Timeline for the Second Rif War 1909

Although known at the time as the Rif War it was actually the Second Rif War. I have included earlier events to set the context. Also see the separate timelines for the First Rif War and Third Rif War.

On 9 Jul 1909 six European railway workers were killed by Riffi tribesmen (Fleming, 1991). And as a result the Melillan garrison was increased from 5,000 men to 22,000 in preparation for an offensive. The Spanish army were untrained, ill-equipped, and devoid of basic maps, however, by Jan 1910 the Spanish had subdued some of the more easterly tribes, and pushed out their Melilla enclave to encompass the area from Cape Tres Forcas to the southern inlets of Mar Chica. However, this was achieved at the cost of 2,517 casualties. All the Spanish forces involved were Spanish conscripts; at this stage Spain had neither professional troops, nor indigenous troops under arms.

1893-94 First Rif War

See First Rif War

1898 Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American War lasted from Apr to Dec 1898. The USA conquered Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, which upset the Spanish military quite a lot and turned Spanish eyes to conquest in nearby Morocco.


1900: Sultan Abd-el-Aziz

Ba Ahmed died and the 20 year old Abd-el-Aziz became Sultan of Morocco (Woolman, 1968).

France and Spain signed a treaty recognising Spain’s possessions of Guinea and the western Sahara opposite the Canary Islands (Balfour, 2002).

1901 – 1908: El Rogui’s Rebellion

An Arab ex-court scribe, Jilali ben Dris, revolted against the Sultan (Fleming, 1991; Furneaux, 1967; Woolman, 1968). Jilali ben Dris was popularly known as El Rogui (“the Pretender”) or Bu Hamara (literally “the man who rides on a female donkey” but referring to a Djinn trickster in local myth). El Rogui’s movement lasted from late 1901 until Sep 1908. The rebellion started in the Taza region to the south of the Rif, but spread to cover the area from the Algerian border to Fez. In 1907 El Rogui invaded the Rif Mountains and promptly sold mining concessions to European companies. This action offended the Beni Urriaguel and other central Riffi tribes. The Elder Adb-el-Krim raised a Riffi army, crushed the interlopers in battle, and drove them back south to Taza (1908). The Sultan captured El Rogui in 1909, paraded him through Fez in a cage and then had him shot. [Furneaux calls him Bou Homara, known as Rhogi.]

Late 1901: El Rogui’s Revolts

El Rogui started a rebellion in the Taza region south of the Rif Mountains between Fez and the Algerian frontier (Fleming, 1991; Furneaux, 1967; Woolman, 1968). Most of the Giata, Tsoul, Branes, Meknasa, and Howara tribes of the northeast rallied to his cause.


Alfonso XIII became king of Spain at the age of 16 (Woolman, 1968).

France tried to engage Spain in negotiations about dividing Morocco into spheres of influence (Balfour, 2002). Spain withdrew from the negotiations in fear of offending Britain.


The Beni Snassen tribe on the Moroccan-Algerian border north of Ujda were causing trouble for the French (Woolman, 1968). Abd-el-Aziz agreed to help the French subdue them, but did nothing. Col. Hubert Lyautey, French commander in the neighbouring Oran Department in Algerian, acted independently, marched over the border and put subjugated the restive tribe. The French didn’t leave and the Sultan was powerless to do anything about it.

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Stages of
French Conquest

1904: European Powers Divide Morocco

In April or October 1904 the French and British agreed to let the French take control of Morocco as long as the coast facing Gibraltar was in weaker Spanish hands (Balfour, 2002; Fleming, 1991, says October; Woolman, 1968, says April). The French gained responsibility for Moroccan administration, economy, and security. In November the French and Spanish governments agreed that the Mediterranean coast of Morocco was a Spanish zone of influence. The Spanish portion was 50% smaller than the French had offered in 1902. In practice this made little difference as the Spanish remained in their five fortified towns (Larache, Ceuta, Melilla, ?? what were the other two ??). The French continued to push westward from Algeria into Morocco south of the Spanish Zone. In 1904 the French strategy had turned from peaceful penetration to military conquest.


Kaiser Wilhelm landed at Tangier at the end of Mar 1905 to promote German claims in Morocco (Woolman, 1968).


Representatives of Germany, Morocco, England, France, Spain, italy, the United States, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Demark, Russian, and Luxembourg met at Algeciras in Spain (Woolman, 1968). They agreed the Act of Algeciras which effectively confirmed France’s rights in Morocco. The Sultan was still sovereign and France and Spain were supposedly to enforce his authority (Balfour, 2002).

