20 Octobre Merriman moves the Estado Mayor further from Fuentes del Ebro

Oct 20, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for October 20, 1937

Estado Mayor

Estado Mayor at Fuentes de Ebro, ALBA PHOTO 11-1234, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman removed the Estado Mayor from the range of the artillery by moving it behind a hill.  This is probably the position shown in the photograph on the right.

Bourne, Hughes, Parker

James Bourne, Langston Hughes, and Eric DeWitt Parker at the Estado Mayor, Fuentes de Ebro, ALBA PHOTO 11-0800, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman reveals that Eric DeWitt Parker and Langston Hughes arrived at Fuentes de Ebro.  There are a number of photos with Hughes and various Brigadistas (including the one with Eric Parker here).   Bourne had just returned from Albacete and was not treated well there so the men were upset about how they were being viewed in the Spanish Army.   Bourne brought back a letter from Marion Merriman which related that George (probably Brodsky) and “Red” had gone to the Comintern (CI) or Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).  Bourne comes back with a decision from the political office in Valencia that he should not be given any active military assignments.  Jim Bourne has gone from being a political neophyte to someone who can muster the protection of the Comintern.   It appears that there are two people in the Politburo in Valencia who do not understand that it is necessary to separate the political arm of the army from the military one.   Bourne is an example of this separation.

19 Octobre Fascist Artillery and Aircraft get a fix on the XVth Estado Mayor

19 Oct 1

19 Oct 219 Oct 319 Oct 419 Oct 5

19 Oct 7

Six pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary. While the dates on the diary are somewhat uncertain, it is believed that these events happened prior to October 20, 1937

New troops at Fuentes

Photo entitled “David Doran addressing troops at Fuentes de Ebro”. Men standing in the photo from right to left are: Edward Cecil-Smith, Ivan Rukevcic and Tom Mallon. ALBA PHOTO 11-1778, Tamiment Library, NYU

The last words on page 43 of Merriman’s second diary say “On the 19th …”  and we find out that new men are up at Quinto arriving from Tarazona de la Mancha.  These 510 new recruits will help bring the four battalions back to strength after the losses of Fuentes de Ebro.  This was draft #25 of the Spanish Army which dipped down into young men who just turned 19 (and some who were older than 35).   Merriman will say that all the new recruits are 19 but some were older.

The command of the battalions is fluid and Bob Thompson will step back from the command of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion and Edward Cecil-Smith (see photo above) would move into the position he would occupy until October 1938 as head of the Mac-Paps.   For the Lincolns, Milt Wolff told Art Landis in the ALBA audiotapes that he became commander of the Lincoln Brigade temporarily when they returned to Quinto.      In a small diversion, I will post two Company 3 effectives lists for the Lincoln Battalion, one from October 5 and one from October 19.  The number of available effectives shows how decimated the Battalion was after Fuentes.

October 5 effectives list

Company 3 effectives list for October 5, 1937, prior to Fuentes

October 17, 1937

Company 3 effectives list for the Lincolns on October 17, 1937

11_0899s_Elhanon Winchester Bridges, Company 3, Lincoln-Washington Battalion_nov 37Company 3’s compliment went from 65 before Fuentes to 29 men.  29 Americans were reduced to 18, and five of them were missing.  The staff was gone.  The commander, looks like Sanakus (but that name is not in the ALBA list) was in hospital.  Company Clerk Tom Page was in hospital ill.  Michael (Morris) Ecker who came up on October 5 was temporary clerk of the Company. Elhanon Bridges became the temporary company commander.  On October 21, Harold Hoff would become the company clerk.

Merriman notes that the 143rd Brigada Mixta joined the XVth Brigade.   The Brigade from Figueras was led by Marine Captain Nicanor Fernandez.  It is not known if Fernandez had his Captain’s stripes by this time, but Merriman was impressed by their ability in telling dirty jokes.

Airplane Bombardment

An airplane bombardment of the positions at Fuentes de Ebro, ALBA Photo 11-1237, Tamiment Library, NYU


Owen Appleton

Owen Appleton, Brigade Secretary, killed at Fuentes de Ebro, October 1937. ALBA Photo 11-0607, Tamiment Library, NYU


Dr. Julius Hene, May 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0215, Tamiment Library, NYU

The Nationalist forces in Fuentes de Ebro got the range of the trenches of the XVth Brigade and were effective at pounding the trenches including the Estado Mayor where the Brigade Staff were based.  Dr. Julius Hene was injured in one such attack by artillery.   On October 18, in a bombing run on the trenches, 18 men were buried under the debris from the bomb blasts killing Owen Appleton, the Brigade secretary,   Canadian Alexander McClure and Vernon Snow.  All in all, six were killed in the Estado Mayor in a few days.  Merriman simply says that they need to do a better job at protecting their trenches.  On the 20th, Merriman will note that the Estado Mayor would be moved further back, behind a hill and closer to Quinto.  This gives us one date to divide the stories being told in the diary.

