27-28 Mayo Jockeying for position

May 27-28
Robert Merriman’s Diary for May 27 and May 28, 1937
Markovitz and Johnson
Leo Markovich, unknown soldier, Allan Johnson, and Joseph Brandt, ALBA PHOTO 177-196028, Tamiment Library, NYU. (Previously misidentified as Mirko Marcovics)

We try not to editorialize too much on what is in Bob Merriman’s diary but over the next week there will be much too much material for a comment in passing.  Abbott and Costello did a wonderful sketch of baseball in the US entitled “Who’s on First?” where they talk about the players on Abbott’s baseball team.  This image pops into your head when you read this week’s diary entries.  Allan Johnson said in April that he felt that the Brigade leadership were largely “amateurs” and that only a couple had any real military leadership experience.  The careerism within the General Staff at Albacete is obvious in reading the diaries and a frustration from reading the diary is that you wonder “who is really in charge here?”  We will see Merriman trying on the hat (literally) of a number of potential jobs and jockeying for position in the Brigade structure.  Men are generally competitive, but this game of who is to be on top had a more political role.  While military leadership experience would have been valuable, political stature within the Comintern or their national parties was also a major factor in deciding who would move into any job.  On the diary of May 25-26, he says that a party man could have any job in the Brigades.  And the intonation indicates that Johnson and Merriman feel that the appointees are not qualified to lead.  Many of these men were looking for future roles within the structure of the Communist Party and the adjustments we see over the next week had that flavor.

Marty and Longo
Sketch of Andre Marty and Luigi Longo done for a Commemorative Book for the Spanish Communisty Party, ALBA PHOT 177-197010, Tamiment Library, NYU
Nurse Lillian Urmston and Humberto Galliani (with goatee and pipe) at a football match at Alcorisa in 1938, ALBA Photo 11-1370, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman spends the morning in camp on training and hears lectures from communications experts on how to send signals with flags, on how to operate the new “Mexican” (i.e. Russian) rifles, how to defend against tanks, etc.   Before going out on this field maneuver, Merriman says “Galli” spoke.  We believe this is Humberto Galliani who is in the Brigade leadership at this point and it is possible that this reference was to him.  The lecture was on the role of the commissar and we will hear twice in the next two days that the commissar is a “civilian” and he works for the Government of Spain.   Emphasis is placed that the commissar is there to supervise the military leadership and watch them and that they can “arrest {the} military leader”.  This tips the command leadership on its head since military commanders usually don’t have adjutants who can turn them in.  It is a very Soviet structure of leadership, however.

In the evening, Merriman picks up Marion and they go out to the Auto Park so that Merriman can give a lecture.  He meets with Steve Nelson who has returned from the Cordoba front and meeting with Americans there.  He mentions Robert Traill, a British officer who is Chief of Staff, and John Gates who is the Commissar.   Mirandez  (actually Colonel Morandi) was the commander of the 86th Brigade.  We discussed this front earlier.

On the 27th, Merriman meets with “Fein” and talks about Murcia.  There were other Fein’s in the brigade (Richard and Michael) but they would not have fit this description.  Arturo Fein was the “Chef du Service de Controle”, effectively what would become the Servicio Intelligence Militar or SIM later.¹   In reading this Delo in RGASPI, Murcia was in turmoil at this point.  Several doctors, including Telge, Blanck, Catalette, and Cazin have memoranda recorded where they accuse each other and the Brigades, for the poor morale and impossible conditions in Murcia.  We have seen that there was a fight between Dr. Gorgan and Vidal over the ambulance service.  This comes up in these memos, but the larger issue revolves around the competence of certain doctors such as Catalette, who had been in Murcia very early.  Catalette was so irritated, he resigned his position and Cazin, in Paris, requested that an Autochir be freed up to drive him out of Spain.  That would have been an extraordinary demand to make of the Murcia leadership.   Accusations abound on the 5th Column in Murcia and drink is felt to be a tool by which the Fascist sympathizers sowed discontent amongst the Brigade.  One should remember for this period that reorganizations were occurring everywhere with the new Government providing opportunity for those who wanted to move up.   To do so, often accusations appear to be made which impugn the reliability or political strengths of some of the early volunteers.

