21-22 Agosto Merriman reveals in his diary that the target is Zaragosa

August 21-22, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for August 21 and 22, 1937

Hijar Train Station

The train station at Hijar (author’s photo)

The XVth Brigades move from Perales/Ambite/Albares/Mondejar to the area around Híjar is completed overnight on the 21st of August.  Prior to this on the 16th of August, the XIth Brigade (the Thaelmann Brigade) had left its positions northwest of Madrid to also move through Columnar to get on a train for Hijar.  Merriman starts to reveal in his diary what the strategy is for this push.   Overnight on the 21st the first train from Valencia has arrived and the British Battalion and the 24th Spanish Battalion are marched into positions in Híjar, some 40 km west of Caspe.  Híjar is on the rail line so transport by train near their staging positions was needed. The XVth Brigade did not take the intended positions and would move again overnight on the 21st.

Copic went forward to locate positions for the offensive which was coming.  Quinto is about 100 kilometers north-northwest of Híjar.  Sidney Shostek (Merriman’s aide) went with Copic to the new camp and returned to guide the Brigade to their next post which would be south of Quinto.

Merriman reveals that an uprising has started in Zaragoza and the offensive is to put pressure on that major crossroads city and to support the Monarchists who have risen up against the Fascists.   If Zaragoza were to be recovered by the Republic, all pressure would come off Madrid and significant pressure would have been placed on the Fascists to defend their capital, Burgos.  This could have turned the war at this point.  Hugh Thomas draws a map of the offensive which shows a wide line of attack from Teruel on a south-north line through Belchite, Zaragoza, Huesca and all the way to the French border.¹       To get to Zaragoza, the Brigades would have do go through the towns of Quinto and Fuentes del Ebro from the south.  Kleber’s forces would attack Zaragoza from the northeast and southeast across the Ebro River.   For the English speaking XVth Brigade and the German 11th Brigade,  Quinto was the first objective.   Thomas, however, is quite unreliable on his time line and blurs activities from Quinto to Fuentes del Ebro, battles which were spaced almost two months apart.  Merriman appears to have gone to the new position overlooking Quinto and then returned to Hijar to organize the Intendencia where the supplies would come in.


Captain David Kamy, Spring 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0969, Tamiment Library, NYU


Chapayev in the field (middle of three soldiers). ALBA Photo 177-179002, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman criticizes David Kamy of the British Battalion and Robert Rinaldo of the 24th Battalion who had been charged with setting up the support services, such as the kitchens and Intendencia.  Merriman personally organized the camps for these two Battalions.   Merriman tries to wake up Chapayev who is leading the second of the two regiments which includes the Dimitrovs and the 24th.   Chapayev (Hungarian Major Miklos Szalway) doesn’t like being woken up but Merriman doesn’t care.   Merriman gets to sleep late on the 21st and sleeps with “Rosie”, who cannot be Solomon Rose who was in hospital until October.  This could be Leo Rosen who was with the Mac-Paps at this time, but this is likely to be Joseph Rosenstein who was in the Brigade Commissariat at the time.

When Merriman wakes up on August 22 he gets many reports.  Merriman confirms the report that 200 Spaniards have gone missing en route from Valencia and that one machine gun is missing, left in Valencia.   The last thing Merriman would want is a fifth-column attack by greater than a company size group with a machine gun in the rear.  That would certainly have ended his career if not his life.

Merriman reveals that Copic has found their staging location south of Quinto but that Merriman doesn’t have the plan of attack for Quinto at this point.  Merriman and Wattis are working logistics and Merriman is very impressed with Wattis now.  Recall that at Jarama, Merriman blamed Wattis for forcing the order to attack which he had argued against.  Merriman has clearly forgiven Wattis for this.

He continues to battle Chapayev who has written letters complaining and continues to complain even though Copic has spoken to him directly.  Recall that Vidal and General Gal have both challenged the Ministry of War decision which has dissolved the XIIIth Brigade on August 4th.  Chapayev’s troops are being fought over by two divisions and he has been forced to accompany the XVth Brigade while the Ministry of War wanted them to join the 150th Brigade which would become the XIIIth International mixed Brigade.  At this point, the Dimitrovs wanted out of the XVth Brigade and hoped to be under General Kleber.  Even General Rojos had told Copic that he was not getting the Dimitrov Battalion but clearly they are at Híjar and will be going to Quinto.   Involved in the fight were eight trucks that the Brigades received that afternoon.   With them, Merriman sets up a kitchen, a field hospital, and gets 30 pieces of artillery moved up.  The Dimitroffs want their own kitchen.