Egon Schmidt

Egon Schmidt on hill in Fuentes (standing right center). Malcolm Dunbar is on the periscope, Copic in front of him, Rollin Dart with field glasses, Harry Bee (topography) sitting behind Merriman and Merriman. ALBA PHOTO 177-177030, Tamiment Library, NYU


Some of these diary pages are particularly opaque to understanding.  The XVth Brigade battalions got the use of the 11th Battalion of Engineers from the Cuerpo (Army Corps) but there must have been the feeling that they were being abused (not to mention in the line of fire at an active front).   Cuerpo called down and wanted to speak to Copic who was not there as he had gone to Albacete for the big fiesta there on October 17 for the first Anniversary of the Brigades.   They apparently would not talk to Merriman on the phone and sent down an Engineer to talk to them.  At the start of the discussion the commander of the Engineers lectured the XVth like they were militiamen and new at the front.  Remember that the XVth was just adsorbed into the command of the Spanish Army structure.  Merriman must have set this officer straight quickly.   At the end, the Engineers were put at the disposal of the Brigades to help fortify the trenches.  But the first night out, 2 were killed and 2 were wounded in the Engineers when they were out front of Mac-Paps on the left of the Fuentes front.  Tough duty for these men and little chance to fight back.   Merriman sent Schmidt (believed to be Egon Schmidt, above right, who was attached to the Brigade at this point) to speak to them and he was sympathetic to their risks.   Merriman says that he gave them duty on the 19th to make trenches which ran to the railway tracks and they were happier because they then believed they were doing general work for Cuerpo and not just for the International Brigades.

Merriman relates the tedium of life at the front.  Men get a chance to get a hot shower.  Men are getting some recreation by playing chess. But the paperwork suffered during the active fighting and now Merriman says that office work has suffered.   Appleton has been killed so at his level, he has lost a secretary.  On the 21st of October, my father, Harold Hoff,  became clerk of Company 3 of the Lincolns (recognized by his handwriting).  Clearly, this comment by Merriman indicates that men who were literate were pulled out to help get caught up on the effectives list.  These lists were important to get the head count up so that the October 30 payroll would be complete.


Company 3 Effectives List from Fuentes, October 21, 1937. Tom Page had been the Clerk in the Company but was replaced by Harold Hoff. The company complement was up to 74 from a minimum of 28.

Saul Wellman

Saul Wellman, Robert Thompson, and Dave Doran, trenches at Fuentes de Ebro, October 1937. ALBA PHOTO 11-0582, Tamiment Library, NYU

The Mac-Paps are struggling with illness.  Niilo Makela has jaundice (hepatitis) which was rampant in the Brigades and Bob Thompson is sick.  The senior leadership of the Mac-Paps were out of action since Joe Dallet had been killed in the previous week and Doug Hitchcock wounded.   Merriman says that Bernard Singer is returning to action and  Wally Sabatini, who was the Adjutant Commissar of the Mac-Paps got the jitters and had to be removed.  In his place, the more solid Saul Wellman would take over as Commissar for the Mac-Paps.

Bill Rust

Malcolm Dunbar, Bill Rust of the Daily Worker, Vladimir Copic, and Hugh Slater, ALBA PHOTO 177-177065, undated. Tamiment Library, NYU.

Merriman makes a comparison between Rollin Dart and Malcolm Dunbar.  We can’t determine which of them he is criticizing.   Merriman says Will Paynter will be leaving and he introduced his replacement from Valencia, but Merriman does not give the name.   Our colleague Barry McLoughlin suggests that this could be Bill Rust who took over for Paynter as the representative of British Communist Party to the Partido Communista de Espana.

