Category Archives: Training

31 Enero Training heats up in Villaneuva

31 Enero
Robert Merriman’s diary for January 31

As training progressed in Villaneuva, the leadership personalities in the Lincoln Battalion chafed at each other.  The accusations of Steve Daduk against Merriman may have been resolved in Merriman’s mind, but the January 31 entry in the diary shows that the issue was not over.  Merriman says that Steve Daduk accompanied James Harris to Madrigueras where Daduk was suspended.   The yellow highlight above is probably “Morse” or Eugene Morse who was seen on the previous day’s diary.  The day was otherwise routine and Russian movies were shown in the evening.  The reader can watch the movies “Chapayev” and “Kronstadt” on YouTube.  Together they run about six hours so it must have been quite the movie night in Villaneuva de la Jara.

The notes page at the end of January gave Merriman the chance to catch up with other business and he notes that John Givney was removed from the battalion on January 30.  No reason can be found in Merriman’s diary.   Merriman also mentions that the son (by marriage) of Professor J. B. S. Haldane visited Villaneuva.  Haldane was a chemist and advised on chemical warfare and protection from the poison gas used in World War I.  Merriman relates that they began training against gas warfare.

ronnie burgess

 Left to right: Allan Johnson, unknown, Ronnie Burgess, son of Charlotte Haldane and his Mother. No date.

Merriman notes that Daduk did well in training on January 30 but then the “scandal broke” and the hearing on the previous diary pages was held.  Merriman freely uses the term “scandal” throughout the diary and it may not have the same connotation in the 1930’s that it has today.  One of the dictionary definitions of “scandalous” is “defamatory; libelous.”   That would clearly fit the situation here.

Rickard Jorgensen believes that the scandal goes back to the stories of Daduk’s history in Spain.  In Sugarman’s article¹ about Jews who fought in Spain he says about Daduk:

Sept 9, 1937, issue of the Oshkosh (WI) Daily Northwestern; Source:

“Capt. Samuel Leon (?) Stephen Daduek/Daduk – 1st American to fly for Loyalists, red/blonde haired pilot, stocky, former sign writer and electrician , wore a red bandana and blue overalls when flying – b 10.2.10 Brooklyn – 2367 64th St Brooklyn – d 10.10.86 – wia in crash breaking his thigh – flew in battles over Madrid, in Potisis, Fokkers and Breguets (in which he shot down one Heinkel 111). Before and after flying he had fought in the infantry as a company commander of the Lincolns and with the Thaelman’s – wia several times. Fought in WW2 Medical Corps.

As noted before, Landis believed the claims that Daduk had been a pilot, but his resume apparently did not bear the scrutiny given him in the hearing of January 30.  Some texts have said that Daduk was removed as Company commander of the 2nd Company just before Jarama “when he cracked up” or “lost his nerves”.   Eugene Morse, above, was the 2nd Company commander when in two weeks they will go to the Front. From Merriman, it is apparent that this swapping of Morse for Daduk happened quite early in Training.


¹ Martin Sugarman, Against Fascism – Jews who served in The International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, ibid.


29-30 Enero Lincoln Battalion Companies Formed

29-30 Enero
Robert Merriman’s Diary for January 29 and 30, 1937

Action heated up at Villaneuva de la Jara over the next two days.  Leaders for the new Lincoln Companies were chosen.  John Scott, whose real name was Inver Marlow, was made commander of Company #1, which included the Connolly Column, a group of Irish volunteers who preferred to be in the Lincolns rather than staying with the British Battalion.  While the Irish may have separated themselves from the British, Scott himself was British and the friction between him and the Connolly column would show later.  The #2 company was placed under American Steve Daduk, who was reputed to have been a pilot in Madrid earlier in 1936.  Landis says that Daduk’s exploits as a pilot were verified¹ but questions over his background were part of the difficulties with Merriman.  The third Machine Gun Company was led by Douglas Seacord.  Landis points out that the Company only had two machine guns, an old French Hotchkiss and a Chauchot, both of which were worn down so much no one knew where the bullets were going to go.  Landis says¹:

“The Machine Gun Company with, or without its guns, gives an indication of the background and thinking of its members, for they had proudly elected to call themselves the Tom Mooney Company after American labor leader Thomas Mooney, who , at that very moment, was serving a life sentence in Alcatraz Federal Prison.”

