Category Archives: Jarama

The Battle of Jarama February-May 1937

1-2 Marzo “In Colmenar, a butcher’s shop”

Robert Merriman’s diary pages labelled 1 and 2 March. This part of the diary was written from the hospital on March 13, 1937.

The previous page of this free form section of the Diary ended with

“Muso dressed me and I gave word to leader of Franco-Belges to move some men in our trench to back us up.  They did this – Saw {Jock} Cunningham and Hans {Klaus} and {Dr. Edward} Pike.  English tried to advance but” and now “many killed and returned”.

Merriman relates that Doug Seacord had been killed and in the absence of commanders, Phil Cooperman took over the Battalion Command with Bob Thompson second in command.

Merriman says in the diary that he wanted to stop and have it out with Copic.  Wachtel and Lerude expand, perhaps somewhat dramatically,  with:

Even then, however, he demanded they make one crucial stop.  He wanted to have it out with Copic, although his senior in military command and rank, for having ordered the Americans into the bloodbath.  The stretcher-bearers carried Bob to the commander’s makeshift headquarters.  Copic, declaring Bob too weak for any conversation but probably knowing exactly what Bob had on his mind, refused to see him; the stretcher bearers carried Bob off to the medical unit. ¹

Actually, he was taken, obviously by ambulance, to a hospital in Colmenar de Oreja, about 10 miles south of Morata de Tejuna and two miles south of Chinchon.  The British Rolls of dead from Jarama list Henry Bonnar who died in “Dow Hospital, Colmenar de Oreja”.     The hospital was run by Belgian Doctor Rene Dumont and Alan Warren has noted that May MacFarland of the UK was there at Jarama.   Our friend in Spain, Marisa Biosca suggests that the hospital was in the Convent of the Incarnation (in Spanish, El Convento de la Encarnación del Divino Verbopertenece a las monjas Agustinas).  Thank you, Alan and Marisa, for the help.

Jarama Hospital
Hand drawn diagram of the relationship of the mobile hospitals to the surgical hospitals in Tarancon. The XVth brigade was treated in Columnar. Image credit: Vidal Gayman, memoir. BDIC Library, University of Paris XI, Nanterre, France

Merriman documents that he was in the Colmenar hospital with Robert Pick (who we saw was shot while putting out an aircraft signal) and he heard that Dave Springhall of the British Battalion had been shot in the face.   Merriman tells how his arm was splinted and put on a board.  Marion Merriman Wachtel says that the cast that Merriman was put in was made of common building plaster and, therefore, was extremely heavy.¹  She continues with what she found out later:

Bob broke and cried when he was informed his runner, Pick, had died in the hospital.  He knew the chances of survival in the field units were slim.  The doctors and nurses worked valiantly, but the units were really first aid stations, not well-equipped battlefield hospitals.  They lacked painkillers, so the miserably wounded reacted ferociously to the undressing of their wounds.¹

Much has been made of the attack of 27 February and some of the worst insinuations come from Cecil Eby², who says that after the attack, the Americans mutinied, were caught and Copic threatened to try and shoot every tenth man.  He goes into a poorly referenced story about this tribunal which had Colonel Hans Klaus as the “prosecutor”.  He says that only because the Czech Copic was trying a Russian-born American “deserter” that a Russian Tank commander named Pahlev intervened and kicked Copic out of his own trial.  The veracity of this story is not documented by references other than footnotes which say 400 Americans mutinied.²  This would be impossible since there were barely 400 Americans at Jarama.   It would have been a tremendous rush for those leaving New York before February 1 (398 in all) to make it through training and to Jarama.³ The Ship lists document that by February 10, 540 Americans had sailed from New York to Spain. Those on ships on February 17 and 20 could not have plausibly made it to Spain let alone get through training.  Landis says that there were 40 dead, 200 wounded and only 60 left in the trenches at the end of the day.4  This count sounds nearly complete. Carroll5 quotes Merriman as listing 263 men in the line at the start of the attack on February 27 and 150 remaining the next day.

