Central America: Scenario 2 – The Soccer War

In July of 1969, growing tensions between El Salvador and Honduras erupted into a four day conflict dubbed “The Soccer War“.  Although the name of the war belies the many complex reasons behind it, some historians cite the violence surrounding the June 1969 World Cup soccer playoff series between the two countries as emblematic of the resentment that had grown between them.   Despite frantic diplomatic negotiation and mediation, El Salvador invaded Honduras on July 14, making rapid gains at first but getting bogged down by the Honduran army soon after.

Victory Games’ Central America depicts this short and little-known conflict in its long list of scenarios.  Designer James H. McQuaid argues that despite the short-term nature of the conflict, it had long term consequences that led to the turbulent economic and political period of the region for many years to come.  With the collapse of the Central American Common Market as part of the war’s aftermath, the stage was set for communist ideology to gain a foothold in America’s backyard.  This very short scenario does a nice job of demonstrating the course of this seminal conflict.

The forces set up on the border area between El Salvador and Honduras.  The counters in light blue are the El Salvadorans and the dark blue/purple are Hondurans.  El Salvador gains victory points for capturing certain objectives while the Hondurans can reduce the El Salvador VPs by bombing their ports or inflicting casualties on attacking units.

Setup:  El Salvador and Honduras face off on their border.  Tensions have reached a boiling point.

Turn 1:  With the bulk of its forces spread into two major groups to the east and west, El Salvador goes for broke, hitting hard at the town of Nueva Octopeque in the west with 4 brigades.  They slam into the forested border area, cutting down a Honduras infantry brigade, sending it into disarray and retreat.  El Salvador has scored its first major victory of the war.
El Salvador 1st infantry brigade marches into Nueve Octopeque, capturing a town and  an airstrip.

A little further to the east, the El Salvador air force sends a flight of A-37s to lend ground support to the 2nd and 3rd infantry brigades.  They are locked in a tough fight agains the Honduran army and the air support is the deciding factor, leading to further Honduran retreat by a CES infantry brigade.

The key battle, however, takes place on the eastern border of El Salvador and Honduras.  Large numbers of men and equipment pass over the border, hoping to take Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras.  The Hondurans, however, have an army brigade sitting in the border city of Goascoran.  The El Salvadoran high command has ordered this speed bump on the way to the capital city to be eliminated as quickly as possible.  The fight goes badly for El Salvador, however, as the enemy troops in the city refuse to budge.  This is a major setback.
The Hondurans (1-2-4) hang on to Gaoscoran despite taking losses. 
The Hondurans regroup their retreating forces and pull them back to key locations instead of wasting them on fruitless counterattacks against a bigger and more powerful enemy force.  
Deciding to hit out at El Salvador where it hurts most, the Honduran Air Force launches an attack on the enemy port at La Libertad.  Despite sending a swarm of A-37 bombers, the aircraft fail to damage the target and soon return to base.
Turn 2:  Things continue to progress for El Salvador in the west as it hits at the Hondurans in their fall-back positions.  They completely eliminate a Honduran brigade and advance into Santa Rosa de Copan.  A small elite force of Honduran Army Rangers, however, prevents them from getting much farther.  
El Salvador units make major advances in the west.
Once again, an A-37 fighter-bomber lends ground support to El Salvador ground forces engaged south of Gracias.  They fail to dislodge the Hondurans in the small border village.  Things are slowing down in this sector.
Over in the east, where the Hondurans are fighting for their life and their capital city, the El Salvadoran army continues sweeping over the border.  They eliminate the Honduran army unit holding out in Goascoran and send their remaining units over towards the capital city.
Goascoran falls and El Salvador units march on towards Tegucigalpa.

The Hondurans attempt to retaliate by once again sending in their bombers against La Libertad Port but they again fail to hit their target.  It has not been a good war for the Honduran Air Force.  The army again pulls back to protected positions, hoping for the best.

Turn 3:  El Salvador and Honduras units are out of supply.  No attacks can be made and movement is halved.  The El Salvador units grab whatever villages the Honduran army has already left.  Honduras protects its towns at Nueva Arcadia and San Marcos while El Salvador takes Gracias and Marcala.  The war is over but the army must grab whatever spoils it can to ensure that El Salvador has a favorable bargaining position at the diplomatic table.  
Honduras sends out its A-37s again, this time hitting La Libertad.  The smoke from the damaged port can be seen from miles away and it is the single bright spot for Honduras in this short and ugly conflict.
Final tally:  5 VPs for El Salvador taking the border villages and cities.  -2 points for damage to La Libertad Port.  
3 VPs = El Salvador Marginal Victory
This is a somewhat different outcome than the actual war itself, which was more of a stalemate.  The major difference here may just have been the repeated failure of the Honduran Air Force to damage the El Salvador ports.  El Salvador did manage to use its forces fairly effectively by tightly focusing attacks on single units rather than spreading out damage and hoping for the best.  Although the capital city of Honduras was never really in danger (with a large unit sitting in the city for the entire game), this overly defensive posture resulted in a purely reactive war for the Hondurans, who were left scrambling to hold on to victory locations rather than hitting back at the invading units.  Using the Honduran Air Force for ground support against El Salvador may have been much more effective than sending the entire thing out to bomb the ports.  

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