A photograph of the Tom Mooney Machine Gun Company can be found in Carroll² from Box 1 Folder 17 of the Paul Burns collection at Tamiment (ALBA Photo 184).  One gunner in the Company said “We behaved like a bunch of anarchists, but we loved that man {Seacord}”³.


Tom Mooney Company
The Tom Mooney Machine Gun Company. Matt White has identified Douglas Seacord as the second from left. Photo from the Paul Burns Collection ALBA Photo 184/1/17. Source: Carroll, Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

On the 30th, Merriman’s challenges arose with an impromptu meeting with Stember, Eugene Morse, Al Tanz and John Scott.  Apparently his lecture brought out the unpreparedness of the men.  “Steve had talked to Scott about bad front, slaughter house and watching me” is very cryptic.  Daduk was reputed to have expertise at the front from Fall 1936 and he may have been referring to the Madrid front being dangerous for untrained troops.  There is no aid in interpreting this event from Marion Merriman Wachtel’s memoir.  Obviously, Daduk was making charges about Merriman and there was a suggestion that Merriman was a Russian plant, since he had come to Spain via Moscow.  The “charges” made by Daduk against Merriman were run by the American leadership and the British who were at Madrigueras (Frank Ryan, Tom Wintringham and Wilfred Macartney).  Macartney, the British Battalion commander,  was described ungraciously by Eby as a “paunchy grandboulevardier, who, even in Spain, drank nothing other than good champagne and bottled water.”  Hugh Thomas notes in a footnote “The leader of the English Battalion in training had been Wilfred Macartney, a flamboyant journalist of the Left who was not a Communist – though he had been to prison for giving military secrets to Russia.  Already a rich man, he had grown richer on the profits of the book he then wrote on his experiences, Walls Have Mouths, published in 1935, after leaving prison, with an introduction by Compton Mackenzie.  He had to abandon command of the Brigade because he was shot in the leg by Peter Kerrigan, Commissar of all the British in Spain, who was apparently merely cleaning his gun”.4

The other two names mentioned here were Eugene Morse, the head of the Supply Depot and Al Tanz, who was the Quartermaster.  Tanz’s biography photo is shown here.

Al Tanz, Brigade Quartermaster from February to August 1937.

Merriman finishes by introducing the English Captain Douglas (Dave) F. Springhall and Captain George Montague Nathan, the British Chief of Staff.  The rifles of which Merriman speaks are new, dated 1936.  Many of the Lincolns went into action with “Mexicanskis” which were rifles made for the Russian war against the White Russians and which were sold to Mexico.  They came from Mexico but had the Winchester imprints of the Russian Imperial Army and were vintage 1917.

At the end, Merriman notes that the charges against him by Daduk were shown to be false and ultimately this event contributed to Daduk’s demise in the Battalion.


¹ Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid.

² Carroll, Odyssey, ibid. (photo section after page 5)

³ Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid., p49

4 Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1961, pp. 376-7.

27-28 Enero Organizing the Battalion for Possible Move to Front

27-28 Enero
Merriman’s diary for the 27th and 28th of January.

Bob Merriman’s task on these days was still organizational.  Not only did he need to train increasingly large numbers of new men who were coming into Villanueva de la Jara, but he had to feed and supply them.  The hub for materiel and people was in Albacete and in between there and Villaneueva was Madrigueras where the British were.  Merriman would find out quickly that the “requisitioning” process included diverting material to your unit when it was intended for another.  He found this out the hard way when his supplies only made it half way.   The Americans were resourceful, however, and one can often find discussions of “organizing” material which was on the move.  His mention of “waylaid Stern” probably falls into this category.  Commissars and Adjutants’ jobs revolved about getting the supplies they needed.

There is a hint of trouble to come in the phrase “hunted for our head man”.  Harris would often go off and be hard to find.  More on this in the weeks to come.   Merriman’s cryptic “Who goes?” suggests they were already planning their move to the front lines, even though the Americans had been in training for less than two weeks.

On the 28th, many new names arise in the diary.  Merriman will mention nearly 300 people over the course of the next year and thus the additional historical value of being able to place people by date.  We have not met General Gall before.  Janos Galicz (General Gall) of Yugoslavia was the military leader of the the 15th Brigade.  There are no identified photos of General Gall (or Gal) that we can find at this point.  Over the summer, he will be mentioned often.  Platone refers to Felice Platone (thanks to Fraser Ottanelli for this identification).  Platone was a member of the Communist Party in Italy and became Chief of Staff of the International Brigades. Platone will show up in the next few months and then not be seen again in the diary.  Nueman (later to be written Newman) appears frequently in the diary early on, but no American of that name was in Spain at that time.

