Category Archives: Ambite

5-6 Agosto Half of the 2nd Training Battalion moves up to Albares

August 5-6, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for August 5 and 6, 1937

Merriman has to make hard decisions over the next few days.   With the decimation of the Lincoln and Washington Battalions at Brunete, men are needed to fill out the ranks of even a combined Lincoln-Washington Battalion.   Merriman fights to keep the men he has, but the need is great at the front and nearly 200 men will move up into other battalions.  In his visit to Albacete, Merriman meets with leading comrades who are there:  Bill Lawrence, Ed Bender, Jock Cunningham,  John Miller, Mirko Marcovics, Marion Merriman, Dave Mates, Bob Kerr (of the Canadians), and Merriman.   A decision has to be made as to the number of Spanish in each battalion.  Two weeks prior, the Americans fought against even 25% of the brigade being Spanish and now the policy is 50%.   Mirko Markovics spoke about his role and his apology for not leading at the front, but Merriman is not having any of it (see additional material below).    David Mates is defending his position and uses statements made by Dave Doran for support but Merriman calls it “rumors”.

In the flurry of activity about the adjustment in leadership, the question of visiting Comrade Bielov (who is leading the Albacete base) is raised.  Harry Haywood is still fighting to save his position, although previously it was decided he would return to the US.  The Battalion in Albacete was going to be halved.  Merriman argued and won the argument that his Battalion should stay together and that he would take them forward to the front.  Once the meeting ended, orders were written, lists of who would move were prepared, and “much typing was done”.  Merriman spoke with Dave Doran about his method of managing troops.

On the 6th, the decisions were revealed to the troops and the fact that they were going forward was received well.  When the decision that the Battalion was being split was discussed, however, the men thought that only the malcontents and weaker elements were being sent to the front.  In an evening meeting, this was dealt with and John Miller and Robbie Robinson spoke to the troops.  An evening meal and party featured “Minnie our dog” being “married” to Fishman.   While probably humorous for some, it wasn’t for Morris Fishman.   This is clearly not Moe Fishman who was wounded at Brunete and was in hospital at this point.

At the evening meeting, there was some discussion on the policy of deserters and Jim Bourne spoke to the troops.  Mirko Markovics continues to be marginalized and he is irritated that Vincent Usera (who also showed weakness at Brunete) was given a hand by the troops.   At the end of the evening, Lou Secundy of AutoPark made up the transit Salvo Conductos for those going forward.

Merriman made a note in the diary that he added additional notes on the September 21 page.  This is actually pretty telling for Merriman that he would place his additional comments at such a date.  His diary would run until December 31 but he had made the decision at this point that he would probably not need diary pages after September 21.  One can only imagine the fatalistic images that were going through Merriman’s mind if he pick that date as far enough in the future for him not to worry about needing diary pages at that point.

Notes from 21-22 September

Robert Merriman’s notes added to the 3-8th of August. From the 21-22 September pages.


Patrick McGuire of the Canadian contingent in Brunete. RGASPI Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 170. Moscow.

In these additional notes, Merriman makes the statement that if Markovics had continued to lead the Battalion the attack on Brunete would never have been made.  Clearly, this is hyperbole, but Merriman and Markovics were antagonistic throughout the spring of 1937.  He lists comrades who had either deserted or not performed at Brunete.   McGuire is likely to be Canadian Patrick McGuire.  Gonshak is Samuel Gonshak.  Burton is Wallace Burton who was  a trainer at Pozo Rubio.  Burton had been a close acquaintance of Milly Bennett.  Krangel is a new name and is Morris Krangel, who will be killed in action at Fuentes del Ebro in October, 1937.

Merriman names Vanderberge as moving up to the Estato Mayor of the Brigade.   This soldier has been difficult to nail down but we will discuss him in more detail on August 7-8.  Amandus Van den Berghe was the second in command for the Brigade at this point.  Merriman notes that Rollin Dart is in as Commander of the Lincolns. A Russian named Kosonatchev (name uncertain) did not do well at the front.   Thirty-five leaders are being replaced at the front.  Walter Garland did not want to leave but clearly was being removed.  Samuel Gonshak defended himself and Merriman is very explicit about what he thought of the excuse.

In the British ranks, George Aitken is advocating for Jock Cunningham, but Cunningham will be repatriated to Scotland.  In a rumor, Merriman hears from Frank Ryan that an American (presumably Merriman) will be promoted to Brigade Staff.

