January 5, 2024

The “Spanija” series translates selected autobiographical accounts by Yugoslavian and Montenegrin volunteers of their actions in the Spanish Civil War. Dr. Ray Hoff used Google translate from Croatian to English and he edited the selections.  As this is a machine translation, the idiomatic features of Croatian or Serbian and the translation of names and places are “best effort”.  The full five-volume collection was entitled:

“The Participants write Spanija 1936-1939: collection of memories of Yugoslav volunteers in the Spanish War”

It was assembled by Editor-in-Chief Cedo Kapor and published by the Initiative Committee of the Association of Spanish Fighters, The War History of our Peoples, Book 130, Military Publishing Institute, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1971, 5 volumes.

Chris Brooks posted and provided links to volunteers.



Milojko Teofilovic, Spanija, V2, pp. 136-144


I got to know the cruelty of life, humiliation, exploitation and injustice in my childhood, when I became a grocer’s apprentice. My restless nature rebelled against this, so I often changed professions, employers and places of residence, looking for better living conditions. Thus, as a cadet of the Military Music School in Vršac, I tried twice to escape to the USSR via Romania. The first time I was caught on our land and the second time on the Romanian-Soviet border. In the end, I definitely ran away from that school and continued to wander around Yugoslavia under someone else’s name. Understandably, I also got to know prison life. In the end, I boarded a ship and changed ships and owners and wandered around the world, always mistreated by the police of various countries. I got to know many ports in Europe, Africa and Asia. During my stay in the city of Algiers, through our workers, I established contact with the labor movement and got my first political and Marxist education there.


After arbitrarily leaving my job in a mine in the Belgian Congo in 1935, I was taken to Brussels, where I was given a conditional sentence of 10 years in prison, should I ever be caught on the territory of Belgium or its colonies. After that, I left Belgium for England. I stayed in the town of Ipswich, near London. Soon I got a job on our [Jugoslav] ship “Kobac”, which at that time transported coal from England to Spain, Algeria, Oran and Portugal, and, from there, it took over other goods, mainly ores, and transported them to England, Belgium, Holland and other countries.

One day, in March 1936, we sailed into the port of Ceuta, in Spanish Morocco, where we delivered coal. While the cargo was being unloaded, two Spanish legionnaires climbed aboard and asked to buy American cigarettes, of which there were hundreds on board. One of them requested that we enable him to escape from Ceuta and Spanish Morocco. He wanted to be out of the uniform of the Spanish legionnaire as soon as possible. When I asked him about the reason for his escape, he told me that he was convinced that the Spanish generals would use the army and the national phalanx and attack the Popular Front government. As evidence, he cited the example of frequent Legion maneuvers with the cooperation of Moroccan troops. It was our compatriot, whom I later found out was from Split. Although the story of our compatriot tickled and excited me, at that time I did not yet have a definite attitude, because the situation in Spain was not clear to me.

After unloading the coal, we left Ceuta and sailed to the port of Vivero, in the north of Denia, where we loaded iron ore destined for England. Since there was still empty space on the ship, we sailed to Lisbon, where we loaded coal, and then to the Spanish port of Huelva, to load some ore. Staying in Huelva enabled me to get in touch with the workers there. I learned from them that the situation in Spain is electric and that there may be an attempt to violently overthrow the government of the Popular Front by reaction.

I decided to leave the ship and stay in Spain. I had some savings, so I figured it would be enough for me until I found my way and got a job. From Huelva I went to Seville, and from there to Cadiz, and on to Malaga.

Immediately after arriving in Málaga, I got in touch with the members of the People’s Front in the so-called “Casa de Pueblo”. Rooms were located in a building that belonged to the UGT socialist union, communist and republican left. The second CNT trade union (National Confederation of Labor) belonged to the anarchists.

Comrades from “Casa de Pueblo” introduced me to the political currents in the city and in Spain. At that time, the full unity of the labor movement had not yet been achieved. The Popular Front did not have the support of the anarchist union of the National Confederation of Labor CNT. Because of this, it often came to political clashes between supporters of the Popular Front and anarchists. Just when I arrived in Malaga, there were also bloody incidents caused by anarchists. In front of the Casa de Pueblo, anarchists killed a socialist representative. Immediately after, one of the of anarchist platoon is killed. After a few days, the anarchists liquidate the vice president of the municipality in retaliation. A communist, a very capable politician and orator. All three murders were committed within a week. The funerals were impressive and thousands of workers and other citizens took part in the processions.

