31 Julio Merriman assigns No. 1, 2, 3. You don’t want to be on this list.

July 31

Robert Merriman’s diary for July 31 and notes page.

Back from the Mac-Pap night training, Merriman has time to deal with political issues in the Brigade.   The Mac-Paps assemble in the church for speeches by John Miller, of the CPUSA, and Joe Lash, of the American Students Union.  Joe Dallet was not impressed with the speech.   In a session of criticism and explaining party policy, Joe Dallet is discussed in the sense of repatriation of CP Party Cadres who should be saved.  In the party meeting, Bob Thompson is discussed in this regard as is Haywood and Merriman.   Joe Dallet must have had the strongest opinions on sending back the weakest comrades.  Merriman hoped that Dallet would point the finger at Harry Haywood but Haywood was in the room and Dallet did not speak up.  Merriman himself was going to suggest Bob Thompson to be sent home, but he chickened out.  This clearing the decks must have been an important opportunity to have the leadership of the brigade allow weak military leaders to be sent home without losing face (i.e. saving the best cadres).   In any case, Haywood must have known that he was on the chopping block (as he himself said in his memoir) and while returning home would have been desirable from a self-preservation point of view, it would also be considered a disgrace back in the US.   The meeting also gives mention about Prieto’s desire that all units have at least 25% Spanish troops in them.   The Americans balk at this since they fought hard to get an English only speaking brigade.  But after this point, the Brigade would have one Spanish Battalion to balance the demographics.

Mirko Markovics is back from Brunete after having stood up to Hans Klaus and having been removed from command.  Markovics indicts Cunningham for “poor work”.  Several of the Americans, including Haywood and Garland, had run ins with Jock Cunningham.  Mirkovics tells about missing direction by several kilometers at the front.  Nelson also spoke about trying to supply Americans on the front by two burros and getting misdirected so that they walked right into fascist lines.  He has to shoot the burro to keep it from defecting to the Fascist troops.  The burro was carrying ammunition and a bag of shoes for the Americans.¹

After some laughs and story telling,  Merriman and the staff had a late night poker session.  Merriman mentions “Ruby” in this section and Steve Nelson mentioned another name in his memoir, “The Volunteers”¹, Ruby Ryant who was the head of the Machine Gun Company.   It is quite possible that the “Ruby” who was previously identified in the diary could have been Rubin Ryant.  Ryant was on the machine guns at Brunete and then became Adjutant to Sid Levine about this time.  By Quinto, in a month’s time, Ryant would be commissar in the Machine Gun Company with Manny Lanser as the Company Commander.  About this time as well, a young recruit named Milt Wolff moved up from being an ammunition carrier to being section leader in Lanser’s Machine Gun Company.²  Milt Wolff recollected poorly this reassignment in the tapes made for Landis’ book.³   Wolff would end the war as Commander of the Lincoln Battalion.

In the notes at the end of the month, Merriman writes down his top 3 on the “Hall of Shame”.   Number 1 is George Brodsky who Merriman calls a “bad man”.  Number 2 is Harry Haywood for weakness in leadership as discussed earlier in the diary.  Number three is Dave Mates who is a real disappointment to Merriman.  Why he is going home “shamed – disgraced” is never discussed.  Merriman also mentions that Walter Garland would be going back home.  Garland “deserted to the front” rather than staying in training at Pozo Rubio where he was in June.

We have not heard much of Marion Merriman in recent pages, since she is working with Bill Lawrence and Ed Bender at the American Cadres Service in Albacete.  Merriman notes that they will go to the American Hospital at Villa Paz which by this time must have been overflowing with injured and dying from the Battle of Brunete.  Phil Bard picked them up.  Bard was the American Base Commissar at Albacete and may have been at Villa Paz to come get the Base Staff.

Finally, in some reassignments, Merriman requested Pierre Lamotte to come to Tarazona.   Merriman really liked Lamotte and found him a “fine fellow” since late January.  Lamotte continually bounced around the rear until he was arrested and accused of stealing.  He would return to the US in 1938.

In a clarification of Merriman’s hand, we now see that the “Rolphe or Robbie” on the previous pages is indeed John Quigley Robinson, who will become the Commissar of the Lincoln Battalion.  Robinson will take the Seaman’s Machine Gun Company with him.  Merriman must have been thrilled to get rid of Seaman Oliver and his problems.  Kevin Buyers sent along an interesting photo from the Paul Burns photo collection which shows unnamed American seamen.  Matt White (private communication) believes that the man front right is Barney Spaulding and that the man back right may be Virgil Morris.

American Seamen

American Seamen at Jarama, 1937. From the Paul Burns Photo Collection, Tamiment Library, NYU

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¹ Steve Nelson, The Volunteers, ibid, p. 106.

² Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., pg 216 and 247.

