Category Archives: Belchite


September 1-2, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for September 1 and 2, 1937.

Alexander, Slater, Mildwater

Bill Alexander, Hugh Slater, and Jeff Mildwater, British Antitankers. ALBA Photo 11-1318, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman did not record events of September 1 and 2 and later wrote in the diary  under  the heading “General Comments”.   He was busy in the trenches and streets of Belchite trying to work their way into the city.   Instead it appears that Merriman is rating his commanders for future promotions.   He says Van den Berghe and Hugh Slater are working well.  Slater was the head of the British Anti-tank company.  He again complements Lou Secundy on his work in Transports/Auto-Park but says that the Intendencia is not working well.   Water and food will become a serious issue for troops on the front lines in Belchite.

Merriman notes that there are five whole Brigades (perhaps 8000 men) attacking Belchite and coordination is not easy.  He says it is hard to cut the bull.    Merriman wonders why the Fascists have not attacked this concentration of men, although he notes that there have been several good bombing runs on the Loyalist troops.  He notes that Peter Hampkins has come up from the Pozo Rubio Officer Training School but Merriman doesn’t know where to put him at this point.   Merriman is told to offer people who volunteer for raiding parties into Belchite that they will get two weeks leave in Valencia.

In the Hoover Archives at Stanford University, Mildred Bennett’s memoirs hold a notebook which is the account of Hans Amlie, the 2nd Company Commander in the 24th Battalion, of the attack on Belchite.  Too long to fully reproduce here in one segment, it give a timeline of the events of September 2 and 3 which were two very busy days for the Brigades and adds to what Merriman can only briefly tell us in his diary.  I believe from the handwriting that the diary was written by Milly Bennett when she interviewed the injured Hans Amlie in hospital in the second week of September, 1937.   She mixes her voice between his and her reporting of it.  And the notes are just that, notes of a newspaper reporter, cryptic with misspellings and abbreviations:¹

Sept 2nd – American unit assigned storm city & 1st few comrades who went forward – leader Henry Eaton, 27, Los Angeles, fell in rain machine-gun fire (polit com). Mother joined party last month . Loved by all comrades. Named co. after him. Real soldier. Never knew what fear was. Any dangerous mission he was 1st to volunteer — (son former Mayor Los A{ngeles}) said wanted to be active internat. labor defense. Another good trait – kept diary in forward gave his convictions; not a day or event that he missed. While he carried on. Obvious Mission couldn’t be carried out. About 11 am. Pulled back his body in the evening and dug a grave – wrote up a slab “Henry Eaton, a member of the Comm. party of the United States died, Sept 2nd 1937. He was a comm. A brave soldier and a comrade. He was the type of comm. that only the full knowledge of what Communism is. Could have created and it is clear also that his mother had a great influence in making him what he was long before he every heard of Communism and Spain. Soil will become enriched with his blood. The Spanish people will build a new society the type that Henry Eaton dreamt of and fought for. We name our Co. the Henry Eaton Co. and pledge to carry on”. Board from top ammunition box. On other side translation in Spanish.

3rd – whole batt called back behind lines & our co. instructed go other point – Copic gave em “pep” talk – Resumed old positions at 11am. Instructed to advance up hill and begin to carry out attack in broad daylight – while Span. comrades to advance simultaneously about 100 meters to right. At 11 all three sections in battle order ready to advance 350 meters up a hill and we were to receive as cover machinegun & artillery fire. We started. With enemy sniper & machine gun fire we very ably used the gullies natural contour of country & made a spectacular dash (with Span with you) No – they weren’t there. The rest of batt staying in posit. without moving. Gained our objective.

In a “I come not to praise Caesar” moment, Merriman admits that Copic works well and then follows it with a Russian phrase in quotations.   I have to thank a relative of mine who dug down into the dirt of our proletarian roots to give me a literal translation of “быть свойю мать”  as well as the idiomatic working-class epithet.  It literally means “he would fuck own mother”.   That would fit into the context here that Copic works hard but would not hesitate to screw his own people.   The less kind idiomatic interpretation is “fucking moron”.  In either case, Merriman doesn’t hesitate to criticize Copic for throwing people into the breach without properly preparing a strategy for the attack.

