29-30 Abril Ludwig Renn comes to Lecture

29-30 April
Robert Merriman’s diary for the 29th and 30th of April, 1937

Training continues at Pozorubio’s Officer Training School.  Merriman notes that the training activities on the 29th of April were led by Walter Garland and Canadian Edward Cecil-Smith (“point advance problem”).  The second problem which did not get completed was led by John Hagileou and this indicates that he is being moved up from his duties as Mess Sergeant at Albacete.

Ludwig Renn, who was the commander of the Thaelmann Battalion of the XIth International Brigade, came to Pozorubio to lecture on earlier battles and the state of the Brigades.  He speaks of a battle which is believed to be that Battle of Guadarrama.   There are four battles that took place in the region of Guadarrama.  The first was the first battle of the war in July and August of 1936.   The second battle took place in December 1936 – January of 1937 in the Sierra Guadarrama which is northwest of Madrid.  This battle is discussed by Antony Beevor¹.

While the whole republican sector looked as if it were about to collapse, Miaja placed machine-guns at crossroads on the way to Madrid to stop desertion.  He ordered in XII International and Lister‘s Brigade.  In addition, XIV International Brigade was brought all the way round from the Córdoba front.  On January 7 Kléber ordered the Thaelmann Battalion to hold the enemy near Las Rozas, telling them ‘not to retreat a single centimeter under any circumstances’.  In a stand of sacrificial bravery they followed his order to the letter.  Only 35 men survived.¹

Having Renn discuss the heroic stand of the German Thaelmann Battalion would have been designed to show the XVth Brigade that their losses at Jarama were not unusual for the Internationals.  Interestingly, Merriman latched onto the failure of the Listers to move forward at Guadarrama, which is identical to the failure of the Spanish 24th Battalion to move forward at Jarama and where the Americans took such horrific losses on February 27.

There was reported to be a third battle of Guadarrama in March 31, 1937, but this reference is secondary and may be a mistake².  The fourth battle of Guadarrama is also discussed by Beevor and took place in May and June of 1937.¹   This battle decimated the French XIVth Battalion who passively absorbed a beating by aircraft and artillery.

After Renn’s lecture, Merriman takes the OTS to Albacete to stand guard and uses the opportunity to see Marion and “Sunny Kaminski”.  The last man is not known at this point but could be Levie Kaminsky who went by the nom de guerre Edward Brown.

Merriman meets with Alex McDade of Scotland and finds him “not much” but says he probably will have to take him to Pozorubio for OTS.  McDade may have not appeared a great soldier but he became famous for penning the poem “Valley of Jarama” which has become a theme song for the Lincoln Brigade and is sung to the tune of “Red River Valley”³ (the Woody Guthrie lyrics are sung by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers here):

There’s a valley in Spain called Jarama,
That’s a place that we all know so well,
for ’tis there that we wasted our manhood,
And most of our old age as well.

From this valley they tell us we’re leaving
But don’t hasten to bid us adieu
For e’en though we make our departure
We’ll be back in an hour or two

Oh, we’re proud of our British Battalion,
And the marathon record it’s made,
Please do us this one little favour
And take this last word to Brigade:

“You will never be happy with strangers,
They would not understand you as we,
So remember the Jarama Valley
And the old men who wait patiently”.

Merriman finishes the month by discussing weaponry.  He talks of a new German machine gun and a machine pistol, perhaps the Mauser 96.  In the afternoon, he worked on a “Lewis Gun“.

Rosey is likely to be Joseph Rosenstein (discussed earlier).  The issue of “shelling peas” is cryptic.  Perhaps it actually is about shelling peas (i.e. KP duty).  There is a slang phrase “easy as shelling peas” meaning something is trivial.  Perhaps Merriman used this phrase earlier and was reaping the backlash.  Merriman finishes the day with a meeting with the leadership group of Steve Nelson, Bill Lawrence, Harry Haywood and Ed Bender.  Bill Lawrence (a.k.a. William Lazar) and  Ed Bender arrived at Albacete in April and came to Europe together on the SS Vollendam on March 27.  Lawrence, Haywood and Bender are seen together in a photo from this period in Albacete:

Bill Lawrence, Harry Haywood and Ed Bender, Albacete, 1937.4


¹ Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books. London. 2006. pages 347 and 429



4 Carroll, Odyssey of the Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

27-28 Abril Merriman returns to Pozorubio and to training

27-28 April
Robert Merriman’s Diary from the 27th and 28th of April, 1937
Elias Begelman, Image Source: RGASPI Archives, Moscow, Fond 545 Opus 6 Delo 862.

