Category Archives: Fuentes de Ebro

24 Octobre The International Brigades are replaced by the 143rd Brigade

24 Oct 124 Oct 2

Oct 24
The last 3 pages of Robert Merriman’s catch up of events after the Battle of Quinto. It appears they were written on October 24, 1937

The end of Merriman’s October 22 diary page starts “Just before Copic left – order came thru for us to withdraw from the line into” and finishes “Quinto to be replaced by the 143rd Brigade”.   The 143rd Brigade was led by Captain Nicanor Felipe Martinez and is described on the “Guide to the Mixed Brigades”, a wonderful website for determining the leadership of the Brigades.  The Aragon Front was settling down and both sides seemed happy to leave only minimal troops in the cold trenches.  The 143rd was offering up one company and one section, probably 130 men, to man a 10 kilometer wide front.  Merriman thinks this is ridiculous and protests.  He leaves the 24th Battalion (what is left of it after reinforcements were brought in) into a second line position, in case the 143rd is overrun.  In an iconic story of the front, the Spanish Battalion’s commissar, with some men from the 24th and 143rd, went over the trenches and met with the Spanish fascist troops and exchanged gifts.

Merriman finally got 210 troops of the 143rd to come into the trenches after they first refused to join.   Merriman says that they only have two machine guns and some light weapons to guard the five mile wide front that the Mac-Paps and Lincolns held.  Merriman reveals that the contact with the enemy showed that the Italians were now gone from the front and since the Internationals were being pulled out, the front had only Spanish troops who worked out a local cease fire and truce where the whole battalion went over and met with the enemy.  One can imagine how frustrating this was for the International Brigades who were just decimated at Fuentes de Ebro.   Art Landis points out how ironic it was that on October 21, the Italians would lead an attack and take Gijon.¹   It is not likely that this would be the same Italian divisions.

Merriman says that the short stay in Quinto is coming to an end and they are awaiting orders to pull out by train, back to the Center Front.   During this period, from the Effectives List of Company 3 up to November 5, one can determine that many of the Lincolns were given leave to Madrid.


¹  Art Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

21 Octobre A potential shakeup of the leadership of the XVth Brigade

21 Oct 121 Oct 221 Oct 3

Oct 21-23
Four pages of Robert Merriman’s diary for the period of October 21 to October 23, 1937.

The discussion with James Bourne about his separation from the military aspects of the Brigade carried over onto October 21st and beyond and Dave Doran must have gotten into a fight with Bourne.  Merriman was called in.   Merriman feels that Bourne is not telling him everything and that he may have to be moved out.  Bourne holds out for the isolation of the Party members from the Brigades and this will not set well with those on the front lines.  There was instruction from the National Parties to remove important cadres from the lines in order to protect leadership talent.  Merriman said that Bourne is intimating that he is under orders from people who are much higher up.

Major Crespo, the 2nd Chief of Staff of the Brigade, did not agree with Merriman’s moves of the Estado Mayor.

Egon Schmidt, ALBA PHOTO 177-188016, Tamiment Library, NYU
Moshe (Moise) Sapir
Moise Sapir and David Doran at the new protected  Estado Mayor, Fuentes de Ebro, October 1937. ALBA Photo 11-0764, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman appears to have moved the office staff up from Quinto to these tents which were behind the hill south of Fuentes but still out of the range of the Nationalist Artillery.   Merriman says that the move has been effective in getting work done.  He gets Moises Sapir to intervene with Crespo.  Crespo insults Egon Schmidt who would have been a Captain on the staff at that point.    Crespo says Schmidt is only tolerated because they can’t find anyone else to do his job.  Schmidt was not in favor since he was found in Valencia with a Yugoslav comrade and did not have permission to be there. Merriman is looking to “clean the office” which seems doubtful will be done with a broom.

Bernard Singer who has returned from Hospital was sent on errands by Copic and he returned with all types of loot.  Merriman appears to be furious.  Rings were purchased which cost 800 pesetas each and recall that this is a month of officer’s pay.   Copic gets himself a double sized bathtub,  Merriman gets a piece of candy.   Merriman says Singer will be liquidated.  Sapir suggests that a check be done of Singer’s rank to see whether he is holding himself out at a level above what was formally approved at Albacete.  In September 1938, Bernard Singer, a soldado, was killed on the Ebro.  Merriman says he was like a “Country Boy being turned loose”.

Merriman gets “Gibbs” a new cook for the Kitchen.   This is possibly Theodore Gibbs, although he is not listed on the kitchen staff in the Brigades, he is listed as an ambulance driver.  Merriman has mentioned a negro on the previous pages as a writer who came up and wanted to be a Lieutenant and drive ambulance.   We believe that this is Eduard Luchell “El Fantastico” McDaniels.

