5 Octobre Merriman comes down with a fever and delirium

October 5, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for October 5, 1937


Rollin Jones Dart, Source: ALBA Photo 11_0636, Tamiment Library

Patience Darton

Patience Darton, photo courtesy Sparticus International.

Merriman awakes on the 5th of October in a much better mood and reveals that the boys were out “dating” in Grañen the previous night.   Hospitals and nurses were favorites of these men who had been without women for many months.   Merriman kids Rollin Dart about Patience Darton.

Like so many others in October 1937, Merriman gets the fever (typhoid was rampant in the camps and General Walter reported in his memoirs that nearly 2000 men had typhoid in the Brigades in October 1937).   Merriman gets delirious.  Delirium is one side affect of typhoid fever, which can reach 104°F.   While he is drifting, he includes snippets of conversations that he may actually have overheard or perhaps some that were dreams.   He hears Copic and Crespo talking about “nothing” and then he hears that Crespo is asking for his own vehicle.   Merriman has been waiting weeks for a vehicle of his own.   Merriman also is still waiting on his promotion.

Eisenberg and Shapiro

Abraham Eisenberg and Henry Shapiro, photographed in November 1937, ALBA PHOTO 11 – 0979, Tamiment Library, NYU


Photograph of the trial of deserters in Senes in October 1937. Man at the desk may be Slater, acting as prosecutor. ALBA PHOTO 11-0819, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman hears the results of the trials in which Hugh Slater presided.   Two of the 13 deserters were sentenced to death.   The majority will get front line duty during upcoming battles and then be taken out (so as not to serve as “bad elements” in disgruntling the other men).   Merriman says that Henry Shapiro was the worst and (as mentioned on yesterday’s page) he will die in action at Teruel.   A 20 year old got the least sentence, 1 month presumably at labor.   William Cantor‘s (he was 21 at the time) sentence is curious.  He will be recognized in a few days for valor at Quinto, but desert again later in the war.  Fishnelson is singled out for rebuke.  He, too, will die at Teruel.   The man Fishnelson deserted with, Benzion Lasher, went missing in action during the retreats in the Spring of 1938.


Second page of Dave Doran’s report on the trial of the 13 men.


Page 1 of the report by Dave Doran on the trial of the 13 Americans. Shapiro and Isenberg are sentenced to be shot. Since both would live (Isenberg returned to the US and Shapiro was killed 3 months later in Teruel), their sentences were never carried out.

The report on the trial by Dave Doran is given to the right and left here.¹

Merriman is removed to a hospital in Torralba where he gets better over the next few days.



¹ RGASPI Archives, Fond 545/Opis 3/Delo 435, pp 81-82,  RGASPI Moscow, Russia.

4 Octobre “Our beloved Fascist advances….”


Oct 4 1

October 4, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for October 4, 1937 in Senes.

We can see on the last few lines of the October 3 entry that Merriman realizes he needs to suck it up.  Usually he thrives on conflict but the psychological struggle with Copic, losing Sidney Shosteck at Belchite,  the British rebellion, the disappointment in General Walter’s promise that he would become a Major, and now the men who need to be court martialled is putting Merriman near his limits.

Overnight, the Gottwald Artillery Battery got a  tractor stuck in the mud and it wasn’t theirs.  This “borrowed” tractor caused a scandal.  Merriman, however, was sick and his inability to deal with the issue almost caused another “scandal” (Merriman’s word for embarrassment or something that would lead to a reprimand for his command).   The Gottwald battery was likely the Czech anti-aircraft battery that Merriman spoke of previously.  Klement Gottwald was President of Czechoslovakia and had been in the Artillery in WWI.

Crespo in Huesca

Major Crespo (near Huesca), ALBA PHOTO 177 – 188063, Tamiment Library, NYU

Major Crespo was made Second Chief of Staff for the Brigade.  His photo from this time is shown here. Crespo is called “our beloved Fascist”.  Merriman understands that Crespo has arisen quickly because of the need to share command with the Spanish and that Crespo was an officer in the Spanish Army before the uprising.  As an officer from the old Spanish Army, he would be suspected if he did not have a political background that explained his staying with the Republican Army.  He is not a Communist and Merriman notes that he is in “a Communist Army”.  Copic apparently did not discuss this appointment with Merriman.  Again Merriman would feel threatened that he is being replaced.