It is difficult to know what to make of Eby’s account. Clearly, Copic was responsible for the attack of the 27th of February and Merriman placed the blame of the losses on him. Copic does not discuss anything about the 27th other than to say from his Diary:

“27- The XVth Brigade counterattacks on the Jarama and demonstrates to the Fascist invaders that it is prepare [sic] to resist and counterattack at any given moment by order of its high command” 6

The Tamiment Archives are a treasure trove of history.  We hope you will think about donating to them (see link on the left sidebar) to retain the valuable material there.  Josephine Yurek was able to find the following letters in the Robert Merriman files on the Comintern Archives.   It explains what Bob Merriman would have said about the 27th of February had he not been in hospital, written 78 years ago today.

Letter to Marty Hourihan from Robert Merriman on his debrief of the attack of February 27. Source: Comintern Archives, Fond 545, Opus 6, Delo 944.
Hospital #3
Tarancón Hospital #2, photo taken by the author on February 20, 2015
Hospital #1
Hospital #3 at Tarancón. This historic building is decaying and needs to be donated by the city to those who will care for it. Photo by the author, February 20, 2015

On Friday, February 20, 2015, nearly 80 people bussed down to Tarancon to visit the memorial for the Scots who were killed in the Jarama battle.  We were able to tour the town and see Hospital #2 (left) and Hospital #3 (right) which would have been the destination for brigadistas injured at Jarama and who had been initially treated in the Autochirs (mobile surgical hospitals) at the triage stations.  Sadly, Hospital #3 is a decaying relic and although the local residents in Tarancon have applied to turn the building into a museum, the local Ayuntamento (civic government) is still denying this request.


¹ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, An American Commander in Spain, ibid., pp. 110-112.

² Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid, pg. 81-82

³ Christopher Brooks, private communication, Sailing List of the Lincoln Battalion.

4 Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

5 Carroll, Odyssey, ibid., p 102.

6 Vladimir Copic, Diary, Comintern Archives, Fond 545, Opus 3, Delo 467, Tamiment Library, New York University Bobst Library.

27-28 Febrero “The Commanders say Attack!”

As we said for February 23, there are days which live in the memory of the International Brigades and February 27 is a very important one.  This week the 8th International March was held in Jarama by the Asociacíon de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales to celebrate the sacrifice of the XVth International Brigade.   The Scottish contingent visited Tarancon for a memorial to their comrades who died at those hospitals.    ¡Salud y presente!  Below is a hand drawn map of the Jarama that was from 1937 and in the Moscow Archives stored at the Tamiment Library Microfilm collection.


Hand drawn topographers map of the Jarama battlefield found in the Moscow Archives at Tamiment Library.  This was reproduced in the Book of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, pg 69.

A more difficult map to read from the action of February 23 is shown in a second figure.   The reader can get a feeling for the level of knowledge of the battlefield from these 1937 maps.

A more difficult map to see of the Jarama battlefield. The understanding that the Lincolns had of the positions and strength of the enemy is shown in this diagram. Source: NYU Tamiment Library Moscow Archives Fond 545 Opus 3.

1937 was not a leap year but the diary had a February 29th page.  The first page here (February 28) actually continues with Merriman revealing his impressions of February 23.  We include three pages here as they bring us through February 27, 1937, when the International Brigades counterattacked at Jarama.

First of three pages covering the events of February 27, 1937.
Second page from the February 27 assault by the Lincoln Battalion.
Third page covering the assault of February 27, 1937.

The attack of February 23rd revealed that the Nationalist positions were actually weaker than they appeared earlier in the month.  The lack of a Fascist counterattack after the losses of the 23rd by the Lincolns gave information that the ranks of the Fascists were not manned in depth and that a counterattack by the International Brigades could be successful in relieving the siege on the Valencia road.  Merriman says on the first page that captured Fascist soldiers gave information that strengthened the International Brigades’ resolve to counterattack again.  After the short rest of the 24-26th, a counterattack was planned for February 27.

