A painting guide for the Rif Wars. The Spanish uniform evolved over the period of the conflict from, so I’ve included sections on three periods (1909-13; 1914-19; 1920-26). There are also sections on the Spanish Foreign Legion, Moroccan Regulars and the Rif tribesmen themselves.
Spanish soldiers from the contemporary 1898 Spanish-American War
My sources for the painting guide are given at the bottom, but the most important one was Bueno (1983) which contains a mass of information on Spanish uniforms from 1908-30. Much of this detail is related to the regulation uniforms worn in Spain, but there is still a considerable amount on the uniforms worn in Morocco. Grávalos & Calvo (2000) has some corroborating information, but almost exclusively deals with the regulation Peninsular uniforms. For period photos I have primarily relied on Munoz et al (2001).
Spanish other ranks wore three types of head gear between 1909-1914: Ros cap, Solar Helmet, or pill box cap. Generally units wore one type of head gear, although I’ve seen a photo of a signals unit which combined Ros cap and Pill box cap. Field officers often wore what their men did, but could also use a peaked cap. Staff officers wore anything they liked, although they tended to be consistent within each HQ (I’ve seen Ros, Solar and Pill Box all used by staff officers).
The majority of infantry and many others wore the Ros cap. This was felt bound with black leather (Hardman, 1996). It was low like a kepi, but higher in front than back. Imagine a French kepi sloping forward slightly. It was called a “Ros” as it was invented by General Ros de Olano – the guy who commanded the 3rd Corps in the 1859 Spanish-Moroccan War. In the early period of the Rif Wars the Ros had a white cover and a black peak. Other ranks tended to wear it with a white neck flap, but photos of the period suggest the officers did not.
The cavalry version of the Ros seems to have been taller than the infantry version – more like a shako than a kepi.
Solar Helmet (salacot tropical)
British or French Solar helmets were used. Initially they were Lentil coloured.
Pill box Cap (Gorro redondo? or bonete?)
Jackie Kennedy made the Pill box cap famous in the 1960s, but it had a long, military history before ladies fashion adopted it. It is basically small, low, round, without a brim. Imagine a low fez/tarbouch without a tassel. The Spanish pill box forage cap was dark blue. Worn by some infantry and the majority of artillery. Some modern illustrations of the pill box cap have a double band in red, but none of the photos of the war seem to support this, but they are black and white.
Some officers wore a peaked cap, or more correctly, a service cap (gorra de plato).
Officers peaked caps had a white or blue crown, red band, black peak. Not worn by other ranks,
although I’ve seen a photo of a cavalry regiment – the Lanceros de Reina – disembarking wearing a
peaked cap, I’m not sure they wore these during operations.
Officially rayadillo was the summer uniform, and winter was a Lentil colour cloth. This was for tunic, breeches/trousers and gaiters. In fact Spanish troops of the period generally seemed to mostly wear Rayadillo. Rayadillo is white with a thin blue pin stripe.
I’ve seen a few photos of what look like troops wearing lentil uniforms, although it is hard to tell from a black and white photo, and they might have been early adopters of Khaki. Examples are:
- A Cavalry unit wearing the Lentil Solar helmet and what looks to be Lentil tunic, but Rayadillo breeches with boots.
- Regiment de Caballeria Taxdirt in Lentil Solar Helmet, tunic, and breeches (with boots). Some officers or NCOs in this photo seem to have retained the Rayadillo tunic, but combined them with Lentil Helmet and breeches.
Certainly Khaki was used by some troops in the 1908-09 campaign of Melilla (Bueno, 1983).
Some units wore the turqui tunic (bright blue) of the Peninsular army, although I’ve only seen one photo where the troops might have been wearing blue tunics; they were Artillery wearing the blue Pill Box cap.
Some officers also wore the turqui tunic (bright blue) of the Peninsular army, although I’ve only seen photos of the hussar style pelise (turqui with black lace and trim), not the conventional tunic. The pelise seemed to have been worn by senior officers, e.g. Colonels and above.
The uniforms in Morocco were quite different to the uniforms in Peninsular Spain. Units based in the Peninsular would have worn the regulation blue jacket, red trousers, and grey greatcoat.
