Category Archives: Tarrazona

23-24 Julio “After meeting, reported men drowned”

July 23-24, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for July 23 and 24, 1937

Merriman continues to report the activities in training the Mac-Paps at Tarazona.   He appears unaware of the desperate battle going on in Brunete or else he just felt it was not appropriate to record in his diary at this point.   This is the second page of a catch up of activities that he recorded on July 28.   This field maneuver was extensive and he may have left his diary in Tarazona de la Mancha rather than having in the field with him.

Bob Thompson takes ill and was in charge of the staff activities so the staff planning ceased.  Merriman calls a staff meeting anyway and reprimands Lou Secundy for not getting Ben Barsky through a test at Albacete.  Merriman does not mention what the test is, although on the 26th Merriman makes appointments and Barsky becomes a commissar, presumably a company commissar.

The maneuver was near the bridge on the Tarazona to La Gineta Road over Rio Jucar.  They camped on the far side.  Here is a view today of those fields at the bridge:

Tarazona - LaGineta Bridge

Current Google Streetview image of the Tarazona – La Gineta Road bridge over Rio Jucar. Mac-Paps would have camped in that field.

The river looks quite passive in today’s photo but Merriman is informed that men drowned swimming in the river and he rushes out to see what happened.  He finds out that they did not drown but were able to crawl to shore by going across the river bottom.  There is a current reservoir on the Rio Jucar now and it is possible that the stream was really a river in 1937 before the reservoir was there.

Joe Dallet is mentioned as having to improve the performance of the signal crew.   And in a word that is difficult to read, consensus opinion of our reviewers is that “Robbie” got sick and was sent into Tarazona to hospital in a truck.  This would be John Quiqley Robinson if true.  Robbie would become the Lincoln Brigade Commissar in about a month before the assault on Quinto.¹

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¹ Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, p. 247.

 

21-22 Julio Ralph Bates comes to Lecture

21-22_Julio_1Merriman must have been busy with the deployment of the Mac-Paps because he did not keep up his diary for the week of July 21-28.  He caught up at one go.  (Believe me, I can understand how Merriman would have trouble keeping up on his diary….)

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

Ralph Bates came to lecture to the men and it was inspiring according to Merriman.   Bates was acting as brigade commissar at the time and would soon go abroad to raise awareness and money for the Internationals.  The photograph on the right is believed to be Bates’ speech to the 5th Transportation Group.

Merriman gives a list of disappointments for the Lincolns.  David Mates was the Commissar of the Washington Battalion.  Harry Haywood’s story was mentioned on earlier diary pages.  Rodriguez could be one of a half-dozen men of that surname and if he was removed for cause, it has not been noted in the major texts on the Spanish Civil War.   Similarly, Murray is unknown.  Schneider is likely to be Murray Schneider who was placed in detention for misappropriation of food.   The story of Vincent Usera was given on the previous post.  While Merriman notes that Usera’s concern was with a fight with Steve Nelson, Nelson clearly was acting in his commissarial role in removing Usera from command.  Interesting comment on Usera “Your contribution to the Spanish War”.  This sounds like Merriman bucking Usera up that he still would make a contribution in training new men.  If Usera was really a plant from the US Army, Merriman had no inkling of that.

The rest of the diary posting dealt with issues of Lou Secundy being irritated by a problem with a vehicle and Joe Dallet missing an appointment because the spring broke in that vehicle.  It seems Dallet must have given heck to Secundy on the status of the auto park vehicles.

19-20 Julio “Much news from the front”

July 19-20, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary from July 19 and 20, 1937

Merriman’s diary for July 19 was filled with news and he even needed to include another half page from the notes page at the end of June.   Merriman tells that Joe Dallet and Bob Thompson had a difficult session on the morning of the 19th with considerable criticism including accusations that orders are not being followed.  Returning in the afternoon, Merriman reveals that the men voted to have Seaman Louis Oliver become Commissar.  Merriman thinks the men made a mistake and calls Oliver a “bluffer”.    On the 20th, Merriman repeats the claim that men are already complaining about Seaman Oliver.  Oliver will arise again in the diary in September as he again clashes with Merriman.

Frank Chesler

Hyman (Frank) Chesler, Autopark, ALBA Photo 11-0015, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman says that Bill Carroll and Alfred Litwin will be going to Pozo Rubio to go to Officer’s Training School, as they were called out by Ernie Amatniek.  In a string of disciplinary notations, he says that Jesse Wallach had to be reprimanded for spreading rumors.  In the Autopark, Lou Secundy was having problems with Frank Chesler.  As an aside, I actually learned to swim in Frank Chesler’s pool in the 1950’s.   I thought he looked like Soupy Sales in the photo on the right.

 

The results of the battles near Brunete are filtering back to Tarazona.  Merriman notes that the Lincolns and Washington’s were joined into the Lincoln-Washington Battalion.   The number of effectives was down to 280 with 150 wounded and 30 dead.  He notes that Mirko Markovich is in charge of the Battalion with Vanderbergh second in command.  Steve Nelson was the Battalion commissar and was noted to have done a fine job at Brunete.    Denis (Dennis) Jordan, the Machine Gun Company commissar was also noted to have helped.  D. R. “Pat” Stephens mentions Jordan at Brunete:

The last of our troops crossed the river bed and the full retreat began. Our machine gun commissar, Denis Jordan, saw that one of our machine gun group was retreating without its gun. It was commanded by a Finn from Minnesota named Sunstrum. Jordan asked him where his machine gun was and he seemed aware for the first time that the machine gun was left behind. He and his group went back to the hill to retrieve it. We could not wait for them; we were in danger of being encircled. I asked Jordan if I could stay behind with my group to give support for Sunstrum and his men. Jordan said I could, but warned me to be careful. He said if Sunstrum and his men were not back soon I was to retreat and rejoin the battalion. I did not have to wait long. The men came back with the gun and we hurried back through the woods to rejoin the battalion. Jordan was worried, and had sent two patrols looking for us. One of the patrols was led by Mo Teitelbaum {Morris Granat} from Chicago. While looking for us, he had met an enemy patrol. An exchange of fire had taken place and Teitelbaum was wounded in the stomach.¹

Others did not fare as well.  Vincent Usera was removed from the Lincoln-Washington Battalion and sent back to Tarazona to help out with training.   Steve Nelson was critical of Usera and Milton Wolff told Cecil Eby that Usera said that he had been planted in the Lincolns as an agent of the US Government².  Harry Haywood said that Usera had left his post without permission and was dismissed by the Battalion Staff.³  Art Landis relates the events of July 9, 1937, in the attempt to take Mosquito Ridge (a.k.a. Mosquito Crest):

The Lincolns moved into the captured Fascist positions on the line of the knoll.  They established a makeshift headquarters in some trees immediately to the read.  At a hurried staff meeting held by Law, Nelson, {Paul} Burns and Usera, it was decided that the assault should continue; that they would attack immediately.  Oliver Law, Burns and Usera were to take the men over.  Nelson was to go only as far as the opposite ridge of the barranca and not attempt the slope until the forward movement had attained some degree of success…..  The advance began again. Paul Burns took the No. 1 Company over; Oliver Law the Second…  {Landis then relates the death of Oliver Law at the head of his troops}….

The Lincoln dead numbered between fifteen and twenty, with another thirty to forty wounded, among them Paul Burns, the courageous No. 1 Company Commander.  The Battalion pulled back from the slope to the knoll and set up positions there.  Steve Nelson now assumed full command of the Battalion.  The adjutant, Vincent Usera, had, for some unaccountable reason, failed to go over with the men.  He went to Brigade Headquarters instead.  Upon knowledge of this, he was summarily dismissed from the staff by Nelson, {Sid} Levine, and the remaining officers. 4

Eby is more graphic with the story:

When telephone lines opened, Colonel {Hans} Klaus {who was in command because of Copic’s injury by shrapnel} reported to Nelson that Vincent Usera was at brigade headquarters saying that the Lincolns had been smashed and asked for more reinforcements.  “We’re not in a safe position”, Usera said.  “No frontline position is safe!” Nelson bellowed.  “You get the hell back here!”  On his return, “cheery and crisp”  Usera coolly said he was ready to command the Lincolns, but the men were not having it.  “You’d be a helluva guy to give orders.  We haven’t seen you the whole fucking day!” exclaimed Carl Bradley of the staff.  Usera drew himself up, “Am I not the adjutant of the battalion?”  “No, you’re not”, broke in Nelson.  “Report to Brigade.  Leave your pistol here.”  After writing a note declaring he was at their disposal, Usera gave a smart parade-ground salute and faded away.²

This one episode is very indicative of the power and role of a Commissar in representing the interests of the men.

Haywood

Harry Haywood, ALBA Photo 177-179056, Tamiment Archive, NYU

Merriman makes the accusation that Harry Haywood was a coward and drunk.  Harry Haywood is an enigma.  Haywood was in the Lenin School with Copic.³   His greatest flaws probably come from being the ranking Communist Party member in Spain and having insufficient military training to be effective in what he was asked to do.   In his own autobiography, Haywood relates what he saw at Brunete:

We continued to march in the direction of Brunete to our new attack position, avoiding the road as much as possible.  Hitler’s and Mussolini’s planes were already bombing the roads.  Towards the evening we halted for the night.  Cunningham was called to brigade headquarters to get the plan of action for the next day.  At the time I thought it was strange that I had not been called.  Jock returned and unfolded a military map, asking me if I could read it.  Having no experience in military map reading, I said no.  He abruptly folded the map and marched off without saying another word, apparently having confirmed some derogatory judgement of me.

I mention this incident because from that time on, there seemed to be a definite cooling in our relationship.  At the time, I wondered if there was any connection between this action and an incident with {George} Nathan earlier that morning.  I had been standing roadside waiting for the Washington Battalion to pass so I could fall in with them.  Nathan, the chief operations officer for the brigades, marched past.  Out of the side of his mouth he snarled, “You’ll get yours”.

This came so suddenly and so threateningly, that I was taken aback.  I yelled after him, “What did you say?”  But he kept going without looking back.   Now, putting these incidents together, I began for the firsts time to suspect that the hand of Col. Copic was at work, and that he had begun lining brigade staff up against me in order to even the score.³

Later, when after Haywood was confronted by Cunningham, Copic was reported to tell Haywood,  “I told you these guys were no good, but you sided with them against me”,  he beamed.  “What are you going to do now?”³

It is disappointing to see the jockeying for position which occurred around Copic and how he played his officers off against each other.   In conclusion, one cannot be sure that Merriman’s statements about Haywood had any foundation and that they may have been part of a deus ex machina to get Haywood out.   Haywood’s downfall essentially started from the Americans’ attempt and failure to have Vladimir Copic removed as Commander of the XVth Brigade, and Haywood’s visible lead in that attempt.  Haywood would say that he had to agree with the leading comrades that his position in the Brigades was untenable after Brunete and he agreed with Earl Browder about repatriation to the US.

Other black comrades had scandalous accusations made about them at Brunete as well.  Walter Garland was accused by Cunningham of taking an ambulance to the rear and not returning.  Garland argued that he was ordered to take men to the dressing station.   And the worst accusations came against Oliver Law himself with later stories invented about him being shot by his own men.  Grover Furr has responded to these allegations in the ALBA Volunteer.   One must recall the times.  No African-Americans had ever commanded white units in wartime and while African-Americans participated fully in World War I, they were led by generally wealthy American National Guard commanders.  Blacks returned from WWI to the US to face the same Jim Crow who was taunting them as they marched outside southern military bases in the US.5  While the general positive attitude of the Lincolns towards integration of the Brigades was apparent, in a group of 1000 Americans, one could have expected hostility towards these black officers from some of the men, even if they were great military leaders.

Dave Mates was pulled out and sent back to the US.   Merriman speaks about a new policy requested by the Communist International (CI or Comintern) to save cadres, i.e. not have all Communist Party men killed in action.   In some moves, Jesse Wallach has requested a safe job.  David Jones, who was injured at Jarama, will be repatriated.  George Brodsky is to move to the Mac-Paps.  DeWitt (“Eric”) Parker will go to work with Ed Bender in Albacete.  Jock Cunningham was a fine fellow but he is criticized for not being a military man.  Briton Robert Traill was killed at Brunete.  As shown in a previous photo, Vladimir Copic was wounded by shrapnel.  Rollin Dart will come to the Lincoln-Washington Battalion to fill in for the wounded and killed leadership.   Usera’s removal led to him going to Tarazona to help in training the Mac-Paps.

July 19 Notes

Additional notes for July 19, 1937

Hene

Dr. Julius Hene, May 1938. ALBA Photo 11-0215, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman had more to relate from July 19 and these notes contrast with the intense reorganization seen on the diary pages for that date.  Merriman goes to the Secorro Rojo International (SRI) Number 1 hospital to meet with Rubin Kaufman, who shot himself in the foot in training.   There he meets with a Dr. Hans who wants to go to the front and have an American replace him.  Merriman puts in a word for Julius Hene who had been the doctor in Tarazona for the Mac-Paps.  It seems he is suggesting a swap of positions here.

Merriman goes to see Lucien Vidal and Jean Schalbroeck.  Our friends at the Belgian Facebook group, Les Belges de la XIV Brigade Internationale, have provided a short biography on Jean Schalbroeck (Sven Tuytens, personal communication, and with many thanks):

Né le 9 juin 1912 à Etterbeek (Bruxelles), mort à Mauthausen le 17 juillet 1942 ; militant de la Jeunesse communiste de Belgique, chargé de missions en Allemagne, capitaine à l’État Major des Brigades Internationales, résistant.

Jean Schalbroeck à Albacète

A Albacète, dans l’État Major d’André Marty
Jean Schalbroeck acheva ses études secondaires à l’Athénée d’Ixelles. Ses parents s’étant séparés, il quitta très tôt le domicile familial. Employé dans une firme industrielle allemande à Bruxelles, il était membre du syndicat des employés Membre des Jeunesses communistes depuis 1932 à Bruxelles, secrétaire de section, il entra au PC en 1934, mais demeura militer à la JC, puis aux JGSU, Il accomplit alors, vraisemblablement pour l’IC ou le KPD, des missions en Allemagne nazie.

Il s’engagea dans les Brigades Internationales en octobre 1936 et fut promu lieutenant en février 1937, capitaine en juillet 1937. Après avoir combattu dans la 35e Division, il fut ensuite affecté à la base d’Albacète en juillet 1937. ll parlait anglais, allemand, néerlandais, espagnol et français.

En octobre 1937, il devint chef d’État Major, secrétaire administratif de Marty, puis chef du service des investigations et de l’enregistrement des décédés au combat. Mal noté en septembre 1938, car « travaille mécaniquement sans aucune ligne politique et a commis dès lors de graves erreurs », il était en passe d’être déplacé. En revanche, Lise London qui le côtoya à Albacète, ne tarit pas d’éloges à son propos. Il quitta l’Espagne au début de 1939, demeura en France et ne revint en Belgique qu’au début de l’occupation. Il effectua des voyages en France occupée. Son activité est mal connue. Il travaillait dans une imprimerie et s’occupa de la propagande du PC dans le Brabant wallon. Il était cependant en liaison avec une petite équipe dirigée par un ancien officier des BI qui faisait du commerce au bénéfice du PC et qui touchait de près des membres de l’Orchestre Rouge. C’est à l’occasion d’un rendez vous avec eux qu’il fut arrêté le 29 avril 1942 à Bruxelles. Il vivait alors avec Ady Cortvrient, une militante du PCB.

Déporté à Mauthausen, il y succomba très rapidement.

SOURCES : RGASPI 495 193 416, Dossiers belges des BI ; Interviews Rachèle Gunzig et de Rose Lefevre-Genin ; Lettre d’Adry Cortvrient. — Lise London, Le printemps des camarades, Paris, 1998.

Rolfe

Edwin Rolfe, RGASPI photo Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 975, Moscow

Merriman reveals that Lou Secundy and Vincent Usera were kind enough to help out a couple of nurses who were lonely.

On the 20th, Merriman speaks with “Harper and Rolphe”.  This is possibly Wiley Harper and most certainly the writer Edwin Rolfe, who was the Cultural Director for the Lincolns.   Merriman again brings up Louis Cantor as a problem and he appears to be positive about Vincent Usera’s contribution in training since Seaman Oliver is not working out.

Katine

Benjamin Katine, RGASPI Photo Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 919, Moscow

Merriman says that he talked with Howard Hooker and found work for him.  “Ramón” again came to camp for training, this time to work with a crew of snipers.  Ramón was the weapons instructor at Pozorubio at this time.  In the Staff meeting, more assignments were made with Bob Thompson becoming the Chief of Staff for the Battalion and William Neure as his assistant.   Elliot Loomis will move up from being a driver to Liaison Officer.  Benjamin Katine will take Loomis’s place as a driver.   Art Landis helps in aligning the leadership of the Mac-Paps in October:

Battalion

Commander       Capt. Robert Thompson
Adjutant               Lt. Harry Schonberg
Commissar         Joseph Dallet

Company One

Commander       Lt. William Wheeler
Adjutant               Lt. William Neure
Commissar         John Blair

Company Two

Commander      Lt. Isidore Schrenzel
Adjutant              Spanish (unknown)
Commissary      Spanish (unknown)

Company Three

Commander      Lt. Joseph Dougher
Adjutant              Lt. Jack Thomas
Commissar       Wallace Sabatini

Machine Gun Company

Commander       Capt. Niilo Makela

Adjutant                 Lt. Ruby Kaufman

Commissar            Thomas Malone4

Catching up on those he sent to the brig, apparently Cantor has repented and wants to come back to the battalion.   Tom Hyde still is in jail at this point but will be out shortly. Ten drunks were arrested and put into jail.  We know from the RGASPI files that Vincent Sanchez arrested Wesley Mikalauskas and Francis Daly (RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 265, pg 22).

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¹ D. R. Pat Stephens, A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War An Armenian-Canadian in the Lincoln Battalion, Canadian Committee on Labour History, 2000. pg. 65-66.

² Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid, pg 192.

³ Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik, Univ. Of Minnesota Press,  1978, pg 482.

4 Art Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid, pp 206-207.

5 Richard Slotkin, Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality, Holt Paperbacks, 2010.

 

17-18 Julio Field maneuvers start to gel

July 17-18, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary for July 17 and 18, 1937

Company 1 Roster

Company 1 Roster of the Training Battalion on July 18, 1937. RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 265, pg 12.

Company 1 Roster (Cont)

Company 1 Roster (Continued). RGASPI 545/2/265, pg 13

The Mac-Paps spend two more days in the field on exercises.  Things begin to go well and Merriman is very pleased that Company 3 went out on a night patrol and when challenged by a patrol of Bill Wheeler, the Mac-Pap operational commander at the time, and Merriman, they were challenged for passwords.  Company 3 also apparently tried to take “prisoners” and one wonders if that was Merriman and Wheeler.  In any case, the actions of the field group were professional and Merriman was happy.   Except perhaps for sharing sleeping quarters with Joe Dallet and Bill Wheeler who “snored and scared off the enemy”.

Company 1 (end).  RGASPI 545/2/265, pg 14

Company 1 (end). RGASPI 545/2/265, pg 14

Company 3

Company 3 Roster on July 18, 1937. This Company would be the core of the Canadian component of the Mac-Paps. RGASPI 545/2/265, pg 15

Ben Barsky

Benjamin Barsky, photographed in August 1938, just before he was killed in the Sierra Pandols, ALBA Photo 11-0237, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman continues to assign men who are not performing to kitchen patrol (KP) duty.  Frederick Cavanaugh (who later became the Cook) and Arthur Coapman are two so assigned.  Merriman had to reprimand the Bulgarian-American Gilesco Racheff and New Yorker Ben Barsky (who would go on to be a Commissar in the Mac-Paps).   Carson is probably Jack Kerson or Karson who arrived in Spain on June 4.  Carson requested William Carroll and Alfred Litwin to be assigned to the Officer’s School at Pozorubio.  Carson will go on to lead the John Brown Battery of the 11th Artillery so these men are being called out for artillery training.

Jesse Wallach

Jesse Wallach of the Mac-Paps. Photo Credit: RGASPI Archives, Fond 545/Opus 6/Delo 1008, Moscow

The 18th of July maneuvers did not go as well as the advance was prematurely started by a whistle used to warn of overflying aircraft and the whistle was mistaken for the call to go over the top and start and attack.   They tried to make the best of it, but they did not recover from the mistake and the attack was uncoordinated.  Bill Skinner had problems with three soldiers who were unnamed.   Jesse Wallach was in the field during these exercises.  Jesse Wallach would become Battalion clerk.

 

15-16 Julio Mac-Pap training continues to intensify

July 15-16

Robert Merriman’s diary for the 15th and 16th of July, 1937

Co 2

Company 2 composition in Training at Tarazona on July 15, 1937, RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 265, p2

Co 2 (continued)

Company 2 (continued), RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 2/Delo 265, page 3.

For nearly the complete next month, Merriman will be leading the training in Tarazona of the Mac-Paps.   Many of these posts are technical describing the maneuvers of the day and whether they are successful or not.  The reader can follow this technical training and we will continue to focus on calling out the names of Brigadistas as they arise in the diary.   The RGASPI Archives in Moscow have been opened to public viewing since last year and while the material is still under copyright, we are using it here for research purposes and it is extremely helpful placing names.  For example, on July 15, this was the composition of training company #2 is shown in the side panels.  Some very well known Lincolns were in this group of men:  the writers Edwin Rolfe and Art Landis and the photographer Harry Randall.

Co 2 (cont)

Co 2 continued

On the 15th of July, the exercise involved scouting and Jack Mullinger was the Mac-Pap chief of scouts.  The maneuver was not particularly successful and Merriman says that William Harris Cantor fell out and was assigned to the kitchen, probably for KP duty.  Merriman was non-plussed by the maneuvers but Bob Thompson was less forgiving.   The story on 15-16 July was very similar to the story on the 5th of July.

Overnight, Merriman checked up on the troops and found no guards and Mullinger sleeping on the job.  Merriman rousted out the men and got them on the march before daybreak.  More embarrassing was the injury of Rubin (Ruby) Kaufman who shot himself in the foot while cleaning his gun.

Merriman runs out of room on the page and starts abbreviating names.   It is clear that Lucien Vidal came out from Albacete to review that battalion and had to hunt them down in the field.  In a fold of the page in the diary, it appears that Ed Bender also came out from Headquarters.   Ron Liversedge who stepped back as commander of the Mac-Paps apparently was selected by Ernie Amatniek and he moves from adjutant in Company 3 to Company 2.

Merriman again mentions Fein.  This is Arnold Fein who is the head of the Cadres bureau in Albacete.  Perhaps he represented Vidal who did not return to Tarazona.   Merriman gets a mistaken message to go to Albacete to see Vidal but instead has a drink in town.