Merriman’s short sojourn in Madrid ended and he returned to Pozo Rubio to resume his teaching at the Officer Training School.  He found Elias Begelman had been wearing a stripe that he was not entitled to and he needed to reprimand him.  The infringement was not serious enough and Merriman was able to say that he had confidence in Begelman who would move up to deserve those stripes by June 1937.  Merriman finds from Al Robbins that the school is still not running smoothly and that reorganization into sections was necessary.

Palacio (Castillo) de Pozorubio at Pinares del Jucar outside Albacete. This is the location of many of the training schools of the International Brigades. Photograph from SpainCenter.org.

About this time, the Pozo Rubio school was organizing curriculum for training and several  courses had been developed:

School for machine gunners and rifle-machine gunners (7 days)

School for  Officers and NCO’s (15 days for those with experience and 25 days for Spanish who had no prior military experience)

Command school for Subalterns (15 days)

Officer’s School for Commanders and Heads of Battalions (15 days)¹

It is possible that leaders would then spend as much as two months at Pozorubio before going to the lines.

Merriman returns from Pozo Rubio to Albacete to see the doctor about his arm.  He is informed that there is no point rebreaking the injured arm.  That must have been comforting and discomforting at the same time.  In subsequent photos, however, Merriman is shown with his left arm in all kinds of positions so he must have regained full range of motion of his shoulder.

Merriman mentions that Rosenstein stayed all evening.  He confirms on this page that the Stone discussion previously is Joe Stone (Sheer Isaac Hershkowitz).  Merriman shows that rank has privilege by throwing a German captain out of his room at Albacete and “organizing” it.  Mess Sgt. John Hagileou and “Pete” (probably Peter Hampkins) helped him get the room.  Merriman drinks with Stone and Bob Thompson in the evening.

Richard Baxell has noted that April 28, 1937, was an important day for the XVth International Brigade.  On that date, they were replaced on the line by the XIVth Brigade (French) in Jarama and taken to Morata de Tajuña where they would rest.   Baxell notes:

Before leaving, an ‘impressive memorial service’ for the members of the battalion killed at Jarama and a stone memorial, in the shape of a five-pointed star, was erected.²

The British Battalion was pulled back further to Alcala de Heneres and subsequently would base their training in Mondejar, both east of Madrid and south of Guadalajara.  The Brigade Estado Major would be based at Ambite, also a few kilometers away.  General Gal would have a villa outside Ambite where he would direct activities for much of the rest of the year.  The Americans would later be based close by at Albares.

Baxell’s book (which is now available in paperback) points out that the relief gave the Brigades time to deal with issues that arose in Jarama and one was the accusation that Bert Overton’s actions included a “self-promotion” and a possible defection of his unit from a battle situation.  The result of the investigation was the removal of Overton’s stripes and a court-martial.   He was sentenced to a labor battalion and then sent back to the front where he was ‘killed by a shell while carrying munitions to a forward position.’²

Overton’s removal will be discussed by Merriman in the diary in a posting in late May which may put the actual court-martial and removal at a somewhat later date.


¹ RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 2, Delo 231 pp 8-9, March 26, 1937.  RGASPI Archives, Moscow, Russia.

² Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors:  The British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle Against Fascism,  Aurum Library,  London, 2012. pp 171-2.

25-26 Abril The Merrimans are in Madrid and Requiem for Guernica

25-26 April
Robert Merriman’s diary for 25 and 26 of April 1937.

After the intense build up to the Radio broadcast to America on the very early morning of the 25th of April, the Merrimans slept in.  They met with Marion Greenspan (George Marion) and Josephine Herbst later in the morning.  Marion Merriman quotes Josie Herbst for her reasons of why she went to Spain:

 “Because“, she said simply.  Then she posed her own questions. “Why do you write a book?  Why do you fall in love?  Because.  It is the one concluding answer that comes from the bottom of the well.  Later you may dress it up with reasons; some of them may very well apply.  But because is the soundest answer you can give to an imperative.  I didn’t even want to go to Spain.  I had to.  Because.”¹

The Merrimans had lunch with Toronto reporter Ted Allan.  Allan was writing at the time for the Toronto Clarion.  He wrote several books on the Spanish Civil War and his “The Scalpel, the Sword” is a definitive biography of Dr. Norman Bethune of Toronto, who helped found the mobile blood transfusion units that were to save countless lives in Spain and many, many more in China in 1939.  Ted Allan would also later be known for being in the same car as Gerda Taro when she was killed at Brunete.

