The Sinking of the “Ciudad de Barcelona”, 30th May 1937

English -> Catala

English -> Español

“It was late afternoon. I was leaning on the ship’s rail taking in my first view of Spain and its shoreline, some one and a half miles in the distance, when there came one hell of an almighty bang. The ship shook, tried to get airborne, before settling down at a crazy angle.”

Alun Menai Williams. From the Rhondda to the Ebro, p.163.

Alun Menai Williams (seated) with friend Billy Davies taken at Tarazona de la Mancha in July 1937. Three days later Billy was killed at the Battle of Brunete.

“Era entrada la tarda. Estava recolat a la barana del vaixell mirant detingudament per primer cop Espanya i la seva costa, a milla i mitja, quan es va sentir una explosió terrible. El vaixell se sacejà abans de quedar-se, finalment, en inclinació impossible.”

Alun Menai Williams. I vaig tornar i creuar l’Ebre. p.37


30TH MAY 1937

This website has been set up by historians Sonia Garangou and Alan Warren to bring together the story of the torpedoing and sinking of the steamship “Ciudad de Barcelona” off the coast of Malgrat de Mar, north of Barcelona on Sunday May 30th 1937.

Wednesday, May 30th 2102 is the seventy fifth anniversary of the sinking and a commemoration has been arranged for that day in the town of Malgrat de Mar, north of Barcelona.

Above is the timetable for the day. All are welcome.  A boat will take family of the attending survivors over the wreck to lay flowers and remember the 60 to 65 International Brigade volunteers who drowned here. Later in the evening there will be a Round table discussing the wreck at the Archives of Malgrat de Mar. A film of the wreck today and a recent documentary concerning the sinking will also be shown.

The Ciudad de Barcelona.

Construcción 206 was launched on 8th June 1929, having been built in the Cantieri Navale Triestino shipyard at Montefalcone. Her original name was Infante Don Jaime and was built for the Compañia Trasmediterránea.  After the declaration of the Second Republic on April 14th 1931, the ship was renamed the Ciudad de Barcelona. Displacing 5,200 tons, with a top speed of 17,5 knots, she could carry 94 first class passengers in 53 cabins, 78 second class passengers in 24 cabins and 92 third class passengers in 7 cabins making a total of 264 passengers and with a crew of 62 sailors. She also carried 9 lifeboats with a total capacity for 374 people.

Below are some photos of the ship and the cabins for passengers:

Ciudad de Barcelona at Barcelona docks

First class Promenade deck

 First class Dining room

First class cabin

First class vestibule

The luxury Suite “Montserrat”

Painting of the Ciudad de Barcelona entering port (artist unknown)

A postcard showing the renamed Ciudad de Barcelona after the declaration of the Second Republic on April 14th 1931

The ship sailed alternately between either the Balearic or Canary Islands docking at Cadiz, Santa Cruz de la Palma, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las palmas in the Canary Islands.

The Spanish Civil War

With the start of the Spanish Civil War on July 18th 1936, the Ciudad de Barcelona was sailing to Barcelona for the start of the Workers’ Olympiad with a large number of passengers. After having docked at Barcelona in the early hours of July 19th she then left for Mallorca, but on hearing on the radio from her sister ship Ciudad de Tarragona about the situation in Mallorca, she returned to Barcelona.

She was then used by the Republic to land troops at Ibiza and in the invasion of Mallorca under the overall command of Captain Alberto Bayo. She also helped evacuate the troops when the invasion failed. In October 1936 she made a voyage to the Soviet Union ports in the Black Sea and also voyages to Marseille and Algiers, transporting International Brigade volunteers to Spain.

On Saturday May 29th 1937, the Ciudad de Barcelona embarked between 200 and 250 International Brigade volunteers at the Port of Marseilles under great secrecy. The border between France and Spain had been almost completely  sealed by the French government supported by other countries in order to avoid the passage of arms and volunteers into Spain to support the Spanish Republic in a vain attempt to halt the fighting on both sides, though Italian and German supplies, weapons and advisors had been openly sent to aid the Nationalist side under the command of General Franco.

