Category Archives: Madrigueras

1-2 Julio “Dozens of things happened at once”

July 1-2, 1937

Robert Merriman’s Diary for July 1 and 2, 1937

In a very busy two days in the diary, Bob Merriman tells his diary much and holds back some things he must have known.  On July 2, the Lincoln and Washington Battalions were ordered up to the lines for the “push”, the Battle of Brunete.  Probably for security reasons, Merriman doesn’t write much about this in his diary.  Instead he deals with visitors to Tarazona de la Mancha.

July 1 was “Dominion Day” in Canada, now known as “Canada Day”, the Canadian national holiday.   To recognize this, the head of the Canadian Communist Party, Albert Alexander MacLeod, showed up in Tarazona to greet the men and lecture {Note that Victor Hoar makes a mistake and says that this was Allan Dowd, unless this is an alias}.¹   They formally announce that the new Battalion will be called the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (Merriman misspells Mackenzie).  Merriman states that this is not a political unit but a military unit, probably to assuage the Americans would be in the new Battalion.  From the tone of the diary, it sounds like Joe Dallet, the Commissar, had to sell the idea of the name to the Battalion.  It is likely that the Canadians were excited about having recognition.   Ron Liversedge recalls the visit:

We did have one visitor to the base who was welcome, especially to us Canadians, and that was our own A. A. MacLeod.  MacLeod was sat that time the national secretary of the Canadian League Against War and Fascism, and was later to serve a couple of terms as a communist MPP in the Ontario Legislative Assembly.  I cannot recall the date of MacLeod’s visit, but I think it was early July, 1937.  At any rate it was of great importance to us, as it was this visit that finally and officially established the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion of the Fifteenth International Brigade.  MacLeod spoke to the massed personnel of the base for two hours.  He gave a history of the founding of Canada, brought in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the defeat by the embattled Canadians of the new American republic’s attempted invasion of Canada, and finally the revolt of the early Canadians against the British Family Compact, led by Mackenzie and Papineau.  There was a standing ovation for MacLeod; the Americans had never heard anything like it before.  When MacLeod asked for an endorsement of a Mac-Pap Battalion, he got it one hundred per cent.  The name was confirmed a few days later by the Brigades and the Spanish Government, and Canada was officially recognized in Spain as participating in the war.  But not, of course, by the Canadian government.²

Anna Louise Strong

Anna Louise Strong, Source: wikipedia.org; Creative Commons License.

Another visitor, Anna Louise Strong, showed up in Tarazona.  Marion Merriman and Connie de la Mora both mention Anna Louise in their memoirs and she must have been a force of nature.  John Wainwright has pointed out that Anna Louise Strong’s manuscript is within the Milly Bennett papers at the Hoover Institute. In a visit in 2014, however, the author was unable to find Anna Louise’s manuscript on Spain.     Anna Louise would lecture several times over the next two days.  Strong was with Milly Bennett in China in the 1920’s and was editor at Moscow News in the 1930’s when Bennett was there.   Much of their shared experiences in China and Russia were covered in Strong’s biography “I Change Worlds”.  It was apparent that Marion Merriman was acquainted with Anna Louise before Spain.  Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude tell the story of the visit:

Anna Louise Strong arrived from America, having returned home from Russia earlier.  She planned to gather information for a book on the international volunteers.  We found her a room in Tarazona and caught up briefly with the news of America.  She was cheered about the program to aid the Spanish children, the most terrified victims of the war, and she wanted to talk to the American Volunteers.

Anna Louise wasn’t as trying and exhausting as usual, perhaps because she herself was exhausted.  She brought ten thousand dollars from an American philanthropist who wanted to buy boots for the Americans fighting in Spain.   It was difficult to find boots large enough for most of the Americans.  So Anna Louise set out tot find a Spanish shoe manufacturer who would make the larger-sized boots the Americans required.