Merriman goes to Copic and requests permission to go to General Walter to face him off on Walter’s promise of grades for everyone who moved up to attack Belchite on the 3rd of September. Merriman feels they stepped up and Walter forgot about his promise.  Copic says he, not Merriman, will speak to Walter about this gripe.  From the document on the October 3 posting, we see that  A. Denis and Copic are holding back the promotions.   Merriman was not a communist when he came to Spain.  While he joined the Spanish Communist Party, he (and Allan Johnson who was commanding Tarazona’s training base at this point) were treated with suspicion by because of their lack of political background in the US.

Merriman says that the trials of the 13 deserters starts.  Six cases are prosecuted quickly with Richard deWitt Brown one of the first, who confessed freely.  Brown had deserted with Ralph Isenberg, Henry Shapiro and perhaps Melvin Payne, who was an ambulance driver.  Rollin Dart started the prosecution but could not do it and David Doran stepped in and carried out the cases.     Fishnelson and Shapiro died at Teruel, so they were not executed.   The other three returned to the US, although Brown was captured at Belchite during the Retreats in March 1938 and returned after time in a prisoner-of-war camp.  Apparently none of these four of the first six tried were given a death sentence.   Only Murray Krangel of the 14 listed on the October 2, 1937, report was killed at Fuentes del Ebro and that was reportedly October 13, 1937.  While it is possible that Krangel, Fishnelson and Shapiro were put in work details on the front lines (tantamount to a sentence of death), there is no evidence that the sentences were carried out while the Battalion was in Senes.


Egon Schmidt, ALBA PHOTO 177-188016, Tamiment Library, NYU

At the end of the day, Merriman relaxes and gives a letter for Marion Merriman to Moise Sapir who will go back to Albacete.   “Schmidt” is in from Madrid where there was some sort of scandal over him. This is likely to be Egon Schmidt, who was added to the XVth Brigade.  Schmidt’s real name was Misha/Michael Schwartz who was born in Minsk¹.  Erich {sic} Schmidt and Milan Jeroncic were found by SIM in Valencia and Comrade Stepanovich was asked to vouch for him.²  Schmidt would be with the Brigade until August 1938 when he was killed climbing Hill 666 in the Battle of the Ebro.

Merriman says it is still raining and that the physical situation in Senes is bad.


¹    Martin Sugarman,  Against Fascism – Jews who served in The International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/spanjews.pdf‎, Sourced: January 21, 2014.

²  RGASPI Archives, Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 145, pg 216, letter from Comrade “Willi” to Comrade “Kurt” at Albacete base, October 4, 1937.


3 Octobre “Shooting a few if necessary”

Oct 3 1

Oct 3, 1937

Two pages from October 3, 1937 in Robert Merriman’s second diary

The October 2 discussion carries over to the following days.  The return of the 13 deserters, including five who stole an ambulance and 4000 pesetas to make a break for the French border, forced the Command to put a stop to desertions.     Merriman assesses the morale of these men and realizes that there is little he can do to return them to action and that examples needed to be made.   Details on these trials will come out over the next few diary pages and must have had a hard impact on Merriman.

General Walter suggested shooting some of the deserters.  Copic and Merriman disagree (which is no surprise).  It is quite likely that Copic agreed with Walter.  Merriman puts it to a trial and each will be brought up in front of the men.  After politically setting the stage for the fact that this will be a decision of the men, the vote goes for stern discipline and potentially death sentences.  Conditional death sentences are mentioned and these would probably have been delayed punishment based on future actions.   Some of the 14 men on the list from October 2’s posting do get killed, either at Fuentes del Ebro (an upcoming battle) or Teruel (two battles in the future).

