Category Archives: Quinto

19-20 Agosto The Trains leave for Caspe and Híjar

August 19-20

Robert Merriman’s diary for the 19th and 20th of August 1937

Overnight on the 18th to 19th, the XVth Brigade moved en mass 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.  After two tries, they are told to “crash it in one hour” which makes it look like the Brigade broke into the bullring.   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 “Genzentel” 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.

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.  However, they 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 region for the rest of the war.  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.


17-18 Agosto The XVth Brigade Leaves for Aragon

August 17-18

Robert Merriman’s diary for the 17th and 18th of August 1937

The pace will pick up rapidly over the next month as the XVth Brigade now goes into repetitive action.   Merriman says that “Marceau” arrives to discuss his plan for the upcoming offensive.  We are checking but Marceau is not spoken of previously in the diary and if he is the planner for the Aragon Offensive, he should be well known.   Bill Lawrence is off to Morata to check on the Intendencia and auto park there.   Morata was the staging area for Jarama and men will begin to move away from that front towards the Aragon.   General Gal comes to tell Merriman that he will lose the Dimitroff Battalion and they will not go with the International Brigades on the offensive.   Since the Brigade should be 3000 men (5 battalions in strength), this means Spanish troops have to be added to the XVth Brigade.   Gal further tells Merriman he will get 10 new trucks and new guns if he turns in the old ones.   Merriman discusses the last action (Brunete) with Gal and the cooperation (or lack of it) between units.

Merriman says that a “Comrade” is here to check on the Russian anti-tank guns.  One can imagine that this is a Russian technical expert.   Merriman leaves after lunch and goes to Albares to discuss the preparedness of the Lincoln Battalion and Carl Bradley.  The diary reads “Nesler” returns from AWOL and one wonders if this is actually Frank Chesler who was in trouble previously in the auto park.  There is no Nesler in the American or Canadian lists.   Merriman also says that Samuel Gonshak wants to come back which indicates that he was under discipline for some time.

Paddy O'Daire

Paddy O’Daire, Mac-Pap commander August 1937 and British Battalion, November 1937. ALBA Photo 11-1277, Tamiment Library, NYU

Carl Bradley goes to the British Battalion.  “MacDougal” visited the British troops and Frank Ryan and George Wattis meet with them to discuss Paddy O’Daire and Peter Daly.   The issue of leaves is still being discussed on the eve of shipping out for the front.   It is apparent that Merriman is sounding out morale and who will be ready to fight in a few days.   Merriman talks with Jim Bourne to get feedback on Joe Dallet and whether the attitude in Albares (where the Americans were based) towards Dallet would be a problem.   “Let down, etc.” may indicate morale problems in the school after the lack of complete success at Brunete.

Merriman returns at 10 pm with Captain (note the emphasis) Wattis.   He was able to get a promotion through Copic.  Arthur Olerenshaw must have had to turn around and go back to get his bags, having mixed them up when he first came.  Steve Nelson returned from Morata and says that the Americans sent to the 24th Battalion (Spanish) were integrating well.

At 3 AM on the 18th, Merriman gets the orders to move.  He prepared orders for all companies and starts to pack up for the Front.  A Doctor named Martinez checked out the health of the men in Ambite.   Interestingly, there was a Doctor Eduardo Martinez Alonso who worked in this area about this time and was written about by Nicholas Coni.  It is not clear if this is the same “Martinez” but Martinez Alonso would desert the Republican side in 1938 and go over to minister to the Rebels.

The Brigade would go first to Valencia on the 18th and then take a train towards the train station in Hijar.   The convoy from the 18th would bring troops from Perales led by Vandenberg, Ambite/Albares led by Marcovics, and from Mondejar led by George Wattis.   Copic did not come back for the move (he would run on ahead to scout positions for the battalions), but General Gal came to see the Brigade off.  He tells Merriman that their target is Teruel.   Teruel fell to the Fascists in 1937 and that would be a target of attack later in 1937, but the direction was a deception, probably to divert the Fascists if the soldiers leaked where they were going.  The actual target would be Quinto.