Amlie, above, also notes the Copic “pep talk” that hauled the men out of the lines on September 3.  Again it looks like Merriman has gotten a day or so ahead in his diary of events.   Another interesting note in the Amlie statement “With Span with you” in parentheses is probably Milly asking that of Amlie and getting his response “No, they weren’t there”.

Merriman notes that the kitchen situation is difficult with the five brigades wanting a unified kitchen but in reality the Americans and English have one and the Spanish 24th Brigade and Dimitrov Battalion having their own.  Merriman says that Steve Nelson is getting on ok in the battle at this point and that they want a sound truck to try to convince the villagers and fascist troops to surrender. A truck would come by the 5th of September.

On the 2nd of September (outside the notes section), Merriman says that General Sebastian Pozas Perea, head of the Army of the East, ordered an immediate attack with no preparation.   This must have echoed in Merriman’s head.  Pozas had a track record of some famous failures.  He created and was in charge of the Arganda Military Group organized at Jarama.²   It is likely that the order from the top which sent the British and Americans over the top into deadly machine guns there came from Pozas’ command.  He later led action at Huesca that failed.²  Now at Belchite, he again is moving chess pieces without feedback from his on-the-ground commanders.  In his other excellent book on the development of the Spanish Civil War, Art Landis calls Pozas “incompetent”.  During the November 6, 1936, initial assaults on Madrid, Pozas and General Miaja were given mixed up orders by Largo Caballero on whether or not to defend Madrid or passively wait for negotiation… all this as General Yaguë’s armor was rolling towards the bridges over the Manzanares.   In the midst of the battle, Pozas retired to his base at Tarançón, turning over his command to Miaja.³   Pozas would continue to be in charge of the Army of the East until after the Retreats in the Spring of 1938 where he would be replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Juan Perea.²

Some units responded to the order given by Pozas to attack (the Americans and the 153rd Anarchist Battalion) and others did not.  Hans Amlie notes above that the Spanish did not move from their positions.   The 153rd Battalion will move around the XVth to the northeast and to try to get into town from that direction.


¹  Mildred Bennett, Register of the Milly Bennett Papers, 1915-1960, ∞

²Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., p 53, 488.

³ Art Landis, Spain: the Unfinished Revolution, International Publishers, NY. p 260.

31 Agosto “A really tough day”

August 31, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for August 31, 1937

Given that Belchite would be one of the toughest assignments that the XVth Brigade would face in 1937, Merriman did not write much over the next two days.  This indicates that he was very busy without much down time to put down his notes.   Merriman carries over his sentence from August 30, saying that the “next day” orders came to attack but did not do it.  So while the Americans were in position to assault Belchite, all that happened were small probes by some units, artillery assaults, tank approaches, and some “partisan tactics” employed by Chapayev and the Dimitrov Battalion.   Merriman may be reflecting the wishes of the Army Corps command that the action proceed with haste, but Belchite was a densely occupied town with only a few routes of access in.  The town was interweaved with above ground and below ground passageways within the houses.  An attack on a house would just have the defenders move to the next house down the street.

From the northern side of the town where the Americans were lined up, a road leading from between brick building (a “barn”) and a factory channelled into a square in front of the San Agustin Church.   Fascists had machine guns in each of the churches in town and it was nearly impossible to get into Belchite.

Belchite Map

A map of Belchite from a Polish edition of “El General Walter. Sirvio a tres Banderas: Republica Espanola, Polonia y la URSS. 35 división” by Fernando Martinez de Banos Carrillo and Agnieszka Szafran. editors.  Delsan Libros, 2011. DP is Divisional Estado Mayor, BM is Mixed Brigade and BP is battalion for their relevant positions.