Trousers / Breeches (calzón-polaina?)
Generally Spanish troops in the early period wore cloth in Rayadillo, i.e. white with a thin blue pin stripe. Rayadillo was used for tunic, breeches/trousers and gaiters.
Officers often wore breeches tucked into knee high boots, but otherwise trousers and shoes. Other ranks usually wore breeches with short gaiters. A few units wore proper trousers, for example, I’ve seen a photo of a artillery unit with breeches and gaiters and another artillery unit with trousers – both incidentally wearing the blue Pill Box cap.
Gaiters could be Rayadillo or black. The black gaiters seemed popular with Cazadores (Light Infantry), for example:
- The Cazadores Figueras and Cazadores de Madrid wore these but otherwise the standard Rayadillo uniform including Ros cap.
- A unit of Cazadores assigned to the Tovar column in 1909 wore the standard uniform, but with a Lentil coloured solar helmet and black gaiters.
- The regiment Alfonso XII of the 3rd Mixed Brigade (a Cazadores Brigade) wore standard uniform but with a blue Pill Box cap with black gaiters.
Infantry and artillery other ranks wore black sandals, officers black shoes or knee high boots, cavalry wore knee high boots which seem to have been dark brown, but I could be wrong.
Infantry other ranks often had a dark brown blanket roll around their body, confederate style (Bueno, 1983). Field gear seemed to be black, with Y-braces and two cartridge boxes on the belt; metal fittings were steel. Water bottle was a mid brown. Canvas packs were white. The blue greatcoat (capote) was replaced on 19 May 1911 with grey.
On 20 Jun 1914 the Spanish adopted a greenish khaki as the standard summer uniform (Bueno, 1983). Solar helmets, caps, tunic and trousers all changed. Rayadillo was retained in the field and only gradually phased out. Field gear changed to a mid-brown (avellana), although the bayonet sheath was still black, and metal fittings were still steel. Granadero trousers also made an appearance.
On 19 Apr 1920 Greenish Khaki had replaced Rayadillo for both summer and winter (Bueno, 1983), although in the early 1920s you see the occasional staff officer in either a white or Rayadillo uniform. Strangely, the turqui tunics were still sometimes used, including the officer’s pelise, but was now combined with khaki trousers..
The Ros and pill box cap were still in use, and a Khaki Beret (boina) had been officially adopted in 1927 (Bueno, 1983). The Ros, if used, had a greenish Khaki cover, but the Pill Box was still blue (with optional red bands). In the field, however, most troops including officers, adopted a wide brimmed sun hat (chambergo) similar to those worn in Vietnam.
Field gear had changed to a mid-brown, although the bayonet sheath was still black, and metal fittings were still steel.
Officer’s peaked caps could be the old style or greenish khaki. Officers could also wear a greenish khaki fore-and-aft cap (gorra de cuartel) from 1926, but only use inside the HQ from 1926 (Bueno, 1983). Junior officers were entitled to wear it from 1927. Other ranks only adopted the fore-and-aft cap in 1933.
Only in 1926 did greenish khaki puttees make an appearance for Spanish troops (the Moroccan Regulares had been using them since 1911).
The Foreign Legion was formed in 1921 and their Legion uniform was chosen to be distinctive, i.e. not like the uniform of the conscripts. The main features were:
- Distinctive side cap in grey-green with red tassel (chapiri or isabelino) or soft, broad-brimmed canvas slouch hat in green-drill (chambergo).
- Pale greenish shirt (pockets and shoulder-straps added in 1926)
- Grey-green tunic (guerrera)
- Grey-green Breeches buttoning from knee to ankle (granadero)
- Sandals (soon abandoned) or white canvas shoes (alpargatas) like those issued to the Regulares
- White gauntlets for officers
- British “Mills” field gear – khaki drill.
This uniform was basically the same during the Spanish Civil War, although the khaki drill “Mills” field gear was replaced by black leather sometime after the Rif War. You can check out my Spanish Civil War section for the full description – see here.
From what I can tell the Regulares would be exactly the same as in the Spanish Civil War – see SCW: Moroccan Painting Guide. Some Moroccans in Spanish employ just wore a Fez without a Turban.
The indigenous police looked similar.
