Lt. Cooper’s Haul by S. F.

September 21, 2018
By

The Volunteer for Liberty, V.2, No. 30, August 26, 1938

The special Brigade machine gun company came up to reinforce the 58th Battalion on July 28th. Saully Wellman its commissar had already been forced out of action by a shrapnel wound; and when on his very first day with the Lincolns the commander Capt. José Valusek, was wounded.  Lt. Jack Cooper of Cleveland, formerly of the U. A. W. Fisher Body Local took over command of the company, which remained with the Lincolns throughout the first stage of the action.

Cabo Narciso Gonzales, Adjutant; Lieutenant Jack Cooper, Jefe; Rafael Maltes, Commissar Special MG Co. EM… Gandesa August 1938. The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 11; ALBA Photo number 11-1681 (E1200). Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Cabo Narciso Gonzales, Adjutant; Lieutenant Jack Cooper, Jefe; Rafael Maltes, Commissar Special MG Co. EM… Gandesa August 1938.
The 15th International Brigade Photographic Unit Photograph Collection; ALBA Photo 11; ALBA Photo number 11-1681 (E1200). Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

But our story begins before all of this.

It was on July 26th that the machine gun company received information that there were fascists in the mountains on what had until the day before been the fascist side of the Ebro. The information also stated that the 13th Brigade was battling against them.

Commander Valledor came down and showed Cooper which spot to take up and where to set up his guns whereupon he went up with his section of men and sent out patrols to scout the area, look over the terrain.

“That afternoon,” says Lt. Cooper “I observed some fighting in the hill in the vicinity of the crossroads from Mora to Asco. There were grenades, machine gun fire, and shouting, the words of which I couldn’t distinguish. But as they moved up closer, we could tell they were fascists and we could hear what they were shouting – Viva Franco and Arriba España.”

From the size of the group, he could tell that at least two companies of the enemy were approaching. Immediately he sent one light gun and a trench mortar to the hill 300 meters behind, instructing them to open up fire and over the rest of the section in its defending position. But the speed of the enemy’s movement approaching the hill forced the entire section to withdraw to the adjacent hill behind. There they came across two of our armored cars, on of who’s drivers informed them that a battalion of ours was moving up to help.

“It was the Lincolns approaching,” says Cooper “and we were glad they were going to help us. I informed the drivers about the fascists and advised them not to go ahead, they’d be blasted hell.

As the cars turned to move back a little way down the road one of them was hit by a grenade and turned over on its side.

“We had no escape, so we remained hidden in the pine scrub –eight of us at the side of the road. From there I succeeded in sending back two light guns in our possession. I remained with the men, waiting. Escape was impossible.”

It was a matter of minutes, at this point, before all were surrounded and taken prisoners. Among the fascists were four moors who according to the young soldiers taken with Cooper wanted to execute Cooper without delay. They were prevented from doing so by the young Spanish recruits in the fascist group who vigorously opposed the killing of any prisoner. All were relieved of their arms, and Cooper was stripped of his possessions: pistol, wallet, camera, pen –they left only his handkerchief.

All eight prisoners were then taken to another hill, where all the fascist forces, including their commanding officers were gathered. Lt. Cooper was brought before these officers for questioning and information.

“And I gave them information” says Cooper, “all they wanted and more. I told them we had Gandesa and that by tomorrow (July 27th) we’d be in Calaceite.” When they asked where our forces were, I answered “Way ahead” pointing to the west. “How many?” they questioned. Without hesitation I answered “Five army corps.” They were evidently impressed and pretty worried. As for ourselves, I told them, “We’re just patrolling the area through which the main body of our troops had already passed. There were hundreds of small patrols like ours, some larger, some smaller, cleaning up this conquered section.” I told them.

“Although they seemed crestfallen, they were still determined to go ahead, to push onward and break through our lines and rejoin their own forces. All of them had rifles, hand grenades, and there was a light machine gun among their arms.”

“During that afternoon and evening we developed friendly conversation with two of their officers who had friends in New York and Chicago, so they said, and with some of their soldados as we discussed generally the conditions on the fascist side and on our side, and they were surprised to know that our soldados receive as much in wages as their officers, and that, in addition, we didn’t have to pay for our own food.”

“That night, which we spent with them as prisoners was very strenuous as some of our forces attacked the hill we were on; but our fascist captors maintained complete silence, and so our forces figuring nobody was there, withdrew. Throughout the night our group was guarded by six Moors.”

“The following morning (July 27th [28th]) the fascists were in a more or less panicky state. Their observers had reported sighting many of our troops on a number of adjacent hills. When the avion came over, I decided to add to the effect of my previous words of the day before. “Don’t worry” I told them about the avion—“they’re ours, Loyalist.”

“Adding to their growing strain and panic were the facts that they had been three days without food, eating only nuts and whatever fruit they could pick off the trees, and they had been out of contact with other of their forces for a similarly long period of time. In addition all of them were pretty well exhausted.”

“Finally, while we waited to see what would happen, their six officers held a conference, at which they decided their game was up, that their safest course of action would be to turn themselves over to us, and follow us. By this time there 14 of us –myself and thirteen of my men who had been taken singly and in groups of two at different points not far from where our original eight had been surrounded.

“It was dark most of the time we were with them, and they were pretty well scattered. It was not until we marched them to Brigade headquarters that I discovered there 208 of them. Among them were the six officers and 19 sargentos.”

“I didn’t know until that minute” added Lt. Cooper, “that we had taken so many prisoners.”

Cooper asked that one final point be made clear: “My kids” he said referring to the young Spanish quintas in his company, “could have escaped or made their path easier many times especially when we were being threatened with death.” But they didn’t, because they figured that would mean my death. That’s loyalty –and that shows the kind of army we have!”

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One Response to “ Lt. Cooper’s Haul by S. F. ”

  1. Raymond Hoff on September 21, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    At the time of the Ebro, Jack Cooper’s Special Brigade Machine Gun Company was entirely made up of him and Spanish recruits. My father told me that he watched Cooper and his men taken hostage.

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