³ Milton Wolff to Art Landis, The Art Landis Audio Collection, ALBA AUDIO 66, Tamiment Library, NYU.

 

29-30 Julio “Tough Luck George”

July 29-30

Robert Merriman’s diary of July 29 and July 30

William Frame

William Frame at the Brigade Intendencia, December 1937, ALBA Photo 11-0683

In a very busy two days in the diary, Merriman lets us know that Lucien Vidal who has been leading the Albacete base since December 1936 has been removed.   Clear from the diary is that the removal was not welcome and that Vidal held hard feelings.  His comment when Merriman said he would see him in Paris, “I hope I shall return to Spain”.   The party for Vidal gave him short approbation and shorter applause.  Vidal would be replaced by “Biloff”, an unknown name for me.   William Frame and Dave Doran were working behind the scenes in this turn-over.

Merriman says that Ed Bender had a case of nerves when he returned from the front at Brunete.  On the 29th, things were not going well for the Lincolns and as they retreated, some men were killed.  George Nathan, the Regimental Commander of the Brigades was killed 17 kilometers behind the lines from a bomb fragment.  Steve Nelson recalled it:

Ahead, under the trees, we saw smoke rising from the camouflaged kitchen, saw the crews of the anti-aircraft guns moving about.  The lovely smell of burro stew floated through the still air.  Major Nathan, in charge of the withdrawal, strolled across the field. “Steve, old chap!  Welcome home.  Come along, you old Yank, have a bit of a snifter.  I’ve been saving this for you.  An Englishman’s drink.

He raise a tin cup solemnly, cocked an eyebrow at me, “To our new Brigade Commissar. Mud in your eye, sir!”

“You mean — me?”

“Certainly. You will have official notice shortly, but I assure you — I say!”

The drone of motors.  We craned our necks, peering at the sky.  “There they are — coming over the mountains.  Oh, the bloody — Best hit for cover, eh?  Over that wall — a ditch”

We ran like deer.  The anti-aircraft let loose, all five guns at once, but the planes were flying very low.  The thud of bombs came from beyond the grove, and instantly the planes were overhead.  Nathan yelled, “Drop!” and I burrowed into the dirt.  My holster was under me.  If I could get the holster out, my behind would come down a few miles.  I tugged at the holster, and an enormous crash deafened and blinded me.  The bomb had burst right beside me seemingly.  But I was all in one piece.

Nathan was calling “I’m hit Steve!”  I ran to Nathan ripped open his shirt.  There was a three inch gash in his breast , with only a speck of blood oozing out;  I thought at first it was just a scratch, but Nathan’s face twisted with pain.  It must be bad.  I yelled frantically for first aid, and a couple of men came running.  Nathan couldn’t speak.  He was clawing at his Sam Browne belt; he dragged it off, and handed it to me, and his gesture said “Take it — I’m through”.¹

Although Walter Garland would commandeer an ambulance to rush Nathan to the hospital, he died that evening.  Garland would be reprimanded for stealing the ambulance.  Nelson felt that he had ironed out the theft of the ambulance, but from Merriman’s diary we see that this counted against Garland.

Merriman’s comment: “Tough luck, Geo.”

Merriman met John Miller in Albacete.  Miller is likely John Miller of Windsor, Canada, who was a Communist organizer since 1933.²  Merriman also says that “Winkler” will leave as will Schalbroeck.   This is quite a turnover at Albacete since Winkler was the personnel officer of the International Brigades.   The remaining lines of this paragraph are unclear.

Arnold Reid

Arnold Reid, RGASPI Photo Fond 545/Opus 6/ Delo 970

On the 30th, the political leaders of the American brigades, John Miller, Ed Bender, Harry Haywood, Bill Lawrence, and Jack Reid arrived to discuss a new International Brigade policy on repatriation.  Jack Reid was Arnold Reid (a.k.a. Arnold Reisky), an American who worked in the Paris Office of the brigades and helped channel Americans to Spain.²  The Comintern (CI) worried that leading communist cadres were being killed in increasing numbers and they were reserving the right for themselves to identify Brigadistas for repatriation to their countries.

Niilo Makela

Niilo Makela, as Commissar of the Mac-Paps, 1938. ALBA Photo 11-1281, Tamiment Library, NYU

In the midst of the discussion, a maneuver between Companies 2 and 3 of the Mac-Paps took place at night.  This competition involved Bill Skinner, Bill Lawrence, and Niilo Makela of Canada, against Merriman, Joe Dallet, and John Miller.   Merriman says euphemistically “they never laid a hand on me” (while the objective was to take prisoners).

