diverted north to support Mola’s campaign against the Basques.

31 Mar 1937

Mola’s campaign kicked off on 31 Mar 1937 (Thomas, 1986). The main unit was the Navarre Division that had fought in Guipuzcoa in 1936. This unit attacked across the border between Vizcaya and Alava.

The Republicans were divided into the three areas and were only nominally under General Llano de la Encomienda who had commanded in Barcelona in Jul 1936 (Thomas, 1986).

The Nationalist offensive started with an air and artillery bombardment (Thomas, 1986). As part of this the German Condor Legion bombed the country town of Durango, a transport hub behind the front; 248 civilians were died as a result of this raid.

On the Nationalist right Colonel Alonso Vega took three mountains: Maroto, Albertia, and Jarindo (Thomas, 1986).

Violent fighting occurred in the suburbs of Ochandiano, in the centre north of Villarreal, from 31 Mar to 4 Apr 1936 (Thomas, 1986). 40-50 Nationalist aircraft bombed the town each day. The Basques withdrew when the Navarese had almost surrounded the town. The Basques lost 600 dead and 400 prisoners.

4-19 Apr 1937

Heavy rain put a temporary halt to operations (Thomas, 1986). The Basques reorganised their defence, strengthened the ‘ring of iron’, and mobilised more men. More material also arrived so that by 10 Apr the Basques had 140 guns. The Russian General Goriev arrived as an advisor.

20 Apr 1937

The Nationalists renewed their offensive in Vizcaya (Thomas, 1986). After the initial aerial and artillery bombardment the Basques found themselves in danger of encirclement and many retreated. Basques under the militia Major Pablo Belderrain held the attack from good trenches in the Inchorta hills in front of the village of Elgeta. But even there the defensive line buckled when two CNT battalions withdrew.

24 Apr 1937



This scenario is a hypothetical situation with Basque defenders of one part of the Ring of Iron facing off Nationalist attackers. I’ll try to include elements of the action where Basques under the militia Major Pablo Belderrain held the Nationalist attack from good trenches in the Inchorta hills in front of the village of Elgeta.


Table - Ring of Iron v2
Table – Ring of Iron v2

Key features are:

  • Three hills across the table. Each hill is a terrain objective (marked with an X).
  • Otherwise rough ground, crests, fields, walls, woods and boulder fields,
  • Some buildings on the northern edge representing the village of Elgeta.
  • The line A-A is to the south of the hills so 3 feet of table is in the Republican zone and 1 foot in the Nationalist zone.

Pre-game preparation

  1. Republicans deploy bunker and entrenchments visible
  2. Republicans plot hidden deployment
  3. Nationalists plot Pre-Planned Bombardment (PPB)
  4. Execute PPB

Republican Player (Defending)


Hold the hills and kill Nationalists.

Forces Available

The defenders have a century of Basque militia.

Republican Orbat – Militia Century

  • 1 x Basque Militia Century
    • 1 x CC (0/+2)
    • 1 x HMG
    • 3 x Militia Rifle Platoon:
      • 1 x PC (0/+1);
      • 3 x Rifle Squads;
  • 1 x FO for off-table 75mm field gun [8 FM]
  • Morale: Regular
  • Command & Control: Dependent, i.e. Russian
  • Reckless: No
  • Political Cooperation = +1
  • 1 x Bunker (2 SQ)
  • 4 x Entrenchments

Militia PCs get +1 for rallying only. Militia BC and CC get +2 for rallying only.


Deploys first north of line A-A. The Republican is not obliged to deploy stands in either the bunker or entrenchments. The bunker is deployed visible on one of the hills. The entrenchments are deployed visible but anywhere in the Republican deployment zone. Everything else, including any occupants of the fortifications, are deployed hidden.



Nationalist Player (Attacking)

Begins scenario with initiative.


Capture the terrain objectives.

Pre-Planned Bombardment

The Nationalists get eight Pre-Planned Bombardment Fire Missions (PPB FM). For each PPB FM 1-4 misses, 5 is suppress and 6 is a kill.

Forces Available

The Nationalists have a veteran rifle company.

Nationalist Orbat
Regular Infantry or Carlist Company

  • 1 x Rifle Company
    • 1 x CC (0/+2)
    • 3 x Rifle Platoons: 1 x PC (+1); 3 x Rifle Squads
  • 1 x HMG
  • 1 x FO for off-table 75mm field gun [12 FM]
  • 1 x FO for off-table Heavy field gun [4 FM]
  • Morale: Veteran
  • Command & Control: Dependent, i.e. Russian
  • Reckless: No

Platoon Commanders are +1 for both close combat and rallying. Company commander is +2 for rallying only.


Deploys second. Within 1 foot of the southern table edge.



Victory Conditions

Terrain and Casualty (AD) objectives.

The game ends immediately when:

  • The time limit expires (Moving Clock reaches 1400 hours)
  • Either side reaches it’s morale limit through causalities (and thus loses)

The morale limit for both sides is 6 casualty points (CP). A side loses if it reaches it’s CP limit. CP are incurred as follows:

  • +1 CP for each lost Squad, HMG, or CC killed (but not PC or FO)

If the time limit expires a side wins if it gains more Victory Points (VP) than the opposition. VP are awarded for control of the terrain objectives. Control means the objective is uncontested, and the player either has a stand in the feature, or was the last to have a stand in a feature. All objectives start in Republican control. VP are awarded as follows:

  • +1 VP for a terrain objective

Scenario Special Rules

  • See Crossfire House Rules and Fuego Cruzado (Crossfire House Rules for Spain’s Wars).
  • HTD Special Rule 4: The Moving Clock is in use. The Scenario begins at 0800 hours and ends 1400 hours. The clock advances 30 minutes on 5+ at the end of each defender initiative.
  • Special Rule. Political Cooperation is in use. The Anarchist Militia have a political cooperation of 2. On two Republican move actions during the game the Nationalist can use the Political cooperation rule. One moving stand is immediately pinned. The Republican player must immediately try to rally the pinned stand. Success means the stand rallies and can then take the intended move action. Failure means initiative passes. In the case of a group move only one stand is pinned.


Most of the Nationalist troops involved in the north, at least initially, were Carlists from Navarre. I’ve given the troops the corresponding morale even if the figures are regular army.

I’ve positioned the objectives forward to encourage a see saw battle like those described in the actual campaign.

The scenario is gives the two sides parity of numbers but the:

  • attackers get an edge in morale and PPB
  • defenders are hidden and have fortifications

Normally I count hidden defenders as 50% more points than unhidden equivalents. On that basis the defenders have a points advantage.

This imbalance is addressed by placing the objectives are deliberately forward and giving the attackers PPB. The PPB might offer a disincentive to the defenders to place their troops on the hills. And the forward placement of the objectives makes them more vulnerable to attack.


Military Aspects of Spanish Civil War: Bilbao

Thomas, H. (1986). The Spanish Civil War. Simon & Schuster.

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