Category Archives: Ambite

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.

11-12 Agosto “Hello, 15th Brigade!” and “English Out”

August 11-12, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for August 11 and 12, 1937

Merriman continues to document the shake up of the 15th Brigade and records that Ralph Bates and Steve Nelson came to the Battalion to tell the men that Merriman will be moving up to the Brigade level as Chief of Staff.  Rollin Dart would move back from Albares where he headed the Lincolns and would take Merriman’s place as commander in training.   Merriman will take Canadian Bill Skinner and Sidney Shostek with him to Brigade as his aides.

Owen Smith
Captain Owen Smith, Operations, Tamiment Photo 177_188024, Tamiment Library, NYU

In the farewell, Marion Merriman spoke.   The August 9-10 posting has Marion’s description of the event and it seems that she mixed up Merriman’s accompanying the Mac-Paps to Albares and then his return to Tarazona to announce his movement up to the Brigade level.  But she missed by only one or two days in these events.  Merriman says ford arrived and this could be James Ford, a CP official from the US but it more likely to be a vehicle for him in his new position.  The next line says “delivery body” which sounds like it is vehicle related.   Merriman was sure that he would get the trappings of office when he got a promotion. Merriman also spoke briefly and there were songs.  Merriman says Owen (Owen Smith, probably) wanted more on the reorganization and said that the leaders were hiding something.   Smith obviously was aware of the trouble that Marcovics was in from Brunete and the Americans were watching his treatment closely.  When Steve Nelson and Ralph Bates arrived, Merriman accompanied them to Albacete.

William Rowe
William Rowe. Photograph from a pamphlet published by the Communist Party of Great Britain, thanks to Stuart Walsh for providing the image.
Vladimir Copic and General Gal in a tete-a-tete at Ambite, believed to be July 21, 1937. Tamiment Photo 177-175018, NYU Bobst Library, New York, New York.

The next morning (after having the perks of command allowing him to sleep on grain sacks), Steve Nelson starts to reveal to Merriman how upset the British are about these adjustments.  Merriman met with Will Paynter, William Rowe, Aitken and Jock Cunningham.  Thanks to comrades doing photo research on the Brigades for the identification of William Rowe (1905-1948).  Rowe arrived in Spain in April of 1937 would be invalided home for tuberculosis , returning 19 September 1937.¹  The British suggested that if Cunningham was not going to be Brigade Commander, perhaps Cunningham and Merriman could share the role.  This is a very strange suggestion and one which was being preempted by Vladimir Copic’s trip to see General Gal (Janos Galicz).  General Gal was known to be moving on as Merriman said “General out” on an earlier page, but on this day he was still in command of the Internationals.  Copic was getting orders ready for the reassignments and Copic would lead the Brigade and Merriman would be his Chief of Staff.

Mirko Markovics continued the battle with Cunningham which started with the commands given at Brunete.  The British and Americans were at loggerheads over the leadership question and Merriman met with Robbie Robinson,  Rollin Dart and George Kaye to develop an American position.   Ralph Bates would be leaving before the upcoming offensive (Quinto) but he must have given Merriman the quote that “Cunningham leaving would be more of a loss than Copic”.   Copic, however, maneuvered his way to the leadership and arrived back at Albacete with Gal’s orders that Merriman would be Chief and Aitken and Cunningham were to go.  Merriman says “English out.  Feel sorry for them.”   Merriman’s notes leave us to conclude that the exclusion of the English, Scots and Irish was Copic’s doing.   (One should reread Copic’s comments to Haywood about the British in the July 19-20 entry here).  Mirko Markovics (another Slav, although American) survived the housecleaning and will become information officer.  Aitken, Cunningham and Markovics all crossed Colonel Hans Klaus at Brunete and the piper must be paid.

Gordon and Begelman
Joe Gordon (left) and Elias Begelman (right), ALBA Photo 11_0098, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman finished the day reminiscing with Phil Cooperman.  He also gave Markovics a warning, apparently that Steve Nelson was not going to be his ally and that Markovics needed to shape up.  Recall that at Brunete, Nelson was put in the position of having to take over from Marcovics because the latter refused to follow a difficult order to send the Americans back into battle.   Nelson accomplished what Marcovics could not, but only through his motivational abilities.  Luckily the Spanish Battalion intervened and the Americans did not need to go back into the fight in their highly weakened state.  At the evening meeting,  Elias Begelman was also in the discussion and apparently was too garrulous for Merriman.


