The Battle of the Ebro. July to November 1938

October 2012

“Voices from a Mountain” by David Leach now up on YouTube.

Good news is that David Leach has released his impressive programme on five British Brigaders and the unique memorial to the XV Brigade which was constructed during the fighting in August 1938 in the Sierra Pandols with the names of 35 officers of the Brigade inscribed in the concrete. I am very happy that David has at last released this important document. Thank you.  I urge you to watch it when you can. And if you want to go there sometime, drop us a line….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iUIIqn8v58&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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A FOOTNOTE TO DAN BESSIE’S VISIT TO THE BATEA EVENT. (written 7th April 2012)

In addition to the weekend event ,  on Monday 2nd April we were also able to show Dan some of the places that his father vividly describes aswell as other work that is being done on the Ebro. Above the village of La Fatarella a section of trenches were excavated by the University of Barcelona with Associacio Lo Riu last September with incredible results. Within half an hour of starting digging, they found Charlie…..

Charlie is the name given to the tall skeleton found in one of the trenches of the second line of an extensive defensive position which was taken by Nationalist forces on the 15th November 1938. This line was actually held by the XV Brigada Mixta, or former XV International Brigade of the 35th Division in a desperate rearguard action to allow the rest of the Republican Army to retreat over the remaining Ebro bridges. By this time, officially the International troops had been withdrawn from the fighting by Negrin on 23rd September 1938, but Charlie’s height and other clues may suggest that he might have been an International who decided to remain behind. But who is he? We need your help.

A curious artefact was discovered in Charlie’s mouth. A small piece of primitive plastic as seen below:

The “plastic” found in Charlie’s mouth

Charlie’s teeth are in very good condition, and he was found with a toothbrush made by Foramen (a Company that is still in business in Barcelona today!) and toothpaste made by the company Myrurgia. But two left frontal teeth were missing. We believe that this piece of early plastic may indicate a false teeth dental firm. But there is little evidence of such work here in Spain. So could it be a foreigner? An Internacionale???? Any help would be gratefully provided. I am waiting for Charlie’s dental chart and intend to write a short summary of the facts to send to Guy’s and Saint Thomas’ Hospital in London concerning the history and recording of falsee teeth during the thirties. This may give us at least a clue of Charlie’s nationality and maybe even a name?  Let us see. The front line bunkers or “fortins” are impressive to behold especially the damage meted out to them by tanks. This is fortin No. 3 from a CTV Italian Army report made in late 1938 or early 1939 on the fortified line:

Fortin 3  facing north west in late 1938/early 1939

Fortin No. 3 facing north, as excavated in October 2011

Shell splash damage on the north wall

Shell splash damage on the west wall (disarticulated human remains were discovered inside the doorway).

Joan, Dan and Alan to the front of fortin No. 3

The remains of the fortifications are very impressive. The tops of the bunkers were blown up in 1950. Joan can remember his older sister using bunker No. 4 as a “shop” to sell things to the workers in the fields! Slowly Lo Riu are adding panels to explain the various fortifications.

Panel for position No. 5

One of the planned 250 wind turbines directly behind Position No 5.

 Close by, twenty bodies of Republican soldiers were uncovered when one of the service roads to the turbines was built last year

For a full report on the excavations of these fortifications you can read the Spanish version of the Archaeological Report at:

http://digital.csic.es/bitstream/10261/47780/1/2012_Informe%20La%20Fatarella%202011_Gonzalez.pdf

During the Walk on April 1st Lo Riu have proposed the erection of a memorial to the XV Brigade here on the 15th November 2013; the 75th anniversary of the final defense of this position. We plan to be there to remember Charlie, and maybe by then even be able to name him.

“Pongame con la Cinquenta y Ocho….”

We also showed Dan  the XV Brigade Estado Mayor east of Corbera, that his father wrote about in “Men in Battle” when it was used between  6th and 10th September 1938 during the Ebro Battle.

Here is his vivid description:

“Here, at one time, peasants had utilised the natural shelter, filled its mouth with masonry and constructed a home (Spain was still full of cave dwellers who had no place else to live). The cavern was partitioned into many large rooms, and each room was now crowded with men. From each room there rose a hum of conversation in a low tone, the rattle of typewriters, the buzzing of the central, the separate voice of one or another of the jefes on the telephone. For the cavern in the rocks was the central, the nerve centre of our Brigade; from there ran a network, a spider-web of wires, down the mountainside, over the barrancos, to the seperate command posts of our four battalions, deployed in front of the enemy lines. Over the wires, strung precariously from hill to hill, went the information that coordinated our activities, that bound us together and permitted us to function as an integral corps. And at the centre of this web of wire was the man who held all the wires in his hands, whose will and intelligence was felt at the extremities of the lines. He was a small man, as stature goes; he did not afford the stereotyped picture of a military man. But you would not have needed to read a record of his achievements as a commander since this war began, to feel that he knew what he was doing and that his adjutants had confidence in him. This small, unimpressive man was Major José Antonio Valledor, Commander of the XVth International Brigade.  