On Sunday 30th May, in the early afternoon the Ciudad de Barcelona, under the command of Captain Fransisco Nadal, was close to Barcelona when it was torpedoed by an Italian submarine.  The General Sanjuro (originally named Torricelli), under the command of Captain Pablo Suances Jaudenes, was a modern submarine and fired first a dud torpedo which landed on the seashore. The second one, however, was successful in hitting the Ciudad de Barcelona.

General Sanjuro

Let the survivors tell their stories of what then happened……..

A 1937 Letter from  American Brigader Jack Freeman

Jack Freeman (left) and Peter Ambrosiac, Fuentes de Ebro, October 1937

Sept. 25, 1937

Dear Herb [Freeman],

I received a letter from Pop several days ago in which he mentions that you have sent me a personal letter. As yet I have not received it altho I have been waiting for a letter from you for a long time. I suppose you’ve been expecting one from me for just as long, but it is hard out here to concentrate your mind for long enough to get off a decent letter.

By the time you get this letter it will be more than five months since I left home and more than four that I’ve been in Spain. I guess it’s pretty safe now to describe my arrival here. You know, of course, from hints in my past letters and from stories floating around back there, that I was on the “City of Barcelona,” the ship that was torpedoed by an Italian submarine. You’ve probably read the main details in an issue of the Sunday Worker (Aug 1, I think).

Every once in a while it strikes me that my being alive at all at present is just a pretty damn lucky accident. My cabin on the boat was in the rear part, just aft of the engine room. Our usual orders were to stay below deck all the time, either in our cabins or in the passageways. But this Sunday afternoon shortly after dinner I had begged and gotten permission to go to the middle section of the boat where most of my American friends were quartered, to attend a meeting of the English-speaking comrades. After the meeting I stayed to schmooze around with a few of the guys. We were leaning over the railing, three of us, looking at the shore, not more than a mile away, and the water of theMediterranean. which is every bit as blue as it’s cracked up to be. This was well within Spanish waters, not more than 60 kilometers fromBarcelonaas a matter of fact. Every once in a while we would pass a fishing village with the boats drawn up on the beach. From a distance the boats looked like fish lying out in the sun. Some of the hills came rolling right down to the water. Everything looked bright and completely peaceful. We were feeling quite happy at finally being practically inSpainafter so much delay inNew Yorkand inFrance.

Suddenly we heard a dull thud–not a bang, not sharp at all, like a heavy push. The boat shook and threw me from the railing against the cabin wall. The people started running from the back of the boat towards me. I don’t know what I thought had happened–hit a rock probably–but I certainly wasn’t thinking of a torpedo, because even then I wasn’t thinking war. Anyway I started yelling, “Don’t get excited. Don’t get panicky.” I had yelled this 3 or 4 times when I saw dense brown smoke all around the deck toward the back end of the boat. Then I figured the trouble for sure & somehow I got into a lifeboat which was about 10 ft away. I’ve never been able to recall whether I jumped, hopped, crawled, or climbed into that life-boat, but I got in. Somewhere around this time I bruised my leg, how I don’t know. This was the only casualty I suffered, and I didn’t discover the scab until several hours later. I was one of the first in the boat but it filled up very rapidly, since it was right amidships & most easily reached. The damned ropes were tied with wires but there were two American sailors (not crew members) in it and they freed us with hatchets. As we were sliding down to the water one of these sailors remarked “We must have hit a mine.” We shoved off a little way from the big boat, but most of the people in the boat, French & Spanish, were too excited at first to do any organized rowing, so we went very slowly and I had a chance to see what was happening in the water around us and on the big boat.

The torpedo–we now knew it was a torpedo because some of the guys in the boat had actually seen it coming in the water–had apparently hit just aft of the engine room, in other words, had gone directly through my cabin. Those of the comrades who had been sleeping or resting below decks, two in my cabin, had had no chance at all. The back quarter of the ship had jumped up when the torpedo hit and then sunk almost immediately. Two lifeboats which were hung here went down with this section before they could be untied. Most of the fellows either jumped or were thrown into the water. The life-belts were below deck in the cabin and there was no chance to go down & get them except for a few in the forward part of the ship.

The rest of the ship from the engine room forward also sunk very quickly. In less than seven minutes (that is, later we estimated the time at about this) there was nothing above the water besides the point of the prow and one poor guy who couldn’t swim standing right on the point, and then that went down too.