General Walter

General Walter examines a rifle during inspection (December 1937). ALBA Photo 11-0855, Tamiment Library, NYU


Enrique Lister (creative commons photo)

Merriman meets with General Walter who warns Merriman to tell the men nothing about Zaragoza but rather this effort is to take the pressure off the attacks on the Euskadi (Basque territory).   Merriman finds out that Enrique Lister and the 11th Division will be on the left of Walter’s 35th Division containing the  XVth Brigade during the offensive and that the hope is to reach the trenches outside Zaragoza.   While the overall plan was to sweep around these towns and advance on Zaragoza,  Zaragoza is still a long way off, in reality.   Merriman says that the base needs to be brought nearer to the front.  He rounds up mules, but loses guns and men.   The stress appears to be getting to Merriman and Copic as both of them are discouraged that the logistics of getting into place for this attack did not go more smoothly.

Merriman sends Van den Berghe and Georgeovitch back to Valencia to get the guns which were left behind.  Copic bawled out Rinaldo over his poor work at the front with the 24th.


¹  Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, ibid., pp 473-474.

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)


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.


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.


17-18 Agosto The XVth Brigade moves out for the Front – Quinto is at hand

August 17-18, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for 17 and 18 of August 1937

The pace will pick up rapidly over the next month as the XVth Brigade now goes into repetitive actions.   Merriman says that “Marceau” arrives to discuss his plan for the upcoming offensive.  While the target is not stated, we know now that it was the village of Quinto on the Saragossa road.  The ultimate target of the Aragon offensive is Saragossa and the Republicans will get within two kilometers of the city but not take it.  Marceau is not spoken of previously in the diary, is not on the French lists, and if he is the planner for the Aragon Offensive, he should be well known.

Bill Lawrence is off to Morata to check on the Intendencia and auto park there.   Morata was the staging area for Jarama and men will begin to move away from that front towards the Aragon.   General Gal comes to tell Merriman that he will lose the Dimitroff Battalion and they will not go with the International Brigades on the offensive.   Since the Brigade should be 3000 men (5 battalions in strength), this means Spanish troops have to be added to the XVth Brigade.  This corresponds to Vital Gayman’s (Vidal) departing memo where he recommends 3000 men for the XVth Brigade.   Gal further tells Merriman he will get 10 new trucks and new guns if he turns in the old ones.   Merriman discusses the last action (Brunete) with Gal and the cooperation (or lack of it) between units.

Merriman says that a “Comrade” is here to check on the Russian anti-tank guns.  One can imagine that this is a Russian technical expert.   Merriman leaves after lunch and goes to Albares to discuss the preparedness of the Lincoln Battalion and Carl Bradley.  The diary reads “Hesler” returns from AWOL and we interpret this as Frank Chesler who was in trouble previously in the auto park.  There is no Nesler in the American or Canadian lists.   Merriman also says that Samuel Gonshak wants to come back which indicates that he was under discipline for some time.

Paddy O'Daire

Paddy O’Daire, Mac-Pap commander August 1937 and British Battalion, November 1937. ALBA Photo 11-1277, Tamiment Library, NYU

Carl Bradley goes to the British Battalion.  “MacDougal” visited the British troops and Frank Ryan and George Wattis meet with them to discuss Paddy O’Daire and Peter Daly.   The issue of leaves is still being discussed on the eve of shipping out for the front.   It is apparent that Merriman is sounding out morale and who will be ready to fight in a few days.   Merriman talks with Jim Bourne to get feedback on Joe Dallet and whether the attitude in Albares (where the Americans were based) towards Dallet would be a problem.   “Let down, etc.” may indicate morale problems in the school after the lack of complete success at Brunete.

Merriman returns at 10 pm with Captain (note the emphasis) Wattis.   He was able to get a promotion through Copic.  Arthur Olerenshaw must have had to turn around and go back after missing his ride.  Steve Nelson returned from Morata and says that the Americans sent to the 24th Battalion (Spanish) were integrating well.

