The following was among papers left behind by 1st Lieutenant Patrick Whelan, killed during the Battle of the Bulge in January, 1944. Lieut. Whelan was serving as a front line reporter for The Stars and Stripes, the military news arm.
The year was 1936. I was in Barcelona on an assignment to do a piece on the architecture of Antonio Gaudi. Prior to this I had written a well accepted piece on the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright that resulted in my being offered an expense paid free lance assignment in Spain. I arrived after a voyage on the Dollar Lines, inside birth, the common overseas travel at that time.
The first week following my arrival I walked to and through buildings that seemed to have been formed by dripped sand mixed with glue, art nouveau structures that recalled dreams and childhood fantasies. I wrote of mysterious masked faces of imaginary knights born of science fiction or fantasies carried from the time line of the middle ages. I noted lamp posts topped by what seemed to be birds but were not birds. I recorded domes of opalescent tile work gleaming in the light of the Mediterranean Spanish Sun.
That weekend I visited the incomplete Sagrada Familia with pretensions of attending a church with which I had no affiliation then took a tourist break and attended the afternoon bullfight. As one who considered baseball the institutional sport of the United States, killing bulls seemed to me to be a strange tradition. I was fortunate to be seated next to a man who knew much about the pageant and talked a steady stream of detail as the show progressed. He was a fairly large man who exhuberantly described the choreography and the tradition saying there had been a time when we danced with the bull and now the Spanish chose to kill and master an ancient symbol of fertility.
At one point he asked why I was in Spain and I explained my assignment to write about Gaudi. He asked if I had plans to cover any other subjects while in the Spain. I said I had never before been out of the states and Spain seemed a good place to start if I could find a subject that might appeal to an American audience. My new friend suggested I might be interested in the continuing story of Spanish politics comparing the present situation with a movement in the country where the people were developing sides to kill the bull in a political arena. He told me the current situation deserved broader notice in the United States. My response was that I had no history of writing on anything political but I would be interested in background information.
The bull fighters took out three bulls that afternoon. When the last blood stained the arena and the victim was dragged away, he invited me to a nearby bar where he took the time to explain the current conditions is Spain and the progression of events since th abdication of King Alfonso in 1931, the establishment of the popular front, a consortium of a variety of left wing parties from a Russian form of Communism to the simple desire to further avoid dictatorship. He went on to say there was a good deal of pressure from the right and an upcoming collision of the two was more than a distinct possibility.
Intrigued, I told him the idea appealed but all this was new to me. I had no idea where to start. To begin with, I had no background in politics in America let alone having any knowledge of international affairs. Although my parents had voted for Roosevelt in thirty two and would most likely vote for him again in thirty six, I had developed no interest in any political affairs. Given my immediate contacts with friends and parents, I held the conventional opinions regarding Communists and considered all the others, socialists, anarchists, even active Democrats suspiciously related.
My companion told me of a man in Barcelona who was a major player in the current leftist Spanish issues and suggested I look him up to see if I felt there was any possibility of my finding an opportunity to write material on what he considered a major movement with international significance. When I said it was certainly worth my time, he gave me the address of Santiago, a green grocer in the city. He told me to mention Ernesto suggested we meet.
The following day I posted my Gaudi article then located the market and found Santiago stacking oranges in a bin on the walkway. I explained I was a writer interested in the current situation in Spain. Somewhat reluctant at first, he became friendly when I told him Ernesto suggested I look to him for information. He asked me to join him for sangria. Leaving his apron on he led me to a small cafe within the market area.
This man with the stained apron was eager to tell me about Spain. Frequently wiping the dripping wine from his mustache and chin as well as adding to the colors of his apron, he seemed to be constantly in motion. I was unprepared for the thorough history lesson he felt necessary to outline. Beginning with the exile of King Alphonso in 1931, he covered highlights of the past since that time. The coup of the military in 1932, the Anarchists revolt in Spanish cities in 1933 including Bilbao, the capitol of the Basque province and Barcelona the capitol of Catalonia. As a Catalon he expressed the desire for autonomy including the same for the Basque region. He mentioned the formation of the peoples party, the POUM, explaining it was a consortium of the various parties of the left including communists, anarchists and various socialist organizations. Santiago was animated while he explained his view of the military and the exile of General Francisco Franco who was supposedly in the Canary Islands.
When I questioned him about Franco, he told me the General was not to be trusted. His party, the Falange, had recently been banned but there were those loyal to the military and remained a threat to the people of Spain. I mentioned his desire for autonomy wondering if even such limited independence would weaken Spain as a nation. He replied by explaining his view of American history, the concept of states rights and the resulting cooperation between the original colonies. When I answered by saying that eventually led to a war in my country he dismissed that thought and replied they will face that should it come. He went on to say the Basque nation, once free, also shared the needs of Catalonia and if I had the time I should visit Duniki, a friend living near the port of Bilbao, with whom he shared interest and maintained contact. I wrote down the address and Santiago then told me he had to return to work, held out his hand and wished me luck.
