Category Archives: Brigade organization

15-16 Agosto Getting on top of the Brigade

August 15-16
Robert Merriman’s diary for the 15th and 16th of August, 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 Vanderberg or Vanderberghe 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.

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 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 not get it 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 “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).


¹ Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors, ibid.

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

August 11-12
Robert Merriman’s diary from 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 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 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.   When Steve Nelson and Ralph Bates arrived, Merriman accompanied them to Albacete.

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 25, 1937. Tamiment Photo 177-175018

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).  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 Markovich (another Slav, although American) survived the housecleaning and will become information officer.

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.  Elias Begelman was also in the discussions and apparently was too garrulous for Merriman.


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

19-20 Julio Much News from Front

July 19-20
Robert Merriman’s diary for July 19 and July 20, 1937

Merriman’s diary for July 19 was filled with news and he even needed to include another half page from the notes page at the end of June.   Merriman tells that Joe Dallet and Bob Thompson had a difficult session on the morning of the 19th with considerable criticism including accusations that orders are not being followed.  Returning in the afternoon, Merriman reveals that the men voted to have Seaman Louis Oliver become Commissar.  Merriman thinks the men made a mistake and calls Oliver a “bluffer”.    On the 20th, Merriman repeats the claim that men are already complaining about Seaman Oliver.  Oliver will arise again in the diary in September as he again clashes with Merriman.

Frank Chesler
Hyman (Frank) Chesler, Autopark, ALBA Photo 11-0015, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman says that Bill Carroll will be going to Pozo Rubio to go to Officer’s Training School.  In a string of disciplinary notations, he says that Jesse Wallach had to be reprimanded for spreading rumors.  In the Autopark, Lou Secundy was having problems with Frank Chesler.  As an aside, I actually learned to swim in Frank Chesler’s pool in the 1950’s.   I thought he looked like Soupy Sales in the photo on the right.


The results of the battles near Brunete are filtering back to Tarazona.  Merriman notes that the Lincolns and Washington’s were joined into the Lincoln-Washington Battalion.   The number of effectives was down to 280 with 150 wounded and 30 dead.  He notes that Marko Markovics is in charge of the Battalion with Van der Berg (Vanderberg) second in command.  Steve Nelson was the Battalion commissar and was noted to have done a fine job at Brunete.    Denis (Dennis) Jordan, the Machine Gun Company commissar was also noted to have helped.  D. R. “Pat” Stephens mentions Jordan at Brunete:

The last of our troops crossed the river bed and the full retreat began. Our machine gun commissar, Denis Jordan, saw that one of our machine gun group was retreating without its gun. It was commanded by a Finn from Minnesota named Sunstrum. Jordan asked him where his machine gun was and he seemed aware for the first time that the machine gun was left behind. He and his group went back to the hill to retrieve it. We could not wait for them; we were in danger of being encircled. I asked Jordan if I could stay behind with my group to give support for Sunstrum and his men. Jordan said I could, but warned me to be careful. He said if Sunstrum and his men were not back soon I was to retreat and rejoin the battalion. I did not have to wait long. The men came back with the gun and we hurried back through the woods to rejoin the battalion. Jordan was worried, and had sent two patrols looking for us. One of the patrols was led by Mo Teitelbaum {Morris Granat} from Chicago. While looking for us, he had met an enemy patrol. An exchange of fire had taken place and Teitelbaum was wounded in the stomach.¹

Others did not fare as well.  Vincent Usera was removed from the Lincoln-Washington Battalion and sent back to Tarazona to help out with training.   Steve Nelson was critical of Usera and Milton Wolff told Cecil Eby that Usera said that he had been planted in the Lincolns as an agent of the US Government².  Harry Haywood said that Usera had left his post without permission and was dismissed by the Battalion Staff.³  Art Landis relates the events of July 9, 1937, in the attempt to take Mosquito Ridge (a.k.a. Mosquito Crest):

The Lincolns moved into the captured Fascist positions on the line of the knoll.  They established a makeshift headquarters in some trees immediately to the read.  At a hurried staff meeting held by Law, Nelson, {Paul} Burns and Usera, it was decided that the assault should continue; that they would attack immediately.  Oliver Law, Burns and Usera were to take the men over.  Nelson was to go only as far as the opposite ridge of the barranca and not attempt the slope until the forward movement had attained some degree of success…..  The advance began again. Paul Burns took the No. 1 Company over; Oliver Law the Second…  {Landis then relates the death of Oliver Law at the head of his troops}….