Eluard McDaniels

Eluard Luchell McDaniels, May 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0127, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman also is sketchy on a visitor from the US who was a writer with the Western Writer’s Conference.   Merriman mentions that he is a negro and said he had been a Lieutenant in the XIIth Brigade on another front.  He was on tour with the Brigades and had heard that the Lincolns were down to 12 effectives. Chris Brooks has suggested that this is likely to be Eluard Luchell McDaniels, who had a history of conflating his stories. McDaniels would become known as “El Fantastico” since he had the ability to throw grenades ambidextrously.   Merriman told him that there were 150 American effectives in the Lincolns at this point at Fuentes.   (Still, the Lincoln-Washington complement should have been around 600-800 men.)   McDaniel brought news of James Harris who was now in the Dombrowski battalion which was now in the 13th Brigade.   Harris apparently had suffered another round of “chills” and Merriman is intrigued.  He says he would have liked to  talked to Harris.   Unfortunately, without knowing this, Harris had deserted his unit on October 14 and was caught leaving the lines.  He was summarily shot by the command of the XIIIth Brigade, ending a troubled career for James Harris in Spain.

Merriman finishes this paragraph by saying that Elias Begelman is not working too well in his current role on the staff.   Merriman compares Begelman to Wattis and this comparison is also unclear.  Wattis had been complemented by Merriman for good work at Belchite, but his manner was officious and this may be the basis of the comparison.

Merriman finishes this newsy section of his diary by doing a retrospective of some earlier thoughts.  He reveals that Vladimir Copic told journalist David Lasser that he is stateless (and probably has no place to go after the war).  He asks Lasser to intervene with President Juan Negrin for him and Merriman says that this was an unwise move since Lasser was not a member of the Communist Party and probably wondered what Copic was asking him to do.

15 Octobre Copic and Bourne go to Albacete and Crespo gets promoted

15 Oct 115 Oct 2

15 Oct 3

Three pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary covering the period from October 15-19, 1937

Merriman caught up his diary by October 19 at the end of the Fuentes de Ebro action.  We place the remaining pages on the 15th although they could have been days later.


Form letter invitation to the comrades who would be asked to come to Albacete for the Ceremony celebrating the first anniversary of the International Brigades. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 36/Page 133, RGASPI Archives, Moscow.

Op 2 D41 p90

Invitation list to the Brigade Ceremony in Albacete. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 41, page 90, RGASPI Archives, Moscow, Russia

Merriman catches wind of Vladimir Copic wanting to leave for Albacete to take part in a party meeting and celebration of the first anniversary of the founding of the International Brigades,  in which Yugoslavian delegates would be present.  Indalecio Prieto, the Minister of War, would also be present at this high level meeting.  The meeting was a veritable “Who’s Who” of the important people in Spain.  Merriman says Copic lost interest in the action at Fuentes and just wanted to leave.  Copic wanted to push General Walter into claiming the need for a new Army Corps (which Walter would lead) that would contain all the International Brigades.  Copic feared that Walter would never make such a demand at a high level meeting and Copic wanted to go push him.   Copic reveals that the XVth International Brigade’s time on the Aragon front is coming to an end and that in a month they would return to the Center Front near Madrid.  Copic as we will see wanted to distance himself from the disaster of Fuentes del Ebro and feared that he would be cashiered for that failure.  The quicker he could pin this on his subordinates, the better.

Op2 D41 P92

Invitation list to the Brigade Ceremony in Albacete. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 41, page 92, RGASPI Archives, Moscow, Russia

Op2 D41 P94

Invitation list to the Brigade Ceremony in Albacete. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 41, page 94, RGASPI Archives, Moscow, Russia

David Lasser

David Lasser and Sander Feinberg, Photo Courtesy of the Louis Weinstock Collection, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman says that David Lasser, head of the Workers Alliance of America, is in Quinto and Fuentes to interview the troops.   While Copic is said to have remained in Quinto throughout the whole Fuentes de Ebro fight, Lasser came with a blue banner which must have been awarded to the Brigade.   They were, in fact, preoccupied with fighting a war at the point of his visit and Lasser had the sense to know that he was in the way.  He left and Comrade Ivan (Ivan Rujevcic or John Gerlach) slept overnight using the blue banner for a pillow.


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

Again, Copic and Merriman were called to a meeting to talk strategy of their “sub sector”.   These meetings don’t impress Robert Merriman.   Copic, however, used the meeting to gain permission to go to Albacete.   Quinto is left in charge of 2nd Chief of Staff Luis Crespo Torres. Both Copic and Merriman now call him a “Figurehead”.  Copic left for Albacete in something that looks like “Petrusha” or “Petruska”, which could be a Soviet automobile.  Also possible as a transcription would be “Patrulla” which would be a police car.

