9-10 Septiembre The XVth Brigade retires from Belchite to rest positions

September 9-10, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for September 9 and 10, 1937

Taking of Belchite

Article in La Vanguardia, Barcelona, from September 7, 1937. Source: http://http://hemeroteca-paginas.lavanguardia.com/

Merriman holds the fort while Copic goes to the Division Staff meeting and continues the battle of Belchite.  At that meeting, General Walter and Lieutenant Colonel Copic are faced with the claim that the XII Division of the Army of the East (which contained the 24th Brigade which contained the 153rd Battalion) entered Belchite on the 3rd of September and took the city.  They claimed that the XVth Brigade was pulled out of the battle because of looting.    This infuriated Walter and he made it one of his 30 traitorous actions that he documented in his departure assessments.¹  As a result of the meeting, the Chief of Staff of the XIIth Division was removed for claiming the victory in Belchite.  On September 7, Colonel Sanchez Plaza of the XII Division claimed the victory in La Vanguardia newspaper in Barcelona.  On the 5th of September, however, La Vanguardia had a banner headline that Belchite had fallen, quoting General Pozas who held a press conference on the 4th of September.   President Companys of Barcelona released a press release for the September 5th edition congratulating the Army of the East and General Pozas on his victory.  Given the timing of the Propaganda War versus the actual war, Merriman and Copic’s “Party Order” has additional urgency.  While it did force the taking of the town, it did so at the expense of many deaths and as we will see shortly, considerable loss of respect amongst the XVth Brigade troops.

Mac-Paps are sent up

Command Order #156 from Commander Belov in Albacete to the command of the XVth Brigade. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 57/page 253. RGASPI online archives, Moscow, Russia.

Merriman moves the Brigade to Vinaceite which is on a parallel road from Belchite to Azaila.  A number of small villages are in this area including Almochuel where the Americans will ultimately end up.  Merriman runs into a severe dust storm on the way and puts his car into the ditch.   He finds Rollin Dart who is there to place the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion which has moved up from Tarazona.   Merriman is surprised that they are at the front already as he was not sure they were ready.  He would have also received the Order of the Day from Commander Belov at Albacete to the left.  In French, it says he is sending up the Mac-Paps on September 5 and they should be kept behind the lines because they were not ready.  As an indication:

Belov to Intendencia

Service Note 8242 pursuant to Command Order 156. Belov informs the Intendencia that 100 members of the Mac-Paps don’t have shoes on their feet. He says “It is mandatory that soldiers take shoes to the front”. 545/2/57/255 RGASPI.

Kitchen on a train

Kitchen on a train near Quinto, November 1937. ALBA Photo 11-1770, Tamiment Library, NYU

Van Der Bergh

Cuban Juan Corona (left), Captain Van Den Berghe (center) and Marty Hourihan (right), photo from the Paul Burns Collection and from the International Brigades in Spain website of our colleague, Kevin Buyers.

The 700 men of the Mac-Paps actually got out of Tarazona del la Mancha at noon on September 8 by train. On the 10th, the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion arrives by rail to Azaila and they are met by the Lincoln and British Battalions who have marched back to Azaila.   The men were promised to get new arms.   Merriman gets the men placed, but is ordered to move to Albalate the next day.  Merriman expects “Basha” Van Den Berghe to have done some of the preparatory work but he is “apathetic”.     This is the first time we have seen this name attributed to Amandus or Armand Van Den Berghe.  Van Den Berghe is worried about the appropriation of land and buildings for billets.    They work on a policy on how to deal with the locals.  Merriman discusses the ability of Rollin Dart to lead the Mac-Paps and he, Joe Dallet and Bob Thompson believe he is not a strong enough leader.  The Mac-Pap command will change again before the next battle in October.

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¹ Radosh et al., Spain Betrayed, pp 481-482.