30 Octobre Henri Cartier-Bresson is in town and films the Brigade

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October 30

Robert Merriman’s diary pages for October 30, 1937

Balsa

Dave Doran, Jose Varela, Captain Alfredo Balsa, and John Gates, December 1937, ALBA PHOTO 11-0997, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman continues with activities on the evening of October 28 when they had an impromptu fiesta with songs.     Three birthdays were on this day, Crespo, Capt. Abad Garcia, and a Captain “Baltea” who probably is Captain Balsa.   There was singing of flamenco, Classical Spanish and “darky” songs.  This shows that even politically advanced and intelligent people would revert to anachronistic descriptions of negro music.   While Copic tried to flatter Major Crespo, Crespo turned around and looked for Merriman and Doran to flatter him and say what a great job he had done in the rear at Quinto.   Merriman is clearly never going to be friends with Crespo, even on his birthday.

Hoff in Cartier-Bresson

Harold Hoff on an anti-tank gun in Cartier-Bresson’s film. Chris Brooks says this is a 45mm AT gun.  Clip from “With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain (1937-38)”, copyright ALBA.

Henry Cartier-Bresson

Henry Cartier-Bresson in Quinto, ALBA PHOTO 11-0852, Tamiment Library, NYU

On the evening of the 28th of October, Herb Kline, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Jacques Lemaire arrived to shoot a film.  This was discussed on October 10 in merrimandiary.com but clearly that was too soon.   Cartier-Bresson’s film is copyrighted by the Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archives and clips have been shown variously on the web.  Many of the scenes were staged on the parade grounds in Quinto and Merriman reveals here that he also staged some of the scenes which involved medical units and ambulance evacuations.  The writer’s father took part in the movie and was seen in some of the parade ground scenes.

Quinto Church

A clip from Henri Cartier-Bresson’s film “With the American Lincoln Brigade in Spain (1937-1938)” (copyright ALBA)… Quinto Church.

Merriman is taken with Cartier-Bresson’s wife, Ratna Mohini, who was from Java.  She is not impressed with war or soldiers and must have been quite outspoken.   In a sentence which may or may not be transcribed correctly, Dave Doran acquainted her with the class basis of war.  The diary is clear that the filming took place on October 29 and was completed in one day’s filming.

Robert Minor and two others

Robert Minor and Russian Woman and her husband, ALBA PHOTO 11-0770, Tamiment Library, NYU

On the 29th, Bob Minor shows up with a “pretty Russian woman” and her husband who was doing assignments for the Russians.  There is a photograph of the three of them in Quinto.

 

 

Joe Taylor

Evening sing along filmed with burning lye to get light. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “American Lincoln Brigade in Spain (1937-38)”, Copyright ALBA

Copic

Vladimir Copic singing, from Henri Cartier-Bresson’s film (ibid)

In the evening of the 29th, Copic held another sing along for the movie by Cartier-Bresson and two frames of the movie show American Joe Taylor singing with a guitar being played and on the right, Vladimir Copic singing heartily.   Dave Doran viewed the event as historical, which it certainly was.  Ivan Rujevic (John Gerlach) agreed and thought it was unfortunate that Merriman was sick and was not available to be filmed.  However, the final cut of the film has a significant section with Merriman in it and he is speaking to the troops in front of a church in Quinto.

In the rest of the 30 October pages, Merriman gets back into Brigade Politics and reveals that Comrade Ivan doesn’t believe that Merriman is doing the work of a Chief of Staff.  Ivan believes that his “department” supports Crespo over Merriman.  The vote of confidence must have disturbed Merriman.

28 Octobre Fuqua cannot be persuaded to give up his car

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October 28, 1937

Robert Merriman’s Diary for October 28, 1937

On the morning of October 28, Merriman does show Colonel Fuqua the anti-tank guns.   It seems that Fuqua is interested in getting all the information he can.   Hans Amlie advances a theory that the Brigades can just put boats onto the Ebro River and float into action.  His comment that this automatically gives you the high ground since water flows downhill is really very odd military theory.   Fuqua is skeptical and given that the Fascists have all the artillery and all the airplanes, putting men into boats with nowhere to hide seems silly.

