Category Archives: Híjar

21-22 Agosto Merriman reveals in his diary that the target is Zaragosa

August 21-22, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for August 21 and 22, 1937
Hijar Train Station
The train station at Hijar (author’s photo)

The XVth Brigades move from Perales/Ambite/Albares/Mondejar to the area around Híjar is completed overnight on the 21st of August.  Prior to this on the 16th of August, the XIth Brigade (the Thaelmann Brigade) had left its positions northwest of Madrid to also move through Columnar to get on a train for Hijar.  Merriman starts to reveal in his diary what the strategy is for this push.   Overnight on the 21st the first train from Valencia has arrived and the British Battalion and the 24th Spanish Battalion are marched into positions in Híjar, some 40 km west of Caspe.  Híjar is on the rail line so transport by train near their staging positions was needed. The XVth Brigade did not take the intended positions and would move again overnight on the 21st.

Copic went forward to locate positions for the offensive which was coming.  Quinto is about 100 kilometers north-northwest of Híjar.  Sidney Shostek (Merriman’s aide) went with Copic to the new camp and returned to guide the Brigade to their next post which would be south of Quinto.

Merriman reveals that an uprising has started in Zaragoza and the offensive is to put pressure on that major crossroads city and to support the Monarchists who have risen up against the Fascists.   If Zaragoza were to be recovered by the Republic, all pressure would come off Madrid and significant pressure would have been placed on the Fascists to defend their capital, Burgos.  This could have turned the war at this point.  Hugh Thomas draws a map of the offensive which shows a wide line of attack from Teruel on a south-north line through Belchite, Zaragoza, Huesca and all the way to the French border.¹       To get to Zaragoza, the Brigades would have do go through the towns of Quinto and Fuentes del Ebro from the south.  Kleber’s forces would attack Zaragoza from the northeast and southeast across the Ebro River.   For the English speaking XVth Brigade and the German 11th Brigade,  Quinto was the first objective.   Thomas, however, is quite unreliable on his time line and blurs activities from Quinto to Fuentes del Ebro, battles which were spaced almost two months apart.  Merriman appears to have gone to the new position overlooking Quinto and then returned to Hijar to organize the Intendencia where the supplies would come in.

Captain David Kamy, Spring 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0969, Tamiment Library, NYU
Chapayev in the field (middle of three soldiers). ALBA Photo 177-179002, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman criticizes David Kamy of the British Battalion and Robert Rinaldo of the 24th Battalion who had been charged with setting up the support services, such as the kitchens and Intendencia.  Merriman personally organized the camps for these two Battalions.   Merriman tries to wake up Chapayev who is leading the second of the two regiments which includes the Dimitrovs and the 24th.   Chapayev (Hungarian Major Miklos Szalway) doesn’t like being woken up but Merriman doesn’t care.   Merriman gets to sleep late on the 21st and sleeps with “Rosie”, who cannot be Solomon Rose who was in hospital until October.  This could be Leo Rosen who was with the Mac-Paps at this time, but this is likely to be Joseph Rosenstein who was in the Brigade Commissariat at the time.

When Merriman wakes up on August 22 he gets many reports.  Merriman confirms the report that 200 Spaniards have gone missing en route from Valencia and that one machine gun is missing, left in Valencia.   The last thing Merriman would want is a fifth-column attack by greater than a company size group with a machine gun in the rear.  That would certainly have ended his career if not his life.

Merriman reveals that Copic has found their staging location south of Quinto but that Merriman doesn’t have the plan of attack for Quinto at this point.  Merriman and Wattis are working logistics and Merriman is very impressed with Wattis now.  Recall that at Jarama, Merriman blamed Wattis for forcing the order to attack which he had argued against.  Merriman has clearly forgiven Wattis for this.

He continues to battle Chapayev who has written letters complaining and continues to complain even though Copic has spoken to him directly.  Recall that Vidal and General Gal have both challenged the Ministry of War decision which has dissolved the XIIIth Brigade on August 4th.  Chapayev’s troops are being fought over by two divisions and he has been forced to accompany the XVth Brigade while the Ministry of War wanted them to join the 150th Brigade which would become the XIIIth International mixed Brigade.  At this point, the Dimitrovs wanted out of the XVth Brigade and hoped to be under General Kleber.  Even General Rojos had told Copic that he was not getting the Dimitrov Battalion but clearly they are at Híjar and will be going to Quinto.   Involved in the fight were eight trucks that the Brigades received that afternoon.   With them, Merriman sets up a kitchen, a field hospital, and gets 30 pieces of artillery moved up.  The Dimitroffs want their own kitchen.

General Walter
General Walter examines a rifle during inspection (December 1937). ALBA Photo 11-0855, Tamiment Library, NYU
Enrique Lister (creative commons photo)

Merriman meets with General Walter who warns Merriman to tell the men nothing about Zaragoza but rather this effort is to take the pressure off the attacks on the Euskadi (Basque territory).   Merriman finds out that Enrique Lister and the 11th Division will be on the left of Walter’s 35th Division containing the  XVth Brigade during the offensive and that the hope is to reach the trenches outside Zaragoza.   While the overall plan was to sweep around these towns and advance on Zaragoza,  Zaragoza is still a long way off, in reality.   Merriman says that the base needs to be brought nearer to the front.  He rounds up mules, but loses guns and men.   The stress appears to be getting to Merriman and Copic as both of them are discouraged that the logistics of getting into place for this attack did not go more smoothly.

