Small Wars Lecture Series
5 Sep - The Battle of Annual, Dr. William Dean
4 Oct - Foreign Internal Defense, Lt Col Greg
18 Oct - The Battles of Fallujah, Mr. Bing West
14 Nov - Principles of Counterinsurgency, Lt Gen
David Petraeus
10 Jan - Eating Soup with a Knife, Lt Col John Nagl
28 Feb - Globalizing Insurgency, Dr. Lewis Griffith
A Forgotten Small War:
Spain, the Battle of Annual,
and the Rif War 1921-1927
William Dean
Small Wars Lecture Series
September 5, 2006
Game Plan
Origins of Spain’s Colonial Conquest of Morocco
Spanish Colonial Army on the Eve of Annual
Brothers Abdel Krim
Disaster of Annual
Consequences of Annual
Coalition War against the Rif Republic
Secret History of WMD
Army of Africa and the Spanish Civil War
A History of Colonial War
1895-98 Spanish colonial
army fought insurgents
in Cuba, Philippines
Spanish army in Cuba
Some of the veterans
would fight in Morocco
Very brutal campaigns
with extensive use of
concentration camps
Spanish colonial army
did poorly in symmetric
war against U.S.
Defeat of 1898 was a
trauma for Spanish
Early Moroccan Campaigns
Sultan Abdel Aziz
1908 - Spain invaded
At this time French
advancing in southern
two-thirds of Colony
Made possible by 1906
Great Power conference in Algeciras
Technically, Spanish
working for Moroccan
sultan Abdel Aziz who
could not control area
Early Opponents and Cultural Context
El Raisuni
Most inhabitants in
Spanish zone were Berbers
Two early opponents were
El Rogui and El Raisuni
Spanish believed they were
spreading western
Spanish mining interests
became very important
Spanish disrupted local
Spanish regarded French
as competitors
The State of the Early Spanish Army
in Morocco
Spanish conscripts
Army composed of
Spanish conscripts with
minimal training, poor
Top heavy with officers
Poor maps
Officers failed to learn
from 1890s counterinsurgencies
Inappropriate tactics
against Rifians
The Birth of the Army of Africa
Barranco del Lobo aftermath
At Barranco del Lobo (July
1909) a Spanish column
was decimated with over a
thousand casualties
Led to campaign of
revenge - birth of Army of
Soon units of Muslim
regulars were created
1909-11 the Spanish
expanded their holdings
At the same time the
French expanded their
control in Morocco
Spanish Military Policy in Morocco
Capital established in Tetuan
Tried to get cooperation of local
Aerodrome at Tetuan, 1913
Halfhearted war with El Raisuni
Many bribes were made to
Moroccan elites
Spanish Army in charge of daily
security ops, contacts with tribes,
collection of taxes, law and order
Few civic works or improvement
of local economy or
Spanish military govt told
soldiers to respect local culture
but this was rarely obeyed
Morocco during World War I
French Foreign Legion sentry,
Atlas Mountains
During WWI German
agents try to provide
money and weapons to
Moroccans in French
and Spanish Morocco
France barely held
onto colony during war
In 1917 Spanish govt
changes system of pay
and promotion angered Army of
Abdel Krim Family Cooperates with
Sidi Abdel Krim el Khattabi influential judge from Ajdir
Received pension from
Spanish, collaborated with
them along with two sons
Brothers Mhamed (L) and
Mohammed (R) Abdel Krim
Pragmatic collaboration
Elder son Mohammed
worked as journalist and
judge while younger brother
studied in Madrid
During war Mohammed
imprisoned by Spanish, who
poisoned father in 1920
Spanish Army on the Eve of Anual
Budget for campaign
Spanish Foreign Legion
created in 1920
General Damaso Berenguer
Jose Millan Astray
Many problems that had
existed in 1909 still existed
Many Spanish evaded call
Overall commander was
General Berenguer commander at Annual was
General Silvestre
Major Problems of the Spanish Army
Poor IPB - unaware that
Krim brothers formed an
army against them
Poor artillery and machine
guns, shortage of ammo
Spanish forces spread out
over eastern front in a