Whole books have been written about this day and it is impossible here to give a comprehensive summary of the attack.  Merriman notes on the 28th of February page that the counterattack was to begin at 10 AM with artillery support.  The Spanish 24th Battalion was to attack the Fascist high ground on the Lincolns’ left flank.  On the 29th February page, the litany of failures of the plan are listed by Merriman — no artillery, no tank support, no advance by the 24th, no machine gun support, and most importantly no telephone communications.  When planes did arrive, only three Loyalist planes came and made a perfunctory pass, not the promised 20 or 30 airplanes.¹  The poor communication between Merriman and Colonels Copic and Klaus will be a crucial factor in how the day turned out.   What Merriman and the Americans saw was withering machine gun fire from the Fascist positions and none of the promised support.  The Americans did not attack on schedule.

Instead, Merriman says that “Wattis, the suspicious one, came forward to our trenches”.  Merriman’s distrust of the leadership was apparent and their orders to advance into an obviously hot fire area became an issue.  Klaus ordered the advance and then Wattis came forward to order the men over the parapets.  From Landis:

Merriman called Brigade headquarters and demand to speak with Copic immediately.  Edwin Rolfe describes the ensuing conversation: “There was a long debate actually, in the course of which Merriman maintained firmly that if the Lincoln Battalion was to go over it would draw ferocious and impassable fire, since the Spanish brigade was in no position now to provide covering fire, or to draw enemy fire away from the attackers.  The argument veered back and forth.  Finally Merriman was over-ruled.  The order remained: Attack!  It was then almost noon.¹

Marty Hourihan (left) and Mirko Marcovics (right), in the summer of 1937 in Ambite. Source: Photo ALBA 177_191043, Tamiment Library, NYU.
Robert Thompson
Robert Thompson Photo: ALBA photo 11-1841, Tamiment Library, NYU

Copic ordered Springhall and Wattis to go to the American lines and get them moving.    Copic was convinced that the Spanish were 700 meters ahead of the Americans and the Americans were not providing support when in fact the Spanish had attacked, were immediately repulsed with dramatic losses and were actually several hundred meters to the Lincolns’ rear.  Springhall and Wattis joined the Americans and took them over the top with covering fire given by the British and Dimitroff machine gun companies.  Within seconds of going over Springhall was shot in the face.  Merriman advanced several steps before taking a bullet which shattered his shoulder.  Douglas Seacord did not make it 50 meters before he was killed.  William Henry, who we just met in yesterday’s post, was killed almost immediately, his body riddled with bullets.  American Sid Levine, who was in Henry’s company, was told by his Corporal T. T. O’Brien to look over at a tree nearby.  Henry’s body was propped up against a tree and the top of his head was missing.  Levine said that was the first dead man he had ever seen.²   Next to Levine, John Lenthier of the Americans was also killed with a stomach wound as part of that Irish Company in the Lincolns.²

Within a short time, nearly half the Americans who went over were dead.  The Fascist positions had at least three positions with enfilading (crossing) machine gun fire.  There was nowhere to hide.  Only two officers, Marty Hourihan and Robert Thompson were not hit.  Lieutenant Bill Wheeler was hit and describes Wattis as walking up to him in the olive groves and tapping him with his swagger stick and ordered him on.  Wheeler described Wattis as “the perfect English officer”.  Milton Rappaport from New York made it to ten meters of the Fascist lines before he was cut down holding a Mills bomb (grenade) in his hand.

The courage of the Americans on the 27th could not be questioned.  The afternoon brought rain and the men that survived crawled back through thick mud.  Many of the dead and wounded would be brought back to the lines over the next few days.