It was a pretty dirty business. Some fellows were killed while they were asleep, some were trapped below decks (we could bear them singing the “Internationale”), some were hit by pieces of wood or iron and a few were drowned, altho most of those who got into the water had plenty of drift to hold onto until they were picked up. But considering the speed with which the ship went down we got off surprisingly well with a much smaller ratio of losses than, for instance, most torpedoed boats in the World War. As a matter of fact, the Daily Worker in this case exaggerated the wrong way and gave a higher figure of losses than there actually were.

Before we got to land we had one more scare. Just before the big boat went completely down, we suddenly heard a motor and looking up saw a plane coming head on toward us. Now when a plane flies directly at you you can’t see any of its insignia; and for all we knew, perhaps we had been bombed & maybe the plane was now coming to strafe us–you know, spray us with its machine guns. The guys in the water started yelling at each other to duck and one fellow in our boat dived out. I just bent down to the bottom of the boat (I don’t know how I thought that would protect me), but I never felt so damned scared in all my life. Here was this big thing heading right for the part in my hair and I knew there was absolutely nothing I could do about.  I guess I was even too scared to crap in my pants.

But much to our relief the plane suddenly turned just about100 yardsahead of us and dropped a bomb over the spot where it thought it had seen the sub. It must have missed though, for we saw no oil or wreckage aside from our own ship’s.

Fishing vessels from a nearby town reached us after a while and picked up the fellows in the water. We got our rowing organized and reached the beach without any more trouble. The people of the town just flooded us with clothes and blankets and gallons and gallons of cognac. The barracks in town were converted into a hospital and general headquarters for the rescued. I’ve never seen such goings on as when friends met each other in that barracks. Even I jumped onto at least three guys whom I never expected to see again. But the fellow with whom I had travelled across fromNew Yorkand thru our long stay inFrancedidn’t come thru.

Except for the foolishness in yelling at people not to get excited and the scared feeling when the plane headed at us I kept my head pretty well.  I hope I bear up as well later on. But then I did have all the luckiest breaks and I didn’t have to go thru all the tough spots that some of the others did. The torpedo went thru my cabin but luckily I wasn’t in it; there were only two lifeboats which got off safely and luckily I was in one; a plane headed at us but luckily it was a Loyalist plane. In other words, luckily.

I started this letter yesterday, but since then I have gotten Pop’s letter of August 5 with yours in it. It took that letter seven & a half weeks to reach me.

As you know from my other letters, I’ve been here for a hell of a long time but haven’t done much yet. I was put into a battalion which the government decided to give extra special training so we stayed in camp almost four months. For a while I was a group leader, which is a sergeant, but my rank was never confirmed because I left before the battalion moved up to the line. Then I went to the base of the IB where I worked in four languages, Spanish, French, German, and a little English. I finally got myself transferred back to a fighting unit and I am now in the Lincoln Battalion working as observer and mapper on the battalion staff. My job is to discover as much information as possible about the enemy and draw maps of their positions and main weapons. It is very interesting work but pretty risky. I have no rank for the very good reason that so far I’ve done nothing to deserve a rank. We’ll see later.

Meanwhile, I came up to the Battalion just in time to meet them coming back from action in theAragonoffensive. Now we are in reserve positions, which just means camping out in an olive grove so far from the front lines that only at night can we sometimes hear artillery fire. To make it even worse for me, altho it is better for the rest of the brigade, we are just as likely to go into a rest position as we are to go up to the lines.  In any case, I’ll let you know soon.

I’ve tried to make up for not writing until now by writing a long letter, so now I want you to write a lot. My address Papa knows. The number is now 17.1. If we ever get to another big town, I’ll try to send you a Spanish Pioneer pin.

Love to Mama. Tell Pop I’ll write soon to him.

Your brother, ‘the big stiff’

PS. Get down on your knees to Jack Schwartz for me and give him my apologies for not answering his letters. Tell him “Never give up hope.” Put cigarettes in the envelope when you write.

Jack Freeman  was killed in the Sierra Caballs on 9th September 1938. Herb was his younger brother.

from Our Fight: Writings by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Spain 1936-1939. Copyright © 1987 by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

Abe Osherhoff

Abe Osheroff was born in Brooklynin 1915. He was a neighborhood activist at sixteen, a student activist at CityCollege, and then did some organizing for the CIO. He went to Spainin 1937. On his return he was a union organizer, headed the Communist Party’s Jewish Commission, and worked in the South. He is a carpenter by trade and has helped build housing in Nicaragua. He has also made a documentary film on the Spanish Civil War entitled Dreams and Nightmares.

We had been waiting in Marseillesfor a week. By that time everybody in town knew who we were and where we were going. All sorts of people approached us and wished us well.

The border had been sealed tight, so we were to go by sea. On the eve of May 29,1937, we received our marching orders. While Italian seamen from an adjacent freighter stared in disbelief  some 250 “passengers” carrying cheap paper suitcases, and many wearing berets, filed on board the Spanish freighter Ciudad de Barcelona. It would have been high comedy if not for–

Under “cover” of darkness, we set sail forBarcelona. There were some 250 men aboard, from all overEuropeand some from 50 from theUnited States. Among the Americans were Bill Cantor, Solly Davis, Murray Nemeroff, and myself (I later learned of Carl Cannon and Bob Reed.) There was also Bob Schultz, captain of theBrooklynCollegeswimming team. Another man, named John Kozar, had been a seaman and a miner inPennsylvania.

We sailed at midnight, and at crack of dawn it was clear that we were hugging the coast for safety. Somewhere aroundmiddaya lone Republican seaplane flew alongside. The pilot was gesticulating wildly and pointing to something in the water nearby. The warning was not fully understood or acted upon. Many of the men were below-decks …

I remember a loud, dull thud, and the whole ship sort of shuddered. In a matter of minutes, it tilted sharply and began to go down by the stern. Pandemonium followed as men raced to the very few lifeboats. I remember a loaded lifeboat overturning and crashing down on its occupants. I remember the screaming faces of men trapped at the portholes. And above all I remember some seamen tearing loose anything that could float and tossing it into the sea.

I dived into the water and began to swim away, to avoid being pulled down by the suction. Almost immediately, I felt guilt and swam back to help with the rescue of non-swimming comrades. Fishing boats were already on their way from the nearby town of Malgrát and the seaplane was floating nearby, nearly capsized by the numerous men clinging to its pontoons.

As we came ashore, we found hundreds of villagers waiting with towels, blankets, and even some liquor. That evening there was a meeting in the Casa del Pueblo. Luís Companys came up from Barcelona and gave a welcoming speech. There were lots of other speeches, too. We were told that we could change our minds and go back home if we so desired. Only one man took advantage of that offer.

The next morning we boarded a train, amid fond farewells from the local inhabitants, and soon after we were in the railroad station in Barcelona. A brief stay in the Karl Marx Barracks and we were off forAlbacete, and thence to the training town of Tarazona de la Mancha.

Note: Schultz drowned, trapped beneath the deck. John Kozar was said to have swum ashore with a pound of coffee in a paper bag in his teeth. In World War II he shipped out on the Murmansk Run, was torpedoed again, and froze to death in a lifeboat.

John Kozar at the Cave Hospital at La Bisbal de Falset, July or August 1938

From Madrid 1937: Letters of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the Spanish Civil War. Copyright © 1996 by Routledge.