Bilbao is east of Barcelona and near the French border but the thought of my being in the country on the eve of a big story was too compelling to ignore. I arrived by train on an evening, found a room for the night then looked up Duniki the following morning. He had an office near the port where he managed the sales and distribution of dried cod. Much like Santiago he seemed at first wary of my approach but after mentioning Ernesto and Santiago he held out his hand. Dumiki, a short stocky man, once comfortable with my presence, welcomed me to the Basque nation. He smiled as he explained his people telling me there are five ways to tell a Basque, their beret, their long earlobes, the way they walk, their language and their passion for their country.
Duniki held a major position within the Basque population concerned about the future of Spain and the Basque province. That night, over a late dinner he explained the Basques universally shared the views of Santiago and the Catalonians. While I took notes he said there was organized partisan support should the results of the coming election turn out against the Basques and the general population of Spain. Duniki thanked me for my interest and suggested that I should meet Ricardo, another American who was a friend of the partisans.
Ricardo lived in Paris where he owned a small bar catering to fellow ex-patriots and members of the bohemian community. Duniki further explained Ricardo was, at the time of our discussion somewhere between Spain and Abyssinia but is expected to return shortly. When I asked what Ricardo was doing in Ethiopia, Duniki shook his head saying no one knew. Italy had invaded Ethiopia the year before in 1935. I was intrigued by this American interested in countries undergoing the struggle or threat of war. I spent a few days in Bilbao then caught the train for Paris. When I found the saloon I was told by the manager that Ricardo had sent a wire from Barcelona and would be returning in a few days.
Ricardo showed up toward the end of the week. He was in the bar when I entered. He is not a tall man. He is rugged, not handsome in the classical sense. He has the facial scars of adolescence that give him a rather intriguing and compelling appearance. I introduced myself, dropping the names of Dumiki, Santiago and Ernesto. His eyes showed he was considering where to place me within that group of his friends. When he had accepted that he said we most likely had a lot to talk about. When I mentioned my meeting with Ernesto at the bull ring he smiled. I went on to say I had followed his advice and made contact with Santiago who in turn suggested I visit with Dumiki who told me I should make contact with him. When he asked me why I had become involved I told him of the Gaudi assignment and of my wish to get in early on what appeared to be evolving into a bigger and more meaningful story.
It was April of 1936, the recent song, April In Paris, seemed to be bolted to my brain and romance compelled me to take advantage of my time there. I remained in the city for the next two months picking up a few articles for American outlets. I concentrated on the then current status of the left bank, the landmark of those who had made it famous. Hemingway had moved from there to the Ritz Carlton but the left bank had been his home as well as one for a stopover for Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Matisse and other icons of the twenties. I tried to make contact with Hemingway but he was not in the city.
I did have frequent contact with Ricardo. Tourists kept his watering hole busy. He wore white linen jackets with black slacks, black shoes and outside the bar a panama hat. He had a style not unlike the general one among certain people of his surroundings but he carried a casual attitude that eliminated any attempt to classify him with generalizations. He spent little time with his patrons, he maintained a business like attitude when in the bar. Ricardo drove a 1935 red Citroen roadster, the last of it’s breed. Andres Citroen had died that year and the factory was closed. A beautiful lady shared his life. The money was coming in, he had good loyal friends who cared for the business although he was not close to many others either inside or beyond his doors. Our regular conversations were about the situation in Spain, he spoke little about himself.
Ricardo received letters from both Dumiki and Santiago that kept him informed. The Popular Front had won the election in February. The Madrid offices of the Falange had been closed and the organization had been banned by the Popular Front. General Franco had been exiled to the Canary Islands.
Unknown to Ricardo’s friends, Franco and his military supporters met to discussed their role in creating a political upheaval. In July, Franco led a rebellion in Morocco his victory emphasized by displaying heads of the vanquished in the public forum. This was followed by an attack on mainland Seville, accompanied by a declaration justifying the uprising.
Delores Ibarruri gave her now famous radio speech, “It is better to die on your feet than to die on your knees”, capturing the attention of both men and women of Spain. The Spanish Civil War was underway. Within days Spain was under siege. The British Labor party voted to support the Popular Front. An outline of national defense was made public. A wire from Santiago, Ricardo’s friend in Barcelona explained an Anarchist Brigade had been formed in his city. The Spanish government requested the assistance of international brigades. The Nationalists, under Franco captured Grenada and within days German planes assigned by Hitler arrived in Morocco followed two days later with Italian bombers. In early August Franco announced Seville served as his mainland headquarters.
I was in Ricardo’s bar when the news reached Paris and he asked me to join him in the office. Gesturing toward a chair, he read a wire from Santiago. In it, Ricardo was asked to come to Barcelona to assist the volunteers in the international brigade. He was fluent in Spanish, spoke French, was aware of the politics, had trusted communication with those in the resistance and would be an asset once the American Abraham Lincoln Brigade arrived. He suggested it could be my break as a journalist and asked me if I was interested in joining him on a trip to Spain. I needed no further encouragement. My contact in the states had cabled willingness to consider any material I was to send. The only thing to settle was when we left France.