In any case, Gibbs crosses Copic by not getting him enough hot water so he can enjoy his large, new bathtub.  Copic has him arrested.   Later Dave Doran intervenes and has him released, but Merriman sides with Copic in that an order was given and not followed.  The personal dynamics between Doran and Merriman are illuminating here.

Langston Hughes and Crawford Morgan
Langston Hughes chatting with Crawford Morgan at Fuentes de Ebro front, October 1937. ALBA PHOTO 11-1347, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman takes Eric DeWitt Parker and Langston Hughes up to the lines but gets called back to Quinto to have a meeting with Copic and Jim Bourne.   Copic explains what happened in Valencia at the Comintern meeting.   “Alfredo” and Andre Marty came to Albacete and apparently nothing was decided whether the British would get their six month repatriation decision.   Copic’s suggestion that an army corp made up of the International Brigades was rejected.  General Walter may not stay with them at all as the Army Corps that they are in at this point, the 12th, is being disbanded.   Merriman says that Copic returned to Valencia and met with Comrade Maximoff and Bob Minor and others.  He was informed that a new Battalion might be formed and that his own “personal problem” was solved.  Copic had used terms like being stateless and having nowhere to go, it is possible that this personal problem was his future career in the Party.

Hans Klaus
Photo of Hans Klaus (identified as Klaus Becker in many ALBA photos but believed to be Colonel Klaus or Claus), ALBA PHOTO 177-177038, Tamiment Library, NYU

Then Copic drops the bombshell that he himself has been removed as Commander of the XVth International Brigade for the failure at Fuentes de Ebro.   Copic suggests that Hans Klaus will replace him and it is possible Copic will move up to command a Division.  Copic says he suggested Merriman become commander of the XVth Brigade. Whether any of this story has real substance is hearsay, since none of it actually happened.  Instead Dave Doran and Merriman write a letter to Valencia (presumably to Bob Minor) to object to this change and to see if they could stop it.   Copic makes a remark that if he were a professional soldier, this would “break his heart” but Merriman doesn’t buy it.  He thinks Copic is actually relieved to be able to move out.   Merriman talks to Denis, the Accidental Jefe of the Division, and gets himself a salvo conducto to go to Valencia and make the case to keep Copic.    Merriman and Doran wonder if Bill Lawrence, the American responsible in Albacete, was behind the move to get rid of Copic.  Lawrence might have seen enough of the friction when he was at the front just before the attack on Fuentes de Ebro.   It is interesting that after all the attempts to move Copic out, now Merriman and Doran are loyally trying to save him.   They may have been afraid of having Hans Klaus or Juan Crespo put in charge.

Doran and Robinson
David Doran and John Robinson, September 1937, ALBA PHOTO 11-0753, Tamiment Library, NYU

In a final note for this day, Merriman says that John Quigley Robinson would be leaving to go to Valencia and then on to Moscow as part of the delegation of American Communists attending a Politburo meeting there.   Merriman would have liked to go.

20 Octobre Merriman moves the Estado Mayor further from Fuentes del Ebro

Oct 20, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for October 20, 1937
Estado Mayor
Estado Mayor at Fuentes de Ebro, ALBA PHOTO 11-1234, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman removed the Estado Mayor from the range of the artillery by moving it behind a hill.  This is probably the position shown in the photograph on the right.

Bourne, Hughes, Parker
James Bourne, Langston Hughes, and Eric DeWitt Parker at the Estado Mayor, Fuentes de Ebro, ALBA PHOTO 11-0800, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman reveals that Eric DeWitt Parker and Langston Hughes arrived at Fuentes de Ebro.  There are a number of photos with Hughes and various Brigadistas (including the one with Eric Parker here).   Bourne had just returned from Albacete and was not treated well there so the men were upset about how they were being viewed in the Spanish Army.   Bourne brought back a letter from Marion Merriman which related that George (probably Brodsky) and “Red” had gone to the Comintern (CI) or Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).  Bourne comes back with a decision from the political office in Valencia that he should not be given any active military assignments.  Jim Bourne has gone from being a political neophyte to someone who can muster the protection of the Comintern.   It appears that there are two people in the Politburo in Valencia who do not understand that it is necessary to separate the political arm of the army from the military one.   Bourne is an example of this separation.