Merriman relates that the Army Corp command has been replaced.  At the start of the Aragon, the Army Corps was led by General Pozas and it soon will be official that he is out.   Merriman is told by Dave Doran who was at the meeting that the Aragon offensive is now over.  The Euskadi campaign also was winding down with the fall of most of the major cities in the Basque Region, so any diversionary value of the Zaragoza offensive was now over.   Consolidation of the held territory around Madrid was now imperative.

While Copic was away, Major Crespo was at play.  Crespo got himself appointed to Chief of Staff of the Army Corps jumping over the Brigade.   He will lead four brigades and the supporting artillery and armor.  Merriman is taken by surprise but not by Crespo’s careerism.  Merriman says Crespo will always find a way up and Merriman hopes it is up and out.   Merriman says that a letter arrives for Copic from Denis and gives the name of the replacement “advisor”.   Merriman is surprised that the name would be put down on paper.  The letter has not been found in the RGASPI archives.

John Givins

John Givulinovic (John Givins), ALBA PHOTO 11-0936, Tamiment Library, NYU

A name transcribed as “Garens” left for Valencia to bring up 510 new recruits.   It is more likely that this is “Givens” or John Givinovitch, who was in Transports.   Milt Wolff says that he doesn’t recall any replacements coming up but Art Landis clearly was interested in this large increase in the Brigades.¹   On October 6, a series of telegrams from Albacete let the commanders know that nearly 3000 new recruits had been drafted in Draft #25.  It is likely that these new recruits are Spanish and will be the fresh faces seen in Quinto over the next few weeks.



¹ Art Landis questioning Milt Wolff, ALBA AUDIO 66, ibid.

14 October After the battle at Fuentes, the Estado Mayor is invaded… by Russians.

14 Oct 114 Oct 214 Oct 3

14 Oct 4

Four pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary covering the second day of the Battle of Fuentes del Ebro, October 14, 1937

Merriman continues his description of the evening of the first day of Fuentes de Ebro and the second day.  Merriman said on the previous page that the Americans and British returned in the dark to the staging position which was a couple of kilometers south of Fuentes de Ebro.  The Fascist troops were heard that evening celebrating what they believed was a victory over the Republican tanks and given the number killed in the first assault, one can accept their assessment of the day.   The fact that the Americans and British left the lines indicates that they believed the assault was done.   Merriman sent them back to their positions.   Merriman continues here by saying that the Mac-Paps were successful in advancing on the left flank.  On the right flank, however, British Captain Harold Fry was killed.  Fry had been injured and captured in an assault on the British machine gun  company in February.   He returned to the Brigade and led the British again at Fuentes.

Merriman says that “Wally” was also killed.  This is believed to be Eric Whalley of Edinburgh who was killed on October 13 at Fuentes de Ebro.  The third name man listed as killed was Louis Argites.

Commander Aguila of the 24th Battalion

Commander Aguila of the 24th Battalion, ALBA PHOTO 177_183039, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman says that 500 men of the engineering (“genie”) battalion were thrown into the trenches at the front to improve the protection of the troops in at the front.   This would have carried them up to the 15th with minimal action.   Merriman says that Kondratyev, the armored Battalion commander, was distraught about losing 25 tanks.  Given that 25 new BT5 Russian tanks were used in this action for the first time, this loss was devastating for the tank corps.  Merriman says that some of the tanks bypassed Fuentes but still did not return.  The 24th Battalion which had ridden in on the tanks was also wiped out with its commander Aguila wounded.

Merriman mentions two Russian names, “Laputin” and “Kruschen”, who were likely to be tank commanders.   The Brigade political commissars held a 12 hour meeting to discuss what to tell the men.  It was led by the chief political commissar of the 5th Army Corps, a Spaniard named Vidal, not to be confused with Lucien Vidal (Vital Gayman), who had been commander of the Albacete Base in the Spring of 1937.  Merriman thinks highly of Commissar Vidal.

Merriman says that he and Copic went to visit Casada Army Corps.  He probably meant Segismundo Casado who was the head of one of the five army corps and was a chief strategist in the Aragon Battles.   Merriman does not get much out of the meeting, even in the way of supplies.  He again comments negatively about Major Crespo who was the 2nd Chief of Staff of the Brigade and Merriman says that Crespo just stays in the rear.