That night Ricardo wrote a letter to Santiago informing him of our acceptance and another to Dumiki in Bilbao asking for help in getting across the border and telling him we were ready to go as soon as we received a note from him. The return communication told us to meet with a guide in the Pass of St. Martin on the French border and from there we are to walk to the village of Belagua in the Basque country. We were told an automobile was to be provided for the remainder of our journey. France had closed the border but Dumiki’s note said he could make arrangements to cross into Spain. He wrote France only thought the border to Spain was closed but his was a Basque nation that didn’t recognize the invisible line drawn by politicians. He did ask us to be rather discrete regarding our destination. Ricardo said he needed three days to arrange the care of his bar and we should plan for a little road trip in his Citroen, top down, through the French countryside.
We arrived at St. Martin on the mountain border with Spain in the afternoon the second day after leaving Paris. During the drive I asked Ricardo his reason to leave the states and why he had chosen France. As we passed the French countryside he explained he chose France because it was the center of a new wave of art and life. He confided a past as a bootlegger in Philadelphia. Business had been good resulting in a nice sized bankroll but the better organized mobs moved in and created an uncomfortable atmosphere for his business. The conversation and the beauty of the late July rural region of France made time pass quickly.
St. Martin is only a wide spot on the roadway high in the mountains of the Pyrenees. Although I had no one to tell of my purpose and Ricardo had only explained his absence to his management, we found many people gathered together in a nearby field. Dumiki’s request for delicacy seemed absurd, the area was crowded with volunteers waiting for their guide. If discretion was the order of the day, the large group certainly betrayed this part of the plan.
Four young Basques were circulating among the arrivals with details regarding the next part of the adventure. A young man introduced himself in French, telling us his name was Igon, adding with obvious joy the Basque region had just declared autonomy. Ricardo told him he had received a note from Dumiki, a friend in Bilbao suggesting we meet in St. Martin. Igon then said he had been asked to look for us, Dumiki was a good friend and a patriot of his people. He went on to say he would be a guide with others to cross the Pyrenees as soon as the Sun dropped behind the mountains.
He asked us what we brought for the trip and Ricardo told him a suitcase and a small pack and I mentioned a duffel bag and a portable typewriter. We learned donkeys were to be brought up and Igon would see to it that our possessions were loaded and safe. Ricardo pointed out his roadster to Igon who assured him that, with his permission he would see the car would be stored and cared for until victory in Spain.
As the shadows began to stretch across the road, the guides organized us in small platoons. Donkeys were brought from the Spanish side and packed with goods of the volunteers. Finally, we began to move, across the invisible line of the frontier, onto a western slope of the Pyrenees, gradually bending toward the West. A steady pace kept us together into the night with the helpful assurances of our guides. At times the trek was difficult but it had been well chosen by those who knew the country well. We climbed a twisting trail to a rise in an escarpment then down another side to the South. Stopped by our Basque companions, wine, cheese and bread appeared and shared with the volunteers. For me, the chatter of those about me was beyond my ability to understand. Ricardo explained some of the conversation that dealt with the general enthusiasm heading into their future participation in the war.
At dawn the trail led through a canopy of trees and opened in the valley of Belagua. A dirt road led to a small farm on the hillside of a high valley. Automobiles were parked next to the corral and a man came out of a small home in the collection of outbuildings. After greetings we were asked to make ourselves as comfortable as possible while a meal was shared by the exhausted volunteers. Igon came to us saying our car and driver were waiting, adding we were the first to leave and the others would be assigned transportation in alternating and staggered time so as not to raise undo suspicion on the road. The driver greeted us and introduced himself as Fred Yates, saying he was from Chicago. A bit surprised to see another American in that small corner of the world, I was even more startled to learn he was not only from my country but a black man, a Negro.
Fred helped with our packing our limited equipment in his car and we were on our way east toward Barcelona. Once on the road, I asked our driver where he was from and how he ended up in Spain. He was raised in Mississippi but worked his way to Chicago when he was old enough to leave home. The conditions under which Negroes live in the states introduced him to the socialist movement and this, in turn, led to his being a volunteer in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He was not alone as far as Negro participation was concerned, a large contingent was in Spain or scheduled to be there soon. Fred had been in the country a short time and been assigned as a driver for which he had spent the first month with maps of Spanish roads. He explained this trip was easy because he had come into the country by the same route we followed. We were told us there would be a stop in Pamplona where he was to pick up another passenger.
