Category Archives: Training

15-16 Junio “Something in Air”

June 15-16

Robert Merriman’s diary for June 15 and June 16, 1937

Merriman’s diary gives us some important hints about the Brigade on the 15th and 16th.  His day on the 15th begins with training at Tarazona under what looks like “Masten” or “Martin”.  This soldier’s name is not confirmed at this point but we suggested Raphael Fernandez Martin yesterday.  However, it would have been likely that Raphael would have gone by the matronymic Fernandez.

After criticizing the training session, Merriman hurries to Albacete for the departure of Tadeusz Oppman who will go to the 13th “Dombrosky” Brigade as Chief of Staff.  Oppman admits uncertainty about his ability to do the job.   Merriman had previously thought that Oppman was too much the lawyer (his occupation) and not a military leader.  At lunch, where champagne was served, Roblet spoke about the need to do 20 hours of preparation for a single 1 hour attack.  The Russian phrase пара слов (“para clov”) is translated as “a few words…”   The champagne must have been flowing as Roblet sends up Copic, sarcastically talking about the “General” who gave orders to attack.  This would have resonated with Merriman who never forgave Copic for his orders on the 27th of February.  More on this below.

Arriving back at Tarazona after lunch, Merriman looks for the machine gun company and doesn’t find them.  He says Wallach is a problem.  This must be Albert Wallach.  Harry Wallach was wounded at Jarama and would have been in hospital at this time.   Albert Wallach had a history of desertion throughout his time in Spain.

Joe Dallet gave a lecture which apparently met with Merriman’s approval.  Marion Merriman is also given a favorable report here.  An “Evans” (probably Canadian Lloyd Evans) tangled with Merriman and was moved out to the Armory.   Lloyd Evans would have an unfavorable biographical review which said that he was a “demoralized element” and had a “habit of taking sick every time there was active service”.  Evans would write a request for repatriation saying “I know that my staying here will not win the war.  And sending me home will save a lot of trouble.”¹

Merriman repeats a rumor that the Germans bombed Marseilles and that France was now entering the war.  This never happened, but hope reigns eternal.  This would have opened the border for men and equipment to come through France.

On the 16th,  Merriman stayed over in Tarazona and after inspection and giving orders for the day, he drove over to Pozo Rubio with Canadian Lucien Tellier, who was a driver in the Auto Park.  The maneuvers of the morning went “swell” and Merriman was pleased in the attack pattern.  He returned back to Tarazona with Ed Flaherty (who was supposed to have left Albacete on June 1 to return to the US).  Merriman meets with the Anti-tank company but crosses horns with Harry Katzin who was a new arrival in Spain and assigned to the anti-tanks on the 15th of June.  Katzin must have made a remark about being able to lead the Battalion which would not have set well with Merriman.  He lectured for the rest of the afternoon and in the evening made contact with Lou Secundy at the Auto Park about getting a vehicle.

There is a cryptic sentence about Perry having 157 passing him up at Tarancon.  We now believe that this person is Perrey who was an adjutant to Vidal in Albacete base.  There is a Raul Perrey who signed a carnet, but his nationality remains a mystery.

Copic

Vladimir Copic, ALBA Photo 177-177079, Tamiment Archive, NYU

Haywood

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

Merriman goes to Albacete and meets with Schalbroeck.   He gets settled that the Mac-Paps will not get the Anti-tank Company.  The Anti-Tank Company goes to the British Battalion.  In a confusing sentence he says that “car arranged for Bon et al.”  That could be an abbreviation for arranging for a car for the Battalion.

Bender and Brodsky go with him to the Autopark.  Returning he has a meeting with Ed Bender.  Allan Johnson phones and says something important.  Merriman calls Bill Lawrence.  He says “Something in Air”.  We know now that on the 16th of June, the American leadership presented a united front to Vladimir Copic telling him that he did not have the confidence of his soldiers. Copic was asked to consider resigning by Harry Haywood, who was a member of the Comintern, and probably with Lawrence were the highest ranking American communists in Albacete at the time.   This mini-coup is shown in the Spanish version of Copic’s own diary:

Copic's Diary

Vladimir Copic’s diary for June 18-25, 1937. The entry for the 18th is relevant to Merriman’s diary, Source: Comintern Record Fond 545/Opus 3/Delo 467, Tamiment Library, NYU

