The Thaelmann Battalion

The Thaelmann Battalion, 12th International Brigade

Edmond Romilly
Esmond Romilly, the 17 year old nephew of Winston Churchill and author of a 'vivid and outstanding' account of his time with the Thaelmann Battalion

During November 1936, the British group in the Thaelmann Battalion was involved in a number of small skirmishes to the south of Madrid, as the rebels continued their advance on the Spanish capital. In one disastrous attack on Cerro de los Angeles, a hill to the south of Madrid, David Marshall, one of the volunteers from the Tom Man Centuria, was badly wounded and repatriated back to Britain.

Two weeks before Christmas, the remainder of the battalion was transferred to the village of Boadilla del Monte, to the west of Madrid. But by the time they had arrived the Republicans were already retreating under a fierce rebel offensive. In the confusion the English-speaking group became separated from their Spanish comrades and came under intense machine-gun fire from a ridge which, moments earlier, had been occupied by the Spanish Republican soldiers. As they in turn tried desperately to retreat they were caught in a murderous crossfire with bullets also coming from their own trenches. Only seventeen of approximately forty managed to retreat successfully, with seven of the British volunteers killed.

Meanwhile, British members of the French Commune de Paris Battalion fighting nearby as part of the 11th International Brigade, were also suffering heavy losses.


Esmond Romilly, Boadilla, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1937

Keith Scott Watson, Single to Spain, London: Arthur Baker, 1937

Arnold Krammer, ‘Germans Against Hitler: The Thaelmann Brigade’, Journal of Contemporary History, 4:2, 1969, pp.65-83

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