In the above map of Belchite (thanks to Alan Warren for the source), the 58th Battalion is the position of the Lincolns, the 59th is the Spanish Battalion and the 60th is the Mac-Pap Battalion in the XVth Brigade.  The 57th is the British position up the Mediana Road protecting from reinforcements for the Fascists.   Getting an airborne image of the current Belchite is difficult as Google Maps is intentionally blurred.  Fortunately, Michelin provides maps and air photos of the current destroyed Belchite.   Much of the initial action of which Merriman speaks are in the small area below:


Air Photo of the current Belchite. The historical town of Belchite is in the destroyed area at the bottom right of the image. The Church is San Agustin where the initial XVth Brigade battles occurred (photo courtesy Michelin Maps)

Merriman does not really know whether the Dimitrov Battalion has taken the Church (they had not).  When Merriman says “Occupied building across road” it is believed that he is referring to the Fabrica opposite the church, which could not be held because grenades kept getting lobbed into this building from the stronghold across the street.   Some Americans made it into Belchite early, including John Cookson, who set up transmissions from inside the city until Robbie Robinson ordered him out since he “was surrounded”.¹

Belchite Fabrica

Current day view of the Fabrica (yellow building) and San Agustin Church, Belchite (author’s photo)


Approach to Belchite

The road leading to the Fabrica with San Agustin on the left. Taken in 1937. ALBA PHOTO 11_1229, Tamiment Library, NYU

Dave Engels described some of the fighting around San Agustin and uses the term “barn” others have called these buildings a “mill” or a “Fabrica”.    Engels says that when the Americans tried to go into the alley between what is labelled “Fabrica” and “Barn” above, Fascists came pouring at them from the buildings behind the church.  The thick walls protected the Fascists from grenades, even though they were only a few meters from the alley.²

Again, the timeline on the attack on Belchite is clouded here.  Most historians place the American attack on Belchite as starting on the afternoon of September 1.  Yet here Merriman has already noted that Eric Nyberg and Wallace Burton had been killed on the August 31 diary pages (again, investigation by Milly Bennett on the death of Burton, her lover, places the date of his death as September 2 from a sniper who hit him between the eyes).  Merriman notes that Owen Smith and Canadian Jock Hoshooley had been wounded.   Merriman again chides Amlie for making up excuses that the losses were high.  Contemporary accounts say that of the “25” men who were mustered (the number was actually 22), only two made it back out uninjured when the retreat was ordered.   Some according to Landis (Gabby Klein and Saul Birnbaum in particular) were stuck near the ditch and could not get out until a tank approached the Church, took a couple of shots and while it was the target of the fire, the Americans backed out.³  Not to get too far ahead in the story of Belchite, Amlie places the main part of the action of his company on the 2nd and 3rd of September and we will include a transcript from his diary on the next Merriman diary page.

Merriman says that the tank actions were not effective, but maneuvering a tank into narrow alleys with no room to turn was suicidal for the tankers.   Merriman says that he spent his day in the trenches and when he called for a concentrated attack, nothing happened.  Merriman tried to move the 24th Battalion but communication was poor and contact was lost with them.  Amlie will note in his diary that they had no idea where the Lincolns were.

At the end of the day, Copic and Merriman call in the Brigade commanders but not all of them come in.  Chapayev, for one, did not show up.  Hans Amlie takes the brunt of the criticism and the commanders are reminded that Mediana is expected to be counterattacked by the 150th Division of the Fascists.  It is important that the resources being expended at Belchite move north.   Merriman says that James Bourne is now the Political Commissar so Robbie Robinson was replaced during the battle.  Merriman says that he was sick.   Merriman says that “O’Daire {is} weak”.  Paddy O’Daire took over the British Battalion upon the death of Peter Daly.   “18 men expect to go home soon and are watching themselves”.  If you thought that you soon would be out, it is possible that they would not put themselves on the line.   It is likely that these men are in the 57th Battalion and have seen many leading British comrades (Aitken, Cunningham, Tapsell, etc.) repatriated and may have inferred that this is now Brigade policy.   They did not realize that these men were removed for coming into conflict with Copic and the Brigade leadership.


¹ Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid, p 221.

² Dave Engels, Book of the XVth Brigade, ibid. pg 262.

³ Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, pg 287.

29-30 Agosto “After all this is a war”

August 29-30

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

The next battle is only a day away and the International Brigades are moving from Quinto to Belchite down the Codo Road.  Belchite had been under assault by Spanish troops for several days at this point.  Cecil Eby¹ says there were 18 assaults on Belchite before the Americans arrive at the end of August.  Eby also asserts that Belchite was an unnecessary target as the Republican forces had moved several miles west of Belchite already and had it surrounded.   With a garrison originally of 2500 and at the time of the Battle of Belchite down to 534¹, Belchite still remained a usable outpost for the Fascists and they had promised the garrison that relief was being sent from Zaragoza to rescue the troops there.   The Brigades were not going to leave an outpost which could have numbered thousands of men behind their moving front lines.  Belchite had to be taken.