Fuqua's car

Dave Doran, Lieutenant Colonel Copic, Colonel Fuqua, Hans Amlie, and Bob Merriman joking over the US car. ALBA PHOTO 11-0824, Tamiment Library, NYU

Doran kidding Fuqua

(l-r) Amlie, behind Ed Bender, Dave Doran, Copic, Fuqua, and Merriman. The US license plate on the car is visible. ALBA PHOTO 11-0825, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman is still pushing Copic to support General Walter for leading a new Army Corps.  Copic is not going to go there.  Merriman drafts a letter for Copic and gets him and Crespo to sign off.   Merriman says that they were kidding Colonel Fuqua that he should have left his “machine” (i.e. his car) for the American Brigaders.  We include two photos of this scene and you can see in the right image that the car has US Diplomatic Plates and a US flag on it.

Merriman says that Milly Bennett is in town and has bought baseball bats for the Americans.  Playing baseball was probably well down on Merriman’s list of “needs”.

After Fuqua leaves, Merriman is rushed into a Party meeting where “Wolinski” (undetermined Brigadier) delivers the Party Line.  Merriman capitalizes “THE SPANISH PROBLEM” so the topic is pretty evident of how the Brigades are going to deal with the integrated Spanish officers.  He says “False popularity” and we can only guess what he meant by this term.  The meeting ended by a discussion of the 9th and 36th Brigades and their relationship to the Unión General de Trabadores (UGT), the Communist party union, and the Confederación Nacional del Trabados, the anarchist-POUM led union.   The 9th Brigada Mixta of the 2nd Division was originally led by General Lister and contained the Thaelmann battalion.   In the Aragon, it was led by José Martínez García and was based in Alcaníz.  The 36th Battalion of the 4th Army was called the 2nd CNT Battalion.  The discussion continued with Largo Caballero’s purported support of the POUM and why he was removed.

John Gates spoke to the Battalions and Vladimir Copic choose to speak as well.  Copic got excited about the proposal to include new Spanish comrades in the Brigades and the assumption that they would carry in ranks as officers.  Copic says that that precluded them as officer material in his army.

Poll

Lieutenant Harry Poll, November 1937. ALBA PHOTO 11_0652, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman meets with Bob Thompson after Copic left for the Division for a meeting.   Harry Poll returned with gloves for Merriman.  No coat was purchased and Poll returned Merriman’s 300 pesetas.

Merriman tried to make up with Crespo since he wanted to write a letter to Marion Merriman and Crespo let Merriman use his desk.  But the love doesn’t last long.  A Spanish sergeant in the Estado Mayor who Merriman describes at “dumb” was moved to the 21st Brigade as a Lieutenant.  The freedom with which officer positions are handed out irks Merriman who recalls how the International Officers needed to be trained first at Pozo Rubio’s Officer Training School.   Merriman hopes that Crespo will follow him.   The earlier discussion that Crespo would go to the Army Corps as a Chief of Staff did not materialize as the Army Corps was dissolved.

27 Octobre Fuqua addresses the troops and Merriman gets a gift

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October 27

Robert Merriman’s second diary pages (7) from October 27, 1937.

The stories start to pour out of Merriman now.  He has time to catch up on activities of the month and tell of the politics of the Brigade.   About twenty pages are physically available in the second diary and Marion Merriman will soon come to meet the Brigade.  Merriman will send both diaries back to the US with Marion Merriman.   He is no longer conserving paper on putting down his thoughts.

On the 27th of October the XVth Brigade is withdrawn from the front lines and taken to Quinto.  Meetings are held and Rubin Kaufman leads some of the griping at the first meeting.   Merriman, however, is happy how the meeting went and plans meetings with each Battalion in turn.   He says that Copic remains at Quinto and takes part in the meetings.   Merriman still is fighting with Major Crespo.