Merriman visited the Brigade headquarters at Ambite Mill and is in awe of the facilities.  He says that Wiley (presumably Samuel David Wiley) criticized Joe Dallet’s handling of the disciplinary cases of Irving Weissman and Tom Hyde.   Merriman says that Wiley warned him to check out the cases himself.   We don’t know the result of that investigation.   We do know that Merriman had released Tom Hyde from detention.  Wiley warned Merriman that Dallet created problems for Merriman.   Seaman Oliver continues to spread rumors and accusations, and in this case was drunk when doing so.   William Edward Howe called in and was bawled out.  Obviously, he was not a true deserter.



29-30 Junio “Asked First Big Favor”

June 29-30

Robert Merriman’s diary for June 29 and 30, 1937

Merriman’s diary is particularly dense on these two days.  He wakes to find that Dougher and Rogers probably are still not back from their “dates” at Madrigueras on the 28th.  He chews them out.   Bill Lawrence was in Tarazona to check to see if the Battalion was ready for the “Socialist Competition”.   Socialist Competition or Socialist Emulation was practiced in many collectives whereby workers would compete to meet the goals of production set for the society.  Typically placed on important holidays, it had a flavor of a sporting competition with, typically, badges or flags of a political nature being awarded.

Merriman and Marion and Joe Dallet left for Albacete to meet with Bill Lawrence who was leaving for the Cordoba front.   He meets with George Nathan who would be under Jock Cunningham and with Hourihan and Wattis.  What looks like “final drunk” may be a transcription error.   Merriman gets a side meeting with Vidal and Schalbroeck and asks his first big favor…. “Don’t give me Wattis”.  Clearly, there was no love lost between these men.

Merriman rounds up ammo and weapons.  He gains “tent telephones” and “1 central” (probably a switchboard with battery for the phones).  He picks up maps, binoculars,  Ross rifles.   He gets a secret memo for a Thibault.  Frenchman Raymond Thibault had been accused of desertion in May, 1937, and this may be the resolution of his case.  Merriman may have made a mistake (or else someone else made a mistake) and showed him a new Light and heavy machine gun combination.   Merriman really wanted one of those.  He gets a call from Pierre Lamotte who says he lost a weapon.  Merriman goes out to the Auto Parc and replaces it but is frustrated when he cannot get these new light machine guns.

Merriman drives out to La Roda which is on the Albacete – Madrid highway to the southwest of Madrigueras.  He looks for a “Marsly” or similar name who apparently is in communications.   He sees new rangefinders and periscopes there and wants some of those as well.  A long day in procuring supplies for the Battalion but he seems pleased with his bounty.

Mac-Pap Flag Presentation

Presentation of Brigade Flag by JSU to Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, ALBA Photo 177-187019, Tamiment Library, NYU

On the last day of June,  Merriman got the Battalion gathered early for an inspection by Clerc of the Madrigueras camp and two youth delegations who were out to see the Socialist Competition.  Company 1, with Bob Thompson as Commissar, stood out and won a new Battalion banner with the Mackenzie-Papineau name on it.   Even during the games, Merriman is dealing with complaints and in order to improve the food, he asks the men to kick back five pesetas each payday so that he can get better food and he adds another cook.

Merriman says that Louis Fischer contacted him.   Fischer was a writer for The Nation and apparently wished to join the brigades in some sort of position in the rear.   Fischer, 41 in 1937, was in the Soviet Union in the 1930’s and probably at the Lenin School.

Merriman is trading men with Pozo Rubio for them to attend the Officers and NCO schools.   In this group from Tarazona, Jack Cooper, Saul Wellman, Otto Reeves, John Skifstrom, Burt Jackson, Ernie Kozlowski, John Macrel, Canadian Hugh McGregor, Canadian Bill Skinner, Albert Wallach and Frank Rogers will go to the school.¹  Tom Winteringham came over from Pozo Rubio to lecture on maps.   Merriman has some difficulty with Harry Zeintz.   Merriman says that a Russian named “Ivanov” is in camp and Zeintz tells him his troubles.


¹ RGASPI, Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 52, page 255.

25-26 Junio American Leadership Arrives back from Gal’s Banquet

June 25-26

Robert Merriman’s diary for June 25 and 26, 1937

Between the time that Harry Haywood had his face to face meeting challenging Vladimir Copic to resign and the 25th, we know from Mirko Marcovic’s remembrances that General Gal threw a party at his Ambite villa.   Eby relates the story:

In an unusual obeisance to camaraderie among his inferiors, General Gal held a banquet for his staff and the six battalion commanders and commissars at his riverside dacha.  Having been briefed on the aborted mutiny, he poured healing glasses of vodka on troubled waters, outlined his expectations for the coming offensive, and received from his retainers toasts to his health and continued success.  He explained his 15th Division would also include the XIIIth Brigade, the Dombrowski, which was on the way from a hard campaign in the South.  The camaraderie ended with an abrupt explosion of epithets in Russian and Hungarian.  The general had just discovered that Lieutenant Colonel Hans Klaus, Copic’s second in command, had — for reasons never explained — boycotted the banquet.  Gal dispatched a messenger with an order for him to present himself at once.  Marcovicz recorded the embarrassing finale: “Throughout the banquet Klaus was put on the spot, General Gal berating him both directly and indirectly”.¹