series of block houses
Rif region - northern Morocco
As late as May 1921 Krim
promised loyalty to Spain
Posts were far from water
and hard to supply
Silvestre overconfident due
to previous experience
The Spanish Offensive
June 1921 Spanish front in
eastern Morocco stretched
80 km and was 92 km from
major city of Melilla
Spanish gunners firing on Moroccans
Huge logistical problems
Regardless, Silvestre
launched ambitious
offensive with insufficient
troops, equipment, logistics
No reserve near front line
Spanish advance consisted
of 3-pronged attack near Al
Hoceima (heart of Abdel
Krim’s territory)
The Capture of Abbaran (June 1)
Mt Abbaran
Silvestre warned by intel that
Beni Urriaguel tribe was
massing for offensive
Despite this Spanish set up
exposed post on Mt Abbaran
Beni Urriaguel cut barbed
wire and rushed the position
Native police turned on
Spanish comrades and shot
Defeat important in
psychological terms, many
chiefs were under great
pressure not to collaborate
Advance to Igueriben
Despite setback at Abarran
Silvestre continued
advance, built 4 new
One on Mt Igueriben 6 km
south of Annual
On July 17 Abdel Krim’s
forces attacked, besieged
position for four days
Water supply for 300 men
4.5 km away
Igueriben troops
Garrison's water ran out,
men drank urine or ink
Mule carcasses exploded
from heat, artillery shells
ran out
Silvestre’s forces could
not relieve them
Garrison given surrender
order, but charged
Riffians or committed
Nowhere to Hide at Annual
After Igueriben, Silvestre
was over-extended, had to
retreat back to Melilla
Line of retreat cut off,
looked for airpower help
Spanish defenders
Not enough aircraft
Wanted to retreat to the
coast but navy could not
Berenguer could not
organize rescue force fast
enough and was fighting a
campaign in the west
Failure of Joint Ops
The Disaster of Annual
Silvestre could not decide
whether to retreat or dig in
at Annual
Quarreled with officers;
no unity of command
Meanwhile columns of
Rifians were advancing
on the camp
Many Regulares turned on
their Spanish officers
Panic seized officers and
Artillery pieces abandoned
Legion's makeshift defenses
Collapse of Leadership
General don Manuel
Fernández Silvestre
Officers tore off their
insignia or fled in cars
filled with luggage
Silvestre went to his
tent and committed
Weapons, munitions,
money abandoned
Complete breakdown
of C2
Massacre at Izumar Pass
Mutilated Spanish corpses
Largest slaughter of
Spanish troops took
place at Izumar Pass
Women, children took
part in the slaughter
Spanish bodies
horribly mutilated
Hundreds of prisoners
taken in the retreat
Retreat to Melilla
Spanish column retreats
Spanish soldiers from
intermediate positions
joined retreat
Cavalry regiments
protected retreat
Largest munitions dump
in the Eastern blown up
Rifian guerillas reached
Gurugu mountains and
began shelling Melilla
4,000 Spanish soldiers
spread out between
Annual and Melilla and
1,800 in garrison
Monte Arruit
Spanish re-enforcements sent to
Melilla after campaign against El
Spanish corpses
at Monte Arruit
Legion forces led by Franco
Rifians besiege 3,000 Spanish troops
under Gen Navarro's command
Abdel Krim shelled fort with
artillery captured at Annual
Aircraft tried to drop supplies (ice)
Agreeing to terms, garrison
marched out of base and was
Last Spanish position outside of
The Cost of Annual
Annual memorial
Disaster lasted from
July 22nd till August 9th
Over 10,000 Spanish
troops were killed
Abdel Krim captured
rifles, radios, trucks,
aircraft, artillery
Worst Spanish colonial
Why the Disaster of Annual Happened
Spanish Regulares
Poor discipline caused by
poor pay and training
Failure to link training,
equipment and strategy
Poor intelligence led to
underestimating enemy
Misuse of Regulares
Poor military leadership
Africanistas blamed
civilian govt back home
Poor communications and