Midnight:  

Candlelight has a way of distorting shadows; they wave and flutter over the stone ceiling, augmenting the atmosphere of unreality. You cannot overcome this sense of unreality, of walking and climbing through the quiet Spanish countryside, mounting the terraces, skirting the olive trees, and then, entering a cave to find activity that should only rightly have its place (or so it seems) in some large meeting hall in some  large city.  

“Pongame con la Cincuenta y Ocho,” says tha voice. Then, “Wolff…four hundred zapadores are coming up there; use them as you see fit. Hello. Oiga, oiga! Central, yo estaba hablando con la Cincuenta y Ocho…”.  

In the distance there is a machine gun speaking; it has a sharp authoritative voice in the silence of the night. There is a moon behind mottled clouds, moving in and out of them, and the night is alternately bright and then, suddenly, the light fades out of the sky. The huge black hill that the enemy is holding is afire, a creeping line of flame, like a glow-worm, crawls across its face… Inside again, Valledor is standing near the doorway; he wears a short leather jacket that hangs open; his hands are in its pockets; he wears no hat. In the course of the night, that seems interminable, that is filled with mechanical and human voices, you notice that he is never alone-he is always talking to the soldiers, to his officers; he always has time to talk to his men, and there is no difference in his demeanor, whether he is talking to the Divisional Commander or to a soldier posted as a guard at the door. He is always cheerful; he gives the appearance of possessing a boundless fund of good humour; he laughs frequently, talking in a manner that is entirely characteristic of the man-short, staccato sentences.

“Digame.” Says the voice. “Quien? El capitán Dunbar? Un momento………”.  

Two A.M.  

There are men stretched in their blankets against the rock walls of the cavern, transmissions men, guards, runners resting temporarily from their endless rounds of the battalions; they lie in grotesque postures like the dead, the heavy sleep of exhaustion upon them for the moment; although they can rise from sleep with their senses wide-awake. But the hum of the central never ceases; the 59th is reporting on fortification work, the British, in reserve, are getting ready to move into the lines.

“Digame.” Says the voice. “Aqui La Quince. De parte de quien?”. 

“Damn it all!” says another voice, “Goddard was here to show them where to place that anti-tank. Get busy on it!”.

“Pongame,” says the voice, “con La Batallon Sesenta…Oiga…Oiga!”.

The candles flicker in the draft through the open doorway, where a guard stands wrapped in a blanket; there is a hum of conversation from a point on the dirt floor where Valledor and Brigade Commissar gates are talking. They are huddled close together; Gate’s voice low, indistinct. Valledor’s sharp, accented. These two, years apart, continents distant in culture and training, are here together in a cave in the hills of Spain, talking together in a manner characteristic of old friends who have never parted since they met, years before. Gates gets up to go; he is visiting the lines before he turns in for an hour´s sleep.  

There is something in the night air; there is tension to be felt both in the silence and the still persistent hum of conversation; in the sound of feet coming and going. It had been felt during the day when the enemy artillery was active, when the shells dropped in the dooryard of the command-post, when the walls of the cavern trembled under the load of air-bombs, when the Fascist observation plane was wheeling overhead like a broad-winged vulture. Now it is felt again in the silence of the night, a silence broken only by a heavy gun in the near distance, by the rattle of our tanks moving on the main road below, the authoritative voice of the distant machine gun.

Memorial to the civilian population who sheltered in this cave during the Ebro Battle. Joan Sambro will ask if they were allowed to stay when the XV Brigade moved in. Masses of shrapnel & bones are now placed on top of it.

 Valledor and Dunbar, chief of staff, examine maps on which the hills are numbered. Goddard speaks in his slow, precise voice. Brigade scouts and observers are listening. “That point is under observation in daytime” someone says. The heads draw closer together over the maps, the voices are lower, the tension seems to mount. The central buzzes continually and Valledor bends over the phone at his side; he consults a map. Outside the moon is uncovered and there are mules moving up the barranco; the patient, tireless beasts are bringing up endless cases of munitions. They pass over the crest of the hill on their way to the battalions…..  

