Timeline for Spanish Sahara and the Ifni War

My timeline for the Spanish Sahara and the Ifni War. I start a long way back to give context.

Map of the Spanish Sahara mid 1975

4th cent B.C..

Some trade between the Western Sahara and Europe. The Phoenicians sailed along the west coast of Africa in this period, possibly in a vain attempt to establish more direct trade routes. The Romans also had little contact with the Saharan peoples. By medieval times this part of the Sahara was occupied by Sanhanja Berber tribes who were later dominated by Arabic-speaking Muslim Bedouins.

3rd cent. A.D.

The dromedary is domesticated by Saharan inhabitants.

11th cent. A.D.

The Almoravids unit western Sahara, Morocco and Islamic Spain into a single empire.


Almohades replace the Almoravids.


The Portuguese discovered a bay that they mistakenly identified with a more southerly Río de Oro, probably the Sénégal River.


Portuguese navigators reached Cape Bojador on the northern coast of present-day Western Sahara. However, there was little European contact with the region until the 19th cent.

1476 – 1524: Failed Spanish Settlements

Diego García de Herrera, lord of the Canaries, settlesd Ifni. It was used as a fortified fishing, slaving, and trading centre, until disease and Moorish hostility force its abandonment.


The Moroccan Sultan ceded Ifni to Spain.

1884: Creation of Spanish West Africa

In 1884 Emilio Bonelli, of the Sociedad Española de Africanistas y Colonistas (“Spanish Society of Africanists and Colonists”), went to Río de Oro Bay and signed treaties with the coastal tribes. Subsequently, the Spanish government claimed a protectorate over the coast from Cape Bojador to Cape Blanc (at the present border with Mauritania). This claim was in accord with the Berlin conference that divided Africa between the colonial powers.


Franco-Spanish agreements extended the boundaries of the protectorate.


Franco-Spanish agreemented extend the boundaries of the protectorate. Sheikh Ma’ al-‘Aynayn founds the town of Smara at an inland oasis.


War between the Saharawi population and Spanish colonial power began. Spanish penetration of interior hindered by French claims to Mauritania and by partisans of Sheikh Ma’ al-‘Aynayn.


Colonel Francisco Bens occuped Cape Juby for Spain (was to become Villa Bens aka Tarfaya).


Franco-Spanish agreements extended the boundaries of the protectorate. Colonel Francisco Bens occupied La Güera for Spain.


France defeated the Saharawi resistance after 28 years of continuous war. Essemara captured. The Spanish had only slight contact with the interior until the 1950s.


Ifni became part of Spanish West Africa.


Moroccan independence was recognised by France on 2 March and by Spain on 7 April. Morocco started claiming Spanish Sahara. Spain retained enclaves at Ceuta and Melilla on the northern coast, and at Ifni on the west coast. Half the men of the Moroccan Liberation Army – formed primarily to fight the French – join the new Royal Moroccan Army, and the remainder head south to help in the struggle against the Spanish.

10 Apr 1956: The “Vulgar Brawl”

Anti-Spanish demonstrations in Ifni. The Spanish referred to this as the “Vulgar Brawl”. Open hostilities continued with Spanish and Spanish supporters being murdered.

1 Jul 1956

The new 13th Bandera of the Spanish Legion established its headquarters at El Aaiún in the Saharan territory. (One company from each existing Tercio were used to form the 13th.) Until this date Spanish West Africa, a territory almost as big as peninsular Spain, was guarded solely by indigenous units including two battalions of Tiradores de Ifni, the Territorial Police, and Nomadic Troops

Jun 1957

4th Bandera of the Spanish Legion was posted to Spanish West Africa.

Oct 1957 – Jun 1958: Moroccan attack on Ifni

Note: The Spanish considered the period 23 Nov – 22 Dec1957 to be the “active” period of the war in Ifni.

23 Oct 1957

Moroccan Army of Liberation deployed 2100 Moukhahidine (freedom fighters) under Ben Hammu to towns nears Ifni (1500 to Goulimine and 600 to Bou Izarguen).

Nov 1957

6th Bandera arrived in Ifni and the 2nd Bandera was posted somewhere in Spanish West Africa – not sure where.

21 Nov 1957

Spanish were informed of Moukhahidine preparing to attack from Tafraut. Freedom fighters probably included Ifni tribesmen of the Ait ba Amaran.

