Antonio Verardini Díez-Ferreti

Antonio Verardini Díez-Ferreti was born in 1910 into a middle-class Madrileño family; his father was a mining engineer and he himself was educated in a Jesuit college from which he was expelled for his anti-clerical ideas and activities. In the mid 1920s he moved to France where he studied Engineering at the Paris Polytechnic, returning to Madrid on the death of his father. Unable to find work in Spain he moved to the small Spanish North African exclave of Ceuta where he set up his own construction company; there he joined the anti-colonial Izquierda Revolucionaria y Antiimperialista (Anti-Imperialist Revolutionary Left) (IRYA).

Following the advent of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931 he was involved in organising an uprising against Spanish military rule in the country, for which he was sentenced to death but later pardoned. On his release he became closely involved with the Spanish anarchist movement and was arrested, tried and imprisoned for his revolutionary (and criminal) anti-state activities on a number of occasions. In early July 1936, not long before the Revolution broke out in response to the fascist uprising, he was arrested and detained in Madrid’s Model Prison for cheque fraud under the notorious ley de Vagos y Maleantes (Vagrancy and Malefactors’ Law) where, according to what Verardini later told the clandestine ant-Francoist militant Luis Andres Edo he struck up a close and lifelong friendship with, among others, the anarcho-syndicalist construction union militant Cipriano Mera Sanz, who would shortly become famous as the highly effective commander of the republican army’s 14th Division. According to Mera’s posthumous memoirs, however, the first meeting didn’t take place until 26 July— seven tumultuous days after they with many others were released from prison — when they were introduced by fellow building worker José Pan: “On 26 July, comrade Pan unexpectedly presented me to Antonio Verardini Ferreti, a comrade who would later become one of the most positive elements in our war.”  What is certain is that two days later, on the morning of the 28th, Verardini left Madrid with Mera’s 150-strong CNT Column — with only two machine guns and one sub-machine gun, which Verardini had hurriedly trained the militia members to use — to retake nearby Cuenca from the Guardia Civil and Carlist Cavalry.  Having proved his worth as a military commander at Cuenca he played a crucial part in the battle of Guadalajara and, by August 1936, was appointed Chief of Staff of the CNT (anarcho-syndicalist) Del Rosal Column. The following month, however, he was wounded in the leg during the battle for the Toledan town of Talavera de la Reina. Of the thousand Madrid anarcho-syndicalists who took part in that battle only 250 returned. In October 1936 he was reappointed chief of staff of the reconstituted Rosal Column and played a prominent part in the defence of Madrid against the fascist onslaught during that and the following month.

Guadalajara front, 1937, during a visit by Colonel Casado: Antonio Verardini (circled, left, with hands in pocket); Cipriano Mera (circled, right), with Colonel Casado on his left.

Verardini was also responsible for a secret CNT Defence Committee operation to flush out fascist fifth columnists protected by friendly foreign diplomats, particularly those in the Panamanian, Finnish, Turkish and Irish embassies. In the Panamanian Embassy, for example, it was known there were around 500 armed Carlist, Falangist and pro-Francoist refugees. Verardini — with the help of his prison friend Alfonso López de Letona, an allegedly ‘turned’ fifth-columnist and monarchist who was also on the general staff of Mera’s 14th Division — established a fictitious Embassy of Siam which, using Letona’s contacts, offered asylum to other fifth-columnists, offers that were eagerly accepted by a number of secret influential pro-Francoists. The  ‘Embassy of Siam’, headed by Ambassador Doctor Koplovitz (Verardini), was, of course, bugged and much useful intelligence about the fascist networks was obtained through their unguarded conversations. However, when General Miaja, commander of the Republican Army in Madrid and a member of the Communist Party, was told of the operation he ruled it illegal and ordered it to be closed down in January 1937. There was also the unpalatable fact that Eduardo Val’s men (of the Madrid CNT Defence Committee) had undoubtedly murdered at least some of the fascist ‘asylum seekers’. (For more information on the questionable character of Val and his ‘death squads’ see Farquhar McHarg’s ‘Pistoleros! – 1920-1924’). According to historian Paul Preston, the victorious Francoists sentenced López de Letona to death in November 1939 for his part in the false Siam Embassy operation, which suggests he wasn’t a double agent, after all. Mind you, he could have been a triple-agent.