At the end of the diary pages, Merriman notes that Mirko Marcovics was removed from command of the Washington Battalion for not following orders.   At this point in the battle of Brunete, the Lincolns and Washingtons were so decimated that there really only was one Battalion left and probably only the need for one Commander.  Peter Carroll tells the story:

At one point, the new officers of the Lincoln-Washington battalion — Markovicz, Nelson and Garland (before he was wounded) — were ordered to a meeting with brigade Colonel Klaus, a Prussian officer who had replaced the wounded Copic.  Bringing out a contour map, he directed the Americans to move their men to an exposed position in order to protect a company of Spanish marines.  “A deep silence fell on the group as the Colonels’ words were translated”, remembered Nelson;  ‘we all seemed to get the gist of the urgency of his words before they were translated.” Markovicz, speaking to Nelson in their native Serbo-Croatian, said “This can’t be done.  I am against it.”  Klaus, sensing the response, eyed Marcovicz and responded, “That’s an order”.

Still speaking in their own language, Nelson asked Marcovicz how they could disobey the colonel.  “If you accept this order,” said the experienced Markovicz, “I will hold you responsible before the Americans back home for whatever happens.”  Unable to understand this conversation, Klaus demanded that they speak in English, with which his translator was familiar.  “We have no time to waste,” he said, demanding that Marcovicz gave him a clear answer.

“Commander Klaus,” the Yugoslav replied, “this is a disastrous order. I will not order the American battalion to carry out this order because it will result in a disaster, like the one at Jarama”.  As he spoke, Marcovicz kept his eye on Nelson, looking for support.  “He should have known,” the commissar {Nelson} later reported, “that I had no choice … we could not disobey an order”.

“Marcovicz, I gave you an order which I received from division,” Klaus declared.  “You and I are under military orders.  This is not a debating discussion here.  We must act, especially since we are International Brigades, whose role is to develop discipline”.

“Then,” Nelson reported, “Klaus stood up and with unmistakable military bearing said “I order you to carry out the order”.  Markovicz also stood up and said “Colonel Klaus, I cannot carry out this order.”

“Then Klaus stepped closer to Markovicz and extended his hand and said, ‘Marcovicz, I order you to surrender your weapon'”

“Marcovicz reached for his pistol and with an expression of obedience and surrender he handed the gun to Klaus.”  Taking the pistol, the Colonel turned and passed it to Nelson, along with the responsibility for carrying out the order.³

Nelson returned to the men and told them they had to go back into the fire.  The men could not believe that they would be sent back to certain death.  Nelson told them that they had to do it or they would be fighting the fascists where they were on the next day.  The Americans mustered to march, but did not have to have to take the lines as other Spanish reinforcements were brought up and the Americans were allowed to retire from the Battle of Brunete.  In this exchange, Nelson’s standing rose dramatically and Marcovics’ fell.

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¹ Steve Nelson, The Volunteers, Masses and Mainstream, New York, 1953, pp 166-168.

² Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid., p 145.

³ Peter Carroll, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., p143-144.

27-28 Julio “Had to finally break Seaman Oliver”

July 27-28

Robert Merriman’s diary for the 27th and 28th of July

The sentence fragment “at the auto park” was a run over from the 25-26th July diary pages.   It should read “{Ben} Barsky now Commissar at the auto park”.  This ties in a bit better with Merriman’s relief on getting settled on a vehicle once Barsky passed his test in Albacete.

Fuqua - Doran

American army Colonel Steven Fuqua and David Doran in trenches at Quinto or Fuentes del Ebro, October 1937. Tamiment Photo 11-1340, NYU.

Frank Rogers

Frank Rogers, ALBA Photo 177-188048, Tamiment Library, NYU

Joe Dallet and Dave Doran were both spoken to by Bill Lawrence because they had a “subjective attitude”.   A subjective attitude would be one where the moods or opinions of Dallet and Doran were more important than objective reality.   Dallet and Doran were both strong personalities.  Merriman says that Frank Rogers is working out better in the school.

Merriman reveals that Lt. William Neure was in charge of Company 1 of the Mac-Paps in the maneuvers.  Neure would be William Wheeler’s adjutant in Company 1 in the fall and would be killed at Fuentes del Ebro in October leading a charge of the Mac-Paps.  Jack Mullinger is still receiving criticism for not working hard enough in leading the scouts.  The scouts got lost in an exercise on the Tarazona – LaGineta road in a previous diary page.

Merriman had to cancel one exercise because Canadian Commissar Bob Kerr was in Tarazona for discussions.   Merriman calls out Canadian Fred Whitfield for a bad attitude.  Whitfield, while Canadian from Vancouver, spent a lot of time in the US and reportedly spent 3 years in Alcatraz.¹  Whitfield (42 years of age) was jailed for insubordination and it could be for this event.  He would be killed on the 17th of March 1938 during the Retreats from Belchite to the Ebro.   It is possible that the attitude of the Canadians was why Kerr was called in and Harry Rushton (46 years of age), Ron Liversedge and Bill Skinner were reprimanded.   Merriman hopes that the discussions will settle the issues in camp.

