March 17, 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.



Mirko Marković, Spanija, V2, 366-387

Albacete, a small town on the Valencia-Madrid road, entered modern history as the military political center of the unique army of the 20th century international brigades.

Northeast of Albacete, on the Castilian plateau, surrounded by rare orchards, vineyards and bare hills, grew the old village of Madrigueras. On this lean land of Castile, the hard garbanzo bean thrives best, which, it seems to me, gets harder the longer you cook it.

Out of hatred for the landowner-church and the landlord’s wards, the residents of Madrigueras burned down the church itself in the first days of the fascist coup, through whose charred walls a cold, damp wind whistled at the end of 1936. And when we arrived in Madrigueras for the formation and short-term training of the second American volunteer battalion (part of the XVth International Brigade), these poor peasants welcomed us with open arms, as if we were their own.

Caption: Martin Hourihan, Adjutant Commander, Anglo-American Regiment and Mirko Markovics, Commander of the George Washington Battalion; International Brigade Archive, Moscow: Select Images, Folder 191: Commanders of the 15th International Brigade, 1937-38, Box 2, Folder 17; ALBA Photo 177; ALBA Photo number 177-191043. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Returning to the village from the surrounding hills, after hard and intensive military training, in the first days these American young men mostly talked about what name to give the new battalion. They were divided into two groups: one was for the name of one of the champions of the proletariat and the permanent confinement of American prisons, Tom Mooney, and the other was for the name of George Washington. The former proved to others that Washington was still a landowner, and as far as the “width of the framework” of the United Front is concerned, it is enough that the first American battalion, which had already been formed, bore the name of Abraham Lincoln. The second “camp” did not remain indebted to the first, blaming him for “narrowing the framework” of the United Front.

In the beginning, there was also a group that was in favor of Lafayette, but its supporters soon joined the two main groups. Since I was already appointed as the commander of this new battalion, neither of the two groups passed me by in their recruitment. There was also some boyish naivety in it. I give only one example.

Dinner was served from a cauldron in the burned-out church, and we ate all around the charred walls. Returning after one dinner to the Battalion Headquarters, I was intercepted by a group of young miners from the vicinity of Pittsburgh. I knew some of them even before leaving for Spain.

“Allow me, comrade commander, to ask you something”, one of them addressed me. I took them to the premises where the battalion headquarters was located, since they expressed their desire to talk to me privately.

I thought that it was about some really important issue.

“We are convinced that we are right”, the young men began to express their thoughts after we entered the Headquarters, “and we hope that you will support us.”

“What’s the matter, comrades?”

“It’s the name of our battalion. “

And, noticing, I guess by the expression on my face, that I take the “importance” of that question lightly, they assured me for a long time that the battalion should be named “Tom Mooney”.

“It is time for the great names of the American proletariat to be displayed on the battlefields of Spain as flags above our heads.“

The “Washingtonians” addressed me in similar ways.

Believing it to be more of a political than a military question, I directed both of them (allowing both of them to be right) to the battalion commissar Dave Bejca {he may be confusing David Metropolitan Mates with Daniel Beke -rmh} and other politicians personalities from Albacete, who often visited us. But it was seen from the very beginning that “Washingtonians” are in the majority.

Finally, there was a vote. The decision was made: the “George Washington” battalion of American volunteers was formed in Spain.

Thus, these young American volunteers symbolically transferred the flag of the struggle of the American people for their liberation from English colonialism – to Spanish soil in the fight against the fascist invaders.


There were some “older” people in the battalion – between 30 and 40 years old, but very few. The overwhelming majority were young workers from factories and coal mines, sailors, drivers, students, intellectuals (teachers, lawyers, officials, doctors).

All of them on the other side of the ocean left their home nest, parents, brothers and sisters, beloved wives or girlfriends, and some even children. Each of them left some of their personal happiness there. And he left her not only voluntarily, but against all obstacles, starting from the passport department of the State Department and ending with the French border troops in the Pyrenees and the policy of the French Prime Minister, socialist Leon Blum. And that, in order to come to the aid of the people of Spain, who were attacked by fascist invaders.

Indeed, this idea had a tremendous power when it carried these young men on its wings to defend Madrid, into the whirlwind of war, that by helping the Spanish people , they would point out to the whole world the danger that threatens them from a new world war prepared by fascism in the face of German imperialism.

And there were volunteers here, not a small number, who did not belong to any party of the Comintern. But when the leaders of fascism under the demagogic slogan: “Against the Comintern” announced a campaign against free peoples, the progressive youth, inspired by the great idea of internationalism, rushed to help the Republic of Spain without a second thought.


Day by day, the battalion looked more and more like a military formation. We formed four companies. Within a few days, each company had four platoons, each with 30 to 40 fighters. A medical detachment of the battalion was specially formed, headed by Dr. Straus, a young doctor from New York. There were also several medical students. A quartermaster’s group was also formed, to which the battalion kitchen belonged. Since I had particular difficulties with the cook, I’ll dwell on that for a bit.

The volunteers were reluctant to look at the work in the kitchen. It seemed to them as beneath honor. For the first few days, one company after another took on the task of preparing food. Of course, it couldn’t stay that way. Even the meager food was poorly, unprofessionally, and even carelessly prepared.