23 Nov 1957

The Moroccans cut the telephone wires of the Spanish frontier posts in the Ifni territory, then attacked. The arsenal and airfield at Sidi Ifni (the capital of the territory) was also attacked, but the Moukhahidine were driven off with minor losses. In Ifni the Spanish had 3 infantry battalions, a group of native police, and 3 batteries of field artillery most of them in the capital (1,500 Spanish and 500 native troops). The Moroccans had 1000-1200 Moukhahidine with automatic weapons and mortars. Subsequently, for security reasons, the Spanish disarmed the local population in Sidi Ifni.

23 Nov – 9 Dec 1957

Over the next two weeks two Spanish outposts were lost, and the garrisons of the rest were withdrawn to Sidi Ifni. The Tiradores de Ifni (a native formation) successfully defended outposts at T’zelata de Sbuía, Tiliuin, T’zenin, Tamucha, Tabelcut, and Sidi Inno. The garrisons of Tamucha, Mesti, T’zelata de Sbuía, and Tiliuin are particularly pressed. Bad weather handicaps the Spanish air operations. The Spanish admit to 55 dead, 128 wounded and 7 missing.

25 Nov – 4 Dec: Tiliuin

The fiercest action was around Tiliuin in the south of Ifni. 60 men – including a high proportion of indigenous troops – defended the outpost and its civilian population:

  • 1 x section of Tiradores de Ifni
  • 1 x section of local Police

On 25 November, as a preliminary to a Spanish relief and evacuation of the outpost (Operation P-2 and Operation Netol), five old Heinkel-111 bombed and strafed the Moroccan besiegers. Another five Junkers JU-52s then dropped 75 paratroopers (15 per plane) onto the post while a sixth JU-52 dropped arms and supplies. The paratroopers comprised:

  • Captain Sánchez Duque
  • 2 x sections (1 and 2) of the 7th Paratroop company, 2nd Bandera
  • 1 x 81 mm mortar section
  • 1 x medical team (2 men I think)

This was the first jump into action by Spanish paratroopers and although it was conducted from half the normal height – only 200 m – there were no losses. The insurgents retreated upon the arrival of the paratroopers, but returned once the new comers had joined the garrison inside the outpost. At that point orders arrived instructing the paratroopers to retrieve their parachutes from the landing area, as these would be needed for subsequent drops. Under automatic weapon and mortar fire, a paratrooper section entered no mans land and dragged the precious silk back inside the defensive enclosure.

Meanwhile men of the 6th Bandera of the Legion marched overland from Sidi-Ifni to meet their comrades. On 3 Dec the beleaguered Spanish at Tiliuin heard the cornet of the Bandera. The Spanish retook the airfield and while still under fire evacuated their wounded. The Legionaries then evacuated all military and civil personnel (4 Dec) and fought their way overland – without transport – to Sidi Ifni, reaching safety by 6 December.


In contrast, the intended rescuers for outpost at Telata got lost. Their problems started when they are mis-dropped 25-30 km away from the outpost. They managed to make their way to within 5 km of Telata, but were then cornered by Moukhahidine and nine days later had to be rescued themselves.

(Not sure if Telata and T’zelata de Sbuía are one and the same.)

T’zelata de Sbuía

T’zelata was a small communications center surrounded by a series of hills. The position was guarded by about 130 men (40 % natives) – some of them severely wounded – from:

  • 12th Compaía de Fusiles (presumably from the Tiradores de Ifni)
  • Military Police (??) of the 3ª Cia del Grupo de Policía de Ifni

Spanish Paratroopers

The assigned relief force was the 3rd Section, 7ª Company, 2nd Paratroop Bandera under Lieutenant Ortiz de Zárateuna with:

  • 56 men (including unarmed doctors and drivers)
  • 3 old trucks
  • 1 ambulance
  • 1 machine gun
  • 1 x 50 mm Valero mortar

?? TODO ?? finish translating

With the trucks incapable of cross-country travel, the expedition was restricted to the main track from Sidi-Ifni, however, progress was slow as the paratroopers had to continually remove stones placed on the road by the insurgents. They left the capital in mid afternoon, camped out, and moved on at day break. By mid the next morning they were out of radio contact and under enemy fire. The paratroopers dug in near a hill, fought off an insurgent attack, then advance another 1/2 km before being halted by obstacles in the road. Still under fire, and having already had several men killed, the paratroopers abandoned the trucks and dug in for the night near another hill. About this time they ran out of food, having only been issued a single days rations, and were also running low on ammunition.