Dawn came to the sleeping and waking men in the cavern atop the hill and the front awoke. Squadrons of planes battled over out heads, not two hundred feet above the mountain-top, and we watched them eagerly through the open space above the blocked up entrance to the cave. One fascist plane fell, and word came by telephone that the pilot, who had bailed out, had been captured and would be brought to headquarters. The enemy artillery, that had had our command post spotted from the beginning of the engagement, filled the long barranco and landed regular shells in the very dooryard. You did not dare go outdoors for a leak, and so you held your water all day long. The acoustics of the cave amplified the sound; dust fell from the rock ceiling, it was an echoing void of noise, and we sat calmly enough on the floor, waiting for the inevitable shell that would come right through the doorway.

 “What are those bastards trying to do?” said Cookson, the transmissions adjutant, “If they keep this up, they´re going to hurt somebody.” He spoke it in a high nasal voice that was pretty enervating, but worse than that, he insisted on reading the Spanish newspaper aloud to everyone within earshot.  The linesmen were continually going out on the lines; the Lincoln´s line was broken, the Mac-Pap, the British, the 24th. One man lost a leg…..  

Johnny Gates came from the other room of the cave, where Valledor and Dunbar had their map table. He was looking at me; he was smiling. I showed him the two letters and he laughed and handed them back to me. He turned to walk away, and then he said, “You know about Aaron (Lopoff), don’t you?” No, what?” I said. “He died.”  

They brought the Fascist pilot in, and he was a Spanish youngster in a beautiful Italian flying suit, with a bullet wound in his arm and a broken face. The Spanish company commander had smashed him in the jaw in a fit of rage (and we all agreed that while this may have been humanly understandable, it was politically incorrect. He was obviously terrified; he shook like a leaf from head to foot and expected to be shot out of hand. Valledor questioned him and Smyrka, our Czech chief of intelligence, questioned him, and he was most polite. He was a native of Majorca and had been a pilot before the war. When the Fascists took Majorca, they had asked him to fly for them and since there is nothing a pilot would rather do than fly, he had accepted. He had raided Barcelona many times. Like most pilots everywhere, he had no political convictions whatsoever, and it is relatively easy to drop high explosives on people you cannot see. He was utterly astonished and tearful when we took his picture, and even more so when Smyrka gave him his name and address and said, “Write to me in a month or so and let me know how you are.” The artillery that was landing outside horrified him…..  

For a time, at Valledor´s request, I lay on top of the hill and watched the battle through binoculars. It would have taken a trained observer to know what was going on, and I was not a trained observer. I could see the flash of their artillery, in broad daylight, from behind Corbera, and I could see where ours was landing in their lines. It was a panoramic vista (as the censor suspected), in which, occasionally, you could catch a glimpse of tiny men moving slowly forward or back; but largely it was a lovely, empty landscape….

 The men´s predictions were correct, for with dawn they opened up again. “Christ,” said Cookson, who stopped reading the paper long enough to listen, “if they don´t stop that, somebody´s going to get hurt.” But he had little time to read, for runners came in a dozen times before noon with words that the lines were down, and since all the other transmissionists were out (three had been wounded), he had to go out to the lines himself. The cave was as noisy as a boiler factory, dust was filtering from the ceiling, rising from the floor. First-aid men were being called out continually to take care of comrades in the near vicinity, and the runners ran their legs off…..

I was told that a Fascist prisoner had said, “I know that I will die, but please shoot me; don’t feed me to the lions in Barcelona Zoo.” (Franco told them that these “Reds” were capable of anything; and that the Barcelona lions were pretty hungry.)……..  

Cave of the XV Brigade Estado Mayor

A couple of transmissionists came in the door, panting and filthy, covered with dirt from head to foot. They asked for Jim Ruskin, British transmissions-chief, and one of them said, “Cookson-“ and threw out his hands. Jim bit his lip and turned back to the central; Cookson was his closest friend….  

Then there came a hideous whistling scream and the ear-splitting crash that always comes with that crash, and the cave was opaque with brown rock dust and dirt and the sound of wounded crying and moaning and men coughing and spitting with the dust. It took half and hour to clear up, and no more shells came, and they took out the eight wounded, including Captain Dunbar and the fat Spanish secretary who wore the broken pistol. Then the planes came over and unloaded directly over our heads and we hugged the earth floor as the cave rocked and trembled with the weight and concussion, but no stone fell in. The planes went away and returned and strafed the men, their machine guns going full blast for minutes at a time, like sewing machines. And two hours later they directed their artillery at the estado-mayor again, but they were not lucky enough to make another direct hit, and at five-thirty the next morning, in the bitter cold of early September in that part of Spain, I returned to the old headquarters to get out a bulletin.”

The area where “they took out the eight wounded, including Captain Dunbar and the fat Spanish secretary who wore the broken pistol.”

Dan outside the Cave Estado Mayor

We had a great time over the weekend and we look forward to repeating the event next year.

 Dan,  Alan and Gary at  La Fatarella on Monday morning

Joan Sambro of Lo Riu, Dan, Jeanne, Gary, Alan and Jordi Peréz Molino, historian of Valls IB hospital  on Sunday evening at La Fatarella.