August 18, 1937 orders

August 18, 1937 orders of the day. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 3/Delo 427, page 9. RGASPI Archives, Moscow.

At 3 AM on the 18th, Merriman gets the orders to move and we reproduce them here from the RGASPI Archives.  He prepared orders for all companies and starts to pack up for the Front.  A Doctor named Martinez checked out the health of the men in Ambite.   Interestingly, there was a Doctor Eduardo Martinez Alonso who worked in this area about this time and was written about by Nicholas Coni.  It is not clear if this is the same “Martinez” but Martinez Alonso would desert the Republican side in 1938 and go over to minister to the Rebels.

The Brigade would go first to Valencia on the 18th and then take a train towards the train station in Hijar.   The convoy from the 18th would bring troops from Perales led by Van den Berghe, Ambite/Albares led by Marcovics, and from Mondejar led by George Wattis.   Copic did not come back for the move (he would run on ahead to scout positions for the battalions), but General Gal came to see the Brigade off.  He tells Merriman that their target is Teruel.   Teruel fell to the Fascists in 1937 and that would be a target of attack later in 1937, but the direction was a deception, probably to divert the Fascists if the soldiers leaked where they were going.  The actual target would be Quinto.  General Gal would not be going with the XVth Brigade and his command over this group of internationals ended on the 18th.

The muster must have been impressive with 120 trucks involved and they also had to retrieve 250 men who were on leave in Madrid.  At 30 men to a truck, the whole Brigade would move on the 18th.  Bill Lawrence, Ed Bender and Joe Dallet arrive from Albacete to help with the move.  Merriman has to send men to Madrid to roust up the nearly 200 men who were on leave.  All but five were found and brought back in time to move.  Lawrence and Bender brought news that Largo Caballero, who was removed during May Days, was reported to be working with the Anarchists to overthrow the Government.  The Communist International line was that the Brigade would go to the front to hold off the Fascists while other troops would clean up the Anarchists in the rear.  There is mention of an “Imperialist Division”, but that is not clear.

Bill Lawrence was not happy with some personnel decisions made by Steve Nelson and Merriman.  Joe Dallet must have gotten disciplined about the lack of support of the troops.  Dallet was accused of being “the most hated man in the brigade” by Seaman Oliver.   Joe Dallet, however, is known to have been liked by both Nelson and Merriman, so this may have been in the nature of an “attitude adjustment” that Dallet needed to make.  Dallet struggled with his “rank and file” attitude and yet he was in a leadership position.  It appears that Dallet or Merriman made comments against Rollin Dart.   Merriman is leaving but worries that Tom Wintringham was not going to be able to effectively lead the school. He says for another time that “Wintringham is not right” and Wintringham is removed from the Officer’s Training School.   Recall that Copic has purged most of the British Officers over the previous few weeks and this continues his purge of the British.   Canadian Bill Wheeler will go into the school at this point.  Wheeler will be back on the front lines in October so this leadership position in the school is short-lived.

General Gal’s battle with Ralph Bates did not end when Bates left Spain.  Now Bill Lawrence goes to Gal and tells him to fight the order that the Dimitroff Battalion will not go with the Brigade.  The Dimitroffs were slated by the Ministry of War to move to the 150th Brigade and reform the XIIIth Brigade.   Gal says that he only takes orders from the Ministry of War.   Ignoring the senior political commissar in the American Battalion forces the issue to the top.  Lawrence says that the Dimitroffs either go with the Brigade or Gal will go.   In the end, Gal will be gone, but the Dimitroffs don’t move up.  Gal severely underestimated the power of the political cadres in Albacete and Madrid.  Gal had few backers after the failures of Brunete and even Vidal said in his memoir that Gal did not have the military experience to lead men at the Battalion or Brigade level, let alone lead a Division.

Merriman eats in Tarançon with “the Rose of Tarançon”.   We had previously interpreted this as Sol Rose, but this may not in fact be the right person.   Merriman sends Marion a note that he is disappointed not to be able to get to see her in Albacete and says “next time”.