Merriman rides out the day by drinking overnight with Moise Sapir who (we find out on the next diary page) also gets heavily drunk.  Like two morose comrades, they literally cry on each other’s shoulders.    Merriman reveals to Sapir his feelings about Copic and the next day brings back more sober reflection of their situation.  Merriman lectures himself about being able to respond to these depressing situations and to fight his way out of it.   But since he got paid as a Captain although General Walter promised promotions for him to Major, his depression about being misled by his senior officers is evident.

2 Octobre “I have been in a bad mood” and with good reason


Oct 2 1Oct 2 2Oct 2 3

Oct 2, 1937

Four pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary for October 2, 1937

When the Brigade was to move up to the line, the rains come again.  September and October 1937 saw some terrific rainstorms which drenched the Brigade in Almochuel and the rains continue.  The Mac-Paps are not prepared for field bivouacking and they have no tents.  Merriman gets them housed indoors.   Art Landis finishes his story of the offensive:

The torrential rains that began at this point proved disastrous; whatever the intent of the Republican army of the east concerning the disposition of the 15th Brigade, it was automatically cancelled.   Instead the battle for Zaragoza was renewed.  Manuel Aznar, the Franco historian, remarks upon the Republican intentions and the Insurgent countermoves:

The attacks against Jaca beginning on the 24th of September and continuing through the 10th of October were a part of the general attacks unleashed all along the Aragon front to both bring to a halt the advance against Asturias, and to activated this front for further battles of either defense or offense.  Simultaneously  with the attacks on Jaca the 5th Army Corps of Modesto and Pozas attacked strongly again in the direction of Sillero on October 10th.  But now, not only was the full strength of the Barrón and Buruaga divisions committed to battle in the same area, but heavy re-enforcements had joined them.  These included, for the area of Fuentes del Ebro alone, the Mobile column of Zaragoza; a tabor of Tiradores de Ifni, and the 4th Bandera of the Tercios … There was one instance in which the Red forces in the line of attack were confronted by no less that the effectives of three Army Corps of the Nationalist Army.¹

The Aragon offensive around Zuera has been almost totally ignored by historians since little action was seen for the XVth Brigade.  The Book of the XVth Brigade only said “At the end of September, the Brigade was in reserve positions north of Saragossa.  The front was quiet; beyond occasion aviation raids, there was little activity.”²

Interesting sidelight here was that Leonard Lamb was said to be in charge of the Lincoln-Washington Battalion in the Huesca period.   This is from a tape made by Milton Wolff under questioning from Art Landis.³   Wolff recalls that Lamb shot himself in the leg in Huesca while cleaning his weapon and that Philip Detro took over as the Commander of the Lincoln Battalion.

Jim Bourne returns from the trip to Valencia and Merriman says he is a changed man.  Something significant happened in Valencia at this point and Bourne has become a good party man.  Perhaps he has become too good a party man.   He tells Merriman that decisions of the Party cannot be challenged.   This is likely regarding the decision to move the Dimitrovs out into the 45th Division and the decision to repatriate so many English comrades.  Merriman says that after he comes back Bourne and Copic become buddies.  That would have made Merriman very suspicious of him since there were rumors that Merriman was to be removed as Chief of Staff and Merriman may be suspicious that Bourne will replace him.   Merriman calls Bourne a political babe.

Supplies begin to come in.  A name we interpret as “Fields” brings up things from Valencia and the intendencia starts to work.  This could be either 59 year old Ralph Field or his son, John, at this point.   Since John Field was with the Mac-Paps, it may be that the senior Field was allowed to come up to be close to his son.

Merriman expects “Bert” {Williams} and Pete Hampkins to return with 600,000 pesetas for the payroll which is late.   In a few days, Merriman will write this name as “Buck” and it is possible that this is Canadian Communist Party leader Tim Buck.   Merriman says that Marion Merriman is sick in Albacete but he received goods from her.

Wally Sabatini

Wally Sabatini, Political Commissar of the 3rd Company of the Mac-Paps, ALBA PHOTO 11-0602, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman says that the staff holds a meeting and discusses getting the Brigade together to present a report from Bob Minor, but no details of that report are discussed in the diary.    Merriman says that Wally Sabatini is under discussion to be Mac-Pap Battalion secretary.