In this page (click on it to enlarge) Copic relates in Spanish that he met with “H” who is believed to be Harry Haywood who related to Copic that he does not have the confidence of the men.  Haywood says that whether the lack of confidence is warranted or not, the issue is that a Copic should self-critically examine whether he can continue to lead.  Copic figures it out quickly and threatens Haywood with arrest if he continues to talk about it with the men.   Copic will continue as Brigade Commander and the mini-revolt of the Americans is suppressed.  In a telling statement of Copic’s view of the Americans and English, he did not have this diary entry translated from Spanish into English.   In the English version it says “The XVth Brigade spends most of the month at rest”.   The passage translated above does appear in the German version of the diary in the Tamiment archive.

Returning to the remaining sentences of Merriman’s diary, he meets with Tom Wintringham who just spent five weeks with Kitty Bowler. Wintringham has arrived to take over the training at Pozorubio.  On the 15th Vidal will appoint Wintringham to Camp Pozorubio  and assign Merriman  the leadership of the third training battalion in Tarazona.

Merriman finishes the day meeting with Pierre Lamotte who now was serving as Armorer.  He attempts to get 7000 units of something which looks like “Austrian” but probably  refers to rifles or other munitions.

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¹ RGASPI Fond 545/Opis 6/Delo 547, pg 95.

7 Octobre Preparing to move back to Quinto

7_Octobre_17_Octobre_2

7 October

Three pages from Merriman’s second diary from approximately the 7th of October, 1937

Merriman loses count of his days and enters “6th” for the second time.  We will assume it is the seventh or eighth but must have been before the 9th as he says that they will be moving out on a following day.  The XVth Brigade moved to Quinto on the 10th of October.

Merriman begins setting up positions and meets with his Battalion commanders to lay out the lines.   Assuming that he has gone back to Senes on the 7th as he said on a prior page, it is likely that these positions are in the hills to the west of Senes and towards Zuera.   Ironically, this on the Sierra du Alcubierre where George Orwell was first posted in the Fall on 1936 and were lines held by the POUM and Anarchist Divisions.   Merriman does mention seeing FAI symbols written on the walls of his HQ in Senes.   If one looks carefully at the photograph of the trial held in Senes on previous days, one can see slogans painted on the walls of that room and painted over later, presumably by the Republicans.

Merriman says that the HQ was bombed during the meeting and Copic cut it short because he was afraid of the planes.   Merriman and Dart get horses and ride out to look at “Santa Elena”.  We are not sure of this location but are trying to pin it down.  It is high ground and as the sun goes down, Merriman and Dart get lost and have to lead their horses out on foot as they make their way down the hills in the dark.

When they get back they find that orders have come for the Brigade to move out to Quinto, in preparation for the offensive which will come in a few days at Fuentes del Ebro.   All the planning of positions in the Huesca Front come to naught.  Merriman says “Rest of Brigade to remain” so only part of the Brigade is to move although the Americans, British and Canadians all were on the front lines of Fuentes del Ebro.

Dallet

Joseph Dallet, Quinto, September 1937. ALBA Photo 11_0639, Tamiment Library, NYU

They don’t move (and this could be as late as October 9) because the trucks don’t come.  Overnight, Merriman has a discussion with Bob Thompson, Dave Doran and Joe Dallet about Joe Dallet and the dislike of the men for his leadership.  Dallet will become a controversial figure about this time because of the continued questions on his leadership style.   Born to a middle class family (his father owned a lumber mill in New England) and raised in a non-proletarian setting, Dallet developed a working class manner in his union organizing in Chicago.   Many, including Merriman, found his style forced.  Steve Nelson recalled that when Dallet was in jail in Perpignan in Spain waiting to get over the Pyranees, he charmed his captors by playing classical piano (Chopin) extremely well.

Copic must have left the meeting when the planes came over but Merriman also must have continued the meeting.  Copic was pissed off.   He gave trivial reasons for being mad.  Bourne is solicitous to Copic which again irritates Merriman.

Trucks show up on the following morning (9th or 10th;  Landis places it as the 10th¹).  Copic is not woken and starts the day irritated.  His adjutant, Hans, takes the brunt of that irritation, apparently.

Bombing of Granen

Article in La Vanguardia, Barcelona, on October 12 describing the bombing of Grañen.