Finally, I found a Greek among the volunteers, who had worked in New York restaurants as a cook for years. In addition, it was seen that he was exerting his utmost efforts in military exercises, as he was over forty years old. I thought: “This one will fall somewhere in the crowd at the front before the bullet hits him.” I appointed him as the battalion cook with a written order. But as soon as the company commander handed him my order, he immediately reported to the battalion headquarters.

“Looks like you’re making fun of me, Comrade Commander!”, he began in an annoyed voice. “In your opinion, I didn’t come to Spain to beat fascists, but to cook garbanzo soup. Don’t you see that this is an insult and a shame for me?” I used all the persuasion skills available to him prove the importance of good and timely cooking of garbanzo soup for the fighting spirit of the battalion. His own I ended the persuasion by saying that my order was “final and enforceable”. Of course, I kept quiet about his age, because I knew that the Greek would assure me that he was not even forty and that he was young and prematurely gray, and that even his grandfather was still so young, etc.

Having lost hope in his vigorous protest, he looked round the room, by which he let me know that we were alone, and then he spoke to me almost in a whisper:

“Listen! I am Balkan, and you are also Balkan. After all, Greece and Montenegro are not very far from each other… I’m closer to you after all… let me join the company, and let some a true American be the cook.”

“Will you?” I asked him how many years had passed since he moved from Greece to the United States.

“About thirty.”

“And I’ve been from Montenegro for twelve years. As you can see, our “Balkan neighborhood” has already broken up a long time ago. But it’s good that you didn’t tell me that we were also “born relatives”, since one of the numerous daughters of the Montenegrin King Nikola was married to one of your princes or kings… So, as you can see, your reason for withdrawing the order is not in the face of an interbrigadist. The order remains in effect and take over the kitchen within half an hour.”



“Eh, my damn life!” The Greek crumpled his cap and walked towards the door with his head bowed and crying. And, although it may be strange, I felt sorry for him.

“Stop now”, I approached him, putting my hand on his shoulder. “Since a satisfied  stomach is one of the most important factors for a soldier’s combat ability, for every combat success of the “George Washington” battalion, you will be at the head of the list of commended and nominated for awards” – I told him seriously and in a solemn tone.

The Greek paused for a moment at the door, carefully put his military cap on his head and, smiling, greeted me according to all military regulations, raising a clenched fist: “Salud commandant!”

After that, the kitchen worked much better.

Company commanders were appointed in the battalion, in the rank of lieutenant, and platoon commanders, in the rank of sergeant. But I was completely satisfied only with the commander of the 1st company, teacher Emlijem {Marcovic spells his name incorrectly throughout, it is Amlie – rmh}, who participated in the American army in the First World War when he was still a boy. So, he already had some war experience. He knew what the army was, what a rifle was. By the way, Amlie was very bright and brave. I watched him on the hills around Madrigueras practicing with his company: tireless, resourceful, cool-headed. His thin, tall figure was constantly on the move from one platoon to another, from company to Battalion Headquarters and back. While two blue eyes look at you with a penetrating gaze from under his high forehead, a gentle smile floats on his face, which does not leave his face even when he is angry. You can only tell that Amlie is angry by the fact that the tip of his nose is red.

The deputy of Amlie and the commander of the 1st platoon was Comrade Detro. They told me that he is a student and works in journalism. Two meters tall with a crane-like long neck. Although Quartermaster Detro issued the largest number of uniforms, his trousers barely covered his knees and his sleeves barely covered his elbows. Only the fact that he was very serious, bright and dexterous saved him from jokes and teasing from friends about his outward appearance.

Alek Smit, a blond journalist, was appointed commander of the 2nd company. After a few hours of training, you couldn’t see him without a torn leg. The smile on his always red face looked like he despised what he was smiling at. He was tireless in discussions and did not give in to anyone.

As the commander of the 9th company f{3rd Co}, I appointed the fat miner Miller, who had once been in some kind of army, so he had some idea about rifles and similar things. He had a gift for humor, and his whole appearance looked comical. in conversations he was serious, while in serious conversations a sly smile covered his face, showing the only remaining pair of teeth in his lower jaw. His pants were held together by a belt, which he belted far below the navel. We could not determine how long he had years, although he claimed that he had only thirty, which was an obvious untruth. He had much more. But in the most difficult moments, a real whirlwind of humor, exhilaration and at the same time sober reasoning swept over him.

Special attention was paid to the fourth (machine gun) company. Young men from the entire battalion were selected for it, and the basic criteria were: previous experience with a machine gun, physical endurance and courage. I was told, and he also claimed it, that a young black man from New York, Walter Garland, knows a machine gun (from where and how – I don’t remember). He was a cool and very likable young man, it’s true, a little timid and a little rash in commanding the machine gun platoons. I made him the commander of the machine gun company.

We had some dilapidated maxim for practice.” During the first check, it turned out that Garland really knows this weapon well. He used his knowledge in handling a machine gun tirelessly from dawn to dusk passed on to the other fighters of his company. Even at night, he practiced with the platoon commanders, especially when it came to the description of machine guns.

To Garland and to us, who together with him took care of this one company, the fact that among the American volunteers we found about twenty American Germans, who had emigrated from Germany at the time, and participated in the First World War in the German army.  This helped considerably. Although these volunteers were already advanced in years according to our terms at the time, the fact that they had military experience, not to mention their hatred of fascism, prevailed when deciding to include them in the machine gun company. Later I saw that we were not mistaken. That group proved to be the core of the entire company in the battles.


