March 23, 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.


Boro Pockov (Mirko, Borivoj Pockovic), Spanija, Volume 3, pp. 477-484

It seems to me that it was in April 1938. All the preparations were completed, and finally, the “Divisionary” Battalion of the 45th International Division was formed. It included personnel from the “Duro Daković”, “Georgi Dimitrov” and other Battalions, which at that time were in the territory of Catalonia, as well as newly arrived volunteers from various parts of the world.

The awareness that we are well armed and capable of carrying out special combat tasks filled us with determination and pride. Our battalion was sent to the Tortosa sector, in order to carry out raids on enemy positions. It was necessary not to disturb the enemy constantly and not to give him a break.

At that time, the Republican army was making preparations for the upcoming big offensive, in which it was supposed to attack across the Ebro. It was the night between July 24 and 25. Republican units, the 5th and 15th Corps, which grew out of units organized by the Communist Party of Spain from the International Brigades and other units, forced the Ebro between the village of Xerta, about 12 km north of the city of Tortosa, and the village of Mequinenza, next to Segre River basin, in the north. The attack succeeded. Republican units advanced unstoppably along the road and ridges towards Gandesa, on a front about 70 kilometers wide.

At the time when the Ebro was forced, the “Divisionario” battalion was in positions on the left bank of the Ebro and had the task of ensuring that the main Republican forces were able to ford the river. Our frequent and decisive attacks on the enemy were already recounted not only among the fighters, but also among the surrounding population. Easily, unnoticed, we crept up and attacked the enemy. After one such successful raid, a friend, I don’t remember who it was, pushed me in the groin and said: “What do you say, my friend, how we strike and what we know! We’ll show them, you rotten bastards!” His face was shining with happiness, and I was ready to embrace him, and the whole world, and these hills, and fields, and everything, all the comrades with whom I fought, and the people whom we met, and poor, half-dressed children, who met us and followed us with big, black, grateful eyes. Yes, we will show them I thought, we all thought.

Ebro Crossing

Engineering units erected a pontoon bridge over the Ebro, immediately after the Republican forces forced the river. The “Divisionario ” battalion surrendered its positions to the Spanish troops and headed towards the bridge under the cover of darkness. At dawn we crossed the river and deployed in the nearby forest to rest. We lounged on the grass under the trees and the donkey squinted the fight at the front. I tried to through the branches of the tree under which I lay I saw the beautiful color of the Spanish sky and that I don’t see a trace of enemy planes on it, with their deadly cargo. It rumbled and rumbled. That one hostile airplane of the Italian complete aviation unit bombards our positions and rear. He was especially dizzy on the pontoon bridge, on which he dropped tons and tons of bombs.

Our battalion remained in the forest until the evening, when, pretending to be protected by darkness, we set off in a marching column towards the front lines. Around midnight we stopped, and our company was divided into platoons. We lay in the trenches and listened to the roar of the battle. “Looks like we’re still far away,” someone said. We were trying to sleep for the first battle lines. Soon a wonderful Spanish morning dawned, but we didn’t have time to enjoy its beauties. The Commissar of the Company is already explaining the situation at the front and explaining the task that awaits us. We are preparing all day. We are cleaning the weapons, stocking up on ammunition, hand grenades. “I’ll put a bomb right in his head,” says one of his Comrades smugly. “And who is it, my dear friend,” asks a young man from Seret who, his face covered in sweat, is cleaning the barrel of a machine gun.  “Him, the smelly Fascist. Uh, what am I going to do to kill him” he carefully bends the cigarette, as if what kind of cigarette will turn out to be the essence of the whole thing for which he is here. “Uh, you are my hero”, his friend touches him, “bomb, then right in the head”!

At the signal for the chorus, we all rushed and forgot about the race. It seems to me that even now I can see our Company and in front of it the Commander Kosta Nad, who is explaining the task to us. It’s as if I hear his calm and determined voice: “Comrades, we have been given the task of occupying a hill. By occupying this elevation, we will enable our forces to dominate the situation on the front. The task is complex and difficult. We have been given a lot of trust. Our Command is convinced of our success.”

We listened carefully to the task, and then we went to the preparation. We attacked with hand grenades, which were the most effective means for this task. It seemed to each of us that took some. “You look like a Christmas tree,” they teased a friend who was covered in bombs so that his belt and harness were not visible. “More, go to hell with you and your tree,” he replied, waving a bomb around his head. “If I hang you with this decoration, your wife will become a widow”.