The town of Grañen was bombed with a railroad car destroyed, several dead and injured.  The October 11th issue of LaVanguardia in Barcelona makes the damage more deliberate:   the hospital was destroyed.  The planes were empty when they flew back over the XVth Brigade.   Merriman admires their accuracy.

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¹ Landis, Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid. pg 314.

 

29-30 Julio “Tough Luck George”

July 29-30

Robert Merriman’s diary of July 29 and July 30

William Frame

William Frame at the Brigade Intendencia, December 1937, ALBA Photo 11-0683

In a very busy two days in the diary, Merriman lets us know that Lucien Vidal who has been leading the Albacete base since December 1936 has been removed.   Clear from the diary is that the removal was not welcome and that Vidal held hard feelings.  His comment when Merriman said he would see him in Paris, “I hope I shall return to Spain”.   The party for Vidal gave him short approbation and shorter applause.  Vidal would be replaced by “Biloff”, an unknown name for me.   William Frame and Dave Doran were working behind the scenes in this turn-over.

Merriman says that Ed Bender had a case of nerves when he returned from the front at Brunete.  On the 29th, things were not going well for the Lincolns and as they retreated, some men were killed.  George Nathan, the Regimental Commander of the Brigades was killed 17 kilometers behind the lines from a bomb fragment.  Steve Nelson recalled it:

Ahead, under the trees, we saw smoke rising from the camouflaged kitchen, saw the crews of the anti-aircraft guns moving about.  The lovely smell of burro stew floated through the still air.  Major Nathan, in charge of the withdrawal, strolled across the field. “Steve, old chap!  Welcome home.  Come along, you old Yank, have a bit of a snifter.  I’ve been saving this for you.  An Englishman’s drink.

He raise a tin cup solemnly, cocked an eyebrow at me, “To our new Brigade Commissar. Mud in your eye, sir!”

“You mean — me?”

“Certainly. You will have official notice shortly, but I assure you — I say!”

The drone of motors.  We craned our necks, peering at the sky.  “There they are — coming over the mountains.  Oh, the bloody — Best hit for cover, eh?  Over that wall — a ditch”

We ran like deer.  The anti-aircraft let loose, all five guns at once, but the planes were flying very low.  The thud of bombs came from beyond the grove, and instantly the planes were overhead.  Nathan yelled, “Drop!” and I burrowed into the dirt.  My holster was under me.  If I could get the holster out, my behind would come down a few miles.  I tugged at the holster, and an enormous crash deafened and blinded me.  The bomb had burst right beside me seemingly.  But I was all in one piece.

Nathan was calling “I’m hit Steve!”  I ran to Nathan ripped open his shirt.  There was a three inch gash in his breast , with only a speck of blood oozing out;  I thought at first it was just a scratch, but Nathan’s face twisted with pain.  It must be bad.  I yelled frantically for first aid, and a couple of men came running.  Nathan couldn’t speak.  He was clawing at his Sam Browne belt; he dragged it off, and handed it to me, and his gesture said “Take it — I’m through”.¹

Although Walter Garland would commandeer an ambulance to rush Nathan to the hospital, he died that evening.  Garland would be reprimanded for stealing the ambulance.  Nelson felt that he had ironed out the theft of the ambulance, but from Merriman’s diary we see that this counted against Garland.

Merriman’s comment: “Tough luck, Geo.”

Merriman met John Miller in Albacete.  Miller is likely John Miller of Windsor, Canada, who was a Communist organizer since 1933.²  Merriman also says that “Winkler” will leave as will Schalbroeck.   This is quite a turnover at Albacete since Winkler was the personnel officer of the International Brigades.   The remaining lines of this paragraph are unclear.

Arnold Reid

Arnold Reid, RGASPI Photo Fond 545/Opus 6/ Delo 970

On the 30th, the political leaders of the American brigades, John Miller, Ed Bender, Harry Haywood, Bill Lawrence, and Jack Reid arrived to discuss a new International Brigade policy on repatriation.  Jack Reid was Arnold Reid (a.k.a. Arnold Reisky), an American who worked in the Paris Office of the brigades and helped channel Americans to Spain.²  The Comintern (CI) worried that leading communist cadres were being killed in increasing numbers and they were reserving the right for themselves to identify Brigadistas for repatriation to their countries.