Malaga – today

Since I haven’t found a job yet, I had plenty of free time. I used it to get to know the city and its people. Malaga is quite a large and well-organized coastal city. By the way, there was also a sitting governor of the same name as the province, with the city police, the so-called “Guardia de Asalto” – which was founded after the overthrow of King Alfonso. There was also a gendarmerie unit in the city. Malaga was also a military garrison with an infantry regiment. The center of the city was always the most lively with he most important institutions of the municipality with their institutions, post office, bank, etc. I also visited the port, which was separated by a brick wall up to 1m high, on which there was an iron fence. From the port to the city and vice versa, you entered through the city gates. In addition, the port had two side entrances and exits. The port had a customs office, and the customs and finance officers were also armed with rifles.

We learned about the rebellion of the general junta in the Spanish protectorate of Morocco on July 18, 1936. The very next day, the Spanish newspapers also wrote about it. One piece of news caught our attention in particular. It was announced that a war fleet would arrive in Malaga from Cartagena to, allegedly, embark an infantry regiment, and then set off for Spanish Morocco to quell the rebellion. Somehow, at the same time, news arrives that General Quiepo de Llano has rebelled in Seville and is holding the city in his hands. This caused suspicion among the citizens, and especially among the members of the People’s Front, and there were spontaneous demonstrations against the Republic and demonstrations against the arrival of a fleet that was not trusted. A crowd of over 20,000 people passed through the streets and headed for the port, expressing their indignation against the rebels and against the arrival of the fleet.

At the same time, a company comes out of the barracks with a Republican flag and music and, with the sounds of the national anthem, marches towards the city center, the governor’s residence. The people, with the shouts of “Long live the Republic”, also move after the army. However, in the center of the city, the company commander, with the rank of captain, issues an order to the platoon commanders to take possession of the municipality, the post office and the governorate. He previously ordered them to load their guns. However, non-commissioned officers, who were not clear about such orders, ask that the company commander explain his intentions. But, instead of any explanation, the company commander pulls out a revolver and shoots a non-commissioned officer who most persistently refused to carry out the given order. All this happened in the blink of an eye and in front of a crowd of astonished citizens, who thought that the officers of this company were loyal to the Republic. After this incident, everyone understood that it was a betrayal and an attempt to seize public facilities. A crowd arose among both soldiers and citizens. One soldier kills a platoon commander and a platoon commander, a lieutenant. Two other platoon commanders, both lieutenants, probably Republicans, lined up the company with the intention of taking it to the barracks.

Until that moment, no one knew that the action of the army, or rather the company commander, was synchronized with the members of the phalanx who had already occupied some administrative buildings. At the moment when the company prepared to leave for the barracks, the Phalangists opened fire from machine guns from the windows of public buildings. Only then did the real crowd arise. The financiers, who were armed only with rifles, were the first to come to the rescue and were the first to open fire on the Phalangists. Immediately afterwards, the soldiers of this company also take shelter and open fire, and a little later, with the use of hand grenades, the Phalangist strongholds were liquidated.

When the soldiers in the barracks heard about the events in the city, they reacted quickly. They captured and imprisoned all their officers, except the commander of the provincial garrison, with the rank of general and his adjutant, a captain, who managed to escape and hide on a ship that was used to transfer mail from Malaga to Morocco. Of the officers, only the two lieutenants, platoon commanders, who participated with the company in the liquidation of the Phalangists, remained free.

The hiding place of the garrison commander could not remain a secret for long. The people quickly discovered them and a group of young people, members of the organization “Juventad Socialista Unificada” (Communist-Socialist Youth) led by Kristobal Hilar2, went into action. They went to the ship and pulled out the garrison commander and his adjutant, who the people on the shore lynched.

On that day, all the citizens of Malaga were very excited. Events from Malaga were recounted, as well as various, often contradictory news, which arrived from various quarters. Nevertheless, the majority of the population was happy and proud that even in Malaga, the general rebellion did not succeed and that the government definitely remained in their hand of the

People’s Front. In the following days, an organized explanation of the political and military situation in the country was started, especially after the changes in the Central Government and the speech of Dolores Ibarurri (Pasionaria), in which she called on the people to fight against fascism on Radio Madrid.

On the third day after these events, the organization of volunteer units began. The first company called “El Spartako” was formed by socialist and communist youth. Three of us

Yugoslavs (Mate Matell from Dubrovnik, Milan Todorović, from Bosnia and me), seven Germans, two Italians, two Poles and two French Jews. They were all sailors who happened to be in Spain, and who sincerely wanted to help the Spanish Republic with arms in hand. Cristobal Gilar was appointed commander of the company, and a Pole, whose name I do not remember, was appointed as his deputy.

