25-26 Febrero Continuing with the events of the 23rd Assault

25-26 Febrero

Robert Merriman’s diary pages for 25-26 February. Note that this largely relates to the events of the 23rd of February

Merriman continues to relate the movement of men into sheltered positions after the attack and withdrawal of February 23.  Recall that the men took up positions previously occupied by the Dimitroff Battalion who were supposed to attack on a flank north of the Lincolns.  Merriman said on the previous page that the Spanish engineers had helped in digging better trenches in these positions but they were shallow and did not provide enough protection from snipers.  When the Dimitroffs moved south to occupy positions previously held by the British, who had been badly battered from the 21st through 24th,  Merriman thought they had pulled out.  Apparently some of the Lincolns followed them into these new positions and the command post of the Lincolns was left exposed with only Richard Pick and Merriman and some grenades.  Pick went to round up the men and Merriman must have left the trench completely unoccupied.   The Lincolns were mustered again and put into these trench positions.

Landis¹ describes these positions as a combination of shallow trenches and sandbags which crossed the macadam road to St. Martín de Vega as well as a sunken dirt road which was about level with the height  of the bottom of the trenches.  There was a stone hut which was used for machine guns for which the Lincolns now had six working guns which could cover their front to the Fascist lines some 200 meters distant.   When men tried to  cross the sunken road to go north or south, they were exposed from the knees up.  12 men were shot over the next two days “of rest” from snipers, including Alonzo Watson who was the first African American to be killed in Spain.  Even bringing food across these roads to the trenches was dangerous.  From the Book of the XVth Brigade:

How Bob Norwood Died

Because the Lincolns moved so much and the kitchen staff was just beginning to get properly organized they received hardly any rations for three days.  On February 24, a huge bowl of coffee was sent through the trenches.  Each man took his share and passed the bowl to others.  When it got to Bob Norwood and a group of his comrades who happened to be chatting together, he got his cup and dipped it into the bowl with great eagerness.  As he raised from a bent position with cup in hand, he said to his comrades around “Come on boys, dig in, I got mine.”  At that very moment an explosive bullet struck him in the head.  He fell face down into the coffee… his brains seeped into it.²

On the 25th it rained and keeping dry was the order of the day.  The sun came out again February 26th, Merriman, Seacord and Stember were called to Morata.  The line “Stember went below and caused talk” is cryptic.  Merriman would later describe the events of the 23rd as “scandal”.  It is possible that Stember returned to the Brigade Headquarters and tried to place blame of the inability to move forward and hold positions on the French and Belgians.  We have seen that Merriman has tried to blame the 24th Spanish Battalion and then the Dimitroffs.  Little blame could be placed on the British Battalion who were literally decimated.   General Gal and Colonels Klaus and Copic rarely hesitated in placing blame on commanders who did not achieve their objectives.   Especially young and untested commanders like Merriman.

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¹ Book of the XVth International Brigade, ibid., p. 75.

² Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid. p. 75.

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