In December 1936 Major Verardini became the CNT’s representative on the general staff of the International Brigades and, in February 1937, on Mera’s insistence, he was promoted and seconded to the general staff of the 14th Division where he played a prominent part in the taking of Brihuega during the Battle of Guadalajara (March 1937), probably the most successful Republican victory of the entire Spanish Civil War, preventing, as it did, the Francoists encircling Madrid. It was in mid-April, while in Madrid on a mission, that he was arrested by Fernando Valenti of the “plausibly deniable” government force the ‘Special Brigade’ (later incorporated into the Servicio de Investigación Militar – SIM) and held on the orders of the notorious Spanish Communist Party Public Order Councillor José Cazorla (the man who set up the extra-judicial murder and torture dungeons (“checas“, after the counter-revolutionary Bolshevik police force of the same name) in Madrid with the express purpose of smashing the social revolution and restoring bourgeois property rights under the rule of the Moscow puppet prime minister, Negrín, in accordance with Stalin’s policy of “socialism in one country” with which he hoped to appease the Western allies in the run-up to the coming war with nazi Germany. At this, Mera immediately sent a CNT militia response unit to surround the checa where Verardini was being held with tanks and armoured vehicles (that, fortunately, happened to be in the locality at the time) to demand his release, which was quickly conceded by Cazorla after the direct intervention of General Miaja. Verardini worked closely with Mera – then commanding the IVth Army Corps of the Centre — for the remainder of the war and was involved with him and Colonel Casado in the anti-Stalinist National Defence Council which defeated the CP-led mutiny of the 1st Army Corps of the Centre and, to prevent further needless bloodshed (which the politicians had been looking to for cover as they fled on their well-prepared escape routes with their well-packed backs to prearranged sanctuaries abroad, to be reunited with their well-filled bank accounts), negotiated the surrender of Madrid and the end of the war in March 1939.

Escaping to Valencia and thence to Oran on the northwest coast of Algeria in March and April 1939, Verardini ended up in the French concentration camp of Morand where, in November 1939, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion where he remained until December 1940 when he helped form one of the first anti-Nazi and anti-Pétainist resistance networks in North Africa, setting up a chain of radio broadcasting and monitoring stations which he designed and, mostly, built himself. In 1942, after the first American landings, he commanded a Free French resistance group until the Liberation in 1944 when he returned to Algeria to work with the editorial groups of Alger Républicain and Fraternité. He was also on the editorial board of the Algiers-based CNT paper Solidaridad Obrera’.

Returning to the French mainland at the end of the 1940s, where he lived in the Parisian district of Montmartre, having acquired French nationality, Verardini continued his involvement with the Algerian Liberation Movement and with activist exiled Spanish anarcho-syndicalists such as Cipriano Mera (who had been released from Carabanchel Prison — which he had helped to build as a slave labourer — in 1946) and, in particular, the colourful anarchist entrepreneur, quartermaster and ‘bagman’ Laureano Cerrada Santos, formerly of the railway workers’ union who had been expelled from the CNT in 1947 for ‘bringing the organisation into disrepute”. Cerrada’s expulsion was, in fact, the result of a Machiavellian campaign by the prominent quietist – some say collaborationist (I say traitorous) — leaders of the CNT-FAI in Exile (Federica Montseny, Germinal Esgleas and Roque Santamaria among others). The pretext for Cerrada’s expulsion was his role in the counterfeiting of notes of 100, 500 and 1,000 pesetas of Francoist currency. Prior to his expulsion, as secretary of the CNT’s ‘Ways and Means’ Committee, Cerrada had commissioned his old comrade Verardini (because of his personal experience in falsifying money and bonds, his international connections within the graphic arts and security printing industries and his ability to obtain the necessary inks, papers, equipment and recruit the necessary specialist technicians; the plates themselves having been acquired by Cerrada from local anarchist partisans who liberated them from Franco’s securities printer in Genoa in April 1945) to coordinate the entire operation. Verardini’s idea was to bankrupt the regime not by introducing the counterfeit notes into circulation on an individual note-for-note basis, but by exchanging them in bulk — on an ongoing basis — with worn-out ones earmarked for destruction in the furnaces of the special services of the Bank of Spain’s Casa de Moneda. The problem was that some of this money found its way — through the CNT’s Defence Secretary — into the hands of comrades entering Spain clandestinely to pursue the underground struggle and soon led to their arrest. (This came about because, unlike Verardini’s strategic objective, Cerrada’s intention wasn’t to bankrupt the regime but rather to directly fund the armed anti-Franco resistance, who were engaged in such activities as the attempt to assassinate Franco from the air in San Sebastian in 1948*). The arrests led to the Francoist government exerting even more diplomatic pressure on the French authorities to clamp down even more firmly on CNT activists in France, which they were able to do through pressure on the heavily compromised leaders of the National Committee of the CNT in Exile – hence Cerrada’s expulsion. Verardini’s involvement in the currency forgery operation was less well-known, so he didn’t suffer the same fate, but although he maintained personal connections with activist militants such as Mera and Laureano Cerrada (who was betrayed and arrested in France on further counterfeiting charges in 1951), Luis Robla of the CNT Defence Commission, and guerrilla and action group leaders such as Marcelino Massana, Ramon Vila Capdevila, and Francisco Sabaté, his experiences led him to shun all contact with the official CNT in Exile and its prominent leaders. (see McHarg’s ‘Pistoleros! – 1920-1924’). After Cerrada’s arrest in 1951 Verardini was obliged to assume a new identity in order to earn a living, working as a researcher at the Marie Curie Institute in Paris.