Today’s route from Perales to Valencia (315 km). Flying in 55 minutes was not available to the International Brigades

The map above gives a scale of the move on the 18th of August.  Tarançon is a crossroads for two routes to Valencia.  Perales is near Morata de Tajuna where the Jarama Battles were staged.  The rest positions of Ambite, Albares and Mondejar are northwest of Tarançon.



15-16 Agosto Adjustments in Battalion alignments continue and Americans get split up

August 15-16, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for August 15 and 16, 1937

In a very dense hand and in a very newsy mood, Merriman starts the 15th of August by checking on the Intendencia or Brigade Stores.  George Kaye is apparently doing a good job in the Intendencia and Van der Berghe will be going to the Intendencia to help out.   Continuing his audit of the Brigade, he has George Wattis and Bill Skinner, two experienced commanders, taking inventory of the stores and he has his new aide Sidney Shostek and a Goodman looking over the books. The only American named Goodman in Spain at the time was Carroll (Kibby) Goodman but he was listed as working in the Regiment de Tren.  It is possible that he is in Albacete as the Americans would utilize the trains significantly over the next few days.  There also was a Briton named Philip Goodman.  Shostek and Goodman find that people were purchasing items for themselves from the Intendencia.  Otherwise, Merriman is happy with the progress of the stores.   There is a lot of rice, though.

Joe Hinks and George Coyle visit Merriman and complain about the actions of Wally Tapsell (see previous diary pages).   Joe Hinks would return to write a memoir about the early days in Spain.  George Coyle was, according to Richard Baxell, “another Lenin School alumnus who had been in Spain for six months, [but] should not go back into the line” and he as a “disappointment in Spain when he deserted from the front at Jarama and took a few days leave in Madrid without permission for which he was placed in a labour battalion.”¹   The repatriation of Tapsell and not Hinks and Coyle irritated them, who felt they were being punished because they might send the stories of the British Battalion disarray back to England.

Merriman says he settled the issues over lunch.  While Cunningham felt that the British issues were already addressed, apparently a petition had reached the command level.   Wally Tapsell was removed from the line and in trade Merriman got three new cars at the Autopark.  George Wattis pushed for his promotion from Senior Lieutentant to Captain and Merriman agreed.


Samual Gonshak, Commissar of the Autopark, May 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0026, Tamiment Library, NYU

Fred Lutz

Abe Harris, two unknown soldiers, and Frederick Lutz at the Brigade Intendencia at Mondejar, ALBA Photo 11-0993, Tamiment Library, NYU

The Autopark, too, was in disarray with complaints.  Fred Lutz joined to help with propaganda.    A “Martinez” was leaving and this soldier does not appear to be an American.  Samuel Gonshak continues to be a problem and is now accusing Joe Dallet of cowardice. “Horner” could be Arthur Horner, who had been President of the South Wales Miners Federation¹.    Will Paynter also was a Welsh miner.

James Bourne

James Bourne, ALBA Photo 11-0664, Tamiment Library, NYU


Major Crespo of the Brigade Staff in November 1937, ALBA Photo 11-0651, Tamiment Library, NYU

Much of the rest of the two


Leonard Lamb, ALBA Photo 11 – 1306, Tamiment Library, NYU

day diary entries involves adjustment in the balance of the Brigade.   Major Luis Crespo went with Bill Skinner to reorganize positions in Morata de Tajuna. Americans were added at almost Company strength to the British Battalion and the Spanish 24th Battalion.  Merriman notes that Americans going to the British would have to have a proper political outlook as the British were very jaded at this point.  Jim Bourne was added to the British and was downcast by the assignment.  The Americans added Hans Amlie as their commander with Leonard Lamb and Ruby Ryant going along.  They seem to work well together.  John Hagiliou is again causing problems, probably involving his criticisms of the Communist party.  Mike Pappas keeps pushing for repatriation.  He will never get his wish and will be killed in August 1938.

Arthur Olerenshaw and Frank Ryan are mustered to work with the English in an attempt to restore order and morale.   In his round robin checking on Headquarter’s units, Merriman visits the Armoury and finds it wanting.  Only three Colt machine guns and one Lewis Machine gun were in the Armoury and the location of the Armoury was “nasty”.   The Armoury was led by Ronald Rinaldo and he had few organizational skills.