Luigi Longo

Luigi Longo, Photograph from RGASPI Archives, Moscow Fond 545 Op 6 Delo 129

Colonel Vladimir Copic, General Walter visited Belchite (or as close as they could get since it was still in Fascist control).   They are nearly killed by an aviation attack and apparently one of them came back with a torn shirt.  Merriman is visited at the Estado Mayor by Bob Thompson, Briton Will Paynter and Bill Lawrence from Albacete and Tarazona.  They bring up the payroll money which should be paid to the troops on August 31.   Luigi Gallo, from Madrid, is also in the region, as is Marion Greenspan, also from the Madrid IB Headquarters.   Merriman discusses with the Albacete base visitors about the decisions made about  the Brigade command and Copic is the unanimous choice to lead the Brigade.  Clearly, Copic’s politicking has solidified his support.  It should be noted that it would be unlikely that the Brigades would change leadership during an offensive, unless absolutely necessary.

Merriman is told about new men arriving at Albacete and the status of his previous battalion (the Mac-Paps).  He finds out that Marion Merriman is also ok.   Marion makes a notation in her own memoir:

On August 29 I received a note from Bob, assuring me all was well.  Despite his condense, however, I found little comfort in the assurance; there was also word that the Americans would get no real rest after the fighting at Quinto.  They were to move on to an even harder fight.  In the push to secure the vast Aragon and eventually Saragossa, the Americans were being put to the task of taking Belchite, a city that even Napoleon could not conquer.²

Bill Frame

William Frame, Intendencia, in November 1937. ALBA Photo 11-0118, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman finds that he will get three new trucks from Bill Frame in the Intendencia.  He gets the scuttlebutt on how Rollin Dart and Joe Dallet are doing back in training at Tarazona.

Merriman takes a break with Bob Thompson and goes to the top of Purburell Hill to show him the fortifications.  The visitors probably all went onto Purburell Hill at Quinto to see the fortifications taken during the Quinto offensive.  As the first battle decisively won since Guadalajara, Quinto clearly improved the morale of the Brigades who thought they now had the Fascists on the run.

Codo Groves

The current road from Codo to Belchite, showing the groves lining the road. Source: Google StreetView.

Towards the end of the day, people start loading into trucks and move forward to Codo, which smelled unpleasantly of death.  The Spanish forces of Juan Modesto had gone through Codo in the previous week and bombing of the town was furious.  “R.F.” reported:

Seated on the floor were three men.  Not a scratch on any of them.  A dried up trickle of blood from the nose and ears of one.  All killed by concussion.  Back on the street again, we signaled to the Sanitarios.  

We enter house after house.  These have not been hit by bomb or shell. Yet they are in terrible disorder…. The occupants of these houses, forced to evacuate with the retreating Fascists, had just a few minutes to take any valuables.³

Belchite Aug 29, 1937

Civil War edition of Spanish cartographic map of 1927. The red circle shows the location of the Brigade Headquarters mentioned by Merriman

From Codo, Merriman walked to their new position which was between 2 and 3 kilometers from Belchite on the highway.  This location was in an area of olive groves which would provide significant cover from being seen from Belchite and from aircraft.  Spanish troops had been bivouacked here for nearly a week as they attacked Belchite.  The Lincolns will reinforce them.  The Codo Road comes out north of Belchite on the road that runs to Mediana to the north.  The British Battalion at this point has gone north to Mediana and will hold off the Fascist reinforcements moving down from Zaragoza.  Some men moved south onto that road on the 29-30 evening.   At this point, they would be only a kilometer outside Belchite.

On this road, Merriman says they found the burnt bodies of 32 Moorish soldiers and they buried them.   Transport began catching up with the Brigade movement.   Merriman brought up the Spanish 24th Battalion (and recall that nearly 64 Americans were in the 2nd Company of the 24th and led by Hans Amlie) and tried to attach them to the 11th Brigade.   The concentration of troops was too large and would provide a considerable target for aircraft.   As the night of the 29th ends, the Brigade moves down towards Belchite.   Merriman appears to have difficulty managing the attack since they plan to follow the 24th into Belchite.