Merriman sends Van den Berghe and Georgeovitch back to Valencia to get the guns which were left behind.  Copic bawled out Rinaldo over his poor work at the front with the 24th.


¹  Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, ibid., pp 473-474.

19-20 Agosto Trains leave Valencia for Caspe and Híjar

August 19-20, 1937
Robert Merriman’s diary for August 19 and 20, 1937
Bullring Valencia
The Plaza del Toros, Valencia, image from GoogleStreetView

Overnight on the 18th to 19th, the XVth Brigade moved en masse to Valencia in preparation of meeting trains to go north.  Vladimir Copic went ahead of the Brigade and was to have found a place for the Brigade to bivouac and failed.   When the Brigade shows up in the middle of the night, they are denied access to the Bullring in Valencia.  After two tries, they are told to “crash it in one hour” which makes it look like the Brigade, even with an order, was refused entry to the bullring, probably because they did not have the password for the guards.   Merriman and Wattis work hard to get the Intendencia to provide food and they needed to gather ammunition for their weapons.   Early in the morning a meal was rustled up for the men.

Copic saw a person whose name looks like “Sengentel” or “Gengentel” but from the next two pages of the diary appears to be “Georgeovitch”.  Most likely he would be a staff member in General Rojo’s Army Corps since they also saw Rojo.  In the midst of organizing for the front, George Aitken and Jock Cunningham borrowed Car # 200.    Copic was furious that Merriman did not get the cars back from them and Merriman had to agree with Copic.  He called it a “damned dirty trick” but when you are mustering for front line action, taking vehicles was a very serious transgression.   Even getting their equipment off the trucks and onto the trains was an issue as the truck drivers wanted time off after the drive from Perales, Ambite and Mondejar.

Anti-aircraft gunners on train
Anti-aircraft gunners on the roof of a train. ALBA Photo 11_1360, Tamiment Library, NYU
An armored train in Quinto (Fall, 1937).   ALBA Photo 11-0851, Tamiment Library, NYU
An armored train in Quinto (Fall, 1937). ALBA Photo 11-0851, Tamiment Library, NYU

By late in the day, machine guns and rifles had been gathered for the first train of two to start heading out.  Steve Nelson was in charge of the trains.     The second train appears to be held up because the 24th Battalion under Major Aguila failed to show at departure time.  Mirko Markovics would be in charge of this second train and it will become a major issue for Merriman.  Nearly 200 Spaniards did not make it with their weapons from Valencia to Caspe/Híjar.   The missing troops were a scandal for the XVth and having nearly two companies of armed Spaniards roaming around would scare Merriman.  Remember that there was a discussion of Largo Caballero leading another internal revolt in the rear in August 1937.  This rumor never seems to have panned out to be true.

Paul White
Paul White, November 1937, probably in Quinto or Ambite, ALBA Photo 11-0646, Tamiment Library, NYU

Paul White retrieved 100 men from Madrid who were on leave and they bolstered the numbers.  (Milly Bennett told the story of Wallace Burton and Eddie Fliegel being in Madrid and rousted out of bed in the middle of the night to make the train from Madrid.  In a letter from Burton to Bennett that she got on August 28, forwarded from Paris, Burton mentioned making a run for the train but going back to the hotel because he forgot his coñac.  He subsequently missed the train and this would lead to him getting busted in rank. )

However, the men from Madrid had neither guns nor blankets.   It took until late on the night of the 19th before the second train could pull out.   Marcovics was probably expecting to be put back in a command position,  but wasn’t.  Nor was he told details of the upcoming action and he felt excluded.   Frankly, it is not clear from this that Merriman himself was included in the details of the offensive at this point.

Benicàssim to Gandesa
The routes from Benicàssim to Gandesa. Copic and Merriman would cross country that would be very familiar in 1938.
Gandesa to Quinto
The routes from Gandesa to Quinto go through Caspé and Albaniz/Hijar

On the 20th morning, Copic, Colonel Hans, Comrade Ivanov and Merriman set off together for the Aragon.  They ate at Benecassim on the coast where Copic had a villa.   Merriman says that Copic was at home there.   From Benecassim they turned up into the interior and probably followed the route on the right through Benefallet and over the mountains into Gandesa.  This is ironic since in a year hence, in 1938, on of the major battles for the International Brigades would take place on Hill 666 in this pass, while the Internationals were trying to recover Gandesa.  On this trip, however, Copic and Merriman had supper in Gandesa.   From there, they drove on to Caspe.   Quinto is about 100 km from Gandesa and the Brigade would be confined to this Aragon region for the rest of the year.  The second map shows routes to Quinto which go through Caspe but also via Alcaniz and Híjar.

Alcaniz Castle
Alcaniz Castle (today, author’s photo)
View from Alcaniz towards the south (author’s photo)

General Walter, the head of the 35th Division, had set up his headquarters in Alcaniz (Merriman says Albaniz) and Merriman and Copic met with him to find their orders and maps of the sectors they would be responsible for.   They returned to Caspe to wait for the trains to arrive and they stayed over at the Oriental Hotel.   The trains arrived overnight on the 20-21st and the Brigade bivouacked outside Caspe.   Merriman headed back to Alcaniz but slept in the field that night.

Taken from Cemetery Hill in Caspe. This would be the command post for the Americans in March 1938 when Caspe was attacked from the west and north.