11 Octobre The International Brigades prepare for Fuentes del Ebro


11 October 1

11 October 2
Two pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary covering events on October 11, 1937

Merriman will only make a short entry for the 11th of October before he takes nearly a week off from writing in his diary.  October 13 was the first day of the battle for Fuentes de Ebro, a small town about half way between Quinto, which the Brigades took at the end of August and the ultimate target of Zaragoza which was another 44 kilometers further northwest.   Since mid-August, the Republican Armies had made an intense push on Zaragoza but never got closer than about 3 km.   The Mediana and Fuentes de Ebro front lines of the Fascists were holding up any significant push on Zaragoza from the south.  The International Brigades were recalled back to the Fuentes front on October 10 from their bivouac in Senes, northeast of Zaragoza, and 160 km by road  back to Quinto to try to finally break this impasse.  Over the next week, we will post Merriman’s descriptions of the fighting at Fuentes that were entered in the diary on October 19.  We will attempt to place the descriptions on the correct days but they are not noted in the diary and are approximate reconstructions from historical accounts of the fighting.

On the morning of the 11th, a Party meeting was held in Quinto.  Bill Lawrence met with Copic and Bob Minor spoke with Dave Doran.  Later Bill Lawrence met with Merriman and finally Copic and Merriman met.   This ambassadorial negotiation clearly was designed to gain a workable compromise between Merriman and Copic.   Merriman says later in the day that much of the air was cleared between Copic and him.    Bill Lawrence scared Copic by saying that he was going to Moscow and Copic obviously read this as a threat to him if he did not work out his differences with the Americans.

The air, however, was thick with airplanes.   Merriman doesn’t say if these planes are Republican or Fascist airplanes but it is apparent that preparations for the upcoming battle are being made.

Milton Wolff told Art Landis in his oral interview¹ that he was at this Party meeting on the 11th.   He said that the plan of attack was laid out for everyone and he found the upcoming use of tanks and men going in with the tanks to be odd.

Wolff said “Now, this is the meeting you’re talking about.  We went to this meeting and at this meeting they told us, that these guys were going to go in with these bloody tanks, these troops, and they were going to go in and they were going to go all the way to Zaragoza and all we had to do is to follow them and clean up.  They weren’t going to stop.”

Landis responds: “If they had only known that right across the way, {General} Sáenz de Buruaga had moved the entire 150th Division, the entire Guadarama Division, right on the path.”  He chuckles.  “They were the finest fucking troops that Franco had.   And they met those tanks and they did it classically.  They let the tanks go through and then they had them.”¹

Later we will see that this is a singular characteristic of the battle of Fuentes that will remain in the minds of the Brigadistas many years later.  In Wolff’s words “Ah, this was a screwed up operation from the word ‘go'”.¹

Merriman’s description of the meeting is antiseptic and he only mentions a potential opening of a front in Castillon by landing troops from the Mediterranean.  This offensive never occurred.  He listens to a report from Robert Minor and finds the meeting informative.

Nathan Weisenfeld
Nathan Weisenfeld (Neil Wesson, left), Robert Merriman and Alfredo Balsa, ALBA PHOTO 11-1328, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman says that Nathan Weisenfeld will clean up the barracks in Quinto so that the men can build fires in the hearths in the homes where they were billeted.   Nathan Weisenfeld was also known as Neil Wesson and there are quite  a few photographs of him in the Tamiment ALBA Photo Archive.   Wesson will become Chief of Runners for the Brigade in the Spring of 1938.


¹ Wolff to Landis, ibid.