Orders of Battle for the Rif Wars

My Orders of Battle for the Rif Wars covers:

Note: I’ve used the English term platoon as the translation for the Spanish “seccion”. Platoon is the equivalent formation in English and the word section might have been misconstrued as a squad to an English speaker.

Rif Order of Battle

For the majority of the campaigns in the Rif the Riffi formed only tribal harka or bands. Rif forces, although largely irregular, had considerable esprit de corps (Fleming, 1991). The Riffi were natural fighters as feuding is the natural state in the Riff and men aspired to kill at least one person before they married (Woolman, 1968). Most Riffi were infantry as the Rif had few horses; Abd-el-Krim had only 25 horsemen which were used as messengers.

Tribal Structure

Rif organisation was mainly tribal. Rif tribal structure contained these elements, from largest to smallest (Furneaux, 1967; Woolman, 1968):

  • Tribe
  • Clan or “fifth” made up of five lineage groups. This was a geographical grouping not based on blood ties.
  • Sub-clan or lineage group
  • Patrilineal lineage, including outsiders living in the community
  • Extended family group, i.e. out to the cousins and their descendents.

Each level in the structure had a ruling council (Furneaux, 1967). Men became councillors based on the number of armed lineages they commanded.

Tribal Harka

A harka was a band of armed men of any size. The Spanish for a member of a harka was harqueños.

Abd-el-Krim’s Army

Abd-el-Krim imposed a hierarchical military structure on the forces of the Rif (Fleming, 1991). The hierarchy comprised:

  • Division (mehalla)
  • Battalion (tabor)
  • Company (mía)
  • small units of 25-50 men

Abd-el-Krim’s Army contained:

  • Tribal harka (the majority)
  • Beni urriaguel Regulars
  • Artillery
  • Air Force
  • Navy

Most troops wore their traditional tribal dress, but some troops had distinctive uniforms (Fleming, 1991):

  • Infantry officers (qa’id) wore green turbans with layers of red cord wrapped around them. The number of layers of cord denoted the rank (battalion commander=3 layer; company=2; 50 men=1).
  • Artillerymen had black turbans.

In 1925 the republic’s army reached 80,000 men (Fleming, 1991). More than half of the 80,000 came from outside the central Rif.

Beni Urriaguel Regulars

The Beni Urriaguel provided the elite regular portion of Abd-el-Krim’s army (Fleming, 1991). Organised in 1923 it contained 3,000-5,000 men (Furneaux, 1967). The tribal harka did most of the fighting but the regulars provided support. I assume the artillerymen were also regulars.


Abd-el-Krim built up an artillery force of 350 men to man the captured guns (Fleming, 1991). The Rif had at most 100 guns. European and indigenous deserters from the Spanish and French armies supplemented the Rif gunners. I assume the artillerymen were also Beni urriaguel regulars.

Air force

The Rif didn’t have much of an Air Force. Abd-el-Krim purchased three plans but they were quickly destroyed by the Spanish Air Force (Fleming, 1991).


The Riffi had two motor launches and six oar boats (Fleming, 1991). These were used to ferry troops between the fronts.

Spanish Regular Army

Details from Bueno (1983).

Spanish Infantry Regiment

  • Infantry Regiment
    • Regiment HQ
      • Colonel, Lt. Colonel, Major, 4 Captains, Colour Bearer (Lieutenant), Chaplin, Band Leader, various Band members
    • 1 – 3 x Infantry Battalions (all had 3 but only some were used in the field; the remaining
      Battalions would be in depot)

      • Battalion HQ
        • 6 men including Major, Adjutant (Lieutenant), Doctor, “Maestro armero”, Trumpet Master (Corporal), Drum Master (Corporal)
      • 4 x Rifle Companies
        • Company HQ
          • 12 men including Captain, another officer, Colour Bearer (Corporal), 2 medics, 2 sappers, 3 trumpeters and a drummer)
        • 2 or 3 x Rifle Platoons (only 2 Platoons if company had less than 72 men)
          • Platoon HQ
            • Lieutenant, 2 sergeants
          • 4 x Squads
            • Corporal and up to 8 men
      • 1 x Machinegun Company
        • 2 x Machine gun Platoons
          • 2 Machine Guns
            20 Men
      • 1 x Sapper Platoon (I guess these are sappers because the Spanish term “Obreros y explosivos”. means “workers and explosives” plus the Legion had integral Sappers)
      • 1 x Cycle Platoon (presumably organised as Rifle section)

The Spanish conscripts were poorly trained, equipped, and paid, led incompetently, and lacked a “spirit of sacrifice” (Fleming, 1991).

The Spanish Foreign Legion

Details from Scurr (1985).

Sep 1920 – Apr 1925

  • Tercio de Extranjeros
    • 3 x Infantry Banderas *
      • 2 x Rifle Companies **
      • 1 x Machine gun Company
      • 1 x Sapper Platoon

* Additional Banderas were created in Oct 1921, Nov 1921, Sep 1922, May 1925.