In the first five or six days, the company was engaged in settling the situation in the city itself. A list of black shirt phalangists was found with a customs lieutenant. There were, as I remember, between 1,600-1,800 members. Within a few days, all of them were individually captured and imprisoned. A lot of weapons were also found, mostly of Italian and German production. After about fifteen days, the population was already differentiated, and it was clear who were Republicans and who were Fascists. During that time, many things were sorted out and life in the city began to unfold normally.

At the end of July, Fascist forces from the north began to approach Madrid, but they were stopped by Republican forces on the Sierra Guadarrama. We in Malaga were informed that a part of the rebel forces from Morocco had moved to Spain near the town of Algeciras and that they had taken up positions near the village of La Linea with the intention of continuing towards Malaga. For this reason, our youth company, “El Spartaco” was tasked to close that direction. It immediately transferred to the village of Penjarubio in front of the town of Ronda. As we were very tired, Gilar ordered the company to stop and spend the night in this village.

The fascists were probably informed of our presence, so they surprised us before dawn with murderous fire from two cannons, machine guns and rifles. Cavalry and parts of Moroccan units also took part in this attack. Me and a Pole manned the machine gun and had a lot of work during that fight. However, the unfriendly forces were superior (as far as I remember about 900 soldiers), so we were forced to retreat. In that first battle, our company suffered heavy losses, around 46 people were killed, among them our compatriot Milan Todorović, four Germans, one Italian and 40 Spaniards. The Polish machine gunner and I were slightly wounded. We had such losses because the enemy was much stronger, because he surprised us, and because our fighters were young, without military education and war experience.

At that time, there was no real and stable front line, but it was marked by villages held by the enemy or us. The space between these villages is controlled only by patrols. That’s how the battles for the next month and a half were organized and conducted, mostly in and for the villages. Everyone aspired to achieve their influence among the population from which they would fill their units. The front in front of Malaga towards Gibraltar, Cádiz and Seville looked like this. During that period, certain combat experiences were gained, the tactics of the enemy were known. Our company grew into a battalion called “Mexico”.  A second battalion, “Mitralia”, was also formed, named after the nickname of a 22-year-old Spaniard who died attacking a gendarmerie station with bombs. A cavalry squadron was formed from peasants who voluntarily came with horses to defend the Republic. All this made it possible to strengthen and stabilize the front in front of Malaga in the second half of September 1936.

After a month and a half, our battalion “Mexico” and the cavalry squadron left the front and went to Malaga to rest. We found normal life in the city, occasionally interrupted by the bombing of fascist planes. At that time, preparations were being made in the city by the Republican forces for the formation of new units, and the anarchists also formed their own, which were immediately sent to the front. After the rest, we also returned to the front, which was now much more stable on both sides. The front stabilized on the line from the sea in front Estepona then north through the Sierra de Rondo to Antequer, then east to Loja and further towards Granada. Neither the enemy nor we had the strength to damage that front line more.

At the beginning of 1937, we heard that the enemy was preparing an offensive on Malaga and that several Italian divisions with heavy weapons had landed in the port of Cadiz. We felt it from his stronger pressure from the direction of Gibraltar towards Marbella and our withdrawal in that direction. These defensive battles lasted almost a month, until February 3, when the fascist offensive on Malaga began. In addition to the Moroccans and other Franco units, the main forces in this offensive were the Italian divisions, both from the west and from the north. They were well trained and armed, and were supported by artillery, tanks, aviation and artillery fire from the cruisers Baleares and Canarias. At that time, on the southern front, we had only about 10,000 fighters deployed in independent battalions, armed only with rifles and machine guns. Nevertheless, our fighters fought heroically for their Malaga, but for a long time they couldn’t stand it. The enemy from Almeria entered Málaga on February 8, 1937 and immediately continued its pressure in the direction of Almeria. Under the fighting, we retreated to the front of Motril, where we held off the enemy until February 10.

In the battles for Málaga, tanks gave us the greatest difficulties, because we had no anti-tank weapons, except for bombs and gasoline bottles. We suffered the biggest losses from tank fire. When our unit took up a position in front of Motril, I volunteered to join the anti-tank group. In one of their tank attacks, we destroyed 4 Italian-made tanks. On that occasion, I was also wounded.