Once in the city, Fred drove directly to the Hotel Moisonnave, parked the car and went inside while we waited. He returned shortly accompanied by a large, well built man who carried his own luggage, placed it in the trunk and joined me in the back seat. Once in, I looked at him and recognized my seat mate at the bull fight in Barcelona. He smiled and said we had met before, adding that I must have followed his suggestion at the time. Fred turned and introduced me to Ernest Hemingway. I told him I had spent some time in Paris trying to make contact with him in hopes I could do an article to submit to the states. He replied by saying he too was a reporter and was in Spain for the same reason. I told him I was in the car only by the chance of having talked with him at the bullfight in Barcelona. As we drove out of town Hemingway explained he had been in Pamplona for the Fiesta of St. Fermin and the running of the bulls. He added he returned each year since writing The Sun Also Rises. This time he was planning to stay for a time to take a look at the war.
I remember it was about two hundred fifty kilometers to Huesca, a mid size town about halfway to Barcelona. I referred to my fellow passenger as Ernesto and the time easily went by in conversation. Ricardo was in the front, next to the driver and stayed silent for most of the journey. There was little activity on the road, occasionally a farmers cart, some other automobiles and once in a while a military vehicle. No sign of a war. When we reached Huesca, Federico drove into a residential district, parked in front of a house and told us we would be staying there that evening. The residents in this district were aligned to the Republicans and we were safe.
A fine dinner was served that evening and we were presented comfortable rooms. In the morning a breakfast was waiting for us and it was time to get back on the road. Another two hundred kilometers and we were in Barcelona. We said good bye to Hemingway at the Catalonia Catedral Hotel then drove directly to Santiago’s apartment where he warmly greeted Ricardo then turned to me saying he was pleased I had decided to participate in their struggle for freedom. Several men were in the room speaking in a babble of languages. We learned we were among the first of the International Brigades to arrive in Spain. Ricardo explained the major topic of conversation was the establishment of Franco’s headquarters in Seville.
Santiago took Ricardo aside to tell him it had been decided to assign him communications between the different national volunteers. Ricardo at first protested, explaining his abilities could in no way meet the needs of a variety of languages. Santiago countered by saying Ricardo spoke Spanish, French, German and his native English. There were bound to be others who had more than one language and a committee can be formed to work with him. The command wanted him to explain plans and assignments with the different groups expected to join in. Ricardo agreed to take on the role. Later Santiago told me my assignment was to accompany chosen squadrons as a writer, to be the propaganda arm and to maintain a record of the war.
Two days later, on the 14th of August, Franco’s forces attacked and slaughtered Republicans in Badajoz on the border with Portugal. In a repeat of his action in Morocco, the heads of fallen Republicans were placed on spikes and displayed in the center of town. Within days of that, a great mourning swept through the country as the people learned Garcia Lorca, the poet of Spain, was murdered by the Falangists. The war was on in earnest.
In late August, 1936, Franco’s Nationalists bombed Madrid with bombers supplied by Italy. The Nationalists had introduced conscription but this only fanned the fire and on the fourth of September the socialist party in retaliation announced a Republican government. The Falangists took Irun on the border with France to try to stop the influx of volunteers and two days later the Basques declared themselves an autonomous government.
In Barcelona, Ricardo began the process of developing a committee to assist him in his role as tactical communicator between the various international volunteers. Advance participants from the soon to be Abraham Lincoln Brigade had arrived. Word had come that brigades were forming in Britain, Poland, Belgium, Greece, France, Canada, Ireland and Germany. Before requesting participants, Ricardo met with leaders of the resistance to outline a chain of command.
I rode to Madrid with Fred Yates and Robert Capa, a young man originally from Budapest to observe the effects of the bombing. The highway was clear for the two day ride with no outward signs of the war other than that of the population along the way clearly showing their allegiance to the republic. This was also true in Madrid and I was surprised by the calm and pointedly Republican attitudes by the citizens. Capa was a 23 year old photographer who had socialist sympathies but it was evident he believed the war would be a way to establish himself. Madrid seemed almost normal except for the few buildings ruined in the air attack. Groups of people were busy clearing rubble, providing opportunities for Capa’s camera.
I returned to Barcelona to learn Ricardo had heard from Dumiki. The border from France had been closed by the nationalist forces. Franco’s army controlled the western and northern portions of Spain. Dumiki, however, said the Falangists would not be able to patrol the entire region and the Basque people were still able to bring volunteers across. Two days later they made the point by declaring themselves an autonomous region.
Barcelona and Catalonia were still free of Nationalist control and the port was actively supplying the command with volunteers and material. Ricardo discovered his responsibility not only related to the deployment of the various nationals but serving as a quartermaster for arms and equipment being brought in by both gun runners and contributions of other nations. Due to his activity I had little contact but was able to assist in the distribution of material, following instructions as to what was to be back stocked and what to be sent where action was expected.
The command was unprepared for the arrival of Alexander Orlov, representing Russia as an NKVD officer. His stated purpose was to assist the Republicans strategically as well as arranging the shipment of material from his country. It turned out he would not be associated with military activity, that was left up to his associate, but he was eventually shown to be an expert diplomatic artist. Orlov arranged to have Spain’s gold reserves shipped to Russia for safety and to be apportioned out as payment for military assistance. For four nights the Soviets trucked the 510 tons of gold from where it was hidden to Cartegena, still in Republican held territory, then transferred to four ships sailing to the Port of Odessa on the Black Sea. From there it was loaded onto an armored train to Moscow. Stalin, it was later reported, laughed and said the Spanish would never see it again. As current comtroller at the time of the shipment, Ricardo said he believed the Republicans had just opened the gate to the chicken coop.