Luigi Longo
Luigi Longo (“Gallo”), Photograph from RGASPI Archives, Moscow Fond 545 Op 6 Delo 129

The diary says that Merriman was trying to get to see “Gallo” (the nom de guerre for Luigi Longo).  Not making contact the Merrimans and Greenspan head off into the suburbs of Madrid to try to see the lines at University City.  The fighting in this district of Madrid had been at a standstill for six months with the Republicans unable to dislodge the fascists who had infiltrated buildings in the new University of Madrid.  Sniping between buildings continued and a film showing the location can be found here at the 9:30 mark.

Merriman’s diary is nearly antiseptic in his analysis of what they saw.  Marion Merriman Wachtel’s memoir is more emotional from April 23rd before the radio broadcast:

“Even under bombardment, Madrid is marvelous!” I said to Bob.  The wide tree-lined boulevards and modern buildings had an air of dignity that even blocks of bombed-out ruins could not dispel”

But the scene changed, quickly.  As we walked down a broad boulevard, we heard the crack of rifle fire.  Then the tempo picked up. “That’s machine gun fire,” Bob said.  The machine guns rattled in the distance, perhaps a few blocks away, I couldn’t be sure.  Then we heard the boom of artillery and the reality of Madrid at war returned deeply to me.  The artillery shell landed some distance away, collapsing part of a building, which fell into a rubble of dust.  We dashed down the street, staying close to the buildings.  The horror of war was driven home to me.  I was terrified.¹

And from April 25, after the broadcast:

About four o’clock in the afternoon, we were pulling out of a gas station near the Post Office and we heard a dull, vibrating thud and saw a puff of smoke and dust go up from the bank down the street.  People scattered like leaves in a storm, and our bewildered chauffeur stopped in the middle of the open square but not for long.

We raced up a side street and parked the car on the  sheltered side of the narrow street.  Fortunately, I thought, the shells from artillery can’t come straight down between the buildings!  Bob and others calmly joined a larger crowd out on the nearby boulevard, around the corner, to see what was happening.  I decided to stay in the car.  But, a moment later, the shelling began again.  I was frightened into a cold sweat of terror.

At first there was a moment of what seemed like dead silence….Then the noise of the shelling exploded, the burst of the artillery surrounding every part of me.  My mind, my head, my eyes, my shoulders, my entire body immersed in the horrible sound.

I jumped from the car and ran down the street.  My God! My God! This sucks up all the air into silence and then the explosion bursts and the air is gone and the silence is overwhelming again.  My screams froze in my throat.  I ran to Bob, who made me stand quietly against a wall until I got over my terror.  I wasn’t as much hysterical as I was angry.  All I could think was, “the bastards, the bastards, the bastards”.  I couldn’t say a thing.¹

Here is a British Pathé newsreel of Madrid at this time.

On the 26th of April one of the great outrages of this war occurred.  Guernica was bombed by the German Luftwaffen (see this video at the 45:00 mark for an eye-witness account).   Guernica is no better remembered than in Picasso’s famous mural from the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid  (this image is Wikipedia Creative Commons licensed at this resolution):

Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

In a fury of outrage, Picasso painted this large mural in one week in his Paris studio.  Sadly, the West knew little about Guernica until much later in the war.   The Fascist propaganda spread stories about the city being burned by Republican forces.  A British volunteer for the Fascists, Peter Kemp,  continued this lie even into the 1950’s.²  Like horrors that were to lie ahead in World War II, the larger the atrocity, the harder it is to believe.


¹  Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid. pp 130-139.   There is considerable description of the radio broadcast and the reporters who contributed to it by Wachtel and Lerude in this segment.   Thanks to Warren Lerude for encouraging discussions on the Merrimandiary project and readers are recommended to read Marion Merriman’s memoirs in their entirety.

²  Peter Kemp, Mine Were of Trouble. Cassell & Company, 1957.