The muster must have been impressive with 120 trucks involved and they also had to retrieve 250 men who were on leave in Madrid.  At 30 men to a truck, the whole Brigade would move on the 18th.  Bill Lawrence, Ed Bender and Joe Dallet arrive from Albacete to help with the move.  They brought news that Largo Caballero who was removed during May Days was reported to be working with the Anarchists to overthrow the Government.  The Communist International line was that the Brigade would go to the front to hold off the Fascists while other troops would clean up the Anarchists in the rear.  There is mention of an “Imperialist Division”, but that is not clear.

Bill Lawrence was not happy with some personnel decisions made by Steve Nelson and Merriman.  Joe Dallet must have gotten disciplined about the lack of support of the troops.  Dallet was accused of being “the most hated man in the brigade” by Seaman Oliver.   Joe Dallet, however, is known to have been liked by both Nelson and Merriman, so this may have been in the nature of an “attitude adjustment” that Dallet needed to make.  Dallet struggled with his “rank and file” attitude and yet he was in a leadership position.  It appears that Dallet or Merriman made comments against Rollin Dart.   Merriman is leaving but worries that Tom Wintringham was not going to be able to effectively lead the school. He says for another time that “Wintringham is not right” and Wintringham is removed from the Officer’s Training School.   Recall that Copic has purged most of the British Officers over the previous few weeks and this continues his purge of the British.   Canadian Bill Wheeler will go into the school at this point.  Wheeler will be back on the front lines in October so this leadership position in the school is short-lived.

General Gal’s battle with Ralph Bates did not end when Bates left Spain.  Now Bill Lawrence goes to Gal and tells him to fight the order that the Dimitroff Battalion will not go with the Brigade.   Gal says that he only takes orders from the Ministry of War.   Ignoring the senior political commissar in the American Battalion forces the issue to the top.  Lawrence says that the Dimitroffs either go with the Brigade or Gal will go.   In the end, Gal will go, but the Dimitroffs don’t move up.

Merriman eats in Tarancon with “the Rose of Tarancon”.   We had previously interpreted this as Sol Rose, but this may not in fact be the right person.   Merriman sends Marion a note that he is disappointed not to be able to get to see her in Albacete and says “next time”.


Today’s route from Perales to Valencia (315 km). Flying in 55 minutes was not available to the International Brigades

The map above gives a scale of the move on the 18th of August.  Tarancon is a crossroads for two routes to Valencia.  Perales is near Morata de Tajuna where the Jarama Battles were staged.  The rest positions of Ambite, Albares and Mondejar are northwest of Tarancon.



7-8 Agosto Merriman leaves Tarazona for the Front

August 7-8, 1937

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

Robert Merriman leaves Tarazona de la Mancha on August 7, 1937, and he will not return to training.   He asked for, and received permission, to take his Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion to the front as a unit.  He was clearly record keeping in prior pages of his diary and he knew that he would soon be in combat.  His use of pages from September on as notes pages gives a hint to the fatalism he felt as he may not have expected to need those dates later.

Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude fill in the details from these days:¹

All through that day, after the rally at the church, Bob was with different groups of the Command.  I tried to stop time but the hours rushed by.  I wanted Bob to myself.  I didn’t want to yield him once again to the war, as I had done when he left Moscow.

Then, at five o’clock, the battalion formed in parade.

“So long, fellows,” Bob said.  He gave no long speech.  He had wanted to take the battalion personally into the next battle and felt bad about leaving it.  The men stood in review and looked at him.  He looked back, with respect.  There was a strange silence, the silence of goodbye. 

Afterward, a few of us gathered for a light supper.  Someone broke out a bottle of champagne.  We toasted the battle and the victory and the safety of our soldiers.  And we toasted freedom.  Steve, I’ll never forget, was like a surprised and angelic boy, too excited to show much anxiety.