Merriman says that another plan of attack is made designed to go rescue the stranded tanks.  This could be read that it would be on October 15 at noon.   The plan was to take 25 of the remaining tanks to fire into the front lines of the Fascists and the 6th Brigade (Merriman describes as running away at Mediana) would assault the lines.   Again, everything was delayed and the tanks ran out of ammunition before the troops were ready to go over.  The tanks had to return to reload and the assault started at 4:50 in the afternoon.  The tanks never got back in position to take down the wire and the assault stopped.  Another poorly coordinated action and light failed before anything could be achieved.

Milt Wolff continued in his recall of the Fuentes de Ebro action and told Art Landis a story that Landis had never heard:

Dan Groden

Dan Groden (left), Lionel Levick and Tom McNulty, Officers, Lincoln-Washington Battalion, Company 1, ALBA PHOTO 11-0748, Tamiment Library, NYU

And I remember one other attack at Fuentes de Ebro that Danny Groden was involved in.    Another attack, an infantry attack and this is the only attack that the Lincoln-Washingtons participated in.  We had found, right off the Machine-Gun Company right flank, a gully going down into that valley where the fascists were.  And they went down into this gully, they went all the way down, maybe 4 or 500 yards without being seen.   And, ah, at some prearranged signal we were supposed to open up with our guns, the artillery and planes were supposed to come over and all that stuff.  Fuentes de Ebro.  And nothing happened.  These guys went over out of the gully and they got caught.  And as a matter of fact, this is where Danny got hit.  Yeah, you might want to talk to Danny about that.  And I think that is where Harold Smith got hit, too.  Do you remember that?”¹

{Landis and Wolff then get off track arguing about whether Harold Smith was hit or not.  Harold Smith became an active VALB  member after the war and was an editor of the Volunteer.  But there were three Harold Smiths in Spain and it is likely that Wolff and Landis were arguing about different men.}

This assault did not recover the tanks and overnight the Estado Mayor of the Brigade was overrun with irate Russian tankers who expected to get their tanks back, with the help of the XVth Brigade infantry.   Merriman lets the scouts go forward to have the 25 tanks help take down the wire and he just goes to bed and lets them shout.   The Russians retreat from the Estado Mayor as well as from the field at Fuentes de Ebro.  The ground battle is nearly over at Fuentes.

The air war, unfortunately continues.


¹ Milt Wolff to Art Landis,  ALBA AUDIO 66, ibid.


13 Octobre The International Brigades attack Fuentes del Ebro


13 October 1

October 13 1937

Two pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary covering the attack on Fuentes del Ebro of October 13, 1937


Joseph Dallet, Quinto, September 1937. ALBA Photo 11_0639, Tamiment Library, NYU

Dougher and Bradley

Joe Dougher and Carl Bradley, October 1937,
ALBA PHOTO 11-0726, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman doesn’t write much about the initial assault of the 13th of October at Fuentes.  He says that the Lincolns and Mac-Paps moved into line late and were held up.  The attack of the Tanks stalled and was not effective.  The Mac-Paps were congratulated by Walter for making the assault on Fuentes and the British were chastised for not advancing on the town.   Merriman says the losses were not too great although Joe Dallet (left) was killed, Bill Neure, Joe Dougher (right) and Rubin Kaufman were injured.   He doesn’t mention other leading comrades such as Milton Herndon who also fell.  He then starts to talk about the evening of the first day when the British and Americans returned to the jump off positions and Merriman says he had to send them back to the lines.

Copic and Merriman

Vladimir Copic (left) and Robert Merriman (right) at the Estado Mayor viewing post, Fuentes de Ebro, ALBA PHOTO 11-0258, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman’s diary really should be read with the American aphorism “Putting lipstick on a pig”.   The day was a total disaster and nothing worked as planned.  There are hundreds of pages written in Brigade literature about this day and a few excerpts give a more realistic appraisal of the Fuentes attack.  In a favorite photo of mine, the body language of Vladimir Copic and Bob Merriman make you wonder who would take the blame for this mess.