The planes are no longer heard overhead. The enemy’s artillery fire subsides. The front is slowly calming down from the explosions. Torn by the bombs, we are tapping impatiently and tensely waiting departure. We are relieved to receive the command: “Forward, follow me”! We stopped behind the first battle lines. Older fighters ask in Spanish where the enemy’s positions are. The Commander went with several officers to reconnoiter the terrain. “Why are you craning your neck like a giraffe?” the voice of someone else is heard, who, like all of us, is trying hard to find something on the outlines of the surrounding hills through the darkness, which has descended like a leaden curtain. “Giraffe, no giraffe, I just don’t like this darkness, my people” he answered.

We cross the trenches of the first battle line in silence. At once it becomes clear to all of us that we are in no man’s land, between our and enemy units. In a whisper, we received the order to sit down and spread out among the surrounding bushes. We don’t say anything for an hour. During this time, the Commander issues orders to the Platoon Officers in a low voice.

Our Company is located on the right wing of the Battalion’s order of battle. The Deputy Commander, Peko Dapčević, explains the task to us. We should try with all our might to conquer the hill in front of us.

We have to surprise the enemy. We are all aware of that. We move easily, without noise, in dense battle order. We have already gone halfway when we notice in front of us a stepped stone wall about two meters high. We climbed without holding back, and then continued the movement by crawling. A little more, just a little more and we are at the top. And then, suddenly, a hurricane of enemy fire fell on us. “We’ve been spotted, Fascist bastards”, curses a voice in a whisper. On command, let’s fly to the attack. The explosion of our hand grenades can be heard. “I’ll show you, damned bastards, what a gift I’m bringing you,” shouts one of us in that hell of explosions, moaning and shouting. We chase throwing bombs. We ran into thick rows of barbed wire. We’ll jump wires as if we’ve been doing that all our lives. The news spread that Kosta Nad was mowed down by a machine gun burst. I throw bombs with even more indignation. Peko took command. Forward, forward! “Jaric is dead”[1] — I hear someone shouting, and out of the corner of my eye I see Zvonko Cerić staggering, mortally wounded. No holding back again. Go ahead!

We ran into the first enemy trenches. The enemy is running away. “Run away, you holy Fascist,” I hear, it seems to me, and maybe I’m shouting it out loud myself, or maybe I’m just thinking it. I tremble at the first notes of the Internationale, which, in ecstasy, sowing death, is sung by our fighters. “Get up, you slaves of the earth”.  Get up. I try to accept the song of my comrades. But my throat is dry and I can’t hear myself. Through the crack of cannons, bombs and we can hear the sounds of this anthem of ours and they give us the strength to charge onward.

The order comes to withdraw from the hill for a rest. We are counting. We are informed about the losses: who saw who fell and where. We learn that Kosta Nad is alive and that he was taken to the hospital. He himself later wrote about this fight in an article: “It was the most difficult task I received in my life…”

We rested until noon. Then we were told that they were looking for someone who knew French from the Headquarters of the neighboring International Brigade, because during the night they caught a spy who claimed to be from Yugoslavia and a member of the International Brigade. We sent a comrade, but when he arrived at that Headquarters, his officers backed away in bewilderment when the interpreter flew into the arms of the “spy”. It was our Corporal, a young metal worker from Zagreb, Gojko Borjan, whom we thought had died, but who, in fact, had lost his way in the chaos of the night’s battle and ran into neighboring positions. Of course, they immediately took him away, and our spy, hugging the interpreter, returned to the unit.

It was already past noon when Peko gave the alarm signal. We grabbed our weapons and ran after him, towards the battle lines of the trench. Not far from our front lines, enemy fighter aircraft flew over. We lay down, because the machine gun started firing at us, too. How powerless man is in these situations! It’s another thing when you’re fighting infantry. You charge, throw bombs, fight.  And like this, you lie down and helplessly wait to be mowed down by an enemy volley from the air. “Oh, it’s easy for you to be a hero like that,” shouted one of the comrades and pointed his machine gun at the enemy planes. It was almost funny, but all of us, as if on command, pointed our weapons at the planes. “Hurrah, one less”! I hear a voice behind me. Suddenly, I saw one of the enemy planes plummet down, in flames, while the others disappeared from view.