Denner again came from Cuerpo and asked for two men to go ahead to the new Brigade positions near Quintanar de la Orden, where the Estado Mayor would go and the Battalions will be based in Belmonte which is a few kilometers east of Quintanar.   The Brigade never moved to these positions, but rather returned to positions near Ambite where they were based in June.

Quintanar and Belmonte

Map of Quintanar and Belmonte, Spain. Courtesy: Google Maps.

Merriman was visiting the Intendencia and Autopark so he was unable to comply with the order so Sapir decided to send Rollin Dart and Anton Hernandez to go on ahead to Quintanar.   Before Sapir could tell Merriman what had happened, Hans Amlie and Colonel Fuqua return and want to see the sites.

Fuqua

Colonel Stephen Fuqua, David Doran and Hans Amlie in the trenches at Fuentes de Ebro, ALBA Photo 11-0843, Tamiment Library, NYU

Col. S. Fuqua addresses troops

Colonel Stephen Fuqua (right) addressing the Mac-Paps in Quinto. Others in the photo (r to l) William Digges (in beret), Dave Doran, Bob Thompson, Bob Merriman, and Hans Amlie

Merriman says that the next day (probably October 26), they went up to Fuentes to see the Mac-Pap positions.  There is a photo of Dave Doran and Amlie with Fuqua in a Fuentes trench (right).  Fuqua addressed the Mac-Paps in an impromptu parade (left).  Fuqua and the staff then visited Belchite where they inspected the ruins.

Gates, Thompson and Doran

John Gates, US Political Commissar at Albacete with Bob Thompson and Dave Doran, Ambite Spain, December 1937. ALBA PHOTO 11-0776, Tamiment Library, NYU

When Merriman gets back to Quinto, Edward Bender, Canadian Commissar Bob Kerr and John Gates arrived.   John Gates will become the American responsible in Albacete, replacing Bill Lawrence who would return to the US.  Merriman says he will miss Lawrence.   John Gates, Dave Doran and Bob Minor represent the U.S. Communist Party Committee in Spain.   John Robinson misses his opportunity to go to Moscow as his visa is not available.  Robinson will stay in Spain.

A comrade named “Wolinski” arrives who represents the Central Committee of the Communist Party.  He asks the Staff in Quinto for a meeting where no Spanish would be present and where the political organization of the Brigade would be discussed.   Dave Doran says that what is discussed is the “old Party line” where the involvement of Spanish in all activities would not be encouraged.  This is later discussed as “The Spanish Problem”.   Clearly, the involvement of Spanish leaders in the Brigade, like Crespo, who were not Party men was a problem for the Internationals.  Overnight, Fuqua was sick and confined to bed and Wolinski also got sick.  Merriman and Doran are worried about how this will be reported back to their respective leaders.

In a surprise move, Vladimir Copic gives Merriman a gold watch and tells him how he would have engraved it if he could have found an engraver.   It was in recognition of Merriman’s service at Quinto and Belchite.  Perhaps it also was a thank you for Merriman’s intervention in Valencia where they were talking seriously about pulling Copic out of the XVth Brigade.    Marion Merriman Wachtel is less impressed with the watch:

In what I thought was a mockery, Copic had presented Bob with a gold watch as commendation for Bob’s leadership at Quinto and Belchite.  But it was a cheap watch.  Copic said he planned to have it engraved but couldn’t find an engraver.  I didn’t see how Bob could stand to work with a superior who cared so little about his men  Bob put up with COpic because he had to, but argued with all of his powers when he disagreed with Copic.  As a commander in the European tradition, he didn’t relish subordinates presenting contrary views.  He frequently called the Americans “crybabies” because they challenged him so much.¹

In a later page of the diary, there is a short paragraph where Merriman began to dictate his letter in support of Copic.  The letter was not completed and he must have found a secretary to take the letter down.   Merriman says it may be near the end for Copic, but also relates that Bender and Wolinski say that they are not in favor of removal of Copic because it reflects badly on the Brigades.  Copic has few friends in leadership but his personal welfare is less important than how it would look to remove the Commander of the Brigade for failure.   Copic, personally, has asked for a couple of more months in the Brigade and then perhaps to move up to command Albacete base.  At the time Comrade Bielov was in command of the base and wanted to leave.

