Category Archives: Huesca Front

7 Octobre Merriman and Dart get lost and almost miss the bus to Quinto

 

7 Oct 17 Oct 2

7 Oct 3

Three pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary covering October 7, 1937

Merriman loses count of his days and enters “6th” for the second time.  We will assume it is the seventh or eighth but must have been before the 9th as he says that they will be moving out on a following day.  The XVth Brigade moved to Quinto on the 10th of October.

Merriman begins setting up positions for a long stay in Senes and on the Huesca Front.  He meets with his Battalion commanders to lay out the lines.   Assuming that he has gone back to Senes on the 7th as he said on a prior page, it is likely that these positions are in the hills to the west of Senes and towards Zuera.   Ironically, this on the Sierra du Alcubierre where George Orwell was first posted in the Fall on 1936 and were lines held by the POUM and Anarchist Divisions.   Merriman does mention seeing FAI symbols written on the walls of his HQ in Senes.   If one looks carefully at the photograph of the trial held in Senes on previous days, one can see slogans painted on the walls of that room and painted over later, presumably by the Republicans.

Santa Elena

Location of Ermita Santa Elena (41.913°N, 0.5416°W), 603m altitude, Google Maps®

Merriman says that the HQ was bombed during the meeting and Copic cut it short because he was afraid of the planes.   Merriman and Dart get horses and ride out to look at “Santa Elena”.  Thanks to help from Marisa Biosca, Ermita Santa Elena has been located on a Google Earth map.   It is 4.3 kilometers from Senes as the crow flies and on high ground.   As the sun goes down, Merriman and Dart get lost and have to lead their horses out on foot as they make their way down the hills in the dark.   Should one want to find Santa Elena, it is on a bicycle route now through the wind power generators of Aragon.

When they get back they find that orders have come for the Brigade to move out to Quinto, in preparation for the offensive which will come in a few days at Fuentes del Ebro.   All the planning of positions in the Huesca Front come to naught.  Merriman says “Rest of Brigade to remain” so only part of the Brigade is to move although the Americans, British and Canadians all were on the front lines of Fuentes del Ebro.

Dallet

Joseph Dallet, Quinto, September 1937. ALBA Photo 11_0639, Tamiment Library, NYU

They don’t move (and this could be as late as October 9) because the trucks don’t come.  Overnight, Merriman has a discussion with Bob Thompson, Dave Doran and Joe Dallet about Joe Dallet and the dissatisfaction of the men for his leadership.  Dallet will become a controversial figure about this time because of the continued questions on his leadership style.   Born to a middle class family (his father owned a lumber mill in New England) and raised in a non-proletarian setting, Dallet developed a working class manner in his union organizing in Chicago.   Many, including Merriman, found his style forced.  Steve Nelson recalled that when Dallet was in jail in Perpignan in Spain waiting to get over the Pyranees, he charmed his captors by playing classical piano (Chopin) extremely well.

Copic must have left the meeting when the planes came over but Merriman also must have continued the meeting.  Copic was furious.   He gave trivial reasons for being mad.  Bourne is solicitous to Copic which again irritates Merriman.

Trucks show up on the following morning (9th or 10th;  Landis places it as the 10th¹).  Copic is not woken and starts the day irritated.  His adjutant, Hans Kaltschmidt, takes the brunt of that irritation, apparently.

Bombing of Granen

Article in La Vanguardia, Barcelona, on October 12 describing the bombing of Grañen.

The town of Grañen was bombed with a railroad car destroyed, several dead and injured.  The October 11th issue of LaVanguardia in Barcelona makes the damage more deliberate:   the hospital was destroyed.  The planes were empty when they flew back over the XVth Brigade.   Merriman admires their accuracy.

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¹ Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid. pg 314.