In Morocco civil unrest was increasing resulting in European deaths (Woolman, 1968).

The real authority in the Djebala at this time was Sherif Muley Ahmed el Raisuni – a tyrant, cattle rustler, extortionist, and in the eyes of the western world, a generally bad guy (Fleming, 1991). Many locals, however, viewed El Raisuni as a hero. In 1906 the Sultan sent an army against El Raisuni (Furneaux, 1967). 2,000 Djebelan warriors ambushed and defeated the punitive expedition. [Furneaux (1967) calls him Raisuli.]

Note: Djebala is sometimes spelt Jibala or Yebala.


The Cartagena Pact tied Spain to France and Britain in opposing German expansion in Africa (Balfour, 2002).

Due to Moroccan unrest and the resulting French deaths, the French occupied Uxda (May 1907) and Casablanca (Aug 1907) (Fleming, 1991). Urban Moroccan opinion turned against Sultan Abd-el-Aziz and his brother Mulay Hafid drove the Sultan into exile (19 Aug 1907). Mulay Hafid had a decidedly anti-European stance (Woolman, 1968). [Furneaux (1967) says the Moroccan civil war and French occupation occurred in 1908.]

In 1907 El Rogui extended his control into the Rif Mountains (Fleming, 1991; Furneaux, 1967; Woolman, 1968). He started by giving a French company a 99 lease on a factory site in the Restinga, a long peninsular just south of Melilla; the factory promptly began making munitions for El Rogui’s forces. Sultan Abdul Aziz landed a harka in the Restinga in the summer of 1907, but despite Spanish support, the Sultan’s force’s were crushed and driven into Melilla. In Jul 1907 El Rogui gave a Spanish company a 99 year lease on the iron mines at Monte Uixan and the right to build a railway from the mines to Melilla. In Aug he did the same for the lead mines at Monte Afra. Both mine sites were about 19 km southwest of Melilla in the hills of the Beni Bu Ifrur. El Rogui’s practice of selling mining concessions he didn’t own to European companies upset the local tribes. The Elder Krim began to organise an army from the Beni Urriaguel and other central Riffi tribes to confront the interlopers.

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El Raisuni
and son (1922)

1908: Mayor El Raisuni

The French and Abd-el-Aziz were fighting both local insurrections and Mulay Hafid (Woolman, 1968). The Germans were busy selling arms to the rebels.

The Sultan wanted to co-opt El Raisuni into the establishment and in 1908 appointed him qa’id of 16 Djebalan tribes and mayor of Arcila (Fleming, 1991).

29 Jan 1908: Spanish rescue Moroccan forces

Spanish troops advanced onto Moroccan soil to protect the Sultan’s besieged troops who then retreated into Melilla – presumably these were the troops beaten by El Rogui in 1907 (Balfour, 2002).

The Spanish commander in Morocco at the time was Gen. José Marina – who Balfour describes as an “enlightened Spanish military Arabist” (Balfour, 2002, p. 14). Marina dealt with both El Rogui and the pro-sultan tribes around Melilla.

14 Feb 1908: Spanish Scramble for Africa begins

Balfour (2002) marks the events of 14 Feb 1908 as the beginning of the Spanish Scramble for Africa. At 0600 hours a gunboat and a mailship set sail from Melilla. They carried two companies and a brigade (??) of soldiers on disciplinary charges. The ships travelled through rough sea, heavy rain, and cold winds to a port 19 km south of Melilla – presumably the factory site in the Restinga, a long peninsular just south of Melilla, that was mentioned above. Four landing boats put the Spanish soldiers ashore. El Rogui’s men put up a token resistance in what was essentially a charade to convince other muslims that El Rogui had opposed the Spanish. Despite firing from both sides, including Spanish shelling by the gunboat and machine guns, there were no losses on either side. The invaders hoisted the Spanish flag over the small warehouse. Aside from giving them an additional foothold on Moroccan soil it also interrupted a French-Belgian operation to smuggle arms to El Rogui. The Spanish government presented the action to the world as a temporary step – it wasn’t.

12 Mar 1908: Spanish Sieze Additional Moroccan Territory

Spain secured more territory at the Cabo de Agua near Melilla (Balfour, 2002). Marina took this step for two reasons. Firstly to make the life of the Spanish Garrison on the nearby Chafarinas Islands easier; they had to cross the to mainland to buy provisions from the Quebdanis. Secondly so that he could protect the pro-sultan tribes against El Rogui. As it happens some tribes felt their land had been sold to the Europeans thus starting the ground swell against European occupation.

