19-20 Abril Merriman Continues his Russian Practice

19-20 April

Robert Merriman’s Diary for the 19th and 20th of April 1937

These two days were rather routine for Merriman.  Instruction continued at the OTS in Pozo Rubio.  He makes a comment about a “radio” but it could be one of two interpretations.  If the word were “radio trans” or “radio truck”, it would be that he finally got news about when the 800 peseta radio discussed previously would arrive. An alternative interpretation of that last word is “talk”.  In May, Robert Merriman will be invited to Madrid to make a speech on radio to the American audience.  This could be a notification that he will be giving that speech.

Gabriel Fort of the French Battalion and Miklos Szalway ("Chapayev", right) PHOTO 177_196106 taken at Ambite in June 1937.  Tamiment Library, NYU

Gabriel Fort of the French Battalion and Miklos Szalway (“Chapayev”, right) PHOTO 177_196106 taken at Ambite in June 1937. Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman is spending considerable time with the Russians who are in the area and dining with them.  Vidal has taken an active interest in the “Slav” group and it is likely that this is the 13th Dombrowski Battalion.   A regularly photographed man in that unit got the nickname Chapayev.  He is Miklos Szalway, a Hungarian in the photo on the right.  Szalway and British Commissar Fred Copeman have the same “Marlboro Man” square jaw and can be easily confused in photos.

17-18 Abril Buried Lieutenant Moreno

17-18 April

Robert Merriman’s diary for the 17th and 18th of April 1938


Soldier posing in trench with instruction board to his right. PHOTO ALBA 177_178009, Tamiment Library, NYU

177_178009 Blowup

Blowup of 177_178009 showing aircraft profiles and insignia. These appear to be German single wing aircraft.

Merriman says that the OTS took advantage of his contacts made with the Soviet pilots to get training from José who is likely General Ivan Ivanovich Kopats¹ — mistake in the transcription suggestion).  On the photo on the left, it appears that this is Arthur Nicoll of the British (ID not confirmed at this point) but what is interesting is the board that appears to his right.   Shown on the right here is what is on the board.   It is a lecture board on aviation.  How to identify planes, insignia, etc.  Probably similar to the lecture heard on April 17, 1937.

Merriman conducted instruction in the French Manual of Arms for a funeral held for a Lieutenant Moreno.   Little is written about this soldier but he had an honor guard at his funeral in Albacete.  Merriman spent time in the afternoon trying to clear off his hotel bill but could not get a reduction in rate.  In the evening he went out with the men and it appears that a “Black” or perhaps “Bloch” got drunk as did Wallace Burton.

On the 18th, the topic of the day was instruction in map enlarging and reading.  Merriman is still waiting for an office at Pozo Rubio and  he took out a squad of troops to oppose the French troops who were under instruction by Platone.


¹ See http://jpgleize.perso.neuf.fr/aces/espurs.htm

15-16 Abril Merriman Meets Men from the “Old Country”

April 15-16

Robert Merriman’s diary for April 15 and 16, 1937

Robert Merriman had taken the men to Albacete for three days to stand guard duty.  When in Albacete, Merriman stayed at the Guard Nacionale which was the supply depot for the Brigades.  The Etat Major (French, in Spanish it will be Estado Mayor) is the name used for the Brigade Headquarters. I The Playa Mayor would be the Battalion Headquarters and often was near the front lines.  Merriman ate with Marion Merriman and Wallace Burton in Albacete.   Wallace Burton, as we have described, knew Marion through Milly Bennett, for whom his brother, Wilbur, worked in the China News agency Chung-Mei in Beijing in 1927.

Merriman says that instruction on light machine guns was given by someone from the “old country”.  He will refer to Russians as “Mexicans”, “men from the old country” and “others of his kind”…. rather obvious references to Russians without using the word Russians since the Soviet Union was not supposed to have advisors in Spain at this time.   This description of the headquarters of the fliers from Russia who were dropping leaflets at this time is quite illuminating.   A website of the names of Soviet flyers who flew in Spain and their aliases is given here.



Lou Secundy, Commander of the Autopark, ALBA PHOTO 11-1279, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman says he had dinner with Kershoff and Louis Secundy, who would become an important officer in the Battalion.  Secundy was integral in leading the Autopark, and when transportation needed to be mustered, Secundy was the man to see….. clearly and important person for a field commander to know.

Willie Gallacher

William Gallacher, Communist MP from Scotland, Source: Wikipedia, used under Creative Commons License

On the 16th, Merriman introduces new names in the diary.  Donley  cannot be Charley Donnelly who was in Section 3 of Co. 1 of the Lincolns at Jarama and was Irish.  Donnelly fell at Jarama.  Cleaver is not on the American lists.     There is a Canadian named Randolph Cleven who was in Spain and it is possible that this is the name here.   Bill Gallagher was actually Willie Gallacher, Communist MP from Scotland.

Merriman finishes the day by having dinner with Marion, Willie Gallacher and Al Robbins.  He orders twelve men to stand as honor guard for Lieutenant Moreno who was killed.