Merriman says that Joe Streisand was killed putting out a “crossed T” airplane signal pointing to the Fascist positions.  Robert Pick was also shot trying to put down these guides to the aircraft.  Landis says:

The makeshift aviation signal was then hastily put together with pins, cords, anything that would hold it for the time needed to spread it on the road.  The signal was in T form and was to be so placed so the vertical line of the T pointed towards the Rebel Trenches… Streisand took one section of the T and Pick took the other, with the leg folded over.  Pick then dashed across the road, spreading out the base of the T-signal between the Lincoln and Spanish positions.  When that was done, he ran back across the road in an oblique direction, dragging out the length of the T-signal so that it pointed west, towards the Rebel trenches.  In the very act of laying it down he was shot through the chest and stomach.  Joseph Streisand ran to help him, and both of them became the immediate target of concentrated machine-gun fire.  They were shot down before the eyes of the men of the Second Company, and were literally cut to pieces where they lay by additional bursts of fire.¹

The attack of the 27th did not succeed in breaking the Fascist lines and both sides settled into a war of attrition where neither had the manpower or inclination to launch another assault for several weeks.  To the extent that these attacks proved to the Fascist leaders that the International Brigades intended to fight for every piece of ground and not to allow Madrid to be surrounded, the attack was important.  It also proved to the Loyalist military leaders that the Americans were willing to fight and die for Spain.  The cost was high and Merriman was one of the losses of the day.  He would spend the next month in hospital.   To his credit, he had his wounds dressed by “Muro” (possibly John Giuseppe Muso, who went to Spain in the first group on the Normandie).   Merriman tried to stay in the field to support his men, but he was removed by ambulance.

Cecil Eby³ notes that the Americans blamed Merriman for this attack and that William Herrick said that the men called Merriman “Murderman”.  The history above shows that Robert Merriman tried to resist making the attack of the 27th and Vladimir Copic was insistent about making the assault.


¹ Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

² ALBA Audio 66, Box 1, 66-6,  Sid Levine, George Foucek and Donald McLeod, 1962-5.

² Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid.

25-26 Febrero Continuing with the events of the 23rd Assault

25-26 Febrero
Robert Merriman’s diary pages for 25-26 February. Note that this largely relates to the events of the 23rd of February

Merriman continues to relate the movement of men into sheltered positions after the attack and withdrawal of February 23.  Recall that the men took up positions previously occupied by the Dimitroff Battalion who were supposed to attack on a flank north of the Lincolns.  Merriman said on the previous page that the Spanish engineers had helped in digging better trenches in these positions but they were shallow and did not provide enough protection from snipers.  When the Dimitroffs moved south to occupy positions previously held by the British, who had been badly battered from the 21st through 24th,  Merriman thought they had pulled out.  Apparently some of the Lincolns followed them into these new positions and the command post of the Lincolns was left exposed with only Richard Pick and Merriman and some grenades.  Pick went to round up the men and Merriman must have left the trench completely unoccupied.   The Lincolns were mustered again and put into these trench positions.

Landis¹ describes these positions as a combination of shallow trenches and sandbags which crossed the macadam road to St. Martín de Vega as well as a sunken dirt road which was about level with the height  of the bottom of the trenches.  There was a stone hut which was used for machine guns for which the Lincolns now had six working guns which could cover their front to the Fascist lines some 200 meters distant.   When men tried to  cross the sunken road to go north or south, they were exposed from the knees up.  12 men were shot over the next two days “of rest” from snipers, including Alonzo Watson who was the first African American to be killed in Spain.  Even bringing food across these roads to the trenches was dangerous.  From the Book of the XVth Brigade:

How Bob Norwood Died

Because the Lincolns moved so much and the kitchen staff was just beginning to get properly organized they received hardly any rations for three days.  On February 24, a huge bowl of coffee was sent through the trenches.  Each man took his share and passed the bowl to others.  When it got to Bob Norwood and a group of his comrades who happened to be chatting together, he got his cup and dipped it into the bowl with great eagerness.  As he raised from a bent position with cup in hand, he said to his comrades around “Come on boys, dig in, I got mine.”  At that very moment an explosive bullet struck him in the head.  He fell face down into the coffee… his brains seeped into it.²

On the 25th it rained and keeping dry was the order of the day.  The sun came out again February 26th, Merriman, Seacord and Stember were called to Morata.  The line “Stember went below and caused talk” is cryptic.  Merriman would later describe the events of the 23rd as “scandal”.  It is possible that Stember returned to the Brigade Headquarters and tried to place blame of the inability to move forward and hold positions on the French and Belgians.  We have seen that Merriman has tried to blame the 24th Spanish Battalion and then the Dimitroffs.  Little blame could be placed on the British Battalion who were literally decimated.   General Gal and Colonels Klaus and Copic rarely hesitated in placing blame on commanders who did not achieve their objectives.   Especially young and untested commanders like Merriman.


