IT WAS AT MONEGRO by Nikola Celebec

January 24, 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.


Nikola Celebec

Spanija, Volume 3, pp462-466

Long columns traveled along the road from Albacete to Madrid, among which was our anti-tank battery. We drew nearer and nearer to the seething suburbs of Madrid.  One night the battery halted and was ordered to dig in. We were told that we had arrived at the Brunete sector. My first fight was coming up. Before that, with the recommendation of Veljko Vlahović, whom I visited in the hospital in Alicante, I was accepted to the liaison school in Madrigueras. After school, I was assigned to the anti-tank battery, which included, among others, comrades Branko Krsmanović, Lazo Latinović, Mirko Kovačević and Vjećeslav Cvetko aka Flores.

Now I was at the front. It was the longest night of my life. There was rumbling everywhere, shrapnel was exploding. Fascist tanks rushed into our positions, coming within fifty meters of our trenches. We opened fire on them. With dawn, the veil from the unknown front began to disappear, I began to see where the fascists were fighting and where they were buried. As the day dawned, the battle flared up more and more. I thought I wouldn’t last, that I would go crazy from the explosions. In the fiercest battle, I noticed our machine gunner, a Pole. He sang and mowed in bursts. His voice overpowered the gunfire. He sang and raised the machine gun above the breastplate to shoot better. That encouraged me… On the eve of the first day of the battle, our ammunition supplier Ivan Bernarić was killed.1

Comrades Petar Hrstić and Juraj Matešić were also in the liaison department of the anti-tank battery. While we were setting up the telephone line between the battalion headquarters and the battery, shells often broke the lines and we constantly had to be on the line. We changed positions, repelled tank attacks on Escorial, near Brunete, on Villanueva de la Cañada. In spite of all the difficulties, we did not lose our innate sense of humor. Blažo Sabić often sang, and one day just as he was saying: “Oh, you Franco, your mother was crying…” a grenade landed next to us and we hit the clay. We threw ourselves on the ground, and Blažo had a lump of clay hit him in the back.

“Kuku, people, I’m hit! Am I bleeding?”

“You’re bleeding, Blazo, and the blood is yellow!”

Mud was seeping down his back.

At the positions in front of Madrid, while transferring cannons, I injured my leg, and at the same time got poisoned: somewhere along the way I drank from polluted water. I was transferred to Benicassim Hospital. That’s where I first met the commander of the 15th International Brigade, Lt. Col. Vladimir Copić.

After the treatment, still weak and exhausted, I headed to Albacete, where I was supposed to stay for a few days to recover. Soon after that, I joined the “Dimitrov” battalion, with which I went to Aragon, then to Extremadura as part of the 129th brigade, and then to Aragon again.

On the Aragon front, the brigade occupied positions for attack. Some elevations in front of Monroyo were to be taken. “Dimitrov” and “Daković” won the heights in front of them and rejected the fascists to other positions. On the left wing, the enemy held its positions, so that this battalion remained with the machine guns nothing behind.

Lieutenant Matija Modić was killed in the assault on the next hill. The bullet hit him in the forehead. His comrades ran up to him and grabbed him under the arms to lead him, but he broke away and ran shouting:

“Fascists! Let me go, let me go!”

He ran straight into the rain of bullets. He didn’t even walk thirty steps. He fell, and his body continued to twitch for some time under the impact of the machine gun bullets.

Courier Chico delivered the mail to the liaison officer on the next floor and collapsed without a word. He was shot straight through the heart. On the same a bullet hit Ivan Derenčinović in the shoulder.

From those positions, the 129th brigade retreated to positions near Monroyo, Pobleta and Morella. The battle for Morella was very difficult. On those days, Winkel, the commander of the liaison department of the “Dimitrov” battalion, was also killed, so I took over his duties.

When the fascists came to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the 129th brigade attacked them from the Levante, in order to support the position of the units that were on the Catalan side of the Ebro. Nikola Turk was seriously wounded at the positions along the Ebro.2 Three shells fell around him. He begged his friends not to leave him to the fascists. They retrieved him.

He was treated for some time in a hospital in Denia, but soon died in Gandia. He was buried in the local cemetery.

The Battle of Monegro will remain in my memory forever. For two days they beat us with cannons, grenade launchers and bombs from airplanes. Bombs and scattered shrapnel rained down on our positions. Even though many days of war were already behind us, even though I had long since become accustomed to horrors, there I thought, just like the first night in the Brunete sector: this is the end… One bomb fell very close and I don’t know if the pressure threw me off or I jumped into a hole dug by another grenade. I felt the explosion knock the air out of my lungs and it seemed like an eternity before I breathed again. Then I got up from the hole. Vojo Todorović {Lerer} appeared a few steps in front of me. His face was dark with smoke and dirt. And I was probably similar to the devil. We laughed and hugged. Were we are alive.

