Rif War (1920)
The Rif War, also called the Second Moroccan War, was fought between Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 (later assisted by France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

) and the Moroccan
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

The Rif or Riff is a mainly mountainous region of northern Morocco, with some fertile plains, stretching from Cape Spartel and Tangier in the west to Ras Kebdana and the Melwiyya River in the east, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the north to the river of Wergha in the south.It is part of the...

Berber people
Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Historically they spoke the Berber language or varieties of it, which together form a branch...


Rifian forces

The Berber tribesmen had a long tradition of fierce fighting skills, combined with high standards of fieldcraft and marksmanship. They were capably led by Abd el-Krim who showed both military and political expertise. The elite of the Rifian forces formed regular units which according to Abd el-Krim, quoted by the Spanish General Manual Goded, numbered 6-7,000. The remaining Rifians were tribal militia selected by their Caids and not liable to serve away from their homes and farms for more than fifteen consecutive days. General Goded estimated that at their peak the Rifian forces numbered about 80,000 men by June 1924.

Spanish forces

Initially, the Spanish forces in Morocco were largely composed of Spanish conscripts. While they showed an ability to endure much hardship, these "Peninsular" troops were poorly supplied and prepared (few had marksmanship skills and proper battle training), with widespread corruption being reported amongst the officer corps, reducing supplies and morale. Even with their numerical superiority, they proved no match for the highly skilled and motivated Rifian forces. Accordingly, much reliance came to be placed on the few professional units comprising the Spanish "Army of Africa". Since 1911, these had included regiments of Moorish Regulares
The Fuerzas Regulares Indígenas , known simply as the Regulares , were the volunteer infantry and cavalry units of the Spanish Army recruited in Spanish Morocco. They consisted of Moroccans officered by Spaniards...


With the difficulties and early setbacks it experienced, the Spanish army began to adopt much from the French Foreign Legion
French Foreign Legion
The French Foreign Legion is a unique military service wing of the French Army established in 1831. The foreign legion was exclusively created for foreign nationals willing to serve in the French Armed Forces...

 and, as a result, a Spanish equivalent, the Tercio de Extranjeros
Spanish Legion
The Spanish Legion , formerly Spanish Foreign Legion, is an elite unit of the Spanish Army and Spain's Rapid Reaction Force. Founded as the Tercio de Extranjeros , it was originally intended as a Spanish equivalent of the French Foreign Legion, but in practice it recruited almost exclusively...

 ("Regiment of Foreigners", generally known in English as the "Spanish Legion"), was formed in 1920. The regiment's second commander was General Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

, having risen rapidly through the ranks. Less than 25% of this "Foreign Legion" were, in fact, non-Spanish. Harshly disciplined and driven, they quickly acquired a reputation for ruthlessness. As their number grew, they increasingly led offensive operations after the earlier disasters that had been suffered by the conscript forces.

Early stages

As an outcome of the Treaty of Fez
Treaty of Fez
By the Treaty of Fez , signed March 30, 1912, Sultan Abdelhafid gave up the sovereignty of Morocco to the French, making the country a protectorate, resolving the Agadir Crisis of July 1, 1911....

 (1912) Spain gained possession of the lands around Melilla
Melilla is a autonomous city of Spain and an exclave on the north coast of Morocco. Melilla, along with the Spanish exclave Ceuta, is one of the two Spanish territories located in mainland Africa...

 and Ceuta
Ceuta is an autonomous city of Spain and an exclave located on the north coast of North Africa surrounded by Morocco. Separated from the Iberian peninsula by the Strait of Gibraltar, Ceuta lies on the border of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Ceuta along with the other Spanish...

. In 1920 the Spanish commissioner, General Dámaso Berenguer
Dámaso Berenguer
Dámaso Berenguer y Fusté, Count of Xauen was a Spanish soldier and politician.Berenguer was born in San Juan de los Remedios, Cuba, while that island nation was still a Spanish province....

, decided to conquer the eastern territory from the Jibala tribes, but had little success. On 1st July 1921 the Spanish army in north-eastern Morocco collapsed when defeated by the forces of Abd el-Krim, in what became known in Spain as the disaster of Annual
Disaster of Annual
The Battle of Annual was a battle fought in Spanish Morocco between the Spanish Army of Africa and combatants of the Rif region. It was a major military defeat suffered by the Spanish army on July 22, 1921 at Annual in northeastern Morocco during the Rif War...

, some 8,000 soldiers and officers reported killed or disappeared out of some 20,000 . The Spanish were pushed back and during the following five years, occasional battles were fought between the two. In a bid to break the stalemate, the Spanish military turned to the use of chemical weapons against the Riffians
Chemical weapons in the Rif War
During the Third Rif War in Spanish Morocco between 1921 and 1927, the Spanish Army of Africa dropped chemical warfare agents in an attempt to put down the Riffian Berber rebellion led by guerrilla leader Abd el-Krim....


French intervention

In May 1924, the French Army had established a line of posts north of the Oureghla River in disputed tribal territory. On 13 April 1925, an estimated 8,000 Rifs attacked this line and in two weeks 39 of 66 French posts had been stormed or abandoned. The French accordingly intervened on the side of Spain, employing up to 300,000 well trained and equipped troops from Metropolitan, North African, Senegalese and Foreign Legion units. French deaths in what had now become a major war are estimated at about 12,000 .


Superior manpower and technology soon resolved the course of the war in favour of France and Spain. The French troops pushed through from the south while the Spanish fleet secured Alhucemas
Al Hoceima
Al Hoceima is a city and port in the north of Morocco and in the center of the Rif Mountains. The Al Hoceima city region has a population of 395.644 and is the capital of the Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate region...

 Bay by an amphibious landing, and began attacking from the north. After one year of bitter resistance, Abd el-Krim, the leader of both the tribes, surrendered to French authorities, and in 1926 Spanish Morocco
Spanish Morocco
The Spanish protectorate of Morocco was the area of Morocco under colonial rule by the Spanish Empire, established by the Treaty of Fez in 1912 and ending in 1956, when both France and Spain recognized Moroccan independence.-Territorial borders:...

 was finally retaken.

The unpopularity of the war in Spain, however, and the humiliating initial failures of the Spanish military, contributed to the instability of the Spanish government and the military coup of 1923.

External links

  • David Montgomery Hart, The Aith Waryaghar of the Moroccan Rif : an ethnography and history. Published for the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research [by] University of Arizona Press, c1976. xxiii, 556 p. : ill. ; 28 cm. ISBN 0816504520 :

Series Viking Fund publications in anthropology ; no. 55 , Notes. Bibliography: pages 533-546. (Tucson, Arizona, (1976)
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