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Rif War, Interwar Period
Amphibious landing of Alhucemas.jpg
The Spanish troops landing at Al Hoceima Bay on September 8, 1925
Date 1920 - 1926
Location Spanish Morocco
Result Spanish-French victory
Dissolution of the Republic of the Rif
Spain Spain
France France
Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg Republic of the Rif
Spain Manuel Silvestre
Spain Dámaso Berenguer
Spain José Millán Astray
Spain Miguel Primo de Rivera
France Philippe Pétain
France Hubert Lyautey
Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg Abd el-Krim
465,000 soldiers 15,000 irregulars
Casualties and losses
31,000 dead or wounded 15,400 dead or wounded

The Rif War of 1920, also called the Second Moroccan War, was fought between Spain (later assisted by France) and the Moroccan Rif Berbers.


Early stages

As an outcome of the Treaty of Fez (1912) Spain gained possession of the lands around Melilla and Ceuta. In 1920 the Spanish commissioner, General Dámaso Berenguer, decided to conquer the eastern territory from the Jibala tribes. This, however, did not succeed, and in 1921 Spanish troops suffered a momentous defeat — known in Spain as the disaster of Annual — by the forces of Abd el-Krim, the leader of the Rif tribes. 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.

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 comprised 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.[1].

Spanish forces

Spanish troops in Morocco were initially comprised mainly of Metropolitan conscripts. While capable of enduring much hardship they were poorly trained and supplied, with widespread corruption reported amongst the officer corps. Accordingly much reliance was placed on the limited number of professional units comprising the Spanish "Army of Africa". Since 1911 these had included regiments of Moorish Regulares.

The Spanish army had adopted much from the French Foreign Legion and, as a result, a Spanish equivalent, the Tercio de Extranjeros ("Regiment of Foreigners", generally known in English as the "Spanish Legion"), was formed in 1920. The regiment's second commander was General Francisco Franco. Less than 25% of this "Foreign Legion" were, in fact, foreign. They were harshly disciplined and acquired a reputation for ruthless behaviour.

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 [2].


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 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 was finally retaken.

Ruins of a Spanish camp in the village of Tanaqob, kilometers away from Chefchaouen.


  1. ^ "Rebels in the Rif" pages 149-152 David S. Woolman, Stanford University Press 1968.
  2. ^ "French Foreign Legion 1914-1945, Martin Windrow, ISBN 1 85532 761 9

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