1912 - 1927

 The Rif War 

Agencia EFE

At the dawn of the 20th century the interests of the European colonial powers (France, Germany and United Kingdom) clashed in Morocco. In 1906 the Conference of Algeciras was held to solve the problems and the Maghrebi country kept a formal independence under French supervision. Spain obtained its aspirations over the area of the Rif, which was organized as a Spanish protectorate, which became official in the Fez Treaty of 1912. The city of Tangier remained under an international administration.

The Protectorate:

The Spanish positions in the north of Africa go back to the 15th century and the 16th, when the Crown of Castile took possession of Ceuta and Melilla, among other places. From 19th century on, the weakness of the sultanate of Morocco caused the intervention – military and administrative - of the European powers, among them Spain. After the battle of Castillejos against Moroccan troops in 1860, Spain signed with Morocco the Wad Ras Treaty, by which the territories of Ceuta and Melilla were extended among other compensations. Far from reaching lasting peace, revolts and violence outbreaks continued to happen. In 1906, France and Spain definitely divide Morocco in influence areas via the Algeciras Conference. Spain established its protectorate in the Fez Treaty (1912), which lasted until 1956.

Officer rises in an aerostatic balloon to make a reconnaissance over the village of Nador.

A cometa Caquot “B” balloon rises to practice a reconnaissance over Nador. (Undated, around 1921)

The Protectorate: Towards the Annual Disaster
In 1912 the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco becomes official; an area in the north side of the country was given by the French colonial administration. That area included the mountainous region of the Rif (northeast of the country) and the neighboring region of Yebala, which revolted against the colonizers. Violent outbreaks had begun to happen years before, when the Spanish troops arrived. To subdue the rebels, the then President Antonio Maura’s Spanish Government ordered sending more troops to that inhospitable front line; some were voluntary and others, conscripted by force –especially among the lower classes- what caused unrest in the population, as was reflected in the Tragic Week in Barcelona (1909). The inefficiency of those troops poorly directed ended in the Annual Disaster, in July 1921, where the Spanish losses were in the thousands and the general who commanded them, Manuel Fernández Silvestre, died in the fight. The Rif leader Abdelkrim El Jatabi declared the Rif Republic. The conflict reflected the lacks of the Spanish army, with poorly organized and motivated troops, as demonstrated the report of the general Juan Picasso (“Picasso File”), and gave origin to the creation of the Spanish Legion in 1920. Besides, the awful political management of those events favored the instauration of the dictatorship of general Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930).

Hotchkiss Machine Gun Model 14 of the Ceuta Regulars shoots at the enemy from the hills of Nador.

MIGUEL PRIMO DE RIVERA. Spanish dictator between 1923 and 1930, he was the highest ranking officer in the Spanish counteroffensive to the uprising of the War in Morocco. Born in 1870 in Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz), he joined the army in his youth and among other destinations he was in Cuba, Philippines and Morocco, where he took active part in the Rif War. Africanist soldier (like Generals Francisco Franco or José Sanjurjo) he was promoted to General – the first of his promotion to reach that rank- and was, among other appointments, Captain General of Valencia, Madrid and Catalonia, where he had to fight the ongoing social upheaval. When he lost the support of King Alfonso XIII and of great part of the Generals, he resigned of his post in January 1930 and exiled to Paris, where he died on March the 16th.

JOSÉ SANJURJO, Marquis of the Rif, was the general in charge of executing the Alhucemas Landing, the Spanish offensive against the Rif’s revolt after the Annual Disaster in 1922. Born in Pamplona (Navarra) in 1872, took part in the Cuba War and when it ended took part in several campaigns of the Morocco War. He became commander of Melilla in 1921 and began the counteroffensive since Alhucemas to subdue the Rif’s leader Abdelkrim El Jatabi. His military success made him be appointed High Commissioner of Spain in Morocco. Besides in his honor, the city of Alhucemas was named Villa Sanjurjo during the Protectorate. Sanjurjo had several important roles during the monarchy of Alfonso XIII, the Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, which he supported, and in the first part of the 2nd Republic. He promoted a coup against the Republic that didn’t turn out well. He was incarcerated, saw his death penalty commuted and exiled in Portugal. Again he took active part in the coup of July 1936, but died in an airplane accident in Estoril (Portugal) when he headed to take the command of the rebellion.