Merriman again mentions Vincent Usera who had a run in with the Lincoln Brigade staff at Brunete.   Merriman says Usera doesn’t pretend to be brave.  Again, Milton Wolff said Usera was working for the US Army while in Spain.

Merriman again calls out Seaman Oliver and Howard Hooker who had a fight.  Merriman thinks Oliver is at fault.  Oliver says that Dallet is the “most hated man in the Brigade”.   This comment has been picked up in several texts on the International Brigades and considering the source, one wonders if Dallet’s unpopularity was all that real.  It will come up again in October.

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¹ Michael Petrou, Renegades, ibid, page 18.

25-26 Julio After disciplining men, Howe deserts

July 25-26

Robert Merriman’s diary for 25 and 26 July 1937

The field maneuvers of the Mac-Paps on the Tarazona – La Gineta Road finish up on the 25th or 26th (remember Merriman was catching up his diary from the 28th and did not record dates accurately for this week).   In a hard maneuver, Merriman lagged behind the battalion and lost some scouts and nearly lost contact with the full battalion.  In the field to the right of the Tarazona-La Gineta road bridge, Company 3 was put through a “wheel maneuver” where one end of the line stays pinned and the rest of the company rotates around to gain fire in another direction (presumably 90º to the original lines).   It was a tough workout and Merriman called it “gymnastics”.

Paul White

Paul White in the Lincoln-Washington Battalion in February 1938. ALBA Photo 11-1028, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman praises “White” and this is most likely to be Paul White who served with the Mac-Paps at this time.  White had a very exemplary record in 1937 and once disillusioned in 1938, had a sad fall from grace (you can read the result on his ALBA Biography).   “Bradsworth” is an unknown brigadista and does not show up in the American or Canadian list of names.  He may have been going by a nom-de-guerre.

Merriman says the “Chesler case is hanging fire”.  The details of why Frank Chesler got in trouble in the Autopark are not known to us at this point.  It would take researching his file in the Tamiment Library to find the details on this story.

Merriman says that “Howe” was broken along with Dion.   This is William Edward Howe, one of the Seamen in the Seamen’s Machine Gun Company.  Dion was a discipline case previously and is Joseph Raymond Dion.   Howe has deserted and is being looked for.   Merriman chides himself for letting the Seaman’s company have too much autonomy.   “Robbie” Robinson was also a Seaman and was presumably brought in to keep this unit under control.  Robbie was in hospital early in the maneuver and without being watched, Howe took off.   Merriman says that Robbie complains too much about the food.  But Robbie was just in hospital and probably had a legitimate complaint.  On the 23-24 July diary pages, Merriman said the men applauded the cooks so perhaps that is what he wanted to hear, while some of the men complained about the food.   Supplies for the Mac-Paps were low at this point with almost all available stores having been taken to the front at Brunete.

As mentioned on the 23-24 July diary pages, Ben Barsky is now a political commissar in the Mac-Paps, presumably a company commissar since Joe Dallet was Battalion Commissar.

23-24 Julio “After meeting, men reported drowned”

July 23 and July 24

Robert Merriman’s Diary entry for July 23 and July 24, 1937

Merriman continues to report the activities in training the Mac-Paps at Tarazona.   He appears unaware of the activity going on in Brunete or else he just felt it was not appropriate to record in his diary at this point.   This is the second page of a catch up of activities that he recorded on July 28.   This field maneuver was extensive and he may have left his diary in Tarazona de la Mancha rather than having in the field with him.

Bob Thompson takes ill and was in charge of the staff activities so the staff planning ceased.  Merriman calls a staff meeting anyway and reprimands Lou Secundy for not getting Ben Barsky through a test at Albacete.  Merriman does not mention what the test is, although on the 26th Merriman makes appointments and Barsky becomes a commissar, presumably a company commissar.

The maneuver was near the bridge on the Tarazona to La Gineta Road over Rio Jucar.  They camped on the far side.  Here is a view today of those fields at the bridge:

Tarazona - LaGineta Bridge

Current Google Streetview image of the Tarazona – La Gineta Road bridge over Rio Jucar. Mac-Paps would have camped in that field.

The river looks quite passive in today’s photo but Merriman is informed that men drowned swimming in the river and he rushes out to see what happened.  He finds out that they did not drown but were able to crawl to shore by going across the river bottom.  There is a current reservoir on the Rio Jucar now and it is possible that the stream was really a river in 1937 before the reservoir was there.

Joe Dallet is mentioned as having to improve the performance of the signal crew.   And in a word that is difficult to read, consensus opinion of our reviewers is that “Robbie” got sick and was sent into Tarazona to hospital in a truck.  This would be John Quiqley Robinson if true.  Robbie would become the Lincoln Brigade Commissar in about a month before the assault on Quinto.¹

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¹ Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, p. 247.