Richard Baxell relates the morning from the British viewpoint:

Hugh Sloan, Bill Alexander’s runner, saw the disaster unfold.  When the operation was launched in the early morning of 13 October, he counted forty-seven Republican tanks and watched as they sped forward full tilt, throwing off the troops who were trying to cling on and leaving them far behind to be shot to pieces.   The tanks themselves fared little better, for ‘the Fascists were ready for them — they’d got bottles of petrol and a number of the Russian tanks were set alight’.   Timing was vital, but ‘the Fascists were alerted, the planes bombed too early, the artillery bombed too early and the tanks were late’.  Insufficient Republican artillery and air supper trade matters immeasurably worse.  It was, thought Sloan, ‘[a] ridiculous charge like the charge of the Light Brigade — a gallant effort but a stupid effort’.¹

The British Battalion was on the very right flank.  An image of the positions from Landis is shown below.²   The current approximate positions are superimposed on a Google Earth image.

Fuentes de Ebro

Positions at Fuentes de Ebro, Source: Landis.

Fuentes de Ebro

Current approximate positions of the Mac-Pacs companies 1, 2, 3 (in red), the Lincolns on the railroad (dark blue) and the British (light blue).

While the British reached their trenches before dawn on the 13th, a massive traffic jam on the Quinto – Fuentes road kept the Americans and Canadians from getting into position before daylight.   Many Americans were pinned down immediately after leaving the staging positions at Km 28-29 on the road.   Company 3 (in which my Father had just been assigned four days previously) was pinned down by machine gun fire and those who were not shot spent much of the day face down short of the trenches.   Milt Wolff recalled³ that his machine gun company (#4) did set up enfilading and supporting fire for the Mac-Paps, but most of the guys were just cut up trying to make the trenches.  Philip Detro showed significant bravery going back and guiding the Lincolns into their position on the railway line.

The British were in soft soil in the fields and with heavy rain on October 11-12 night.  Movement was difficult.   Wolff³ said at least 10 of the tanks went over the top of the Lincoln trenches, nearly crushing the men under them.   Many of the 24th Battalion, riding on the tanks, saw the Lincolns in the trenches and thinking they were Fascists, fired on them.

Niilo Makela

Niilo Makela, as Commissar of the Mac-Paps, 1938. ALBA Photo 11-1281, Tamiment Library, NYU

Niilo (Milo) Makela, commander of the Mac-Pap machine gun company, wrote of the Mac-Pap experience that day:

We received our first taste of fire at dawn, while entering a shallow communication trench leading us to our position.  The enemy machine gunners spotted our movements, and in the fire one man was killed and a few wounded, including our comrade Hitchcock {Robert Colver}, our Battalion Secretary.  He was hit in the leg while cutting a strand of barbed wire at the mouth of the communication trench….

The attack started at 1:40 pm.  When our tanks went over and the order was given to advance, the Battalion, including its Staff, went over the top like one man.  Joe Dallet, Battalion Commissar went over with No. 1 Company on the left flank, where the fire was heaviest.  He was leading the advance when he fell, mortally wounded.  He behaved heroically until the very end, refusing to permit the First Aid men to come over to him in his exposed position. {Dallet was killed while on the ground wounded, when a machine gun opened up on him}.

Volumes could be written about acts of individual heroism, acts performed by men in the ranks as well by men high in leadership.  Space will not allow for that.  I want to mention, however, comrades like Bill Neure, Commander of No. 1 Company, who was fatally wounded; “Izzie” Schrenzel, who was seriously wounded, died later; that outstanding Negro comrade, Milton Herndon, leader of the Third Section of the Machine Gun Company who was killed together with Ben Smith, when they were trying to assist the wounded on the field.4

Dr. Julius Hene called out for valor Sergeant James V. Black and Earl Rose, two First Aid men in No. 1 company.4

Ron Liversedge of Vancouver was there that day:

… But our journey to Fuentes was behind schedule.  The road seemed to be clogged with traffic, and there was some confusion.  It was already daylight as we started to file into a series of very narrow, very dirty, and not overly deep trenches, leading off from each side of the road.  It seemed uncanny that we were being allowed to file into the trenches unmolested.  I had a mental picture of the enemy unhurriedly finishing their coffee and then flexing their muscles.

I think that more than three-quarters of the Brigade were off the road, and sidling up the narrow trenches to their positions, when the fascists opened up.  There was no warming up, but in a split second, dozens of machine-guns started a terrific crescendo of firing.  We received our first casualties amongst the men who were still on the road.

…. Our Company commander (I’ve forgotten his name {Neure}) was a young German American.  The second in command was Bill Whitehead {Whitehead does not appear on the Canadian muster roles and his editor David Yorke thinks Liversedge’s memory is at fault here.}, a Canadian, and Joe Dallet, the Battalion’s political commissar was going over with our company.  With our Company also were Ed Rolfe, the American writer who was our historian, and Irving Weissmann, another American.  The rest of our company were Canadians.