MANUEL FERNÁNDEZ SILVESTRE, General of the Army, he was General Commandant of Ceuta (1919) and Melilla (1920-1921) in the Rif War and main responsible for the Annual Disater. Son of a soldier, he was born in Cuba in 1871. During his military studies he met in the Toledo Academy with Dámaso Berenguer, later High Commissioner of Spain in Morocco. He was in Cuba and, after several posts he arrived in 1904 to Melilla, where he would meet later the Rif leader Abdelkrim El Jatabi. The ongoing revolts of the natives from 1911 on helped him prove with certain success his military skills. He was appointed field assistant of King Alfonso XIII but, with the escalation of the Moroccan conflict, he was sent as maximum military responsible of Ceuta, with Berenguer as maximum authority in the Spanish Protectorate. A year after he transferred to lead the seat of Melilla and began the invasion of the Rif to end the insurrection. However his negligent act of leaving the rear unprotected and the good direction of the leader Abdelkrim El Jatabi and the guerrilla of the Rif tribes caused the Annual Disaster in 1922 where even General Silvestre died.

DÁMASO BERENGUER FUSTÉ was a soldier and politician that led the next to last government of the Alfonso XIII monarchy. Born in San Juan de los Remedios (Cuba) in 1873 he made military career. In 1911 he was entrusted with the command of the forces of Melilla, whom he reorganized. Promoted to general, he was War minister in 1918 and later on, High Commissioner of Spain in Morocco, the highest rank in the Spanish protectorate. His good performance was cut by the acting of his subordinate, general Manuel Fernández Silvestre, in the Annual Disaster of 1921. Indicted and separated from office, he received amnesty and was rehabilitated when the coup of Miguel Primo de Rivera. In 1930 he was appointed president of the Government of Spain by King Alfonso XIII, but his rule only lasted a year. With the 2nd Republic, in 1931, he was imprisoned for his role in the Dictatorship. Received amnesty he took a secondary role in the Spanish political life. He died in 1953.

ABDELKRIM EL JATABI (Muhammad Ibn Abd el-Karim El-Khattabi) was the leader of the Rif revolt against the Spanish and French Protectorates. Born in 1882 in the town of Axdir, in the province of Alhucemas he studied Islamic Law in the Fez University and received classes in Salamanca. He worked for the Spanish colonial administration; he was a journalist in “El Telegrama del Rif” and even was Islamic Judge (“cadi”) in Melilla before being leader of the Rif. His opposition to the protectorate made him rebel against the Spanish and French administrations. He leaded the Riffs in the attacks which ended in the Annual Disaster with the complete defeat of the Spanish army. He proclaimed the Rif Republic, where he continued to harass the Spanish protectorate, and later the French. His defeat after the Spanish offensive that followed the Alhucemas landing, decided him to surrender to the French in May 1926. Exiled to the Reunion Island (France), he escaped and took refuge in Egypt where he promoted the liberation of Maghreb, though he never returned to his country. He died there in 1963.

AHMED EL RAISUNI (Ahmed El Raisuli) was another great fighter in the Rif War with Abdelkrim El Jatabi. Born in Tétouan (Morocco) around 1870. Known as the “sultan of the mountains” during the first stage of his life he was a criminal, pirate and an outlaw. Leader of the tribes of Yebala, a northern region that extends from Tánger to the Rif (east), he fought the Spanish colonial administration. His bloody revolt ended in 1913 when his men were defeated by the Spanish colonel Manuel Fernández Silvestre, who also directed the Spanish troops that were defeated in the Annual Disaster. Following his frequent capacity of adaptation he submitted to the Spanish Authority and was even a chief of Spanish group ion the war of the Rif in the 1920s. He was defeated and captured by the followers of Abdelkrim El Jatabi. He died in 1925.