After a couple of days of rest, Anna Louise summoned me, and we made the rounds of the squads and barracks so she could seek out the stories of the volunteers.  She was a good speaker with a strong voice, and she was forever talking as we moved about the men.  She was built like a pyramid, tall and heavily widening as her figure went earthward.  The men liked her because of her enthusiasm and the simplicity of her manner  The facility with which she could turn her charm on and off, almost like water from a tap, amazed me.³

Discipline still plagues Bob Merriman.   Two men appear to have “organized” a Studebaker touring car, and in going AWOL and in the process of getting out of Tarazona, crashed it into a tree near the bridge in town.  The car was totaled.   Merriman seems to be as concerned about the loss of the car as he is disciplining the “damned fool” driver.  “Frenchy” who is  French Canadian Amédée Grenier¹ came out from the Auto Parc to check out the vehicle.  He reported the loss of the vehicle and this would be a scandal for the new battalion who expected to get this car.  Merriman wanted this car.   Apparently one of the men was injured in the crash and was brought in.  No guard was left on the car and so a guard would be placed on it for the next 24 hours (after removing the plates) and on the 2nd Merriman removed the guard to say “forget it” since the car was a loss.

In this incident or a simultaneous one, Seaman William Edward Howe and Joseph Raymond Dione caused problems.  After taking abuse from these men, Merriman demanded and got an apology (at the threat of arrest).   Howe was noted for having want to leave the Battalion and the two incidents may be related.  Merriman says “Robbie” was looking for them.  Robbie is John Quigley Robinson who was brought in to manage the difficult, rough and tumble Seaman who arrived in June.

Joe Lash was in Tarazona and a party was held on the evening of the 1st.  Lash was “ambushed” and “much fun” was had.  Anna Louise Strong also spoke to the troops in the evening with Lash and Merriman.

On the 2nd of July, Merriman formally organized the leadership of the Canadian “company”.  Lieutenant Ron Liversedge is put in charge with Bill Skinner as his Alfarez.   By the end of the day, Liversedge has gone to Merriman to tell him that he is not the man for the job and he returns to the ranks.   In Liversedge’s memoir², he places this “stepping back” as much later in the summer, but clearly Merriman notes that it happened immediately.  Bill Skinner is put in charge of the Canadians and Irving Weissman, who arrived in Spain in June, is being encouraged to step up into leadership.    Hoar relates the story:

And what of Lt. Ronald Liversedge, the first officer of the original No. One Company?  Within a few days after the creation of the Mac-Paps, Liversedge had resigned his commission and returned to the ranks because he refused to adhere to Merriman’s admonition that all officers should eat in the officer’s mess.  Liversedge, said Merriman, was too democratic.¹

Merriman gets interviewed by Anna Louise Strong and focusses on the events of February 23 and 27.   It would be very interesting to see her notes on this interview.   Merriman continues to deal with the loss of the car.  “All is off now”.   This must have been a great disappointment to Merriman who was very peripatetic .    Walter Kolowsky has come back to be a trainer.

Rosenthal

Leon Rosenthal, Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 566, RGASPI Archives, Moscow.

Merriman notes that the Lincoln Battalion and the Washington Battalion are moving out.  In a small hint of humor, Merriman gathers the men, including the men in Sanidad,  at 10 pm and tells them they are going to the “show”.  Recall that departures for the front typically happened in the middle of the night so the men may have inferred they, too, were going.   When he lets them know it is the movie show, We are from Kronstadt, there is cheering.   They at least would not be going to the front for now.   Ernie Amatniek, however, has been ordered up and he takes  Canadian Leon Rosenthal (whose residence was list as San Francisco) and Samuel Grossner with him to Albacete.

______________________________

¹ Victor Hoar, The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, ibid, pg 110-114.

² Ron Liversedge, Mac-Pap, ibid., pg 75-76.

³ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., pg 150.

25-26 Mayo A Decision is made to name the Washington Battalion

May 25-26

Robert Merriman’s diary from May 25 and 26, 1937

Merriman is enough of a gentleman that he doesn’t name names when it comes to his friends.   From the post of the 24th, we know Bob Thompson and Joe Dallet picked up a nurse in Albacete and now we know they spent the night with her.  We find that she is trying to “replace women {in} battalion”.

The American Medical Bureau Team

From the Fredericka Martin Collection: (l-r) Fredericka Martin (head nurse), Dr. Eduardo Odio Perez, Dr. Alan Sorrell, Dr. Eddie Barsky (Chief Doctor), Mildred Rackley (interpreter, chief clerk), Anne Taft (R.N.), PHOTO 1:1:32:2, Tamiment Library, NYU

We have some possible suspects for this camarada.        Mildred Rackley was in charge of the recruiting of nurses and was in Spain about this time.  There was a sailing of a large number of nurses and doctors from the American Medical Bureau on the SS Normandie on May 19.  All evidence about Rackley being in Albacete is speculative.  Merriman (and presumably Marion as well since Bob stayed over with Marion) met the other three for breakfast and had a merry time.