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Remembering Paddy McAllister. 9th September 2011 Over the past few months I have been working with a group from Ireland to remember Paddy McAllister, an Irishman originally from Lincoln Street in the LowerFalls, who emigrated to Canada in 1928 and who subsequently served with the Canadian Mackenzie Papineau battalion and who was with them both during the Great Retreats and at the Battle of the Ebro. A group of twenty one people came over under the steady leadership of Roddy Hassan and we met in Salou on Friday September 9th to take them on a day trip to the Ebro battlefield to explore the battlefield and to place a plaque to remember Paddy McAllister on Hill 609 which the Mac Paps held in the Sierra Pandols and where Paddy fought between August 16th and 25th 1938. Most of the group bravely walked along towards the enemy held Hill 666 (there are two Hill 666s!) and where for the past few years a lonely Republican flag has bravely fluttered and been tattered by the strong winds that blast over the steep ridge of the Sierra Pandols.

Only recently on July 2nd this year, a plaque has been quietly placed there to remember the Lincoln Washington battalion who held the other Hill 666  by Catalan friends of Welsh International Brigade medic Alun Menai Williams. Alun was a sanitario, or as he was called by the Americans,“the Limey Doc”, with the Washington battalion at Brunete, the Lincoln Washington battalion at Belchite, Teruel and the Great Retreats before transferring to the British battalion for the Battle of the Ebro. It was a very pleasant surprise to discover this memorial and it is one of many that are quietly placed by individuals in the landscape to remember the Brigaders. Those who placed it know who they are and on behalf on those in Paddy McAllister’s group who were privileged to see it, and from myself especially,  thank you very much to those individuals for doing this. It is there for those who wish to find it. Slowly, after much silence, various groups and individuals are now understanding the landscape from the memories and written and photographic history available.

The plaque set up on the Nationalist-held Hill 666 on July 2nd 2011, the 5th anniversary of the death of Alun Menai Williams

Eventually the group successfully reached Hill 609 (the coach driver, Jose Maria, came as far as the American held Hill 666, but then reluctantly returned to his coach muttering something about mad Irishmen!). The ragged group reformed and speeches were made and the plaque remembering Paddy McAllister placed and then partially hidden for the Lo Riu Associacio and us to permanently place it later on a spot on Hill 609.

The group starting the march to Hill 609 from below Hill 705

Hill 705 in the distance from Hill 666 where the Lincoln Washington battalion were positioned.

The group reforms on Hill 609

The plaque was positioned…

and speeches were made…

and then we made our way back to the coach!

We then returned to the coach and the decision was made that a visit to a pub or bar was in order. So the thirsty group descended to Corbera and there the group of 21 Irish relieved the bar La Parada of 96 bottles of beer in very short order. The owners, Maria and Jose, were astounded not so much by the amount of beer drunk, but probably more by the fact that they were paid as the bottles were passed over the counter which is not usually done here until  when the people have drunk up and leave! The group eventually left at about nine o’clock in the evening for their hotel in Salou, but three of the group, Laura, Conor and Cieran, stayed on till the following day in order to be  shown  some places that would have been impossible for the whole group to visit. One of the three, Laura, is a post graduate archaeologist from University College Dublin, and we were later able to introduce her to the Lo Riu Associacio in La Fatarella, who will be excavating starting next week the partially discovered and excavated “City in theForest” where 10,000 soldiers were located during the autumn of 1938. The idea was discussed over lunch on the Friday to possibly consider a number of archaeologists from UCD to come in the autumn of 2012 to work with the University of Barcelona and to assist and develop contacts with both universities and help build links with future excavations and projects involving fossa communes in the area beginning next year.

Joan Sambro of Lo Riu explaining the “City in the  Forest”

The extensive fortifications and dugouts above La Fatarella were an attempt to hold a pocket on the enemy held part of the Ebro over the winter of 1938 and 1939 before a possible new offensive by the Republican Army for the Spring of 1939. This was not carried out, but a large network of fortified lines and accommodation was built and subsequently held and successfully evacuated between November 15th and16th 1938 when the 35th Division comprised of the XI, XIII and XV Brigada Mixtas defended these fortifications before being the last units of the retreating Army of the Ebro across the bridge at Flix before it was blown up. Ironically, these same Brigades were composed of the Spanish and Catalans troops who had served alongside the International Brigaders before they had been withdrawn on 23rd September 1938 in an attempt by the Republican government to persuade the Nationalists to also withdraw their foreign troops, It is not a well-known fact that the Nationalists also withdrew a similar number of 10,000  Italian CTV troops at the same time as the International Brigades, but it was just a tiny fraction of their total number  but done so nonetheless

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Just a very small excavated section of the “City in the Forest”

The view from a higher level of the” City”

Far below is Asco and the River Ebro where the XV  Brigade crossed on July 25th 1938.