23-24 Abril The Merrimans go to Madrid and speak to America


April 23-24
Robert Merriman’s diary for the 23rd and 24th of April

This diary page is intense in content and dense in hand.  Bob Merriman had quite a lot to record for posterity.  There are actually four diary pages devoted to these dates and he used pages from October and November to record them.

Robert Minor at Purburell Hill, Quinto, in October 1937. ALBA PHOTO 177-188058, Tamiment Library, NYU
Nelson and Roach
Steve Nelson (left) and Doug Roach (right). ALBA PHOTO 177-179075, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman lets us know that the training period of the prior week has ended and he has orders to send the men into Albacete.  This usually was a prelude to moving men to the front.  Merriman hitches a  ride into Albacete with a Russian, perhaps the same one who was involved in giving lessons to the troops.  The “Liaison” expert is unnamed and would probably be a Comintern representative in Albacete.    Important American Comrades have arrived and Merriman lands a car for them.  On the 13th of April, Robert Minor arrived in France and the timing would be right for this important party official to make it to Albacete.  It is likely that he was one of the two Americans who was given the car by Jean Schalbroeck.  Schalbroeck is variously spelled Schallrock and Schallroch by Merriman but we believe this is the Belgian officer.

The second name in this paragraph who will be discussed extensively over the next few months is Steve Nelson, a CP organizer from Pittsburgh.  Nelson and Joe Dallet were detained in Perpignan, France, when they tried to get into Spain and were released after serving about three weeks time there.  Nelson was a well-liked and respected comrade in Spain and will rise to lead the Lincoln Battalion in his Commissar role in July when Oliver Law, the Lincoln Commander fell in action.

Merriman says that they “discussed who was to go”.  This refers to who would go with the Merrimans to Madrid to deliver the radio address.  While Marion finished typing his speech, it was decided that they would be accompanied by Bill Lawrence and Harry Haywood, first to Morata de Tajuña near Jarama and then on to the front lines.  The “salvo conductos” were important enough that Merriman copied them into his diary on the October 5-9 pages:

October 5
Merriman’s diary pages labelled October 5-6. He made copies of the Salvo Conducto to Madrid and copied the instructions from Sam Stember on the radio program.
Robert Merriman’s diary showing the request for Marion’s involvement in the Brigade and below that the Salvo Conducto for Bill Lawrence and Harry Haywood to accompany the Merrimans to Jarama.
Commanders at Morata
Photograph of the XVth Brigade leadership at General Gal’s headquarters at Morata de la Tehuña (Villa Fuentes de la Venta), probably April 23, 1937. L-R Allan Johnson, Vladimir Copic, unknown soldier, Marion Merriman, Col. Hans Klaus, Bob Merriman, and Joseph North. ALBA PHOTO 177-196126, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman arrived late in the evening at the Estado Mayor in Morata and says he spoke with Al Tanz, Thomas Kelly, Patrick Long, George Wattis, Allan Johnston, Hans Klaus, Vladimir Copic, Stefanovich, and Phil Cooperman.  Thomas Kelly was Section Leader of Company 1 of the Lincolns at Jarama. “Stefanovich” is believed to be Captain Vladomir Stefanovic, the Brigade chef du control des cadres.¹  Eby notes that Stefanovic was appointed the head of an ad-hoc committee to review George Wattis after the debacle of Jarama on the 27th of February and that Stefanovic was skilled in counter-espionage¹.  Merriman did not take long to get embroiled in the politics of the Brigade.  He again argued with Copic of the responsibility of the February 27 attack at Jarama.   Merriman later admits in an additional note below, however, that some of the men did not like him.  Allan Johnson, who did have considerable military experience, makes the comment that all the leaders are “amateurs”, except for Hans Klaus.  Klaus and Copic would go at each other hammer and tongs until summer when Klaus was removed.  Copic is rumored to become the leader of the new “English Speaking Brigade”.  Merriman says that British Commander George Aitken supports Copic to be leader.   Aitken was generally a thoughtful leader.  In May, a letter from Dr. Langer and Aitken makes a plea for funds to pay for the tombs of men killed at Jarama.²  This in-fighting will bubble for two more months and, in June, the Lincolns will try to remove Copic as head of the XVth Brigade.  Haywood, Mates, Johnson and Nelson would lead the effort to replace Copic and they would not be successful.  Tellingly, Merriman would not be amongst those who called for Copic to go, although there was never a good relationship between the two leaders. We will return to this story in June.