Niilo Makela

Niilo Makela, as Commissar of the Mac-Paps, 1938. ALBA Photo 11-1281, Tamiment Library, NYU

In the midst of the discussion, a maneuver between Companies 2 and 3 of the Mac-Paps took place at night.  This competition involved Bill Skinner, Bill Lawrence, and Niilo Makela of Canada, against Merriman, Joe Dallet, and John Miller.   Merriman says euphemistically “they never laid a hand on me” (while the objective was to take prisoners).

At the end of the diary pages, Merriman notes that Mirko Marcovics was removed from command of the Washington Battalion for not following orders.   At this point in the battle of Brunete, the Lincolns and Washingtons were so decimated that there really only was one Battalion left and probably only the need for one Commander.  Peter Carroll tells the story:

At one point, the new officers of the Lincoln-Washington battalion — Markovicz, Nelson and Garland (before he was wounded) — were ordered to a meeting with brigade Colonel Klaus, a Prussian officer who had replaced the wounded Copic.  Bringing out a contour map, he directed the Americans to move their men to an exposed position in order to protect a company of Spanish marines.  “A deep silence fell on the group as the Colonels’ words were translated”, remembered Nelson;  ‘we all seemed to get the gist of the urgency of his words before they were translated.” Markovicz, speaking to Nelson in their native Serbo-Croatian, said “This can’t be done.  I am against it.”  Klaus, sensing the response, eyed Marcovicz and responded, “That’s an order”.

Still speaking in their own language, Nelson asked Marcovicz how they could disobey the colonel.  “If you accept this order,” said the experienced Markovicz, “I will hold you responsible before the Americans back home for whatever happens.”  Unable to understand this conversation, Klaus demanded that they speak in English, with which his translator was familiar.  “We have no time to waste,” he said, demanding that Marcovicz gave him a clear answer.

“Commander Klaus,” the Yugoslav replied, “this is a disastrous order. I will not order the American battalion to carry out this order because it will result in a disaster, like the one at Jarama”.  As he spoke, Marcovicz kept his eye on Nelson, looking for support.  “He should have known,” the commissar {Nelson} later reported, “that I had no choice … we could not disobey an order”.

“Marcovicz, I gave you an order which I received from division,” Klaus declared.  “You and I are under military orders.  This is not a debating discussion here.  We must act, especially since we are International Brigades, whose role is to develop discipline”.

“Then,” Nelson reported, “Klaus stood up and with unmistakable military bearing said “I order you to carry out the order”.  Markovicz also stood up and said “Colonel Klaus, I cannot carry out this order.”

“Then Klaus stepped closer to Markovicz and extended his hand and said, ‘Marcovicz, I order you to surrender your weapon'”

“Marcovicz reached for his pistol and with an expression of obedience and surrender he handed the gun to Klaus.”  Taking the pistol, the Colonel turned and passed it to Nelson, along with the responsibility for carrying out the order.³

Nelson returned to the men and told them they had to go back into the fire.  The men could not believe that they would be sent back to certain death.  Nelson told them that they had to do it or they would be fighting the fascists where they were on the next day.  The Americans mustered to march, but did not have to have to take the lines as other Spanish reinforcements were brought up and the Americans were allowed to retire from the Battle of Brunete.  In this exchange, Nelson’s standing rose dramatically and Marcovics’ fell.

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¹ Steve Nelson, The Volunteers, Masses and Mainstream, New York, 1953, pp 166-168.

² Cecil Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid., p 145.

³ Peter Carroll, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., p143-144.

27-28 Julio “Had to finally break Seaman Oliver”

July 27-28

Robert Merriman’s diary for the 27th and 28th of July

The sentence fragment “at the auto park” was a run over from the 25-26th July diary pages.   It should read “{Ben} Barsky now Commissar at the auto park”.  This ties in a bit better with Merriman’s relief on getting settled on a vehicle once Barsky passed his test in Albacete.

Fuqua - Doran

American army Colonel Steven Fuqua and David Doran in trenches at Quinto or Fuentes del Ebro, October 1937. Tamiment Photo 11-1340, NYU.

Frank Rogers

Frank Rogers, ALBA Photo 177-188048, Tamiment Library, NYU

Joe Dallet and Dave Doran were both spoken to by Bill Lawrence because they had a “subjective attitude”.   A subjective attitude would be one where the moods or opinions of Dallet and Doran were more important than objective reality.   Dallet and Doran were both strong personalities.  Merriman says that Frank Rogers is working out better in the school.