The Lincoln dead numbered between fifteen and twenty, with another thirty to forty wounded, among them Paul Burns, the courageous No. 1 Company Commander.  The Battalion pulled back from the slope to the knoll and set up positions there.  Steve Nelson now assumed full command of the Battalion.  The adjutant, Vincent Usera, had, for some unaccountable reason, failed to go over with the men.  He went to Brigade Headquarters instead.  Upon knowledge of this, he was summarily dismissed from the staff by Nelson, {Sid} Levine, and the remaining officers. 4

Eby is more graphic with the story:

When telephone lines opened, Colonel {Hans} Klaus {who was in command because of Copic’s injury by shrapnel} reported to Nelson that Vincent Usera was at brigade headquarters saying that the Lincolns had been smashed and asked for more reinforcements.  “We’re not in a safe position”, Usera said.  “No frontline position is safe!” Nelson bellowed.  “You get the hell back here!”  On his return, “cheery and crisp”  Usera coolly said he was ready to command the Lincolns, but the men were not having it.  “You’d be a helluva guy to give orders.  We haven’t seen you the whole fucking day!” exclaimed Carl Bradley of the staff.  Usera drew himself up, “Am I not the adjutant of the battalion?”  “No, you’re not”, broke in Nelson.  “Report to Brigade.  Leave your pistol here.”  After writing a note declaring he was at their disposal, Usera gave a smart parade-ground salute and faded away.²

This one episode is very indicative of the power and role of a Commissar in representing the interests of the men.

Merriman makes the accusation that Harry Haywood was a coward and drunk.  Harry Haywood is an enigma.  Haywood was in the Lenin School with Copic.³   His greatest flaws probably come from being the ranking Communist Party member in Spain and having insufficient military training to be effective in what he was asked to do.   In his own autobiography, Haywood relates what he saw at Brunete:

We continued to march in the direction of Brunete to our new attack position, avoiding the road as much as possible.  Hitler’s and Mussolini’s planes were already bombing the roads.  Towards the evening we halted for the night.  Cunningham was called to brigade headquarters to get the plan of action for the next day.  At the time I thought it was strange that I had not been called.  Jock returned and unfolded a military map, asking me if I could read it.  Having no experience in military map reading, I said no.  He abruptly folded the map and marched off without saying another word, apparently having confirmed some derogatory judgement of me.

I mention this incident because from that time on, there seemed to be a definite cooling in our relationship.  At the time, I wondered if there was any connection between this action and an incident with {George} Nathan earlier that morning.  I had been standing roadside waiting for the Washington Battalion to pass so I could fall in with them.  Nathan, the chief operations officer for the brigades, marched past.  Out of the side of his mouth he snarled, “You’ll get yours”.

This came so suddenly and so threateningly, that I was taken aback.  I yelled after him, “What did you say?”  But he kept going without looking back.   Now, putting these incidents together, I began for the firsts time to suspect that the hand of Col. Copic was at work, and that he had begun lining brigade staff up against me in order to even the score.³

Later, when after Haywood was confronted by Cunningham, Copic was reported to tell Haywood,  “I told you these guys were no good, but you sided with them against me”, he beamed.  “What are you going to do now?”³

It is disappointing to see the jockeying for position which occurred around Copic and how he played his officers off against each other.   In conclusion, one cannot be sure that Merriman’s statements about Haywood had any foundation and that they may have been part of a deus ex machina to get Haywood out.   Haywood’s downfall essentially started from the Americans’ attempt and failure to have Vladimir Copic removed as Commander of the XVth Brigade, and Haywood’s visible lead in that attempt.  Haywood would say that he had to agree with the leading comrades that his position in the Brigades was untenable after Brunete and he agreed with Earl Browder about repatriation to the US.

Other black comrades had scandalous accusations made about them at Brunete as well.  Walter Garland was accused by Cunningham of taking an ambulance to the rear and not returning.  Garland argued that he was ordered to take men to the dressing station.   And the worst accusations came against Oliver Law himself with later stories invented about him being shot by his own men.  Grover Furr has responded to these allegations in the ALBA Volunteer.   One must recall the times.  No African-Americans had ever commanded white units in wartime and while African-Americans participated fully in World War I, they were led by generally wealthy American National Guard commanders.  Blacks returned from WWI to the US to face the same Jim Crow who was taunting them as they marched outside southern military bases in the US.5  While the general positive attitude of the Lincolns towards integration of the Brigades was apparent, in a group of 1000 Americans, one could have expected hostility towards these black officers from some of the men, even if they were great military leaders.