Merriman goes to Room 22 in the hotel.  Room 22 clearly is one of the bigger suites.  Room 22 will be mentioned whenever Merriman goes to meet Party officials.  The meeting took some time and Robert Minor insists on a “milder” name for the second battalion than the “Tom Mooney Battalion”.   Tom Mooney was in San Quentin prison at this time and clearly “Washington or Jefferson” had less political baggage.  Minor wins out and the second Battalion becomes the “George Washington Battalion”.  Three out of the four Presidents on the monument being carved at this time in Keystone, South Dakota, were mentioned as names for Battalions.

After the meeting Minor and Harry Haywood depart for Jarama to visit the Lincoln Battalion on the lines.  Merriman says that Steve Nelson departs for Cordoba, probably to meet with the 60 or so “lost Lincolns” who are in the 20th Brigade at that point on the Cordoba front.  Those Lincolns will return to the XVth Brigade by July and clearly the intent is to put English speaking brigadistas in the XVth Brigade.

Merriman finds out the result of his X-ray of the 23rd and it is not good.  In addition to bone seepage, he still has a broken elbow which will need an operation to fix.   There is no evidence that Merriman actually had that operation and this note says that Merriman cannot straighten his arm.   In the photographs of Merriman for the next year, however, he is shown with his arm straight in some photographs so either he overcame the injury by exercise or the diagnosis here is wrong.   Knowing that Merriman has had a broken shoulder and a broken elbow may be of future use to forensic archeologists who may at some time come across Merriman’s remains in digs near Gandesa and Corbera in Spain.

Merriman goes to the Garde Nacionale and meets again with Pierre Lamotte, whose time in the Brigade obviously is shortening.  He says Lamotte was again fighting with people in the Intendencia and Merriman recognizes that his friend will have to leave this job.  Lamotte will shortly be arrested, charged with theft  and imprisoned for the length of the war.  He returned to the US in February 1939 under a questionable cloud.  Merriman says that “Stanley deserted”.  There is an Al Stanley in the Lincolns at this time but he went by the name Al Handler in Spain.  He was assigned to the Washington Battalion but there is nothing in his record on RGASPI that says he “deserted”.

The next sentence does not seem to follow and the closest parsing reads “Decision Maddry”, which could be Madrigueras. There was a decision needed on who would come from Madrigueras to Tarazona.  In another frenzied memo, Vidal chastises the Autopark for not providing enough transport to move 125 men from Madrigueras to Tarazona.  In any case, it is followed by some reference to party members being given jobs in “any place here”.

Merriman goes to check out the Ammo storage building that was sabotaged and finds it leveled.  His intent was to replace the guard on the building and realizes that there is nothing left to guard.  He pulls the guard off the wrecked building.  He returns to Pozorubio or Tarazona and says that he left Allan Knight in Albacete.

In a moment of “too much information”, Merriman must have been amused by Joe Dallet conducting his own “third arm inspection” (‘third arm’ or ‘short arm’  being military slang for an appendage which cannot be used to fire a gun) and washing his privates in the room.  At the time, Richard Baxell informs us of sanitary habits quoting from a letter from Australian Laurence Collier to Bill Alexander that resides in the International Brigades Archives at the Marx Memorial Library:

At this period of my life, I was 23, I was not very good at either love or sex, or shall we say love and sex.   There were a half a dozen young women I meant in the course of my service who attracted me, Angela H[aden] G[uest], Patience Darton, and a few Spanish ‘nurses’, etc.  I never got as far as to make a romantic suggestion, they all seemed out of reach (I was immature, or something).   When in Barcelona I visited a sort of red light district, and was rather appalled a a professional exhibiting herself outside a sort of booth which I suppose was a crude brothel.

I found a not unattractive ‘sensible looking’ woman of about 35 and suggested spending the night with her.  She said she was otherwise engaged but took me to a room where we had what can only be described as ‘surgical sex’, after which in a very business-like way she completed the ‘surgery’ by washing my parts with a solution of permanganate of potash.¹

The potassium permanganate or “Condy’s Crystals”  would have been a disinfectant.   While some men in the Brigades actually caught venereal diseases, there was enough knowledge at the time to reduce the potential for catching VD.

