Merriman finished his thoughts on September 29 by saying that the Lincolns and the Mac-Paps were coming along nicely now but that the British still remained a problem. Jim Bourne and Pete Hampkins were still in Valencia at the gathering there and Merriman was worried about when they would get back. He had notice that the Fascists had broken the hold of the Brigades on the road between Huesca and Zaragosa and that they would soon move up to counterattack and try to take back the road. He gives us the route that they would take from Almochuel to Torralba de Aragón which was a distance of 135 kilometers (See the map below).
The plan was to move in 32 trucks on this route which circled the Aragon front at the end of September. Merriman says that the drivers took a day and a half to get to them and when they arrived, the drivers were beat. They wanted to start out but the trucks were out of gas and the ones that had mechanical problems had no mechanics to fix them. “No nothing”.
Merriman meets with someone named Denner (not an American) who explained the transports situation to him. They were waiting on more trucks and Denner wondered where the trucks that Merriman had came from. He told him to hold the trucks and don’t give them up because the XVth Brigade was going into reserve positions and might have to run back to Mediana (retracing the steps they just took) if the fighting there degraded.
Merriman places the men in Senes which is a few kilometers southwest of Robres and awaits orders. He finds a headquarters on the second floor of a building. There are not many homes in Senes and fewer with two floors. It is likely that it was one of the ones on the right. Copic is sick and is out of action. The Brigade was bombed on the 30th but had support from a Czechoslovakian anti-aircraft battery.
Art Landis gives an overview of the next week:
On September 24, while Modesto fought before Fuentes and Sillero, the mixed Italian-Spanish Flechas (Arrows) Division, under the Italian colonel Isasi, attacked strongly in the direction of Zuera. Isasi had the use of five squadrons of planes, many artillery batteries, and a complete company of tanks. His objective was the Republican bridgehead across the Gallego River, which had severed the rail and road connections between Zaragoza and Huesca. By September 29, since no attempt was made to re-enforce the exhausted men of Trueba’s 27th Division, most of Isasi’s objectives were realized.
….. At the same time, a sweeping Republican victory was in the act of being won by a well-coordinated Catalan effort in the vicinity of the border city of Jaca. …. But the Catalans not only held; they also began additional attacks to the south of Jaca and above Huesca.
It was at this time that the 15th Brigade was rushed to Grañen, in the area below Huesca. It was supposed that it would be used either to implement and further the advance of the Catalans or to aid the troops of Trueba against the mixed Spanish-Italian division pushing from recaptured Zuera.¹
(More to follow in future posts).
¹Landis, The Abraham-Lincoln Brigade, ibid. pp 312-3.
On the September 19 and 20 diary page, Merriman ran out of room in his first diary. He sent the first diary off with Marion to protect it and he started a new diary. The first date in the new diary is September 29th in Almochuel and Merriman has a lot to get off his chest. Diary #2 was transcribed by Alan Warren and thanks go to him for the effort in doing so.
We play these 12 pages back as a group and will discuss them below.
Merriman starts his replay of the days since September 19 in rather routine order and most of it is self-explanatory. But as he writes he gets more and more worked up about the events in Belchite and how he did not get the respect that he felt he deserved for that Battle. He mentions that Bill Lawrence (says S in the transcription which will be corrected) came to Almochuel to encourage more Party work with the Brigade. Merriman says that he and Dave Doran were already started on that. He mentions that Company secretaries are to be appointed and that a Brigade Secretary would also be appointed. The latter role was assigned to Jim Bourne.
Merriman revisits the “English question” which revolved around repatriation of the longest serving comrades. Vladimir Copic has a different recollection of previous decisions than does Merriman. Merriman says that many good comrades are being removed for repatriation. Steve Nelson was one of them. On the way out, Nelson made a speech in Valencia where he took Hans Amlie to task for his behavior at Belchite and comments he made there. Robbie Robinson will stay with the Brigade and Merriman says that Carl Bradley is to go. Bradley returns to the US in November 1937. Copic does not agree with the repatriation of Nelson but is obviously overruled by Valencia.
Marion Merriman’s short visit to the Brigade ends and she went back to Albacete (with Merriman’s first diary). She had news that they were invited to go to Valencia but because of orders, they deferred the visit and sent Jim Bourne instead. Bourne was to get the pay money for the end of September but by the 29th, he had not returned with the money or Pete Hampkins or the car. Merriman’s irritation shows through. Finally, Moises Sapir shows up with 500,000 pesetas to pay the Brigade. This is clearly the point where the smiling Merriman is seen with Sapir in Almochuel.
