27-28 Enero Organizing the Battalion for Possible Move to the Front

January 27-28

Robert Merriman’s diary of January 27 and 28, 1937

Bob Merriman’s task on these days was still organizational.  Not only did he need to train increasingly large numbers of new men who were coming into Villanueva de la Jara, but he had to feed and supply them.  The hub for materiel and people was in Albacete and in between there and Villaneueva was Madrigueras where the British were.  Merriman would find out quickly that the “requisitioning” process included diverting material to your unit when it was intended for another.  He found this out the hard way when his supplies only made it half way.   The Americans were resourceful, however, and one can often find discussions of “organizing” material which was on the move.  His mention of “waylaid Stern” probably falls into this category.  Commissars and Adjutants’ jobs revolved about getting the supplies they needed.

There is a hint of trouble to come in the phrase “hunted for our head man”.  Harris would often go off and be hard to find.  More on this in the weeks to come.   Merriman’s cryptic “Who goes?” suggests they were already planning their move to the front lines, even though the Americans had been in training for less than two weeks.

General Gal

Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Copic (left) and General Janos Galicz (Gal; facing the camera) ALBA PHOTO 177-175018, Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

On the 28th, many new names arise in the diary.  Merriman will mention nearly 300 people over the course of the next year and thus the additional historical value of being able to place people by date.  We have not met General Gal before.  Janos Galicz (General Gal) of Hungary was the military leader of the division commanding the 15th Brigade.¹   Over the summer, he will be mentioned often.  On June 24, 1937, Gal and Copic will meet in Ambite at a meeting of the leaders of the XVth Brigade and their photo is shown here.   Very little has been written about Gal, and Vidal passes over him quickly in his memoir, saying only that the Hungarian Gall {his spelling} was a veteran of the Civil War in the Soviet Union.¹

Platone refers to Felice Platone (thanks to Fraser Ottanelli for this identification).  Platone was a member of the Communist Party in Italy and became Chief of Staff of the International Brigades. Platone will show up in the next few months and then not be seen again in the diary.  Nueman (later to be written Newman) appears frequently in the diary early on, but no American of that name was in Spain at that time.   This is probably the Austrian Doctor Rudolf Neumann who was an early organizer of the International Brigades in Albacete.  Vidal says in his memoir:

Le 20 Octobre {1936}, arrivaient, vacant de Madrid, à Albacete, les camarades André MARTY, VIDAL et BLANCO. …. Du même BLANCO, officier austrichien avait participé à la guerre civile en Union Soviétique; était arrivé en Espagne au début d’Octobre …. Le camarade BLANCO était chargé avec l’instruction militaire …. ¹

Blanco then was one of the three leaders of the Brigade in Albacete in the late fall of 1936 and it is unlikely that two Austrians would be attributed to being “co-founders” of the Brigades.   It is possible that Neumann and Blanco are the same man.  And since Blanco had been in charge of instruction, Merriman would likely have met and reported to him.  By late December 1936, however, Dr. Neumann was organizing the hospitals and there is a memorandum from Vidal to Neumann describing the outfitting of the Auto-Chir (the mobile surgical hospital).¹

Merriman commandeered a truck from Marvin Stern who was the first Commissar of the Lincoln Battalion.  Merriman will become extremely resourceful over the new few months in making sure he has access to transportation.  Peter Carroll says:

Given the importance of the commissars, the first American leaders appeared woefully inadequate.  Phil Bard, appointed by the American Communist Party in New York, lacked any military skills.  When the Lincolns moved to the town of Villaneuva de la Jara for exercises, Bard remained at Albacete to handle battalion affairs; chronic asthma soon forced his return to the United States.  As his replacement, Bard appointed another volunteer named Marvin Stern, a New York seaman, who soon offended the local mayor by demanding to know why he had not yet collectivized the land.   Argumentative and arrogant, Stern nearly came to blows with several of the men.  Angry with his leadership, the Lincolns elected a political committee to bring their grievances to the brigade command.  Commander Vidal’s response was to call them “naughty children.”….²

Stern clashed with Stember as well and resigned as Commissar to return to the ranks.  He disappeared from the Lincolns and was said to have died in Spain in a cloud of innuendo.³

When he got back at Villanueva, Merriman found order disrupted by Ray Steele (Ramond Albert Steele aka as Burns) who had gotten drunk and kicked in a door.  Eby says that he was jailed as “drunk and disorderly”.²  Ray Steele would work as a cook and served in the Lincoln Battalion Machine Gun Company.  He served at Jarama and Brunete, and was killed in the latter action.  He was reported to be one of the best machine gunners in the Battalion.

Merriman also had trouble with Andrew Royce (aka Royce Alvin).  These linked biographies are prepared by Chris Brooks for the Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archives and I owe a debt to Chris for his suggestions on the names of Americans as they come up.  He probably has the best handle on the names of the Lincolns of anyone researching the Brigades at this point.

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¹ Gayman, Vital (Vidal), The Base of the International Brigades in Albacete 1936-1937, ibid., pp 7-9.

² Carroll, Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., p 96-97.

³ Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid.