Category Archives: Tarazona

11-12 Agosto “Hello, 15th Brigade!” and “English Out”

August 11-12, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for August 11 and 12, 1937

Merriman continues to document the shake up of the 15th Brigade and records that Ralph Bates and Steve Nelson came to the Battalion to tell the men that Merriman will be moving up to the Brigade level as Chief of Staff.  Rollin Dart would move back from Albares where he headed the Lincolns and would take Merriman’s place as commander in training.   Merriman will take Canadian Bill Skinner and Sidney Shostek with him to Brigade as his aides.

Owen Smith

Captain Owen Smith, Operations, Tamiment Photo 177_188024, Tamiment Library, NYU

In the farewell, Marion Merriman spoke.   The August 9-10 posting has Marion’s description of the event and it seems that she mixed up Merriman’s accompanying the Mac-Paps to Albares and then his return to Tarazona to announce his movement up to the Brigade level.  But she missed by only one or two days in these events.  Merriman says ford arrived and this could be James Ford, a CP official from the US but it more likely to be a vehicle for him in his new position.  The next line says “delivery body” which sounds like it is vehicle related.   Merriman was sure that he would get the trappings of office when he got a promotion. Merriman also spoke briefly and there were songs.  Merriman says Owen (Owen Smith, probably) wanted more on the reorganization and said that the leaders were hiding something.   Smith obviously was aware of the trouble that Marcovics was in from Brunete and the Americans were watching his treatment closely.  When Steve Nelson and Ralph Bates arrived, Merriman accompanied them to Albacete.

William Rowe

William Rowe. Photograph from a pamphlet published by the Communist Party of Great Britain, thanks to Stuart Walsh for providing the image.

Copic-Gall

Vladimir Copic and General Gal in a tete-a-tete at Ambite, believed to be July 21, 1937. Tamiment Photo 177-175018, NYU Bobst Library, New York, New York.

The next morning (after having the perks of command allowing him to sleep on grain sacks), Steve Nelson starts to reveal to Merriman how upset the British are about these adjustments.  Merriman met with Will Paynter, William Rowe, Aitken and Jock Cunningham.  Thanks to comrades doing photo research on the Brigades for the identification of William Rowe (1905-1948).  Rowe arrived in Spain in April of 1937 would be invalided home for tuberculosis , returning 19 September 1937.¹  The British suggested that if Cunningham was not going to be Brigade Commander, perhaps Cunningham and Merriman could share the role.  This is a very strange suggestion and one which was being preempted by Vladimir Copic’s trip to see General Gal (Janos Galicz).  General Gal was known to be moving on as Merriman said “General out” on an earlier page, but on this day he was still in command of the Internationals.  Copic was getting orders ready for the reassignments and Copic would lead the Brigade and Merriman would be his Chief of Staff.

Mirko Markovics continued the battle with Cunningham which started with the commands given at Brunete.  The British and Americans were at loggerheads over the leadership question and Merriman met with Robbie Robinson,  Rollin Dart and George Kaye to develop an American position.   Ralph Bates would be leaving before the upcoming offensive (Quinto) but he must have given Merriman the quote that “Cunningham leaving would be more of a loss than Copic”.   Copic, however, maneuvered his way to the leadership and arrived back at Albacete with Gal’s orders that Merriman would be Chief and Aitken and Cunningham were to go.  Merriman says “English out.  Feel sorry for them.”   Merriman’s notes leave us to conclude that the exclusion of the English, Scots and Irish was Copic’s doing.   (One should reread Copic’s comments to Haywood about the British in the July 19-20 entry here).  Mirko Markovics (another Slav, although American) survived the housecleaning and will become information officer.  Aitken, Cunningham and Markovics all crossed Colonel Hans Klaus at Brunete and the piper must be paid.

Gordon and Begelman

Joe Gordon (left) and Elias Begelman (right), ALBA Photo 11_0098, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman finished the day reminiscing with Phil Cooperman.  He also gave Markovics a warning, apparently that Steve Nelson was not going to be his ally and that Markovics needed to shape up.  Recall that at Brunete, Nelson was put in the position of having to take over from Marcovics because the latter refused to follow a difficult order to send the Americans back into battle.   Nelson accomplished what Marcovics could not, but only through his motivational abilities.  Luckily the Spanish Battalion intervened and the Americans did not need to go back into the fight in their highly weakened state.  At the evening meeting,  Elias Begelman was also in the discussion and apparently was too garrulous for Merriman.

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¹  Thanks to Stuart Walsh and Kevin Buyers for the research on Rowe, private communication.

9-10 Agosto Merriman is moved up further

August 9-10, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary from August 9 and 10, 1937

Robert Merriman assumed that when he went to the “front” that he would be with the Americans.  His involvement with the Lincolns will be short lived.   As the Americans are in Albares on rest, many of the men are in Madrid on R&R.   Merriman also is in Madrid and talks to Ed Rolfe about trouble in the 5th Regiment du Tren, when the repatriation policy is overstated.  The rumors about repatriation will echo through the ranks of all the International Brigades and rumors of policy changes on the length of service were rife over the summer of 1937.

Luigi Gallo was not available at the time and Merriman says “Galli” helped them find food.  That is probably Humberto Galliani.   Marion Greenspan and Merriman leave for Ambite where the Brigade is based and they still missed Gallo who was moving fast.  He was with a Brigadista named “Franz” (unknown).   Gallo was working on issues with the Medical Service and the XIth and XIIth Brigades during this week and he has a memo to him from Dr. Franek of the Medical Service.   We believe that Franz may be Dr. Franek.   Gallo was in Madrid, Albacete and later Valencia during this week so he was really on the move.

Merriman says that Klaus explained his actions against Marcovics and threatened anyone who told Marcovics what he said with court martial.   This must have been a very awkward position for Merriman to be in, knowing that Marcovics and he were not close, but that Nelson and other Americans must have told him Marcovics’ side of the story.  Marcovic’s error was to stand up to Colonel Klaus and refuse to send the Americans back into battle in late July at Brunete when the Americans had been decimated.   Jock Cunningham and Aitken had flatly refused to send the British back in and Aitken told Marcovics and Nelson that they were crazy to accept the order since the men would not follow them.   Nelson did mobilize the Americans to go back but they were reprieved from a likely demise by the Spanish who plugged the lines on the 24th of July.    The resistance of Marcovics, Aitken and Cunningham to Klaus’ orders would shortly work against them.

In a rush to get back to Albacete with Joe Dallet, Merriman stops in Tarançon and meets with Al Stone (Albert Gottlieb) and “Rose” (probably Solomon Rose, who would have been in hospital from injuries at Brunete).  Apparently there was a woman from San Francisco who knew Merriman’s family as he says that he has a message from Abbie and Fay.  Fay is Fay Cook Merriman, his mother, and Abbie is Abbie Cook, Fay’s mother and Merriman’s grandmother.

Ralph Bates

Ralph Bates lecturing to the Regiment de Tren, probably July 21, 1937, prior to going to Quinto. ALBA Photo 177-178037, Tamiment Library, NYU

11-1322 Begelman, Copic, Max, Galliani, and Dunbar

Elias Begelman (left), Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Copic, Comrade Max (likely Maximov, a Russian advisor), Humberto Galliani, and Malcolm Dunbar, at Ambite Mill, likely on July 21, 1937. ALBA Photo 11-1322, Tamiment Library, NYU.

 

He tears back to Tarazona for a meeting and the next day reveals the reason.   Robert Merriman’s diary is unique in unraveling the machinations of the leadership adjustments in August 1937.  While Merriman was talking about an American going to the Staff level of the Brigade in his August 7-8 diary pages, that adjustment took exactly two days.  In a flurry of activity that involved the rotation out of a number of British and Americans who had been in Spain from the beginning, Luigi Gallo, Ralph Bates and Vladimir Copic returned to the Brigade and shook things up.  On the 10th of August, Merriman is told he is to be the Chief of Staff to Copic.   The French were not pleased with the Americanization of the Brigades and one recalls that Lucien Vidal was recently removed from Albacete base command.   Vidal would say in the concluding page of his memoir¹ that he found that the infighting between the French and Germans was bad but that the inability of the British and Americans to accept French (or international) leadership over their battalions was a major cause of the failing of the Brigades.   He particularly called out the Americans and British as a problem in having a truly international collaboration in the Base of the Brigades.

Merriman speaks with Copic about recommendations for comrades who fought in Brunete.  He includes Marcovics in that list.  Merriman has clearly sided with the American view that Colonel Klaus was unreasonable in his orders and that Marcovics was correct in resisting them.   Merriman says that he has permission to “clean Albacete”.  The feeling at this point was that Albacete had become a dumping ground for “inaptes”, men who were useless at the front because of inability, incapacity or just being shell-shocked.  One can imagine Merriman viewing  these men as consuming food and supplies, goods that should have gone to men at the front.  The drain on supplies could be staunched if they repatriated these non-combatants home.

In another unreadable word, he has a session with a comrade who looks like “Fernando”.   Spanish nicknames were often taken for Russian advisors.  Merriman solidifies Lou Secundy’s placement in Transports.  Secundy did a good job in getting the Battalion to Albares on previous days.

Nelson spoke at Pozo Rubio and Tom Wintringham was viewed as weak.  The training at the school is noted as “slow”.   Another new name “Seegar” appears and he will go to Madrigueras from Pozo Rubio.  Unfortunately, the name list for Pozorubio does not reveal this name in August and we are still searching for him. We have found that George Fletcher, a Briton, was sent from Madrigueras to Tarazona on August 13 so it is possible that “Seegar” was a Briton being sent to Madrigueras in exchange.  Merriman speaks with the men at Pozo Rubio and explains what happened with Vincent Usera and Mirko Markovics at the front.  Merriman’s sympathy for their actions is apparent and quite nonjudgmental.

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¹  RGASPI, Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 32, p 454.

5-6 Agosto Half of the 2nd Training Battalion moves up to Albares

August 5-6, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for August 5 and 6, 1937

Merriman has to make hard decisions over the next few days.   With the decimation of the Lincoln and Washington Battalions at Brunete, men are needed to fill out the ranks of even a combined Lincoln-Washington Battalion.   Merriman fights to keep the men he has, but the need is great at the front and nearly 200 men will move up into other battalions.  In his visit to Albacete, Merriman meets with leading comrades who are there:  Bill Lawrence, Ed Bender, Jock Cunningham,  John Miller, Mirko Marcovics, Marion Merriman, Dave Mates, Bob Kerr (of the Canadians), and Merriman.   A decision has to be made as to the number of Spanish in each battalion.  Two weeks prior, the Americans fought against even 25% of the brigade being Spanish and now the policy is 50%.   Mirko Markovics spoke about his role and his apology for not leading at the front, but Merriman is not having any of it (see additional material below).    David Mates is defending his position and uses statements made by Dave Doran for support but Merriman calls it “rumors”.

In the flurry of activity about the adjustment in leadership, the question of visiting Comrade Bielov (who is leading the Albacete base) is raised.  Harry Haywood is still fighting to save his position, although previously it was decided he would return to the US.  The Battalion in Albacete was going to be halved.  Merriman argued and won the argument that his Battalion should stay together and that he would take them forward to the front.  Once the meeting ended, orders were written, lists of who would move were prepared, and “much typing was done”.  Merriman spoke with Dave Doran about his method of managing troops.

On the 6th, the decisions were revealed to the troops and the fact that they were going forward was received well.  When the decision that the Battalion was being split was discussed, however, the men thought that only the malcontents and weaker elements were being sent to the front.  In an evening meeting, this was dealt with and John Miller and Robbie Robinson spoke to the troops.  An evening meal and party featured “Minnie our dog” being “married” to Fishman.   While probably humorous for some, it wasn’t for Morris Fishman.   This is clearly not Moe Fishman who was wounded at Brunete and was in hospital at this point.

At the evening meeting, there was some discussion on the policy of deserters and Jim Bourne spoke to the troops.  Mirko Markovics continues to be marginalized and he is irritated that Vincent Usera (who also showed weakness at Brunete) was given a hand by the troops.   At the end of the evening, Lou Secundy of AutoPark made up the transit Salvo Conductos for those going forward.

Merriman made a note in the diary that he added additional notes on the September 21 page.  This is actually pretty telling for Merriman that he would place his additional comments at such a date.  His diary would run until December 31 but he had made the decision at this point that he would probably not need diary pages after September 21.  One can only imagine the fatalistic images that were going through Merriman’s mind if he pick that date as far enough in the future for him not to worry about needing diary pages at that point.

Notes from 21-22 September

Robert Merriman’s notes added to the 3-8th of August. From the 21-22 September pages.

McGuire

Patrick McGuire of the Canadian contingent in Brunete. RGASPI Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 170. Moscow.

In these additional notes, Merriman makes the statement that if Markovics had continued to lead the Battalion the attack on Brunete would never have been made.  Clearly, this is hyperbole, but Merriman and Markovics were antagonistic throughout the spring of 1937.  He lists comrades who had either deserted or not performed at Brunete.   McGuire is likely to be Canadian Patrick McGuire.  Gonshak is Samuel Gonshak.  Burton is Wallace Burton who was  a trainer at Pozo Rubio.  Burton had been a close acquaintance of Milly Bennett.  Krangel is a new name and is Morris Krangel, who will be killed in action at Fuentes del Ebro in October, 1937.

Merriman names Vanderberge as moving up to the Estato Mayor of the Brigade.   This soldier has been difficult to nail down but we will discuss him in more detail on August 7-8.  Amandus Van den Berghe was the second in command for the Brigade at this point.  Merriman notes that Rollin Dart is in as Commander of the Lincolns. A Russian named Kosonatchev (name uncertain) did not do well at the front.   Thirty-five leaders are being replaced at the front.  Walter Garland did not want to leave but clearly was being removed.  Samuel Gonshak defended himself and Merriman is very explicit about what he thought of the excuse.

In the British ranks, George Aitken is advocating for Jock Cunningham, but Cunningham will be repatriated to Scotland.  In a rumor, Merriman hears from Frank Ryan that an American (presumably Merriman) will be promoted to Brigade Staff.

Merriman visited the Brigade headquarters at Ambite Mill and is in awe of the facilities.  He says that Wiley (presumably Samuel David Wiley) criticized Joe Dallet’s handling of the disciplinary cases of Irving Weissman and Tom Hyde.   Merriman says that Wiley warned him to check out the cases himself.   We don’t know the result of that investigation.   We do know that Merriman had released Tom Hyde from detention.  Wiley warned Merriman that Dallet created problems for Merriman.   Seaman Oliver continues to spread rumors and accusations, and in this case was drunk when doing so.   William Edward Howe called in and was bawled out.  Obviously, he was not a true deserter.

 

 

3-4 Agosto The Mac-Paps get their banner

August 3-4, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for August 3 and 4, 1937

As the pace of training accelerated, Merriman missed a few days in his diary.  On August 3, he just tells an anecdote about maneuvers when he “pulled the leg” of one of Bill Skinner’s scouts.   Merriman is obviously in the field with the men and spends time overnight in a trench.

On August 4, Max Bedacht and Phil Bard arrive to lecture the men, a lecture which Merriman says is dry.   Bedacht reportedly testified to Congress that he was part of a group of 8 who went to Spain to visit the Brigades.   Bedacht is reputed to have recruited American reporter Whitaker Chambers to the Communist Party.  However, as in all things Chambers, one must view the stories with a critical eye.  Bedacht material is available in the Tamiment Library.

Art Landis

Arthur Landis, left, of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, ALBA Photo 11-0004, Tamiment Library, NYU.