 

6 Octobre “should not take so much crap from him”

6_Oct_16_Oct_26_Oct_36_Oct_4

6_Oct_5

Five pages from Robert Merriman’s second diary referring to the events of October 6, 1937

Bob Merriman is nothing if not resilient.  He recovers from his bout of fever in a single day and is up and about on October 6.   He wants to meet with his comrades but they all come at once:  Joe Dallet, Bob Thompson, Wally Sabatini, Lou Secundy and Rollin Dart.   Merriman really wanted to have a one-on-one with Dallet but it did not happen.   He did speak to Dr. Irving Busch about politics and the middle class in the US.  Merriman is trying to figure out what should be the approach for a cadre of the party if they were not working class or union men.  Busch, being a professional, would have a different experience than other comrades.  He read for much of the day and departed on the 7th to Senes.

Merriman meets  Sandor Voros (not Voresh) who was collecting stories for the Book of the XVth Brigade.  Voros said that Dave Doran did great in the trial of the deserters and Doran was pleased with the complement.   Merriman tells Voros to contact Marion in Albacete to get stories from his first diary.  Some letters from the first diary were transcribed for the Book of the XVth Brigade.   Merriman say that he heard the discussion about the “plantilla” in Senes.  This is likely a discussion over the staff lists.

On the way to Senes, Merriman goes to Grañen and wants to have it out with Copic over their working relationship.   In a bit of a temporal mashup, Merriman says that his attitude is better since he spoke with General Walter.   This comes a few pages later in the diary again.   Merriman apparently met with two of his comrades about what to tell Copic… lay down the law or leave (or be a doormat), none being pleasant options.   A meeting is held at dinner in Grañen and there is the possibility that they will stay in these positions for some time.  They discussed morale issues at dinner, the politics of shooting competitions etc.   In another example of punctuation matters, this can be read to say they discussed the politics of the shootings, meaning the execution of the deserters.  It also can be read to be the politics of shooting competitions, etc.   Since it looks like none of the deserters were actually shot, we might safely take the latter interpretation of the sentence.

After dinner, Copic and Merriman have their one-on-one.  Copic grouses about the situation in Albacete and a word here is unreadable (it looks like dynalite, but that makes little sense).  Copic tells Merriman that Indalecio Prieto, Minister of War, is against the International Brigades.  There are rumors of the government leaving Valencia and moving to Barcelona or, worse, to the French border so that escape would be possible.    Copic relays his fears that the war is being lost.   General Walter has lost a battalion to the 45th Division which is being split off and moved to the southern fronts.  Copic notes that the International Brigades are all over Spain and would benefit from being combined into a single Army Corp under General Walter.   Copic says that General Gal may come up to help the XVth Brigade.  In reality, Gal had already been removed from the Army Corps.

Regarding speaking to Walter, Copic didn’t actually talk to him for Merriman and said he couldn’t do it.  He made excuses which clearly Merriman did not want to hear.  Merriman says he spoke little and verged on being surly.   But as he left, Merriman got his chance to speak to Walter and remind him about his promise at Belchite.  To Merriman’s pleasure, Walter said he would fix it right away.   He must have spoken to Copic and Copic responded like it should have happened already.   Copic tells Merriman to change the lists of promotions.    Merriman is tired but says that he will speak to Arturo {the Polish comrade, Adrienne} Denis.   It looks like he says “Christ knows when” but the hope for Merriman is that he will find out when the promotions are made.   Denis marked up the promotion list here.

(Note that the second “6th” is in error and is likely to be on the 7th or later.   Many dates in October are only approximations since the diary was undated and Merriman aggregated events when he had a chance to catch up the diary.

 

5 Octobre Merriman comes down with a fever and delirium

October 5, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for October 5, 1937

Dart

Rollin Jones Dart, Source: ALBA Photo 11_0636, Tamiment Library

Patience Darton

Patience Darton, photo courtesy Sparticus International.

Merriman awakes on the 5th of October in a much better mood and reveals that the boys were out “dating” in Grañen the previous night.   Hospitals and nurses were favorites of these men who had been without women for many months.   Merriman kids Rollin Dart about Patience Darton.