Dave Mates was pulled out and sent back to the US.   Merriman speaks about a new policy requested by the Communist International (CI or Comintern) to save cadres, i.e. not have all Communist Party men killed in action.   In some moves, Jesse Wallach has requested a safe job.  David Jones, who was injured at Jarama, will be repatriated.  George Brodsky is to move to the Mac-Paps.  DeWitt (“Eric”) Parker will go to work with Ed Bender in Albacete.  Jock Cunningham was a fine fellow but he is criticized for not being a military man.  Briton Robert Traill was killed at Brunete.  As shown in a previous photo, Vladimir Copic was wounded by shrapnel.  Rollin Dart will come to the Lincoln-Washington Battalion to fill in for the wounded and killed leadership.   Usera’s removal led to him going to Tarazona to help in training the Mac-Paps.

July 19 Notes
Additional notes for July 19, 1937
Dr. Julius Hene, May 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0215, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman had more to relate from July 19 and these notes contrast with the intense reorganization seen on the diary pages for that date.  Merriman goes to the Secorro Rojo International (SRI) Number 1 hospital to meet with Rubin Kaufman ,who shot himself in the foot in training.   There he meets with a Dr. Hans who wants to go to the front and have an American replace him.  Merriman puts in a word for Julius Hene who had been the doctor in Tarazona for the Mac-Paps.  It seems he is suggesting a swap of positions here.

Merriman goes to see Lucien Vidal and the man we now have identified as Jean Schalbroeck (not Schallrock as previously transcribed).  Our friends at the Belgian Facebook group, Les Belges de la XIV Brigade Internationale, have provided a short biography on Jean Schalbroeck (Sven Tuytens, personal communication, and with many thanks):

Né le 9 juin 1912 à Etterbeek (Bruxelles), mort à Mauthausen le 17 juillet 1942 ; militant de la Jeunesse communiste de Belgique, chargé de missions en Allemagne, capitaine à l’État Major des Brigades Internationales, résistant.

Jean Schalbroeck à Albacète

A Albacète, dans l’État Major d’André Marty
Jean Schalbroeck acheva ses études secondaires à l’Athénée d’Ixelles. Ses parents s’étant séparés, il quitta très tôt le domicile familial. Employé dans une firme industrielle allemande à Bruxelles, il était membre du syndicat des employés Membre des Jeunesses communistes depuis 1932 à Bruxelles, secrétaire de section, il entra au PC en 1934, mais demeura militer à la JC, puis aux JGSU, Il accomplit alors, vraisemblablement pour l’IC ou le KPD, des missions en Allemagne nazie.

Il s’engagea dans les Brigades Internationales en octobre 1936 et fut promu lieutenant en février 1937, capitaine en juillet 1937. Après avoir combattu dans la 35e Division, il fut ensuite affecté à la base d’Albacète en juillet 1937. ll parlait anglais, allemand, néerlandais, espagnol et français.

En octobre 1937, il devint chef d’État Major, secrétaire administratif de Marty, puis chef du service des investigations et de l’enregistrement des décédés au combat. Mal noté en septembre 1938, car « travaille mécaniquement sans aucune ligne politique et a commis dès lors de graves erreurs », il était en passe d’être déplacé. En revanche, Lise London qui le côtoya à Albacète, ne tarit pas d’éloges à son propos. Il quitta l’Espagne au début de 1939, demeura en France et ne revint en Belgique qu’au début de l’occupation. Il effectua des voyages en France occupée. Son activité est mal connue. Il travaillait dans une imprimerie et s’occupa de la propagande du PC dans le Brabant wallon. Il était cependant en liaison avec une petite équipe dirigée par un ancien officier des BI qui faisait du commerce au bénéfice du PC et qui touchait de près des membres de l’Orchestre Rouge. C’est à l’occasion d’un rendez vous avec eux qu’il fut arrêté le 29 avril 1942 à Bruxelles. Il vivait alors avec Ady Cortvrient, une militante du PCB.

Déporté à Mauthausen, il y succomba très rapidement.

