17-18 Febrero “Long Live . . .”

17-18 February

Robert Merriman’s diary for February 17 and February 18

Merriman’s diary does not tell us much on these two days except that he was writing an epitaph for himself.  Much has been said about Merriman not being a member of the Communist Party but these lines in the diary would indicate that he is at least supportive at this point of the ideology of communism.  Perhaps he is telling us that he is a “real communist”.

By the 17th, the Americans had seen action at Jarama but Merriman does not describe it here.  Hundreds of books have been written about the American involvement in Jarama and Art Landis writes nearly two chapters of The American Lincoln Brigade on the action in February.¹   Each year,  the Asociacíon de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales (AABI) in Madrid holds a memorial for the Jarama battles and this year the Jarama march will be on Saturday, February 21.   AABI put up a Spanish History Channel documentary on Jarama which can be found here.   Additional video can be found here and here and here.   (A warning: some of this was broadcast on Falange TV).

From Landis¹, we can sketch what happened on these two days.  The actions of the 12th to 15th of February had resulted in the decimation of the French, German, and English Battalions.  Frank Ryan of the Irish caught the brigades in retreat along the Morata Road and with Jock Cunningham

Frank Ryan

Frank Ryan of the Irish Contingent in the International Brigade (Photo: 177_190100 of the Moscow Collection ALBA 177, Tamiment Library, New York University.

Cunningham

Jock Cunningham of the British Battalion, Photo: 177_179053 of the Moscow Archive ALBA 177, Tamiment Library, New York University

of the British, was able to rally the troops to follow him back to the Front.   Apparently, the only song known by all the troops was the Internationale and the troops sung out as they moved back to the front.  General Gal had exhorted the British to return saying there were no replacements.  Landis wonders if it was his enthusiasm which encouraged Ryan and Cunningham to return or the threat of court-martial.  In a prior battle south of Madrid, a French commander of the Brigades who did not follow orders was shot in December.  The encouragement to follow orders, even if they seemed unreachable, was a tangible threat to the commanders and would shortly be all too apparent to Robert Merriman.

The Americans who were in the trenches on the night of the 16th had already had a disaster of their own.  Two trucks moving to the front had misjudged the position of the International Brigade.  Carroll described the event²:

Riding in the first truck was a 25-year-old-graduate of Indiana University named Walter Grant…..  Grant rode in the darkness in the back of the lead truck toward the Jarama front.  Unfamiliar with the landscape, he probably did not realize that the driver had missed a left turn.  The driver of the second truck blindly followed his mistake.  Inside the third vehicle, an ambulance, rode Dr. William Pike, a volunteer with the American Medical Bureau, who noticed the road to the left.  He ordered the driver to stop, then directed the convoy on the proper course.  The Lincolns never again saw the missing trucks. But fascist documents indicate that the two trucks continued in the wrong direction until they came under enemy fire.  The first truck was shot off the road; the second crashed into it.  The survivors took refuge in a small gully, but they were easily overpowered.  Walter Grant and about twenty other Americans became the first of the Lincoln casualties.  Also lost were all the Battalion records.

Landis says that many on these trucks were on a list of prisoners as late as 25 December 1937.¹  Landis notes that none were repatriated so either they died at the scene, were executed after, or died in prison.  Accusations of traitorism on the part of the drivers was claimed by General Gal, but since the drivers were amongst the dead, it is likely to have been “fog of war”, a simple mistake.

On the 17th the Fascists attacked along a broad front.  In the south, on the 16th, the Irish O’Duffy Bandera, who were fighting for the Fascists, saw their first action at Ciempozuelos.  It was in this action that they were shot at by their own Spanish troops.  Fortunately, their positions were so far south, they did not come into contact with the International Brigade or it would have been the Irish, Americans and British shooting at the Irish.³  Instead in the attack on Ciempozuelos, the O’Duffy Bandera bogged down in the mud trying to cross the river and were generally ineffective.  Little more will be said about this group although they did see some action later in March. By June they were being repatriated back to Ireland, partly because Franco did not respect the ability of O’Duffy or his troops.