On the evening of the 27th, Merriman meets again with Col. Fuqua but refuses to answer his questions.  Fuqua, while ostensibly fact-finding for Claude Bowers at the US Embassy, was still not trusted and Merriman could not be sure where the information would go. Others noted that Fuqua was a US Army colleague of Major Allan Johnson, now the Tarazona training base commander.   Amlie also is suspected of having been an acquaintance of Fuqua in the US Army.  André Marty did not agree with the government’s approval of Fuqua’s visit and held all involved (Merriman, Amlie and Johnson) in the highest suspicion.²,³  Merriman did agree to show Fuqua the Russian anti-tank guns on the 28th.

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¹ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., pg 180.

² Art Landis, American Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

³ Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid.

24 Octobre The Spanish leave their trenches and soon will be playing football

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October 24, 1937

Robert Merriman’s second diary on October 24, 1937

Lt. Abad Garcia

Lieutenant Abad Garcia (left) of the 24th Battalion with Jose Varela (right), ALBA PHOTO 11-1787, Tamiment Library NYU

The end of Merriman’s October 22 diary pages starts “Just before Copic left – order came thru for us to withdraw from the line into” and finishes “Quinto to be replaced by the 143rd Brigade”.   The 143rd Brigade was led by Captain Nicanor Felipe Martinez and is described on the “Guide to the Mixed Brigades”, a wonderful website for determining the leadership of the Brigades.  The Aragon Front was settling down and both sides seemed happy to leave only minimal troops in the cold trenches.  The 143rd was offering up one company and one section, probably 130 men, to man a 10 kilometer wide front.  Merriman thinks this is ridiculous and protests.  He leaves the 24th Battalion (what is left of it after reinforcements were brought in) into a second line position, in case the 143rd is overrun.  In an iconic story of the front, the Spanish Battalion’s commissar, with some men from the 24th and 143rd, went over the trenches and met with the Spanish fascist troops and exchanged gifts.  At this time, it is believed that Captain Abad Garcia was the commissar of the 24th Battalion and he would have been arrested for this contact and fraternization with the enemy.

Merriman finally got 210 troops of the 143rd to come into the trenches after they first refused to join.   Merriman says that they only have two machine guns and some light weapons to guard the five mile wide front that the Mac-Paps and Lincolns held.  Merriman reveals that the contact with the enemy showed that the Italians were now gone from the front and since the Internationals were being pulled out, the front had only Spanish troops who worked out a local cease fire and truce where the whole battalion went over and met with the enemy.  One can imagine how frustrating this was for the International Brigades who were just decimated at Fuentes de Ebro.   Art Landis points out how ironic it was that on October 21, the Italians would lead an attack and take Gijon.¹   It is not likely that this would be the same Italian divisions.

Merriman says that the short stay in Quinto is coming to an end and they are awaiting orders to pull out by train, back to the Center Front.   During this period, from the Effectives List of Company 3 up to November 5, one can determine that many of the Lincolns were given leave to Madrid.

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¹  Art Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

22 Octobre Copic returns from Valencia and drops a bombshell

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October 22, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary pages covering the 22nd and 23rd of October, 1937

The discussion with James Bourne about his separation from the military aspects of the Brigade carried over onto October 22 and Dave Doran must have gotten into a fight with Bourne.  Merriman was called in.   Merriman feels that Bourne is not telling him everything and that he may have to be moved out.  Bourne holds out for the isolation of the Party members from the Brigades and this will not set well with those on the front lines.  He said that Bourne is intimating that he is under orders from people who are much higher up.

Schmidt

Egon Schmidt, ALBA PHOTO 177-188016, Tamiment Library, NYU

Major Crespo, the 2nd Chief of Staff of the Brigade, did not agree with Merriman’s moves of the Estado Mayor.   Merriman appears to have moved the office staff up from Quinto to these tents which were behind the hill south of Fuentes and out of the range of the Nationalist Artillery.   Merriman says that the move has been effective in getting work done.  Crespo insults Egon Schmidt who would have been a Captain on the staff at that point.    Crespo says Schmidt is only tolerated because they can’t find anyone else to do his job.   Merriman is looking to “clean the office” which seems doubtful will be done with a broom.