¹ Book of the XVth International Brigade, ibid., p. 75.

² Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid. p. 75.

23-24 Febrero The Lincoln Battalion goes over the Top!

19-20 Febrero
Robert Merriman’s Diary for the evening of the 18th of February through the 19th. The diary was then lost for about a month.
Robert Merriman’s diary for the period covering February 21 and 22. Note that the diary was written in March.
Robert Merriman’s diary covering the 23rd of February. Note that this part of the diary was written in March


February 23, 1937

Some dates in 1937 just have to be written larger than others.  While Bob Merriman reveals to us what happened on this date from his catching up in his diary in March 1937, we will try to maintain the flow through the dates in 1937.  The first pages above give his comments about what occurred on February 20th.  In the posting of 19-20, we reviewed the “moonlight march” discussed in these first two diary pages, where Commander James Harris showed up at the trenches and retook command, leading the Americans off into danger in a march into no-man’s-land in the middle of a moonlit night.

Robert Gladnick was with the Lincoln Battalion at Jarama.  He would become disgruntled with the Lincolns and because of his Russian background, he would serve as a translator and later as a driver of tanks in a Russian Tank unit.  At Jarama, he claims he translated for the American leadership with commanders in the Brigade who were more comfortable in Russian than English.   After the war, Gladnick became an active anti-Communist and testified at legislative hearings during the McCarthy period naming names of a number of Lincoln Brigadistas.   Gladnick wrote a memoir which has not been published but resides in the Hoover Institution Archives.  He says:¹

Their argument {between James Harris and Lieutenant Colonel Copic} started when Copic the Croatian delivered his opinion of what he thought of Americans.  “You Americans come to Spain to make a Social Revolution but I’m telling you that you will have to get off the dramatic stage & learn to die.  Now at the front, you’ll have to learn how to take casualties.  You will do as I say — in a day or so you will attack the Moorish positions in front of you & you’ll do it as brave men — like the Hungarian & Franco Belge battalion — You will attack in broad daylight – He then pointed his finger at Harris and shouted “I’ll not hear anymore of your crack brained plans to attack in the dark at night.  You Americans must learn what it means to have guts & fight like our European comrades do & learn to die like men.”   I thought what an inspiring message to give new men about to go into their first combat —  Harris was not the least impressed.  He told Copic “I’ve done some personal reconnaisance at the front & I know that an attack in daily over open terrain would be suicide — even an attack under the cover of darkness would lead to 20-25 percent casualties– but at that price we can take their trenches — a daylight attack will not result in capturing the Fascist lines, only huge casualties for the attackers — I will not lead such an attack.  Just tell me what is your objective & I will carry it out but not by a stupid suicide attack–“

Copic shouted at him “You’ll see who is in command here” — Harris walked out and I followed outside Harris told me “the Old Bastard won’t be happy until he kills all the Americans”.    That evening Harris ordered the men on a night maneuver behind our lines — just as he did a few times back in Villanueva de la Jara.    As an old sailor, he told the men to orient themselves on some of the celestial features.

Next day Merriman & Commissar Bender started a campaign denouncing Harris as a lunatic with his head in the clouds — a day later Harris was removed from command and Merriman was appointed in his place —  Now I would like to write a few words about Harris — Harris was not his real name as on the Motor Ship Normandie.  I saw his passport issued to him under his true Polish name–¹

The midnight maneuver has been called Harris’ Midnight March or Stroll.  Some men got lost and Merriman says that he, Stember and Hans Klaus went out after the men, found them and led them back to safety.  Clearly, this event was viewed quite differently by Gladnick and Merriman, but in any case, Harris had made his bed earlier in disagreeing with Copic.  People who disagreed with Copic generally did not fare well in Spain. Harris’ actions prompted his removal from command and they sent him back to hospital.  He would later serve with the Polish Dombroski Battalion up to November 1937 where he was reported killed in action.   He would not command the Lincolns further.