On the 26th of May, Merriman holds meetings with Ed O’Flaherty who went by the name Flaherty in Spain and Steve Daduk.  He meets with the camp commander and says he is “weak”.   A few days previously, Merriman was taken with the man who we now know is Tadeusz Oppman, a Polish lawyer who was the head of the Dombroski Battalion in the fall of 1936.   Merriman says that “Otero, a representative of Gallo” was inspecting the camp.   There is a memorandum sending Comrade Otero to the Albacete in the orders of the Command².

Merriman says that they had their first flag raising ceremony in camp with the Russians “Carlos” and “Roblet” there.  The flag went up upside down which must have been embarrassing.  During training Roblet read modifications to the Soviet military manual which had to do with tanks.  We are only left to guess what change was included other than, sarcastically, British driving tanks should drive on the right side of the road and not run over donkey carts.

Finally, Merriman finishes with Dr. Madan Mohan Lal Atal just saying that he is still suspicious of him.  Atal must be in Pozorubio and since this camp was top secret with open discussion of most political issues, Merriman was suspicious of Atal’s background.   As we said in previous postings, it is unlikely that Dr. Atal was a Communist Party member at this time.  We will hear no more of Dr. Atal in the diary.

________________________________

¹ Richard Baxell, Unlikely Warriors, ibid. pg 251 and reference 55, therein.

²  RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 1/Delo 45/Pg 18  (May 14, 1937).

3-4 Abril Bob Merriman goes to Madrigueras

April 3-4

Robert Merriman’s diary of April 3rd and 4th 1937

Robert Merriman will now settle into the routine of being an instructor at the training bases around Albacete (Villaneuva de la Jara, Madrigueras, Tarazona de la Mancha, Quintanar del Rey,  Pozo Rubio and others).   The diary for April 2 flows over onto this page and he finishes the story of André Marty questioning Marion on where she got her military greatcoat and reminding her of the “dress code”.  I am sure from the retort that Marion was impressed by Marty.

Amlie

Hans Amlie (right) with David Doran and US Military Attaché Colonel Fuqua, at Quinto, October 1937. Source: ALBA photo 11-0843 of the Randall Collection, Tamiment Library, NYU

Burton, Amlie

Instructors at Tarazona de la Mancha in June 1937. From left to right: Peter Hampkins (British), Edward Cecil-Smith (Canadian), Wallace Burton (American), unknown, Walter Garland (American) and Hans Amlie (American). Photo from the Milly Bennett Collection, Hoover Institution, Stanford University.   Milly Bennett labelled this photo with Allan Johnson as the mystery man in the middle but contributors to this site are leaning to that person being Mirko Marcovics, who will become battalion commander of the second English speaking battalion.

Hans Amlie is now Commander of the Lincoln Battalion and Merriman will be working with Amlie until the Fall of 1937, with frequent chafing between their personalities.  Hans Amlie was a very interesting character and was the brother of Republican Congressman Tom Amlie of Wisconsin.  His biographies¹ say that he was a Socialist when he came to Spain (he arrived on Mar 17, 1937) but when the Eugene V. Debs Column of the American Socialist Party could only draw 25 volunteers, Amlie joined the Communist Party in Spain.  In an interesting confluence of personalities, the American reporter Milly Bennett lost her lover, Wallace Burton, in Spain as he was killed at Belchite.  Milly had spent some time in China with Wallace’s twin brother Wilbur Burton who wrote for the Baltimore Sun newspaper.  When Milly Bennett was the lead reporter for the Chang Mei news bureau in Peking (Beijing), Burton replaced her when she moved down to Hankow to be more in the action.   Her biography², “On Her Own” reads like a Dashell Hammett mystery story.  In Spain, after Wallace died,   Milly became the lover and then married Hans Amlie and when she returned to the US in January 1938, she did so as Amlie’s wife.

Tapsell

Wally Tapsell, ALBA Photo 11-1292. Tamiment Library, NYU

11_0009s_Clyde Taylor, MacKenzie-Papineau_nov 37

Dr. Clyde Taylor. Photo 11-0009 of the Randall Collection, Tamiment Library, NYU

Three additional names are added to our cast in this installment: Commandant Clare, Dr. Clyde Donald Taylor and Dave Engels.   Dave Engels’ nickname was “Mooch”.  We have not posted a picture yet of Wally Tapsell of the British Battalion.  Commandant Clare remains a mystery at this point.

