21-22 Abril Merriman Rolls the Dice

21-22 April
Robert Merriman’s diary for the 21st and 22nd of April 1937

Merriman is wrapped up in command politics at this point.  A name which appears to read “Milicich” is most likely a Russian advisor, since Merriman repeatedly met him while talking to the “Mexicans”.  That name is not in the many reference texts that we are using on the war and will take some research to uncover.  Milicich has raised the ire of Merriman and he went to Albacete to complain about him to Vidal and Marty.  This would mean that Milicich either was at the same or higher rank than Merriman, likely a Battalion instructor.  Clearly, Vidal and Platone sided with Merriman and meeting was set up to resolve the issue.  This calmed Merriman down.

Harry Haywood
Harry Haywood, Image Source: ALBA Photos 177_179056 (also 177_196197), Tamiment Library, NYU
Bob Thompson
Bob Thompson, in his role as Commissar of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, 1937. Source: ALBA Photo 11_1283, Tamiment Library, NYU

He met with Marion and Harry Haywood to discuss topics on the upcoming speech that Merriman will make in Madrid in May.  This adds some aid in interpreting the “radio talk” comment on a prior day posting.     Harry Haywood was a leading Communist Party member but had a difficult time in Spain and was withdrawn early.  While considerable effort was expended to have him in a leadership role, he was not respected by the men and even the other African-Americans in the Lincolns had harsh words for him.  He probably was removed, as Oscar Hunter, another African-American volunteer said¹, at Jarama, “he got out of there real quick…. he was a real mess for us blacks up there”.  Bob Thompson is now at Pozo Rubio as an instructor and he will be frequently mentioned as new Battalions are formed over the coming months.

Harold Willem Stone
Harold Willem Stone, Reg’t de Tren. Image Source: RGASPI Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 995, Moscow, Russia.

On the 22nd, Merriman’s duties were routine although he talked to a “Stone/Steve”, the name is a jumble.   Of all the “Stones” in Spain (and there were six in the Lincolns), Samuel Wesley Stone, Jr. and William Carl Stone were not yet in Spain according to the sailing lists, Harold W. Stone was in Transports, and the other three are brothers, Sheer Isaac Hershkowitz (Joe Stone), Sam Hershkowitz (Sam Stone), and Herman Hershkowitz (Hy Stone), who did arrive on two ships in February.   It is likely that the person is Joe Stone who did go to OTS.  We have personnel photos of Hy Stone and Harold Willem Stone, and neither are likely to have been at OTS at this time.  A picture of Joe Stone and Sam Stone was published in Harry Fisher’s book:

Stone Brothers
From the cover of Harry Fisher’s Comrades: Tales of a Brigadista in the Spanish Civil War: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.   (Thanks to Kev Buyers for finding this photo)
In the front (l-r): Bienvenido Domínguez (Cuba), Jack Schulman, Joe Azar and Julius Deutsch.     In the rear (l-r): Joe Stone, Mome Teitelbaum, Sam Stone, Robert Zimmer and John Murra.

The interested reader will wonder “Isn’t there still a war going on?”  At Jarama, the two sides had settled into a stalemate position and neither was doing more than probing and sniping with the occasional mortar, artillery and aircraft attacks.   In the south, the front along the Cordoba-Pozoblanco line also had settled and the 20th Battalion had several groups removed from the line in April as the fighting waned.   A very good discussion of this front can be found in Monks which has been posted online.²   Franco had not gone to sleep, however, and on March 31 he moved forces north to start an offensive to clear the Basque region of Republican forces.  50,000 troops were deployed against 45,000 poorly armed and unsupported Basque troops.³  The Nationalists had a new cruiser named the Canarias which sunk supply vessels trying to resupply Bilbao.  The offensive started in the east and took until June to finish off the Republican forces in the north.  In the meantime, Franco was very thin in the south and a decisive push to cut his supply lines likely would have severely delayed his plans to take Madrid and the Republican led areas.   Unfortunately, no offensive would be undertaken by the Internationals until the beginning of July, in the heat of the Spanish summer.  This was clearly an opportunity missed by the Loyalist Armies, but they were consolidating strength over these three months.  Thomas and others note that Franco missed several earlier opportunities to take Madrid but diverted his troops elsewhere.  His support of the besieged Alcazar, where his military school was based, in the Fall of 1936 gave needed relief to Madrid and allowed the Internationals time to arrive in Madrid to help.

Over the spring of 1937, Franco and the Fascists were eliminating Basque opposition and in four days the name of a town which will forever be tied to the Spanish Civil War will be a topic for discussion.


¹  Danny Duncan Collum and Victor Berch, African-Americans in the Spanish Civil War: “This Ain’t Ethopia, But It’ll Do”, G.K. Hall and Co., New York, 1992, p. 30.

² http://irelandscw.com/ibvol-Monks.htm

³ Thomas,  The Spanish Civil War, ibid., pp 399-459.

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