Madrid served as the capitol for the Republicans but it was Barcelona, alive with activity, that served as capitol for planning the coming war. As yet the international volunteers were not deployed and much of their time was occupied in getting acquainted with one another as well as drinking, singing and exploring the city. Idealism was the word. The energy to defeat fascism brought them together. On an evening and into the night one could see men from Belgium together with someone from Ireland or Poland or Scotland. I had not been brought into this conflict with the same goals as those that gathered daily in ever larger numbers. Coming from a different background, the political will of the volunteers astonished me.
There was no shortage of help when boats and ships filled with rifles, machine guns, grenades and ammunition docked. Santiago and his committee had secured space for storage and maintained an inventory for later distribution. Ricardo organized a work force with Catalan supervisors to haul the material to agreed destinations. The men threw themselves into the activity with no apparent disagreements or problems.
Franco was named Chief of State by the Nationalists and within days appointed his brother, three rebel generals and a diplomat to his cabinet. The Republicans requested assistance from the League of Nations only to be denied. At home, the Republicans sanctioned the autonomous territory of the Basques. News came from Alicante that over 600 members of the International Brigades had landed and were on their way to Barcelona.
On mid October, Russian aid arrived making the earlier contributions look meager in comparison. Fighters, bombers, tanks, armored cars, field artillery, rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns, aerial bombs, grenades, radio stations, torpedo boats, fuel and torpedoes. In addition, the Russian army took over the storage and distribution from Ricardo with permission from the Republicans. At the time he said he was conflicted, he was happy to give up the work load but in confidence to me said there could very well be trouble in the future as to who was in charge. Instead, Ricardo took over his first assignment, that of developing tactical communication between the various International Brigades that had now grown to 35,000 people not counting the assistance by the Russians.
Ricardo formed a committee of five volunteers, a Belgian, a Pole, a Canadian, a Greek and a Spaniard, making sure each had a knowledge of at least one other language. A military representative of Francisco Caballero, the head of the Republican government, served as a conduit from the war planning committee. Each of these members were to identify and meet with leaders of other cadres among the brigades.
By the first of November, 1936, Franco’s Nationalists had reached the outskirts of Madrid. It was time to put the Spanish Republicans and the International Brigades together. The Nationalists attacked and claimed Brunete, a town a few miles from Madrid and four days later began a siege of the capitol. The Republican Government was able to pass through the blockade and reestablish itself in Valencia.
There was an outpouring of joy when the International Brigades defeated Franco’s rebels in Madrid. Ricardo’s efforts were successfully put into action. There was a general feeling that victory was in our hands. The Anarchist Brigade led by Buenaventura Durruti fought courageously alongside the Internationals. He was killed in action five days later leading Ricardo to wryly wonder who the next chief anarchist would be. Further good news came in the successful effort by the International Brigade to prevent Nationalist attempts to block the highway north of Madrid.
The excitement the victory brought to us was mixed by a bad omen in Barcelona. Andres Nin, leader of the POUM, the Workers Party of Marxist unification was ousted from his post by the Stalinist bloc of the party. Russia’s penetration into the politics of the war became evident. Nin was Ricardo’s friend and confidante. Although they did not share the same views, they trusted one another. Ricardo recognized his patriotic sense of compromise for the good of the country. This was immediately followed by the Communist demand that the POUM be isolated from any participation in the war.
Over drinks and dinner Ricardo informed me he had received word from Dumiki that an anarchist uprising in Bilbao had been put down. The conversation turned to a discussion of the various political organizations and the human demand for power. He spoke of the righteousness of the war, but the growing infighting threatened the pure intent of the people. The next day, a large demonstration by the POUM for social revolution filled the streets of Barcelona prompting Ricardo to ask what the war was about.
In early February the Nationalists took Malaga on the south coast. Soon afterwards the international brigades defended an attempt by Franco’s forces to open the Jarama road from Madrid to the Republican controlled territory. This was the first major defense mounted by the International Brigades. By the time it was over, seven thousand volunteers were dead. The British and Irish Brigades alone lost over 600 men. Although it opened their eyes as to the horrors of war, it ended in a sorrowful victory for the Republicans. In covering the action I received a crash course on war which I submitted to the wire services.
I had been introduced to Peadar O’Donnell, a leader in the Michael Collins Brigade and the volunteer who had contact with Ricardo. Other than the Americans and the British, I had a great deal of difficulty speaking to members of the other battalions. I could handle the Irish but the thick accent required some effort. Among themselves, the Irish fighting for the Republicans only spoke in what they referred to as ‘Irish’. Seeing him again during the defense of the Jarama road I told him I was surprised to see the Irish fighting alongside the British. Peadar, a member of the IRA back home, told me those English volunteers were on the same side as the Irish and understood the Irish cause. He said once the veil was lifted, all men understood.