Art Landis captures the event:

The early days of August, 1937, saw Volunteers from both the United States and Canada welcoming a delegation front the United States which had brought over thirty-two tons of soap, cigarettes, chewing gum, and other needed items.  This was the first of a steady flow of supplies to be distributed under the dispensation granted by Secretary of State Cordell Hull on June 6, 1937.  The visiting group was headed by Phil Bard (Lincoln Veteran), now acting secretary of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.  It included Frank Mertens, of the National Maritime Union; John P. Hautala, of the Finnish Workers Federation; and Max Bedacht, national secretary of the International Workers Order.²

Mac-Paps in Mas de las Matas

The Mac-Paps in December 1937 with their flag. Believed to have been in Mas de las Matas, Spain. ALBA Photo, 11-1327. Tamiment Library, NYU

John Miller and Bill Lawrence are in Tarazona de la Mancha to see the naming ceremony for the Mac-Paps.   The Mac-Paps are awarded their Battalion flag.   John Miller and Bill Lawrence invite Merriman back to Albacete to get the scoop on upcoming plans of action.   In the next three months, the Lincolns, Washingtons, and Mac-Paps will be in almost continuous action.  Roblet introduces Comrade Bielov to the Mac-Paps and he lectures.  Bielov was also called “Popov” according to Hugh Thomas.¹  Thomas alludes to Bielov being responsible for the fortifications at Belchite which were overrun in Spring 1938.  Others have mentioned that there were no fortifications at Belchite in the Spring of 1938 and this is why the town was overrun so easily.³

The last line “Question of % of Spanish” hides a multitude of issues facing the International Brigades.  In June, the Spanish Ministry of War issued new orders claiming that all Internationals were subject to the command of the Spanish Army.  The Internationals command viewed this as a threat to dissolve the International Brigades and place them in Spanish units.   Vital Gayman (“Vidal”) wrote a long series of memoranda outlining the Internationals’ position about this integration and subsequently earned his own dismissal by General Miaja.   In one memorandum Vidal says (translated from the French):

For the XVth Brigade, how can one imagine that the officers could ignore the threat made against General Gall after the taking of Villanueva de la Canada and the crossing of the Guadarrama, for the sole fault of not having managed to succeed, with the weakened effectives, after the failure of the Spanish Brigade that marched ahead of them, to ultimately take the two positions of Romanillos and Mosquito {Ridge}.4

Vidal goes on to assess Brunete and the difficulties that the Brigades were facing:

Subject to huge losses, four of its battalions have been combined into two and two cannot be formed into two battalions. The English battalion has attained a vague collection of desertions that have started to win over some of the American Battalions. The Officers are not excluded from this process of demoralization.4

Demoralization of the least patient of the men of the Instruction Battalions and their command (the American battalion of instruction is about 500 men) can foresee no date where they will depart, as a new unit, to reinforce the old American Battalions: first – there are no arms available to the Base of the B.I. within the Brigades themselves (the second American battalion sent to the XVth on June 10, 1937, was armed with the artillery, engineers, etc. and the last reserves of the Armory of the Brigade. Second, because there is no measure one can take to add the Spanish effectives to this battalion and that, in accord with the decisions taken, the Etat Major of the Base refuses to form battalions that are made up of 100% international effectives.4

Vidal explains his removal and gives direction to his successors:

This is why, now where I must leave the command of the International Base, I must convince those who will occupy the functions and the charges that I have overseen for the last 10 months, exactly at the height of these circumstances, that it is not my leaving which will provoke this or that reaction of his {General Miaja} over the International Brigades.   I consider that is my telling of the truth of the situation of the International Brigades that is responsible for the measures that at this time evoked these regrettable and sad events.4

Vidal goes on to suggest that the Internationals must be kept together as a group and not treated as a “Foreign Legion”. It is necessary that their constitution should remain as it is. It is necessary that their rights are officially recognized.

As a result, on 11 August, Vidal followed with a memorandum 5 detailing the problems and asking that 3000 Spaniards be assigned to Albacete to begin training at the schools. He suggests reorganization of the Brigade into the XI, XII, XIV, XV and 150th Brigades. He proposes that the 150th be renamed the XIIIth and that the XIth and XVth be internationals.   He proposes sending the Franco-Belge battalion (XIVth) to the 150th (the new XIIIth).  The Dimitroffs will be sent to the new XIIIth battalion and the XVth staffed with another battalion of Americans.   This suggestion is ultimately put in place by Bielov but General Gal and Vidal were gone from the International Brigades.

