3-4 Agosto The Mac-Paps get their banner

August 3-4, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for August 3 and 4, 1937

As the pace of training accelerated, Merriman missed a few days in his diary.  On August 3, he just tells an anecdote about maneuvers when he “pulled the leg” of one of Bill Skinner’s scouts.   Merriman is obviously in the field with the men and spends time overnight in a trench.

On August 4, Max Bedacht and Phil Bard arrive to lecture the men, a lecture which Merriman says is dry.   Bedacht reportedly testified to Congress that he was part of a group of 8 who went to Spain to visit the Brigades.   Bedacht is reputed to have recruited American reporter Whitaker Chambers to the Communist Party.  However, as in all things Chambers, one must view the stories with a critical eye.  Bedacht material is available in the Tamiment Library.

Art Landis

Arthur Landis, left, of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, ALBA Photo 11-0004, Tamiment Library, NYU.

Art Landis captures the event:

The early days of August, 1937, saw Volunteers from both the United States and Canada welcoming a delegation front the United States which had brought over thirty-two tons of soap, cigarettes, chewing gum, and other needed items.  This was the first of a steady flow of supplies to be distributed under the dispensation granted by Secretary of State Cordell Hull on June 6, 1937.  The visiting group was headed by Phil Bard (Lincoln Veteran), now acting secretary of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.  It included Frank Mertens, of the National Maritime Union; John P. Hautala, of the Finnish Workers Federation; and Max Bedacht, national secretary of the International Workers Order.²

Mac-Paps in Mas de las Matas

The Mac-Paps in December 1937 with their flag. Believed to have been in Mas de las Matas, Spain. ALBA Photo, 11-1327. Tamiment Library, NYU

John Miller and Bill Lawrence are in Tarazona de la Mancha to see the naming ceremony for the Mac-Paps.   The Mac-Paps are awarded their Battalion flag.   John Miller and Bill Lawrence invite Merriman back to Albacete to get the scoop on upcoming plans of action.   In the next three months, the Lincolns, Washingtons, and Mac-Paps will be in almost continuous action.  Roblet introduces Comrade Bielov to the Mac-Paps and he lectures.  Bielov was also called “Popov” according to Hugh Thomas.¹  Thomas alludes to Bielov being responsible for the fortifications at Belchite which were overrun in Spring 1938.  Others have mentioned that there were no fortifications at Belchite in the Spring of 1938 and this is why the town was overrun so easily.³

The last line “Question of % of Spanish” hides a multitude of issues facing the International Brigades.  In June, the Spanish Ministry of War issued new orders claiming that all Internationals were subject to the command of the Spanish Army.  The Internationals command viewed this as a threat to dissolve the International Brigades and place them in Spanish units.   Vital Gayman (“Vidal”) wrote a long series of memoranda outlining the Internationals’ position about this integration and subsequently earned his own dismissal by General Miaja.   In one memorandum Vidal says (translated from the French):

For the XVth Brigade, how can one imagine that the officers could ignore the threat made against General Gall after the taking of Villanueva de la Canada and the crossing of the Guadarrama, for the sole fault of not having managed to succeed, with the weakened effectives, after the failure of the Spanish Brigade that marched ahead of them, to ultimately take the two positions of Romanillos and Mosquito {Ridge}.4

Vidal goes on to assess Brunete and the difficulties that the Brigades were facing:

Subject to huge losses, four of its battalions have been combined into two and two cannot be formed into two battalions. The English battalion has attained a vague collection of desertions that have started to win over some of the American Battalions. The Officers are not excluded from this process of demoralization.4

Demoralization of the least patient of the men of the Instruction Battalions and their command (the American battalion of instruction is about 500 men) can foresee no date where they will depart, as a new unit, to reinforce the old American Battalions: first – there are no arms available to the Base of the B.I. within the Brigades themselves (the second American battalion sent to the XVth on June 10, 1937, was armed with the artillery, engineers, etc. and the last reserves of the Armory of the Brigade. Second, because there is no measure one can take to add the Spanish effectives to this battalion and that, in accord with the decisions taken, the Etat Major of the Base refuses to form battalions that are made up of 100% international effectives.4

Vidal explains his removal and gives direction to his successors:

This is why, now where I must leave the command of the International Base, I must convince those who will occupy the functions and the charges that I have overseen for the last 10 months, exactly at the height of these circumstances, that it is not my leaving which will provoke this or that reaction of his {General Miaja} over the International Brigades.   I consider that is my telling of the truth of the situation of the International Brigades that is responsible for the measures that at this time evoked these regrettable and sad events.4

Vidal goes on to suggest that the Internationals must be kept together as a group and not treated as a “Foreign Legion”. It is necessary that their constitution should remain as it is. It is necessary that their rights are officially recognized.

As a result, on 11 August, Vidal followed with a memorandum 5 detailing the problems and asking that 3000 Spaniards be assigned to Albacete to begin training at the schools. He suggests reorganization of the Brigade into the XI, XII, XIV, XV and 150th Brigades. He proposes that the 150th be renamed the XIIIth and that the XIth and XVth be internationals.   He proposes sending the Franco-Belge battalion (XIVth) to the 150th (the new XIIIth).  The Dimitroffs will be sent to the new XIIIth battalion and the XVth staffed with another battalion of Americans.   This suggestion is ultimately put in place by Bielov but General Gal and Vidal were gone from the International Brigades.

Vidal concluded his memoir with a frank assessment of the leadership of the Brigades:

“Gall was only a junior officer with the military knowledge of a junior officer before 1914 …. The military knowledge of Copic was more than a summary. Only Hans (Klaus) was an officer in the German Army with the intelligence and military experience, before forming the Brigades, that let him assume command later of the large units without showing himself to be inferior to his task.”6

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¹ Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, ibid, p. 777.

² Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, p. 246.

³ Landis, ibid, p. 402.

4 Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 32, pp 374-385, written on July 27, 1937.

5 Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 32, pp 388-389, written on August 11, 1937.

6 Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 32, pg 433.