The Bombardment of
Salé was a naval attack against the Moroccan city
Salé that took place between 26 and 27 November 1851, in response
to the looting of a French cargo ship by residents of the city. After
seven hours of fighting, the Moroccan artillery suffered severe
damage, and the French bombarded the city through the night, damaging
the city's infrastructure and the Great Mosque of Salé.
French losses were minimal, with only four dead and 18 wounded.
Between 18 and 22 Moroccans died, two-thirds of whom were civilians.
The French forces withdrew, and both sides claimed victory.
Battle of Isly
Battle of Isly in 1844
After the French conquest of Algeria,
Abdelkader El Djezairi
Abdelkader El Djezairi declared
war against France, and requested assistance from Sultan Abd al-Rahman
of Morocco. When the Sultan responded favorably, it triggered the
France sent warships to bombard
Tangier on 6
August 1844, destroying large parts of the city and its defenses. The
French then bombarded Essaouira, and occupied the Iles Purpuraires.
After the French army defeated the Moroccan cavalry at the Battle of
Isly on 14 August 1844, Sultan Abd al-Rahman asked for peace with
France, leading to the signing of the Treaty of
Tangier on 10
September 1844. Morocco's defeat caused a revolt in Rabat; in
Salé, the city's nobility, known as the Sharif, sent a letter to the
Sultan complaining about the lack of weapons and ammunition in the
Meanwhile, the French government's anger against
increasing. A series of incidents in October 1849 damaged relations
between both countries; a series of assassinations directed at the
French frontier had occurred, and the French
Consul had requested the
dismissal of Pacha Ouchda, who was believed to have caused these
issues. From 1845 to 1851,
Morocco had a serious agricultural
crisis caused by a drought, resulting in crop failure. The people of
Morocco were suffering as the price of wheat and barley reached
unprecedented heights. In Salé, many people were starving, and the
agricultural crisis and anger towards
France ultimately led to the
bombardment of Salé.
Louis Dubourdieu was tasked by the French Secretary of the Navy to
take action against Salé, and five vessels were assigned to him.
On 1 April 1851, a French cargo ship carrying 98 tons of goods from
Rabat capsized near the coast of Salé. A few tons of
goods were rescued, and were stored in the city for safekeeping.
Salé turned out to be less than safe, however; by the next day,
hundreds of townspeople were scavenging and stealing the goods. The
thieves were thwarted by Abdelhadi Zniber[fr], but only
temporarily. By the end of the raids, the French had lost 11,391
franc germinals worth of goods.
French diplomat Nicolas Prosper Bourée[fr] reported the situation in
Salé to the French, and accused the people in the city of piracy.
Bourée recommended sending military forces to the city; the French
On 10 November 1851, the French Secretary of the Navy tasked Louis
Dubourdieu[fr] with the execution of the action against Salé, and
five vessels were assigned to him in this regard: Henri IV (armed with
100 cannons and captained by Louis Henri de Gueydon), the Sané (14
cannons), the Gomer (14 cannons), the Narval (4 cannons),
and the Caton (6 cannons). The fleet gathered in
19 November, and after being supplied with food and coal, sailed for
Salé on 21 November.
Gomer, a steam frigate with 14 cannons
On 24 November, some of the French ships traveled to Tangier, where
they picked up
Consul Julius Doazan and his secretary, Fleurat, on
Narval. Later that evening, Caton reached
Salé and offered safe
Rabat for the British consul Elton and his family, in
anticipation of the bombardment of the city. The following day, at
11:00 a.m., Caton anchored between the cities of
Rabat and Salé.
Its commander demanded an apology over the thefts and raids and
immediate repayment for the stolen goods, under threat of bombardment.
The rais in the ports of both cities promised to answer to the French
demands within three hours. Two hours later, all of the French
ships had reached the mouth of the Bou Regreg, between
The French crews of Henri IV received a telegraph from Admiral de
Gueydon, suggesting that the bombardment of the city would begin
soon, which the crews welcomed with enthusiasm. By then, a large
crowd of people in
Salé had gathered to observe the French
ships after they were spotted by Moroccan artillery operators. Admiral
de Gueydon decided against starting the bombardment until consul Elton
was aboard Caton; the consul did not come aboard the ship until four
hours later. At dawn on 26 November though, the British steamer
Janus joined Caton, and took the consul as its passenger.
The Moroccan soldiers in both
Salé prepared to repel the
French attack, and armed themselves with artillery. On the French
side, Sané had moved to the fort at the entrance to the Bou Regreg
river; Henri IV was a short distance from the Moroccan batteries north
of Salé. Gomer moved to a suitable position to attack, and both
Narval and Caton would provide logistical support.
The French opened fire on the forts of
Salé at 10:00 a.m., and
the Moroccans retaliated instantly with forty batteries of artillery
weapons. An hour into the confrontation, the batteries in
Salé were destroyed, and the artillery in
Rabat were damaged to a
level that they became almost useless. The French fire
intensified, but at 3:30 p.m., the damaged batteries were removed
from the city by Moroccan forces; however, resistance did not stop
until 5:00 p.m. Sané and Gomer, lacking for ammunition,
withdrew from the battle, while Henri IV continued its barrage on
the city until 7:00 a.m. the next morning.
The following day, Dubourdieu sent a report to the Minister of War
describing the French losses. Henri IV took several hits, with 1 dead
and 9 wounded. The Sané suffered more damage than the Gomer, but
neither was seriously damaged. Three men were killed on the Sané, and
nine were wounded.
The damage to
Salé was considerable; a wall from the Almohad
Caliphate was severely damaged, and the Great Mosque of
struck by six cannonballs. Several homes were destroyed, and many were
burnt down. Between 12 and 15 civilians were killed, along with six to
seven soldiers. Tactically, the battle was a victory for France.
In order to prevent
Tangier from receiving a similar bombardment,
Morocco agreed to pay 100,000 francs to the French on 29 November
Politically, however, the battle is considered a failure for France.
France had desired a revolt against the governor of Salé
to force repayment and avoid destruction of the city, but this did not
occur. The French demanded that those who killed Christians in the
city be sentenced to death, and that thieves have their hands cut off;
however, the governor of
Salé simply banished these people from the
Following this confrontation, diplomatic relations between
Morocco ended for several months, until a French diplomatic
mission returned in 1852. After the bombardment, Dubourdieu
was promoted to Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, and then to
vice-admiral in February 1852.
^ a b c
L'Économiste 2009, p. 18.
^ a b c Brown 1976, p. 238.
^ "Express from Paris". The Morning Chronicle. 12 October 1849.
p. 6. (Subscription required (help)).
^ Godard 1860, p. 621.
^ a b c d e f g h Brown 1976, p. 239.
^ Dukkālī 1986, pp. 335–336.
^ Cousté 1989, pp. 77–78.
^ Godard 1860, p. 622.
^ a b c d Dubourdieu 1851, p. 2.
^ "Sane" (in French). DossiersMarine.
^ "Gomer class" (in French). DossiersMarine.
^ "Narval" (in French). Net-Marine.
^ a b c d e f Dubochet, pp. 369–370.
^ Courrier de la Drôme et de l'Ardèche (PDF) (in French).
^ a b c d e f g Dubourdieu 1851, p. 3.
^ a b Dukkālī 1986, pp. 335–338.
^ a b c Dubourdieu 1851, p. 4.
^ a b Godard 1860, p. 623.
^ a b Dukkālī 1986, p. 337.
^ a b Brown 1976, p. 240.
^ Louis Dubourdieu.
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