SOURCES : RGASPI 495 193 416, Dossiers belges des BI ; Interviews Rachèle Gunzig et de Rose Lefevre-Genin ; Lettre d’Adry Cortvrient. — Lise London, Le printemps des camarades, Paris, 1998.

Edwin Rolfe, RGASPI photo Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 975, Moscow

Merriman reveals that Lou Secundy and Vincent Usera were kind enough to help out a couple of nurses who were lonely.

On the 20th, Merriman speaks with “Harper and Rolphe”.  This is possibly Wiley Harper and most certainly the writer Edwin Rolfe, who was the Cultural Director for the Lincolns.   Merriman again brings up Louis Cantor as a problem and he appears to be positive about Vincent Usera’s contribution in training since Seaman Oliver is not working out.

Benjamin Katine, RGASPI Photo Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 919, Moscow

Merriman says that he “lunched” with  Howard Hooker and found work for him (thanks to Chris Brooks for the correction… will be edited in the transcription later).  “Ramón” again came to camp for training, this time to work with a crew of snipers.  In the Staff meeting, more assignments were made with Bob Thompson becoming the Chief of Staff for the Battalion and William Neure as his assistant.   Elliot Loomis will move up from being a driver to Liaison Officer.  Benjamin Katine will take Loomis’s place as a driver.   Art Landis helps in aligning the leadership of the Mac-Paps in October:


Commander       Capt. Robert Thompson
Adjutant               Lt. Harry Schonberg
Commissar         Joseph Dallet

Company One

Commander       Lt. William Wheeler
Adjutant               Lt. William Neure
Commissar         John Blair

Company Two

Commander      Lt. Isidore Schrenzel
Adjutant              Spanish (unknown)
Commissary      Spanish (unknown)

Company Three

Commander      Lt. Joseph Dougher
Adjutant              Lt. Jack Thomas
Commissar       Wallace Sabatini

Machine Gun Company

Commander       Capt. Niilo Makela

Adjutant                 Lt. Ruby Kaufman

Commissar            Thomas Malone4

Catching up on those he sent to the brig, apparently Cantor has repented and wants to come back to the battalion.   Tom Hyde still is in jail at this point but will be out shortly. Ten drunks were arrested and put into jail.


¹ D. R. Pat Stephens, A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War An Armenian-Canadian in the Lincoln Battalion, Canadian Committee on Labour History, 2000. pg. 65-66.

² Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid, pg 192.

³ Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik, Univ. Of Minnesota Press,  1978, pg 482.

4 Art Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, pp 206-207.

5 Richard Slotkin, Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality, Holt Paperbacks, 2010.


21-22 Junio Company Commanders in the 3rd Battalion Decided

June 21-22, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for June 21 and 22, 1937
Niilo Makela
Niilo Makela, as Commissar of the Mac-Paps, 1938. ALBA Photo 11-1281, Tamiment Library, NYU
Jesse Wallach
Jesse Wallach, as Secretary of the Mac-Pap Battalion, 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0947, Tamiment Library, NYU

The third English Speaking Battalion will come to be known as the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion although they won’t be referred to as such for another week.  At this point, formation of the first company is at hand, and Canadian Niilo Makela has been named as the commander of Company 1.   “Coapman” is probably Fred Copeman, an Englishman who fought through Jarama, and who will be a Section Leader.   Wallach is likely to be Canadian Jesse Wallach who is being sent to Officer’s school.  Canadian William Skinner will be the commissar in the section and American Carl Bradley will become the Company political commissar.  Since the Canadian William Bradley had already been a disciplinary problem, it is unlikely he would be assigned this sensitive political posting.  This is a top heavy officer cadre and likely Merriman was readying some of these men for leadership of the second company which would be formed when sufficient troops were available.

