19-20 Agosto Trains leave Valencia for Caspe and Híjar

August 19-20, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for August 19 and 20, 1937

Bullring Valencia

The Plaza del Toros, Valencia, image from GoogleStreetView

Overnight on the 18th to 19th, the XVth Brigade moved en masse to Valencia in preparation of meeting trains to go north.  Vladimir Copic went ahead of the Brigade and was to have found a place for the Brigade to bivouac and failed.   When the Brigade shows up in the middle of the night, they are denied access to the Bullring in Valencia.  After two tries, they are told to “crash it in one hour” which makes it look like the Brigade, even with an order, was refused entry to the bullring, probably because they did not have the password for the guards.   Merriman and Wattis work hard to get the Intendencia to provide food and they needed to gather ammunition for their weapons.   Early in the morning a meal was rustled up for the men.

Copic saw a person whose name looks like “Sengentel” or “Gengentel” but from the next two pages of the diary appears to be “Georgeovitch”.  Most likely he would be a staff member in General Rojo’s Army Corps since they also saw Rojo.  In the midst of organizing for the front, George Aitken and Jock Cunningham borrowed Car # 200.    Copic was furious that Merriman did not get the cars back from them and Merriman had to agree with Copic.  He called it a “damned dirty trick” but when you are mustering for front line action, taking vehicles was a very serious transgression.   Even getting their equipment off the trucks and onto the trains was an issue as the truck drivers wanted time off after the drive from Perales, Ambite and Mondejar.

Anti-aircraft gunners on train

Anti-aircraft gunners on the roof of a train. ALBA Photo 11_1360, Tamiment Library, NYU

An armored train in Quinto (Fall, 1937).   ALBA Photo 11-0851, Tamiment Library, NYU

An armored train in Quinto (Fall, 1937). ALBA Photo 11-0851, Tamiment Library, NYU

By late in the day, machine guns and rifles had been gathered for the first train of two to start heading out.  Steve Nelson was in charge of the trains.     The second train appears to be held up because the 24th Battalion under Major Aguila failed to show at departure time.  Mirko Markovics would be in charge of this second train and it will become a major issue for Merriman.  Nearly 200 Spaniards did not make it with their weapons from Valencia to Caspe/Híjar.   The missing troops were a scandal for the XVth and having nearly two companies of armed Spaniards roaming around would scare Merriman.  Remember that there was a discussion of Largo Caballero leading another internal revolt in the rear in August 1937.  This rumor never seems to have panned out to be true.

Paul White

Paul White, November 1937, probably in Quinto or Ambite, ALBA Photo 11-0646, Tamiment Library, NYU

Paul White retrieved 100 men from Madrid who were on leave and they bolstered the numbers.  (Milly Bennett told the story of Wallace Burton and Eddie Fliegel being in Madrid and rousted out of bed in the middle of the night to make the train from Madrid.  In a letter from Burton to Bennett that she got on August 28, forwarded from Paris, Burton mentioned making a run for the train but going back to the hotel because he forgot his coñac.  He subsequently missed the train and this would lead to him getting busted in rank. )

However, the men from Madrid had neither guns nor blankets.   It took until late on the night of the 19th before the second train could pull out.   Marcovics was probably expecting to be put back in a command position,  but wasn’t.  Nor was he told details of the upcoming action and he felt excluded.   Frankly, it is not clear from this that Merriman himself was included in the details of the offensive at this point.

Benicàssim to Gandesa

The routes from Benicàssim to Gandesa. Copic and Merriman would cross country that would be very familiar in 1938.

Gandesa to Quinto

The routes from Gandesa to Quinto go through Caspé and Albaniz/Hijar

On the 20th morning, Copic, Colonel Hans, Comrade Ivanov and Merriman set off together for the Aragon.  They ate at Benecassim on the coast where Copic had a villa.   Merriman says that Copic was at home there.   From Benecassim they turned up into the interior and probably followed the route on the right through Benefallet and over the mountains into Gandesa.  This is ironic since in a year hence, in 1938, on of the major battles for the International Brigades would take place on Hill 666 in this pass, while the Internationals were trying to recover Gandesa.  On this trip, however, Copic and Merriman had supper in Gandesa.   From there, they drove on to Caspe.   Quinto is about 100 km from Gandesa and the Brigade would be confined to this Aragon region for the rest of the year.  The second map shows routes to Quinto which go through Caspe but also via Alcaniz and Híjar.

Alcaniz Castle

Alcaniz Castle (today, author’s photo)

Alcaniz

View from Alcaniz towards the south (author’s photo)

General Walter, the head of the 35th Division, had set up his headquarters in Alcaniz (Merriman says Albaniz) and Merriman and Copic met with him to find their orders and maps of the sectors they would be responsible for.   They returned to Caspe to wait for the trains to arrive and they stayed over at the Oriental Hotel.   The trains arrived overnight on the 20-21st and the Brigade bivouacked outside Caspe.   Merriman headed back to Alcaniz but slept in the field that night.

Caspe

Taken from Cemetery Hill in Caspe. This would be the command post for the Americans in March 1938 when Caspe was attacked from the west and north.