The Significance of Annual
Army of Africa, and briefly
civilian elites, focused on
Media now supported
Battle radicalized
Rif state banknote - never issued
Consequences for
Spanish Civil War
Middle class young men
now volunteered for duty
in Morocco
Abdel Krim now emerged
as leader of Rifians
Annual Compared to other Western
Military Disasters
Annual was one of the
worst defeats for a Western
power with profound
Custer's Crow scouts
Britain - Isandhlwana
(1879), Majuba Hill
(1880), Maiwand (1880)
U.S. - Custer’s Last Stand
Italy - Adowa (1895)
Major defeats caused by
racial arrogance, poor IPB
None had the long lasting
consequences of Anual
The Forging of a Colonial Army
Alfonso XIII General
Aviation Badge (1913-1931)
Defeat of Annual led to
creation of an army within
an army
Distinct elites within Army
of Africa
Pilots, Officers of the
Legion and Regulares
Army now committed to
total war - less interested
in spreading Western
The Army of Abdel Krim
Abdel Krim’s army did not
capture Melilla because
grain harvest took priority
Set up sophisticated
system of command and
Moroccan soldiers
Spanish used SIGINT
Division between people
of the mountains and flat
Two different languages:
Arabic and Shelja
Obtained weapons from
Army of Abdel Krim (cont)
At its peak - 90,000 soldiers
Capable of symmetric and
asymmetric warfare
Wanted to create a
Republic of the Rif
Wanted to modernize Rif
3rd International - Lenin speaking
Used secular and
religious motivations
Worked with labor unions
in Spain and France
Received rhetorical
support from Comintern
A Strategy of Peseta Diplomacy and
Aerial Bombardment
Farman Goliath
Counter-offensive was
launched (reconquista)
160,000 troops sent to
Morocco and 700 million
pesetas spent…only 35 km
of territory reconquered
Army morale sapped by
investigation commissions
Some tribes paid off to
join Spanish and more
aircraft sent to Morocco
More emphasis on
Spanish Airpower
First air squadron arrived
in Morocco in 1913
Defeat of Annual
increased reliance of
Spanish developed
systematic air campaign
ops between 1921-25
de Havilland 4 - RCAF 1921
Initially used for ISR
Learned tactics from RAF
Over 150 aircraft
De Havilland 4s, Bristol
fighters, French Farman
Goliaths, German
Spanish Airpower (continued)
Spanish planes dropped
mustard gas, incendiaries, HE
Bristol fighter crash
Psychological impact
Targets included souks,
livestock, Abdel Krim's HQ
Primitive bombing equipment
Accuracy not important
Planes had to swoop low
Effective Rifian AAA led to
loss of several aircraft
Aircraft used in re-supply of
encircled posts
Aircraft used for CSAR
Spanish Pilots
Capitan Antonio Arias
Privileged elite
Anarchists of Spanish
army; each flew as it
suited him best
Air training school
with tennis courts and
swimming pools
Pilots more politically
progressive than
officers in Legion or
A Secret History of Chemical Warfare
After Annual mustard and phosgene
fired by artillery, dropped by aircraft
Force enhancer and adoption of total
war; WMD part of strategy
Spanish bought WMD from Germans
Mustard gas
production facility, 1921
Operational problems using gas
German technicians built, worked in
gas factories in Spain and Morocco
Created future bond between
Africanistas and German Army
(Condor legion)
Spanish army did not have gas masks
Abdel Krim tried to use WMD
Other Nations and Chemical Warfare
1916 - France used gas in Tunisia
Civilian targets, use of goums
and aircraft
France used gas in Rif war
Italians used gas in Libyan
pacification campaigns
“I do not understand this squeamishness
about the use of gas, I am strongly in
favor of using poison gas against
uncivilized tribes” - Winston Churchill
British used gas against Kurds
and in Iraq in 1920s
After Versailles gas not allowed
against Europeans but could be
employed in Africa, Asia
French goums
Primo de Rivera and Morocco
Primo de Rivera, 1923