The Americans occupied positions on both sides of the paved road Camino de St. Martín de Vega.  The 2nd Company was the furthest left, the first company was nearest the road and the Cubans under Rodolfo de Armas was further to the north across this east-west road.  On the 16th, the Americans had their first battle casualty,  Charles Edwards, an observer, was hit by a sniper’s bullet.  Within an hour, Misak Chelibian was killed by artillery shrapnel.  But for raw recruits, the Lincolns had been placed well into the old positions of the Dimitrov Battalion.  Landis reports about 12 wounded in addition to the two deaths above over the next two days  and that the Lincolns had dug in deeply.

Another excellent summary of the Battle for Jarama can be found online on Robert Colodny’s “The Struggle for Madrid”.4

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¹ Art Landis, The American Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

² Peter Carroll, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

³ Robert A. Stradling, The Irish and the Spanish Civil War, ibid.

4 Robert Colodny, The Struggle for Madrid: The Central Epic of the Spanish Conflict, 1936-37, Transaction Publishers, 2009.

15-16 Febrero “Willing to die for my ideas”

15-16_Febrero

Robert Merriman’s diary upon arrival in Jarama, 15th and 16th of February 1937.

Commanders at Morata

Photograph of the XVth Brigade leadership at General Gal’s headquarters at Morata de Tejuña (Villa Fuentes de Venta), May 1937. L-R Allan Johnson, Vladimir Copic, unknown soldier, Harry Haywood, Marion Merriman, Col. Hans Klaus, Bob Merriman, and Joseph North. ALBA PHOTO 177-196126, Tamiment Library, NYU

From Albacete, the Lincolns boarded trucks and headed northwest at midnight to the front in the Jarama Valley.  Marion Merriman Wachtel noted that Stember had told Merriman that since James Harris did not show for the departure, Merriman was now in charge of the Lincoln Battalion.   While the battalion moved forward to the front, Merriman stopped in Morata de Tejuña (he calls it what looks to be Mortie or Mortia) a few kilometers behind the Jarama front where General Gal (Janos Galicz) and the Brigade staff were headquartered.

Merriman’s note “allowed them to fire” is described in many books on Jarama.  Each soldier was told to take five rounds and fire their weapons into a hillside.  For some, it was the first time they had ever felt the recoil of a rifle.  The Lincolns were welcomed with a bombing and strafing run from German Heinkel airplanes.  Edwin Rolfe wrote:

It was the first time the Americans had come under direct fire.  All of them stretched out full length, hugging the earth like experienced soldiers.  The single lapse of perfect discipline occurred when one of the younger volunteers turned over on his back, nervously aimed his rifle skyward and took a single shot at the planes.  The others remained silent…. It was the first real lesson, the first clear indication of the necessity for rapid troop dispersal under fire.  Before that, the men had tended to crowd together, seeking safety in close companionship.¹

Merriman says that the “Mexicans” (i.e. Russians flying the stub nosed Chato fighter aircraft) chased the Heinkels off.  Rolfe notes that the Chatos had two kills that day.¹ Merriman says that the men ran and showed early weakness.  The leaders of the Brigades wanted the men out of the trucks so they would not all be killed at once so the troops scattered to the two sides of the road.

Kit_Conway

“Kit” Conway, Commander of the British Battalion on February 12 at Jarama 2

Merriman would have known by the night of the 15th that things were difficult on the front.  On February 12th, the British had been flanked by Moorish troops and German Tanks.  Company commander  Kit Conway was killed as the British were caught in enfilading machine gun fire when they tried to advance to the bridge at St. Martín de la Vega.  Jim Prendergast of the British Battalion wrote:  “The Moors are sneaking up there on the left. Oh, where are our machine guns? … I reach the hill-crest where “Kit” is directing fire.  He is using a rifle himself and pausing every while to give instructions.  Suddenly, he shouts, his rifle spins out of his hand, and he falls back”.²  Kit Conway passed away overnight in the field hospital.