Under the pressure of enemy forces (mainly Italian units), our exhausted battalions had to continue retreating towards Albuñol. Then the XIIIth Interbrigade came to our aid, taking a position in front of Albuñol and, together with our units, holding off further Italian advances. However, since he was held in this sector, the enemy forced operations from the Sierra Nevada in the direction of Almeria, with the intention of cutting off a retreat for our units by hitting the sea near Almeria on the 12th and encircling and destroying them on that narrow coastal area. Because of this, the XIIIth brigade, with a part of the Spanish units, carried out a maneuver and attacked the Fascist units on the Sierra Nevada, occupying several places (Trevelez, Portugos and Pitres) and, by pushing them away, eliminated the danger in Almeria. The front stabilizes there and remains until the end of the war in Spain.

I was evacuated from Motril as a wounded man to the hospital in Almeria, and then in Lorca. After a month, after I had recovered a bit, I found out that in Murcia there is a hospital for fighters of the International Brigades. I wanted to visit it in the hope of meeting fellow countrymen. I received approval from the hospital administration and immediately left for Murcia, which is about 70 km from Lorca.

In the hospital in Murcia, I found Mirko Horvat and some other Yugoslavs whose names I no longer remember. Mirko was recovering from a leg wound he received while fighting for Madrid. This meeting with the compatriots left a strong impression on me. I stayed in the conversation for a long time, telling news from the country, and especially impressions and experiences from the battles in Spain. From them I found out about the existence of our units – the “Duro Daković” and “Dimitrov” battalions. They persuaded me to go to Albacete and ask the International Brigades Base command to join one of our units. I promised them that I would think about it. After that, I returned to the hospital in Lorca.

After a few days, the hospital is visited by several officers from my “Mexico” battalion. They came to visit the wounded and sick fighters of their battalion. I learned from them that in the vicinity of Almeria they formed two Malagueño Brigades under the command of Gilar. They invited me to, after being discharged from the hospital, I will return to my old unit, and I promised them that I would think about it.

I must admit that I found myself in a difficult dilemma. I was sorry to leave the unit I have been in since the first day of its formation, as well as the people with whom I had become good friends. On the other hand, I wanted to be in the International Brigades, and especially in the unit where my compatriots are. However, the nostalgia for my family was stronger and I, after leaving the hospital, went to Albacete. There, I first reported to the so-called Guarda Nacionale barracks, from where I am referred to the Yugoslav, Captain Fein. I briefly told him about my biography, especially the period from Spain, and expressed my desire to send me to our battalion Duro Daković” or “Dimitrov”. However, Fein did not agree with that request. Since at that time there was a need for chauffeurs, and I knew how to drive motor vehicles, instead of the battalion, he sent me to the Autopark.

On Fein’s order, I reported to the fleet commander, a French lieutenant. Since I already had the rank of Sergeant in the Spanish Republican Army, I was appointed manager of the car park in Pozorubio, 15 km from Albacete. In fact, I was responsible for arranging the fleet of trucks, tankers and ambulances, mostly imported from the USA and France. At that time, preparations were being made for the formation of two new transport battalions, one with American and the other with French motor vehicles. I probably would have received a new assignment in one of these battalions, if I hadn’t gotten sick and been sent to the hospital in Denia for treatment. Namely, there was a flu epidemic, which affected me as well. I was all on fire.

After 5-6 days, when the temperature dropped and I recovered a little, I received an order from the commissar of the hospital to take over the duties of quartermaster of the hospital, to take care of the supply of food and other needs. He explains to me that he is appointing me to this position because I speak Spanish well. There were a lot of wounded and sick people, so I was very busy. I remained in this position until the fascists broke through Teruel towards the sector near Tortosa, when the hospital had to evacuate to Barcelona.

When we arrived in Barcelona, the hospital was ordered to extend further and settle in Vič. I was then assigned to the “Dombrovski” Brigade, to the position of an ambulance driver.  Soon, I was again appointed quartermaster of the medical corps in the 5th Corps. In that corps there were also units in which there were many Yugoslavs. In one of them I found my friend Mata Matešić of Malaga, and I also met with Vlad Popović, Peko Dapčević, Miro Zurak, Vlah Sašić, Dr. Blagoj Nešković and many others. Negrin gave a farewell speech. After that, we were placed in several camps where we waited for a decision on our return to our homeland. I was with many Yugoslavs in the camp in Ripoll.

When the fascists approached Barcelona, I again, like all our Yugoslavs, volunteered to defend the Republic. We protected the retreat all the way to the border, which I crossed on February 7, 1939 with Stevan Belić Dudek.



¹ Memory of Milojko Teofilović, with the use of other material, written and prepared for the press by Radovan Panić.

2 Kristobal Gilar, a socialist who joined the KPS, very capable politician, later brigade and division commander. After the fall of Madrid, carrying the rank of colonel, he was taken to Malaga and publicly hanged in the city square.


Tags: ,