The Sad And Embarrasing History Of The Lincoln Battalion (I)

Part 1 of a series of articles about the disastrous history of a bunch of American jews fighting in the Spanish Civil War

Original article published on the 3rd of May 2018 by Jorge Álvarez at

Translation by me

Apparently this is the first part of a series regarding this topic. I’ll translate and post the rest when they’re published.

The Sad And Embarrasing History Of The Lincoln Battalion (I)

We read these days that David Simon, the famous Jewish American TV producer and creator of The Wire, will produce a show about the “Lincoln Brigade”, according to interviews published by several media outlets. Mediapro Group, owned by the catalanist and troskiyst millionaire Jaime Roures (whose Hebrew ancestors look quite obvious judging by his facial features) will also participate in the project.

The show, naturally, will tell us many lies and hide many truths. Right from start, since the Lincoln Brigade never existed. It was nothing more than a small battalion of the XV International Brigade.

Since it’s obvious that the alliance of two nosey leftists can only produce a lie as big as Roures’ nose, I will explain some things about the Lincoln Battalion that we probably won’t see in the show.

Almost all of the members were stalinist communists affiliated to the Communist Party USA.

Almost half of them (at least) were yankee jews. Almost all of the “Lincolns” were urbanites, raised in New York and other big cities of the East Coast (where the good majority of American jews reside). Almost none of them had military experience, and being urbanites, they also didn’t have expertise at handling weapons, something that most Americans in rural areas did and do have (but jews don’t live in rural areas).

This sinister gang of adventurers enlisted in the International Brigades recruited by the soviet Komintern, with the typical anglosaxon racist conviction that a “little war” was being waged in Spain and that they were going to live a fantastic romantic adventure in the Spain they imagined was the one described in Carmen by Prosper Mérimée, marching through the cheering of the backward Spaniards they were coming to save, shooting against a lowly enemy, drinking wine and being entertained by latin women dressed with faralaes while their presence would be praised into myth for the Frontpopulist propaganda by Hemingway, Herbert Matthews, Martha Gellhorn, etc. They were only right on the latter. Their brutal clash with the reality of our war took place right after they got out of the trucks that placed them at the foot of the Pingarrón hill in February 1937 as part of the Battle of Jarama, the Nationalist effort to cut the roads from Valencia and Barcelona to isolate Madrid from the rest of the territory controlled by the Popular Front. Their baptism by fire would be something worthy of some kind of Vaudeville gore.

In mid February the battalion had been gathered in the Villanueva de la Jara bullring at the command of Captain James Harris, who for a while had managed to earn the rank of Sergeant in the US army and was drunk as a skunk more often than not. His second in command was Robert Hale Merriman, a guy whose only military experience was being part of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. After attending the neverending speeches given by the brigade commanders, including the Frenchman André Marty, known as “the butcher of Albacete”, at midnight the trucks arrived to take the communist yankee jews to the frontlines.
Captain Harris, drunk as always, had disappeared. In the dark, the first two trucks of the “lincolns” took the wrong turn in a crossroads and instead of turning left they kept going forward, straight to the Nationalist lines. The crossfire wrecked the first truck and the second one crashed behind it. A score of yankees died before the battle had even begun. Things didn’t start out well, but they were going to end worse. Much worse.

Defending the Pingarrón hill, which in a week had changed owners several times, there were legionnaires and regulars under the command of Colonel Asensio. These were real soldiers. The yankee commies were about to find out soon.

The “lincolns” were entrenched in front of the Nationalist lines. Since they didn’t know how to build trenches properly, a lot of them died from sniper fire. Their positions weren’t deep enough and their silhouettes were perfectly seen in the horizon over their deficient barricades.

They had already suffered tens of losses without advancing a single meter, due to the utter military incompetence of officers and troops.

Captain Harris, who apparently recovered from alcohol poisoning for the umpteenth time, suddenly reappeared after being gone for two days and ordered his men to abandon their lackluster defenses to do a night march in no man’s land through the olive groves that led to the Nationalist lines. In the middle of the night, when the march turned into some kind of disorganized religious pilgrimage and the guards started opening fire, Merriman, after a loud argument who attracted even more of the enemy fire, forced Harris to order the men to go back to the starting point. Certainly this decision temporarily saved the battalion from total annihilation. But only for a few hours.

On the 23rd of February, for the first time since arriving to Spain, the yankee commies were going to fight for real. Of the 450 volunteers that left the Villanueva de la Jara bullring a week before, only 373 were fit for combat, without shooting a single bullet or taking an inch of terrain! Colonel Vladimir Copic, a Croatian communist at the service of the Komintern and the commander of the XV Brigade, ordered Merriman to assault the Pingarrón.

The “lincolns” advanced through the olive groves that they had already gone through with Harris in their absurd night march a few hours before. A couple of Soviet T-26 tanks covered their advance. One of them was quickly hit and the other one decided not to keep advancing. The yankee brigadiers started to suffer the fire coming from Asensio’s colonial troops. The ones that didn’t die or weren’t wounded in the advance first or trying to escape later, threw themselves into the ground hoping the night would give them cover to go back to the starting point. In the dark, stumbling and fumbling around, the Americans managed to go back to their trenches, leaving behind in the olive groves, dead and wounded, many comrades whose screams of pain lasted the whole night.