13-14 Abril 50 New Americans Arrive in Albacete

13-14 April

Robert Merriman’s Diary for the 13th and 14th of April 1937

Between the 10th of March 1937 and the 10th of April 1937, the effort in the US to staff the Lincoln Battalion really took off.  Over that month, men came to Europe on the SS Queen Mary,  Washington, Ile de France, Berengeria, President Roosevelt, Manhattan, Amsterdam,  Paris, Ausonia, Vollendam, Aquitania, President Harding, Brittanic and Rotterdam.   The number of known Lincolns on the ship manifests went from 769 men to 1158 or nearly 390 men in one month (Chris Brooks, private communication).

Bob Merriman continued his effort to produce weapons and supplies for the OTS (Officer Training School) in Pozo Rubio.  They had set aside 800 pesetas  (about $50 US) for a radio transmitter.  He was able to get Chauchat Machine Guns.  These odd weapons from the First World War were known by that name because of the distinctive “Chau Chau” sound that the machine guns made when they were fired.  An excellent recent book on the Lost Battalions of World War I¹ describes how Chauchats were used to signal between units of the Pershing-led 77th New York Division because no other weapon made that sound when fired.

11_1068 Hernandez and Madden

Angel Hernandez Gallego and Arthur Madden, the shortest and tallest men in the Lincoln Brigades. Photo ALBA 11-1068. Thanks to Alvah Bessie and Dan Bessie for the identification of this photo. Tamiment Library, NYU


Edward William Petrie, British Battalion, RGASPI Archives Fond 545 Opus 6 Delo 184, Moscow

Merriman notes some new names here.  He says Jacobs went missing again and this is believed to be George Jacobs.  Arthur Madden, Edward William Petrie, Louis Suarez-Alvarez and Bodholt (unknown nationality) all had just arrived in Albacete.  Madden had blown up at  André Marty about the needless deaths at Jarama.  As a reply

“{Jean} Barthel appointed Arthur Madden battalion commissar to share responsibilities with {Sam} Stember, whom he hated; the two would fight constantly until Madden was sent to officers’ school”.²

Madden as Commissar forced an enquiry into the behavior of George Wattis at Jarama.³  The enquiry led to Wattis being exonerated, but likely did not further Madden’s career.  He spent much of his time over the next year in the Autopark, and was killed in fighting on the Ebro.³

Suarez was in Company 2, Section 2, Squad 3 at Jarama (from a list kept by Sandor Voros, Chris Brooks, private communication).

Felice Platone showed up to give lectures at Pozo Rubio with Albacete Base (Brigade) Political Commissar Kercher.   Merriman will lapse into the Russian he learned in Moscow as over the next few days he will spend time with Russian pilots and comrades who he knew in the Soviet Union.  The almost undecipherable “Kommuccyr” is his transliteration of the Russian word for Commissar.

Merriman spent the night with Marion at the Hotel Regina in Albacete.


¹ Richard Slotkin, The Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality, Henry Holt and Co., 2005.

²  Carroll, Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, p 112.

³ Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid., pg 87, pg 394.

11-12 Abril Merriman is healing

11-12 April

Robert Merman’s diary for April 11 and 12th 1937

Bob Merriman has settled into the routine of leading instruction at the Pozo Rubio Officer’s school.   Lambert was introduced in yesterday’s diary page and he is now training rifle skills (musketry, see a manual from WWI).  The discussion of the speech probably refers back to the speech given by André Marty given a few days previously.   We have met Brodsky, Stember, Vidal, Marty, Olorenshaw on previous diary pages.  As a reminder, to find these references, just enter the name in the search on the left panel.

After spending time on the range with his new pistol picked up from Vidal’s office, Merriman traveled down to Albacete to eat and meet with Marion, Sam Stember and George Brodsky at the Brigade command.  It is hard to guess who “Adolph from Murcia” is and Merriman makes a humorous remark that he met a “real” Mexican.  Remember Russians were called Mexicans but this man must have been from Mexico.

Dr. Telge

Dr. Oscar Telge (Tsvetan Kristanov) Source: Fredericka Martin Photo Archive ALBA 001: 1:1:31:1, Tamiment Library, NYU.

On the 12th, he got his shoulder x-rayed and he is healing.  Dr. Telge is shown on the photo from the Fredericka Martin Collection at Tamiment.  Dr. Telge is Tsvetan Angelovich Kristanov. Hugh Thomas writes:

Another Bulgarian Communist, Tsvetan Angelov Kristanov, who had long been an emigrant in Russia, ran the medical services of the International Brigades under the appealingly Scandanavian nom de guerre of Dr. Oskar Telge, with a staff of many nationalities under him, while Marty’s wife, Pauline, acted as inspector of the hospitals.¹

The next sentence is a difficult scrawl and reads as if Merriman is setting a reminder that there will be a Court Marshal of a Mr. “Justas” or “Justar” and that Merriman has been advised to attend the court martial.

Merriman clearly says here that Marion and he rode out to camp with Vidal and his wife.  This is the first indication that other members of the command had their families in Albacete.  Vidal lectured on a “problem” given to the students in the school.  Frequent references to these problems will be given over coming months and the technique was to set up a goal (reaching a bridge, finding locations on a map, digging a trench, infiltrating, laying down transmissions, etc.) and setting the companies loose on the problem. The lectures after would review their degree of success in accomplishing the task and often the results showed the problems set were not easy.


¹ Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, The Modern Library (paperback edition), pg 444.