Merriman seems to say that he filed a plan of instruction for the Battalion with the Brigade Etat Major in Albacete (although the words which look like “4 who” don’t make sense in this context). {Note added: Chris Brooks’ comment below offers a correction to “4 wks – weeks – plan of instruction}.  Kudos on reading the handwriting}  Merriman is still interested in gaining information on the failed coup against Copic so he drives to Pozo Rubio where Englishmen George Nathan and Tom Wintringham are leading exercises with probably an Italian named Mazzi.   Apparently, they were loose lipped enough to let their feelings out on the realignment of the leadership.  George Nathan wants to be Copic’s Chief of Staff with Wintringham as his Adjutant.  Since it is unlikely that there would be two Chiefs of Staff at the Brigade level, the next line “Johnson Chief” is confusing.  The Brigade will divide into two regiments and Nathan will lead one while Miklos Szalway (Chapayev) will lead the other.  Allan Johnson will remain in the school so it is possible that Merriman intended to say that Johnson would be Chief of Instruction.   Jock Cunningham is being proposed for a line command and George Aitken as a political commissar in the field.   The British say that they are against Copic and Klaus but it is likely that this is what Merriman just wanted to hear.  Cecil Eby’s review of this event says the British aligned with Copic.   Apparently Nathan tells Merriman that Vidal has told him that “Copic is in” and will be in charge of 1/2 the Brigade and that the “G” (which could be German Thaelmann or more likely, Italian Garabaldi) battalion would be split.   Merriman’s diary should not be viewed as authoritative since this is not quite the lineup that occurs over the next two weeks in preparation for the Battle of Brunete.  Merriman says that this is his last time in his old bed, so he will be moving from Pozo Rubio to Tarazona permanently.

On the 22nd, the training was again followed up by a fiesta where the officers finally have had a chance to give their “stunt”.  Merriman says it goes over well enough but the Canadian Allan Knight was a “rage” and was awarded a prize.  Many of the significant leadership of the Brigade were in Pozo Rubio for this celebration.

Over the next few days, there will be a dinner celebration held at Ambite Mill which was General Gal’s headquarters.  Almost all of the International Brigade leadership will be required to attend.   This meeting was held between June 23-25 (exact date is not yet determined) but some of the leaders above will go and some will not.  Merriman, Dallet, Bender, Lawrence, Johnson do not attend that meeting.   The British (Aitken and Nathan) and Martin Hourihan and Steve Nelson (who were closer to the resting points of the Lincolns at Albares, the British at Mondejar, and the Washington’s at Morata) do attend.  More on this event in a coming post.


31 Mayo Looking into the workings of the XVth Brigade

May 31
Robert Merriman’s Diary from May 31, 1937

Robert Merriman has intense days in 1937 where he writes a lot and even (like today) needs a continuation page.  This particular diary entry is illuminating for his frankness about the dynamic of the leadership of the XVth Brigade and the Vth Army Corps to which it belonged.  We might pause to review this, this is the organization of the IB’s (also in Thomas¹) about May of 1937:

Vth Army Corps led by General Gall (Janos Galicz); Hans Claus, Chief of Staff

XI Brigade (“Ernst Thaelmann Brigade”)  led by General Kleber (11/36-11/36), Colonel Hans Kahle¹ (11/36-3/37) and Maj Richard Staimer (4/37-12/37) with Ludwin Renn (Chief of Staff)

XII Brigade (“Lukacs Brigade”)  led by General Pavol Lukacs¹ (Mátá Zalka)

XIII Brigade (“Dombrowski Brigade”) led by General Gómez (Wilhelm Zaisser)¹

XIV Brigade (“The Marseillaise Brigade”) led by Colonel Putz¹ (who went to Bilbao in June) and General Walter (Karol Swierczewski)  after June 15 1937

XV Brigade (XVth Brigada Mixta, “English Speaking Brigade”)  led by Vladimir Copic¹ and formed on February 8:

First regiment (English Speaking) May/June 1937 led by George Nathan

16th (later 58th Battalion; “The British Battalion”) led by Fred Copeman in spring-summer 1937

17th (later 58th Battalion; “The Lincoln Battalion”) Led by Merriman then Marty Hourihan and then Oliver Law (4/37-7/37).  Marty Hourihan was promoted to Regimental Staff.

20th (“The Washington Battalion”, 22 May-14 July 1937)  led by Mirko Markovics.  In May the Washingtons were still in training and after the battle of Brunete, the Washington Battalion was combined with the Lincoln Battalion.

The 60th Battalion – Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion – was not formed until after 29 June.  This was “The Third Battalion” in Merriman’s diary initially led by Robert Merriman, later by E Cecil-Smith)

Second Regiment (non-English speaking)

14th Battalion – The Dimitrov Battalion (largely Slavic) lead by Chapaiev who served as the Second Regiments leader as well.

19th (later 14th Brigade; French Sixth of February battalion)  led by Gabriel Fort

24th (“Voluntario 24″ , later absorbed into the 59th Spanish Battalion”) – This battalion which contained many anarchist units was decimated over the summer of 1937.