Church of Nador that served as stronghold for the Guardia Civil in the first days of the defense and was used as a munitions depot.

Flour and electricity factory where the Spanish Forces defended themselves heroically. In the wall you can see the signs of the rifle and cannon shots fired by the Riffs. (Original footnote)

Member of the II Flag of the Legion, Duke of Montemar, in the turret of the position of Tauima.

Fortified position of the Uixán Mines, which has been recovered by the Spanish troops.

Trench built by harkas (militia) of the rebel cabila (tribes) placed in the railroad to Sebt that had been taken by the Riffs and was reconquered by the bayonet by the Spanish troops, from which they shoot at the enemy.

The Melilla Regulars place the Spanish flag over the peak of Basbel, during occupation of Gurugú mountain.

War correspondents place the Spanish flag in the Kolla peak, during the military operations to recover Mount Gurugú.

The soldiers raise the flag over the walls of the citadel of Zeluán, captured by the column of Berenguer.

Arrival of the troops in Mount Arruit. In the foreground a wrecked campaign kitchen. Behind, the position where was the column of General Navarro. You can see the corpses of the Spanish officers and soldiers murdered when they left the position.

The High Commissioner, General Dámaso Berenguer – with a suit of djellaba cloth-, visits Mount Arruit where the men of the Navarro column were killed or imprisoned after the Annual Disaster.

Entry to the encampment of Mount Arruit where the column of General Navarro took refuge in their flight from Annual.

Officers and soldiers from the Legion, Native Police and Regulars in the fortified position of Ras Medua after being stormed by the forces under the command of General Cavalcanti. Among the military there are two civilians, possibly journalists.

General Cavalcanti (with a cane), General Commander of Melilla, directs the operations for the take of Harcha, in company of his Chief of Staff among them Colonel Despujols (at his left).

Mortar battery of the instruction group shoots at the village of Harcha, in Beni Bu Ifrur.

The regulars harass the rebels that made resistance in Zalamina.

King’s Regiment encampment in Tauriart Hamed.

Caid, Ben Che-lal who kept prisoner General Navarro, submits to the authority of Colonel Riquelme in Zaio. The Rif leader hands over the campaign binoculars of Navarro, as well as other jewels deposited by the imprisoned officers when they went to Axdir.

The guerilla advances under enemy fire to occupy the house of Had Hamar.

Notable Caid, Abd el-Kader with a group of his Harka members, at the foot of the Spanish flag, shortly after it has been placed in the Iguerman plateau, which after being occupied allows the domination of the whole cabila of the Beni Sicar.

The War Minister, Juan de la Cierva and the High Commissioner General Dámaso Berenguer, with their entourages, in front of the grave of Monte Arruit, where rest the corpses of 3.000 Spanish soldiers.

Military seaplane type SIAI S. 16 from the Los Alcazares (Murcia) wing that has arrived Mar Chica (Melilla), where it will serve.

General Sanjurjo (c), after flying over the frontline in a seaplane, during a visit to the Atalayon air base. At his right, Captain Ramón Franco. Sanjurjo took part as an aerial observer in some of the flights where they tossed ammunition, food and ice bars to the sieged Spanish troops.

General Commandant of Melilla, José Sanjurjo (3l, sitting), flanked by Colonels José Riquelme (2l) and Ignacio Despujols (4l) and the officers of his Chief of Staff observe the movements of the Spanish troops to subjugate the cabila of the Beni Said.

Interview of Luis de Oteyza to Abdelkrim El Jatabi
After the military disaster in Annual, where nearly 10.000 soldiers were killed and several thousands were made prisoners, the Spanish journalist Luis de Oteyza made then one of the great exclusives that still are remembered. Director of the “La Libertad” newspaper, in August 1922 Oteyza managed to reach the headquarters of the Rif leader Abdelkrim El Jatabi in Axdir, north of Morocco. Oteyza made an exclusive interview to Abdelkrim that caused great upheaval in Spain because the rebel chief, that had just proclaimed the Rif Republic, was considered in Spain as public enemy number one. However Oteyza, who went with two photographers, is considered a pioneer of investigation journalism. According to reporter Eduardo del Campo: “Oteyza proposes doing one of the great missions of journalism: telling what he says, how he is, what he does, who is this man that our government and most of our society consider the incarnation of evil”. Exiled after the Spanish Civil War, Oteyza died in Caracas in 1961.