Then, at last in our room, Bob and I said our goodbye, once again.  When he was gone, I sat alone for a while.  Late in the evening, just before going to sleep, I wrote in my diary: “Final farewells and my darling is off.  May he come back as safely this time”.

But sleep would not come.  I lay in the dark, knowing Bob was in a truck heading north, first to Ambite to pull the Americans together, then to a Spanish village called Quinto…”

Marion may have mixed up this departure a bit with Merriman’s next advancement to the Brigade level where he would become Chief of Staff.  Here Merriman himself says that he is leading the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, which pulled out at 3:30 AM for La Roda to turn up the Valencia-Madrid road.  After passing Tarancon, the Brigade joined the resting Lincolns and Washingtons in Albares.  Merriman has a  chance to discuss the Brigade politics with Jock Cunningham (whom he finds conceited) and with Colonel Hans Klaus who removed Mirko Markovics.  Merriman reveals that a “control man”, probably from  the Army Corps level, was talking to Klaus about the Marcovics removal and Marcovics side of the story was discussed.  On the next page,  Merriman says that Stepanovitch was asking for the removal of Phil Cooperman and Ed Bender and one wonders if he is the “control man”.

In the evening of the 7th a meeting was held amongst the American leaders,, Dennis Jordan, David Bates,  Ed Bender, Joe Dallet, Steve Nelson and Merriman.  Nelson says that they have too few officers to lead three full battalions.  Evidently, John Quigley “Robbie” Robinson chafed at his assignment to be the Commissar of the Lincolns.   He supposedly “walked out” on the appointment.   Phil Cooperman seeks repatriation and other cadres are being sent home, including Walter Garland and Dennis David Jordan.   Cooperman does not make it and was killed in Spain.

On the 8th, Colonel Klaus, George Aitken and the other Bates, Ralph Bates, arrive from headquarters.   Merriman repeats the comments made on the September 21 notes page that Sam Gonshak, Wallace Burton and Patrick McGuire were reprimanded for going AWOL and sent for 10 days of KP (Kitchen Patrol).

Merriman heads off for Madrid to meet with Marion Greenspan (George Marion) and Ed Rolfe.  Merriman lectures Greenspan on the policy concerning desertion and repatriation.   He mentions Joe Lash and Hans Amlie as part of this discussion.  Merriman appears to have a lot on his chest that he wants to get rid of.  He later sees Rollin Dart who is his equal in leading the Lincolns and General Walter who will command the Army Corps that the Internationals are in.  Shortly, Hans Amlie will advance to be the Commander of the Lincolns and Merriman may not have been happy with that choice.

Merriman notes that the Belgian Vanderberghe is on leave and his wife is in Madrid.  Merriman may have spoken with Jock Cunningham since he says that Cunningham will not admit he was mistaken in his actions at Brunete.   Cunningham clearly identified Americans, including Garland and perhaps Marcovics, as ones who had to go.   Merriman tries to see Colonel Claus but doesn’t meet with him.  Instead he sees Frank Ryan who again is quoted as saying that an “unnamed” American will be coming to the Staff by next year.  Merriman must assume that is him.  Aitken, Cunningham and Ryan would shortly be returning to Britain.

Landis says:

Leave was granted. There was no more of the nonsense of General Gal.  The Americans were free to go to Madrid, to Albacete, and to Alcala de Heneres close to the nearby rest camps.  They arrived in Madrid by the truckloads, and the capital took them to its heart.  Their stalwart, colorful figures in I.B. ski-pants, boots and berets, were seen everywhere….. Americans were everywhere, they went to the movies, saw James Cagney take over Chicago with “pineapples” and submachine guns.  At the Capital Cinema, opposite the Hotel Florida, the Marx Brothers held forth in A Night at the Opera.²


¹ Marion Merriman Wachtel and Warren Lerude, American Commander in Spain, ibid., pp 156-7.

²  Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., pg 244.