Aug 1908: Abd-el-Aziz attacks Marrakech

In Aug 1908 Abd-el-Aziz led a Moroccan force against Marrakech (Woolman, 1968). He was betrayed by a tribe he relied on and was forced to retreat.

Sep 1908: Rif defeat El Rogui

A Rif army largely organised by the Elder Krim defeated El Rogui’s men in battle and drove them south to Taza (Fleming, 1991; Furneaux, 1967). Abd-el-Krim saw active service in this short campaign, but no fighting.

Oct 1908: First attack on the Mines

Nearby tribes attacked the approximately 50 Spanish workers at the mines (Balfour, 2002). The Spaniards fled to El Rogui’s headquarters for protection and from there to Melilla. El Rogui went looking for the perpetrators. He subsequently sent 32 heads to Melilla as evidence that work at the mines could continue but the Spanish authorities insisted on getting consent from the tribes instead.

Nov 1908

Realising he lacked popular support Abd-el-Aziz abdicated in favour of his brother Mulay Hafid (Woolman, 1968).

Late 1908

With the number of his supporters declined daily El Rogui fled to the French sphere of influence with a few followers (Balfour, 2002). He correctly predicted that his departure would “cost the Spanish many thousants of millions of pesetas and streams of blood and tears”.

A chieftain called El Sharif Mohammad Amzian emerged from the vacuum left by El Rogui and called for a jihad against the Spanish (Balfour, 2002).


1909: El Rogui Captured and Shot

The Sultan captured El Rogui in 1909, paraded him through Fez in a cage, and then had him shot (Furneaux, 1967).

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Schneiner (1909)

1909-10: Rif War or Second Rif War

On 9 Jul 1909 six European railway workers were killed by Riffi tribesmen (Fleming, 1991). And as a result the Melillan garrison was increased from 5,000 men to 22,000 in preparation for an offensive. The Spanish army were untrained, ill-equipped, and devoid of basic maps, however, by Jan 1910 the Spanish had subdued some of the more easterly tribes, and pushed out their Melilla enclave to encompass the area from Cape Tres Forcas to the southern inlets of Mar Chica. However, this was achieved at the cost of 2,517 casualties. All the Spanish forces involved were Spanish conscripts; at this stage Spain had neither professional troops, nor indigenous troops under arms.

End of May 1909: Spanish Protection for the Mines

The governor of Melilla Gen. José Marina Marina was anticipating native action against the mines; the only thing preventing this was the fact the Rif men were absent, working in Algeria (Balfour, 2002). The Spanish government give Marina permission to limited militarily protection for the mines. Marina had 5,700 officers and men in Melilla. He deployed a detachment to protect the works on the railway between Melilla and the mines. The garrison was also in training for active operations.

9 Jul 1909: Six Europeans Killed

Riffi tribesmen attacked Spanish workers constructing a railway bridge, killed six and injured another (Balfour, 2002; Fleming, 1991). The other workers escaped on the train that had brought them to the site. The Spanish Military detachment on the railway line quickly moved to the site while Marina mobilised the garrison. Most marched out to confront the tribesmen. The tribesmen were driven off with few losses to either side. Furneaux (1967) says Marina was repulsed but Balfour makes it clear the Spanish occupied the site. They did, however, come under harrassment from native guerillas.

The Spanish navy also began to bombard the coastal villages although concern about international opinion moved the government to put a stop to the shelling(Balfour, 2002).

Marina called for reinforcements and the Spanish government activated reserve units in the peninsular(Balfour, 2002; Fleming, 1991).

23 Jul 1909

The Spanish wanted to capture a height from which the guerillas were firing onto Spanish supply columns (Balfour, 2002). During the night a column set out to take the height. The commanding colonel had only a rought and inaccurate drawing of the area and got lost. The column found itself at another position already occupied by Spanish. When day light came the Moroccans were presented with a mass of soldiers in a tiny space and commenced firing. The colonel “Follow me if you’re a man!” and led a few officers and men to their deaths in a charge across the open.

Later that day a column of Catalans just off the boat piled their arms next to a ruined house and sat down to eat their cold rations (Balfour, 2002). Rif sneaked up on them and shot them down. The Spanish commander plus several officers and men were killed. Others ran off without their weapons.

Barcelona in Flames (1909)

26 Jul 1909: Tragic Week

Activating the reserves in Barcelona caused a strike on 26 Jul and a week of riotingwhich became known as the Tragic Week (la Semana Trágica) (Fleming, 1991). [Furneaux (1967) says 21-26 Jul but both Fleming and Wikipedia: Tragic Week say the strike was 26 Jul and the rioting followed.]