Portrait of the Rif leader Abd-El-Krim during his interview with Luis de Oteyza, director of the newspaper “La Libertad”

Colonel Silverio Araujo and General Felipe Navarro (sitting right to left), prisoners of Abd El Krim in the house the Rif leader possesses in the city of Axdir, pose for the photographer after being interviewed by reporter Luis Oteyza (up 3r) special war correspondent in the area. .

Front pages of the newspapers “La Voz” and “La Libertad” and inside photograph of the weekly “Mundo Gráfico”, of August 1922, where was published the interview with the Riffian secessionist leader Mohamed Abdelkrim, granted exclusively to the Spanish reporter Luis de Oteyza, who managed to get in the Riffian leader encampment with the photographers Alfonso Sánchez Portela (Alfonsito), and José María Díaz Casariego (Pepe Díaz). The interview and the photographs were a great journalism success after beating the censorship of those times. The EFE library has several of the original glass plates of the interview, as well as the greatest archive of Díaz Casariego that includes around 3,000 photograph plates and negatives.

Sharif of Yebala El Raisuni, with his son Mohamed El Jaled El Raisuni, in his tent in Mount Buhaxen, after being subjugated the territory of Yebala by the Spanish troops in the campaign of May of this year.

The prisoners eat aboard the “Antonio López” that leads them to Melilla, after being liberated by the Riffs.

Multiple engines Farman F.60 Goliath, the first chemical bomber of the Spanish Air Force. The first unit was acquired in 1923, year that the gas factory in Melilla starts working. It’s capable of tossing 4 to 6 bombs of 100 kilograms of mustard gas. Chemical bombings over the north of Morocco lasted until July 1925.

Charge of a squadron of the Spanish cavalry.

The Superior Commissioner Luis Aizpuru Mondéjar (c, facing the other way) speaks with Muley Ahmed el Raisuni (c) Sharif of Yebala, shortly before beginning the Sidi Musa interview, to try to get el Raisuni to accept the authority of Majzen and of the Jalifa. Facing the other way, the interpreter of the High Commission Clemente Cerdeira Fernández.

Directory president, Miguel Primo de Rivera with the son of the Raisuni, during the visit of the Spanish dignitary to the palace of the Sharif of Yebala in Arcila.

Lieutenant Agustín Hidalgo de Quintana (l) poses with another comrade besides a Havilland D-H4 airplane. Lieutenant Quintana took three shots while he piloted his apparatus in the battle of the Kert Pass, having to land violently. Hidalgo de Quintana was the pioneer in a system of low flying attack called “Spanish Style Flight”, used initially to toss supplies.

A supply column of the Spanish army heads to the Gorgues mountain range during the Xauen campaign to take water and food to the Spanish positions under siege by the enemy harkas.

Regulars of the column of general Castro Girona in a machine gun position with a Hotchkiss, fire upon the enemy that opposes the advance of the troops towards the Gorgues Mountain Range.

Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Franco (l) plans the next moves of his column, which has the goal of taking supplies to the besieged positions of Abada and Tacbadut, in the campaign for the liberation of Xauen.

Spanish Troops in the in the Morro Nuevo rock in the second phase of the landing operations in Alhucemas.

General Primo de Rivera and the High Commissioner of Morocco, General Sanjurjo, inspect the troops, once finished the operations in Alhucemas.

On September the 3rd 1925 the Riffs, commanded by El Jeriro, attack Kudia Tahar, placed in the Tétouan defense line, to threaten the capital of the Protectorate and avoid the Alhucemas landing, from where reinforcements are sent. The forces under the command of General Sousa liberate the position on day 13. In the image, evacuation of wounded in the line of Ben Karrich.