The British had to retreat from “Suicide Hill” and between the 12th and the 14th of February,  the Battalion strength went from 225 to 125.³  They were able, however, to keep machine gun fire on their old positions.  The situation was fluid over those two days with the French Edgar André Battalion, the German Thaelmann Battalion and the Polish Dombrowski’s also in the line.  The Thaelmanns lost their commander and commissar killed, the Edgar André Battalion lost all of its officers, the Dimitrov commander was killed, as were most of the officers of the 6th of February Battalion.³   Landis says that the XVth Brigade HQ Officers, the German Hans Klaus, the Croatian Vladimir Copic, the Bulgarian commissar Tabakoff, and the Hungarian Chapaiev and the English Captain Springhall, all had to go to the front to rally the troops to hold their positions.   The British had retreated back along the Morata road and were met by General Gal who told them that they had to go back.  There were no reinforcements and they had to continue to repulse the enemy offensive “at all costs”.  Gal threatened the British with court martial. The British went back into the lines.  The next day, Gal would go back to the British and apologize.

Moving up on the night of the 16th, the word reaches the other battalions that “The Yanks are coming”.   The Americans moved up into a reserve position in the secondary lines from “Suicide Hill”.  They dug in and would spend the next five days in those trenches.   Merriman relates the news that the Irish and Cuban units in the Lincolns became disoriented and gun fire hit friendly troops.  Interestingly, William Herrick relates:  “The third squad, with Kavorkian {Kevorkian} and Pete Shimrak, was with me.  Sudden shouts in Spanish, a couple of shots.  It was dark.  Joe’s voice {this is Joe Gordon}.  I ran over.  We ain’t got no passwords and these guys loom up.  What the hell are we supposed to do?  Two Spanish soldiers stood cursing, their fury unchained.  A Cuban comrade came over and straightened it out.”4   From this, it appears that Herrick’s unit may have been involved in the premature shooting and there is no reason to assume that Herrick embellished this unflattering story.

The final sentences in the diary need no interpretation.  Marion Merriman Wachtel wrote in her memoir “Bob knew that, come dawn, the Abraham Lincoln Battalion would be in the fight for its life”.5

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¹  Edwin Rolfe, The Lincoln Battalion, VALB, New York, NY, 1939.

² James Prendergast, “How ‘Kit’ Conway Died”,  The Book of the XVth International Brigade, ibid.

³ Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

4 William Herrick, Jumping the Line, ibid.

5 Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid.

13-14 Febrero Loading the Trucks for Jarama

13-14_Febrero

Robert Merriman’s diary for the 13th and 14th of February 1937, just before leaving for the Front.

Adjustments continued to be made to the manpower in the three Lincoln Companies.  Here Merriman says that Company 2 was left in charge of the Cuban named Corona who is described in an article in the Volunteer magazine at the link.    Merriman meets with Steve Daduk later in the day, probably to tell him he is out as commander of the second company.   Merriman then attends the dance which he was organizing on the previous days with the Intendencia.

His disagreements with James Harris continue to worsen and he accuses Harris of showing up at the meeting  in the evening in a drunken state.  The underlined “He” may indicate that Harris was accusing Merriman of drinking earlier.  Marion Merriman Wachtel clarifies what the dispute was about: “Harris returned to the camp with a crazy story about the men plotting secretly to have him removed from command.  Bob checked out the story and determined it wasn’t true.”¹

On the 14th Stember and Merriman decided Harris was to be removed, yet nothing formally happened before the orders came to move up to Albacete to go to the Front.  Stember may have decided to make a change but Vidal who was second in command for the Brigade obviously was not part of that decision since both Harris and Merriman were “given stripes” and called Captains.   In the Bullring at Albacete, the Lincolns were spoken to by Marty, Vidal, Peter Kerrigan and Stember. Boxes of “Mexican rifles”, nicknamed Mexicanskis, were distributed to the companies.   As mentioned before, these rifles were of Remington manufacture, stamped with the Imperial Russian insignia from WWI vintage and came to Spain from a purchase made by the Mexican government.  The rifles were packed in cosmoline grease and the vets of Jarama remember being told by Merriman “You have shirts, wipe them off”.

