Mike (also known as Moses or Morris) Bailin was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 4, 1916 to parents Israel B. Bailin and Clara Olinero, both members of the Communist Party. Israel Bailin was a Jewish communist, and he wrote for a communist affiliated Yiddish newspaper called the Morning Freiheit as well as multiple books. Bailin was influenced and radicalized by his father, citing him as the place he gained interest in the proletariat movement. Also because of his father, he grew up and was nurtured in the socialist Yiddish shulns, further pushing him towards the left. Sometime within the first few years of his life, he ended up in New York City, where he attended the City College of New York. While there, he studied chemical engineering and also learned Spanish, the knowledge of the former used later in work for the US army after World War II. He hit working age just as the Great Depression hit, affecting his job prospects. In the years between 1930 and 1937, he worked as a clerk in the Works Progress Administration making $16 a week, was an electrician/air conditioning technician, was a laundry worker, and was part of the National Guard. He was part of unions for most of these jobs, including the Laundry Workers International Union, the City Projects Council, and the Brooklyn Federation of WPA Timekeepers, the latter of which he joined in a several weeks long strike. Bailin was in the National Guard as part of the 212th Coast Artillery Regiment from October 1936 to when he left in 1937 for Spain, which is most likely why he eventually joined an artillery battery. He was also a member of the Young Communist League, the aim of which is to develop its members into educated communists, serving as the youth wing of the American Communist Party. He held the position of Section Education Director in the organization. Bailin actively went to demonstrations against fascism and racial discrimination, and presumably because of his protesting, he was arrested twice for disorderly conduct in July of both 1934 and 1935, serving a 2 day jail sentence in 1934. He presumably applied for a passport to go to Spain and received the number on June 7th, 1937, with an address on it located in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. There are two dates he may have sailed for Spain, as two different days are listed in different sources: May 17th 1937 or June 16th 1937.
He mentions traveling through France to get to Spain, so he most likely made the harrowing trek through the Pyrenees. Upon arrival, he was sent to the training base for the International Artillery, Almansa. He joined one of the Anglo-American Heavy Artillery Batteries formed in 1937, the 14th Battery, 2nd Group, 11th Regiment, better known as the John Brown Battery. The men trained at this base frequently had the complaint that the leadership was very poorly organized and “near criminally ineffective.” The base commander, Major Paul Maurice, was a Frenchman and gave heavy preferential treatment to any others of his nationality, such as giving them free passes to town while the rest of the men were restricted to the barracks. The commander was not inclined to let Americans touch the antiquated guns that the base had (an English 80mm and a French Schneider 75mm), so the training was limited to “close-order drill; instruction on military courtesy; and lecture on theoretical and strategic use of artillery.” One incident where the commander enforced the barracks restriction while Almansa was under air attack led to his eventual arrest and removal.
The John Brown Battery’s initial training with the 2 antiquated guns was under the French Battery commander Lieutenant Maurice Tavlitsky. He received proper artillery training in the Soviet Union, and in order to avoid being restricted by Base Commander Maurice, Tavlitsky faked his reports and let the Americans get hands-on training, despite the Commander’s reluctance. Shortly before they were going to get sent to the front, they received two guns as a result of Soviet Aid. They were French 155mm guns, stamped with production dates of 1880 and 1893. Not quite satisfied with the quality of the equipment, they nicknamed the guns “Tuchachefsky’s Last Shipment.” These guns arrived without any of the firing tables or instrumentation needed to fire them, which was even further complicated by the fact that these guns had been constructed before the invention of recoil management technology. The regiment’s deployment was moved and it trained for a few months longer in order to create a firing table as well as practice how to fire the guns while dealing with recoil. They finally deployed in October of 1937, with all the men receiving at least 5 months of training, far more than most.
The night before leaving for the front, the Battery had 70 men, majority of whom were American, and occupying a variety of jobs. Bailin was a sentry, doing observation and reconnaissance. He reports being part of the Socorro Rojo Internacional (SRI) while in Spain, which set up vital infrastructure like hospitals and soup kitchens in Republican territory. The people Bailin was closest to while in Spain were Sam Berman and Jack Waters, both members of the John Brown Battery. He also mentions a David King, but there are no men under that name listed as part of the Brigades. From deployment until December, the Battery was in Villanueva de la Serena as part of the Extremaduran campaign. At the onset of the war, the Foreign legion marched up from Seville and took the capital of Extremadura as well as everywhere but the East. Villanueva de la Serena is a small village along the front, due East from Mérida. It is unknown how much action the regiment was involved in while stationed there, but theoretically not very much as the nationalists had moved on to Toledo and Madrid by that point. After about 3 months, the Battery was then moved to the Toledo front until the formal repatriation of the International Brigades in September of 1938. Their mission in Toledo was to provide support to infantry on the front lines outside the city, but the front was quiet and the Battery rarely saw combat. Bailin was on the front for about a year, and was never in active fighting and was never injured. When asked about his opinion on the proceedings of the International Brigades, he wrote this: “I think it served a great role. It not only helped save Madrid, but during Spain’s darkest hour it brough living proof that they were not forgotten–not alone in their fight-that they had support from every corner of the Earth. It had many faults in its organization but on the whole its political lore was correct. The organizational faults consisted of big administrative staffs and their bureaucratic methods which made the common soldier feel he was not getting enough consideration.”
Bailin left with the rest of his regiment on February 4th 1939, sailing home on the President Harding with most of the others from his Battery. Soon after his return, World War II hit, during which he was not part of the army. After the war, he worked as a chemical engineer for the US Army Signal Corps and Navy. He was part of research and development projects for insulating materials. There is no information on his life from there until his death in Brooklyn on June 26, 1997.
“Bailin, Mike.” The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, December 23, 2021. https://alba-valb.org/volunteers/mike-bailin/.
Brooks, Chris, and Liana Katz. “Blast from the Past: Artillery Series.” The Volunteer, February 11, 2018. https://albavolunteer.org/2015/07/blast-from-the-past-artillery-series/.
Butwin, Joe. “Salud y Shalom: American Jewish Volunteers in Spain.” The Volunteer, August 16, 2021. https://albavolunteer.org/2021/08/salud-y-shalom-american-jewish-volunteers-in-spain/.
“Israel B. Bailin Dead; Author and Lecturer Served on Staff of the Freiheit.” The New York Times. The New York Times. Accessed June 3, 2022.
Документы советской эпохи: просмотр единицы хранения. Accessed June 3, 2022. http://sovdoc.rusarchives.ru/sections/organizations//cards/228485/images.
Mike Bailin’s documents are in pages 4 and 5 of this section of the archives.