Sapir tells Merriman “the dope about Schmidt in Madrid”. We have not tracked down this story at this point. Interestingly, there is a photo of Hans Kaltschmidt who is listed as being the Adjutant to the Chief of the Brigade (that would be Merriman). One wonders if Merriman called him Schmidt or if that is the name he went under. There also will be an upcoming discussion on “Hans” who promotes himself without permission.
Will Paynter, Bob Kerr, and Malcolm Dunbar wrecked their car in a place that looks like Cambronette (although this is not a Spanish location. It may be the model of a type of car. A Cambronetta was a type of carriage in the 1800’s. Camionette is the name used for Citroen and other French small vans). Paynter discusses the Aitken/Cunningham affair where they were removed and sent back to England. Paynter seems to now criticize Cunningham, but perhaps because he is in Merriman and Copic’s camp at this point. Paynter felt that George Aitken did the best he could. Wally Tapsell, however, has burned his bridges with criticism of the Soviet Union. Paynter brings in 42 new British comrades and takes out 20. Vladimir Copic apparently makes no objection now and Merriman and Doran feel that this is the solution that they had originally suggested…. just let them go. Merriman suggests that this rotation out of troops has greatly helped morale.
Merriman has been slaving over the paylists and the promotion lists and Copic keeps bouncing the suggestions back. Apparently after six days, Copic agreed with Merriman and Doran’s original suggestions. Merriman’s blood begins to start boiling at this point and he will work himself up over the next few pages. He mentions that the policy that 2% of the Battalion should be on leave at any one time has been put into effect and that Jose Amano (or so the name looks) has been made Copic’s Adjutant. Merriman says that Amano’s prestige has been lifted and this should have been done for more Spanish colleagues. Merriman says that in the paper shuffling, many opportunities to send the Brigaders on leave were lost.
One wonders about Copic’s leadership style throughout these diaries. One pictures a manipulative leader who will play groups of his staff off against one another. He doesn’t seem to concentrate on the day-to-day issues but rather creates make-work while he himself entertains guests and travels about. During this period, Copic’s wife was seen with him in photos of Codo and Belchite and Copic spent considerable time in his Benicassim villa. Merriman says that one of these days he will blow his top and tell Copic and Walter what he thinks. But he doesn’t. Up until his death in April, 1938, Merriman continued to serve these men. He mentions again that Walter promised promotions during the fight if Merriman could get people moving, which he did. The promises of new ratings are not forthcoming.
Dart, as a special operations officer, Malcolm Dunbar and Radomir Smrcka are mentioned as coming to the staff of the Brigade. These men will be with the Brigade leadership until the end of the war. Two of the three are seen on the right of the photo on the left. This photo was believed to have been taken in Ambite.
In a small section of the diary, we realize that the war continues on the Aragon front. The 11th and 32nd Brigades move up to the second lines, probably in the area of Mediana. Copic is off showing a Jugoslav delegation the sites and the XVth Brigade is caught with the order that the 11th Dimitrov Battalion is now to move over to the 45th Brigade. Copic has fought this and he has even written letters to the party central committee to protest, but while he is away, they are moved. Copic left orders that they have to leave their weapons with the XVth. Merriman implies here that they cannot be just left defenseless and the weapons will go with them, on the order of the Albacete Base who bawl out Copic. Merriman says that the men of the 11th don’t want to leave the XVth, except for Chapayev (who Copic sent off to Valencia to get out of the decision-making process for the Dimitrovs). Given Merriman’s displeasure with Copic, it would be very interesting to find Chapayev’s views on this move and his relationship with Copic. Copic replaces Chapayev with a Schuster and what looks like Kagan as political commissar. Paul Schuster was listed as an Australian comrade by Martin Sugarman, but this is unlikely. He perhaps is an Austrian comrade which would make more sense for him being in the Thaelmann Battalion as listed by Sugarman.¹
Orders come down for promotions of the heroes of Quinto and Belchite and Carl Bradley and Phil Detro make Captain, Canadian Bill Skinner makes Lieutenant, John Tsanakas (typo in transcription) makes Lieutenant. Steve Nelson is singled out for great valor and make Lieutenant Colonel. This would make Nelson equal in rank to Copic and jump him over Merriman who is a Major. Nelson’s photo on the ALBA page, linked above, shows him with Lieutenant Colonel stripes. Three more brigadistas make Captain, an Andre Korbe, J. C. Wattis, and David Kamy.