Marion Merriman Wachtel fills in some details:

Harris was drunk when the heavy trucks rolled into the town’s plaza.  The men climbed aboard for the short ride to Albacete.  There the Americans were told to assemble in the bullring.  They shuffled about on the hard brown sand, talking, smoking, some sitting, others leaning against the wooden fence designed to separate the bull from the ring’s spectators.  Harris and Bob were called to the nearby International Brigade headquarters, where they were issued field glasses, compasses, and revolvers.  When the officers entered the bullring, the men could guess that they were about to be told of their mission.

Marty, the base commander, Peter Kerrigan, a British commissar, and Vidal inspected the battalion and told the Americans in emotional speeches about their new combat responsibility.  There was talk of a Fascist breakthrough a few hours northwest of Albacete in the Jarama Valley, just south of Madrid.

 ….  Then, in the late afternoon, something happened there in the bullring to Harris.  The stories vary.  {Sandor} Voros, after interviewing Bob, wrote that “Harris became extremely unnerved and excited.  He told Merriman that he was equally responsible with him for leading the battalion… Harris became more and more unnerved– he grabbed rifles out of the men’s hands saying he was a rifle inspector.  It was obvious something was wrong with him and the men began to murmur that Harris was drunk.  Battalion Commissar Stember, in consequence, ordered Harris to bed.  Harris went away but came back after a while and fired his pistol off in the Guardian Nacional, then disappeared again.”¹

Nearing midnight,  the Battalion moved and “Harris was not in sight”.   Merriman held out that Harris was drunk and slept through the departure.  Harris accused Merriman of locking him in his room and leaving without him.   What actually happened may be true in both cases.  Clearly, Merriman did not want Harris in command at this point and for a unit going into combat, the stability of the leadership did not bode well for a successful first venture into combat.  Now the Lincolns were on the move.

Over these two days, however, the British were deep in trouble.  Their assault of February 12 on Suicide Hill at Jarama was repulsed and only machine gun fire held off the attacking Moorish troops that afternoon.   On the 13th, the fascist assault continued on the British, Slavs and French.   Tom Wintringham, forced into developing strategy with a greatly weakened British force, put Harold Fry’s machine gun company up front and backed them up with Company 1 on the left and Company 4 on the right and further out, what was left of Company 3.²    At daylight, two fascist Brigades attacked the XVth Brigade.  While most of their attack focussed on the Slavic units of the XVth north of the San Martin road, artillery pounded the British all day.  In the afternoon, Burt Overton panicked and withdrew his company exposing the British flank.  In short order, Fry’s machine gun company was surrounded and 30 men were taken captive.  The stories of the capture vary between claims that the Fascists fooled the British by singing the Internationale to just an error in the British expected to be relieved by Spanish troops.

Overton, realizing the position he had left the machine gun company, charged to try to save their colleagues but the British machine guns were turned on them and only six of the 40 man company at that point survived.  Wintringham was shot by the same machine guns.  Overton’s actions that day would lead to his ultimate demise in the Brigade as he fell into “a very nervous state”.    Charges were made that Overton threw a grenade into the Brigade armory to force a withdrawal.  These actions would lead to a court martial on Overton later in the Spring.

On the evening of the 13th, Jock Cunningham returned from hospital where he had been ill.  He was able to rally about sixty British to hold the line.   By the 14th, however, tanks were thrown into action by the Fascists and the withdrawal of the British was needed to save the men who were left.  As they fell back, some men just kept going.  A famous story of the British Battalion was the action of Jock Cunningham and Frank Ryan turning the retreating men and marching them back to Jarama singing the Internationale.²  This became known as “the great rally”.

By the night of the 14th, Spanish reinforcements arrived and would soon be followed by the American Lincoln Battalion.  The lines held.  By this point, 10,000 men had been lost by the Republic and 6,000 Fascists also fell.