Franco, when an officer with the Regulares, rode a white horse to make himself more conspicuous (Preston, 1995).
The Spanish bought 12 French Renault FT-17s in August 1921 (Tanks: Spanish). The tanks were marked with various numbers in different locations:
- The FT-17 TSH command tank had “Infanteria No. 1” on each side of the radio box.
- Another of the tanks had “Infanteria No. 12” on the side of the hull, just under the turret.
- Tank number 4 of the company, which was number 1 in its section (seccion), had the tank number on the side, inside the track. The number within the section was at the rear inside a circle with a X through it. The circle and X indicated the tank had been damaged.
- Tank number 8 of the company, which was also number 1 in its section (seccion), had the tank number on the side, inside the track. The number within the section was at the rear inside a triangle.
- Another tank was 2 in the section, and also had the “Infanteria …” label under the turrent, but the number is hidden.
Check out Renault FT-17 Tanks in the Rif War.
Spanish posts of the time were typically a triangle of blockhouses Fleming, 1991). Each blockhouse would have been 6 m by 4 m wooden structures, with sandbags 1.5 m up the walls, and a corrugated iron roof. They were surrounded by 3 or 4 strands of barbed wire. A typical garrison was 21-30 men and these had to be provisioned by armed convoys.
The Rif’s tribesman’s distinctive feature is a knee-length cape-poncho with sleeves and a large pointed hood (Furneaux, 1967; Woolman, 1968). This garment is called a chilaba in Spanish and a djellabah in Arabic, French and English. The chilaba was invariably brown (Fleming, 1991, also says grey), although tribes had their own distinctive patterns. Turbans (“Rexa”), if worn, would be white. In addition to normal turbans they could also wear stripped down turban with head poking through – kind of like a thick head band – a skull cap, or nothing. They wore white baggy breeches and grass sandals.
Rif tribesmen used modern rifles purchased from corrupt Spanish officers or looted from bodies (Furneaux, 1967).
Most Rif have brown hair and eyes but a significant minority (25%) have blond or red hair and blue or green eyes (Furneaux, 1967; Woolman, 1968). The men often shaved their heads or, pre-Abd-el-Krim, wore it in a long scalp lock. Older men wore beards.
Although most troops wore traditional tribal dress, some of Abd-el-Krim’s 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 1907 Rogui was seen wearing a chilaba, white leather gloves, boots of red morocco leather lined with silver, a red silk handkerchief, and a silver-plated pistol (Balfour, 2002). He held a rosary and a large pencil.
These guys are Europeans, but the pictures give a good idea of the chilaba.
Women weren’t combatants but were caught in the crossfire, so I’ve included a painting guide for them as well.
Riffi women wore knee length shirts, baggy trousers to mid calf, a shawl around the head, and a heavy red belt (Woolman, 1968). They often went bare foot. They covered their face when around strangers.
The women of the Djebala had quite a different costume (Woolman, 1968). They usually wore layers of red and white striped cotton, enormous straw hats (like Mexican sombreros), and leather puttees. They did not wear a veil.
City women wore veils (Woolman, 1968).
Flags of the Rif
The flag of the Republic of the Rif was one of these variations (CRWFlags: Republic of Er Rif (Morocco, 1920-1926)). This flag, however, only few over Abd-el-Krim’s HQ. Abd-el-Krim was opposed to using flags in battle, considering it old fashioned, which made him considerably ahead of the Spanish (Furneaux, 1967)
I don’t know whether Riffi, Djebalan, or Gomaran irregulars carried flags.
Balfour, S. (2002). Deadly Embrace: Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War. Oxford University Press.
Bueno Carrera, J. M. (1983). La Infanteria de Linea; El Ejercito de Alfonso XIII. Madrid. [Spanish]
Grávalos González, L., and Calvo Pérez, J. L. (2000). Los Uniformes de 1912: Reinado de Alfonso XIII [Spanish]. Valladolid, Spain: Quiron Ediciones.
Hardman, F. (1996). The Spanish Campaign in Morocco. Pallas Armata. (Originally published in 1860)
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.
Scurr, J. (1985). The Spanish Foreign Legion (Men-at-Arms 161). London: Osprey.