7-8 Mayo The New Russian Anti-Tank Gun is a Hit

May 7-8

Robert Merriman’s Diary for May 7 and 8

Over the next month, the XVth Brigade will largely be in a training and resting mode.   While the Brigade was ordered back onto the lines at Jarama, activity there was largely quiet and the main fighting in May was in Basque country and on the Segovia Front with the XIVth Brigade.  On the 7th of May, fighting also ceased from the mini-civil war in Barcelona and the CNT declared a truce and ordered its members to tear down the barricades in the city.  By this time, however, Thomas reports that 400 people had died in Barcelona and nearly 1000 were injured.¹  The “May Days” still cause fighting amongst the left and is likely never to be resolved.

Merriman mentions the “fighting the night before” and this has nothing to do with Barcelona, but rather a rebellion in Albacete.  Interestingly, Copic says in his diary “The notice to return to our old positions was greeted with tranquility in the Brigade, because the men did not have much enthusiasm for this period in Alcala {de Heneres}.²   One wonders how much Copic was really in touch with the men.  Baxell relates how the British were in near revolt as their time on the line at Jarama dragged out.³  The British had been told that their tours would be as short as two months and many were sure that after six months they would be repatriated.  When the Brigades could not allow men to leave, some of the British rebelled and even tried to desert through Barcelona.  With the flux in leadership, this “proletarian army” was difficult to handle for the Commissars, who generally thought their job was to advocate for the men and get them the best food and supplies they could.  In a hint of the coming month’s struggles for command, Merriman says that he bawled out the men as “babies”.

Vidali_Ninetti_Koltsov

Commandante “Carlos” (Vittorio Vidali) with Nino Nanetti and Mikhail Koltsov 4

The men were given a lecture again by Carlos.  We interpret  this to be “Commandante Carlos” who was in actuality Vittorio Vidali, a  Comintern representative who served in Spanish Military Intelligence (SIM).  A photo of Carlos is shown in Radosh and when Merriman says “Mike translated”, it adds some credence to this identification as Mikhail Koltsov was traveling with Carlos.  Koltsov was believed to have a direct reporting line to the Kremlin and their involvement at Albacete and Pozorubio would show the growing influence of Russian advisors in the Brigade training.  Another bit of evidence is Robert Colodny’s contribution to “The Good Fight” 5:

A Comintern staff headed by Palmiro Togliatti (Ercoli) and André Marty reached the Spanish capital and began the work of shaping the polyglot collection of volunteers into an offensive shock unit.  The former had been for years a high official serving on the executive committee of the Comintern: the latter, the leader of the mutiny of the Black Sea Fleet in 1919; was a Communist deputy from Marseilles.  Marty, assisted by Luigi Longo {Gallo}, the inspector general of the International Brigades, and by {Giuseppi} di Vittorio {Mario Nicoletti}, the political commissar, took over the control of the units in Albacete.  Hans Beimler, the one-time chief of the Communist delegation in the German Reichstag, Vittorio Vidal{i; “Carlos”}, the political commissar of the Fifth Regiment, and Ludwig Renn (Arnold Vieth von Golssenau), on of the Saxon Guards and lately and inmate of a German concentration camp, formed the general staff of the Albacete base.

Anti-tank gun

Moving the Anti-Tank gun into position, Ambite ALBA Photo 11-1233, Tamiment Library, NYU

Alexander, Slater, Mildwater

Bill Alexander, Hugh Slater, and Jeff Mildwater, British Antitankers. ALBA Photo 11-1318, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman talked with Markovics (we will use the Serbian spelling here) about the new weapons that were pouring into Albacete.  New Maxim machine guns, some with light machine guns attached, were reviewed.  The most revolutionary weapon for the Brigade was the new Soviet manufactured 45mm anti-tank gun which became the darling of the British Battalion.   This weapon would fire a high explosive shell 3 km on a flat trajectory to take out a tank and could be used as artillery up to 16 km.  It was reported to be incredibly accurate.  Wally Tapsell and Will Paynter were clearly there to help start the new British anti-tank company.  Bill Alexander and Malcolm Dunbar would become commanders of the company.

It is not clear if Merriman got a message or a massage in Albacete, but his shoulder was healing from the wound gotten at Jarama.  The next two words are also unintelligible and looks like  “Saw Lambert”,   who would be American Sergeant John Lambert.  His “old friend” in Intendencia is likely to be a Russian as Merriman refers to Russians as either “friends” or “Mexicans”.  He meets Captain Arnold Fein who is a 42 year old Yugoslavian “Mexican” who came to Spain in October 1936 and fought in Madrid.  Fein was listed as a “Mexican” because he came to Spain from Russia.   Fein was listed as a baker by trade.  He is listed as working in the Estado Mayor in Albacete at this time  and he is the Chief of the Cadres Control Office.   Marion Merriman would work for Arnold Fein.    Merriman bids goodbye to Milicich, who is believed to be either Russian or eastern European and is leaving for Jarama.

Back in Camp at Pozorubio, Merriman lists the lectures being given by Roblet, Rochefort, and Cleven.  We can now identify René Rochefort who was a Frenchman born in 1898.  He is named in RGASPI as a lieutenant in the school in charge of training of the cadres.   Cleven still confuses us since Randolph Phifer Cleven of Canada and the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion did not arrive until September 9, 1937.    Lewis Cleaver of London was in Spain at this time.  We are following this lead for this Brigadier.   Another phrase is just guessed at here as “In aft.” but could equally well be a Russian word.

Tapsell

Wally Tapsell, ALBA PHOTO 11-1292, Tamiment Library, NYU

Biographies of Will Paynter (here also) and Wally Tapsell are given on the link and the photo on the right is of Wally Tapsell.

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¹ Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, Harper, New York, 1961, p 429.

² Vladimir Copic, Diary, Fond 545 Opus 3 Delo 467, Tamiment Library Comintern Microfilm Archives, NYU.

³ Baxell, Unlikely Warriors: The Extraordinary Story Of The Britons Who Fought In The Spanish Civil War, ibid.

4 Ronald Radosh (ed), Mary Habeck (ed) and Grigory Sevostianov (ed), Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War, Yale University, 2001. pg 204.

5 Robert Colodny, “The International Brigades” in Our Fight, Writings by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Spain, 1936-1939,  Alvah Bessie and Albert Prago, eds., Abraham Lincoln Brigade and Monthly Review Press, New York, 1987, p. 31.

6 RGASPI, Fond 545/Opis 6/Delo 37, pg 22 and pg 7