¹  Thanks to Stuart Walsh and Kevin Buyers for the research on Rowe, private communication.

7-8 Agosto Merriman leaves Tarazona to move up to Ambite and Albares

August 7-8, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for August 7 and 8, 1937

Robert Merriman leaves Tarazona de la Mancha on August 7, 1937, and he will not return to training.   He asked for, and received permission, to take half of the 2nd Training Battalion to the front as a unit.  He took a majority of Americans to reinforce the Lincoln-Washington Battalion which was now resting in Albares.  Replacing Merriman would be Allan Johnson as training battalion commander.  Merriman was clearly record keeping in prior pages of his diary and he knew that he would soon be in combat.  His use of pages from September on as notes pages gives a hint to the fatalism he felt as he may not have expected to need those dates later.

Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude fill in the details from these days:¹

All through that day, after the rally at the church, Bob was with different groups of the Command.  I tried to stop time but the hours rushed by.  I wanted Bob to myself.  I didn’t want to yield him once again to the war, as I had done when he left Moscow.

Then, at five o’clock, the battalion formed in parade.

“So long, fellows,” Bob said.  He gave no long speech.  He had wanted to take the battalion personally into the next battle and felt bad about leaving it.  The men stood in review and looked at him.  He looked back, with respect.  There was a strange silence, the silence of goodbye. 

Afterward, a few of us gathered for a light supper.  Someone broke out a bottle of champagne.  We toasted the battle and the victory and the safety of our soldiers.  And we toasted freedom.  Steve, I’ll never forget, was like a surprised and angelic boy, too excited to show much anxiety.

Then, at last in our room, Bob and I said our goodbye, once again.  When he was gone, I sat alone for a while.  Late in the evening, just before going to sleep, I wrote in my diary: “Final farewells and my darling is off.  May he come back as safely this time”.

But sleep would not come.  I lay in the dark, knowing Bob was in a truck heading north, first to Ambite to pull the Americans together, then to a Spanish village called Quinto…”

Marion may have mixed up this departure a bit with Merriman’s next advancement to the Brigade level where he would become Chief of Staff.  Here Merriman himself says that he is leading the Americans from the 2nd Training Battalion, which pulled out at 3:30 AM for La Roda to turn up the Valencia-Madrid road.  Many of the Mac-Pap battalion would stay in Tarazona until just before Quinto.  After passing Tarancon, the men joined the resting Lincolns and Washingtons in Albares.  Merriman has a  chance to discuss the Brigade politics with Jock Cunningham (whom he finds conceited) and with Colonel Hans Klaus who removed Mirko Markovics.  Merriman reveals that a “control man”, probably from  the Army Corps level, was talking to Klaus about the Marcovics removal and Marcovics side of the story was discussed.  On the next page,  Merriman says that Stepanovitch was asking for the removal of Phil Cooperman and Ed Bender and one wonders if he is the “control man”.

In the evening of the 7th a meeting was held amongst the American leaders, Phil Cooperman, Dennis Jordan, David Bates,  Ed Bender, Joe Dallet, Steve Nelson and Merriman.  The Headquarters problem at the Base refers to the swapping out of General Gal and Vidal discussed on August 3.  Nelson says that they have too few officers to lead three full battalions.  Evidently, John Quigley “Robbie” Robinson chafed at his assignment to be the Commissar of the Lincolns.   He supposedly “walked out” on the appointment.   Phil Cooperman seeks repatriation and other cadres are being sent home, including Walter Garland and Dennis David Jordan.   Cooperman does not make it and was killed in Spain.