Ron Liversedge (Canadian) wrote,

On the evening that we sailed, May 28th (?), 1937, there were two hundred and forty five volunteers in the ship. A large portion of the cargo was flour, and before we sailed, somebody amongst the longshoremen had ruined the flour by pouring black liquid through the cargo hold. After we left Port and got out to sea some of the crew took us all and distributed us around the ship in the various passenger quarters. George Sarvas and I were given a double cabin in the first class quarters. Twin beds, running water, reading lights, from the ridiculous to the sublime. After dark we were allowed out on deck, but no lights were allowed. All the ship carried on the outside were the two running lights. It was rather eerie, trying to move around the crowded deck in the pitch dark, listening to the conversations going on all around in a dozen or more different languages. We found out that all of our original fifteen from Torontowere on board, and there were other Canadians also, but we didn’t find out about them until later, when I found out personally in a very strange manner. Late that night before we turned in, a bunch of us gathered in a sort of lounge one deck down where our cabins were. We had a sort of small impromptu concert, people sang songs in their various national languages, Tiny (Anderson) met the Secretary of  The Danish Communist Party and the Secretary of the Danish Young Communist League. There was one New Zealander and two Australians who entertained us with an exhibition of wrestling. Next morning, May 29th(?), 1937, we all slept late, and then we had coffee and bread. Around noon we entered Spanish waters. The ship was sailing just a few miles of the Spanish coast, which appeared to be three or four miles away. Many of us were up on deck. A couple of times a plane would fly from the land, circle around the ship almost at masthead level, we could see the red markings of the plane, and the pilot would wave at us from the open cockpit, and we all waved our clenched fists in salute. At about two o’clock in the afternoon we were told that we were about forty miles fromBarcelona, and we would be arriving there around five. I went down to the cabin to have a rest before we got toBarcelona, and I was barely settled on my bed , when the terrific explosion occurred. The ship seemed to literally leap from the water, settle back  with a shudder which could be felt distinctly, and then noiselessly to be coming to a stop. As I sprang from the bed and automatically started to tie on a lifejacket I thought that a shell from a big naval gun had landed right on deck. I was mistaken, we were torpedoed by an Italian submarine…. As I left the cabin I grabbed the second lifejacket, and meeting George Sarvas at the cabin door I gave him the lifejacket, told him to put it on and get up top right away… When I reached the deck, a horrible sight hit me with a shock. The ship’s stern was already under water and she was slowly turning over to the port side. All around the ship was a mass of floating wreckage: barrels, crates, cases, planking, canvas, wooden bedsteads, and amongst all this debris, were bobbing heads, and floating bodies, and around the bodies the sea crimson with blood. Hanging on the starboard of the ship and resting on the ship’s plating was a lifeboat, its rope lines stuck in the davit blocks. In the lifeboat there must have been fifty men all standing up, and one man was hacking away at the lines with an axe. When the line was finally severed, the boat plunged down into the sea, and it was so overloaded that it went straight to the bottom. All I had to do was step from the ship’s rail into the sea. It was a truly terrible experience, and I started to swim away from the ship, at the same time looking back in fascination at the fast sinking vessel. All at once there appeared on the foredeck, Karl Francis, one of our group, he was using the ship’s rail to pull himself hand over hand, up to the very peak, where he clasped his arms around the little jack mast. Men in the sea were yelling for Karl to jump, but he was frozen with shock, and then the ship quietly sank and that was the last of Karl. It was over in five minutes from the time of the torpedo attack. A seaplane came out and started dropping depth charges into the water, but the submarine was miles away by that time, and when the depth charges burst under water, it felt as though our legs were being blown off. The seaplane landed on the water, and I could see Tiny Anderson swimming and pulling Joe Schoen towards the seaplane, and time after time Tiny swam back into the debris and pulled a man over to the seaplane. When the pilot had the body of the plane filled with survivors he opened up his motors and taxied the few miles to the beach. He didn’t come back. Slowly pushing my way through the debris, I came upon Syd Shostick, a small boy from New York who was supporting a two hundred pound Finn, Sankari, who was a non swimmer. 

Syd shouted to me to help him with his burden, and that took my thoughts away from myself, and I took one side of Sankari. Things were happening all around us, some men were singing the International as they sank under the water. There were some terribly mutilated bodies floating around. What kept them afloat I don’t know. When the torpedo exploded it had blown the engines right  through the decks. We could see some fishing boats away picking up men, but there was a big area of wreckage between us and them and we seemed to drifting seaward. After a while we came across some planking and gathered some together with some canvas we constructed a sort of small, loose raft and were successful in hauling Sankari onto it. Syd said, as I had the life belt on I could try and swim through the wreckage and look for a fishing boat. Swimming through the wreckage  I came up behind a man who was hanging on to the end of a wooden bed. As I approached him I said “How are you making out?” He understood and said “Not so good” and then as he turned his head he said, “Good Lord, are you here too?.” It was Ellis Fromberg fromVancouver, and was one of another group of Canadians who our bunch didn’t know were on the ship. Ellis was in bad shape, no life belt, a non swimmer, and had cramps in his arms. Luckily there was more lumber around and I gathered enough to keep us afloat. I had lost touch with Syd and Sankari but they made it. After two hours we saw the nose of a fishing boat pushing aside the wreckage. I waved and they saw us. There were three fishermen on the boat and they pulled the wto of us on board, put us in a little hold in the centre of the boat, and when we couldn’t find anyone else took us right on to the beach, at the little town of Malgrat. 