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¹ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, An American Commander in Spain, ibid. pg 91.

² Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors: The British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle Against Fascism, ibid., pp 150-155.

11-12 Febrero The Lincolns Ready to Move and the British are Baptized by Fire

February 11-12, 1937

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 11 and 12, 1937

On the 9th and 10th, Merriman gathered supplies and suggested that the Lincolns would shortly be moving “to the forest”.  On the 11th, he says “to move soon maybe tomorrow”.  The diary does not say that this move will be to the front, but we know that from history.

Problems with John Scott and Merriman continue.  They talked on the 9th, but Merriman says that he spoke extensively with Stember about whether it was inevitable that Scott would have to be replaced as Company 1 commander.  Scott must have threatened resignation “Scott demanded to see them — resign”.

Merriman relates that the Intendent (head of the Intendencia or supply depot) was preparing a dinner for 1300 men (approximately two battalions).   In the Book of the XVth Brigade³ says “The day before we left Villaneuva de la Jara for the front a dance was held for the Americans in another old building [the church in the diary] adjacent to our barracks”.   “Wolf” above is not an American Volunteer.  There is a Lou Wolf mentioned in April but no connection to him or the Intendencia is made.  There also was a doctor named Wolf Jungermann.  At this point it is still a bit of a mystery who this man is.

On the 12th, Merriman again says “Scott trouble” and he was in the field with the Lincolns in training when Andre Marty  visited the troops on the 12th.

Herrick made the statement “Adjutant Commander Merriman was partial to the infantry commander, Scott, two WASPs on a hot tin roof”…¹   Clearly, Herrick had this mostly wrong, if we are to trust Merriman’s diary.  There was no love lost between the two of them.  Herrick’s recollections were often second (or third) hand and here probably incorrect.   John Scott would lead his men into an attack on February 23 and be shot in the attack.  Scott would lie wounded in the field for most of a day and men risked their lives to get him back to the lines and to the safety of the Health Service.  Merriman’s “Scott trouble” would be a short one as Scott dies on February 23.

Art Landis² says that Merriman received orders on the 12th that changed their destination from Pozo Rubio to the front.  As we will see shortly, he has the dates wrong by about two days.  As of February 12, Merriman still is in training mode.

The Book of the Brigade becomes very active on 11 and 12 of February.  “On February 11, at sunrise, the rebels succeeded in capturing Pintoca bridge by a surprise attack” (this bridge is near Vaciamadrid in the map of 9-10 Feb’s post).  On the night of February 11, nearly 10,000 enemy troops starting moving in the Jarama sector.  The night of February 12, the enemy made their first assault on Pingarron Hill which was to be the high ground in the Battle for Jarama.  H. Galli (perhaps Humberto or Umberto Galliani) with the Franco-Belge Battalion³ says “February 11.  We assemble to march to the front.”  Laza Wovicky of the Dimitrov Battalion says “February 12. Noon.  We marched towards the olive trees, where the enemy were.  The enemy saw us and opened out a violent machine gun fire against us.  We spread into fighting formation.  We advanced about 300 yards without firing a single shot”.³  The notes of the British Battalion staff say

” Early in the morning of February 12, we started out in lorries from Chinchón.  We knew the front was near….. Captain Tom Wintringham commanded the Battalion.  George Aitken was Commissar.  We had no maps, little knowledge of what was happening.  We knew that the Fascists had advanced during the previous six days, that they had crossed the river Jarama, and that they were attempting to cut the Valencia-Madrid road.  We believed there was a front somewhere ahead; we were reserve troops, we understood.  Actually, as we discovered a few hours later, troops that had been in front of us had been brushed aside.  The Fascist break-through was in reality a big push”.³