** An extra Rifle Company was added to each Bandera from 23 Oct 1921.

From Feb or May 1925

Scurr (1985), says the rename happened 16 Feb 1925 and the additional troops were raised 1 May 1925. Fleming says 17 Feb for both.

Legion Lancers

Legion Lancers

  • Tercio
    • 1 x Lancer squadron
    • 2 x Legions *
      • 4 x Infantry Banderas **
        • 3 x Rifle Companies
        • 1 x Machine gun Company
        • 1 x Sapper Platoon

* The “Tercio” was popularly known as the Legion, whereas the “Legions” were popularly known as Tercios.

** The 2nd Legion only acquired its full complement in Jan 1926, on the creation of the 8th Bandera. Until then it had only 3 Bandera.

Moroccans in Spanish Services

There were three categories of indigenous troops in Spanish service (Fleming, 1991):

  • Moroccan Regulares (Tropas Regulares de Marruecos)
  • Military Police (Mehal-la)
  • Harkas

Moroccan Regulares (Tropas Regulares de Marruecos)

The Moroccan Regulares were formed on 30 Jun 1911 (??). They were under direct Spanish control and were essentially mercenaries. The officers were mixed, Spanish and indigenous, and the other ranks indigenous.

The initial organisation was:

  • Regulares Indigenas de Melilla (Lt. Col. Dámasco Berenguer)
    • 1 x Infantry Tabor
      • 800 men
    • 1 x Cavalry Squadron
      • 100 men

The number of Regulares was built up gradually over time.

According to Fleming (1991):

  • During the Campaigns in the Rif 1/4 of the Regulares units were actually Spanish. These units were usually artillery.
  • On 17 Feb 1925 each of the five brigades of Regulares was increased by 15%, increasing the total from 14,255 to 16,927.

By 1936 the organisation had grown considerably (??).

  • 5 x Grupo de Regulares (presumably the “Brigades” that Fleming, 1991, mentions.)
    • 3 x Infantry Tabor
      • 2 x Rifle Companies
      • 1 x Machine gun platoon
    • 1 x Cavalry Squadron

Military Police (Mehal-la)

The Mehal-la evolved from the indigenous police and were under the direct control of the Caliph (Fleming, 1991). They were organised into companies (mias) under a Spanish lieutenant.


The harkas were ad hoc organisations, usually of men from the same kabyle (Fleming, 1991). There were, however, two types, Regular and Auxiliary, the difference being that regular harkas has Spanish officers. Abd-el-Malek’s harka in 1924 is an example of an auxiliary harka.

Spanish Armour

Reference is Tanks, specifically Tanks: Spanish, and the pages by Jesús Dapena (Renault FT-17 Tanks in the Rif War and more FT-17 plus a Schneider M16 CA1).

French 1909 Schneider Armoured Truck

The first Spanish armoured fighting vehicle was the French Schneider 1909 armoured truck (Tanks: Spanish). Three were purchased, one each in 1910, 1911 and 1921. The first one was sent to Moroccan in 1912, but I’m not sure whether the others were.

1916 Latil Armoured Car

Exported to Spain after WW1 (Tanks: Spanish) so may have been used in the Rif.

French 1917 Renault FT-17

The Spanish bought 12 French Renault FT-17s in August 1921 (Tanks: Spanish). Eleven were armed with 7mm Hotchkiss machine gun (Renault FT-17 Tanks in the Rif War). The 12th vehicles was a FT-17 TSH command tank; these had the turret replaced with a sheet metal box containing a radio.

In addition to the tanks the tank company was equipped with 12 tank transport trucks, 2 fuel tankers, auxiliary vehicles that included a repair truck (Tanks: Spanish). The TO&E listed a captain, 2 lieutenants, a sergeant major, 8 sergeants, 40 enlisted men that included drivers, cooks and mechanics. Bear in mind the FT-17 was a two man tank with a driver and a commander/gunner.

The implication from Tanks: Spanish is that the company arrived in Morocco in Jan 1922. They had two months of training, but apparently didn’t do weapons training, training in conjunction with infantry, or wet weather training.

Their first action was against the Beni Said kabyle on a rainy 18 Mar 1922 (Tanks: Spanish). This was a joint operation between the tank company and Legion infantry. The attack was to drive the Beni Said from the towns of Tugunz and Ambar. Rain caused leaky roofs and mechanical problems due to wet ignitions. None the less the attack started at 0600 hours. Advancing at 4mph the tanks soon out-distanced the legionaries. Facing tanks was a new experience for the Beni Said but they learnt quickly. When rifle fire didn’t stop the FT-17s the tribesmen climbed on the tanks and stabbed and shot through the vision slits. With no supporting infantry the tanks could do little about this. With on-going ignition failures, gun failures, and lacking infantry support, the tanks called it a day and withdrew. The Spanish left two FT-17s on the field.

The FT-17 tank company and Schneider CA-1 battery worked in conjunction (Tanks: Spanish; more FT-17 plus a Schneider M16 CA1).

French 1921 Schneider CA-1

The Spanish purchased six French 1921 Schneider CA-1 in 16 Sep 1921 to form a armoured battery (Tanks: Spanish). The the battery arrived in Morocco on 28 Feb 1922.