Like so many others in October 1937, Merriman gets the fever (typhoid was rampant in the camps and General Walter reported in his memoirs that nearly 2000 men had typhoid in the Brigades in October 1937).   Merriman gets delirious.  Delirium is one side affect of typhoid fever, which can reach 104°F.   While he is drifting, he includes snippets of conversations that he may actually have overheard or perhaps some that were dreams.   He hears Copic and Crespo talking about “nothing” and then he hears that Crespo is asking for his own vehicle.   Merriman has been waiting weeks for a vehicle of his own.   Merriman also is still waiting on his promotion.

Eisenberg and Shapiro

Abraham Eisenberg and Henry Shapiro, photographed in November 1937, ALBA PHOTO 11 – 0979, Tamiment Library, NYU

Trial

Photograph of the trial of deserters in Senes in October 1937. Man at the desk may be Slater, acting as prosecutor. ALBA PHOTO 11-0819, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman hears the results of the trials in which Hugh Slater presided.   Two of the 13 deserters were sentenced to death.   The majority will get front line duty during upcoming battles and then be taken out (so as not to serve as “bad elements” in disgruntling the other men).   Merriman says that Henry Shapiro was the worst and (as mentioned on yesterday’s page) he will die in action at Teruel.   A 20 year old got the least sentence, 1 month presumably at labor.   William Cantor‘s (he was 21 at the time) sentence is curious.  He will be recognized in a few days for valor at Quinto, but desert again later in the war.  Fishnelson is singled out for rebuke.  He, too, will die at Teruel.   The man Fishnelson deserted with, Benzion Lasher, went missing in action during the retreats in the Spring of 1938.

Fishnelson

Second page of Dave Doran’s report on the trial of the 13 men.

Op_3_D435_p81_Fishnelson_Eisenberg

Page 1 of the report by Dave Doran on the trial of the 13 Americans. Shapiro and Isenberg are sentenced to be shot. Since both would live (Isenberg returned to the US and Shapiro was killed 3 months later in Teruel), their sentences were never carried out.

The report on the trial by Dave Doran is given to the right and left here.¹

Merriman is removed to a hospital in Torralba where he gets better over the next few days.

 

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¹ RGASPI Archives, Fond 545/Opis 3/Delo 435, pp 81-82,  RGASPI Moscow, Russia.

4 Octobre “Our beloved Fascist advances….”

 

Oct 4 1

October 4, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for October 4, 1937 in Senes.

We can see on the last few lines of the October 3 entry that Merriman realizes he needs to suck it up.  Usually he thrives on conflict but the psychological struggle with Copic, losing Sidney Shosteck at Belchite,  the British rebellion, the disappointment in General Walter’s promise that he would become a Major, and now the men who need to be court martialled is putting Merriman near his limits.

Overnight, the Gottwald Artillery Battery got a  tractor stuck in the mud and it wasn’t theirs.  This “borrowed” tractor caused a scandal.  Merriman, however, was sick and his inability to deal with the issue almost caused another “scandal” (Merriman’s word for embarrassment or something that would lead to a reprimand for his command).   The Gottwald battery was likely the Czech anti-aircraft battery that Merriman spoke of previously.  Klement Gottwald was President of Czechoslovakia and had been in the Artillery in WWI.

Crespo in Huesca

Major Crespo (near Huesca), ALBA PHOTO 177 – 188063, Tamiment Library, NYU

Major Crespo was made Second Chief of Staff for the Brigade.  His photo from this time is shown here. Crespo is called “our beloved Fascist”.  Merriman understands that Crespo has arisen quickly because of the need to share command with the Spanish and that Crespo was an officer in the Spanish Army before the uprising.  As an officer from the old Spanish Army, he would be suspected if he did not have a political background that explained his staying with the Republican Army.  He is not a Communist and Merriman notes that he is in “a Communist Army”.  Copic apparently did not discuss this appointment with Merriman.  Again Merriman would feel threatened that he is being replaced.