Joe Schoen (Canadian) wrote,

After a week’s stay in Marseilles we boarded a ship, the City of Barcelona, and sailed on a Saturday evening, headed for Barcelona.

Next day, shortly beforenoon, about a mile from shore, we were torpedoed by an Italian submarine. The boat sank in less than five minutes. No one had a chance to launch a lifeboat. Tiny, the first mate, and I nearly got a boat up and over but before we could launch it, it was already half full of water. I waved goodbye to Tiny and jumped overboard and dog paddled away from the boat. Tiny Anderson saved my life as well as others that could not swim or who were wounded.

Some fellows swam ashore. Others were picked up by boats that came from the shore. Being a Sunday, there were a lot of people on the beach. After Tiny reached me with a lifebelt and I was getting my breath a government seaplane dropped a couple of depth charges on the submarine. We were very close to where the explosions took place. The waves were enormous so we certainly had a wild ride.

I did not expect Tiny or anyone else to help me but he got more life buoys. Altogether there were fifteen of us hanging onto something.

The plane that dropped the charges landed and picked us up. Tiny and the two pilots and myself helped the rest of the fellows onto the wings. Tiny in the water and the pilots and me pulling them up.

We lost one, the mate from the boat. He was unconscious and a very heavy man. Even Tiny was so tired that we just couldn’t get him onto the wing.

The pilot taxied to shore where we were met by hospital staff, also trucks and ambulances to take us to the hospital.

Out of 240 volunteers on board the ship, 60 were killed by the explosion or drowned.

This was the town of Malgrat, about forty miles north of Barcelona.

Those of us who were able to travel were outfitted with new clothing. The President of Catalonia came to Malgrat to greet us and express his regrets for the traumatic welcome we experienced and for the loss of lives of so many volunteers.

We left for Barcelona that evening by train.

From: “Canadian Volunteers in Spain1936 to 1939” by William  C. Beeching. University of Regina. 1989.

The wife of British Brigader Ron Barber wrote.

From “We really do not alter, just grow older” by Winifred Wheable-Archer. CAMYorkshire.

They made their way down to Marseillesto join a ship, the City of Barcelona, which was to take some 400 men toSpain. In spite of supposed non-intervention, the ship was the victim of an Italian torpedo. The ship sank in four minutes and most of the volunteers were drowned. There was no acknowledgement of the disaster in the French port or in the press. The ship had been examined by officers sympathetic to the Republican cause, who had declared the ship free of any illegal passengers. Ron (Barber) was a fine swimmer and had dived as far away from the ship as possible as she was submerged. Just as he was overcome by fatigue and about to drown he was hauled onto a floating door by a black American volunteer (Note. possibly Claude Pringle). Together they reached the shores of Barcelona and were rescued by comrades who had witnessed the sinking.

 Claude Pringle, November 1937

From We really do not alter, just grow older by Winifred Wheable-Archer. CAM Yorkshire.


A Danish version of events:

On May 30 the steamer Ciudad de Barcelona with 300 volunteers on board was sunk, including nine Danes onboard. The events surrounding the sinking were extensively reported in Helmuth Christensen’s diary and in a report that Henry Højbjerg wrote in Thaelmann battalion’s front newspaper “Todos Unidos”.The Danes had spent some time in Marseilles, while they waited for the Ciudad de Barcelona. Towards the morning of the next day the steamer sailed alongside the Spanish coast for a short distance to avoid heavy seas. The ship was at this time escorted by two Spanish seaplanes and an armed trawler. At about 2:50 p.mwith just three hours of sailing to Barcelona- the ship was hit by a torpedo obliquely from astern by the engine and it immediately started to sink. Rescue boats were quickly filled, and the rest had to jump into the water, with or without a life jacket. An Italian submarine showed up to the surface and began firing at lifeboats with a machine gun. The two seaplanes went to counterattack, and the submarine received a direct hit. People who came hurrying from the shore  put everything in coming out to  rescue the survivors from the wreck. However, about 65 men were drowned, including three Danes: Einer Vigø from Nørrebo in Copenhagen, Villy Børge Petersen, from Frederiksberg, and Harry Kay Rasmussen from Horsens.