The Schneiders were the first Spanish tanks into combat (14 Mar 1922) (Tanks: Spanish). They fought through to 1929, in conjunction with the FT-17 tank company, when they were returned to the Peninsular. None were lost in combat

French Armour

Reference is Tanks

French 1904 Charron Armoured Car

The 1904 Charron Armoured Car the worlds first true production armoured car (Tanks). The French government purchased on in 1904 and sent it to Morocco. Its weighed 3 tons and had one machine gun.

1918 White Armoured Car

The French purchased 205 1918 White Armoured Cars in total (Tanks). They were used in Metropolitan France until 1933 but until at least 1941 in the colonies.

Alhucemas Landing

Spanish Force

In general the Spanish troops of the Alhucemas landings were elite, indigenous and volunteer elements of the Army of Africa (Fleming, 1991). The details below are from Fleming and Scurr (1985):

  • Gen. Jose Sanjurjo commanding.
  • Ceuta Brigade (Gen. Leopoldo Saro). 8,000 men.
    • 9,760 men
    • Vanguard = Franco Column (Col. Francisco Franco)
      • 10 light tanks *
      • 6th Bandera (Maj. Rada)
      • 7th Bandera (Maj. Verdú)
      • The Mehal-la (native police) of Larache
      • The harka of Tetuán ( Lt. Col. Agustín Muñoz Grandes)
      • No 3 Spanish Battalion of Africa
      • A mountain battery
      • K21 and K23 landing craft – each of which could fit 250-300 men.
    • Martín Column (Col. Benito Martín Gozález)
    • Campins Column (Col. Migeul Campins)
    • Accompanied by
      • Naval Forces of North Africa (Admiral Eduardo Guerra Goyena)
      • Squadron of Instruction (Admiral Francisco Yolif)
  • Melilla Brigade (Gen. Emilio Fernndez Perez)
    • 11,119 men
    • Goded Column (Col Manuel Goded). 6,505 men including
      • The harka of Melilla (Maj. Enrique Varela),
    • Vera Column (Col. Félix Vera). 4,614 men
    • Accompanied by the French Squadron of Northern Morocco (Admiral Hallier)

* I had thought the light tanks were FT-17s but Fleming calls them “assault cars”. I guess if they the machine gun variant that description might be appropriate. The didn’t land in the first wave anyway so it is a bit academic.

A Riffi harka of 232 irregular levies under Soliman el Jatabi (Abd-el-Krim’s cousin) and Captain Ceano were in Saro’s brigade.

The Marine Infantry Battalion of Melilla (Batallón Infantería de Marina de Melilla) was part of Pérez’s brigade.

The Spanish island-fortress in the bay, Peñon de Alhucemas, had the guns of its 24 artillery emplacements to contribute.

The Spanish Naval Air Force provided three squadrons.

The naval transports were 25 requisitioned merchants ships of the Transmediterranean Company of Barcelona.

Abd-el-Krim’s Force

According to Spanish intelligence Abd-el-Krim had, by 3 Sep 1925, concentrated 5,000 men and 21 cannon around Alhucemas Bay (Fleming, 1991)


Details taken from Álvarez (2001), Fleming (1991) and Scurr (1985):

Infantry & Legion:

  • 7 mm Spanish Mauser Model 1893 rifle
  • 7 mm Mauser Model 1916 short rifle (mosquetón)
  • 7 mm Hotchkiss Model 1914 heavy machine gun
  • 7 mm Hotchkiss Model 1922 (later the Model 1925) light machine gun
  • Lafitte Model 1925 60 mm mortar
  • Lafitte Model 1921 hand grenade
  • 9 mm Astra Model 1921 (Model 400) pistol (issued to Officers, NCOs and machine-gunners)


  • Model 1905 lance


  • 7.5 cm Schneider
  • 7.0 cm Schneider – probably a mountain gun
  • 7.5 cm St. Chamond
  • 7.5 cm Krupp
  • 9.0 cm Krupp
  • 105 mm Schneider model 1913 Howitzer
  • 77 mm Krupp M96nA Mountain Gun


  • Renault FT-17
  • Schneider M16 CA1


The Rif used all of the above. Rifles and ammunition were often bought from corrupt Spanish. Heavier weapons were captured in battle. In addition to the Mauser rifles that the Spanish used, Rif also used:

  • Old Remingtons
  • Chassepots
  • St. Etiennes
  • Lebels
  • Grass

This is the artillery reported as captured by the Rif in 1921.

  • 7.5 cm Schneider
  • 7.0 cm Schneider – probably a mountain gun
  • 7.5 cm St. Chamond
  • 7.5 cm Krupp
  • 9.0 cm Krupp


Alvarez, J. E. (2001). The Betrothed of Death: The Spanish Foreign Legion during the Rif Rebellion, 1920-1927. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Bueno Carrera, J. M. (1983). La Infanteria de Linea; El Ejercito de Alfonso XIII. Madrid. [Spainsh]

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.

Scurr, J. (1985). The Spanish Foreign Legion (Men-at-Arms 161). London: Osprey.

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