Merriman commandeered a truck from Marvin Stern who was the first Commissar of the Lincoln Battalion.  Merriman will become extremely resourceful over the new few months in making sure he has access to transportation.  Carroll says:

Given the importance of the commissars, the first American leaders appeared woefully inadequate.  Phil Bard, appointed by the American Communist Party in New York, lacked any military skills.  When the Lincolns moved to the town of Villaneuva de la Jara for exercises, Bard remained at Albacete to handle battalion affairs; chronic asthma soon forced his return to the United States.  As his replacement, Bard appointed another volunteer named Marvin Stern, a New York seaman, who soon offended the local mayor by demanding to know why he had not yet collectivized the land.   Argumentative and arrogant, Stern nearly came to blows with several of the men.  Angry with his leadership, the Lincolns elected a political committee to bring their grievances to the brigade command.  Commander Vidal’s response was to call them “naughty children.”….¹

Stern clashed with Stember as well and resigned as Commissar to return to the ranks.  He disappeared from the Lincolns and was said to have died in Spain in a cloud of innuendo.²

When he got back at Villanueva, Merriman found order disrupted by Ray Steele (Ramond Albert Steele aka as Burns) who had gotten drunk and kicked in a door.  Eby says that he was jailed as “drunk and disorderly”.²  Ray Steele would work as a cook and served in the Lincoln Battalion Machine Gun Company.  He served at Jarama and Brunete, and was killed in the latter action.

Merriman also had trouble with Andrew Royce (aka Royce Alvin).  These linked biographies are prepared by Chris Brooks for the Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archives and I owe a debt to Chris for his suggestions on the names of Americans as they come up.  He probably has the best handle on the names of the Lincolns of anyone researching the Brigades at this point.


¹ Carroll, Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., p 96-97.

² Eby, Comrades and Commissars, ibid.

25-26 Enero Starting Training at Villaneuva de la Jara

Merriman’s diary of January 25 and 26 shows that he had taken over the training of the Battalion

Settling in at Villaneuva de la Jara included building a new firing range at the edge of town.  Alan Warren sent us a photo of the cupola of the church described by Merriman and says that you still can see bullet holes in the painting inside.

Santa Clara Convent
Villanueva de la Jara. The Santa Clara Convent where the Lincolns were housed. (Credit: Alan Warren)

Ironically, there is now a supermercado (supermarket) in the building and it has a familiar acronym.

ALBA Villaneuva de la Jara
The relatives of Lincoln Vets standing in front of the Santa Clara convent in Villaneuva de la Jara where the Lincolns were housed. It is now a supermarket with an ironic acronym. (Credit: Alan Warren)

The names of the colleagues with Merriman on January 25 were Harris, Stember, Daduk, Kelly, Parker and what looks to be Tenbetti.  After some discussion, it was concluded by Chris Brooks that Parker must have been John William Parks.  We will see that in less than a month, Mr. Parks will be dead in one of the more unfortunate mistakes at the Battle of Jarama.

John William Parks
John William Parks1 (source: VALB-ALBA)


Aaron Harris in Placa Catalunya, Barcelona, 1937 (Credit: VALB-ALBA)

Brooks also suggests that Tenbetti may actually be Juan/John Landetta.  Landetta shows up on the list of Lincolns used by Adolph Ross to identify photographs after the war.  John or Juan Landetta was a Cuban American student from New York City who arrived in Spain on January 14, 1937.²  Art Landis says of the Cubans³:

“In the winning of the villager’s goodwill {in Villaneuva}, credit must also be given to a young Cuban named Rodolfo de Armas and his equally young commissar, Landetta.  De Armas and Landetta were in command of a Cuban section of approximately 60 men that had been assigned to the Lincoln Battalion.  They called themselves the Antonio Guiterras Centuria after a revolutionary student, a victim of the Machado terror.  De Armas and Landetta had also fought against the early Machado dictatorship of Cuba….”

Antonia Guiterras Centuria on the march in Barcelona. Landetta and De Armas are the head of this column.  The story behind identifying the men in this photo is given in the Volunteer magazine.



¹ John Tisa, Recalling the Good Fight, Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc., 1985

² Cadre List, Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

³ Art Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid. p.31