Among the survivors besides Henry Højbjerg,were two known only as Niels and Hans. Ivar Lassen Andersen (Tiny) had come from Canada, where he had emigrated. He was a fine swimmer and along with the rescue boats helped so many to safety.

Ivor Lassen Anderson

From Fra Bjelkes Allé til Barcelona. Danske frivillige i Spanien 1936-39 by Carsten Jørgensen

A curious account by British Brigader Robert C. Martin exists. It shows the tragic  fragility of the Republican cause.

We went by sea to Barcelona. We were told that we could not go by land because the anarchists were at the border and would shoot us. Our boat was sunk by a submarine — it was said to be an Italian submarine. When the torpedo hit the ship I went over the side and was picked up by a fishing boat after twenty-five minutes in the water. Sixty-five men went down with the ship. I was deeply stirred by the way in which the boys who were left on the boat sang the Internationale as the ship went down. Among them was my friend, Robert MacDonald, who enlisted me.

My first surprise was to find that the fishermen who rescued me in their boat were anarchists. I had been warned that the anarchists were our enemies as well as the fascists and that they would shoot us. Yet here they were rescuing me and the other comrades who were in the water. When I reached the shore I was treated by these anarchist fisherfolk with a sympathy and care which I shall never forget. After receiving treatment in hospital I was taken to the home of an anarchist and treated with the utmost kindness.

That night we went by train to Barcelona, arriving late at night. Again we were warned about the anarchists. We were told that we could not be taken into the city by the main streets because we would be shot by the anarchists. We were directed through the back streets and alleys and told to keep very quiet. We were taken to the Karl Marx Barracks and put up there for the night and warned that we must not leave the building. We stayed there for two days.


Oddly enough, even George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia mentions meeting a survivor from the Ciudad de Barcelona  in the newly discovered Sanatori Maurin in Barcelona. However, his recollections by an American survivor seem at odds with the previous accounts extolling the kindness of the people of Malgrat de Mar!

Later, in the hospital at Barcelona, an American who had come to join the International Column on a ship that was torpedoed by an Italian submarine, told me how he was carried ashore wounded, and how, even as they lifted him into the ambulance, the stretcher bearers pinched his wristwatch.

Such is human nature….

A List of Names……

In the Moscow archives which contains materiel on the International Brigades, the following ragged list of names of English speaking survivors appears. Probably made immediately after the sinking, there is room for doubt in this listing regarding the actual numbers involved in the sinking.

The list of names, with corrections is as follows.

Here are some photographs of the survivors that have been located so far.

Sergeant Milton Cohen. Company 1, Mackenzie Papineau, July 1938

Harry Dobson

Joseph Gibbons,  Mackenzie Papineau Estado Mayor, April 1938

 Frank Arvola, chief cook in Auto Park,  Alcover_April 1938

Lawrence Dukes, MacKenzie-Papineau, Company 1_May 1938

Murray Nemeroff (left) and Alexander Goldberg, Sanidad [Health], Darmos_Apr 38

William van Felix (left) and Ernest Amatniek, Ebro, July 1938

Thain Summers, officers training school. November 1937

Ben Kasinap, first aid man in Transmiciones

Eugene Nolte, MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion Secretary. November 1937

Max Farrar, cook in Estado Mayor [Headquarters] kitchen

Horace Kark, Cabo, Lincoln-Washington Battalion, December 1937

Samuel Romer, 24th Battalion, January 1938

R. Karman and C. Silverman R. Karman and C. Silverman (left) December 1937

The Living and the Dead….

In the confusion of War accounts often become muddled and confused. The numbers of Brigaders who boarded the Ciudad de Barcelona in Marseilles varies from 200 to 600. Recent research by historians such as Jim Carmody and others has reckoned the numbers of drowned comes to between 60 and 65.

Here is the list of those known to have drowned.


Robert McDonald, Glasgow

Jack Kent, London & New Zealand

William Lowe,Manchester


James Racz

Karl Francis

Tom Nelson

Ernest Gosselin

Michael Horndorf

Mike Chodur


Alex Sauremilch


Wm. Schultz

John Inget

Wm. Grant Hadley

J.B. Turner

Joe Lampert

K. Tsalikidas

Saul Crobin

Steve Vargo

Including another four unknown dead this comes to only 23 drowned from this list alone.