The flavor of the jockeying for position in the command structure could not be more clearly stated than in Merriman’s quote from April 24, below: “Political fencing of higher command sickening, much careerism”.

It is interesting that Merriman says that Allan Johnson thanked him for what he did in Jarama.  Johnson will later go on to write a series of five articles on military techniques for the Volunteer for Liberty newspaper which was distributed to the troops in late 1937 and 1938.  Militarily, Johnson may have been the best trained of the Lincolns, being a veteran of World War I, a graduate of the US Military War College and previously having held the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army.¹   Merriman and Johnson discussed the placement of the new comrades: David Mates, Nelson, Haywood and Lawrence.

April 23 was so busy that Merriman added a complete additional page on the November 21-22 unused pages of his diary:

Nov 21-22 Diary pages which were written on April 23-24, 1937 and added for extra spa
Nov 21-22 Diary pages which were written on April 23-24, 1937 and added for extra spa

Lieutenant Zaret is Daniel Abraham Zaretsky (aka Daniel A. Jarrett, Zorat, Jarrat), who was the Aide-de-Camp to Copic. Zaret is described in Cecil Eby’s Comrades and Commissars as being General Gal’s translator so he must have spoken Russian.  Zaret was a NY Court reporter.  Merriman discusses with him an idea of Gallo’s  that the rotation of American troops out of the line could happen as soon as the new Washington Battalion in XVth Brigade can be formed.   Zaret informs Merriman that Gallo is aware of what Merriman is doing at the Pozo Rubio Officer Training School and that his work is well regarded.  Merriman is obviously pushing to get back into action but is told that Vidal wants him to  wait another month to heal from his wounding at Jarama.  He and Merriman discuss a Republican attack on an ammunition factory of the Rebels in Toledo which was destroyed by an artillery assault.

Returning to the main diary above, April 24 begins with Merriman being awoken during the night by protests from the French comrades who were “in revolt” according to Copic.  Merriman says he had his photo taken with General Gal and Copic.  This specific picture with the three of them has not been found in the Tamiment collection.  Merriman says that he, along with Johnson, went to the trenches on the front lines of Jarama to meet with the men and bring them letters.  The conditions at Jarama were improved somewhat since he was taken out wounded on the 27th of February.  The sappers had moved the trenches forward about 200 yards and they had built a new road.  This came at a cost, however.  On April 5, the Garabaldi and Dombrowski battalions had driven forward to gain this 200 yards.  Marty Hourihan ordered the Americans over the top to support the other battalions.  The attack stalled when the Garabaldis got tangled up in the Lincoln’s barbed wire and had to pull back.  20 Americans were injured in the attack including Hourihan, Allan Johnson, and David Jones.  Johnson must have been lightly wounded since he was back at Jarama by the 16th of April and accompanied Merriman there on the 23rd.³

Bob Merriman’s wife Marion Merriman Wachtel relates:

As we stepped from the car, we heard the solitary crack of rifle fire.  We walked thorough the dugout trenches.  I felt skittish, for the explosive bullets made a nasty crack as they sailed through the air and buried themselves with a thud in the earth.  The men in the trenches gathered around Bob, and we all talked amid the zinging and cracking of the rifle fire.  I was impressed by how deeply dug the trenches were, how clean and dry they were, and how high the sandbags were piled for safety.  But I was jumpy.  The bullets sang overhead.  I followed orders about keeping my head down.

Bob moved easily among the men and you could see their respect for him.  Inwardly, however, I knew he felt a little uncomfortable.  He felts sorry for the men who had been at the front so long, almost seventy days by then.  A sense of loneliness came over Bob when he realized how many of the men he had fought with were not there.  Killed.  Or wounded.

But Bob was cheered by the warmth shown him by American replacements, who had heard of his loyalty to his men at Jarama and knew of his own wounding on February 27.