Richard Baxell describes the events of February 12 in detail.  The British moved up from Chinchon where they had left the rail transport that brought them to the front on the 11th and moved by trucks up to the San Martin de la Vega road.  Just before the road was a cookhouse where the men dismounted and climbed the ridge to the west.  Reaching the top with little trouble, they were fanned out along the ridge when they were given orders to move west into the Jarama Valley and to attack the fascist positions on the heights on the western side.  The Fascists were well entrenched and had enfilading machine gun fire and artillery that made the British lives hell.   This counterattack, which began in the late morning, had bogged down on “Suicide Hill” to the south of the line and the “conical hill” to the north side, both of which had machine gun protection.   By 1400, the British had stalled and lacked machine gun support of their own by Harry Fry’s machine gun company who found that their ammunition belts were loaded with the wrong size ammunition and were jamming the guns.

The British began their retreat later in the afternoon back up onto the plateau where they were silhouetted against the skyline and fell in dozens.  The Moroccan Moors who were part of the Spanish Fascist Tercera attacked and “with astonishing speed over nearly two thousand meters of uphill ground”4.   The Moors were experienced troops and knew how to attack with limited cover and the inexperienced British were unable to stop their advance.  A slaughter ensued and Tom Wintringham had difficulty constraining the situation from becoming a rout.   General Gal ordered the British to hold at all costs.  Wintringham did not know that Bill Briskey and Kit Conway, his field commanders were dead.   The Moors retook Suicide Hill with its white farm house.

The situation turned late in the afternoon when Fred Coleman and Harry Fry were able to reload by hand the machine gun belts for Fry’s Company and machine gun fire from Fry’s five machine guns were ready.   As the Moors assaulted the eastern ridge of the valley, Fry’s company opened up and put nearly 1000 rounds into them in 3 minutes.  Over half of the Moors fell in the barrage and the assault stopped.

The 600 men in the British battalion were down to 200 effectives by the end of February 12.  Another 100 returned to the lines over the following days.   Of the men who had left the hill, stories abound of those who where walking out to the east and had to be stopped under threat from General Gal and George Aitken and Jock Cunningham.   Baxell says:

 Another group of men was found hiding in wine vaults in the farmhouse behind the lines by Fred Copeman and André Diamant, an anglicised Egyptian now in command of No. 1 Company.  Copeman and Diamond threatened to throw grenades into the vaults and almost one hundred men who had been hiding promptly revealed themselves.4

The British inexperience would similarly be reflected in Merriman’s troops in a few days.  There was no lack of courage amongst these men but the shock of war was something for which they were unprepared.

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¹ W. Herrick, Jumping the Line, ibid.

² Art Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

³ Book of the XVth Brigade, ibid.

Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors: The British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle Against Fascism, Aurum Library, London, 2012. pp 149-150.

9-10 Febrero Foresight and hindsight

9-10_Febrero

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 9 and 10

After 77 years, it is somewhat specious to explain what is going on in Merriman’s diary when we know what is happening at the time and what will happen shortly.   I have thrown a new keyword at the top of the page which will become monumental in the lexicon of the International Brigades, “Jarama”.   Between the 1st of February and the 10th, it became very clear that Franco’s forces had begun a major flanking offensive against Madrid designed to cut the road between Madrid and Valencia.  The lines at that  point were west of the road and Franco and General Mola planned an offensive to cut the road, sweep up to Alcala de Henares which is on the road to Guadalajara outside of Madrid, and isolate Madrid completely.  This would have ended the war.   A map of the region will help the discussion for the next month.

Jarama_map

Map of the Battle Front of the Jarama Valley, February, 1937.  The initial objective was Arganda shown here and the ultimate objective was Alcara de Heneres which would be under the legend box above.   Source: Thomas1, p. 375

We cannot discuss the battles in this valley in any great detail here, but Merriman will discuss the events which most affected the Americans.   Frustratingly, Merriman’s diary does not talk about plans and movements but this is understandable.  He was carrying a document that could be used by the enemy if captured. His discussions are mostly retrospective about things that could not be used against the Brigades if it fell into enemy hands. We will find out about events after the fact.