The battalion suffered 80 casualties that day, 20 dead and 60 wounded. Of the 450 initial soldiers, only 263 remained now. And all that without advancing a single meter.

The next day 70 yankees arrived as reinforcements, some of them on civil clothes and with the same lack of military aptitude than their comrades. Captain Harris, who had suffered a nervous breakdown, was evacuated in ambulance and never rejoined the battalion. He was later assigned to the XIII IB, and probably fell in combat in the summer of 1937 during the Battle of Brunete. Merriman assumed the command of the battalion.

Copic insisted. The fascists in Pingarrón were to be defeated. Another assault of the Lincoln was planned for the 27th preceded with a powerful artillery preparation. Merriman was, same as his men, terrified with the thought of having to launch another attack against Asensio’s legionnaires. He and his men realized that they weren’t in a romantic little war to take pictures between ragged latins. There were hardened, very professional, merciless soldiers in front of them.

When the commie cannons finished the initial shelling, the yankees were still in their trenches and it didn’t look like they were going to come out anytime soon. Copic, outraged, phoned the prudish Merriman and ordered him to advance. The yankee started to babble illogical excuses which made Copic get even more enraged. Merriman told him that the artillery rounds missed the enemy positions and that the units protecting his flanks had not advanced a single inch. Copic, who was observing the operation from a position that allowed him to have a better and clearer picture of the battlefield than Merriman had, told him that the flank units had already advanced and that the positions he was identifying as enemy were actually the rearguard of the battalion that was covering his flanks, that was already 700 meters in front of him. Copic, infuriated, yelled at Merriman to take his men out of the trenches and to advance upon the hill at once. The resigned yankee commander then ordered the advance and decided to lead the assault personally. Just a few meters after the initial advance a bullet hit Merriman’s shoulder and broke his scapula. He was taken back to the trenches while his men died in the olive groves by the tens. Right before sunset, the British Lt George Wattis ordered the retreat. When the healthy men left that were crouching on the ground got up to follow the retreat order, they became excellent targets for the Nationalist snipers that took them down.

When Wattis later ordered the ones who were in the trenches to get out and help and carry ammo for the comrades still in the olive grove, the “lincolns” refused angrily. Disobeying the orders of their superiors when they were asked to risk their lives beyond what they considered reasonable became a constant behavior among the men of this battalion.

The majority of the few lucky ones who stayed crouched, abandoned by their comrades until the night arrived, managed to get back alive with the cover of the dark.

In the morning of the 28th of February, around 150 “lincolns” were left ready for combat. And they still had not advanced a single inch.

On the 1st of March, the survivors of the Lincoln decided to have a meeting with the political komissar of the XV IB the Frenchman Jean Barthol, to explain their complaints and demands. It was total mutiny, as expressed by the political komissar of the battalion Samuel Stember and several officers to their men. It was in vain. The soldiers irresponsibly abandoned their defensive positions leaving behind but a handful of guards as they left for the rearguard to meet Barthol. They basically demanded to be withdrawn from the frontline, some because they wanted a break and others because they wanted to go back to the US. They also demanded the people in charge of ordering them to assault the Pingarrón to be tried in a court-martial. In fact, a military jury tried Lt Wattis for using his pistol to get the “lincolns” to obey when he gave them the order to attack the enemy. Wattis was absolved, but nobody in the Republican Army took measures against the gang of mutineers that rebelled due to pure cowardice. This episode shows the ethics of these people, who weren’t soldiers, they never had been, but political and sindical agitators in factories, ports and universities in the East of the US. As admitted by one of the members of the battalion, Morris Mickenberg, “they seemed like children crying for their mommy”. Almost certainly, if they had been Polish, Hungarian or Romanian volunteers, all of the leaders of the meeting would have been executed and the battalion disbanded among other units, as we will see later. But they were American and the Republican government didn’t want the public opinion to find out that the yankee volunteers, who had been passionately praised and cited in articles by Hemingway, had been punished for mutiny.

A National counterattack in mid March pushed the volunteers of the XV IB out of their positions. Martin Hourihan, in absence of the convalescent Merriman, took command of the battalion. When in mid April Hourihan ordered his men to counterattack to retake the lost ground in March, they mutinied again and completely refused to attack the positions of the legionnaires and regulars. Martin Hourihan decided to overlook the incident and gave up. The “lincolns” were going to stay hidden in their new trenches for now. Martin Hourihan later admitted in an interview that his men often told him to “fuck off” when he gave them an order.

Soon the desertions started to happen more frequently. The lowest figures given by apologists of the battalion say 130 desertions. More critical authors give figures over 200. Considering that it was a battalion that was never at full force and that in its best moments had around 450 men, these figures are abnormally high. Just for comparison, the Blue Division, another volunteer unit of 18.000 men that had around 45.000 men total, had only 150 desertions.

On the 2nd of July the Lincoln recieved the order to march towards the West of the capital, in the area of Valdemorillo to participate in the Offensive of Brunete. Once again, the “lincolns” were going to have bad luck. They went from Pingarrón hill to Mosquito hill.