The war was coming to an end. The fascists were winning and it was clear to everyone, but we fought for every elevation, for every meter of the Republic’s soil, retreating gradually towards Valencia.

Somewhere around Seresas, a Spaniard and I went at the end of the column. The paramedic carried part of the stretcher and a letter for his mother. His friend with the rest of the stretcher was somewhere ahead. Hearing a howl from a bush by the road, I went to see what was happening. Behind the bush lay the lieutenant of the liaison department of the “Masarik” battalion, the Spaniard Isidor Barcena.3 The bullet opened his stomach, but he was conscious.

I called my friends to help me. It seemed to me that no one could hear me. They were tired and deaf from explosions and endless marches. I shouted after them at the top of my voice. The fascists, who were persecuting us, were already close. That young paramedic heard me and came back. We tied Barcena with a rope below his knees and across his chest, so that his legs held his stomach. I picked him up, put him on his back and carried him up the gentle slope.

The fascists were catching up with us. More and more bullets were digging through the grass. Here and there a shell would splash and make a noise. The paramedic sometimes hurried, sometimes lagged behind, hesitating whether to go ahead or stay with us. Barcena groaned. At one point, a grenade hit a paramedic in the back and exploded. A letter for the mother was left next to the blown-up body. I covered the dead comrade with the tent flap and took the letter. When I arrived in Valencia, I wrote on the back of the letter: “Died like a hero” and handed it to the post office.

A group of Yugoslavs withdrawn from the front after the decision to withdraw foreign volunteers from Spain. Among the others, from left to right, are: Mioč (first) Ciro Dropuljić (third) Duro Bašić (sixth), Maks Baće (eighth), Enrih Znidarčić Riko (fourteenth)

Isidor Barcena survived. During the time I was in the French camp, he sent me a package and five hundred coins from Canada. He didn’t forget me.

In a small town, not far from Valencia, we said goodbye to the Spanish fighters. I think that I not a moment that someone forgets. We gave them weapons and flags. Since I knew Spanish well, I had the task of managing the farewell ceremony. My throat was getting dry, I felt like I was going to lose my voice. In front of me stood people known from the three years of war, people who reached this place through death, hardened in battles, they stood in a calm attitude with tears in their eyes. Few could control their feelings.

In Valencia, they showered us with flowers as winners, The girls saw us saw us off with kisses, and the old men with sadness in their hearts. On the fifteenth of January 1939, we were withdrawn from Valencia to Barcelona.

In Figueras, I once again took up weapons, but it was all in vain. At the beginning of February, the unit was in positions around the village of Santa Columa del Bisbal.4 It was the end. The gate in front of the border. The last days and hours in which we fought for our bare lives.

On the second of February, I was given the task of conveying the order to the companies to retreat, because the Fascists had cut deep along the sea and there was a possibility that they would cut us off and destroy us. I got into some armored cars and relayed the order. On the way back, through the opening of the armored car, I saw airplanes in the sky. The bombs fell closer, now further away. The car slowly made its way between the explosions. Suddenly darkness came over me, I didn’t see or feel anything. Later I found out that the bomb overturned the car and that it went down a slope. I received severe wounds on my head, leg and arm. My friends carried me and I found myself at the border on the same day. I came to my senses only in the hospital in Perpignan.

In August 1939, I was transferred from the hospital to the Kastel Nodar camp [Castelnaudary?], and from there to the Montenoliu camp, where mainly Spanish intellectuals and officers were housed.

In November 1940, I was transferred to the Brome camp. I still couldn’t turn my head. By occasionally going for a walk, I managed to establish contact with people in the French resistance movement. I soon escaped and joined the tenth group of saboteurs operating in the Toulouse sector. So I went from the war through the camp to a new war.



The article was written by Vladimir Segota, based on the memory of the undersigned participants.


1 rmh – Ivan Beranic from Canada was said to have been killed at Villafranca del Castillo feeding Mate Depope’s gun.

2 rmh – No Nikola Turk but there is an Ivan Turk from Yugoslavia with a minimal bio 545/6/1531/12 #1097, not killed apparently.

3 rmh -Isidor Barcena was an American.

4 rmh – He has confused two towns, Santa Coloma and Bisbal d’Emporda.


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