And above the “City” are many wind turbines.

A plan of what has so far been excavated….

The extensive fortifications and support lines above La Fatarella were recorded and published by the Italian Corps Trupo Voluntario but then almost forgotten about until by chance in 2005,  local historians identified some of the concrete bunkers and trenches from photographs taken after the fighting and held in the Avila Military Archives. The group Lo Riu Associacio began to excavate the remains, and on the seventieth anniversary of the evacuation on 16th November 2008, Lo Riu invited the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Taguena, the commander of the 35th Division aswell as the daughter of Julian Henriquez Caubin, Chief of Staff and the son of Teodoro Gonzalez, Chief Engineer of the same Division to raise awareness of their discoveries. Since then, much work has been done and over 16 kilometres of trenches along with masses of concrete bunkers and over 60 fortified shelters and refugis are yet to be uncovered. It is thought that perhaps 5 or 6 years of excavations are yet to be made in this area and it is hoped that some sort of joint project can be developed in this area

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Cieran,  Laura,  Conor and Joan above the “City in the Forest”

It was also possible to show Laura and Conor and Cieran a just a few places connected with Paddy McAllister and the XV International Brigade before we met the lo Riu Associacio at la Fatarella on the Saturday afternoon, including the XV Brigade memorial in the Sierra Pandols. Conor had earlier bought himself a leather wineskin from the Gandesa wine co-operative and we decided to practice drinking from it beside the memorial. They also signed their names and left them in the metal tube set close to the memorial after having read the information about the names and the memorial that has been left there. There are a lot of names written there now!

The XV  Brigade memorial in the Sierra Pandols constructed in late August 1938 with the names of 35 officers of the XV  Brigade inscribed on it.

Conor practicing with his wineskin!

l to r. Cieran, Conor, Alan and Laura at the XV  Brigade memorial

On the route up to the memorial these boulders were caused by Nationalist artillery hitting the edge of the cliff above to intedict the supply line up to the Sierra Pandols.

A new memorial to the 35th Division behind and above the International Brigade memorial in Corbera. Hill 287 is one of the two hills east of Corbera, held by the Lincoln Washington battalion on 23rd September 1938, their last day of action.

Hopefully a group of archaeologists and supervisors from University College Dublin will be able to take part in this project next year and to work  on the excavations and to learn more about the Spanish Civil War and to visit the important sites of the Battle of the Ebro.

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18th June 2011

A visit to the Estado Mayors of the XV International Brigade and the Lincoln Washington battalion in the Sierra Pandols.

 Photograph taken by an Italian aircraft of the Sierra Pandols during the battle

New discoveries in the Sierra Pandols and an increased interest in  such work was the result of last Saturday’s walk with 29 people up into the Sierra Pandols on the Ebro battlefield. Extensive fieldwalking over the past year and a chance find in April 2010 of a hidden cave by  retired Englishman, Len Codlin, then living in Catalonia, on one of our walks trying to follow the routes of the Brigaders from the Gandesa to Pinell de Brai road up to Hill 666, has opened up new avenues of research in this hitherto silent and hidden landscape…. “After supper we were ordered to move to the Pandols (August 15th 1938). That night we slept at the foothills of the Sierra Pandols. At dawn we started to climb to the top of the hill. Our position was to be the highest point of the sierra, a 3000 foot high precipice of sheer granite. We went to a huge cave which was to serve as our Brigade Headquarters. It was ideal  protection against air and artillery attack. after a short rest, we again started to climb the sierra, sometimes going on all fours like goats so as not to fall. We finally made it to the crest. We could not dig in as there was no earth to dig, so we gathered stones and small chunks of granite to create a defensive position. Three thousand feet below, at the curve of the road, we could see our tanks in action. We did not have a protected spot for our battalion Headquarters so Wolff ordered a couple of runners to find a suitable spot. They found a place about 500 yards behind the summit, so we went and established our Headquarters there. The cave was not big enough for all the staff but it had a protective overhang in case of aerial bombing or shelling. I created a little foxhole for myself by piling rocks around under the overhang. The ground was not even, so that when I lay down to sleep or rest, my legs were inclined towards the road. In order not to slide down, I placed some big rocks below my feet so I was held in a safe position. The only flat spot was an area inside the cave, but that was only just big enough for the long legs of Wolff and his small political commissar. I was just outside the cave under the overhang. D.P. (Pat) Stephens. A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War. An Armenian-Canadian in the Lincoln Battalion. Newfoundland University Press, 2000. p105 Let me try and explain the landscape….. We marched, in all, for twelve kilometres, reaching and passing the small town of Pinell, and then the road wound steeply uphill, bounded on one side by a precipitous gorge out of which came the sudden sickly smell of the dead, and on the other by towering peaks and crags that would have been fantastic even in the daytime. There was one rock-peak shaped like the prow of a great ocean liner, steep and sheared to a point, that menaced the road with its bulk and its shadow, and the men toiling up the grade. Then we walked off the main road onto a goat path that led into the hills. Alvah Bessie, Men in Battle.  1954, p 271