Peadar also mentioned volunteers from Ireland who were fighting on the side of Franco. He added that with all the political issues among the various groups of volunteers, another problem will be back home because the church had come out for the Falangists. When I questioned that he referred to those Irish as Leigh Patei, or green peppers, green on the outside but hollow inside.
Returning to Barcelona, I learned the Communist Party had demanded the POUM, the Marxist Workers Party, be eliminated. Over too much wine that night, Ricardo confided to me the snake was eating it’s tail. He looked tired and disillusioned. When I told him so, he nodded then replied the war itself was justified and he would stick with it in spite of the troubles.
Attempting to close any opportunity for the Republic, the Italian corps attacked and took over Guadalajara some fifty miles north of Madrid and on the road to Barcelona. The small victory was soon made moot when the Republican Army defeated the Italians outside Madrid. This was followed a short time later when the Nationalists began a campaign against the Basques on the last day of March.
In April, the Nationalists absorbed the Carlists, the oligarchy that had remained true to the crown. Later that month, Hitler’s Luftwaffe, the Condor Legion, obliterated Guernica with aerial bombardment. We learned our friend Dumiki was killed in the raid. Hard hit by this, Ricardo said it was a good reason to stay committed to the war. He followed this by gloomily reflecting on the intrusion of the Germans and Italians on one side and the Russians on the other as ambitious powers practicing for something bigger than Spain.
On the third of May all hell broke loose. A battle erupted when members of the Anarchists, the Syndicalists and the anti Stalinist Communists fought to prevent the Russian backed Communists from taking over the telephone exchange, then controlled by the Anarchists. Ricardo and I were having dinner at the Cafe Moka when members of the Anarchists on the roof of the building began shooting at the Civil Guards across the street from the Restaurant. Although we made it back to Ricardo’s apartment, the next several days were chaos in Barcelona. Streets were torn up to build barricades, buildings were occupied by the different factions and it was difficult to know which side any group of fighters represented.
Not being associated with any specific political party, Ricardo and I spent most of the next few days cloistered in our rooms or visiting one another when the streets enjoyed a period of calm. The uprising was put down by Prime Minister Francisco Largo Caballero. The Anarchists maintained control of the telephone exchange but the Stalinists gained overall power when Caballero was replaced by Juan Negrin.
Caballero was the man who directed the policies followed by Ricardo and the action put a big question mark in the process. Ricardo was visibly upset on this action by the various forces within the confederacy. The politics of the war was beginning to wear him down. His alliance to Caballero was not because he was a particular favorite but the infighting was making his task almost impossible. He listed the factions he had to deal with: The Socialist Party, the General Union of Workers, the Soviet controlled Communist Party, The Anarchists, the National Confederation of Labor, The Anti Stalinist Communists of the Workers Unification Party and the dedicated left leaning Republicans. Not counting the Syndicalists who had a tenuous agreement with the Anarchists, Ricardo had to deal with seven different groups, all vying for power. As this damaging intrigue was in process, the Nationalists seized Bilbao in the Basque province and five days later took Santander, a town close to a Bay of Biscay seaport some miles south. Franco now controlled most of the north of Spain.
The Republican Government replaced Caballero with Juan Negrin, leader of the Socialist Party. Although he had been considered a centrist politically, Negrin capitulated to the power of the Russian Communists due to their contribution of war materials. Negrin then outlawed the POUM, the anti- Stalinist communists of the Workers Unification Party. Within days Andres Nin, leader of the POUM, was arrested on the claim of conspiracy with General Franco. His murder by agents of the Soviet Union followed shortly thereafter.
In spite of this, entropy drove the war on. Madrid had held out against Nationalist attacks and Italian bombing raids. General Vincente Rojo, an accomplished Republican tactician outlined a plan to prevent the Nationalists from further providing the siege of Madrid. Rojo and the Republican general staff saw the road from the north as the supply line to the military surrounding Madrid. Brunete is a small town a few miles to the northeast of Madrid and the idea was to draw the nationalists from the North. Fred Yates drove me to the area of combat on the road to Madrid from the north. The idea for the attack was to prevent Nationalist from resupplying their troops in the battle for Madrid. General Rojo planned the attack led by two Republican Colonels. Rojo was a favorite of Ricardo because he was a regular military man, a Catholic who had sided with the Republicans in spite of the orders of the church and had demonstrated tactical abilities well above the average of the more political leaders.
Ricardo was asked to divide the brigades into two divisions for the campaign on Brunete. Others were to arrange for supplies and backup. Eighty thousand men were to be involved in the attack on the Nationalist army surrounding Madrid. Of these, nine hundred were members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade now combined with the smaller George Washington Brigade. Ricardo placed the English speaking Americans, the Irish Connoly brigade, the MacKenzie Brigade of the Scots and the British Volunteers in one wing because there was little language barrier between them. He assigned the Greek, Belgian, Polish, German and Italian volunteers in the other in the belief that national proximity provided a crossover of language within their ranks. He then divided the Spanish groups, separating the political differences into the two divisions.