_______________________

¹ Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid. pp. 204-206.

² Milly Bennett (Mildred Mitchell), On Her Own:Journalistic Adventures from San Francisco to the Chinese Revolution, 1917-1927,  edited by Tom Grunfeld, M. E. Sharpe Publishers, Armonk, NY., 1993.

9-10 Febrero Foresight and hindsight

9-10_Febrero

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 9 and 10

After 77 years, it is somewhat specious to explain what is going on in Merriman’s diary when we know what is happening at the time and what will happen shortly.   I have thrown a new keyword at the top of the page which will become monumental in the lexicon of the International Brigades, “Jarama”.   Between the 1st of February and the 10th, it became very clear that Franco’s forces had begun a major flanking offensive against Madrid designed to cut the road between Madrid and Valencia.  The lines at that  point were west of the road and Franco and General Mola planned an offensive to cut the road, sweep up to Alcala de Henares which is on the road to Guadalajara outside of Madrid, and isolate Madrid completely.  This would have ended the war.   A map of the region will help the discussion for the next month.

Jarama_map

Map of the Battle Front of the Jarama Valley, February, 1937.  The initial objective was Arganda shown here and the ultimate objective was Alcara de Heneres which would be under the legend box above.   Source: Thomas1, p. 375

We cannot discuss the battles in this valley in any great detail here, but Merriman will discuss the events which most affected the Americans.   Frustratingly, Merriman’s diary does not talk about plans and movements but this is understandable.  He was carrying a document that could be used by the enemy if captured. His discussions are mostly retrospective about things that could not be used against the Brigades if it fell into enemy hands. We will find out about events after the fact.

On February 5, six hundred Moroccan fighters under the command of General Orgaz of “the forces of the rebellion” (as the Spanish termed the Fascist army) attacked the little town of Ciempozuelos against the 18th Brigade of the Republican Army.  The Republicans were overwhelmed and retreated.  Ciempozuelos became a literal slaughterhouse with hundreds of soldiers and civilians killed including those who were in a mental hospital there.²  Ciempozuelos was an atrocity of war. In this sector, some internationals had been supporting the Republican Army.  It became clear that this Jarama river valley had to be defended at all costs and the road to Valencia could not be cut off.  The discussions in Merriman’s diary and the hurried pace of training were recognition that they would have to go forward soon.

If Merriman knew the situation by February 10, there is no evidence from the diary.   Over the past week, Merriman had been putting out fires between the Irish and the British, the Irish and the Cubans, and the Irish and the Americans.  The quotes from William Herrick, an American, on the previous days are among the many text references to the events, but the understanding of the French (Marty and Vidal) and Americans (Stember and Merriman) of the depth of the discontent may have been culturally limited.   Rob Stradling in his book “The Irish and the Spanish Civil War“² spends nearly a chapter discussing the historical problems between George Nathan, the British Commander in November 1936, and the Irish. Nathan, who was Jewish, had fought for the English in the Irish Rebellion and was a “Black and Tan”.  He had been involved in the taking of a town where two Sein Fein leaders had been killed.  Nathan’s ethnicity became the subject of  the attack against him and he was replaced by Tom Wintringham in December.  Stradling asserts that André Marty intentionally placed Nathan over the Irish “first, in order to show the battalion who was in charge; and, second, to divide and rule the troublesome Irish”.  He quotes Fred Copeman as saying “the Irishmen drank like fish, they would not take orders from MacCartney”.

Company 1 leader Bill Scott was also accused of being a British supporter (and even not really being Irish) and having him lead the Connolly column was now Merriman’s problem.  Frank Ryan, a Sein Fein leader, and now high up in the Brigades, had added to the rancor by writing a Daily Worker article in December about his colleague, Nathan.  When it hit the fan in December (and Stradling asserts that Marty brought it to a head by leaking this information to the Irish) Ryan had been sent to Madrid to be out of the way while the Irish had a vote to separate from the British and go to the Americans.  The vote was split 45-11 but the majority ruled and they all went from the British to the Americans (to the relief of Wintringham).  Stradling says that the Irish boasted that they had hauled machine guns up to the British Headquarters to make sure they got their way on the transfer.