545/3/2/70  RGASPI

RGASPI File Fond 545 Opis 3 Delo 2 page 70. The highly marked up promotion list for the XVth Brigade. Image from the RGASPI Archives, Moscow

Merriman lets his hair down again to reveal how irritated he is with Copic about the way promotions are being handed out.  “Hans”, probably Merriman’s adjutant Hans Kalbschmidt, got a stripe added (i.e. moved up in rank and pay to Captain) on the Paylists, even though there are no orders from the Army Corps approving the promotions.  On the document on the right, Merriman himself is marked still as a captain on the list which has been highly scribbled on and this is probably the offending document at this point.   The scribbles in pencil are probably Copic’s vetoing of the typed promotion plan and the writing in pen is Arturo Denis’ hand.  Merriman goes nuts over this and calls them on the promotions.   One feels that Merriman is far more irate in his diary than he was in Copic’s quarters.  “I should have told him…..”

Deserter List

List of the 13 deserters who were returned to the XVth Brigade from Albacete’s Camp Lukacs after they were caught (RGASPI Fond 545 Opis 2 Delo 58 pg 561, RGASPI Archives, Moscow).

At the end of October 2nd’s diary entry we see that Merriman has another issue arising.  14 deserters are returned to the front and they need to deal with them.  Among them is Nelson Fishnelson,  William McCarthy, Otto Lemke, Benjamin Kasinap, William Cantor, Henry Plotnick, John Hunter, Murray Krangel, Sol Feldman, Richard Brown, Robert Isenberg, Henry Shapiro, Ben Sacher (Lasher)  and Gene Augustin.  Of these men, the disciplinary action of the Brigade was leveled at Shapiro, Isenberg and Fishnelson.  More on this on October 3.


¹ Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid. ,pp 313-314.

²  Book of the XVth Brigade, ibid., pg 289.

³ Milton Wolff to Art Landis, ALBA AUDIO 66-14, Tamiment Library, NYU.


1 Octobre The 35th Division plans an attack for October 2 towards Zuera

Oct 1 1

Oct 1, 1937

Two pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary covering October 1, 1937


Google Maps topographic display of the area between Senes and Zuera covered by the Brigade on October 1

Bombed out road

International Brigades repairing a bombed out roadway

On October 1, the men move up from Senes to a point near Zuera where the road from Huesca to Zaragoza was cut by the Fascists.   Merriman says that this position is important to retake since they can dominate the Zaragoza railroad from this position and they can stop reinforcements coming up the highway from Zaragoza.   He mentions that they lost the heights above Zuera and that is on the north side of town so it is likely that of the two routes to get from Senes to Zuera, the Brigade may have just gotten to the top of the ridge overlooking Zuera on the north or approached the town from the south having gone through Alcubierre.   Merriman mentions that the road is cut south of them  (perhaps the photo on the right).   Merriman says that the ground was lost in a tank assault by the Fascists that even used some Republican tanks (along with Italian tanks) against them.

Organizationally, the new 5th Army Corps has been formed and General Walter is now in charge of a Corps and not just the 35th Division.  This means that General Pozas would have been moved out.  Merriman notes that Tedeusz (a.k.a. Thaddée and François) Oppman is now the Chief of Operations for the Army Corps.   Merriman gives the strategy of the operation being planned for October 2:  they are to be in reserve on the attack on Zuera and if necessary run back to Mediana and Fuentes if a counterattack ensues there.

Merriman says that Radomir Smrcka is performing well.  He reveals that Copic is ranting about everyone, including Fred Lutz and Ernesto Martinez of the Intendencia and Lou Secundy of the Autopark.  Copic is perpetually mad at Merriman and is bitching because it is now October 1 and he has missed another payday.  Merriman says he is bitching about 3 pesetas a day from Albacete, but Copic would have been getting 30 pesetas a day as a Lieutenant Colonel.  Perhaps he was out of Coñac.   Merriman is less than sympathetic and the hostility between these men continues to fester.

We take up October 2 in the next entry and get filled in on more of the Merriman-Copic battle.