The next three pages of the diary are a fascinating glimpse into Merriman’s real feelings about Copic. They can easily be read without comment or interpretation.
Finally, Merriman says that a “Burt” (likely to be Bert Williams) and what looks like “Vorheer” came to talk with Merriman and Doran about what happened in Valencia. Merriman seems like the last two work well together.
¹ Martin Sugarman, Against Fascism – Jews who served in The International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, ibid., page 17.
Merriman finishes his thought from the previous page. He and Copic have words over Merriman’s plan to send James Bourne to Albacete to deal with the British unrest. Richard Baxell says “On September 4, 1937, Will Paynter wrote Harry Pollitt, advising him that yet again the battalion was in a perilous state, with only sixty active volunteers, and complaining that ‘for the last three months there has only been a trickle of volunteers coming in'”.¹ A major policy shakeup will occur on 23 September where the International Brigades are formally integrated into the Spanish Army and where 50% of the soldiers in each Battalion should be Spaniards. Much of the unrest revolves around the XVth Brigade losing its identity as an English speaking and Anglo-American led unit. Steve Nelson’s angry letter back to Merriman can also be viewed in that light. Antony Beevor asserts that volunteers who arrive in Albacete during September could be literally shanghaied into other units.² The conspiracy theory of how the Brigades were integrated into the Spanish Army, however, is contradicted by the reality that after September 1, 1937, 320 more Americans would arrive in Spain (including the writer’s father) and would end up in the XVth Brigade. Merriman sends Bourne off to Albacete to argue the case for the XVth.
Fred Copeman was quoted by Richard Baxell as actually being in favor of strict militarization of the XVth Brigade. Copeman said:
I was determined that in future an advance would be under the strict discipline of capable officers. An officers’ mess was organized, with its own cookhouse and other amenities. All men, from section leader upwards, had meals with the battalion commander. Men were expected to salute all officers. This at first was a knotty problem. I decided the best way to overcome it was to start saluting every man myself, irrespective of rank, whom I met in the village. It was surprising how quickly the lads took this up and, with few exceptions, came to make a point of getting their salute in first”.¹
Both Merrimans are still in Almochuel and Milly Bennett arrives with “KoKo” (probably Connie de la Mora). Merriman says that she has been talking with Hans Amlie and Bill Halliwell about the death of her erstwhile lover, Wallace Burton. Milly Bennett will marry Hans Amlie.
Milly is working for Ernest Hemingway, getting material on the battles of Quinto and Belchite. She has interviewed most of the senior staff including Copic, Radomir Smrcka, Carl Bradley, Phil Detro and others. Merriman says that they drove over to Belchite to see the city and this could be the point described by Marion Merriman (and quoted previously here). Stepanovich goes along.
Hugh Slater and the British are going to Lerida.
Merriman says that there was an arrest in Moscow in the Foreign Department. No details are forthcoming.
This page ends Diary #1 and the remaining pages in the diary are notes and fragments from earlier in the year. Merriman will begin a new Diary #2 on September 29.
¹ Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors, ibid., p 313-314.
² Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, ibid.
Robert Merriman or Alfred Harvey Litwin read a letter that should probably have been kept private. In it, Litwin interpreted Copic as saying that Merriman would be removed as Chief of Staff. Merriman confronted Copic with this and Copic denied it, but not to Merriman’s satisfaction. Copic’s willingness to chew through his staff continues.
Merriman is moving the men back from Albalate to Almochuel. As he said on the 16th, this would be a three day operation by truck since Lou Secundy could only muster a few trucks. The English are gone and Merriman finally moves up in the last truck. He meets Marion Merriman on the road and they have a reunion. Presumably with Marion, he returns to sightsee Albalate. When the Merrimans make it to Almochuel he finds out the paylists are still not straight and he needs to fix them up. Merriman accuses Louis Eider of not working out well. Merriman sends Abe Harris of the Intendencia back to Albacete to bring up supplies.