19 Octobre Fascist Artillery and Aircraft get a fix on the XVth Estado Mayor

19 Oct 1

19 Oct 219 Oct 319 Oct 419 Oct 5

19 Oct 7
Six pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary. While the dates on the diary are somewhat uncertain, it is believed that these events happened prior to October 20, 1937
New troops at Fuentes
Photo entitled “David Doran addressing troops at Fuentes de Ebro”. Men standing in the photo from right to left are: Edward Cecil-Smith, Ivan Rukevcic and Tom Mallon. ALBA PHOTO 11-1778, Tamiment Library, NYU

The last words on page 43 of Merriman’s second diary say “On the 19th …”  and we find out that new men are up at Quinto arriving from Tarazona de la Mancha.  These 510 new recruits will help bring the four battalions back to strength after the losses of Fuentes de Ebro.  This was draft #25 of the Spanish Army which dipped down into young men who just turned 19 (and some who were older than 35).   Merriman will say that all the new recruits are 19 but some were older.

The command of the battalions is fluid and Bob Thompson will step back from the command of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion and Edward Cecil-Smith (see photo above) would move into the position he would occupy until October 1938 as head of the Mac-Paps.   For the Lincolns, Milt Wolff told Art Landis in the ALBA audiotapes that he became commander of the Lincoln Brigade temporarily when they returned to Quinto.      In a small diversion, I will post two Company 3 effectives lists for the Lincoln Battalion, one from October 5 and one from October 19.  The number of available effectives shows how decimated the Battalion was after Fuentes.

October 5 effectives list
Company 3 effectives list for October 5, 1937, prior to Fuentes
October 17, 1937
Company 3 effectives list for the Lincolns on October 17, 1937

11_0899s_Elhanon Winchester Bridges, Company 3, Lincoln-Washington Battalion_nov 37Company 3’s compliment went from 65 before Fuentes to 29 men.  29 Americans were reduced to 18, and five of them were missing.  The staff was gone.  The commander, looks like Sanakus (but that name is not in the ALBA list) was in hospital.  Company Clerk Tom Page was in hospital ill.  Michael (Morris) Ecker who came up on October 5 was temporary clerk of the Company. Elhanon Bridges became the temporary company commander.  On October 21, Harold Hoff would become the company clerk.

Merriman notes that the 143rd Brigada Mixta joined the XVth Brigade.   The Brigade from Figueras was led by Marine Captain Nicanor Fernandez.  It is not known if Fernandez had his Captain’s stripes by this time, but Merriman was impressed by their ability in telling dirty jokes.

Airplane Bombardment
An airplane bombardment of the positions at Fuentes de Ebro, ALBA Photo 11-1237, Tamiment Library, NYU


Owen Appleton
Owen Appleton, Brigade Secretary, killed at Fuentes de Ebro, October 1937. ALBA Photo 11-0607, Tamiment Library, NYU
Dr. Julius Hene, May 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0215, Tamiment Library, NYU

The Nationalist forces in Fuentes de Ebro got the range of the trenches of the XVth Brigade and were effective at pounding the trenches including the Estado Mayor where the Brigade Staff were based.  Dr. Julius Hene was injured in one such attack by artillery.   On October 18, in a bombing run on the trenches, 18 men were buried under the debris from the bomb blasts killing Owen Appleton, the Brigade secretary,   Canadian Alexander McClure and Vernon Snow.  All in all, six were killed in the Estado Mayor in a few days.  Merriman simply says that they need to do a better job at protecting their trenches.  On the 20th, Merriman will note that the Estado Mayor would be moved further back, behind a hill and closer to Quinto.  This gives us one date to divide the stories being told in the diary.

Egon Schmidt
Egon Schmidt on hill in Fuentes (standing right center). Malcolm Dunbar is on the periscope, Copic in front of him, Rollin Dart with field glasses, Harry Bee (topography) sitting behind Merriman and Merriman. ALBA PHOTO 177-177030, Tamiment Library, NYU


Some of these diary pages are particularly opaque to understanding.  The XVth Brigade battalions got the use of the 11th Battalion of Engineers from the Cuerpo (Army Corps) but there must have been the feeling that they were being abused (not to mention in the line of fire at an active front).   Cuerpo called down and wanted to speak to Copic who was not there as he had gone to Albacete for the big fiesta there on October 17 for the first Anniversary of the Brigades.   They apparently would not talk to Merriman on the phone and sent down an Engineer to talk to them.  At the start of the discussion the commander of the Engineers lectured the XVth like they were militiamen and new at the front.  Remember that the XVth was just adsorbed into the command of the Spanish Army structure.  Merriman must have set this officer straight quickly.   At the end, the Engineers were put at the disposal of the Brigades to help fortify the trenches.  But the first night out, 2 were killed and 2 were wounded in the Engineers when they were out front of Mac-Paps on the left of the Fuentes front.  Tough duty for these men and little chance to fight back.   Merriman sent Schmidt (believed to be Egon Schmidt, above right, who was attached to the Brigade at this point) to speak to them and he was sympathetic to their risks.   Merriman says that he gave them duty on the 19th to make trenches which ran to the railway tracks and they were happier because they then believed they were doing general work for Cuerpo and not just for the International Brigades.