Enemy artillery is pounding our positions with concentric fire from all calibers, but now they are starting to transfer fire to our column as well. We tuck our heads into our shoulders to protect ourselves from the shells falling around us. In a relaxed atmosphere through the fire, we charge the trenches. Every hour someone moans, someone falls. Twice Branko Spasić is hit by a grenade in the leg, in the right shoulder blade, but there is no pause. Such is the law of combat.

One of the fortified elevations on the Ebro front

Many wounded in the trenches. Enemy artillery is pounding our positions with undiminished ferocity. One group does not want to be in the trench anymore, so it jumps out and takes up a position 50 to 100 meters in front of it. “We are not being beaten by enemy artillery here,” explains one of the group.

We expected an attack, because we knew that every attack by the enemy is always preceded by such strong artillery fire. However, this time the advance was absent. Our unit then rallied and moved forward, going down the hill, towards unfriendly positions. And then with relief we received the order to rest, tired, we lay down on the ground and thus waited for the night.

To the right of us was the hill that we attacked before last night. Performing carefully, we fell behind between two peaks, and then, according to the given task, we headed for a new one. We step silently forward. Suddenly we were showered by rifle and machinegun fire. “We’ve been discovered!” I thought in a daze. But we know the task and none of us opens fire. Then everything goes silent again. They shot at random. They didn’t even notice us.

We crawl further through the darkness, towards the enemy’s fields. Some are already quite close. And then a red glowing rocket soared into the sky, then turned in the direction of the enemy. The signal for the attack was well-worn. With a thunderous “hooray”, which, it seemed to me, erupted from thousands of throats, the bombs flew into the enemy trenches. The enemy, surprised and confused, does not arrive at first to offer resistance. Run away. We break into another trench to prevent the enemy from settling. Now the fight has just flared up. The bombs are forgiving. Moans and shouts are heard. We conclude that the position is occupied by German Nazis or members of the Foreign Legion.

Many comrades were wounded then. Our new Commander Peko Dapčevic was also wounded, and Commissar Dušan Kveder took over the command. Comrades carry the wounded. The news spread that Ratko Vukićević, a law student from Niš, Lieutenant of the Spanish Republic Army, succumbed to wounds received from an enemy machine gun during transport to the rear.

After this battle, we set up trenches in the first battle line. One part of our unit, which had penetrated deeper through the enemy’s defenses, began to retreat at dawn under the fighting. I was among them. We reached an advanced company of the Italian International Garibaldi Brigade and settled in the trenches together with the Italians. However, there was no time to rest. We noticed that the enemy was preparing a counterattack.  A group of Jugoslavs moved forward. I ran forward, under fire, to the protruding trench. It seems to me that my legs are short and limp. The enemy is showering us with fire. Suddenly, I felt a great pain and began to roll downhill. I stopped at an embankment. I tried to get up, to run after my comrades, but the effort is in vain. Terrible pain and some sticky liquid slips out down the thighs. I’m wounded. In both legs. Kicked out of the action.

They found me and transferred me to the Brigade medical station, and from there to the front surgical hospital. I remember the operation as if in a frenzy. Then I was transferred to the rear. “Unfit to fight” was written on my card.

The lightly wounded from my company, as soon as they found out that I was in the same ambulance train, came to visit me. I hear from them that[Meksud] Mujkić, a metal worker from Bijeljina, died, who immediately after his release from the prison in Sremska Mitrovica, at the beginning of 1938, transferred to Spain and joined the International Brigade.

I received a letter from Dušan Kveder while still in the hospital in Figueras. That’s how I found out that our company was all removed from action and that the remaining Comrades, who were still capable of struggle, attached to one unit of the Italian International “Garibaldi”

Brigade to together with Italian comrades to continue the fight. I also learned that, after the unstoppable and enthusiastic rush of the Republican forces on this sector of the front, after forcing the Ebro, the enemy quickly gathered all available forces to hold back the further advance of the Republican units. The Fascists themselves had great losses, but forces from other sectors of the front came to their aid. In the meantime, the Republican units, at the cost of huge casualties, occupied such positions that the enemy had to make great efforts and sacrifices, while he managed to regain what he had lost in just one day, and then they transferred two more complete Corps to this part of the front.

Republican units had to return across the Ebro. They occupied the same positions that they occupied until July 25, the positions from which they went on the offensive against the enemy with so much enthusiasm. Thus, after three and a half months of fighting, they returned to where they started.




[1] See about this in more detail in the article by Konstantin Lutkić: Remembrance of fallen comrades in the Spanish Civil War (Editor’s note).


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