Amlie and Copic

Hans Amlie (left) and Vladimir Copic (right), attributed to being at Quinto or Codo, ALBA PHOTO 177-175016, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman clearly is dismissive of Amlie here since movement into Belchite was slow.  He uses the derisive Russian word “старик”  (the cursive Russian looks different than the printed version) which literally translated means “old man”   but is also more derogatorily translated as “graybeard” or “old fogey”.  Amlie’s courage is now under question.   Merriman orders him to move or be removed.  Amlie is under threat of being arrested for not following the orders to attack.   He finally moves the Lincolns but they are repulsed.   Over the next six days, the Lincolns will fight their way into Belchite, street by street and even ditch by ditch.   The machine gun fire from the Church in Belchite is again withering and causes many casualties.   Merriman suggests that many of these casualties were caused by not keeping close contact with the 24th Battalion and making the decision to move into Belchite.   He says “After all this is a war”.

There are dozens of stories on this first attack on Belchite.  Eby places the date as September 1¹, but clearly Merriman has written about Amlie’s weakness in forcing the attack on the August 30 page. The initial attack by 22 Americans was into withering machine gun fire and only 2 Americans survived it.   Over the next week, many assaults would be made on Belchite and Merriman will relate those stories in upcoming diary pages.

Hans Amlie’s notebooks (Hoover Institution, Milly Bennett collection) also place the first movement on Belchite on the morning of September 1.  Merriman is clearly using his diary after the fact and the dates cannot be trusted.  While Merriman accuses Amlie of dallying, Amlie says this (transcription of the free hand by RMH1):

About 2 {probably on the 31st August} Estado put a Span. company in charge of the city.  Quinto.  Moved on to Pina stat.  Af five we again found 24th Batt. waiting for further orders.  Our trucks moved to Codo.  In afternoon went about 2 kms.  Evening aero came over and observed.  Men slept in Belchite about one km.  That nite about 1 am batt. commander sent runner ask for volunteers for special bombing squad.  Our comp. needed an example.  We don’t know what’s up.  Must be like Quinto.  Charlie Regan, former soldier American army got up first – (4 also volunteered but turned down one because he machine gunner).

Garcia, Detro, Thompson, Aguila, and O'Daire

Photograph 177_191110 (reverse of 11_0731): Captain Abad Garcia, Commissars Phil Detro, Bob Thompson, Captains Aguila (Commander of the 24th Battalion) and Paddy O’Daire (Commander of the 57th Battalion), probably late fall 1937, Tamiment Library ALBA collections, NYU Bobst Library, New York.

Batt Commander Aguilar “Have you got volunteers?”

“Yes, four.” Towards Spaniards, “took four American Volunteers” –   Then some of Spanish stepped up.

Bombers never called down & we 1 1/2 kms from Belchite.  — established crude French position on right hand side road.  Avion came up with dawn & dropped bombs all around us.  Several hours later batt. ordered to take another flank.   While in movement enemy machine gun fire.  That morning we had us breakfast!  300-400 meters from walls of Belchite.  Artillery and tanks gave fire.  Was there enough?  What is enough?

Busied ourselves whole day playing lite machine guns.  Putting up observations posts. Studied terrain.  Distributed our section in organized manner.  Noisy day.  Machine gun – felt like a war was going on.  Avion sunup & sundown where shadow on terrain and able to detect our positions.  Haze – from heat.   Obvious that in attacks from across they had free rein.  No … air craft of ours.   At Mediana, we told comrades  high command must have had more serious position.

Our men for 1st time subjected strain fire without sufficient protection.  Enemy machine guns and snipers.

Amlie, of course, never mentions the questioning of his courage or leadership of the men.  In his view, his Company went as far as they could with the support they had.   Logistically, keeping close contact between the front line troops and supplies is impossible and food and water again become an issue for the troops.  Merriman suggests that there is discussion of rebellion.  Merriman sets up a guard for the night of the 30th and works on getting a supply line forward.   John Quigley “Robbie” Robertson, the Lincoln Commissar, is out sick at this point and was unable to coordinate these needs.


¹ Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid., p 219-220.

² Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., p. 166.

³ R. F., Book of the XVth Brigade, ibid, p 257.

27-28 Agosto The International Brigades move north without food

August 27-28, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for August 27 and 28, 1937


Panorama of Codo. ALBA PHOTO 11-1266, Tamiment Library, NYU

With Quinto behind the Brigade, there is a short breather to try to explain the overall ambitious plan for the Aragon offensive.   Attacks took place from the Republican army on the Fascists all the way from the Basque region to Teruel.  The XVth Brigade was about in the midpoint of the attacks.  Kleber’s army division advanced to within six kilometers of Zaragoza.  Lister’s  motorized troops made an attack on Fuentes del Ebro but were not able to get closer than 1.8 km.   The XVth is being readied for another push where they will solidify the left flank and head to Belchite.   From Quinto this means going through the already taken town of Codo, between Belchite and Quinto.   A description of the order of battle can be found on this website.


A map of the Aragon region under attack. The northern salient has approached Zaragoza and Quinto is taken. The front needs to be pushed westward.

Art Landis¹ makes the point that this whole offensive was to turn the Nationalist forces away from Bilbao, but on 25 August, Bilbao and the Euskadi fell.   Only parts of the Asturian region remained in Loyalist hands.   And, Franco had sufficient forces at this point to fight on several fronts so they were not diverted from the Basque region until they were no longer needed.  Shortly hundreds of airplanes and thousands of Italians would be available to move south to counter the Loyalist push.  The window of opportunity where the Fascist troops would not be reinforced was closing rapidly.

Merriman heads north to find the Dimitrov Battalion and realizes that the Brigade is outrunning its supply lines.  They managed to bring up a hospital train to remove the wounded, but they were without food and without trucks to move.  The whole Brigade had only 20 trucks.   Merriman went with Bill Skinner, Sid Shostek and “Morry”.   Morry could be Maurice Stamm or Maury Colow or any one of a number of Morris’s or Maurices.   It likely could be Maurice Constant who was on staff and who was slightly injured in Quinto.  They come under attack by artillery and machine guns and then they come under bombardment by brand new shiny Italian Caproni bombers.   Merriman returns to Quinto and ends up taking a bath in a ditch filled with “very fine water”.   The Brigade Headquarters are in a culvert under the road and Merriman has trouble keeping people out of the HQ because it probably is one of the safer places to be.  In a curious sentence, Merriman combines “Much food and fear” with what looks to be “spoon bent” .   One wonders if Merriman had an engraved spoon from Marion Greenspan with this phrase.  We may never know what this is about.

The next day does not bring better news about food.  While the Brigade is resting and not moving, they are not eating either.  Merriman says this has to be cured of there will be a riot.  Lou Secundy moves up to the front from the Autopark to help with logistics.  Secundy promises another 30 trucks for the Brigade.  Logistics are costing the Brigade the element of momentum.  They have the concentration of troops for attacks (Merriman says “several”) but they are not fed and cannot move, except on foot.

Merriman and Copic are busy with some administrivia on nominations for promotions.  Copic makes decisions on the grades leaders of various size groups should have.   Merriman says that the 102a Brigada Mixta, which was the XVth Brigade’s side of the Ebro and ahead of them, is very inexperienced and that he appreciates the help of the 11th Brigade under Lister who are helping out in field movements and organization.



¹ Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, pp 261-280.


7-8 Septiembre “Lazy Day”

September 7-8

Robert Merriman’s diary for September 7 and 8, 1937

Merriman finds out that his adjutant Sidney Shosteck was shot on September 6.   Shosteck was walking with a prisoner behind a tank and was killed by a sniper.  Marion Merriman fills in some details:

Only the square admitted enough light for Bob and me to read the Fascist posters still stuck to broken walls, posters depicting the horrors of Marxism rather than the horrors of the war that a small group of Fascists had started.  I noticed there were posted rules for the modesty of young women, rules requiring long skirts and long sleeves, saying sin is woman’s because she tempts man.  There were no posters promising a government for all of the people.

As we walked, the thought of Sidney Shosteck, so young and sincere and intelligent, who should have walked beside us, heightened my sense of tragedy of the ruined city.  Bob told me again how he had sent Sid into Belchite on a mission after most of the fighting was over, not believing his aid to be in any real danger.