Merriman relates the tedium of life at the front.  Men get a chance to get a hot shower.  Men are getting some recreation by playing chess. But the paperwork suffered during the active fighting and now Merriman says that office work has suffered.   Appleton has been killed so at his level, he has lost a secretary.  On the 21st of October, my father, Harold Hoff,  became clerk of Company 3 of the Lincolns (recognized by his handwriting).  Clearly, this comment by Merriman indicates that men who were literate were pulled out to help get caught up on the effectives list.  These lists were important to get the head count up so that the October 30 payroll would be complete.

Company 3 Effectives List from Fuentes, October 21, 1937. Tom Page had been the Clerk in the Company but was replaced by Harold Hoff. The company complement was up to 74 from a minimum of 28.
Saul Wellman
Saul Wellman, Robert Thompson, and Dave Doran, trenches at Fuentes de Ebro, October 1937. ALBA PHOTO 11-0582, Tamiment Library, NYU

The Mac-Paps are struggling with illness.  Niilo Makela has jaundice (hepatitis) which was rampant in the Brigades and Bob Thompson is sick.  The senior leadership of the Mac-Paps were out of action since Joe Dallet had been killed in the previous week and Doug Hitchcock wounded.   Merriman says that Bernard Singer is returning to action and  Wally Sabatini, who was the Adjutant Commissar of the Mac-Paps got the jitters and had to be removed.  In his place, the more solid Saul Wellman would take over as Commissar for the Mac-Paps.

Bill Rust
Malcolm Dunbar, Bill Rust of the Daily Worker, Vladimir Copic, and Hugh Slater, ALBA PHOTO 177-177065, undated. Tamiment Library, NYU.

Merriman makes a comparison between Rollin Dart and Malcolm Dunbar.  We can’t determine which of them he is criticizing.   Merriman says Will Paynter will be leaving and he introduced his replacement from Valencia, but Merriman does not give the name.   Our colleague Barry McLoughlin suggests that this could be Bill Rust who took over for Paynter as the representative of British Communist Party to the Partido Communista de Espana.

Eluard McDaniels
Eluard Luchell McDaniels, May 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0127, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman also is sketchy on a visitor from the US who was a writer with the Western Writer’s Conference.   Merriman mentions that he is a negro and said he had been a Lieutenant in the XIIth Brigade on another front.  He was on tour with the Brigades and had heard that the Lincolns were down to 12 effectives. Chris Brooks has suggested that this is likely to be Eluard Luchell McDaniels, who had a history of conflating his stories. McDaniels would become known as “El Fantastico” since he had the ability to throw grenades ambidextrously.   Merriman told him that there were 150 American effectives in the Lincolns at this point at Fuentes.   (Still, the Lincoln-Washington complement should have been around 600-800 men.)   McDaniel brought news of James Harris who was now in the Dombrowski battalion which was now in the 13th Brigade.   Harris apparently had suffered another round of “chills” and Merriman is intrigued.  He says he would have liked to  talked to Harris.   Unfortunately, without knowing this, Harris had deserted his unit on October 14 and was caught leaving the lines.  He was summarily shot by the command of the XIIIth Brigade, ending a troubled career for James Harris in Spain.

Merriman finishes this paragraph by saying that Elias Begelman is not working too well in his current role on the staff.   Merriman compares Begelman to Wattis and this comparison is also unclear.  Wattis had been complemented by Merriman for good work at Belchite, but his manner was officious and this may be the basis of the comparison.

Merriman finishes this newsy section of his diary by doing a retrospective of some earlier thoughts.  He reveals that Vladimir Copic told journalist David Lasser that he is stateless (and probably has no place to go after the war).  He asks Lasser to intervene with President Juan Negrin for him and Merriman says that this was an unwise move since Lasser was not a member of the Communist Party and probably wondered what Copic was asking him to do.

15 Octobre Copic and Bourne go to Albacete and Crespo gets promoted

15 Oct 115 Oct 2

15 Oct 3
Three pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary covering the period from October 15-19, 1937

Merriman caught up his diary by October 19 at the end of the Fuentes de Ebro action.  We place the remaining pages on the 15th although they could have been days later.