On the 8th, Colonel Klaus, George Aitken and the other Bates, Ralph Bates, arrive from headquarters.   Merriman repeats the comments made on the September 21 notes page that Sam Gonshak, Wallace Burton and Patrick McGuire were reprimanded for going AWOL and sent for 10 days of KP (Kitchen Patrol).  Milly Bennett (Marion and Bob Merriman’s friend, the reporter, and lover of Wallace Burton) tells the tale (note that Milly did not waste time with the shift key):

remember Jen, how you knew from his letter, you sensed with that instinct you have for really, good people, that he is fine.  his orderly was with him, a handsome, trim Jew named fliegel, that is fliegel, the orderly, was orderly to burton, the private.  wallace had been “broken” — disciplined from commander back to private because after brunette, the men were given three days in madrid for boozing and whoring — and then called in to a rest camp.  the rest camp was boring, both to men and officers.  wallace, longing for the bright lights of madrid, (he fought 22 days at brunette and went from section leader to company commander) — decided to go back to madrid, orders or no orders; and being himself, didn’t go alone.  he took his whole company with him.  the company was scolded; wallace was broken back to the ranks; and when i saw him, he was a private, but his orderly refusing to leave him.  i had thought he might come through Valencia; so there was a bottle of bacardi rum and  one sherry in my closet — and a carton of cigarets that i’d been having an eye on in a certain newspaperman’s bag under my writing table ….

fliegel, obviously worshipped wallace, the latter being able to get him into more mischief in ten minutes than he could think up in a lifetime finally had to be sent back to the troop train loaded with sherry, chocolate and cigarets —-²

Merriman heads off for Madrid to meet with Marion Greenspan (George Marion) and Ed Rolfe.  Merriman lectures Greenspan on the policy concerning desertion and repatriation.   He mentions Joe Lash and Hans Amlie as part of this discussion.  Merriman appears to have a lot on his chest that he wants to get rid of.  He later sees Rollin Dart who is his equal in leading the Lincolns and General Walter who will command the Army Corps that the Internationals are in.  Shortly, Hans Amlie will advance to be the Commander of the Lincolns and Merriman may not have been happy with that choice.

Van Den Berghe
Juan Castro (left), Captain Amandus 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 photo notation says it was taken in Jarama. ALBA photo 181:1:4:1, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman notes that the Belgian Vanderberg is on leave and his wife is in Madrid.   The photo on the left shows Amandus (Armand) Van den Berghe who progressed from a soldado at Jarama to a Major by the time he left Spain in 1939.   In the battle of Jarama, leadership quickly devolved to Van den Berghe who stepped in the leadership of the 58th Battalion (Americans) after Merriman was wounded.  It is quite likely that he was greatly involved in training Marty Hourihan leadership skills.  Van den Berghe had been a sergeant in the Belgian army in 1914.  His questionnaire³ said that he was a teacher at the School of Engineering in the school of Mines.  He claimed to have experience in leading over 3000 men in WWI.   Van den Berghe would survive the war and would be involved in every major battle of the XVth Brigade.  Van den Berghe’s wife, Margarite, recruited Amandus into the Communist Party and was working in Spain during the war.  At the end, the two of them would be arrested and imprisoned by French authorities after they crossed the border.  His file has a pathetic letter from Van den Berghe to General Walter dated 20 June 1939, where Amandus writes his old commander for financial aid as he and his wife are in dire straits in Geneva, Switzerland, without work and Amandus is now 39.   Walter writes on the bottom of the letter, “J’ai fait repondre negativement” (I responded negatively).

Merriman may have spoken with Jock Cunningham since he says that Cunningham will not admit he was mistaken in his actions at Brunete.   Cunningham clearly identified Americans, including Garland and perhaps Marcovics, as ones who had to go.   Merriman tries to see Colonel Hans Klaus but doesn’t meet with him.  Instead he sees Frank Ryan who again is quoted as saying that an “unnamed” American will be coming to the Staff by next year.  Merriman must assume that is him.  Aitken, Cunningham and Ryan would shortly be returning to Britain.

Landis says:

Leave was granted. There was no more of the nonsense of General Gal.  The Americans were free to go to Madrid, to Albacete, and to Alcala de Heneres close to the nearby rest camps.  They arrived in Madrid by the truckloads, and the capital took them to its heart.  Their stalwart, colorful figures in I.B. ski-pants, boots and berets, were seen everywhere….. Americans were everywhere, they went to the movies, saw James Cagney take over Chicago with “pineapples” and submachine guns.  At the Capital Cinema, opposite the Hotel Florida, the Marx Brothers held forth in A Night at the Opera.4


¹ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., pp 156-7.

² Milly Bennett, letter to Jenny Miller, September 18, 1937,  Mildred Bennett Collection, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford, University.

³ RGASPI, Fond 545/Opis 6/Delo 299/pp 33-39.

4  Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., pg 244.