19-20 Febrero Lincolns see their First Action and Merriman loses his diary

19-20 Febrero
Robert Merriman’s Diary for the evening of the 18th of February through the 19th. The diary was then lost for about a month.

The end of the post for February 17 and 18 discusses the first paragraph above.  The only addition information we have not discussed from that paragraph is “Harris out”.  James Harris, who was Merriman’s commander in training, had become increasingly unreliable.  Merriman had said on the 17th “Afraid of some officers at the last moment”.   We see why here.  Harris “missed the bus” when leaving Albacete, somehow got a ride to the front and arrived by the 18th.  Peter Carroll describes for us the sad episode with Harris:

At the end of the first day, Harris had to be sent to a hospital; Daduk “cracked up” and went to a rest home; and the brigade command bawled out Merriman for not keeping his men down.  Two days later, Harris returned, reclaimed his rank, and led the men on a bright, moonlit night across the Republican trenches into no-man’s’-land for night maneuvers.  Whatever the commander’s intentions, the march soon deteriorated into a rambling procession, interspersed with desultory fire from enemy lines and a raging quarrel between Harris and Merriman.  The latter apparently prevailed and brought the men back to their lines.  Harris, “still abnormal”, according to Merriman’s diary, went by ambulance the next day to a hospital, never to return to the battalion.¹

The stroll became derogatorily known as the “moonlight walk”.  It can have done nothing for the confidence the men had in their leadership. The concern Merriman had for Steve Daduk in training bore out and he was removed from the Front.  He would return in September to the United States to promote donations for the Lincoln Brigade.

Vladomir Copic (left) and Bob Merriman (right) at Fuentes del Ebro in October 1938. Source: Harry Randall Photo Archive (ALBA Photo 11), Tamiment Library, NYU, Photo 11_0258.

The leadership changed again with George Nathan of the British removed and replaced by “Chopick” (also “Kopich”), who spelled his name Vladimir Copic.  Copic will remain the commander of the XVth Brigade until late Spring of 1938 and is integral to the story here.  His biography found in the Volunteer for Liberty² is found on this link.  (The Volunteer for Liberty was the Brigade newspaper published weekly from May 1937-October 1938 in Spain and later became the Volunteer newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades in the United States and a separate version was published in England after the war).  Copic had a dominating personality, believed in formal European command styles, and was a shameless self-promoter.  No one person has more photographs taken of him in the Spanish Civil War, as the Bosnian Serb Vlajko Begovic (Stepanovitch or Stepanovic) followed him around and served as his biographer/photographer.  Begovic was editor on Copic’s diary of the war which was published in 1971.

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

Hans Klaus was named Chief of Staff for the XVth Brigade.  Merriman advanced Doug Seacord, the Commander of Company 1, to be his Adjutant at the Battalion Plaza Mayor (HQ), which was placed in the middle section of trenches at the front.

On the 20th of February, Merriman lost his diary and only found it in mid-March.  He gave the diary to someone to hold for him because action was picking up and only in March was it returned to him. It would have not been wise for a Brigadista to be caught with documentation that described Albacete and the Brigade formation.   The diary was probably left at Brigade Headquarters.

We will pick up the story of the Brigade in a few days after providing some background in the next position.


¹ Peter Carroll, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

² Volunteer for Liberty, Vol 1 Number 17  November 27, 1937.

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