1923 - Primo de Rivera
seized control of govt;
stayed in control until 1931
Government =
constitutional monarchy,
but Alphonso XIII was a
de Rivera initially against
Moroccan campaign, but
became supporter in 1924
Ended trials of
Strategic Background of a Coalition War
Spanish consolidated
position in fall of 1924 at
Heavy loss of life and
By April 1925 Abdel Krim
captured El Raisuni; freed
him for offensive against
Brother tried to buy
weapons in London and
met with Druze leaders
The Franco-Spanish War
In April 1925 Abdel Krim
attacks French Morocco
Fez, 1926
Confident after fighting
French blockhouses in his
43 out of 66 posts fall - Krim
comes within 20 km of Fez
French bring in 120,000
troops under Petain
In July rivals become
coalition partners
Abdel Krim’s strategic
mistake godsend to Spanish
Al Hoceima Amphibious Landing
September 1925
Spanish landing at Cebadilla Beach
near al Hoceima, 10 Sep 1925
Sep - coalition fleet and force
attacks Abdel Krim near HQ
Shelling from fleet and
bombardment form the air
First modern air/sea amphibious
Abdel Krim prepared - good intel
Rifians attack other end of
protectorate, force Spanish to
weaken forces there
Rifians sink Spanish warship
with artillery
Numerous operational problems
landing Spanish troops
Rifians use IEDs on beach
Al Hoceima (continued)
Spanish fort Peñon de Alhuceimas
at al Hoceima
Rifian assaults against
Spaniards on beach failed
Spanish able to establish
In October 90,000 French
and Spanish troops
attacked Ajdir
French changed their
opinion of Spanish Army
Army of Africa had
dramatically improved
since Annual
Capable of combined ops
and air/land ops
The End of Abdel Krim
Nov 1925 to Apr 1926
French and Spanish forces
stayed in winter quarters
Spanish FT-17 tanks
Limited air ops
Krim could not find new
weapons, army melted
Caught between French
and Spanish pincer attacks
May 1926 - surrendered to
Minor fighting continued
until 1927
The Legacy of Abdel Krim
Moroccan soldiers
Exiled to Mauritius
Supported Arab
nationalist causes
Escaped to Cairo,
encouraged Arab soldiers
to desert French Army in
Indochina 1946-54
Supported FLN in Algeria
Abdel Krim is one of the
great non-Western
Domestic Impact of the Rif War in
Spain and France
Sultan El-Atrash starts revolution
in 1928 against the French
Paris labor unions marched
in solidarity with Rifians
First time Left overtly
sympathized with thirdworld insurgency
Druze fight insurgency in
Syria in first coordinated
CGT in Madrid leads antiwar marches
Many soldiers oppose war
Rif War leads to greater
political polarization
Long Term Impact on Spain
1938 Teruel battle, Franco with 
Lt Col Medrano and Maj Barroso
Army of Africa becomes
radicalized, embraces fascism or
Franco becomes major figure
When Spain becomes republic
Left antagonizes Africanistas
Africanistas launch campaign of
reconquista in 1936 to save Spain
from Communism and anarchy
Left becomes new Rifians
Germans aid Franco with aircraft
Spanish soldiers will fight on
Russian front (Blue Division)
The Rif War and Military History
Rif campaigns see change in
colonial war from fighting for
hearth and home to ideologically
motivated insurgency
Small arms trafficking
Dominant pattern until 1991
First insurgency where opponent
has high tech equipment
1st time counterinsurgent powers
have to develop air/land operations
Armor used for 1st time
SIGINT becomes factor
Arms trafficking important
Relevance for Today
There is a connection between strategy,
training, and equipment
Airpower is a blunt instrument in COIN
Systematic violation of human rights by the
military can have long term political
consequences and radicalize a military
Western militaries that underestimate nonwestern foes flirt with disaster
Understanding an opponents’ culture is a
necessary ingredient for victory

A Forgotten Small War: Spain, the Battle of Annual, and