Sunday, 5 February 2017

Thinking about SCW Air Rules

When I started writing "If You Tolerate This" it was always my intention to include rules for aircraft on the table top.

Initially physical representation was with aircraft silhouettes. Not connected with this the rules were also fairly rudimentary and never really satisfactory.

In the last 6 months I've finally got round to painting the Tumbling Dice aircraft I bought to replace the cutouts. Replacing the playing pieces hasn't improved the rules, however.

With the current re-write I thought I'd go back to some source material to get the effect of air power on ground troops right. A few years back Bob Cordery gave me a number of his SCW books as he was downsizing his library. This included the classic "Air War Over Spain" by Jesus Salas Larrazabal, so I have been working my way through it.

It's an interesting and very thorough piece of work, - and not just on the air war. You have to accept that there may be problems with it. It was written by someone whose family were avowedly Nationalists who was living in Spain under Franco when it was written, but boy, he's put the work in and his attention to detail is commendable.

There are problems with the sources he uses alas. Those of the Nationalists are well preserved and available. Those of the Republicans less so. With all accounts of air combat there's a big difference between how many each side thinks it has shot down and how many are admitted. Even so, it's still a valuable work.

What's clear so far - I haven't finished the book yet - is that in the early days of the war there aren't a lot of aircraft and one or two in a location make a difference. What's also clear is that most air attacks are against airfields where you can catch the enemy on the ground. The Nationalists try a bit of city bombing but the book reads like their heart isn't really in it. I take that with a pinch of salt, especially given the provenance of the title of the rules. I'm inclined to believe they stopped bombing Madrid because it wasn't very effective and they didn't have many bombers. They sure as hell had another go later with Guernica, however.

The other main aim with air attacks was to catch armies on the move, bombing and strafing them in column or forming up. What I'm not finding a lot of is co-ordinated air/ground attacks, so I'm struggling to see that I should put this on the table at all.

My recollection of the later period of the war is that Franco got obsessed with the power of the Condor Legion and wouldn't attack until his German chums had plastered the Republicans first. Reflecting on that it feels like air power is actually a Peter Pig / RFCM type of pre-game sequence.

If so, that's a nuisance as I've bought the toys. Or perhaps I could get players to place the aircraft on deployed units at the start of the game, then roll for the effect once the target unit tries to move. Although, again. my reading would indicate only one side gets to do this as only one side will have aerial superiority.

Having said all that I've still got half the book to read, so there's still time to alter my conclusions.

Food for thought.


  1. I'd just use them for SCW Bag the Hun so that they didn't go to waste. There was a set of stats for SCW aircraft in one of the specials a fair few years ago.

    1. Not familiar with BTH. I might give it a look when this project is finished.

  2. Another book that may interest you is 'Combat Over Spain' by the grandly-titled Duke of Lerma, who flew in Franco's air force, first as crew in Ju52 bombers, later piloting Fiat cr32 fighters. As well as descriptions of air combat, he gives accounts of several ground battles and campaigns as background. It seems fairly unusual to read of the experience on the Nationalist side. By coincidence I discovered that the book's British publisher once lived in the house neighbouring mine!

    1. That sounds useful if my current book doesn't give me what I want. Pro-Nationalist books in English are harder to get that pro-Republican, but if you can get it I recommend Peter Kemp's "The Thorns of Memory". He volunteered to fight for Franco.

  3. Unfortunately for your use of models I think your 'pre-game bombardment' phase is probably about right - other than early in the war.

    From what I've read it seems that there was little air to ground support other than medium bombers flying over the enemy lines before an attack - functioning very much as an artillery bombardment. Generally such bombardments would be heavier and longer for the Nationalists (particularly) as the war progresses. Frequently they simply shouldn't be there if planned by the Republicans, particularly if the attacking forces are not communists or IBs (and even then...). So I would suggest pre-planning all air assaults and then rolling for flights/squadrons to see whether they actually appear.

    Earlier in the war it seems to me that the appearance of individual fighters/light bombers over the battlefield was almost a random event which could be a surprise to either side. Generally it seems that the Republican militia, in particular, didn't react well to such assaults, regardless of how ineffective they were. So perhaps a random plane on either side appears every now and then and inflicts relatively little damage other than on militia, who take a morale test/and or immediately retreat.



    1. I think I'm coming to similar conclusions. Placing aircraft in a pre-game sequence on the defender is a real option. Random aircraft turning up during the battle is a neat idea.

      The point on the militia is well made. I think just the sound of an aircraft engine was enough to make them dive for the nearest ditch.