Clarence Wattis, later a Captain, from the Book of the XVth Brigade. He was a Lieutenant at the time of the Jarama attack 2

In the February 22nd space in the diary, Merriman talks about the orders given to move forward to the Dimitroff (he will spell it Dmitroff in the diary) positions and not to take packs or bedding.  This was a big mistake and Herrick complained in his book that the night was cold and they froze from not having their overcoats and packs.   Merriman admits that this was a mistaken order and upon checking later, no such order had ever been given to leave their packs and blankets behind.  He blames the command error on Lieutenant Clarence Wattis.  He would hold bad feelings against Wattis until quite late in 1937 because of this error which was attributed to Merriman by the men.

When the Lincolns moved up, one company got lost.  There was heavy machine gun fire.   Landis confuses the lunar cycle (it was near full, but may not have risen at this point) and says

This night, like the night of their arrival, was pitch-black.  Because of this, one section of the Machine Gun Company got lost.  There were the last of the three companies to enter the trenches but they missed the entrance.  …. [in the words of the section leader, who was quoted anonymously:] “Suddenly we heard strange voices, a muted garbling in a language we didn’t understand.  We decided to play it safe and crawl along on our bellies; only now we had reversed direction and were heading back toward the road.  We had crawled this way for just a short distance when suddenly, as if a curtain were being raised on an opening performance of a Broadway show, a round of extended and hearty applause shattered the stillness of the night.  We looked up to see a long line of what proved to be International Brigaders sitting on their trench parapets.  They were pointing at us and laughing uproariously, while never ceasing to applaud.  There were thirty of us and we got to our feet slowly.  To say that we were embarrassed would be the understatement of the year.  Our thirty faces glowed bright red as we nodded recognition to the laughing Frenchmen, for that’s who they were: a rifle company of the 6th of February Battalion.  We marched sheepishly back to the road, where Lieutenant Seacord and others were looking for us”.²³

The Cuban Centuria in Barcelona, early 1937. Source: ALBA Press Release

On the 23rd, the Lincolns were ordered to attack.  The plan was that the Dimitroff’s on the right and the Spanish 24th on the left were to attack in unison.  The Lincolns were facing an enemy that was dug in at a distance of 600-700 meters.  The orders to attack came for later in the day, 3:00 pm, which left little daylight to cross such a distance against heavy fire.  The Book of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade says “The 1st Section of the 1st Company led the charge.  The Irish followed the Cubans, and finally the second company advanced on the right.”  Rudolfo de Armas y Soto (who is saluting to the right of the flag to this photo) was the first killed, hit immediately by three bullets.  Charles Donnelly of the Irish was killed.  Captain Scott was hit by three bullets.  He was wounded and lay in the field until later in the evening when by heroic efforts two stretcher bearers were able to remove him back to the lines, but not before being hit themselves.  Scott would die in hospital.

Merriman says in the diary that the Spanish 24th Battalion did not advance.  If they had, he said, the Americans would have broken through the Fascist lines.  Nevertheless, the Americans reached positions in the olive groves below the Fascist trenches where they could reach those trenches with grenades.  They could not advance further and the push stalled in the evening.  By 10:00 or 11:00 pm the orders were given to pull back to the original lines.  Merriman had been called away to a meeting.

Merriman mentions some new Americans.  Morin was probably Francois Xavier Morin who sailed from the US on January 23 and died from his wounds.  Morin was 50 years old.  He also mentions a “Van Briggs” who was wounded and this name is not on the Lincoln list.   He says that Company 1 was taken over by “Henry”.  Chris Brooks has noted that this is William “Bill” Henry of the Irish Connolly Centuria which was part of Company 1, and is mentioned in Landis.²

At the start of the day, the Lincolns numbered 373 men.4 Making the best of an attack which took no new ground and caused many serious casualties (20 dead and 60 injured4, a casualty rate of 1:4), it is easy to say that it was not a success.  The Lincolns dug in by the 24th of February in shallow trenches which did not provide much protection.  Joe Gordon was hit in the eye by a sniper’s bullet in these shallow trenches.4  Merriman mentions “Pick” who was Robert Carl Pick.  Pick would be dead in four days in an incident we will cover next week.