All this seems terribly wasteful of effort given, in Merriman’s words on February 9, “Vidal soon to move”.  He notes that the Americans were “to move to forest”, probably a reference to their leaving Villaneuva de la Jara to Pozo Rubio which was a forested, secretive camp³.  Expectations that the towns that they were training in would be bombed may have entered into this plan.

The Cooperman discussed in this section is Lieutenant Phil Cooperman, who came over with the first group of Americans and became Battalion secretary.  Cooperman died in Spain (not known where, but it was after 14 March when Cooperman was in Guadalajara).   Merriman says “to Salamanca to sleep” and this is the Hotel Salamanca in Albacete which had been taken over as a barracks4.  His statement “English to us” is cryptic and would mean that the English would be coming to the Brigades, but not Merriman’s Lincoln Battalion, who would get only the Irish out of that group.

On the 10th Merriman returns to Villanueva with his booty and hears “tales”.  This is interpreted as people complaining about each other.  He meets with Vidal and mentions “rumors about Malaga”.  We discussed the attack on Malaga on the February 3rd posting.

_____________________________

¹ Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, Harper and Brothers, New York,  1961.

² Robert A. Stradling, The Irish and the Spanish Civil War, Mandolin, Manchester University Press, 1999.

³ Volunteer for Liberty, Vol. 1, No. 28, p. 12

4 Vidal (Gayman, Vidal) “The Base of the International Brigades in Albacete 1936-1937”, RGASPI Archives Fond 545 Opus 2 Delo 32, pg 14, accessed at Tamiment Library, NYU, from the microfilms.

7-8 Febrero “A rather cruel sport”

7 to 8th February

Robert Merriman’s Diary for February 7 and 8, 1937.

(Post partially written by Alan Warren)

In the propaganda booklet, The Story of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, written in the trenches of Spain, produced for supporters of the Battalion in the United States, the following passage recalls the bullfight on February 7th, and also that the Sunday before, a football match had been held between the Irish Section and the Dutch, who were part of the Medical Unit attached to the Lincoln Battalion.

One Sunday a football match was held between the Irish Section and the Dutch, which resulted in a draw since everybody played the game differently. On the next Sunday we were taken to see a bull fight at Motilla (del Palancar), a town near the base. The fight was gory and the matador not especially good. Since it was the first time most of us had ever witnessed a bull fight, it proved to be an odd and interesting day, though some of the boys expressed it as being a rather cruel sport

William Herrick writes about Ray Steele, who was mentioned by Merriman on January 28th as having been drunk and having broken a door:

One man did get drunk publicly, but he was quickly hauled in and placed in the brig for the night. His name was Ray Steele, a merchant mariner who called himself a Wobbly. He was one of the few non-Communists in the battalion. Though Ray had a club foot, he could outrun anyone in the battalion. I thought I was fast, but he beat me by yards in a hundred-yard dash. We had a football that we passed around and punted to each other. Ray could kick beautiful spirals forty, fifty yards. He became one of the finest machine-gunners and soldiers at the front

It is possible that the prisoner is, in fact, Ray Steele and that Merriman and Stember need to come to some resolution on the penalty to be served.   The Irish who have come to the American Battalion from the British remain difficult to command, no matter which Battalion they are in.  Drink remains an issue.

Merriman goes to Madrigueras to meet the British, but the British had left Madrigueras for La Gineta on February 7th and then to Jarama.   Scotsman Robert Bridges, from Leith, had been left in charge at Madrigueras.  Bridges would die on the 27th of February at Jarama. Madrigueras was left in an apparent state of difficulty with the British departure and this may be due to rain.

Vidal recalls the orders to go to the front his his memoir (translation by RMH and apologies for mistakes from the French)³:

The two following extracts from verbal recollection of the meeting of 28 January at the Etat Major gives an insight into the state of the Brigade nine days before departing from Albacete:

1) the following forces are ready:

1 English Battalion

1 French Battalion

2 Slav Companies

1 Italian Company (in reserve – ultimately assigned to another brigade)

It might also be possible to have one or two American companies and a Slav company to make up a Battalion was completed following. Telegraphed to Lukacs to have 33 Yugoslavs of his effectives.³

Vidal goes on to include the orders of the day for February 7, 1937.   They state³:

I communicated to General Gahl {sic}, Commandant of the XVth Brigade, the tone of your communication.  With his agreement, I alerted immediately the units of the XVth Brigade the ways that they could be ready to leave, at the latest by 10:00 on February 7.