This passage leads to a major event in the life of Marion Merriman.   We see on the 28th that Fein meets with Merriman again and that there is a discussion about Bert Overton and two British women at Murcia who were asking questions about movements at the front.  Suspicion arises that these women were sent in by MI-5 to spy on the Brigades and Marion Merriman will be tapped by Albacete to go check them out.  Fein will choose Marion Merriman for this role.   Mrs. Merriman relates:

Rumors reached Albacete that two Englishwomen were in Murcia creating trouble among the American volunteers.  Bob was approached by brigade officials with word that the women were visiting the hospitals and encouraging the Americans to  quit the Spanish Republican effort, telling them they were not getting a fair deal.  Because the matter involved women, there was a feeling I should go to Murcia to learn what I could about them.  So Bob assigned me, along with two officers, to the mission.²

Burt Overton has been in trouble since April and we mentioned these passages in that posting.  Overton’s trial will be over by May 30 and he will be spoken of twice here over a few days.

1st Lieutenant
Brodsky’s likely stripes when in the Intendencia. First Lieutenant
Commissar Stripes
Brodsky’s previous “stripes” as Battalion Commissar

Merriman is back in Albacete on the morning of the 28th because he marches up to the hospital to check on his new uniform.  “Clothes Make the Man” will be Merriman’s watchwords this week and his diary reflects his obsession about looking like a Commander.  George Brodsky is now in the Intendencia and very unhappy with the assignment.  He makes a sarcastic comment that he is now wearing stripes³ (before he was a commissar and would have had a single red star and stripe on his cap).  Now he will be a Lieutenant with a bars.  Brodsky says he will put it on crooked so that people will think it doesn’t matter to him.

Cook Gravemarker
Gravemarker for Sgt. Gerald Cook, Lincoln Battalion, Arlington National Cemetery
Gravemarker for Bob Thompson (same man as in this passage of the diary), Arlington National Cemetery
Gravemarker for Louis Gordon, Lincoln Battalion, Arlington National Cemetery
Gravemarker for Burt Jackson, Lincoln Battalion, Arlington National Cemetery

Merriman rides out to camp Pozorubio with Steve Nelson, Bob Thompson and the Russian “Carlos”.   Merriman says “Holiday will be on Sunday”.  Sunday, May 30 was the traditional Memorial Day Holiday for Americans and they continued to observe it in Spain, possibly as reflection and honor for Americans who fought in the First World War.  This remembrance of the fallen occurs in May for Americans (November 11 for the British and Canadians, while Americans celebrate their living veterans on November 11).  As a remembrance here, four Lincoln Veterans were honored May 25, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery with roses on their graves.  Those photos are shown here.

Merriman finishes the evening in meets with Mirko Marcovics about the alignment of the Battalions and they will be competing for positions over the next few days.  Merriman drops the number “27th” into the text and that is a reference to February 27 where Merriman holds Copic responsible for the losses for the Lincolns at Jarama.  He will never forget the order to go over the top even though the military position at the front was not what Copic described.  And Merriman believes that Copic should not be trusted to lead.  He probably was trying to align Markovics, an American Yugoslav, up with the American positions, hoping that it would not just be an American-European battle for the leadership.  At this point, Merriman still holds out hope that Copic will be removed.

Merriman meets with Steve Nelson, Morrison (probably Irving Morrison) and Horowitz (this could be either William Horowitz, a.k.a. Bill Herrick a.k.a. William Harvey or Sidney Horowitz).  Horowitz is probably not Bill Herrick since Herrick would have likely described this in his books later in life.   The meeting is to practice their “stunt” which its likely to be a skit that the officers would give to entertain the troops at the holiday meal.


¹ RGASPI, Fond 545/Opis 3/Delo 725, pg 22.

² Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., pg 147.


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