Form letter invitation to the comrades who would be asked to come to Albacete for the Ceremony celebrating the first anniversary of the International Brigades. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 36/Page 133, RGASPI Archives, Moscow.
Op 2 D41 p90
Invitation list to the Brigade Ceremony in Albacete. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 41, page 90, RGASPI Archives, Moscow, Russia

Merriman catches wind of Vladimir Copic wanting to leave for Albacete to take part in a party meeting and celebration of the first anniversary of the founding of the International Brigades,  in which Yugoslavian delegates would be present.  Indalecio Prieto, the Minister of War, would also be present at this high level meeting.  The meeting was a veritable “Who’s Who” of the important people in Spain.  Merriman says Copic lost interest in the action at Fuentes and just wanted to leave.  Copic wanted to push General Walter into claiming the need for a new Army Corps (which Walter would lead) that would contain all the International Brigades.  Copic feared that Walter would never make such a demand at a high level meeting and Copic wanted to go push him.   Copic reveals that the XVth International Brigade’s time on the Aragon front is coming to an end and that in a month they would return to the Center Front near Madrid.  Copic as we will see wanted to distance himself from the disaster of Fuentes del Ebro and feared that he would be cashiered for that failure.  The quicker he could pin this on his subordinates, the better.

Op2 D41 P92
Invitation list to the Brigade Ceremony in Albacete. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 41, page 92, RGASPI Archives, Moscow, Russia
Op2 D41 P94
Invitation list to the Brigade Ceremony in Albacete. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 41, page 94, RGASPI Archives, Moscow, Russia
David Lasser
David Lasser and Sander Feinberg, Photo Courtesy of the Louis Weinstock Collection, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman says that David Lasser, head of the Workers Alliance of America, is in Quinto and Fuentes to interview the troops.   While Copic is said to have remained in Quinto throughout the whole Fuentes de Ebro fight, Lasser came with a blue banner which must have been awarded to the Brigade.   They were, in fact, preoccupied with fighting a war at the point of his visit and Lasser had the sense to know that he was in the way.  He left and Comrade Ivan (Ivan Rujevcic or John Gerlach) slept overnight using the blue banner for a pillow.

Major Crespo of the Brigade Staff in November 1937, ALBA Photo 11-0651, Tamiment Library, NYU

Again, Copic and Merriman were called to a meeting to talk strategy of their “sub sector”.   These meetings don’t impress Robert Merriman.   Copic, however, used the meeting to gain permission to go to Albacete.   Quinto is left in charge of 2nd Chief of Staff Luis Crespo Torres. Both Copic and Merriman now call him a “Figurehead”.  Copic left for Albacete in something that looks like “Petrusha” or “Petruska”, which could be a Soviet automobile.  Also possible as a transcription would be “Patrulla” which would be a police car.

Merriman relates that the Army Corp command has been replaced.  At the start of the Aragon, the Army Corps was led by General Pozas and it soon will be official that he is out.   Merriman is told by Dave Doran who was at the meeting that the Aragon offensive is now over.  The Euskadi campaign also was winding down with the fall of most of the major cities in the Basque Region, so any diversionary value of the Zaragoza offensive was now over.   Consolidation of the held territory around Madrid was now imperative.

While Copic was away, Major Crespo was at play.  Crespo got himself appointed to Chief of Staff of the Army Corps jumping over the Brigade.   He will lead four brigades and the supporting artillery and armor.  Merriman is taken by surprise but not by Crespo’s careerism.  Merriman says Crespo will always find a way up and Merriman hopes it is up and out.   Merriman says that a letter arrives for Copic from Denis and gives the name of the replacement “advisor”.   Merriman is surprised that the name would be put down on paper.  The letter has not been found in the RGASPI archives.

John Givins
John Givulinovic (John Givins), ALBA PHOTO 11-0936, Tamiment Library, NYU

A name transcribed as “Garens” left for Valencia to bring up 510 new recruits.   It is more likely that this is “Givens” or John Givinovitch, who was in Transports.   Milt Wolff says that he doesn’t recall any replacements coming up but Art Landis clearly was interested in this large increase in the Brigades.¹   On October 6, a series of telegrams from Albacete let the commanders know that nearly 3000 new recruits had been drafted in Draft #25.  It is likely that these new recruits are Spanish and will be the fresh faces seen in Quinto over the next few weeks.



¹ Art Landis questioning Milt Wolff, ALBA AUDIO 66, ibid.