Abad Garcia

Lieutenant Commander Abad Garcia of the 24th Battalion, ALBA Photo 11-1787, Tamiment Library, NYU

At the front at Morata, Garcia buggered off.   There was a Lieutenant Commander Abad Garcia (pictured here who was in the 24th Battalion).  The Americans inherited 60 Spanish soldiers in the effort to balance the Battalions.  Merriman makes a visit to the British with Steve Nelson and George Wattis.  They meet with Frank Ryan, Hercules Avgerhinos, and William Ivy Morrison.   In an attempt to improve morale, they have a sing along.

Finally,  Merriman says that “Popovich” will soon be coming to the Brigade.  This could be Kosha Popovics, a Yugoslavian Communist brigadista, or Vladomir Popovics, a Captain in Spain and a friend of Marshall Tito (Josef Broz).

Merriman finishes reporting on a car accident near Carabaña which is to the northwest of Perales.  Car accidents irritated Merriman since he had so much trouble landing enough transportation.  In the next few days, everyone will be on the move and every vehicle will be needed.


¹ Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors, ibid.

13-14 Agosto General Gal calls Ralph Bates a Fascist and Ralph Bates Reciprocates

August 13-14, 1937

Captain Robert Merriman’s diary for the first day as Chief of Staff, August 13 and 14, 1937

Merriman is now fully ensconced in Brigade politics and he has a lot to tell his diary.  Apologies for the small font required to get all onto one printed page.   Merriman is believed to be at the Brigade Estado Mayor in Ambite Mill at this point.   Merriman notes that Sidney Shostek is now in Ambite with the Brigade staff.  He says that he sent men two schools, “Radio and Enlace”.   Enlace is coordination (this is the school for the Brigade Runners who must give oral orders from Command to front line troops and vice-versa). That would definitely require schooling.

Three Officers

Unknown officer, Klaus Becker and George Aitken in the garden in Ambite Mill, probably July 25, 1937, ALBA Photos 177_175005, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman is left to pick up the pieces of the crushing of the British leadership.  Aitken and Cunningham were dismayed that their names were not mentioned at all in General Gal’s order brought back to Brigade by Copic.  Wally Tapsell would not speak to Merriman.  On searching Aitken’s room, four political orders (probably ignored or not acted on) were found.   Aitken was ordered to go take a walk in order to cool down.

Merriman was highly suspicious of George Wattis but uses him in this difficult situation to go talk to Aitken to settle things down.   Later Merriman tries to get Wattis promoted to Captain.  Tapsell, Aitken and Coleman would shortly leave for Britain to discuss the disarray amongst the British Battalion with William Rust of the CPGB.  Aitken would not return to Spain as he was judged to be untrusted by the men.  Aitken wrote memoranda at this point trying to get many of the British repatriated and it may be that this was seen as misleading the men into believing that they would or could go home.  The Spanish Army policy was that no one was to be released if they could fight.

The situation deteriorates with some significant accusations: Gal calling Bates a fascist and Bates calling Gal a fool and not really a Bolshevik.  Gal counters that he was trained by Stalin himself.  This probably indicates that Gal attended the Lenin School in Moscow where Stalin was indeed an instructor of sorts, giving lectures at the Lenin School to many including Copic, Haywood and Steve Nelson.  But this “I am a better Communist than you are” argument is leading nowhere.   Merriman mentions that Gal holds council in the garden at Ambite

General Gal

Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Copic and General Janos Galicz (Gal).

and Tapsell has been sent there to cool off.  Another photo of Copic and Gal shows this garden.

Merriman seems to stay above the fray and makes Wattis “Coordination Officer” (see Enlace above).  Van den Berghe’s wife (Marguarite) is leaving and he is seeing her off.  Lou Secundy starts work on the Brigade Staff, and Sidney Shostek and Phil Cooperman conduct an audit of the Brigade’s books.  When Merriman says he wants to clean up Albacete, he apparently means it.   Merriman again says Ralph Bates will leave because important cadres of the Communist Party are not to be sent to the front.  He says the “Tapsell affair is a real mess” .    Richard Baxell spends considerable time discussing the Tapsell affair in his book Unlikely Warriors.¹   A very brief synopsis of the issue was that both Fred Copeman and Wally Tapsell had suffered nervous breakdowns during the recent battle of Brunete.  Tapsell, like Marcovics, told Colonel Klaus that the British were in no shape to return to Brunete on July 28.  Aitken said that this was a “bloody terrible” decision and Tapsell went further and accused General Gal of gross incompetence.