The military directorate president, Miguel Primo de Rivera (in the center, with the Isabel II barrack hat and a cigar in the hand) poses with the military commands during the first operative phase of the Alhucemas landing. Among other commands there are: Air Force General, Jorge Soriano (2ndr), Division General José Sanjurjo (with Primo de Rivera, with the hands in his back) Brigade General Leopoldo Saro (5thr, with a broad brimmed soft hat). Among them is also a French Chief of Staff Officer. The image was taken over the deck of the “Alfonso XIII” battleship.

The recapture: The Alhucemas landing
The army of the Rif’s leader Abdelkrim El Jatabi harassed each time more the Spanish troops, even outside of the Rif, after the Annual Disaster in July 1921, and even laid siege on Melilla, one of the North-African cities under Spanish sovereignty from before the Protectorate. However with the fall of the city of Chauen and the siege of Tétouan, the Spanish army started a counteroffensive that allowed, from Melilla ahead, recovering part of the lost terrain. Several enclaves were controlled again by Spain between September 1921 and January 1922. Special relevance had the military victory after the Alhucemas Landing, in September 1925, which consolidated the Spanish presence in the North of Africa. That joint operation of the Army and the Navy with the support of France is considered the first aero-naval landing of history. It was directed by the Captain General Miguel Primo de Rivera and executed by General José Sanjurjo, and among other commands, was then Colonel Francisco Franco. The fall of the Rif and the end of the insurrection of Abdelkrim ended a war unappreciated by the Spanish society and promoted the beginning of the Spanish photojournalism.

The crew of a French seaplane Farman “Goliath” wait to be rescued after their plane being downed during the air support operations to the Alhucemas Landing.

Francisco Franco, General Captain and Head of State of Spain, leaded the coup of July 1936 against the government of the 2nd Republic, which led into a civil war. With the triumph of the uprising he imposed a dictatorship that lasted until his death in November 1975. Born in Ferrol (A Coruña) in 1892 he took the military career. He was posted in Morocco and took part in the Rif War where he reached the rank of general with 33 years only due to war achievements. He had reached in 1912 and soon took part in battles, giving proof of courage and military competence. He became friends with José Millán Astray, who founded the Legion, the Tercio of Foreigners similar to the French Legion and who appointed Franco as leader of its first battalion (flag in the Legion jargon). As a strike force, the Legion, with Franco heading it, showed courage and bellicosity in the help to the city of Melilla during the Annual Disaster. That leadership allowed him first to be promoted and later, when he took command of the Tercio. Franco starred in other military successes, like his labor in the Alhucemas Landing, what increased his prestige and gave him new promotions until becoming general. As the maximum representative of the so called Africanist military, he headed later the rebellion against the Republic.

Chief of the Legion, Colonel Francisco Franco, (r), with Lieutenant Colonel Juan de Liniers(l), go about the most advanced posts in the Malmusi mountain range, during the operations after the Alhucemas Landing.

Colonel Millán Astray moments before being wounded in front of the hill Dar Rai, transmitting orders during the advance of his column formed by four flags of the Legion and two battalions of the Ceuta regiment. The operations had as a goal taking the peaks of Mount Yebel Bu Zeitum, where the Riffs had installed one cannon to bomb Tétouan.

Queen Victoria Eugenia reads a speech in front of Colonel Eugenio Sanz de Larín, chief of the Legion, in the ceremony of giving the first flag to this unit. Assistants Juan O’Donnell y Vargas, duke of Tétouan (2r), minister of War in the Directory; The King’s Military Room Chief, general Dámaso Berenguer, and other distinguished officers in the Moroccan campaigns like Millán Astray and Francisco Franco.

Alfonso XIII with Jalifa Muley Hassam, watch the troops parade after the ceremony of giving the first flag to the Legion.

Alfonso XIII with Superior Commissioner, General Sanjurjo(l) check from a high point the construction work in the future harbor of Alhucemas.

Agencia EFE
Credits: Story

Agencia EFE S.A.U.

Coordinator: Luis de León
Have participated: José Antonio González, Sixto Martínez Barco, Jaime Temprano, Rober García and Raúl Lorca.
Department of Documentation and Graphic Archives


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