Without Franco’s forces from the north, the Republicans had an estimated two or three times as many combatants, in addition to more tanks and planes than the Nationalists. Rojo and his general staff held a positive belief in the outcome of the impending battle. The element of surprise worked to the Republicans advantage and they were able to establish Rojo’s pincer movement from the beginning. Attacking from the North and the Southwest, the Nationalists would be forced to split and defend on both battle fronts.
Fred Yates drove two other reporters and myself to the battle area. Actually, one could have taken the subway out of Madrid. The highway was clear, some unsuspecting traffic moving in both directions. We got out of the car and entered a wooded area, walked some distance until we met with the rear guard. I was in an excellent position to observe the action about to begin.
The South wing moved rapidly into and beyond the planned area where the two would meet. The North wing was held back by the terrain and did not meet up at the appointed location. The delay created some disorder throwing the timing off for a period. However, the Republican advance was productive in its early stage, one column reaching Brunete Then, everything went to Hell.
The speed of the advance was what, finally, defeated the Republicans. When the action started the Guadarrama River was flowing with two feet of recent rain runoff and the terrain was broken with gulley’s impeding progress. By the second day the river was dry and the July heat required more water than planned. The personal containers were depleted and replacement was unavailable. Traffic for resupplying water and material backed up in the rear echelon. In the confusion, tanks were held up, ambulances could neither reach the front or those that did were delayed upon return. When the tanks did make it through they were disconnected from the infantry. Men were seen digging into the dry riverbed to drink from the meager muddy water seeping into their depressions and the lack of water for cooling the machine guns caused serious jamming.. The Republican advance stalled while the Nationalists were able to regroup.
The plan worked but the army didn’t. The leadership on the field, made up of nonprofessional officers were unable to read maps, control traffic, coordinate the infantry, artillery and armor. Planes missed targets or bombed non tactical targets, sometimes their own comrades, messages didn’t make it through. The delay allowed the trained army of Franco to reinforce and to organize it’s defense. In the six days of warfare, there were 50,000 casualties in the combined armies. Of the nine hundred men of the Abraham Lincoln and George Washington Brigades, only two hundred fifty were left fit to fight.
We had captured Brunete but we hadn’t broken the siege. Yates and I stayed behind for five days assisting the medics, helping to pack up what was left of the battle and load the trucks then returned to Barcelona. I filed a press report and went looking for Ricardo. I found him sitting alone at a table in the back of a saloon not far from the space he used for an office. I walked over and asked if I could join him. He nodded, pointed to a chair and signaled the bartender. I sat down and we were silent for some time.
Finally he looked up, his smile was sardonic. He looked at me and asked if I had had enough. I did not reply. Ricardo picked up his glass, took a drink and started in with his feelings. He talked about the defeat and how passion is not enough to win a war. He said the desire for freedom also requires training. Then he brought up the conflict between the different political philosophies added to the frustration of the always controlling requirement for power. Ricardo spoke again of the divisions between segments of the Republicans. The Anarchists and the Syndicalists, although of like mind were fighting over leadership. Meanwhile, the volunteers from nine nations were there to serve a cause and do a job. They were not involved or did they wish to be involved in the infighting.
Taking another drink, he looked at me and commented that it was over. Franco’s Nationalists were the only ones who knew how to govern. Spain was broke, the Russians had the gold and Hitler had negotiated tanks and material for the country’s nickel and iron. He finished by saying he would leave but he had obligated himself to Santiago.
In addition to organizing the troop assignments, Ricardo maintained records of the volunteers, those that died and those that lived. He had home addresses, names of relatives and contacts. He filed the information according to the nation of each brigade. Using his lists, I submitted an article on the sacrifices made by the internationals and another on life in war stressed Barcelona then turned my attention to assisting Ricardo in finishing his project.
Early in August, Under the thumb of the Russian Communists, Juan Negrin ended any authority held by the anarchist council. As the coalition dissolved, he Nationalists completed their hold on northwest Spain with a victory and gained command of the Port of Santander. This gave them open access to material and personnel in the trade with Germany and control over whatever assistance the Republicans may have had from the sea. This was followed immediately by the Nationalists bombing Madrid.
Internal dissent took still another step backward when the Pope recognized the ationalists as the governing body of Spain. Many who sided with the Republicans were put on the spot because of their religious convictions. This loyalty was tested and found wanting. Yates said he had seen children throwing stones at passing priests. Ricardo lamented the edict that further divided a people torn by political and religious separation.
As the Nationalists continued to annex Spain from the north, the Republican general staff ordered an attack on Belchite to the east of Zaragosa with the ntention of preventing further advances of Franco’s military. The battle lasted six days, the Republicans occupied Belchite but were unable to defeat the Nationalists in Zaragosa, the staging area for their advance on Barcelona.