On the following day they try to resume the march, but once again after 1/2 km the road was obstructed and the paratroopers were attacked again.

The top is decided to take a hill reaching from which they have been shot. A machine-gun fire persists very intense, inflict losses in both sides. 3 old Heinkel flew over the zone machine-gunning to the Moors (they lacked pumps). As of that at sight moment and of T’zelata, a defense is organized forming two defensive perimeters in the center of which the machine gun settles. Single the wall has begun and water and foods already lack. Day 26 falls dead the Tte. Ortiz de Zárate, happening the direct control to the ends (although there is a brigade and a medical captain). Some food supply by airplane is received (single two packages arrive at hands from the besieged ones) but does not arrive water. The days and the nights are a constant combat in which the losses are multiplied. One resorts to the leaves of chumbera like only system to mitigate the thirst

Aquí conviene advertir que, además de carecer de medios de comunicación para ponerse en contacto con Sidi-Ifni o con T’zelata, sus armas consisten básicamente en los viejos mosquetones de 7,92, una ametralladora y un mortero Valero de 50 mm (que a los pocos disparos quedó inservible), y prácticamente no llevan munición.

Al día siguiente intentan reanudar la marcha pero a los 500 metros aparece la carretera obstruida en un gran trecho y son nuevamente atacados. Se decide tomar una loma alcanzando la cima desde la que han sido tiroteados. Persiste un fuego de ametralladoras muy intenso, causando bajas en ambos bandos. 3 viejos Heinkel sobrevolaron la zona ametrallando a los moros (carecían de bombas). A partir de ese momento y a la vista de T’zelata, se organiza una defensa formando dos perímetros defensivos en el centro de los cuales se instala la ametralladora. Solo ha empezado el cerco y ya carecen de agua y alimentos.

El día 26 cae muerto el Tte. Ortiz de Zárate, pasando el mando directo a los cabos (aunque hay un brigada y un capitán médico). Se recibe algún avituallamiento por avión (solo dos paquetes llegan a manos de los asediados) pero no llega agua.

Los días y las noches son un constante combate en el que se multiplican las bajas. Se recurre a las hojas de chumbera como único sistema para mitigar la sed.

The 2 of December will arrive a column from aid that will break through the encirclement, driving away to the enemy. One is one of the three columns of the Netol Operation that have left to release the main positions surrounded of Tiugsa, Zoco the Tzenin, Aarba the Mesti, T’zelata and Tliuim, treating to clear the initiative to the Army of Liberation. It is continued until releasing T’zelata. The position is flown not to leave refuge to the enemy and with the defending troops and the civilians it returns to Sidi-Ifni. During the return route, about 35 km walking, did not stop the combats to neutralize the constant harassment of the enemy. One arrives at the city the 5 of December. The state of exhaustion of the survivors is indescriptible. But immediately they will have to be prepared for new missions. The mission has cost the death to 4 legionary parachutists and the lieutenant who sent them, and other 14 men were wounded from diverse gravity (*)

El 2 de diciembre llegará una columna de socorro que romperá el cerco, ahuyentando al enemigo. Se trata de una de las tres columnas de la Operación Netol que han salido para liberar los principales puestos cercados de Tiugsa, Zoco el Tzenin, Aarba el Mesti, T’zelata y Tliuim, tratando de quitar la iniciativa al Ejército de Liberación. Se prosigue hasta liberar T’zelata. El puesto es volado para no dejar refugio al enemigo y con las tropas defensoras y los civiles se retorna a Sidi-Ifni. Durante el recorrido de vuelta, unos 35 km andando, no cesaron los combates para neutralizar el constante hostigamiento del enemigo. Se llega a la ciudad el 5 de diciembre. El estado de agotamiento de los supervivientes es indescriptible. Pero inmediatamente deberán prepararse para nuevas misiones. La misión ha costado la muerte a 4 legionarios paracaidistas y el teniente que los mandaba, y otros 14 hombres resultaron heridos de diversa gravedad. (*)

?? TODO ?? end of bit to finish translating

9 Dec 1957 – 30 Jun 1958

All Spanish were back in Sidi Ifni by 9 Dec ‘57 defended by 5 km of wire and trenches. At that stage the garrison was up to 7,5000 plus three offshore cruisers providing support. The Moroccans surrounded the city. Subsequently there was little action, although the defenders occasionally sortied from their posts. By June 1958 the threat was largely over, and the Spanish withdrew part of the garrison.