International Cavalry Squadron

With this review, we see that Merriman rose on the 31st for work and the new uniform goes into the closet and he switches to his work clothes.  After some infantry and machine gun lectures, Merriman meets with the men and provides criticism.   Merriman spells “Snyder” but this is Murray Schneider.  Schneider is dressed down for participating too much and “Avgherinos”  for participating too little.  Jim Carmody caught the fact this this must be Hercules Avgherinos and not Costas Avgherinos who was dead by this point.  From Carmody:

Hercules later became a member of SIM, and was involved in tracking down Anarchists and others who were helping deserters from the IB’s onto ships and out of Spain. He was later based in Barcelona and was part of the IB Delegation there. He was repatriated from Spain in October,1938.²

Irving Morrison, Steve Daduk and Ed Flaherty are released to Albacete where they will be sent back to the US.  Daduk will return on July 2 and Flaherty on July 31 to the US.  Morrison however will not return until 1938.  On June 1, Merriman will include Sterling Rochester in this group and it is possible he mixed up the names.

General Gall arrives at lunchtime with David Zaret ( real name Daniel Abraham Zaretsky  aka Daniel Zorat aka David A. Jarrett) who was Copic’s Chief of Staff.  Gall’s interest was meeting with his countrymen from Hungary but Merriman wanted to show off his new technology (a mirror to be used when firing a machine gun and keeping your head down).  Gall took a turn at the gun.  Meanwhile Merriman got Zaret to reveal details of a high level party meeting between Gall and the leading American CP cadres Harry Haywood , Bill Lawrence and Bob Minor.   This enclave which lasted most of a day clearly got into the details of who would go where in the new reorganized Brigade.   Recall that Merriman blamed Copic for the disaster of the 27th of February and he expected Copic to be removed.   Zaret lets Merriman know that Allan Johnson had been cleared of the accused “desertion to the front” of April 5 and that more responsibility will be given to Johnson and Copic’s removal is under consideration.  Through the lens of time, Zaret must have been in a tough spot with loyalty to the Americans and working for Copic and hearing that Copic is only being warned to “shape up”.  Copic’s political skills were extensive and his support within the Comintern was not negligible.  Merriman’s activitism to have Copic removed will fail here and fail frequently over the next year.

Gall’s thinking is revealed to Merriman and he will be adjutant for Marcovics in Tarazona for the (still to be named) Washington Battalion.  Given a choice between Marcovics and Merriman he is told they are both from “Mexico”, i.e. the Soviet Union.  This would indicate that Merriman is being given credit for his time in Russia, although according to Marion Merriman Wachtel,  he was studying agricultural economics.  Whether this indicates that he was studying more than agriculture or whether Merriman has claimed that his time in Russia gave him status with the CP is not clear.  Zaret says that the conclusion was that Merriman would go back to a line position either as head of the Lincolns or as head of the new Battalion (the Washington).   Since Oliver Law was in charge of the Lincoln and Marcovics believed that the Washington was his, Merriman will have to bump one of them aside.  He says Gall decides he is to go to Tarazona (i.e. go to the Washington Battalion, with Markovics).

Marcovics must have had his informants out because he races over to Pozorubio on a motorcycle and found out what is going on.   Dave Mates who was the Commissar for the new Washington Battalion was getting “weak” so Merriman suggests to Marcovics that he become Marcovics adjutant in the Washington Battalion.  Marcovics is so thrilled with this idea that he asks to see the orders first.  He told Merriman a flat No!   Merriman must have been totally taken aback.  They later go to see Gall to get the word directly and Gall tells Marcovics that as Adjutant, Merriman would “sit on your left”.   Whether this is to be taken literally or not, it does bring to mind Mark 10:37 where James and John asked Jesus:

They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.

If it was a biblical reference, Gall must have had quite the sense of humor.

In the next sentence, Merriman is encouraged to practice his Russian again and he says he will speak to “gegymka”, written is longhand but in print in Russian дедушка , “dedushka” (thanks to Barry McLoughlin and Alex Zaks for the transcription).  A dedushka is Russian for “Grandfather”.   It sounds as if he will be going to a  senior Russian advisor to speak about “weapons, etc.”  but given the prior discussion and train of thought, one must question whether Merriman is now playing power politics to get that Washington assignment and to get out of Pozorubio.  He says Gall will visit “them” (presumably the Russians) after dinner on the 1st of June.