Preparing for the front, the volunteers spared no effort. They did everything with great enthusiasm, whether it was during the weapons description class, shooting lessons, or combat training.

Sometimes in the evening, there would be various lectures, humorous performances and the like.

After a few weeks, we left Madrigueras on foot and moved to Navalcarnero, a small town on the Valencia-Madrid road. I knew that we would soon receive trucks to transfer to the front on the Jarama River.

In the center of this palanquin was a paved square, which with the northern side was closed by the three-story building of the local United Front and local authorities. We were very warmly received both from the government and from the people.

On the southwestern outskirts, a larger, newer church was built, surrounded by a spacious field. On that field, every morning the battalion would line up for the morning review and report, and after that, singing, it would pass through the palanquin, leaving for training in a wasteland. The favorite song of the volunteers was a workers’ anti-fascist song from the USA, which ended with the refrain:

“So left, two, three!

So left, two, three!

To the work, that we must do

For you are a worker too!”

While the battalion would pass through the streets of this town with a song, the residents with beaming faces waved at us from the windows and sidewalks. In the “George Washington” battalion, the discipline was impeccable. But even so, on the fourth day after our arrival in Navalcarnero, an accident happened to us. In the afternoon, after we returned from training, therefore, during a break, Seaman O’Toole from the 1st Company got very drunk, went out drunk on the street and began to annoy the girls who were walking on the main street. Drunk as he was, he chased after a beautiful black-haired girl, and she, screaming, ran away to the first store. The battalion patrol ran into it. The sailor resisted, so they had to tie him with some rope and drag him to a shed. The commissar and I were soon informed about this case. When we entered the shed, O’Toole was lying on the pavement with his hands and feet tied. He watched us with bloodshot eyes and cursed.

Perhaps just because I felt sorry for him, because I knew that according to the regulations of the international brigades I had to shoot him, I had a tremendous will to beat him up.

After we got out, while the guard was locking the door of the shed, the sailor’s curses could still be heard. I immediately went to the president of the People’s Committee to apologize for the action of this soldier and told him that the soldier would be shot for his outburst.

When I spoke the last words in front of the skinny, unshaven president, the old man first kind of cringed, then he jumped up from his chair and, flailing his arms, started shouting: “By no means, Comrade Commander!” It sounded together with his facial expressions and gesticulations almost as if he were saying “Well, you haven’t gone crazy, have you?”

“Please, don’t shoot him!” Soon the other members of the Committee, the entire local government, were there, demanding that we not shoot the sailor. I was adamant in front of them, even though their plea was in my heart. was very dear to me.

I left the Board. In the first darkness, a whole delegation of locals came to the Battalion Headquarters, together with the parents of the attacked girl, to beg “el commandant” (since according to wartime regulations I was also the commander of the town as long as the battalion was in the town in question) not to shoot the drunk soldiers.

Even though I was already in the Committee with the fact that the President’s attitude saved O’Toole’s head, I remained unyielding in front of the “delegation”. And the plea of these poor people was moving to tears. Their pleas expressed deep gratitude and love for the volunteers, who came from distant countries to help them in the fight against the fascist attack. And when the girl’s father approached me, holding his hat in his hand and preparing to kneel down and beg for O’Toole’s life, I told them that they were the only ones who saved him from being shot by their plea… They accepted the announcement with hilarious shouts: “Viva el comandante”, “Vivan los camaradas internacionales!”, while worn hats and caps flew into the air. Thus, this incident turned into a manifestation of the people of Spain towards the volunteers.

Of course, in the morning O’Toole was completely sober and aware of his mistake, which perhaps bothered him more than the mere thought of being shot. When I arrived for the morning report, the battalion was already lined up in the field next to the church. In the circle of the four lined up companies, the unfortunate sailor stood alone, disheveled, torn and unwashed. He stood with his head down, looking at the tops of his shoes. It was clear that he had a hard time surviving his crime. With that alone, and the contemptuous glances of close to a thousand of his comrades, he was already punished.

After I received a report from the commander of the 1st company, who was also my deputy (the deputy commander had not yet been appointed), a brief condemnation of the actions of O’Toole by the soldiers of the 1st company of volunteers. I ended by announcing the punishment by firing squad, which, at the request of the authorities and people of this place, as well as the parents of the attacked girl, I withdrew. Thank them for the gift of life. And justify that gift and your transgression with your own blood in tomorrow’s battles against the enemies of this nation, I told O’Toole at the end.

Later, in the battles from Jarama and Brunete to Belchite (near Zaragoza), this was one of the bravest soldiers in the battalion. He was wounded several times, but each time he returned from the hospital to his unit, to the front. Once he even ran away from the hospital with bandages on his wounds, just to get to his battalion as soon as possible.

On one occasion, much later, I asked him how that could happen to him in the small town, while we were still forming a battalion.

“Hell knows… I was bored. I learned to live on the waves of the sea, and then we stayed too long in preparations for the front. That was too calm and boring for me… And, well, I rolled up “anise” (mastic) {this is ouzo made from resin}, which is a normal phenomenon for a sailor, and when I went out into the street I saw nothing but a young black woman. Then all the brakes of the interbrigadist gave way… What can I do longer, comrade commander?”