Merriman goes to Copic and requests permission to go to General Walter to face him off on Walter’s promise of grades for everyone who moved up to attack Belchite on the 3rd of September. Merriman feels they stepped up and Walter forgot about his promise.  Copic says he, not Merriman, will speak to Walter about this gripe.  From the document on the October 3 posting, we see that  A. Denis and Copic are holding back the promotions.   Merriman was not a communist when he came to Spain.  While he joined the Spanish Communist Party, he (and Allan Johnson who was commanding Tarazona’s training base at this point) were treated with suspicion by because of their lack of political background in the US.

Merriman says that the trials of the 13 deserters starts.  Six cases are prosecuted quickly with Richard deWitt Brown one of the first, who confessed freely.  Brown had deserted with Ralph Isenberg, Henry Shapiro and perhaps Melvin Payne, who was an ambulance driver.  Rollin Dart started the prosecution but could not do it and David Doran stepped in and carried out the cases.     Fishnelson and Shapiro died at Teruel, so they were not executed.   The other three returned to the US, although Brown was captured at Belchite during the Retreats in March 1938 and returned after time in a prisoner-of-war camp.  Apparently none of these four of the first six tried were given a death sentence.   Only Murray Krangel of the 14 listed on the October 2, 1937, report was killed at Fuentes del Ebro and that was reportedly October 13, 1937.  While it is possible that Krangel, Fishnelson and Shapiro were put in work details on the front lines (tantamount to a sentence of death), there is no evidence that the sentences were carried out while the Battalion was in Senes.

Schmidt

Egon Schmidt, ALBA PHOTO 177-188016, Tamiment Library, NYU

At the end of the day, Merriman relaxes and gives a letter for Marion Merriman to Moise Sapir who will go back to Albacete.   “Schmidt” is in from Madrid where there was some sort of scandal over him. This is likely to be Egon Schmidt, who was added to the XVth Brigade.  Schmidt’s real name was Misha/Michael Schwartz who was born in Minsk¹.  Erich {sic} Schmidt and Milan Jeroncic were found by SIM in Valencia and Comrade Stepanovich was asked to vouch for him.²  Schmidt would be with the Brigade until August 1938 when he was killed climbing Hill 666 in the Battle of the Ebro.

Merriman says it is still raining and that the physical situation in Senes is bad.

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¹    Martin Sugarman,  Against Fascism – Jews who served in The International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/spanjews.pdf‎, Sourced: January 21, 2014.

²  RGASPI Archives, Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 145, pg 216, letter from Comrade “Willi” to Comrade “Kurt” at Albacete base, October 4, 1937.

 

3 Octobre “Shooting a few if necessary”

Oct 3 1

Oct 3, 1937

Two pages from October 3, 1937 in Robert Merriman’s second diary

The October 2 discussion carries over to the following days.  The return of the 13 deserters, including five who stole an ambulance and 4000 pesetas to make a break for the French border, forced the Command to put a stop to desertions.     Merriman assesses the morale of these men and realizes that there is little he can do to return them to action and that examples needed to be made.   Details on these trials will come out over the next few diary pages and must have had a hard impact on Merriman.

General Walter suggested shooting some of the deserters.  Copic and Merriman disagree (which is no surprise).  It is quite likely that Copic agreed with Walter.  Merriman puts it to a trial and each will be brought up in front of the men.  After politically setting the stage for the fact that this will be a decision of the men, the vote goes for stern discipline and potentially death sentences.  Conditional death sentences are mentioned and these would probably have been delayed punishment based on future actions.   Some of the 14 men on the list from October 2’s posting do get killed, either at Fuentes del Ebro (an upcoming battle) or Teruel (two battles in the future).

Merriman rides out the day by drinking overnight with Moise Sapir who (we find out on the next diary page) also gets heavily drunk.  Like two morose comrades, they literally cry on each other’s shoulders.    Merriman reveals to Sapir his feelings about Copic and the next day brings back more sober reflection of their situation.  Merriman lectures himself about being able to respond to these depressing situations and to fight his way out of it.   But since he got paid as a Captain although General Walter promised promotions for him to Major, his depression about being misled by his senior officers is evident.