Merriman reveals that Lt. William Neure was in charge of Company 1 of the Mac-Paps in the maneuvers.  Neure would be William Wheeler’s adjutant in Company 1 in the fall and would be killed at Fuentes del Ebro in October leading a charge of the Mac-Paps.  Jack Mullinger is still receiving criticism for not working hard enough in leading the scouts.  The scouts got lost in an exercise on the Tarazona – LaGineta road in a previous diary page.

Merriman had to cancel one exercise because Canadian Commissar Bob Kerr was in Tarazona for discussions.   Merriman calls out Canadian Fred Whitfield for a bad attitude.  Whitfield, while Canadian from Vancouver, spent a lot of time in the US and reportedly spent 3 years in Alcatraz.¹  Whitfield (42 years of age) was jailed for insubordination and it could be for this event.  He would be killed on the 17th of March 1938 during the Retreats from Belchite to the Ebro.   It is possible that the attitude of the Canadians was why Kerr was called in and Harry Rushton (46 years of age), Ron Liversedge and Bill Skinner were reprimanded.   Merriman hopes that the discussions will settle the issues in camp.

Merriman again mentions Vincent Usera who had a run in with the Lincoln Brigade staff at Brunete.   Merriman says Usera doesn’t pretend to be brave.  Again, Milton Wolff said Usera was working for the US Army while in Spain.

Merriman again calls out Seaman Oliver and Howard Hooker who had a fight.  Merriman thinks Oliver is at fault.  Oliver says that Dallet is the “most hated man in the Brigade”.   This comment has been picked up in several texts on the International Brigades and considering the source, one wonders if Dallet’s unpopularity was all that real.  It will come up again in October.

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¹ Michael Petrou, Renegades, ibid, page 18.

25-26 Julio After disciplining men, Howe deserts

July 25-26

Robert Merriman’s diary for 25 and 26 July 1937

The field maneuvers of the Mac-Paps on the Tarazona – La Gineta Road finish up on the 25th or 26th (remember Merriman was catching up his diary from the 28th and did not record dates accurately for this week).   In a hard maneuver, Merriman lagged behind the battalion and lost some scouts and nearly lost contact with the full battalion.  In the field to the right of the Tarazona-La Gineta road bridge, Company 3 was put through a “wheel maneuver” where one end of the line stays pinned and the rest of the company rotates around to gain fire in another direction (presumably 90º to the original lines).   It was a tough workout and Merriman called it “gymnastics”.

Paul White

Paul White in the Lincoln-Washington Battalion in February 1938. ALBA Photo 11-1028, Tamiment Library, NYU

Merriman praises “White” and this is most likely to be Paul White who served with the Mac-Paps at this time.  White had a very exemplary record in 1937 and once disillusioned in 1938, had a sad fall from grace (you can read the result on his ALBA Biography).   “Bradsworth” is an unknown brigadista and does not show up in the American or Canadian list of names.  He may have been going by a nom-de-guerre.

Merriman says the “Chesler case is hanging fire”.  The details of why Frank Chesler got in trouble in the Autopark are not known to us at this point.  It would take researching his file in the Tamiment Library to find the details on this story.

Merriman says that “Howe” was broken along with Dion.   This is William Edward Howe, one of the Seamen in the Seamen’s Machine Gun Company.  Dion was a discipline case previously and is Joseph Raymond Dion.   Howe has deserted and is being looked for.   Merriman chides himself for letting the Seaman’s company have too much autonomy.   “Robbie” Robinson was also a Seaman and was presumably brought in to keep this unit under control.  Robbie was in hospital early in the maneuver and without being watched, Howe took off.   Merriman says that Robbie complains too much about the food.  But Robbie was just in hospital and probably had a legitimate complaint.  On the 23-24 July diary pages, Merriman said the men applauded the cooks so perhaps that is what he wanted to hear, while some of the men complained about the food.   Supplies for the Mac-Paps were low at this point with almost all available stores having been taken to the front at Brunete.

As mentioned on the 23-24 July diary pages, Ben Barsky is now a political commissar in the Mac-Paps, presumably a company commissar since Joe Dallet was Battalion Commissar.