Spartacus International’s biography of Tapsell reveals his state of mind on this day:

Tapsell caused considerable political controversy when he criticised Colonel Janos Galicz, the commander of 15th Brigade. He reported that “only stupidity or a deliberate disregard for life would keep men in such an exposed position (on Mosquito Ridge). Galicz isn’t fit to command a troop of Brownies, let alone a People’s Army.” Galicz responded by demanding that Tapsell be shot for insubordination. However, Tapsell was protected by Fred Copeman, the commander of the battalion.

Tapsell also accused Cunningham of “being out of his depth as regimental commander”.¹   Bert Williams related that Tapsell’s conduct was abnormal and on August 9, 1937, Tapsell sent a letter to the British Communist Party Secretariat  stating:

In plain fact, and it is hard to state this, on every occasion we were with Spanish troops in this engagement they let us down.  Their behaviour on every occasion either resulted in serious casualties, or the immediate loss of positions won by us at heavy cost.  This is a fact.¹

In view of the disintegration of the leadership of the Scots, Irish and English and the “circular firing squad” set up by them, it is no wonder that Copic was able to use Brunete as an excuse to mobilize Gal and Klaus to get them all out.   Cunningham, Bert Williams, George Aitken, Wally Tapsell, and Fred Copeman would be ordered back to the British Isles before the end of August and Harry Pollitt, leader of the Communist Party in England, would enforce the decision to keep some of them there.  Only Tapsell and Copeman would return to Spain in November, further rousing the anger of Aitken and Cunningham who thought that this was a terrible decision.  In any case, Merriman reveals that “all are off the line”.

Things quieted a bit on 14 August, and Merriman assigns Mirko Marcovics to check on the patrols (i.e. the brigade military police) and he goes off to visit the Spanish 24th battalion and the Eastern European Dimitroff Battalion.  He visits the British battalion (based in Mondejar) and finds them in disarray, with no welcome and no translators for the Spanish from Brigade.  Aitken and Cunningham suggest that the new Brigade leadership should speak instead of them and after Aitken was booed, it is apparent why.   Merriman and the staff leave to visit the Americans and to give the British time to get themselves corrected in camp.

Merriman makes a side note that Hans Amlie has come back.  Amlie was a Captain with the Americans at Brunete and was wounded and had to be dragged from the field of battle.   Merriman continues to criticize Jock Cunningham who attacked those who ran to the front and then sought to get out.  Perhaps Cunningham was referring to Harry Haywood who he had criticized for just this.   Merriman says he met up with Leo Gallagher, a Canadian from Toronto who would have been in training with the Mac-Paps.  He also meets again with the British anti-tank company.

Big Jim Ruskin

James Ruskin, RGASPI Photo Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 978, Moscow

Merriman speaks with two reporters and then rushed back for a dinner at the Division level honoring a Major Costelli who was 71 years old. Costelli is not found in the Italian lists in RGASPI and so the name may be misspelled by Merriman.  Costelli made a curious speech about worthless people seeking stripes … likely to arouse Merriman’s suspicion since he just added a stripe of his own by becoming Chief of Staff.  He meets “big Jim Ruskin”, a Briton who was a Captain in Transmissions.  Ruskin was born Dovmont Sergeevich Zubchaninov².

Merriman says that General Gal is trying to recover from the mistakes he made with the orders given to Copic.   He wants David Abraham Zaret to become a “Mexican” citizen, i.e a Russian citizen, because he has become a good Bolshevik.   Zaret (a.k.a Jarrett) was an aide to Gal and thus probably was being looked after by his boss.   Merriman notes that  Bill Skinner has returned from the Mac-Paps and will be on his staff.   He says in a side note (“Tapsel [sic] talked”), which probably refers back to the discussion above.


¹ Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors: the British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle Against Fascism, ibid, pp. 269-278.

² Kevin Buyers, The International Brigades in Spain.