Merriman is reorganizing the Brigade Staff but everyone is on leave. Vandenberg is away (being sent to Albacete to deal with the Dimitrov Battalion placement) and Sapir is in Valencia dealing with Copic’s letter to the Party. Jim Bourne is in Almochuel and it falls to him to go back to Albacete to state the Brigade position on repatriation of the British Battalion. At this point, the British thought they would be following Wally Paynter, George Aitken and Jock Cunningham home. Merriman implies that Harry Pollitt, head of the British Communist Party, needs help at this point in settling down the British Battalion and supporting his decisions about who will stay and who will go, but instead Copic deals with the issue as he normally does, without tact. Both Pollitt and Bill Rust from England will arrive in late 1937 to deal with the morale issues amongst the Britons. Two names arise here… Lieutenant Richardson and a “Dasheff” who may be Morris Dashevsky who was wounded in Belchite. We are not sure of the relationship of these men to the discussion of the British Battalion. Richardson may have been promoted within the 57th Battalion.
Merriman is flowing the diary from page to page at this point as he knows he needs to stop by 21 September and move to another diary. The end of the previous page said “Next day the order came from Walter to move back where we came from. Luckily it came after the storm had passed and so it was not too” difficult.
Merriman is listening to the troops (and perhaps to Dave Doran who has been speaking with the men) and more meetings are held where he explained the decisions about Belchite. Merriman gave it to the “chronic beefers”. He mentions either Leo (of the Mac-Paps) or Joe (Chauffer in the Brigade Commissariat) Hecht. He does not name Louis Oliver, with whom he has been fighting since spring. The men were put on notice that they may have to move again.
Merriman meets with the British as well and there is a core group of 18 Britons who still refuse to take orders. He threatens arrest. Copic is forced to come and speak with them and he explains how bad it would be for the Brigades if this early volunteer unit now quits. He leaves open the option that he will just transfer them to Spanish Battalions.
Merriman mentions a “Feny” or possibly “Ferry” from Army Corps who comes to explain the political situation. The incorporation of secretaries in each unit is required and Lieutenant Abad Garcia of the 24th Battalion needs to be consulted frequently. This has the flavor of paying more attention to learning Spanish and paying more attention to the Spanish-Internationals integration.
Merriman finishes his day with his second favorite sport… swimming in the moonlight. His favorite sport involved tossing grenades.
Bill Wimmer from Transports arrives and brings a letter from Steve Nelson who is in Valencia. Nelson is irate about the treatment of the Americans who are in the 24th Battalion and English Battalion who were removed to other units. Merriman says that this is a party decision and only the party can reverse it, not the command structure.
Kibby Goodman returned from Albacete or Valencia without the payroll. The issue was that the paylists were not correct. Merriman says that this is related to the Dimitrov affair where Albacete wanted to move the Dimitrovs to the 45th Brigade and Copic wanted to keep them in the XVth Brigade. Albacete was sending Copic a message. Every two weeks the paylists had to have each soldier listed by rank (since the pay was related to rank) and each soldier must sign for their pay. The Brigade, being in battle, did not spend any time keeping the playlists current and might not have put that little “x” next to those soldiers who would no longer be drawing pay. Merriman knows that they need to fix this but he has worn down and is now sick. It appears that he has intestinal problems since he is not eating and can’t keep food down. Typhoid became epidemic in the Brigades during October 1937. Walter later said 1000 men in two Brigades got typhoid. Other diseases such as “dirt fever”, a bacterial infection of the lungs which is common in agricultural regions, and yellow jaundice (hepatitis) were widespread amongst the troops. Merriman realizes that the paylists are problem but he says “Dare” (name is questionable, could be “Bose”) is wrong not to send the money since they were in combat for this pay period (Sept 1 – Sept 10).
Mirko Markovics is in camp and is lobbying for movement of the Dimitrovs to the 45th. Copic is infuriated by this and orders Markovics not to talk to troops in the XVth. He says he will have him arrested.
Merriman also is supposed to have completed the promotion lists to fill in behind those injured at Belchite. His original suggestions appear to pass. Alfred Litwin and Wimmer spend the day exchanging money. This would indicate that the Brigade had resources in American dollars and needed to convert them to pesetas so that Merriman would not default on payroll for September 10.
Copic and Merriman are still deciding who should go to Albacete to make the case for keeping the Dimitrov Battalion. Merriman stalls on the decision. Copic writes a letter to “цика Party” and Moise Sapir will be the courier of the letter. цика is the name of the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow. Copic is taking this question all the way to Stalin.
Robert Merriman's Diary from 1937 and a day-by-day transcription. Spend a year as Robert Merriman did.