Oct 1957 – Feb 1958: Moroccan attacks in the Saharan territory

Note: The Spanish considered the period 12 Jan – 28 Feb to be the “active” period of the war in the Desert.

23 Nov 1957

The Moroccan Liberation Army attacked various Spanish outposts in the Saharan territory. They attack, amongst others, the garrisons at Arguib (on the approach to Villa Cisneros), Tan-Tan, Villa Bens. Saharawi tribesmen of the Tekna and Reguibat accompanied the Moroccans.

Dec 1957

Spanish patrols and convoys were involved in pitched battles in the Saharan territory. Moroccan troops approached El Aaiún.

Jan 1958

The Saharan Liberation Army formed from the Moroccan forces operating in Spanish West Africa. Fighting continued around the towns in the Saharan territory.

9th Bandera posted to Spanish West Africa.

12 – 13 Jan 1558: Edchera

On 12 January the Saharan Liberation Army unsuccessfully attacked El Aaiún.

During their retreat to the south-east on the 13th, the Saharans ambush the 13th Bandera at Edchera . The Legionaries set out early on a reconnaissance patrol and at 10.15 am as they approached the dry bed of the Saguiet el Hamra watercourse 500 insurgents open fire on them. The vanguard (2nd) company was pinned by rebels to their front. The 1st company advanced to their left in support, but the company commander (Capt. Jaúregui) was killed when surprised by enemy fire. The 3rd platoon (1st company) was ambushed as it advanced into the sand dunes of the Saguiet. The 31 men of the platoon drove back numerous rebel attacks but were forced to withdraw after sustaining 50% casualties. Brigada Fadrique and Legionary Maderal (who had a light machine gun) were killed covering the withdrawal. Legionary mortar and small arms fire forced the rebels to break off in the night. Despite their initial surprise the 13th Bandera inflicted a major defeat, killing 241 insurgents for the loss of 37 dead Spanish dead and 50 wounded.

Dead in Ifni

Feb 1958

Spanish regained control of interior of the Saharan territory with the help of the French. Allied aircraft (60 Spanish and 70 French) attacked Saharan supply centres and caravans. 9,000 Spanish and 5,000 French troops attacked the rebels on the ground. Lt. General López Valencia, Captain General of the Canaries, commanded the Spanish forces.

The first Allied attacks were on the Liberation Army forces concentrated between Tan-Tan and Saguiet el Hamra. The Spanish attacked from El Aaiún and Villa Bens, whilst a French convoy attacked from Ft. Trinquet. The insurgent’s cave-strongholds in the banks of the Saguiet el Hamra were bombed and rocketed and despite being well hidden the Liberation Army lost 150 men and a large amount of materials.

Between 10 – 20 Feb 1958 the Motorised Group A (4th, 9th and 13th Banderas, the Santiago Cavalry Regiment and an infantry battalion, plus supporting elements like artillery and mortars) occupied the Edchera Pass on the Saguiet el Hamra, then went on to Tafurdat and finally the rebel stronghold at Smara. Legion casualties were 55 dead, 74 wounded and one missing.

On 21 Feb 1958 Spanish troops from El Aaiún and Villa Cisneros, aided by French from Ft Gouraud, attacked Liberation Army concentrations between Bir Nazaran and Ausert.

Mar 1958

Spanish suffered casualties including the crew of a Heinkel that crashed.

By this time 12,000 tribesmen from Ifni, Spanish Southern Morocco, Spanish Sahara, Mauritania and Tindouf were camped around Agadir. Moroccan press accused the Europeans of killing 600 men with gas.

Apr 1958: Spanish Sahara formed

In Apr., 1958, Spain joined the previously separate districts of Saguiet el Hamra (in the north) and Río de Oro (in the south) to form the province of Spanish Sahara.

19 May 1958

The Spanish incurred their last death of the war: a soldier of the Tiradores de Ifni.

30 Jun 1958

Official end of the war in Ifni.