“So, when you mix sailor’s soul, Irish blood and alcohol, then there is no salvation. It’s almost like that, Comrade Commander.”

“And you know, comrade, if those poor people hadn’t intervened with their pleas – you would have lost that sailor’s head even before the front. You know our regulations…”

“It is and is not so, Comrade Commander”. O’Toole justified himself in front of me, while his large green eyes radiated sparks of eternal restlessness. “If the commander of our battalion had been some stubborn man, such as there are among us, all the same, pleas would not have helped and I would have lost, as you say, this sailor’s head…”

“I think you’re exaggerating. And by the way, compliments confuse me, so don’t, friend, please, don’t give them to me either…”

“Not in the least” – the Irishman didn’t let himself be confused. “I am simply stating a fact. After all, you know our attitude towards you.”

I had no difficulties in commanding the battalion. Although all the fighters before coming to Spain were civilians, and they were Americans with a strong individualism, I never noticed that any order was taken lightly, frivolously. They carried out every order, whether to an individual, a unit or an entire battalion, with maximum commitment.

On the other hand, in their daily contacts with elders, they behaved freely, even casually. A case like this happened once.

After heavy skirmishes, the entire 15th Interbrigade was withdrawn from the front for a short term rest and replenishment. “Cultural activists” from all my companies prepared a show in the cinema hall of the town where we were stationed. The organizers made sure to let me know so that I wouldn’t miss this party. “You will be pleasantly surprised, comrade commander” – they addressed we are soldiers.

I went, and, indeed, I was pleasantly surprised. The theme of their hastily put together theater piece was from the everyday life of the George Washington battalion”. One “actor” played the role of the commander. And, as far as I could judge, he imitated me very well both in facial expressions and movements, as well as in mistakes in English speech. The hall erupted with laughter. I don’t remember ever laughing so much at a play in my life.

But let me go back to the early days. After three weeks of preparation and formation, one night, under the cover of darkness, the “George Washington” battalion was loaded into trucks and transferred to the front at Jarama.


At the end of the spring of 1937, the olive trees on the hills of the front of Jarama protruded like cacti. Their branches were cut off and the bark peeled off by hurricane fire from rifles, machine guns and cannons. On that fire, the enemy burned many of his own regiments, among them the elite ones from Franco’s garrison in Morocco. All in an effort to capture Morata de Tajuña, cut the Valencia-Madrid road there and attack Madrid.

The Republican Army, which included some International Brigades, including the 15th, stopped the enemy, so that in the late spring and early summer of 1937, there was a lull in the Jarama.

In the last days of June, our battalion, part of the 15th International Brigade, was transferred to the region of Escorial. Together with the “George Washington” battalion, the other battalions of our brigade were transferred: “Georgi Dimitrov”, “Abraham Lincoln”, English-Canadian, French-Belgian and Spanish.

Bypassing Madrid from the east and north, we traveled part of the way on trucks. Clouds of hot dust hung over the roads for whole kilometers, which corroded the eyelids and nostrils. The earth is scorched and cracked like the lips of a lost traveler in the Sahara. But battalions on trucks of all possible models are rolling towards Escorial like an avalanche.

Soon, after bypassing Madrid, as soon as it got dark, we left the vehicles and continued our journey through the night at an accelerated march. In the morning, someone told me that in that short summer night we walked over thirty kilometers until dawn. That’s how we silently bypassed the advanced enemy positions near Las Rosas.

At dawn, the staff liaison officer showed me the area where, in the rocks and scrub, the camouflaged battalion was supposed to spend the whole day. Although the fighters were exhausted by the difficult night march and the lack of water, no one settled down to sleep without first disguising themselves well.

Milo Damjanović, commander of the reconnaissance platoon at the battalion headquarters, “prepared” a place for him and me in a deep clearing, hidden by thorny bushes.

“You know, for the bed,”- Milo told me, cleaning stones from the place of snakes, “I’m not afraid, because if one bites me, it will die, not me. I am charged with fatigue and misery like a cannonball with explosives.”

Only then did the thought occur to me that these near-by rocks are probably full of snakes. But no one was hurt by the snakes that day.

So the battalion spent the whole day sleeping in this hot camp with a minimal amount of drinking water.

In the evening, on July 5, the commander of the brigade, Vladimir Čopić, called all the battalion commanders, and we set off on a roadless reconnaissance of the terrain where we were supposed to march tomorrow. Under the shelter of the Escorial hill, from where we could observe, as if in the palm of the hand, we watched the Guadarama plain, the small town of Villanueva de la Cañada and a few kilometers further Brunete, after whose name this performance was named the Brunete offensive.

Cañada is the first objective of our division, and that means our brigade, while Lister will take care of Brunete, and Modesto will take care of Quijorna – explained Čopić.

We madly fixed our eyes on the domes of the church, from which they came reflected the rays of the setting sun. The church was white in the middle of the town. With the help of our vision, we clearly saw trenches, bunkers and thick rows of barbed wire, with which Cañada was surrounded on three sides. The small town was unprotected only on the south side towards Brunete. Čopić explained the tasks to us, showing the directions of the battalion’s advance. The “George Washington” battalion had the task of advancing in the second echelon, after the conquest of Cañada by the battalion of the first echelon, across the bridge on the Guadarama River in the direction of the Mosquito hill, at the junction of the right wing of our division and the left wing of Lister’s division.