On February 5, six hundred Moroccan fighters under the command of General Orgaz of “the forces of the rebellion” (as the Spanish termed the Fascist army) attacked the little town of Ciempozuelos against the 18th Brigade of the Republican Army.  The Republicans were overwhelmed and retreated.  Ciempozuelos became a literal slaughterhouse with hundreds of soldiers and civilians killed including those who were in a mental hospital there.²  Ciempozuelos was an atrocity of war. In this sector, some internationals had been supporting the Republican Army.  It became clear that this Jarama river valley had to be defended at all costs and the road to Valencia could not be cut off.  The discussions in Merriman’s diary and the hurried pace of training were recognition that they would have to go forward soon.

If Merriman knew the situation by February 10, there is no evidence from the diary.   Over the past week, Merriman had been putting out fires between the Irish and the British, the Irish and the Cubans, and the Irish and the Americans.  The quotes from William Herrick, an American, on the previous days are among the many text references to the events, but the understanding of the French (Marty and Vidal) and Americans (Stember and Merriman) of the depth of the discontent may have been culturally limited.   Rob Stradling in his book “The Irish and the Spanish Civil War“² spends nearly a chapter discussing the historical problems between George Nathan, the British Commander in November 1936, and the Irish. Nathan, who was Jewish, had fought for the English in the Irish Rebellion and was a “Black and Tan”.  He had been involved in the taking of a town where two Sein Fein leaders had been killed.  Nathan’s ethnicity became the subject of  the attack against him and he was replaced by Tom Wintringham in December.  Stradling asserts that André Marty intentionally placed Nathan over the Irish “first, in order to show the battalion who was in charge; and, second, to divide and rule the troublesome Irish”.  He quotes Fred Copeman as saying “the Irishmen drank like fish, they would not take orders from MacCartney”.

Company 1 leader Bill Scott was also accused of being a British supporter (and even not really being Irish) and having him lead the Connolly column was now Merriman’s problem.  Frank Ryan, a Sein Fein leader, and now high up in the Brigades, had added to the rancor by writing a Daily Worker article in December about his colleague, Nathan.  When it hit the fan in December (and Stradling asserts that Marty brought it to a head by leaking this information to the Irish) Ryan had been sent to Madrid to be out of the way while the Irish had a vote to separate from the British and go to the Americans.  The vote was split 45-11 but the majority ruled and they all went from the British to the Americans (to the relief of Wintringham).  Stradling says that the Irish boasted that they had hauled machine guns up to the British Headquarters to make sure they got their way on the transfer.

All this seems terribly wasteful of effort given, in Merriman’s words on February 9, “Vidal soon to move”.  He notes that the Americans were “to move to forest”, probably a reference to their leaving Villaneuva de la Jara to Pozo Rubio which was a forested, secretive camp³.  Expectations that the towns that they were training in would be bombed may have entered into this plan.

The Cooperman discussed in this section is Lieutenant Phil Cooperman, who came over with the first group of Americans and became Battalion secretary.  Cooperman died in Spain (not known where, but it was after 14 March when Cooperman was in Guadalajara).   Merriman says “to Salamanca to sleep” and this is the Hotel Salamanca in Albacete which had been taken over as a barracks4.  His statement “English to us” is cryptic and would mean that the English would be coming to the Brigades, but not Merriman’s Lincoln Battalion, who would get only the Irish out of that group.

On the 10th Merriman returns to Villanueva with his booty and hears “tales”.  This is interpreted as people complaining about each other.  He meets with Vidal and mentions “rumors about Malaga”.  We discussed the attack on Malaga on the February 3rd posting.

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¹ Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, Harper and Brothers, New York,  1961.

² Robert A. Stradling, The Irish and the Spanish Civil War, Mandolin, Manchester University Press, 1999.

³ Volunteer for Liberty, Vol. 1, No. 28, p. 12

4 Vidal (Gayman, Vidal) “The Base of the International Brigades in Albacete 1936-1937”, RGASPI Archives Fond 545 Opus 2 Delo 32, pg 14, accessed at Tamiment Library, NYU, from the microfilms.