“..shaped like the prow of a great ocean liner…”

Just beyond this peak the path veers up to the left and from here the Cave that was used as the Estado Mayor (Headquarters) of the XV Brigade is easily visible from the road (we have all guessed it as having been there) but not easily got to! Over the past few months the local research Group Lo Riu, had cleared a path to make it more easy to visit.

British Brigader Fred Thomas wrote in his diary:

The Brigade HQ is right high up in a cave, an almost impregnable position…..I was up by the munitions store, right by the road….”

Fred Thomas. To Tilt at Windmills. 1996. p131

XV Brigade Cave Estado Mayor to the right behind the tree line and the munition store building below.

The main aim of this walk was to show visitors the places that have been identified from the Tamiment Collection at New York University. Associacio Lo Riu from La Fatarella (www.loriuassociacio.blogspot.com) and ourselves have spent the past year working together in locating the various photos that were taken by Harry Randall with great success, but there are still more to locate especially of those taken at the British battalion positions in the Sierra Pandols. We wait in hope.

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-1712.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

Geoff Cowling, Merce Lluveras and Claudia from Chile in the same spot in November 2010.

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-1714.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

The group in the same cave on June 18th 2011

For fun, some of the group had dressed up in uniforms of the period and took this photo at the same spot in the cave:

(Left photo) The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-1078.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

And so we continued up the hills, examining a cave (above) on the way that had been used during the battle as a hospital halfway up the route to the XV Brigade memorial.

At the XV Brigade memorial, which was at that time a field dressing station and which had been built between 19th and 25th August 1938 by zapadores of the XV Brigade in memory of their commander, Egan Schmidt from Latvia, who was mortally wounded by the same shell that killed Maurice( or Morris) Miller from Hull on 19th August 1938.

Welsh Brigader Billy Griffiths wrote:

I got caught twice, but each time was fortunate to be near a shallow slit trench. Morris (Miller) was not so lucky as he was killed outright! So also was the Chief of Fortifications for the Brigade, who, with his staff, was caught in a barrage not far from Brigade HQ. He and three of his staff were killed and a number wounded.

Billy Griffiths. Unpublished memoirs, University of Swansea.

Percy Ludwig, who built the monument wrote:

We buried our captain (Egan Schmidt) on the spot where he lay, and we made a concrete slab over his grave with his name, age and place of birth engraved on it. Next to the grave we built a small mausoleum on which we engraved the names of the men of the 15th International Brigade who had fallen in the Ebro operation.

Percy Ludwig.Notes from a Muscovite.Unpublished memoirs held in the Marx Memorial Library, London.

The memorial has inscribed on it the names of 35 Spanish and International officers of the XV Brigade who were killed in the fighting, not just at the Ebro but others who were killed earlier during Teruel and the Great Retreats. David Leach’s excellent film “Voices from a Mountain” examines the British dead inscribed on this small but impressive memorial- Lewis Clive, David Guest, Maurice Miller, Wally Tapsell and Harry Dobson.

Visitors signing their names on a sheet held in a small metal tube beside the memorial & a small floral offering left on top.

A photo of the newly completed memorial taken in August 1938  and in front the grave of Egan Schmidt.

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-1751.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

Then the hard walk up to the Lincoln Washington battalion Estado Mayor. This cave was originally discovered by Len Codlin, a retired British soldier who used to live in Catalonia in April 2010 when a small group of Catalans and British were trying to identify the route from the front line on hill 666 down to the XV memorial.  The moment Anna Marti and I stood in the hollow of the cave and looked out that we realised that two photos taken by Harry Randall were taken at this exact position. Such discoveries are just one of the of the wonderful things about this sort of fieldwalking!

As we walked up to the cave we passed an observation position with a clear view of Hill 609 (where the Mac Paps were positioned), Hill 666 ( the Lincoln Washington battalion position) and Hill 641 to the rear. I am sure that observers were here keeping the Brigade HQ informed of activity there with cables leading down to the HQ far below.

Angel Sola from Lo Riu pointing out the rock shelter observatory with a view from left to right of Hills 609, 666 and 641. The rest of the group moving up to the cave….

The remains of a dugout and trench system

The group still marching up!