Like most of the Jarama battles, disagreement exists of the importance of the Lincoln attack. Robert Colodny notes that on the 24th of February, the Spanish 24th did indeed attack and take the heights of Pingarron, the hill to the west.  But it did show that the Americans were willing to charge into withering fire, with rifles and bayonets.  It gave the Lincolns a reputation of being troops who would be called upon again and again to attack “as shock troops”.

In Spain, they are not forgotten.   Lyn Hurst published this photo on Facebook on February 22, 2014.

Photo of the 2014 Commemoration of the International Brigades in Jarama, Spain (CREDIT: Lyn Hurst)

Literally, thousands of books have been written about Jarama and the ones quoted above might not be easily available.  Here is an on-line reading list for those who wish to know more:

Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, Story of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, New York, New York, 1937.

Wikipedia, The Battle of Jarama, accessed February 22, 2014

Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, Battle of Jarama River, accessed February 22, 2014

Sparticus International, Battle of Jarama, accessed online February 22, 2014


¹ Robert Gladnick, Memoir, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.  Holding 96061 (unpublished material)

²  Book of the XVth Brigade, Warren and Pell Publishers, London. 2003 Edition, pg 69.

³ Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Battalion, ibid. pp 63-71.

4 Peter Carroll, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.  pp 99-100

21-22 Febrero Mostly quiet on the Front
Woody Guthrie

Merriman’s diary was misplaced for nearly a month between the 20th of February and March 12.  Without divulging the story of this period for Robert Merriman,   we honor them with the Ballad of Jarama Valley written by Woody Guthrie and sung by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers.

As a special feature, we use the hiatus in Merriman’s diary to offer this article from one of our contributors.

The Dallet Group Enters Spain

by Christopher Brooks

Two volunteers, Joseph Dallet and Steve Nelson, initiated their journey to Spain during this period. Both men were veteran CP organizers with good records in the US and were sent to Spain to provide party leadership to the American volunteers.  Both Dallet and Nelson feature in future entries in the pages of Merriman’s diary.

Joe Dallet
Joseph Dallet, Political Commissar, MacKenzie-Papineau, October 1937. The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo11; ALBA Photo number 11-0629. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.
Steve Nelson
Steve Nelson. Shortly after his return.

Dallet and Nelson sailed from the US in early March 1937.  Once in France they clandestinely moved toward the Spanish border. The French border was sealed under the nonintervention treaty in February forcing volunteers to either travel over the Pyrenees or find a ship to carry them into Spain.  Dallet and Nelson along with twenty-three other volunteers loaded into the fishing smack Sanspareil for a short overnight voyage into Spain.1

After dawn on March 27, as the fishing smack neared the Spanish coast, a fishery control vessel, the Cerbere, spotted the Sanspareil and boarded it for inspection.  The Cerbere’s Captain boarded, discovered the volunteers in the hold and called a coast guard vessel.  The Sanspareil was towed into port and the volunteers arrested.2

An article about the arrest listing twenty of the volunteers appeared in the New York Times on June 1, 1937. The article stated that there were twenty-five volunteers, “Five of the prisoners are said to be Canadians, two Irishmen, two Rumanians and three Hungarians.”3  The names listed below are corrected with the exception of those marked with an asterix (*).