As you can see, explained Čopić, pointing to Cañada, it will be a tough nut to crack, not to say a nut. According to the information we have, the Cañada garrison consists of Falangists and Moroccans. But after our experiences in Jarama and Guadalajara, the task is not too difficult. The main thing is that the battalions act according to the plan, decisively and quickly. No hesitation, especially in decisive moments…

We also received a sketch of the sector, and it would be better if we didn’t, because afterwards I was put in a terrible dilemma, looking for the Guadarrama river and the bridge over it, which, according to the task, I had to take and cross over it in the direction of Mosquito. Later, when the time came to complete the task, I lost several hours looking for the river and the bridge, until finally I discovered that the “river” was a shallow, cracked from the summer heat, river bed, and the “bridge” – an ordinary crossing made of stones …


The sixth of July. One hour past midnight. Battalions, brigades, divisions are rising through the warm darkness and harsh undergrowth. The Eighteenth Corps of the Republican Army starts the battle near Brunete.

Groping through the darkness, the “George Washington” battalion took its place in the column of the XVth Interbrigade, on the winding road, descending in serpentines from Escorial towards Cañada and Brunete. A muffled, solemn silence hovers over the thousands of fighters, who will in no time come to grips with the fascist regiments again. Trucks full of ammunition and other war material roll behind us, almost silently and with their headlights off.

Each fighter was informed that with the first rays of the sun, we will begin the performance west of Madrid, in the north-south direction.

It’s been four hours. The first rays of the sun break through the haze from Madrid. We broke out on the edge of the woods, from where we can see the plain between Mosquito in the east and Quijorna – in the west. In the middle of the plain, which is still in the hands of the fascists, is Cañada, and behind it is Brunete. Both towns are still in the shadows of Mosquito.

In a few minutes, the sun will shine on them too and… be rocked by explosions. At five o’clock, our artillery opens a hurricane of fire on the enemy’s fortifications. The sky is breaking. The earth trembles and rumbles softly. We clearly see the explosions of cannon shells.

A little later, our tanks headed towards Cañada. The infantry rushed after them.

The sun has already flooded the entire valley of Guadarama. Our squadrons can be seen high in the sky from Madrid. The planes made a circle above the scene, after which they dived and dropped bombs on Cañada. The town was covered by a black cloud of smoke, only the tower of the church can be seen. The earth is shaking.

Our entire first echelon is in the immediate vicinity of the enemy fortifications… But it is clear that the infantry was too late. After the artillery preparation, the enemy recovered and occupied the trenches and bunkers again. In the first assaults, our infantry failed to break through the enemy’s first line. With strong machine-gun, rifle, and mortar fire, the enemy stopped the first attack of our infantry on the cleared area. Our battalions lay down in a semicircle on the stubble, in the immediate vicinity of the enemy. There was almost no cover. Fortunately, our artillery opened fire again, so the enemy could not cut us down accurately with machine gun and rifle fire.

I receive an order for the “George Washington” battalion to move into the first echelon and to attack Cañada directly from the northwest side. I have already descended into the plain with the battalion. We are still sheltered from enemy fire by ravines. We are rushing towards Cañada. The sun is scorching. Except for the weapons and ammunition, the soldiers throw away all the other things. We leave everything in a pile in the last gully. The sun is burning like hell. No trees, no shade. Cannon shells are constantly exploding, machine guns are barking, rifle platoons are firing. The machine gun company is moving the slowest. Ten “maxim” machine guns tire {burn out} quickly. I am sending the 2nd company to help them. Now there is no lag. I have the whole battalion in my hand.

The XIIIth Interbrigade broke through to the enemy’s trenches. In that action, its commissar, Blagoje Parović, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, died a heroic death.

As the right wing of our brigade, to the left of the XIIIth, the “Georgi Dimitrov” battalion developed into snipers. There is also the American “Abraham Lincoln” battalion somewhere. And to the left of “Dimitrov”, I and my battalion crawled a few hundred meters to the enemy. Fast running and proper use of the terrain, which I constantly taught them, helped the “Washingtonians” to have no losses until that moment.

It was clear that our first echelon was not up to the task. According to plan, Cañada should already be in our hands, and battalion “George Washington” was to move towards Mosquito.

I was looking for some blind spot so that at least the 1st Company could be brought forward and attack the enemy. I was crawling through the bushes of a small ravine. About twenty meters behind me crawled my deputy, the young Englishman Captain Frey {this is likely Robert Traill -ctb}, even though I had left him in the center of the battalion layout. The place where I left was sheltered by a small hill and could serve as a convenient command point for all the companies. But after a few minutes he followed me on his own, probably considering it cowardice to fall behind me. When, lying on my stomach, I looked back, I noticed that he was crawling after me and I signaled him with my hand to come back, because I had two companions with me. He smiled and waved his hand, as if to say: “Stop your work.” After ten meters of crawling, I hear a moan behind me. I turned and saw Captain Frey convulsing. I crawled up to him and saw: a shot from the left side through the stomach. The attendants dragged him to the first shelter. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

After I made sure that the place where the machine gun battalion was located was not at all suitable for an assault, I moved about 400 meters to the right, so that we entered the small town from the south side, from which it was not so strongly fortified. This deployment was quite risky, because we carried it out along the front and directly in front of the enemy. But, thanks to the protective fire of our ten “Maxims”, the losses in the “George Washington” were very small. I previously explained to Lt. Garland where to place the machine guns and how, with three machine guns each, he should constantly pour fire on the enemy line until the companies were moved – to a certain position.