As we walked further across the ridge, the cave was clearly visible over the rock ledge. a long way down.

The cave in the middle distance.

And then we made it and were able to compare the views and the photos taken from the same spot in August 1938.

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-1745.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

The same view with the two children sitting on the same rock visible in the shadow!

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-1747.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

But another very pleasant surprise awaited us as we discussed the site. I had copies of the photos taken by Harry Randall and I was idly looking at them when I saw one stating that it showed the Mac Paps, which would have been found directly behind Hill 609. However, the more I looked at one corner of the cave, the more I wondered if it was taken there. But the Mac Paps were much more to the front behind Hill 609 (their stone parapets are still there). I passed it round the group and after much discussion and closer examination, we all agreed that it was the same location.

A discussion takes place……

The group were very happy to have identified a photo there and then. It took a while for everyone to leave, but as they did, Angel Sola lay down in the same corner and I quickly took some photos of him before we left to return down the hill.

The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection ; ALBA Photo 011-0112.Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY10012, New York University Libraries

“Commissar” Angel Sola resting before the journey back down.

One of Angel’s abilities is to merge photos taken over 70 years ago with ones taken today. The effect is quite ghostly.

The same spot.

Some of the group in the Lincoln Washington battalion Estado Mayor (Many thanks to Antonio Lopez Fernandez for this photo).

From this position looking all the way down to the left is the road towards Gandesa and just visible behind the Hill of Sant Marcos (its name was changed to “The Hill of (Karl) Marx when the Republicans took it!) one can just see the bare rock of Hill 481 which in the first stages of the Ebro Offensive the British battalion had tried to take. At the time when the XV Brigade was fighting in the Sierra Pandols the German XI Brigade was trying to take Hill 481 from nearly the same positions.

Hill 481 far right just behind the Hill of Sant Marcos/Marx.

The view down to the road below.

Harry Fisher wrote:

One day a car stopped at the foot of the hill. Bullets flew all around it. Two men got out of the car and started running up the hill. They climbed frantically and laboriously until they reached our resting place; they were exhausted. The two men were Herbert Matthews and Ernest Hemingway. I admired them, coming into this dangerous part of the world, risking their lives to get a story.

Harry Fisher. Comrades.1998. p154.

Sadly the group decided to walk down to the road rather than up to Hill 666. But this can be done another day. The result of a 3 page report in La Vanguardia the day before had generated a great deal of interest to the point that a second trip is planned for those who were unable to come on the first trip (it was limited to 29 people in total). Next week Catalan TV3 are being taken up to the caves for a report. This should be interesting. And it is planned for another group to go up to the Lincoln Washington cave to try and determine at what time the photograph with the shadow on the stone was taken on the weekend of August 20th to 21st, probably the same dates as when these photos were taken (certainly between August 19th and 25th). So if anyone wishes to join this group please contact us.  We think that it was taken at about 0900 in the morning?

This walk is not easy but also not impossible. I could take interested people here but only after being sure that they could cope with the walk. Thanks to these photos we are now building up a far greater understanding of the fighting up in the Sierra Pandols and certainly with such accounts as by D. P. (Pat) Stephens this  has greatly helped us to locate and identify the two caves used by the XV Brigade & Lincoln Washington battalion as their headquarters.

Many thanks to Angel Sola and Alex and Joan Sambro of Lo Riu for organising this trip and for the fieldwalking. Though Len Codlin had independently discovered the Lincoln Washington cave in April 2010 (Anna Marti and I have decided to informally call it “Len’s cave”!), they were able to successfully identify the XV Brigade HQ by their extensive fieldwalking. This is a fine example of various groups working together to discover this hidden history in the landscape here.

And also a heartfelt thanks from us all to Harry Randall who is still alive in the USA and who took these incredible photos and saved them for posterity. All of us cannot thank you enough, Harry.

Harry Randall (in the officer’s cap) directing the taking photos of a meeting with John Gollan and the British battalion in Darmos or Ulldemolins in early May 1938. (Communist Party of Spain)

Here are the pages from La Vanguardia in Catalan:

58123145-Tarragon-A[1]

Finally, just to give you an idea of the horrific conditions that the men of the XV Brigade endured on Hill 666 and the Sierra Pandols, I leave this brief description by Alvah Bessie:

“We streamed with sweat and lay snuggled among the hot broken rocks, flattening ourselves to the earth as much as possible. We did not talk much; some men ate their sardines and bread, others merely stared at their toes…. At first it was far over, and we watched the shells with a speculative interest, bursting far below us down the mountain side. “That´s where the British are in reserve” said Nat and we both laughed…we watched, since we had not been told to move, as the shell bursts came closer to us, crawling slowly up the slopes. We looked around for a runner, who should have come up about that time and told us to scatter, but no runner was in sight. We looked around at the hundreds of other men, calmly lying there as the fire crept slowly back up the mountain side towards us; they did not move, they were cleaning their guns or eating or lying on their sides talking, or trying to catch a few winks of sleep. It was getting too close for comfort, and now we were as flat as we could be. They were falling a few hundred metres below us; I was watching two men carrying a stretcher (it was empty), I just happened to be watching them, and then they were not there. The shrapnel whined viciously over our heads, slapping against the stone of the hillside, whirring away into the middle distance……” Alvah Bessie. Men in Battle. 1954.