Fascist Barracks

The Falangist barracks in Belchite. Near where Sidney Shosteck was killed. ALBA PHOTO 11-1227, Tamiment Library, NYU

“Sidney was killed outright,” Bob said.  “I feel his loss more than any other person I’ve known here.”  Bob had kept Sid out of the street fighting as much as possible.  Then, in a crucial moment, he had sent him to direct a tank with a prisoner to show them where the military headquarters of the Fascists were.  The prisoner went to the front of the tank and Sidney behind.  But a second-story sniper shot Sid in the forehead.  He never knew what hit him, Bob, said shaking his head as we walked.   He added, quietly, “Sidney’s loss here is great.  It will be felt by all of us.”

As Bob talked, I held his arm.  I felt I had to support him….  Suddenly we heard piano music.  “Look,” Bob said, quietly, hushing me before I could respond.  There, across a street in half a house, the front walls blown away, the inside looking like a stage, sat a Spanish solider at a grand piano, playing Beethoven.¹

Merriman is sorry that he cannot find the body but otherwise doesn’t reveal his true feelings.   He says that Wattis was injured as was Bill Wheeler and Sidney was killed “while I sang Russian songs”.  One wonders if Merriman was feeling guilt because he was with Copic instead of his men.   Merriman works on administrative duties on the 7th and hears the story about the 12th Army Corps (in which the Spanish 153rd Brigade resides) making claims of having taken Belchite on September 3.  This is the story that General Walter documented in his exit document in November 1938.   This story will ripple for days.

Constancia de la Mora, of the Foreign Press Office, and Milly Bennett are in Belchite but Merriman misses them.  They are with a reporter from what appears to be a Russian wire service or newspaper.  From Marion’s memoir, it is likely that she is with them as well.  Merriman was in Azaila on the road to Hijar where there was a field hospital.   Steve Nelson was there and Merriman talks to him and signs him up for more political duties.   Paul Block, who was the Commissar of Company 3, died in the hospital.   It appears that Dr. Irving Busch was the head of the hospital and looked in on Nelson.

North, Merriman and Minor

Joe North, Bob Merriman, Lou Secundy, Earl Browder, Vladimir Copic, Bob Minor, David Doran and Briton David Kamy, Teruel, January 1938. ALBA Photo, 11_1865, Tamiment Library, NYU

The political staff from Albacete arrives:  Joe North of the Daily Worker, Bill Lawrence, Ed Bender, Bob Minor and a “Ken” who may be a Russian advisor.   Merriman returns to the Brigade Headquarters north of Belchite.   He says that Minor, Busch and Steve discussed things late into the night but Merriman went to sleep.  The order here is jumbled because it would have been impossible for Nelson to move with his injury.

On the morning of the 8th, North and Bender go into Belchite with Merriman.   Merriman sees looting going on and apparently does not try to stop it.   He, himself, picks up two blankets for Marion.   While the Americans might think this is the “spoils of war”, the conflict between the Spanish and Internationals over integration of the Brigades into the Spanish Army would be aggravated if the Spanish believed that the Americans were stealing from the people.

Fred Lutz

Abe Harris, two unknown soldiers, and Frederick Lutz at the Brigade Intendencia at Mondejar.   It is possible that one of the two unknown men in this photo is Ernesto Martinez.

Merriman fights with George Kaye and Ernesto Martinez over the operation of the Intendencia.   Ernesto Martinez and Frederick Lutz would lead the Intendencia into April, 1938² .  Food was missing for several days in Belchite and even water was in short supply at the beginning of the assault.   Copic thinks the Intendencia did ok, but Merriman disagrees and had to deal with the risk of rebellion in the ranks because supplies were slow to follow the troops in.  Merriman sends George Kaye back to Perales to get more supplies.   Merriman says that he has a tiff with British Political Commissar Mark Millman.

Merriman sees a copy of “Our Fight”, the newspaper published by the Brigades and talks to Frank Ryan who was the editor of the paper.   Merriman finishes the day noting that snipers are still around and killed two of the Brigade cavalry.


¹ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., pp 172-3.

² RGASPI Archives, Fond 545/Opus2/Delo 118/p130, Moscow.