Right in the thick of it, Francisco Largo Caballero, leader of the Socialist Party announced his opposition to Juan Negrin. The erosion of a coalition continued with the exclusion of the anti Stalinist POUM and the National Confederation of Labor followed by leaving the Popular Front Government in November of 1937.
What was left of Republican idealism had now been established in Barcelona. Ricardo was requested to organize the foreign brigades for an attack on the Spanish province of Aragon with the hope of preventing a Nationalist advance to Barcelona and the Catalon province. I helped him outline the deployment on an evening when Nationalist planes bombed the city. The explosions everberated outside his room and we viewed the fire and smoke from the windows, he talked about the futility of the work. Even if our work was successful it would still take a miracle to save the Republic.
The following evening we met with Santiago for wine and conversation at Cafe Moka. Through all the turmoil, the Republican government had maintained headquarters in Valencia, but as the Nationalists gained ground, headquarters had moved north to Barcelona. The conversation naturally centered on the disruption within the factions. Santiago considered himself a member of the National Confederation of Labor, a branch of the socialists. He announced his withdrawal from the war effort along with his fellow members of the CNT. Sitting in that war torn cafe, we talked long into the night, knowing there was a limit to our participation. Finally, Ricardo lifted a glass to Santiago and toasted his old friend with the bittersweet knowledge of separation and loss.
A few days later, Nationalist planes bombed Barcelona. The Republican army, still loyal to the cause, moved in on the last days of 1937 against the Nationalists facing toward Catalonia in the province of Aragon to the West. In January of 1938, twenty six days later they held the city of Teruel only to lose it a little over a month later. On the sixteenth of March, Barcelona was bombed by Italian planes based in the off shore Balearic Islands. The Socialist minister of War, Indalecio Prijeto, seeing the future, began the process toward a cease fire but was removed from his position by Juan Negrin who by then was under the complete control of the Stalinists.
In a daring last ditch attempt, the Republicans crossed the River Ebro to reach the town of Gandessa, a crossroad on the way to Barcelona. To everyones surprise, including Franco, the initial action was successful and we held the city for a little over a month but our supply lines were not operational, we had no heavy artillery and the air superiority of the Nationalists sealed the fate of the Republicans.
Eighteen days later, Juan Negrin issued and order ending the participation of the International Brigades and the remaining volunteers left the action and returned to Barcelona. Loyal to his commitment, Ricardo worked on his census of volunteers: who remained alive and who had been lost on the battlefield. He moved to a somewhat larger space in order to meet with battalion leadership for help to complete the project.
In October of 1938 the leaders of the POUM, the anti Stalinist faction were put on trial for treason. Found guilty, Andres Nin, the leader was imprisoned and ied following torture by the Russian dominated Republican Government.
Ricardo and I remained in Barcelona until late November of 1938. On the fifteenth of that month the remaining members of the International Brigades marched together through the streets of Barcelona. That evening, volunteers in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the German Thaelman Brigade met together and said goodby to Spain during which time both sides sang the Internationale along with movement songs from home. The music was an attempt to rise above the failure of their idealism. The atmosphere was filled with melancholy as the volunteers expressed a collective determination to continue the cause in another time, another place.
A few days later, Fred Yates drove Ricardo past the battlefields and through Nationalist held territory to the border with France. In leaving, Ricardo expressed a strong desire to return to Paris. He told me he was eager to be with his woman again and be back in business. With a smile he said he hoped his Citroen had survived his war and said he was trading his ride to the border with Fred who would accompany him to Paris. We traded Addresses, he held out his hand, we thanked one another and he climbed in the car with Fred. Santiago and I stood together in the war torn street watching them drive away. The pirate cab turned a corner and was gone.
The next day Santiago accompanied me to the fishing docks where he had rranged a boat out of Spain. I climbed aboard, said goodbye to my friend and sailed for Portugal that night.
Back in the states I found a job with the Des Moines Register and suffered the culture shock of being in a country at peace. Ricardo and I corresponded, his car had been waiting for him, his saloon had survived his absence thanks to the loyalty of the crew, one of which had been his accountant in Philadelphia. Later, I received a letter telling me of the tension developing with the September invasion of Poland by the Nazi’s. The next letter was even more disturbing, he knew it was just time before Germany invaded France. Ricardo confided plans to leave the country but at the time of the writing his woman was missing. He planned to take a few days to look for her. He and some employees of the bar would leave together ahead of the Nazi’s. He said he’d had enough of war and he was leaving that part of his life behind. I haven’t heard from him since.
After trying to reach him and collecting undelivered letters, I wrote Santiago asking if he had heard from, or of, Ricardo. He wrote back saying our friend had gone through Barcelona with three male companions on their way to Africa. He understood Ricardo had opened a restaurant and casino he called ‘Rick’s Cafe Americain’ in Casablanca, now controlled by Vichy France on the West coast of Morocco. I wrote back asking if there had been a woman with him. I received a card back saying there was no woman in their group.