By the end of the campaign Spanish Sahara had been recovered by the Spanish, but no attempt had been made to recapture the lost ground in Ifni; the Spanish only retain control of the city of Sidi-Ifni itself. 300 Spanish soldiers and died and another 500 had been seriously wounded (might be for the war in Ifni alone).


The Saharawi population had become progressively sedentary and began exploiting the rich phosphate deposits. At the same time the first political Saharawi movement was formed which claimed independence from Spain. Mauritania also put forth claims to the territory.


In 1963 huge phosphate deposits were discovered at Bu Craa in the northern portion of the Spanish Sahara. This made the province a potentially economically valuable prize for any nation that could firmly establish possession of it.


Spain returned Ifni to Morocco.


June 17: the new Saharawi political movement was banned. The repression gve a strong motivating force towards Saharawi nationalism.


Mining of the deposits at Bu Craa began.


POLISARIO (the Saharawi liberation movement) was formed to speed up the slow process of decolonisation by waging a guerrilla war against the Spanish. King Hassam II of Morocco started officially claiming the territory to the North of Spanish Sahara and Mauritania continued claiming territory to the south.

Note that the guerrilla war must have been pretty low key because the Spanish Legion suffered only 3 casualties in the early 1970s.


A census of the Spanish Saharan population was undertaken (to see who is eligible to vote) in preparation for a referendum to be organised by the United Nations.

Dec 1974

The UN General Assembly asked the International Court of Justice to look into the dispute.


The UN officially named the territory in dispute as the “Western Sahara”.

16 Oct 1975

The International Court of Justice announced that neither Morocco nor Mauritania should have sovereignty over the Western Sahara. The Saharawi population expressed the desire for independence and that POLISARIO should be the main political party.

Morocco started a “Green March” of 350,000 people as a means of advancing their army into the Western Sahara.

31 Oct 1975

Moroccan forced entry the north west of the territory.

6 Nov 1975

The Green March crossed the border.

14 Nov 1975: Moroccan rule begins

After secret meetings in Madrid, Mauritania, Morocco and Spain signed the Madrid Accords that divided the territory into two; the northern two thirds to Morocco and the southern one third to Mauritania. Spain and Morocco agreed on exclusive rights to exploit the phosphate deposits. The area was conseuqently administered jointly by Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania

26 Feb 1976

The Spanish colonial mandate finally came to an end.

27 Feb 1976

POLISARIO formed the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic and formed a government in exile. Polisario Front, based in Algeria, waged guerrilla warfare against Mauritania and Morocco.


Mauritania abandons its territorial claims in the south and recognised the rights of the Saharawi people by signing a peace agreement, but in response Morocco promptly annexed Mauritania’s portion of Western Sahara. Morocco fortifies the vital triangle formed by the Bu Craa mines, the old colonial capital of El Aaiún, and the city of Smara, while the Polisario guerrillas continued their raids. The protracted warfare caused thousands of refugees to flee into neighbouring Algeria, and eventually Morocco built a defensive wall around the area.


A United Nations peace proposal in 1988 specified a referendum for the indigenous Saharawis to decide whether they wanted an independent Western Sahara under the Polisario Front’s leadership or whether the region would officially become part of Morocco. This peace proposal was accepted by both Morocco and the Polisario Front, and the two sides agreed to a cease-fire in 1991.


Ceasefire between POLISARIO and Morocco.


A settlement plan, to be administrated by the UN peace-keeping force MINURSO, is set up by the UN. MINURSO is mandated to organise a poll asking the population of the Western Sahara whether they would prefer to be intergrated into Morocco officially or to be independent. MINURSO must compile a list of eligible voters who can vote in the referendum. Preparations to hold the referendum subsequently stalled, however, and the Polisario Front’s position grew weaker as Algeria cut back its military and financial support and Morocco moved tens of thousands of settlers into the Western Sahara.


One month before the beginning of the settlement plan implementation, Morocco begins a series of violations against the ceasefire with POLISARIO that began in 1989. Morocco also denies MINURSO free movement through occupied Western Sahara and submits an application on behalf of 120,000 of its citizens to take part in the poll (thus trying to rig the outcome). Morocco also moves thousands of new settlers into the region. To this day a deadlock remains on who is eligible to vote. Disputes regarding who would be permitted to vote delayed the referendum through the 1990s, during which time the region was integrated administratively into Morocco.

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