1) Verardini-designed radio-controlled device used in the 1962 attempt to assassinate Franco at the Ayete Palace (San Sebastian)

In 1962 when the ‘reunified’ Libertarian Movement in Exile (the CNT, the anarchists of the FAI and the youth wing, the FIJL) set up the ‘Reserved’ clandestine planning and operational body known as Defensa Interior (DI) (replacing the MLE’s Defence Commission, headed by Juan Pintado, which until then had been responsible for coordinating all officially sanctioned clandestine/guerrilla activities). Pintado’s job as Defence Secretary was to revive the anti-Francoist struggle through propaganda coups, violent direct actions against the regime’s institutions both inside Spain and internationally. This was much against the highly conservative ‘do-nothing’ instincts of the CNT-in-Exile’s National and Intercontinental Committees, but they agreed to the DI, against their better judgment, in the belief that by controlling the purse-strings and occupying the more sensitive posts within the DI, they (Germinal Esgleas and Vicente Llansola who was, theoretically, responsible for preparing the attempts on Franco’s life, but in fact never did anything. My own view is both served other, more sinister, interests!) could contain and limit the activities of the more dynamic younger elements of the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth (FIJL).

2) Verardini-designed radio-controlled device used in the 1962 attempt to assassinate Franco at the Ayete Palace (San Sebastian)

The DI’s Paris liaison (postbox) was Luis Andres Edo (who I was later to meet in prison), one of whose tasks was to maintain permanent contact with two ‘special comrades’, Cerrada and Verardini. The reasons for having Edo, a long-standing friend of both men, as a ‘cut-out’ between them and the Defence Commission/DI were twofold; Esgleas and Llansola refused to have anything to do with Cerrada, having been responsible for expelling him years earlier, while Verardini was an equally suspect character in their eyes; for their part Cerrada and Verardini distrusted Esgleas, Llansola and his colleagues on the CNT National Committee, and with good reason

Francoist press report of the explosives and weapons and radio transmitter/receiver seized following the arrest of Delgado and Granado (July 1963) for the aborted attempt on Franco

Cerrada’s involvement in the DI was that of quartermaster, providing its, primarily, younger activists (of the FIJL and other international anarchist militants, mainly Italians) with materiel from arms deposits, false documents, international identity papers and passports. Verardini’s role, as an industrial engineer, was the provision of technical services and equipment – a sort of anarchist ‘Q’. It was he who developed and built a number of radio-controlled explosive devices, including the bomb used against Franco on 19 August 1962 at the Ayete Palace, his summer residence in San Sebastian.

Antonio Verardini Diaz-Ferreti, born Madrid, 13/6/1910, died in a Parisian nursing home in the late 1980s, 15 years or so after the death of his longtime friend and comrade Cipriano Mera Sanz (October 24, 1975) whose funeral he undoubtedly attended.

Laureano Cerrada Santos was gunned down in the Paris district of Belleville in October 1976 by a lowlife former cenetista Ramon Benicho Canuda, who later escaped to Canada with the connivance of the French security services and the RCMP.

* Re the Cerrada-funded aerial attempt on Franco, see this link (from min. 48 )