Harold Blackley, 1913, Toledo

Vachel Lindsay Blair, 1915, Cleveland

William Wayland Borer, 1904, Philadelphia

Roger Gaylord Carnell, 1915, New Brighton

Joe Dallet

Lawrence Morton Friedman, 1907, NY

Louis Gnepp, 1916, Philadelphia

John Kosesak b. 1903 Lorraine, Ohio

Rudolph Loch, 1913, Bartlesville

Joseph Farkasovski, 1916, no state

*Jose Bleicht Reger, 1904, Philadelphia

Seymour Herman Workoff, 1916, NY

Bela Wimmer, 1911, no state

Joseph Fleischinger (Steve Nelson)4


William Gordon, 1915, Montreal

* Arvid Sundston [Tauno Arvid Sundstet? On American list], 1916, Toronto

Alexander C. Maclure, 1911, Montreal

Peter Ambroziak, 1917, Montreal

*John Dundy, 1903, Toronto

William Keenan, 1901, Ireland

*Leslie Albert, 1897, Belfast, Ireland

The volunteers were jailed in the town of Perpignan.  Dallet, who served as the group’s primary spokesman, quickly dropped the fabrication that they were tourists and proudly proclaimed that they were volunteers bound for Spain.  The volunteers loudly protested their incarceration and won several concessions from the authorities. Dallet, who spoke fluent French, charmed the court and influenced most concessions.  Stepping out from behind his gruff, working-man persona he amazed the prosecutor by playing Chopin on the piano.5

The volunteers were tried in neighboring Céret. After fifteen days of incarceration the court found the men guilty, ordered an eighteen-day sentence with credit for time served, and permitted the volunteers to leave France.6 All but three of the men subsequently were smuggled across the border.  Three volunteers who over imbibed at a local restaurant after being released were sent back home after failing to meet Dallet and Nelson’s expectations.7

Dallet corresponded with his wife Kitty during his incarceration  and continued to write after his arrival in Spain.  After his death select letters were published in a pamphlet. Nelson wrote about his jail term in Spain.  However, Nelson’s memoir was written during the height of the McCarthy period and in order to protect his fellow volunteers he often gave them false names.  In fact when the book was published in 1953, Nelson was incarcerated for political activities. 8 These two sources provide a good record of the volunteer’s experiences in the Perpignan jail.

Once in Spain, Nelson and Dallet assumed their responsibilities as Battalion Commissars. Nelson joined the Lincoln Battalion in the front lines and Dallet reported to Tarazona where the 3rd American Battalion was forming.   Despite his promising start, Dallet is remembered as “Probably the most disliked Commissar in the Brigade.”9 Nelson in contrast emerged as “a perfect example of the commissar.”10 You will learn more about these two men as the diaries progress.


Carroll, Peter N. The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984.

Eby, Cecil D. Comrades and Commissars, The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007.

Landis, Arthur H. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade. New York: The Citadel Press, 1967.

Nelson, Steve. The Volunteers, A Personal Narrative of the Fight Against Fascism in Spain. New York: Masses and Mainstream, 1953.

Romerstein, Herbert. Heroic Victims, Stalin’s Foreign Legion in the Spanish Civil War. Washington: The Council for the Defense of Freedom, 1994.


1 “French Capture 25 on Way to Spain,” New York Times on June 1, 1937.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid. Either the journalist failed to copy the volunteer’s names correctly or the volunteers intentionally misled the journalist because their names in most instances are incorrect.  Other sources state that there were seventeen Americans and eight Canadians.

4 “ Names of Thirteen Americans Held,” New York Times, April 1, 1937. Provides Steve Nelson under the name on the passport he travelled on “Joseph Fleischinger.”

5 Steve Nelson. The Volunteers, A Personal Narrative of the Fight Against Fascism in Spain (New York: Masses and Mainstream, 1953), 51-52, 58-59.

6 Nelson, The Volunteers, 64; Peter N.Carroll. The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984), 127; Cecil D. Eby, Comrades and Commissars, The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007), 153.

7 Eby, Comrades and Commissars, 153.

8 Joe Dallet. Letter From Spain by Joe Dallet, American Volunteer to His Wife (New York: Workers Library Publishers, 1938) the pamphlet is available on line at the following link:; Nelson, The Volunteers, 9.

9 Herbert Romerstein. Heroic Victims, Stalin’s Foreign Legion in the Spanish Civil War (Washington: The Council for the Defense of Freedom, 1994), 45.

10 Arthur H. Landis. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade (New York: The Citadel Press, 1967), 336.