…  At one thirty we heard the tanks roaring towards us from behind; they were coming at a good lick, seventy-five of them {actually, 42 tanks took the field that day}.  They roared over the top of our trenches, nearly crushing one of our men who, thinking the tanks would break down the trench walls and bury us, jumped out onto the parapet and was pulled back in, just a split second before the tanks rolled over.

We were amazed to see twelve men of the 24th Spanish Battalion riding on the top of each tank.  It was said afterwards that somebody on Brigade staff had seen this stunt in a film, but unfortunately this wasn’t Hollywood.  There were very very few of the 24th who came back.

The Mac-Paps scrambled out of the trenches to follow behind the tanks.  The Lincoln were on our right, and the British on their right: the whole Brigade spread in a long line right across the plain.  The tanks spread out in line and started for the town at about forty miles an hour; at the same time, the fascists opened up with hundreds of machine-guns and mortars and artillery.

Of course we could not keep up with the tanks, and immediately we ran into murderous fire.  There was no cover.  Men started to drop all around.  In less than fifteen minutes our company strength was reduced by half.  Our company commander was down.  Just to my right, Joe Dallet, walking along, smoking his curved pipe, a little smile on his face, was hit.  I heard the bullet smack into him; he gave a little grunt and I knew he was dead before he hit the ground.  Then three of the ammunition carriers in my machine-gun squad went down.  To the right and ahead a little I saw Milt Herndon, a negro and his pal Smithy, both of the second company, go down.  One of our stretcher bearers, Issac Schatz from Toronto, crawled over to see if he could help, and as he rolled Herndon over, Schatz got one through the shoulder.

….Ahead of us we saw our tanks grinding to a halt close to the ravine in front of the town.  Twenty-five of them on fire; we could see the tank men jumping out of the burning tanks and being shot as they jumped out  Bill Kardash from Winnipeg was one of them, and he received the wound there that cost him one leg.   We could also see what men were left of the 24th, trying to hide behind the burning tanks.5

Bill Kardash of Winnipeg, mentioned above, was quoted by Michael Petrou:

“Things did not go as planned,” Kardash recalled years later.  They received orders to attack late in the morning and knew nothing about the terrain the tanks were expected to cross.  Some got stuck in gullies on the approach to Fuentes de Ebro.  Kardash’s tank rolled towards the nationalist trenches very slowly.  Any Spaniards clinging to the sides of his tank were shot and fell to the ground.  They cross the first line of nationalist trenches and almost immediately Kardash and his crew were hit by a Molotov cocktail.  “The first thing, the motor stopped.  The wires burnt .. So we couldn’t move.  So long as we had ammunition, we kept firing,” Kardash said “I gave orders for the driver to get out because the fire began to get closer to the turret”.

Kardash watched as his driver and gunner fled the burning tank and were gunned down.  Kardash looked certain to meet the same fate if he ran, but flames inside the tank were spreading and left him with little choice.  He bolted from the tank while shots rang out all around him.  As he ran towards a highway that linked Quinto and Fuentes de Ebro, a grenade knocked him down and filled his legs with shrapnel.  He looked up and saw that another tank had broken through the nationalist defenses and was still operational.  Kardash waved the tank over to where he lay and climbed on top.  Somehow he managed to cling to the tank while it sped back over the nationalist lines to the safety of republican positions.

Kardash would spend until May 1938 in a Madrid hospital with gangrene in both legs.  One was amputated right away.  The thigh of his other leg was almost blown off and the pain was so bad that Kardash begged doctors to remove it as well.  His remaining limb was saved, however, and Kardash eventually made it safely back home to Canada.6

Bill Kardash can be heard speaking at the 1:15 mark of part IV of Los Canadianses, a Canadian National Film Board six part documentary on the Mac-Paps.


¹ Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors, ibid. , p 315-316.

² Art Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.,

³ Milt Wolff to Art Landis, ALBA AUDIO 66.

4 Niilo (Milo) Makela, The Book of the XVth Brigade, “The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion in Action”, ibid, p. 291-2.

5 Ron Liversedge,Mac-Pap: Memoirs of a Canadian in the Spanish Civil War, ibid., pp 88-92.

6 Michael Petrou, Renegades, ibid., pg 76.