15-16 Mayo The Merrimans return to Albacete and the Americans will go to Tarazona

May 15-16, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for May 15 and May 16, 1937
Almansa Map
Map of route followed by the Merrimans from Valencia to Albacete through Almansa. Source: Google Maps
Castillo Almansa
The Castillo Almansa. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

The Merrimans return to Albacete from Valencia with Jan Kurske.  On the way back, they do a little sightseeing at Almansa.  The map on the left shows the relationship between Albacete, Almansa and Valencia.  A current day photo of the Moorish Castle at Almansa is shown on the right.

Merriman reveals that the artillery training is in Almansa.   The experiences of the Americans in the John Brown Battery and heavy artillery are being assembled in 2015.  This group has had few stories written about them.

Upon his return to Albacete, he checks back in with Vidal, Platone, and Schalbroeck at Brigade HQ.  The Belgian Jean Schalbroeck will move up in June to replace Platone in the Brigade Staff.

Merriman meets with Steve Nelson, Bill Lawrence and Jock Cunningham.  Cunningham, who was the English speaking Regimental Commander at this point, “got started”.   Merriman uses coded words to remind himself that conversations were heated and Cunningham was not one to use Oxford language.  He also says that Hans Amlie and, it is believed, Paul White also came and made “statements”.  Statements is also a code word for expressing their opinion that Merriman probably does not agree with.   “Statements rank & filism” is interesting because accusations were made about officers who took a proletarian posture and acted like a “shop steward” instead of a military leader.  Rank & filism in Merriman’s mind is a derogatory description of someone who is not tough enough on his men and doesn’t believe in command structure, someone who takes the rank and file position on issues.  About this time, debates were being held about saluting superiors.  This debate continued into the fall of 1937 and as the Brigades moved more and more towards integration in the Spanish Army, the pressure to look more and more like a traditional military organization was felt.  It is possible that the suppression of the anarchists and POUM in Barcelona was leading to pressure from the Soviets and Spanish commanders to bring the International Brigaders into a disciplined structure.  One is left to wonder what form this “discussion” took, but Merriman will continue to push the leadership to a more traditional military command look.

Ralph Bates
Ralph Bates lecturing to the Regiment de Tren, probably July 21, 1937, prior to going to Quinto. ALBA Photo 177-178037, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman notes that Ralph Bates is in Madrid to speak.  Bates lectured to the troops in Jarama on the events in Barcelona on May 14.  Bates giving a lecture to the Regiment de Tren is shown on the right.

On the 16th,  Merriman, James Harris and Bob Thompson went to pick up “Atal” who is Dr. M. Atal, the doctor in one of the training camps.    Dr. Atal is Indian by nationality¹, from Allahbad, and later will lead an Indian military mission to China during the Chinese War of Resistance.  Merriman reported earlier that the Doctor in the Villaneuva de la Jara was incompetent and this is likely to be Atal.

Merriman speaks to  a woman doctor and that she has been demoted.   Likelihood is that this is James Harris’ “Polish Woman Doctor”.   Harris is also Polish so they may have been just comrades but clearly they stuck together through March-April-May.  Merriman holds the interview in Pozo Rubio which would indicate to the Doctor that she will be examined out of public view.

Merriman takes the car and drives over to Madrigueras, the British training base, where he meets with Amlie and Marcovics, Dave Mates, Walter Garland and either Robbins or Roblet.  Merriman is there because in the afternoon, the Americans are being pulled out to form another American Battalion in Tarazona de la Mancha.  Tarazona will be the American base for the rest of the war and is about two miles west of Madrigueras.  Apparently, they expected resistance from the men or officers about this reorganization, but it happened.  Marion Merriman Wachtel says that Merriman was the commander of the Washington Battalion until this new third battalion was formed and that Merriman was in Tarazona in April.²  Eby states that the Washington Battalion was officially formed between April 1-6 and that its formation at Tarazona was at the insistence of Marcovics.³   The Battalion did not have a name until later when the men under Marcovics suggested the Tom Mooney Battalion.  That would be overruled and the name “Washington Battalion” was suggested by Robert Minor and officially was approved by the Communist Party offices in the US by June.   The diary seems to indicate that the second battalion was actually formed in mid-May and the third battalion even later in May.  Clearly, there were enough English speaking North Americans in Spain for three battalions and Marcovics would become the Commander and  Dave Mates would become the Commissar of the Washington Battalion. Merriman’s role as commander of the OTS and the NCO school is only briefly discussed in Wachtel and Lerude. Merriman would become the Commander of the third battalion in June and Joe Dallet would become its Commissar.

Merriman looped back past Pozo Rubio to pick up Marcovics and Joe Dallet and went on to Albacete to eat.  He met again in the evening with Nelson, Dallet and Bill Lawrence.  He ran the car out of gas in Albacete so he had to stay overnight.   Merriman mentions that he spoke with George Brodsky about the job as head of the Intendencia as supply officer.  This would have been a significant demotion for Brodsky but it was a way of offering Brodsky a job.   Brodsky has dropped from Battalion Commissar to a Battalion supply officer in a little over a month and this is consistent to reporting that Brodsky was not an effective commissarand the men resented him.

Merriman notes in the diary that the Largo Caballero government has now fallen.   The historical date that the government fell was May 17 and Juan Negrin took over as Prime Minister on the appointment of President Manuel Azaña.   Negrin would be Prime Minister until the Republic fell in 1939.  “May Days” is now over in Barcelona and the repercussions would be felt for another two months as the government will mop up opposition to the Negrin government.

Poster of the movie “Ruggles of Red Gap” Source: fulcrumgallery.com

The mysterious Mr. Cleaver will be going to Valencia.  It is not clear if he was recruited but Jean Barthel also is returning to Valencia so it is possible this is an assignment to the new SIM.   Merriman finishes the day by meeting with Arthur Olorenshaw and going to see two movies, Ruggles of Red Gap (a full length feature with Charles Laughton) and “Joaquin Murrieta” (an MGM short documentary on the Mexican revolutionary.


¹ Shrinivas Tilak, Understanding Karma: In Light of Paul Ricoeur’s Philosophical Anthroplogy & HemeneuticsInternational Centre for Cultural Studies, 2006 – Hermeneutics – p329.  (page read online, no guarantee of this reference).

² Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., p140.

³ Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid., pg 158.


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