In one place, the trench was within thirty-five meters of the enemy.  The Americans looked tired.  But I thought their morale was good.  “Those bastards couldn’t hit a barn with a cow”, one said to Bob as the Fascist artillery rumbled to life and the shells went astray, crashing into the earth a good distance from where we huddled in the trench.4

Walter Kolowski upon his return to Spain in May 1938. ALBA PHOTO 11_0227, Tamiment Library, NYU
Fred Copeman (left) and unknown officer, 1937. ALBA PHOTO 177_183025, Comintern Archives, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman notes that a “Kalosky” had been demoted.  This is probably Walter Kolowski, who had gone in with the first group in December 1936.  Kolowski had been promoted to be head of the Machine Gun Company on the 16th of April³ and this note says that he was demoted back by the 23th.  Kolowski must have returned to the US from Spain in 1937 since he returned again in May 1938 along with a group of six other Americans who had been home for some time in 1938.  Kolowski finally left Spain on the SS Ausonia in December 1938 with a large number of American repatriates.  Merriman mentions meeting Fred Copeman who was a Commissar in the British Battalion at Jarama.   He also notes that Arturo Corona is now “currying favor” with Merriman.  He comments in the continuation page from the November 21 page of the diary that 42 new Internationals have now arrived at Madrigueras.   Included in that group were Dave “Mooch” Engels and Canadian Bob Kerr. Bob Kerr would become the record keeper for all Canadians in Spain, make assignments of Canadian personnel to various units, and served in the Cadres service5.

Later in the day, the Merrimans are off to Madrid to deliver their speech to the radio broadcast back to America.  Merriman meets Dr. William Pike, head of the Battalion Medical Services, and Marty Hourihan in Madrid.  Drafting the speech was done mostly at the last minute.  Merriman was only one of six people speaking including segments of songs from Spain by a German exile named Ernst Busch.  The songs of Ernst Busch are now available on CD from Smithsonian Folkways.  George Marion (“Marion Greenspan”) who was a newspaper writer, locked horns with Haywood and Lawrence on the text of the speech.

Merriman was in lofty company in preparing for his speech.  He met cinematographer/radio announcer Herbert Kline, Matthew Josephson, Josephine Herbst, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Pitcairn (Francis Claude Cockburn), Marion Greenspan and Sid Franklin (“the Brooklyn bullfighter” according to Hemingway).  Sid Franklin “served as chaperone” to Martha Gellhorn, according to a new book by Amanda Vaill6 on Hemingway and others noted in this diary.    A film made about this time shows a fabulous line up of important names in the Spanish Civil War and Harry Randall apparently captured a still of the group.

Hemingway and Brigadistas
Photo taken of Hemingway’s visit to the Brigade.  Tentative identifications: (l-r) Egon Schmidt, unk, Radomir Smrcka, Malcolm Dunbar, unknown, Robert Merriman, unknown, Humberto Galliani, unknown, Ernest Hemingway, unknown, Major Crespo, Martha Gellhorn, Herbert Matthews. Harry Randall Photo Unit, ALBA Photo 11-1354, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman makes the following notation on the November 27 page of the diary:

On Monday’s program 2 am 25th was Kline – Sid Franklin bullfighter (helping Hemingway on NaNa) who was the announcer. I spoke first. Pike second. speech by Dos Pasos {Passos} read third Josephine Herbst and Hourihan Bush sang in general fine program. Pleased with Hemingway – disappointed in Dos Pasos

Apparently none of them could stop Ernest Hemingway from modifying the text and making it more “dramatic” than Merriman was comfortable with.


¹ Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid, pg 87,  pg 160.

²  Aitken_plea for funds, Moscow Comintern Archives, Tamiment Library, NYU.

³ Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, pg 161.

4 Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., pp 129-130.

5 Michael Petrou, Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War, UBC Press, Vancouver, p. 12.

6 Amanda Vaill, Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War, Ferrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, New York, 2014.

21-22 Abril Merriman shoots craps and wins

April 21-22
Robert Merriman’s diary for April 21 and 22

Merriman is wrapped up in command politics at this point.  A name which appears to read “Milicich” is an instructor at the base, since Merriman repeatedly met him while talking to the “Mexicans”.  That name is not in the many reference texts that we are using on the war and will take some research to uncover.  Milicich has raised the ire of Merriman and he went to Albacete to complain about him to Vidal and Marty.    Clearly, Vidal and Platone sided with Merriman and meeting was set up to resolve the issue.  This calmed Merriman down.   In the Base Records of April 19, 1937, we find the following note:

Discipline report on Bogdan Milutchevitch written by Vidal. RGASPI Fond45/Op 2/Delo49/image 266, RGASPI, Moscow, Russia

The translation says that Milutchevitch stole chickens and a sheep, had bad comportment towards his Commandant, was away from his unit, was demoralised, etc., etc.  He was sent to a work detail for two months under special observation.  One wonders if this is our Comrade Milicich in Merriman’s diary.