The elements necessary to complete the Brigade and are actually missing are:

the complement of machine gun companies (24 machine guns for five battalions in place of the 40 machine guns allocated by the Ministry of Defense)

light machine guns

grenades

transmission equipment (radios, telephones, telephone wire)

materials for transport (the Base of the B.I. will donate a limited number of trucks and light vehicles.  The brigade is missing 5 touring cars and an important number of  trucks)

The Brigade has 5 Battalions of Infantry (3 International, 2 Spanish).

1 company of Engineers

a squadron of cavalry (2 sections of horse cavalry and 1 section of motorized cavalry)

Intendencia

Health Service

An Etat Major.

He includes the actual order for February 6³:

“The XVth Mixed Brigade (5th International Brigade) will leave on February 7 at the hours and fixed conditions which follow: 

{Table paraphrased}

First Convoy (Commander Fort):
15th Battalion (French-Belgian)  leaves Tarazona at 10:00 for La Gineta and boards the train at 11:00 for a 14:00 departure

16th Battalion (British) leaves Madrigueras at 10:00 for La Gineta and boards the train at 11:15 for a 14:00 departure

Second Convoy (Captain Alloca):

Squadron of Cavalry leaves La Roda, boards the train there for a 15h departure

Third Convoy (Captain Grebenerrov):

18th Battalion (Polish-Balkans-Italians) leaves Mahora for Albacete where they will board the train for undetermined departure time

The Engineers, Etat Major, and Service Sanitaire  board the train in Albacete for undetermined departure time.

Fourth Convoy

21st Battalion (Spanish) boards the train at Albacete for an undetermined departure time.  {Note below that Vidal knew the 21st Battalion would not be going to Jarama at this time, but he needed to get them out of Albacete as they had billetted all over town and were causing Vidal problems with the locals.  He wanted them in Pozo Rubio}

Fifth Convoy (Adjutant Duguet):

Transport Section (leaves by road).

{The orders detail the number of trucks, rail cars, etc. in each convoy and are too extensive to quote here}

…. “Particularly during the train trip, rolling stock (trucks, ambulances, cars) will be camouflaged.  During the part of the voyage  during the night, all lights including cigarettes and pipes are rigorously prohibited on the train”…..

Men will be given two days supplies on leaving Albacete…..  Each soldier will receive 150 rounds of ammunition with their rifles … Each machine gun will receive 1500 rounds of ammunition….  The Chief of the Etat Major will receive funds for four days support for each soldier at 4 pesetas a day…..³

The order was signed by Vidal.   He says “The departure of the two Battalions for their assignments was a spectacle that Albacete was not accustomed.  The commander decided that some of the men would leave by vehicle, some on foot”.   The men marched 10-12 kilometers to La Roda and La Gineta for the trains.  The 21st Battalion (Spanish) only went 8 kilometers and then disembarked to move to Pozo Rubio.  The 24th Spanish Battalion moved to Mahora to replace the 18th Battalion in its quarters.   The 24th and 21st would rejoin the XVth Brigade two weeks later at the front.  Vidal describes in some detail the problem with the Spanish Battalions not obeying his orders and spreading themselves out in private homes and apartments in Albacete.  The 600 soldiers became a logistical nightmare for the Base as there was no way to feed them and the sanitary needs (showers and toilets) could not be found in Albacete.  Vidal needed to get them out of town, so he ordered them to the Front and then diverted them to where he could manage them.

Nowhere in the orders does it say where the Front is or where they are going…….

___________________________

¹The Story of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, written in the trenches of Spain, by John Tisa.  1937. pp. 9-10. The complete booklet can be found at this link.

² William Herrick,  Jumping the Line. AK Press, 2001. p. 147.

³ Vidal,  “The Base of the International Brigades in Albacete 1936-1937″, RGASPI Archives Fond 545 Opus 2 Delo 32, BDIC Library, Nanterre, France (can be also accessed at Tamiment Library, NYU, from the microfilms).    {In hardcopy as Vital Gayman, Vital Gayman et la Base des Brigades Internationales d’Albacete en 1936.1938, Fondº Δ rés 744/1, Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (BDIC)6, allée de l’Université Nanterre Cedex F-92001 France}