27 Jul 1909: Barranco del Lobo (Disaster of the Wolf Ravine)

On the night of 26-27 Jul 1909 Riffi ripped up 300 m of the railway line leading ot the mines (Balfour, 2002). Marina sent out a column to protect the repair crew and a second column under Gen. Pintos to pin the Riffi gathering in nearby valleys. Pintos and one of his brigades had arrived only two days earlier. The Spanish advance was preceeded by a bombardment by campaign pieces and long-range guns in Melilla. In the mid-day light the terrain ahead of Pintos, leading to the Gurugu mountain range, appeared to be one large sloping plain. To their cost the Spanish found it to be cut by deep gullies and ravines. Riffi rifle fire took its toll as the Spanish advanced. Their losses increased when the soldiers began to clump into a dense formation to navigate the rough terrain. Pintos divided his men into two columns as they approached the Barranco del Lobo ravine. The right-hand column reached a hill to the right of the ravine. Ignoring his orders Pintos led the left-hand column into the ravine. Riffi fire cut into them from above, in front and both sides. Pintos and most of the officers were killed. The leaderless men retreated in disorder. The abandoned their dead, wounded and ammunition mules. The Spanish lost about 180 killed and over 1,000 casualties in total. Marina was none too pleased and declined to attend Pintos’s funeral. Depite the losses this disaster alone gave rise to 61 promotions; not surprisingly some officers resented the apparent award of promotions for losses rather than successful actions. .

Aug – Sep 1909

At some point Marina lost another two generals (Benito and Vicario) in another defeat (Furneaux, 1967).

The defeats in Morocco convinced the Spanish public to allow troops to be sent to Morocco (Balfour, 2002; Furneaux, 1967). The Spanish government rescinded the ability to pay to avoid military service on 4 Aug 1909 and a wave of patriotism had all classes enlisting. Over two months the Melillan garrison was increased from 5,000 men to 22,000 or 40,000 in preparation for an offensive (Fleming, 1991, says 22,000; but both Furneaux and Balfour, 2002, say 40,000). The troops were largely confined to Melilla but Spanish artillery and naval guns kept up a daily barrage of the ravines near the city. Some columns were sent out to forestall a jihad but used brutal methods of repression inlcuding destroying houses and devastating fields.

Mohammad Amzian also used the pause to recruit fighters for the jihad (Balfour, 2002).

Miguel Primo de Rivera, now a Colonel, volunteered for duty in Melilla in Aug 1909 (Fleming, 1991). He served under Gen. Salvador de Arizón and took part in the hard fought battle of Mt. Gurugú. In one incident the Rif ambushed a column outside Melilla and killed a number of guards (Furneaux, 1967). Troops under Col. Primo de Rivera counter-attacked drove off the tribesmen. Rivera returned to Spain in Jun 1910.

20 – 27 Sep 1909: Spanish Offensive

Marina launched his offensive against Amzian’s Riffi on 20 Sep 1909 (Balfour, 2002). The Spanish fielded infantry, cavalry, artillery and an observation balloon. The Riffi fought back hard but by 27 Sep the Spanish had reached the bodies of their slain comrades at the ravine of Barranco del Lobo. The Spanish also occupied the height of Mt. Gurug above the ravine where they raised the national flag.

Nov 1909

The Spanish made a final push in Nov 1909, several Riffi chiefs suied for peace, and the offensive was declared finished (Balfour, 2002). In fact the massive expenditure on the war caused the Spanish government to block further advances (one of Furneaux, 1967; Fleming, 1991). The troops were repatriated over the next six months. 20,000 of the 42,000 mobilised were retained in the Protectorate.


See my page on Rif War Sources for an annotated bibliography.

Balfour, S. (2002). Deadly Embrace: Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War. Oxford University Press.

Fleming, S. E. (1991). Primo de Rivera and Abd-el-Krim: The Struggle in Spanish Morocco, 1923-1927. New York: Garland.

Furneaux, R. (1967). Abdel Krim: Emir of the Rif. London: Secker & Warburg.

Munoz Bolaños, R., de Mesa Gutierrez, J. L., Lazaro Avila, C., & Nunez Calvo, J. N.. (2001). Las Campanas de Marruecos (1909-1927) [Spanish] . Madrid.

Wikipedia: Tragic Week

Woolman, D. S. (1968). Rebels in the Rif. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

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