However, recent research by Jim Carmody in the United Kingdom can add the following names of those who drowned.

Henry Behn, Norway

Willy B. Peterson, Denmark

Kay H. Rasmussen, Kjoblev, Denmark

Egnar C. Vigo, Copenhagen, Denmark

Johannes Kues, Austria

Andrea Tschernenke, Poland

Sadly this brings the total of named drowned to only 25. Barely half of the total known to have drowned. It is thought that other names may appear in time from other Archives  around the World.

The Survivors who died in Spain…..

After surviving this disaster the survivors fougfht in many of the battles in Spain including Brunete, Belchite, Teruel, the Great Retreats anmd finally the battle of the Ebro on July 1938. The International Brigades were withdrawn from the fighting on September 1938, and those who could returned to their homelands in late 1938 or early 1939. Sadly. many German, Italian and refugees from other countries governed by right wing governments could not return and many were fated to die or just disappear in the maelstrom of the Second World War.

Here is a list of 22  survivors from the Moscow Archive list who lie still buried here in Spain.

British dead

Harry Dobson + Ebro 1/8/38

Frank Deegan writes at the time of the British battalion attack on Hill 481 in July 1938

After about four days Harry Dobson who was a great friend of mine was wounded. At that time one of our stretcher bearers was a casualty. The remaining one named Gibson from Sutherland asked for someone to help carry Harry down. I was ordered to assist young Gibson. I felt very sad seeing my good pal lying on the stretcher, it was obvious he was seriously injured. On the way to the doctor who was a few miles away further down the valley, Harry kept asking for a drink of water. We were afraid to give him some. Although we were not expert first aid men we knew one of the main rules was to give no liquid to wounded men. This could endanger their lives. He pleaded, saying that he would only wet his lips. We gave way, letting Harry hold the water bottle himself. True to his word that’s all he did~ wet his lips. What a man~ steel willed and a great human personality. If I had been in his position I would haved tried to drink the lot.

Shortly after reaching the doctor he died. I felt I had lost a great friend.

Pat Murphy + Brunete  July 37

A Morgan Skinner  + Ebro

Canadian dead

Michal Szlipak + Seguro de los Banos, February 1938

 Ivor Anderson + Ebro  8/38

William Beeching describes Ivor ‘Tiny’ Anderson’s death on the Sierra Pandols.

(‘Tiny’ Anderson) lost both his legs when hit directly by a mortar shell while charging up a terrace. Arthur Linton attempted to comfort him, but was asked by Anderson to say goodbye to one of his friends for him. Sensing his intention, Linton tried to talk about patching him up, but Tiny  retorted, -When we get back home from here, bioy, there’s no pension, no nothing.’ He then took his rifle and shot himself.

Andrew Csoke + Retreats  3/38

American dead

Herman Greenfield  + Seguro de los Banos 16/2/38

Robert Sullivan + Retreats 1/4/38

Earl Brian + Retreats 4/38

Albert Wallach + Executed as deserter

Francis Daley  + Fuentes de Ebro 13/10/37

Hjalmar Sankari + Caspe 3/38

Horace Kark + Retreats 3/38

Sid Shosteck + Belchite 9/37

Ben Camnitz + Ebro 7/9/38

Issac Katz  + Retreats 3/38

Joe Burkett + Belchite 13/9/37 or 3/38

Wade Ellis + Ebro 9/8/38

Phillip Bradbury + Brunete 25/7/37

Thane Summers  + Retreats 3/38

William Chestriat  + Brunete 23/7/37

Jack Freeman + Ebro 7/9/38

The wreck of the Ciudad de Barcelona today

The wreck of the ship is at a depth of 30 metres and is often visited by divers. Below are some photos of the wreck taken in the 1960s and more recently by local diver Joan Armagant. The wreck was blown up by dynamite after the war to retrieve materiel, but much is still there.

More recent photos taken by Joan Armagant of the Mola Mola Club at Blanes show the wreck after having been blown up for salvage

This is all we know at present about the tragedy of the sinking of the Ciudad de Barcelona. However, we hope in time to add more names and memories of this event as we become aware of them.

If you know of other stories or names to include, please contact us on

Thank you for reading this.

Alan Warren and Sonia Garangou.