Harry Haywood
Harry Haywood, Image Source: ALBA Photos 177_179056 (also 177_196197), Tamiment Library, NYU
Bob Thompson
Bob Thompson, in his role as Commissar of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, 1937. Source: ALBA Photo 11_1283, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman met with Marion and Harry Haywood to discuss topics on the upcoming speech that Merriman will make in Madrid in May.  This adds some aid in interpreting the “radio talk” comment on a prior day posting.     Harry Haywood was a leading Communist Party member but had a difficult time in Spain and was withdrawn early.  While considerable effort was expended to have him in a leadership role, he was not respected by the men and even the other African-Americans in the Lincolns had harsh words for him.  He probably was removed, as Oscar Hunter, another African-American volunteer said¹, at Jarama, “he got out of there real quick…. he was a real mess for us blacks up there”.  Bob Thompson is now at Pozo Rubio as an instructor and he will be frequently mentioned as new Battalions are formed over the coming months.

Harold Willem Stone
Harold Willem Stone, Reg’t de Tren. Image Source: RGASPI Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 995, Moscow, Russia.

On the 22nd, Merriman’s duties were routine although he talked to a “Stone/Steve”, the name is a jumble.   Of all the “Stones” in Spain (and there were six in the Lincolns), Samuel Wesley Stone, Jr. and William Carl Stone were not yet in Spain according to the sailing lists, Harold W. Stone was in Transports, and the other three are brothers, Sheer Isaac Hershkowitz (Joe Stone), Sam Hershkowitz (Sam Stone), and Herman Hershkowitz (Hy Stone), who did arrive on two ships in February.   It is likely that the person is Joe Stone who did go to OTS.  We have personnel photos of Hy Stone and Harold Willem Stone, and neither are likely to have been at OTS at this time.  A picture of Joe Stone and Sam Stone was published in Harry Fisher’s book:

Stone Brothers
From the cover of Harry Fisher’s Comrades: Tales of a Brigadista in the Spanish Civil War: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.   (Thanks to Kev Buyers for finding this photo)
In the front (l-r): Bienvenido Domínguez (Cuba), Jack Schulman, Joe Azar and Julius Deutsch.     In the rear (l-r): Joe Stone, Mome Teitelbaum, Sam Stone, Robert Zimmer and John Murra.

The interested reader will wonder “Isn’t there still a war going on?”  At Jarama, the two sides had settled into a stalemate position and neither was doing more than probing and sniping with the occasional mortar, artillery and aircraft attacks.   In the south, the front along the Cordoba-Pozoblanco line also had settled and the 20th Battalion had several groups removed from the line in April as the fighting waned.   A very good discussion of this front can be found in Monks which has been posted online.²   Franco had not gone to sleep, however, and on March 31 he moved forces north to start an offensive to clear the Basque region of Republican forces.  50,000 troops were deployed against 45,000 poorly armed and unsupported Basque troops.³  The Nationalists had a new cruiser named the Canarias which sunk supply vessels trying to resupply Bilbao.  The offensive started in the east and took until June to finish off the Republican forces in the north.  In the meantime, Franco was very thin in the south and a decisive push to cut his supply lines likely would have severely delayed his plans to take Madrid and the Republican led areas.   Unfortunately, no offensive would be undertaken by the Internationals until the beginning of July, in the heat of the Spanish summer.  This was clearly an opportunity missed by the Loyalist Armies, but they were consolidating strength over these three months.  Thomas and others note that Franco missed several earlier opportunities to take Madrid but diverted his troops elsewhere.  His support of the besieged Alcazar, where his military school was based, in the Fall of 1936 gave needed relief to Madrid and allowed the Internationals time to arrive in Madrid to help.

Over the spring of 1937, Franco and the Fascists were eliminating Basque opposition and in four days the name of a town which will forever be tied to the Spanish Civil War will be a topic for discussion.


¹  Danny Duncan Collum and Victor Berch, African-Americans in the Spanish Civil War: “This Ain’t Ethopia, But It’ll Do”, G.K. Hall and Co., New York, 1992, p. 30.

² http://irelandscw.com/ibvol-Monks.htm

³ Thomas,  The Spanish Civil War, ibid., pp 399-459.