The machine guns did a great job. Running to one “maxim” to fix something, Garland was wounded, but did not leave the company until the new position was occupied by the battalion.

The infernal heat saps strength. Not a drop of water. Chapped lips are bleeding. Hot dust corrodes eyelids, nostrils and wounds. But despite all that, the battalion behaves impeccably. Only the chubby quartermaster got dressed, trying to get the battalion some water loaded in two barrels on a donkey. The heavy mine thrower hit the middle of the donkey and blew it up. Only the halter remained in the quartermaster’s hands. This all happened within reach of the battalion. Confused and scared, the quartermaster crawled up to me and started crying hysterically. In fact, we had more reasons to cry, because we ran out of water.

Before the actual assault, one enemy soldier defected to us. The devil himself knows how he got through without being shot from behind by his own men. It was as if he had sprung from the ground. He had several wounds on him. Curdled blood could be seen through the tattered clothes. While our paramedics bandaged him, I asked him a few questions. He says that our artillery simply mowed them down. The losses are huge. They are demoralized. Falangists are hindered by religious fanaticism from surrendering, and the Moroccans are not allowed by their officers.

At the signal from the Brigade Headquarters, the “George Washington” battalion with two other battalions started to charge as one man. We jumped into the enemy’s trenches at sunset. And our “Ur-a-a-a!” it didn’t stop until we entered the town to the central square. Cañada fell.

Here’s what the bourgeois newspaper Pittsburgh Press in distant America wrote on the second day of this struggle about American volunteers: “Just yesterday these were students, teachers, coal miners, drivers, journalists. They have never been in the army before. They did not undergo military exercises in America. And yet they handled the color very well. Yesterday they attacked with great courage and heroism. Neither thirst, nor heat, nor dirt, nor fatigue could reduce their daring performance. What does an American soldier mean?”

Of course, the correspondent of the bourgeois paper is completely alien and incomprehensible to the power of the idea of proletarian internationalism, which is carried these American young men from storm to storm.


As early as this morning, Cañada was in front of us – in the hands of the fascists, defended by thick rows of barbed wire, deep trenches, bunkers, a large number of machine guns, mortars, light artillery and numerous units. Now all that has been run over, 1 broken, crushed and Cañada is left behind us.

Front in front of Villanueva de la Cañada

A short break. Moonlight, rumble of artillery, volleys and moans flood the Brunete scene. In the orchard, outside Cañada, the commander of the XVth Interbrigade, Lieutenant Colonel Čopić, called the battalion commanders to a meeting. We report on successes and failures, on the number of dead and wounded. New tasks are specified.

We all agree that a mistake was made: we allowed a part of the enemy garrison to withdraw from Cañada towards Mosquito. And Sukorov, they say, said in his time that “uncut forest grows again”.

In addition, while we occupied and after we occupied Cañada, we lost contact with the enemy. It’s like he fell into the ground. True, we knew that he “failed” in the direction of Moquito.

Above our heads is a blue sky showered with bright stars. The Mediterranean sky at night has a special charm. Through the haze of the moon, lightning flashes from cannon fire: in the area of Las Rosas, in the south behind Brunete, in the west around Quijorna. It is only calm towards Escorial, from where we descended this morning with the entire 18th Corps.

The “George Washington” battalion had only three hours of rest. It is simply not known what made these brave young men more tired: the struggle or this unbearable Mediterranean heat and lack of water.

At sunrise, we headed east, towards Madrid – on the trail of the enemy. We sent the patrols out in front of us. We come across the decaying corpses of the enemy. In the forks of a tree, we came across a corpse in a sitting position. At first, our people thought it was a living man. But since he didn’t have a rifle, they crept up slowly from behind him. At a distance of a few steps, a strong smell washed over them.

Together with the first rays of the sun, we emerged on the right bank of the Guadarrama River, where the bridge was supposed to be. We were so thirsty for water that we would have been much happier if we had come across a real river, even if we had crossed it by swimming under enemy fire. What a disappointment when we saw below us a riverbed cracked by the heat, and the place of the bridge – a passage made of piles of stones.

While we were “feeling” the right wooded bank of Guadarrama, which is significantly higher than the left (leading to Mosquito), enemy machine gun rain down on us from the left bank. And without my command three the companies fell like an avalanche down the steep bank, while the machine guns of the fourth poured fire over our heads in the direction from where the enemy’s fire was heard.

We ran across the riverbed straight to the fascist positions. The fascists could not mentally withstand this insolence of the “Washingtonians” and retreated in a hurry through the woods along the steep slopes of Mosquito. We chased them. They retreated so quickly that left us two heavy mortars.

We covered about four kilometers in one breath. At the very top, we encountered the enemy’s main defensive line. Our physical strength had already betrayed us: the fighters were falling to the ground from extreme fatigue. I deployed the companies and ordered them to dig in.