The shuffling by Gall encouraged Merriman and Marcovics to go together to see Vidal about the new assignments.  But as we see in the following paragraphs, Merriman did not waste time and went into Albacete on the ruse of intervening with Bill Lawrence who had come back from Jarama.  Minor was already gone so Merriman would be trying to pull strings within the CPUSA and Lawrence.   Lawrence confirms what Zaret had already told Merriman. Lawrence confirms that Johnson’s actions of April 5 are repaired and that Johnson is off the hook.  He may end up as Chief of Staff under Copic and that Copic is depressed by the reorganization talk.   Merriman must have asked if Gall knew what happened on February 27th and finds out that Gall is blind about the controversy of February 27 (should read “does not know, not does get know”).  Lawrence tells Merriman that he has Gall’s support and Gall thinks Merriman “knows how to work like a Bolshevik”.   He says “Johnson not”.  Whether this is a criticism of Johnson being soft or just not following orders is not known.  Recall that Johnson reorganized the Lincolns at Jarama without Copic’s approval and some appointments were overturned.

Lawrence revealed that in the 7-hour discussion the possibility of Merriman leading the Washingtons and Marcovics being his adjutant was tossed around.  But the Americans decided on a position which is revealed here.  Merriman can only go to the Lincolns with Haywood, Johnson and Hourihan’s approval.  This shows that if Oliver Law is to be removed those three American CP members would have to take the hit back home for how that would look.  That could hardly happen easily.   The Americans agreed that it would be bad to have Merriman and Marcovics in the same battalion and the bad trust shown between the two men indicate that this is a wise position.   In the formation of the 3rd Battalion, they could bring Rollin Dart back from Cordoba and make him Marcovics adjutant and Merriman could take the 3rd Battalion (the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion).

Merriman goes to Albacete to argue for this line and has time with Vidal.  He finds that this path has already been decided by the Brigade.  Merriman will help Marcovics train the Washingtons until they leave and then he will take over Marcovics’ role with the third battalion.  Merriman will not let the 27th drop and he discusses Copic again with Vidal, who throws Merriman a bone by saying Copic might be moved.

Merriman needed more room to finish his report and entered it on the October 15 and 16th diary page.

15 October Continuation

Robert Merriman’s diary from October 15-16 (continuation page from May 31, 1937)

 Merriman returns to the hotel and meets with comrades in Room 22 (this would be Minor and Lawrence’s room).   He says that they will go to Tarazona and check on Dave Mates to see whether he is ok.  Steve Nelson is tagged to be the Lincoln Commissar at this point and will go to Jarama soon.

Merriman reveals that the men who were assigned to the 86th Brigade (20th Battalion) at Cordoba will be coming back to join the XVth.   This will bring about 100 or so more English speaking comrades into Tarazona, many of whom will be battled hardened and available for leadership.  Gates and Dart are notable inclusions.

George Kaye
George Kaye, arrived from Figueras to Albacete. ALBA PHOTO 11-0656, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman says that the Captain in charge of training at Figueras came to Albacete to report that some men in Albacete are “demoralized elements”.    It would be interesting to have overheard that discussion.  George Kaye is now in Albacete.  Merriman “bulled” with Joe Dallet in the evening and shared stories about Marion (little did he know the pain she was suffering in Murcia at the time, see the posting of 29-30 Mayo).  Joe Dallet talked about his first (Barbara R. Eisenberg)³ and second (Kitty Puening)  wives.

Merriman gets news that the Ciudad de Barcelona has been torpedoed and that perhaps half of the men on board were Americans for the International Brigades.  Sebastiaan Faber of ALBA wrote an article on the sinking of this ship for the 75th Anniversary in 2012, there is a new website dedicated to the memory of the sinking of the ship,  and some letters and poems from veterans describing their experience are online at the University of Illinois.

After acknowledging that General Gall won a medal from the Spanish Republic, Merriman finishes with the note that Tom Wintringham will soon come to lead the school and we can hear Merriman’s urgency to get out of Pozorubio with “As soon as possible”.


¹ Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, ibid., pg 379.

² Marx memorial Library.IB Archive.Box.21/C/1 & IBA.Box.D-7/A/2.
Moscow.545/6/102.P. 48-55.

³ (accessed May 25, 2014)