Bernard Singer who has returned from Hospital was sent on errands by Copic and he returned with all types of loot.  Merriman appears to be furious.  Rings were purchased which cost 800 pesetas each, Copic gets himself a double sized bathtub,  Merriman gets a piece of candy.   Merriman says Singer will be liquidated.  Sapir suggests that a check be done of Singer’s rank to see whether he is holding himself out at a level above what was formally approved at Albacete.  In September 1938, Bernard Singer, a soldado, was killed on the Ebro.  Merriman says he was like a “Country Boy being turned loose”.

Merriman gets “Gibbs” a new cook for the Kitchen.   This is possibly Theodore Gibbs, although he is not listed on the kitchen staff in the Brigades, he is listed as an ambulance driver.  Merriman has mentioned a negro on the previous pages as a writer who came up and wanted to be a Lieutenant and drive ambulance.   In any case, Gibbs crosses Copic by not getting him enough hot water so he can enjoy his large, new bathtub.  Copic has him arrested.   Later Dave Doran intervenes and has him released, but Merriman sides with Copic in that an order was given and not followed.  The personal dynamics between Doran and Merriman are illuminating here.

Langston Hughes and Crawford Morgan

Langston Hughes chatting with Crawford Morgan at Fuentes de Ebro front, October 1937. ALBA PHOTO 11-1347, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman takes Eric DeWitt Parker and Langston Hughes up to the lines but gets called back to Quinto to have a meeting with Copic and Jim Bourne.   Copic explains what happened in Valencia at the Comintern meeting.   “Alfredo” and Andre Marty came to Albacete and apparently nothing was decided whether the British would get their six month repatriation decision.   Copic’s suggestion that an army corp made up of the International Brigades was rejected.  General Walter may not stay with them at all as the Army Corps that they are in at this point, the 12th, is being disbanded.   Merriman says that Copic returned to Valencia and met with Comrade Maximoff and Bob Minor and others.  He was informed that a new Battalion might be formed and that his own “personal problem” was solved.  Copic had used terms like being stateless and having nowhere to go, it is possible that this personal problem was his future career in the Party.

Hans Klaus

Photo of Hans Klaus (identified as Klaus Becker in many ALBA photos but believed to be Colonel Klaus or Claus), ALBA PHOTO 177-177038, Tamiment Library, NYU

Then Copic drops the bombshell that he himself has been removed as Commander of the XVth International Brigade for the failure at Fuentes de Ebro.   Copic suggests that Hans Klaus will replace him and it is possible Copic will move up to command a Division.  Copic says he suggested Merriman become commander of the XVth Brigade. Whether any of this story has real substance is hearsay, since none of it actually happened.  Instead Dave Doran and Merriman write a letter to Valencia (presumably to Bob Minor) to object to this change and to see if they could stop it.   Copic makes a remark that if he were a professional soldier, this would “break his heart” but Merriman doesn’t buy it.  He thinks Copic is actually relieved to be able to move out.   Merriman talks to Denner (still have not located this person but he would have been with Cuerpo) and gets himself a salvo conducto to go to Valencia and make the case to keep Copic.    Merriman and Doran wonder if Bill Lawrence, the American responsible in Albacete, was behind the move to get rid of Copic.  Lawrence might have seen enough of the friction when he was at the front just before the attack on Fuentes de Ebro.   It is interesting that after all the attempts to move Copic out, now Merriman and Doran are loyally trying to save him.

Doran and Robinson

David Doran and John Robinson, September 1937, ALBA PHOTO 11-0753, Tamiment Library, NYU

In a final note for this day, Merriman says that John Quigley Robinson would be leaving to go to Valencia and then on to Moscow as part of the delegation of American Communists attending a Politburo meeting there.   Merriman would have liked to go.