Monday, 4 February 2013

The Rif War 1920-1926

French and Spanish troops holding a defensive line (1924)

Guerra del Rif 1922 - 2.jpg
Spanish Officers inspect the remains of its Garrison after  the battle of Annual. 

After a long absence, I return with a look at a lesser known conflict, the Rif War fought between Spain with assistance by France against the Republic of the Rif.  The War is also known as the Second Moroccan War.

 As a result of the earlier Treaty of Fez (1912), Spain gained possession of Melillia and Ceuta, both are autonomous Spanish cities in Northern Africa. To ensure the safety of the two cities, General Damaso Berenguer, the Commission of the Spanish cities, decided to conquer territory to the East, which was occupied by the Jibala tribes. The minor classes resulted in little success. The worst of the casualties were taken by Spain itself when its Army was was almost entirely defeated on August 9, 1921, by forces of Adb el-Krim.

The Battle of Annual, as it has become known, led the Spanish to implement colonial policies towards the Rif.  At the end of the battle, 13,363 Spanish were dead and another 7,000 were wounded.

Powered by their victory over the Spanish, the Rif continued to push the Spaniards back. By the end of August, Spain had lost all its territory gained since 1909, and only in control of Melilla. Despite the Rif having Melilla surrounded, Abd el-Krim ordered his troops not to attack the city because of the 14,000 strong Spanish Garrison. el-Krim also worried that other European powers would intervene if their cities where harmed. Melilla, was the centre of Europeans living in Northern Africa.

The low point of the war came in 1924, during fighting at Dar Aquba, when the Spanish military used chemical weapons. It is the second recorded use of mustard gas in warfare. It was previously used in 1915, during the Battle of St. Julien, part of the Second Battle of Ypres. The attack lead to the deaths of 10,000 Rif warriors.

In May of 1924, the French Army fortified the Oureghla River. They worried the Rif War would spill over into its African territory. Eleven months later, the Rif decided to attack the French lines, and show the European powers their true strength. Within two weeks, 40 of the 66 French outposts along the river were stormed and abandoned. The result was 1,000 French soldiers dead, 3,700 wounded, and another 1,000 missing. The loss represented a 20% casualty rate of all French forces in the Rif.

France did not take lightly to the attack by the Rif. They intervened on the side of Spain, and deployed 300,000 well trained and modern equipped soldiers from Metropolitan North Africa, Senegalese and Foreign Legion troops.

File:Landing of Alhucemas.jpg
Spanish troops landing in Alhucemas Bay, 8 May 1925. 
The Final attack of the War came on May 8, 1925. The French and Spanish mounted a 123,000 strong fighting force, supported by 150 aircraft against a force of 12,000 Rifians. As in many Colonial wars, superior numbers and technology would favour the Colonial powers. The French troops attached from the South, while the Spanish force attached the Alhucemas Bay, employing tanks (M48 Patton) the  in an amphibious assault for the first time. The Spanish attack coming from the north, would pin the Rifians between two massive armies. After a year, and a continuing bitter resistance, el-Krim surrendered to French authorities, and Spanish Morocco was re-established.

Remembering History - The Rif War, 1920-1926