On the road from Cañada to Madrid, several of our tanks went into action {he says performed}.

On the right wing, our battalion joined a unit from the Lister division. That unit was working along the highest hill of Mosquito Ridge.

In those days, the commander of the American battalion, “Abraham Lincoln”, a young black man from Chicago, Captain Law, was killed, so the 15th Interbrigade Headquarters entrusted me with this battalion as well. Since both battalions had already been thinned, especially the officer corps, in which was a great shortage, a single American battalion was formed, “George Washington – Abraham Lincoln”. Steve Nelson, an industrial worker from Pennsylvania, was appointed as the commissar of this battalion.

On the Mosquito hills, the situation was similar to that on the Jarama, with the difference that now we acted and tried to break through as far as possible, while the enemy’s back was turned to Madrid. The enemy command managed to quickly regroup and bring in new forces, replacing the lost units from Quijorna to Mosquito. We did not receive reinforcements or replacements. Day by day it became more and more clear to us that our main command started this offensive without having sufficient strength for the ultimate goal – to cut off the enemy’s “elbow” west of Madrid and in this way push the enemy’s forces away from the capital, towards the west. Having penetrated deep and exhausted our forces, we now found ourselves in danger of being cut off by the line, roughly speaking, below Escorial – – Las Rosas.

We were exhausted to the limit. The losses led to changes in the command structure of the battalion. Thus, for example, Lieutenant Amlie was promoted to deputy battalion commander, and his position as commander of the 1st company was taken by Detro, commander of the 1st platoon. The third company was commanded by a journalist from Canada, Yugoslav Edo Jardas, and the 4th company by a carpenter from New York, originally German, Herman, etc.

Unexpectedly, one night, the enemy abruptly stopped infantry fire, so we stopped it too. There was a deafening silence, which cannot be felt anywhere else in life except in battle. It was around midnight. I thought that the Moroccans were getting ready to attack. Fighters are warned to be cautious and fully prepared. Suddenly, that dead silence was broken by the Moroccans, with a monotonous but very loud wailing, from which we could make out one single word: “Allah”. We later learned that they were performing some of their religious rites at the moment when the moon passed over their head. {1-Jumada al-awwal-1356 was July 10, 1937 and was the first day of the sixth month.  Jumada is some kind of Muslim holy month.  July 10 would have been a waxing crescent moon as July 9 was the new moon – rmh}. Then our 1st company sang “The Internationale”, which the other companies accepted as well. Through the groves and bushes of Mosquito, through the pale moonlight, religious singing and the anthem of the international proletariat collided. There was a lot of symbolism in that.

We soon learned that an Italian battalion had also appeared in front of us.

After one sharp skirmish, while I was on the left wing of the battalion, and my deputy, Amlie, on the right, I received a note from him, which I kept, because its content characterizes this modest and brave fighter: “To the battalion commander. Deliver immediately. I’m slightly wounded. It’s not bad, but I can’t move. I don’t know who is to my right. I wish you success. Forward. Greetings. Amlie”.

In fact, Amlie was seriously wounded in the spine by a fragment of a grenade. He was only able to return after a few months to the battalion. In the meantime, I was without a deputy.

Soon I was working with the commander of the 1st company, Detro, and a day later the commander of the 4th company, Herman.

The political leader of the 3rd company, the brave Harry Hines, was killed. And only after he died did we see that he had a prosthesis in place of his right foot. None of his comrades knew it, nor could it be noticed. Before leaving for Spain, every American volunteer had to undergo a medical examination in New York. Although the control was illegal, it was carried out strictly and conscientiously. How this brave fighter with an artificial foot “got through” was something only he knew.

Behind us was a mostly flat terrain with a diameter of about thirty kilometers. A fierce battle was boiling day and night on it, like a huge frying pan. Stipe Kutleša {Steve Kutlesa, Copic’s driver}, a laborer from Cleveland, sheltered from the enemy by a shallow trench, stares unblinkingly towards the west. Even when I approached him, he didn’t take his eyes off the grandiose scene. I asked him, “How are you, Stipe”? (we knew each other from Cleveland), and instead of answering, as if he hadn’t heard my question, he replied in a dull rapture: “The hills and valleys are frying. Yes, the hills and valleys were really fried”, and with them the people and livestock. Everything alive was fried, even nature itself.

It was felt that the enemy was bringing in more and more German artillery, because the artillery fire was intensifying day by day, from the front positions, all the way to the rear of the corps towards the hills of Escorial.


From day to day, from morning to night, the sky above the Brunete, the aviation of both sides destroyed the scene.

The skill and courage of our pilots gave us even more confidence and determination. Our pilots are outnumbered by the fascist ones in everything. We witnessed such events: a group of ten to twenty bombers, accompanied by several fighters, approached us from the southwest. Of course, we are not comfortable. We know that the terrible roaring engine does us no good. The front is stilled in anticipation. Suddenly, from Madrid, with the roar of engines, a squadron of only three fighters emerges and without hesitation engages in a fight against an enemy that is four or five times more numerous and shoots down several of its planes. The others are coming back.

“Fiats”, “Heinkels”, “Junkers”, and in recent days also “Messerschmitt-109” burned, fell and ran away – in front of our brave pilots and their excellent machines.