Vidal concluded his memoir with a frank assessment of the leadership of the Brigades:

“Gall was only a junior officer with the military knowledge of a junior officer before 1914 …. The military knowledge of Copic was more than a summary. Only Hans (Klaus) was an officer in the German Army with the intelligence and military experience, before forming the Brigades, that let him assume command later of the large units without showing himself to be inferior to his task.”6

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¹ Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, ibid, p. 777.

² Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, p. 246.

³ Landis, ibid, p. 402.

4 Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 32, pp 374-385, written on July 27, 1937.

5 Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 32, pp 388-389, written on August 11, 1937.

6 Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 32, pg 433.

1-2 Agosto Visitors keep coming to Tarazona

August 1-2, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for August 1 and 2, 1937

DeLuca

Sam DeLuca, RGASPI Photo, Fond 545/Opus 6/ Delo 879, Moscow

With Brunete wrapping up and the Americans being pulled back into reserve positions, people return to Tarazona and drop in on the Mac-Paps.  Merriman is busy with disciplinary actions.  He has removed Deluca is probably Samuel DiLuca, an Italian American in the Mac-Paps.  Robert Martineau was a French Canadian from Montreal.  Michael Petrou’s notes¹ show that Martineau was arrested for 8 days and it is probably this incident.   Merriman decides to release Tom Hyde from prison and says that the goal is not to totally break the men who are difficult.  On the August 2 page of the diary though, Merriman says that Hyde is requesting to go to the front “to get it over with” and go home.

In Tarazona, the 1st is spent on sports with a baseball game, a soccer game and horseshoe match.  It appears that Merriman did not do well in any of them.  Merriman notes that the spirits of the men is sagging and it is very likely that word of the rebuff at Brunete and the loss of so many men has gotten back to Tarazona.   Merriman says that men came over from the Officers Training School to Tarazona and they were irritated because there was nothing special set up for their visit.

Marion Merriman returns from the hospital in Villa Paz and she visited Marty Hourihan, the American Commander in Brunete, and Robert Raven who was blinded at Jarama.  She also met with “Al Rothman” but that brigadista is not on the ALBA biography lists.  He makes a cryptic comment “Romen wife” and there is no context for this.

There was a meeting with the cooks and Robbie (not “Robre” as in the transcription) spoke.   That is John Quigley Robinson.  In reference to some names from an earlier page,  Arthur Coapman has been put into some position that had previously held by Gilbert Racheff.  This seems to concern staffing in the kitchen as Frederick Cavanaugh is in and will become the Cook for the Mac-Paps.  Merriman says “Gen. out” and that is unlikely to be “General” in this context.  The name could be “Gus” or “Ten” out.  It is not known what this refers to.   Markovics is still in Tarazona and he stayed over.

On the 2nd, the Mac-Paps go out on maneuver again and it goes better this time.  Merriman mentions “Semyonovitch”.    It is probably that Merriman mean Stepanovics who was the photographer who followed the Brigade around.   In any case, Merriman ran him ragged.  In a cruel prediction of future battles, Merriman called all leaders of the Brigade “dead” and put the number three in the companies in charge, generally a corporal or “cabo”.

Merriman expected a convoy of trucks with 32 tons of supplies from the US that were at Valencia and they did not show up so he sent Ben Barsky, Bill Wheeler and Niilo Makela to Valencia to check out what happened.

In the afternoon of the 2nd, Mirko Marcovics spoke on his adventures in Brunete and his removal by Colonel Klaus.  Merriman says that Marcovics revealed “our weakness”, which may be that the senior Brigade staff was willing to expend the Internationals to the last man.  Marcovics did apologize to the men but he still justified his position.  Clearly, he could not give the order to send the men back into battle after three weeks of hard fighting.

Merriman says “Rejichek and Leppo” dropped in.  His reference to the latter man leading the Machine Gun Company at Brunete draws us to identify him as Danil Lepo.   The first man is likely to be Albert Rezac.  Merriman is still worried about Seaman Oliver.    Lepo would be responsible for him if the Seaman’s Machine Gun Company went over to the Lincolns.  Lepo was injured at Brunete.

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¹ Michael Petrou, Renegades, Table of Mac-Paps, ibid.