This reference is probably more important in placing the Brigade commanders than the specific dust-up with Klaus. There are several very interesting photos in the Tamiment Library from this event.  The first which we dub “The Officer’s Photo” is a who’s-who of the leadership.Ambite Officers Photo

“The Ambite Officers” photo (Numbered) – This is photo ALBA 177_175034, Tamiment Library, NYU   — Known faces:   2- Egan Schmidt, 5 Hans Klaus, 6  Harry Haywood, 7 Vladimir Copic, 9 General Gal (Janucz Galicz), 10 George Aitken, 11 Adles Bebler, 14 Miklos Szalway (“Captain Chapayev”), 15 Gabriel Fort, 16 Tadeusz Oppman (tentative), 17 Max Milman, 18 Fred Copeman, 19 Bert Williams, 23 Steve Nelson, 24 Martin Hourihan, 25 Mirko Markovich, 26 David Mates.

Approximately a dozen important photos were taken at the event including Copic in a tete-a-tete with General Gal, the first photos of David Doran in Spain, and a very interesting photo of a number of the people on a log over the river:

The Log Photo

“The Log Photo” (numbered) This is ALBA Photo 177_175001.     The Caption has been translated to “Group photograph of the commander of the Vs (fifth) army corps H. Modesto, general Gall, Hans, and Walter (K. Sverchevskii), commander of the International Brigades’ base Vidal during inspection of the XVth Brigade – November 1937” (translation courtesy A. Zaks).   We believe, however, in the following ID:  2: Peter Winkler, 3: Hans Kahle, 5: Vladimir Copic, 6: George Aitken, 8: Lucien Vidal, 9: General Gal.  Others are not yet known.  Juan Modesto does not appear in this photograph.

This last photograph’s caption is clearly problematic as Vidal and Gal were no longer with the Brigade in November 1937, the weather does not look like November, and the people are the same as in the “Officer’s Photo”.  George Aitken who looks to be #6 in this photo was back in England in October 1937.  He also could not have been there on that date.  Untangling, these identifications in these two photos will help with some potential misidentifications in the Tamiment Archive.   These two photos are still, after 77 years, a work in progress.

Merriman’s diary is helpful with the dates of Gal’s party.  He says on the 25th, Marty Hourihan has returned to Tarazona and others in those photos have come back as well.   Winkler and the Chief of Staff of the 13th Brigade are among them.  Merriman says on the 23rd that men at the front sense that Gal has bawled out Hans Klaus.  This would tend to put this party on the 23rd or sooner.   Since on the previous diary page that the “men sense Gal bawled out Klaus”, it would indicated that the Ambite banquet was on the 23rd.

Merriman did not attend the party (nor did Dallet or Thompson or Allan Johnson).  He has Company 1 of the third battalion out on maneuvers and they get lost by going to a house where Merriman picks them up.  Meeting the residents, he finds a family who have been socialists for many years.

Paddy O'Daire

Paddy O’Daire, Mac-Pap commander August 1937 and British Battalion, November 1937. ALBA Photo 11-1277, Tamiment Library, NYU

Ryan and Robinson

Frank Ryan (left) and Robbie Robinson (right), October 1937, Quinto. ALBA Photo 11-0759, Tamiment Library, NYU

Back in Tarazona he meets with Winkler, the Chief of Staff of the 13th Dombrowski brigade and possibly with Sam Baron, who we last met in early May.    The last name is tentative and could also be read as “Visited barracks”. New men keep pouring in and Merriman mentions John Quigley Robinson and Steve Nelson who will train them.   He notes that there was a swap of Robinson for Frank Rogers in the Washington Battalion.

In increasing the staffing at the front, some more Americans and Canadians will be moving to the front.  There was a description of a “Canadian company” in the Washington Battalion during the upcoming battle of Brunete in July.  Beeching says that this Canadian “section” was led first by Canadians Paddy O’Neill then by Tom Traynor then by Bill Brennan and later by Paddy O’Daire.²  Bob Kerr, the Canadian in Albacete tasked with steering Canadians to Merriman’s third battalion said that in one Lincoln Company over half of the soldiers were Canadian and 30 Canadians were in one Washington company prior to Brunete.³  These partial companies caused a lot of confusion with historians who mixed them up with the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion which remained in Tarazona under Merriman for training.  Some Canadians will go to the front and others to the Officers’ School.  RGASPI’s archives help considerably in untangling this confusion.  The “2nd Instruction Battalion in Tarazona” has detailed lists of the companies and sections.  There is an American, a Canadian and a British company in Tarazona in July.   Men were pulled out of Tarazona to restock the Lincolns in late June and some of them were Canadians.  The 3rd Battalion will not be fully formed and trained until August.

