Personalities of the Rif Wars

Brief biographies of some key players of the Rif Wars.

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Ad el-Krim


Muhammed ben Abd el-Krim Khattabi was born in 1882. He was the eldest son of a poor but intelligent religious leader of the Khattabi clan of the Beni Urriaguel tribe who had enhance his social position by marrying the daughter of a qadi (judge). Muhammed attended a Spanish school in Melilla, and then from 1904 the Moslem University of Karauien in Fez.

Note: Abd-el-Krim is actually his father’s name(Furneaux, 1967). The Spanish mistakenly thought it was his surname so referred to him by this name. He surname was actually Khattabi.

Abd-el-Krim returned to Melilla in 1906 and took a job as a clark in the Bureau of Native Affairs. In 1910 he became an interpreter in the Central office of the Indigenous Troops and Affairs. In 1913 he was appointed chief qadi (judge) in the Melillan region.

After some ill-advised comments to a Captain of the Indigenous Office at Alhucemas, Abd-el-Krim was sentenced 11 months prison by a military court (Oct 1915 – Sep 1916). He was reinstated i May 1917, but took a leave of absence in December 1918 to organize resistance to a probably Spanish advance into the Rif.

After leaving Spanish service, the charismatic Abd-el-Krim formed a inter-tribal military force (1919-21) which attacked Gen. Silvestre at Annual where 9,000 Spanish were killed (July 1921).

Abd-el-Krim surrendered to the French in 1926 and was exiled to Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. In 1947 he escaped to Egypt, where he fostered Moroccan nationalist efforts.

Died 1963.

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El Raisuni (1909)

El Raisuni

Sherif Muley Ahmed el Raisuni. A descendent of the Prophet and scion of one of the leading families of the Djebala. He was described as both an intelligent and charismatic leader, and a difficult, distrustful and violent man. During the early years of the century he used brutality and terror to exert control over the various tribes of Djebala. In 1911 El Raisuni supported Spanish intervention in Morocco; he preferred the Spanish to the French because “they are strong enough to help us, but not so strong that they will oppress us.” By 1913 his relationship with the Spanish had deteriorated (he was still using terror tactics to gain power), and he openly broke with them in May.

Millán Astray


Millan Astray

José Millán Astray Terreros was born in Galicia in 1880. At 15 he joined teh Infantry Acaemy, emerging 1.5 years later as a second lieutenant. He served in the Philippines campaigns of 1896-97, gaining several decorations in the process. On his return to the Peninsular, he enrolled at the Superior War College, and upon graduation chose to return to his unit rather than join the Staff Corps. Following this he spent a year as an instructor at the Infantry Academy in Toledo.

Between 1912 and 1919 Millán Astray served in Morocco commanding a variety of native units, the last of which was the 2nd Tabor of Regulares of Larache.

Astray was the initiator and first commander of the Spanish Foreign Legion (formed 1920). He was replaced as commanding officer for political reasons on 13 Nov 1922, but rejoined them on 28 May 1926 when Franco was promoted out of the position. Astray finally left the Legion on 18 Jun 1927 when he himself was promoted to Brigadier-General.

Astray was fanatically brave and patriotic. Severely wounded several times he became known as the ‘El Glorioso Multilado’ (‘glorious mutilated one’).

He is also Infamous for violently confronting Miguel de Unamuno, the renowned Spanish writer and philosopher, at Salamanca University in 1936. Astray would have attacked the aging poet, but had to content himself with shouting ‘Long Live Death’ and ‘Death to Intellectuals!’ as Franco’s wife escorted Unamuno from the hall.

Retired in the rank of Lieutenant-General.

Died in 1953.

Franco and 1st Bandera at Ras Medua

Franco and 1st Bandera
at Ras Medua

Francisco Franco

Francisco Franco Bahamonde was born 1892, the son of a Naval Administrator in El Ferrol in north west Spain. At 12 Franco was enrolled in the Naval Preparatory School, however, due to a governmental decree restricting entry to the Naval Cadet Ship Franco could not pursue a naval career. Instead, in 1907 Franco was sent to the Military Academy of Infantry in Toledo, graduating at 17 (1910) as a second lieutenant.

Initially he was posted to the Regimiento de Zamora no. 8 in El Ferrol, but when the order prohibiting second lieutenants from being posted to Morocco was lifted at the end of 1911 he started making frequent requests for transfer.

Franco’s request for transfer was finally accepted and in Feb 1912 Franco arrived in Melilla. Promoted to first lieutenant in Jun 1912, he then transferred to the Moroccan Regulares in April 1913. Franco served in a succession of native units in the years up to 1920: Initially the 1st and 2nd Tabors of Regulares of Melilla, and then the 1st Tabor of Tetuán. In Feb 1914 the 21 year old officer was promoted to Captain for merit in combat. He had a reputation for exceptional courage, coolness and devotion to duty. Franco’s Moroccan troops believed he had ‘baraka’ (divine protection) as although he often lead attacks personally he had only been wounded once. This was a stomach wound he received at the Battle of El Biutz in Jun 1916. In Feb 1917 Franco was promoted to Major, once again for merit in combat. As Franco was only 23 this promotion excited considerable resistance from the Ministry of Defense, however, the King overruled the objections. With the promotion came a posting to Oviedo to command a battalion of the Regimiento de Infanteria del Principe.

In mid 1917 the then 24 year old Major met a 15 year old school girl, Maria del Carmen Polo y Martez Valdés. After a six year courtship they were married.

In 1920 he joined the Spanish Foreign Legion as second in command. He took command on 23 Jun 1923, only relinquishing this on 3 Feb 1926 when he was promoted to Brigadier General. Being only 33 this promotion made him the youngest general in Spain, and in fact in the whole of Europe.

Rafael de Valenzuela Urzais

Lt. Col. Rafael de Valenzuela Urzais founded and commanded the Group of Regulares of Alhucemas. Replaced Millan Astray as commander of the Legion 13 Nov 1922. Died in action on 5 Jun 1923.

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