___________________________________________________________

15th January 2011

The niece of a Norwegian Brigader visits the Ebro.

On Saturday 15th January I had the pleasure of taking four Norwegians to the Ebro battlefield in search of Norwegian Brigader Odd Olsen. The group included Randi Ronning, niece of Odd Olsen who was killed on September 7th 1938 during the Battle. Accompanying her was historian Jo Stein Moen, author of “Tusen Dager” (with Rolf Saether)- a recent book on the Norwegian participation in the Spanish Civil War which has been critically acclaimed in Norway. What Jo doesn’t know about the Norwegian participation in the Spanish Civil War is probably not worth knowing. Accompanying Jo and Randi were Harry Tiller, journalist for the Norwegian newspaper, Adressavisen, and cameraman Steinar Fugelsoy. The plan was to show Randi in one day the places where her uncle fought and was killed. Randi was born the same year that her uncle Odd Olsen died but knew nothing about him as her family never talked about him..

The Norwegians at Hill 565 close to where Odd Olsen was killed.

(l tor) Randy Fogelsoy, Randi Ronning (niece of Odd Olsen), Harry Tiller & Jo Stein Moen.

Thanks to Jo Stein Moen’s extensive research we were able to show Randi a number of places where her uncle would have been during the Battle of the Ebro. From the place where her uncle crossed at Asco in the 1st Georg Branting company of the the 43rd Thaelman battalion of the XI International Brigade to Corbera and then to Sierra de Lavall where the XI Brigade was fighting in September close to Hill 565 where Odd was killed. According to the letters and diaries of  Einar Juul Peterson, Odd was probably killed on 7th September with 5 other Brigaders by a bomb, also wounding 6 others and leaving just one Norwegian (Peterson) left in the XI Brigade at that time. Sadly Einar Juul Peterson was killed on the last day of action of the International Brigades but by a miracle his fascinating letters and diary survived. In October 2010 a number of plaques with over 1000 names of those who have been recognised as having died during the Battle of the Ebro were set up at the Camposines memorial and included the name of Odd.

Randi Ronning being photgraphed by Steinar Fogelsoy as she saw her uncle’s name on one of the 27 plaques at the Camposines memorial.

Odd Olsen’s name amongst many others.

We also visited some reconstructed trenches at Els Barrancs north of Vilabla dels Arcs aswell as an old farmhouse that was used as a dressing station during the battle. The farmer’s wife told us that a month ago 12 Mossos (police) arrived at the farmhouse to remove the masses of unexploded bombs, shells and grenades that the farmer had collected over the past few years. This was probably a good idea seeing as this impressive collection of war materiel was situated right beside the barbecue!

Exploring the reconstructed trenches at els Barrancs

We also visited the village of Corbera before journeying up the valley of La Sierra del Lavall towards Hill 565 where the XI International Brigade fought in September 1938.

Valley of Sierra del Lavall

On the rough track towards Hill 565 we passed an old Moorish signalling tower which was in actual fact the XI Brigade Estado Mayor during this part of the battle.  Oddly enough, in the German book Brigada Internacional ist unser Ehrenname”, volume 2 (DDR, 1974), there is a photograph of this very tower with the caption “The last fighting position of the (XI) Brigade in the ruins of Miravet”!

La Torre. XI Brigade Estado Mayor in September 1938

Randi and Jo at Corbera

An eight page article on Randi’s search for her uncle will appear in the issue of Adresseavisen on Saturday 29th January. When I have a link to the article I will endeavour to add it to this article.

__________________________________________________________

21st November 2010

Porta de Historia involved in BBC TV filming.

Between November 18th & 19th Alan Warren of PdlH assisted and was interviewed with Jonathan Miller (second cousin of Morris Miller, who was killed at the battle of the Ebro on August 19th 1938) for a short programme covering the lives of Humberside men who fought in Spain. The programme will be shown in either January or February 2011 on BBC1 Leeds. For further information about Morris Miller see  www.morrismiller.wordpress.com

Jonathan Miller (right) being interviewed by BBC’s Paul Murphy at the XV Brigade memorial in the Sierra Pandols

 

 

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