The next morning the exercise was to protect Tarazona.  Ruby Kaufman is identified by Merriman as a problem because of a tendency to dominate the exercises.   Ed Bender, Marty Hourihan and Bill Lawrence got themselves an automobile which has been under the use of General Gal.   After a lecture and a hair cut, Merriman met with Ernest Amatniek.  Amatniek is likely sent back to Tarazona to train the Battalion in transmissions.  He will serve with the Mac-Paps.  After a grueling bridge game with Dallet and Mullinger against Marion and Bob Merriman, Merriman deals with Tom Hyde again who got a “permission” which allows him to stay with the Battalion and he requests to go to Officer Training School.   Marion Merriman says in “American Commander in Spain” that they often played bridge and that Merriman could not concentrate because he had other more pressing things on his mind.   That event could have been June 26.

Merriman says that there was an election in the camp and the best man did not win and he makes the notation (1st Co 2nd Section).  The leader of Company 1 Section 2 in July will be William Neure.4   It does not mean, however, that this is the man being discussed since the Company and Section leadership were fluid and unlikely to be retained for a full month.


¹  Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid., p. 174.

² William Beeching, Canadian Volunteers in Spain: 1936-1939, U. Regina Press, 1989, pp 44-63.

³ Michael Petrou, Renegades, ibid. pg 65.

4 RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 265, pg 13.

23-24 Junio “Men sense Gal Bawled out Klaus”

June 23-24, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for June 23 and 24, 1937

Merriman’s diary is fairly skimpy for these two days.  He gave a few lectures to the men during the day and decided on some personnel matters.   Moran is Marsden Moran.  Marsden Moran became the Alfarez in the 2nd Battalion of Instruction in Tarazona in August.¹ Previously we had identified the next line as saying “Lamb – Roger practice”,  but now we think the first word is simply “Lunch”.  Leonard Lamb was not in Tarazona at this time.  Frank Rogers we saw previously is a new arrival and he will become a Commissar in the Mac-Paps.

Marty Hourihan was to have given a lecture in the evening but he did not appear so Merriman gave his “history of the Lincolns” lecture.   Merriman announces an upcoming “Socialist competition”.  He also disciplines Tom Brown who is refusing to obey orders.   Brown would become a base instructor, be captured in Spring of 1938 during the Retreats, and be repatriated from Burgos Prison in April 1939.   Pierre Lamotte continues to struggle in finding a role in the Battalion.   He clearly did not do well on his exam on the machine gun.

In the evening or overnight hours, Merriman had a discussion with Allan Johnson and Bill Lawrence.  Likely that they were still debriefing about Harry Haywood’s attempt to represent American discontent with Vladomir Copic.  In an interesting revelation, Merriman says that the men sense that General Gal has bawled out Colonel Hans Klaus, who continues to fall in responsibility from the Brigade to the Battalion level.   Merriman does not reveal what the issue is with Klaus but we know from Eby and others that General Gal will throw a party on the 25th at his Ambite Mill villa and Colonel Klaus was a no-show.

Merriman tries to connect with Tom Wintringham but doesn’t so returns to Tarazona to play bridge in the evening with Bob Thompson and Jack Mullinger.  Mullinger should have been preparing his lectures for the following day since he apparently got in trouble the next day  because he wasn’t.

Tom Hyde continues to draw Merriman’s attention.   In this episode it appears that Hyde wishes to go to the front, since he apparently cannot work effectively in the rear without having the experience of having been in battle.  This may be a matter of gaining respect from the other men.


¹ RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 265, pg 35.

17-18 Agosto The XVth Brigade Leaves for Aragon

August 17-18

Robert Merriman’s diary for the 17th and 18th of August 1937

The pace will pick up rapidly over the next month as the XVth Brigade now goes into repetitive action.   Merriman says that “Marceau” arrives to discuss his plan for the upcoming offensive.  We are checking but Marceau is not spoken of previously in the diary 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.   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 “Nesler” returns from AWOL and one wonders if this is actually 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 to get his bags, having mixed them up when he first came.  Steve Nelson returned from Morata and says that the Americans sent to the 24th Battalion (Spanish) were integrating well.

At 3 AM on the 18th, Merriman gets the orders to move.  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 Vandenberg, 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.

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.  They 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.   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 go, but the Dimitroffs don’t move up.

Merriman eats in Tarancon with “the Rose of Tarancon”.   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.  Tarancon 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 Tarancon.