January 16, 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.


Marko Perić, Spanija, Volume 3, pp. 473-476

After a short rest, the “Divisionario” Battalion was transferred to positions near the mouth of the Ebro River to the Mediterranean Sea.

And this sector of the front was relatively calm. On one side of the river were our positions, and on the other were enemy positions. Nothing happened in this sector that would stick in my memory more than one feat of my close friends: Žikica Jovanovič, Ernest Grgić, Zvonko Cerić, a student from Tuzla, who died heroically sometime later, and Hivzo Malohodžić.

It was a cloudy summer night in 1938. Four fighters crept out of the trench, and silently, without any noise, headed towards the river, which was only a few tens of meters away.

They were in swimming trunks. Over the shoulder, everyone is carrying an innertube from a car tire. It looked as if four non-swimmers had gone to cool off in the Ebro, protecting themselves from drowning. They were protected by darkness from the enemy’s view from across the river, and to some extent from his fire. The only thing that didn’t match their bathing gear were the hunting knives they carried by the dog.

They stepped into the water and skillfully swam in the direction of the enemy. The water was pleasant. If there was no enemy waiting on the other side, it would have been a very pleasant swim for these good swimmers. And like this, it was a dangerous task.

This task had a wider significance. After a certain stabilization of the front on the Ebro, it was necessary to introduce a feeling of insecurity into the ranks of the enemy units. The shock group was supposed to cause panic in the enemy ranks with its sudden action, and then, taking advantage of the confusion, to retreat as quickly as it appeared.

If it is possible for them, they will also capture the “language”, that is, capture an enemy soldier from whom certain information about the enemy would be obtained. *


One platoon of Yugoslavs after crossing the Ebro River.

The feats of this and other such groups were supposed to give the impression to the enemy command that the Republican units were preparing larger operations in that sector, and perhaps even a landing across the river, which in fact they did a little later in a completely different place.

The four swimmers were getting closer and closer to the enemy shore.

They swam more and more cautiously. The river at this place was very quiet and slow. This made it easier for them to swim across, but the silence of the river made their position difficult at the same time. Because even the smallest sound of swimmers could become a warning to the enemy that someone unwanted is approaching. And in that case, the Fascists would set fire to the bank and the river with rifles and machine guns.

When they felt the bottom under their feet, they did not immediately get out of the water.

They remained huddled up to the neck and took a good look at the entire bank as best they could in the dark. Everything looked deserted. No movement, no noise.

While the others were still crouching in the water, Ceric was drawn to the shore, keeping only his head above water at all times. He crawled into a bush and disappeared from the sight of his Comrades. After a few moments, he emerged from shelter and signaled to the others to go, too.

They slipped through the sea to the shore. There, they pulled out knives from behind the dogs, cut up the innertubes and took out their valuable contents: pants and belts, large automatic pistols with spare cartridges and ammunition, one signal gun of a devastating hand grenade. They got dressed, strapped on their weapons and set off cautiously.

When the first of them arrived only two or three meters from the enemy trench, they stopped.

All four were lying on their backs motionless, clinging to the ground. They listened.

From a distance, from above, from the river, came some fragments of live conversations of a larger group of people. This was the best sign for them that the Fascists did not feel anything suspicious. But even so, they were cautious. They took a good look at the edge of the trench in front of them, especially the places where the parapets were raised. While the others are having fun, maybe somewhere in the trench is the watchful eye of the guard. Nothing could be seen anywhere.

Cautiously, like a cat, they crawled first to the very edge of the trench, which, as usual, was dug in a zigzag pattern. In this part of the trench, as far as he could see from his place, there was no one. Then he descended into the trench and beckoned the others to follow him. In a moment everyone was by his side.

In a column, one by one, they headed along the trench in the direction from where came the conversation. They felt quite safe. If and if they come across a Fascist guard, under no circumstances they wouldn’t even think that it could be an enemy. Who would expect that when he saw strange faces moving in his own trench. But and besides, as soon as they approached the first corner, they slowed down and cautiously looked to see if there was anyone in the other part of the trench. It’s not there either there was no one. They went on.

The voices that reached them were increasingly clear.

They stopped at the second corner. And there was no one around the corner in the next line.

But there at the end, on the very knee jutting out towards the river, it was as if someone was standing leaning on a breastplate. In the darkness, which was particularly strong that night, it was not possible to make out with certainty whether it was a man. The comrade, who had previously trained on mannequins how to skillfully handle a knife, went towards the place where it looked like someone was standing, as if he too was one of the Fascist soldiers moving freely through the trench.

Suddenly, the person whose contours were being outlined shifts.

“Ola hombre!” carelessly, the Fascist guard approached the man who greeted him a civil salute.

“Tienes fuego?” (Do you have fire?) — this one asked him would come quite close to him and finish with him in an instant without noise.

The passage was free.

A bit further, one branch of the trench split off, exactly in the direction of the voices that could already be heard quite close. Before moving on, they took a good look around the area. There were two machine gun nests on one hill. More with hand movements rather than words, the four saboteurs quickly followed their schedule. Two of them will start to destroy the machine gun nests with hand grenades, while the other two will open fire on the assembled Fascists with automatic pistols. The first shot fired will be a sign that you need to act quickly.

The two men whose task was to operate with automatic pistols after ten meters came across a beautiful scene. The branch of the trench they were going through ended in a valley. At its bottom, around a small fire, two hundred fascists sat and talked carelessly.

The trench ran diagonally into the valley and the two saboteurs at the end of the trench were in the shadows. They were protected from the view of the enemy, who were illuminated by the fire around which they were sitting. Seeing such a favorable situation, they quickly supplemented the plan. While one still held a large automatic pistol ready in his hand, the other quickly prepared two hand grenades.

“Mueran los Fascistas!” Death to Fascists! – shouted one of the comrades and fired a burst at the group around the fire. While he was changing the magazine, his comrade emptied his own gun with rapid fire to the astonishment of the Fascists. Before either of them could find their way, they threw both bombs and flew towards the place where they came out of the water a little while earlier.

They hadn’t even reached the river yet, and deafening explosions were already echoing. One, two, three, four.

After that there was silence for a moment broken only by moans and screams.

Soon all four were at the agreed place.

On Tuesday, the firing started above them. Enemy soldiers from nearby trenches and machine gun nests opened fire just like that randomly into the dark, more to encourage themselves, and also to protect themselves from of a possible attack that, not knowing what actually happened, they were expecting [an attack] at any moment.

On the Republican side, machine gunners were waiting for the agreed signal. They were lying ready behind their heavy machine guns, which they had attached during the day, aimed precisely at the height of the edge of the friendly trenches and at the openings of machine gun nests from that one side of the river.

Cerić took out a signal pistol, fired a shell and threw himself into the river together with the others.

They swam slowly, letting the water carry them away from the place where they caused the commotion.

One kilometer further, downstream, where there was already considerable silence, they came out of the river to their bank.

Thus, they completed this feat without a single victim on our side.




* From Marko Perić’s book: “Experiences of a Spaniard”, pp. 93-99, edition of Reality, Zagreb, 1963.


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