But despite the great losses in planes and pilots, the enemy increased his aviation from day to day. The riddle was soon solved. One pilot, because his plane was shot down, he parachuted into our territory and was captured. A true German. At the hearing, he stated that, together with a larger group of pilots and planes, he left Berlin on July 8. Apparently, in connection with our breakthrough near Brunete, Franco asked the Germans for urgent help. Then we were once again convinced that the main bases of fascist aviation were in Germany and Italy, not in Spain. True, it was in full accordance with the hypocritical policy of “noninterference”, non-engagement, “neutrality”, which practically meant a blockade of the Republic of Spain and a rope around the neck of the Spanish people. That rope is the imperialist government countries – without exception – – tightened more and more every day.

In one of these skirmishes over the Brunete military base, the son of the Serbian people, aviator Boško Petrović, died a hero’s death. They told me that before his death, Boško had 7 downed fascist planes on his list.

On the eighteenth of July, for the first time since the beginning of our action, the blue sky dawned full of transparent white clouds. In places, the steam became even more unbearable. First, we heard the faint rumble of airplane engines, which grew stronger every second, finally turning into thunder. We all turned to the southwest. The sky was blackened by numerous enemy planes. Our hearts sank. And, suddenly, a similar rumble was heard from the east. So, ours went to meet them. Our chests swell with happiness and pride. The infantry of both sides simply died. The sky is splitting above us.

Although there were fewer of them, our squadrons headed straight for the center of the enemy formation. An indescribable scene was created above the Brunete camp. At times we did not know which plane belonged to whom. The sky was on fire. The planes were falling like flames.

We saw the aviators trying to save themselves using parachutes, but huge flares fell instead of them. Since the battle was fought over the territory we liberated, the fascist fighters machinegunned their aviators, who were trying to save themselves using parachutes.

After this aerial battle, which lasted for a long time, some enemy planes began to flee to their airfields. Smaller and then larger groups followed them, until finally they all ran away. Only our planes are left in the sky. Arranged in squadrons, in triangles, they made a victorious circle above our heads and flew to their airports as winners. Jubilantly, our volunteers threw their caps up, even though they were in the front lines. They told me that on this day over the Brunete battlefield, 180 planes from both sides took part in the aerial combat.



We have been in continuous battles for several weeks now. Day and night. Only the idea of internationalism could keep us on our feet during such an effort. And in such a situation, one day I received an order to withdraw the battalion to the Guadarama valley, for a two-day rest, so that the people could at least get some sleep. At night, we were replaced by a Spanish battalion, made up of recruits. I explained the situation in his section to the major, the commander of this battalion, and wished him success.

Under the cover of night, our battalion deployed under the bushes in the dry river bed, but closer to the right bank, because the camouflage was better there. In a few minutes, except for the guard, the battalion fell into a long-awaited sleep. As soon as I stretched out under a bush, I immediately fell asleep.

When the staff on duty shook me and woke me up, it seemed to me that I had just closed my eyes. The first thing I noticed when I opened them was that it was dawn and there were whistles of bullets everywhere. At the same moment, I saw a group of soldiers running straight towards us in the greatest disorder. That was part of the battalion that replaced us during the night. Behind them, at a pace, the enemy came up, around two companies, and mowed them down with volleys from behind.

Within a minute my battalion was on its feet. I quickly issued the order for a counterattack: “Left wing-1st Company. on the right 2nd – in the center 3rd company. Deploy five machine guns of the 4th company behind each wing” and ran with the staff group and the 3rd company through the middle of the battalion. We collided with a crowd of recruits, who were running straight towards us. At the head of the crowd, frantic with fear, some lieutenant, platoon or company commander was running away. There was no time to issue orders, much less for discussions. I fired my revolver and at the same moment the whole group of recruits turned “left-circle” towards the enemy and went with us.

The enemy did not withstand our counterattack. He retreated to our positions yesterday, but we did not stop until we pushed him away from them as well. Here, the 3rd company, under the command of Ed Jardas, who was seriously wounded in this skirmish, performed best. Losses were quite high on both sides.

That’s how we found ourselves in the front line again. Perished was our two-day holiday. Wiping the sweat from his face with a dirty cloth, Lieutenant Damjanović addressed me ironically:

“Well, we just ‘rested’”.

“What do you want? That happens,” I answer him, and because of the ringing in my ears and the severe headache due to the contusion, I can barely hear my own voice.

From a ravine, where the battalion headquarters was located, transmission men ran telephone lines to each company.

Somewhere around midnight, the commander of the 1st company, Miller, called me on the phone.

I ask him what’s new.

“Something is stirring in front of us. They seem to me to be cats.” (We used to call the Moroccans “cats” in our jargon, because they knew how to sneak silently up to our trenches). “I don’t know if I should disturb them.” The two “Maxims” are adjusted and cover the terrain well. “What do you think, Comrade Commander?”

That’s the style of the brave Miller. He never spoke seriously about serious matters.

“Lieutenant, stop nagging. These are fascists, no? Do not hesitate! Cats? What kind of cats have caught you now.”

I hear Miller’s laugh on the phone.

“What are you waiting for?” In response, I hear steady bursts of our maxims.

A few hand grenades also went off.

And when it dawned, 17 enemy corpses were lying in front of the 1st company. The wounded were dragged away…



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