Varying other Berber tribes
Supported during the
First World War
First World War by the Central Powers
Commanders and leaders
Paul Prosper Henrys
Mouha ou Hammou Zayani
Moha ou Said
95,000 French troops in all of
Morocco in 1921
Up to 4,200 tents (approximately 21,000 people) of Zaians at the start
of the war
Casualties and losses
French dead in the
Middle Atlas to 1933:
82 French officers
700 European regulars
1,400 African regulars
2,200 goumiers and partisans
North African operations, World War I
Action of Agagia
Larache expedition (1765)
Conquest of Algeria (1830–47)
Franco-Moroccan War (1844)
Bombardment of Salé
Bombardment of Salé (1851)
Zaian War (1914–21)
Rif War (1920–26)
Ifni War (1957–58)
The Zaian (or Zayan) War was fought between
France and the Zaian
confederation of Berber tribes in
Morocco between 1914 and 1921.
Morocco had become a French protectorate in 1912, and Resident-General
Louis-Hubert Lyautey sought to extend French influence eastwards
Middle Atlas mountains towards French Algeria. This was
opposed by the Zaians, led by Mouha ou Hammou Zayani. The war began
well for the French, who quickly took the key towns of
Khénifra. Despite the loss of their base at Khénifra, the Zaians
inflicted heavy losses on the French, who responded by establishing
groupes mobiles, combined arms formations that mixed regular and
irregular infantry, cavalry and artillery into a single force.
The outbreak of the
First World War
First World War proved significant, with the
withdrawal of troops for service in
France compounded by the loss of
more than 600 French killed at the Battle of El Herri. Lyautey
reorganised his available forces into a "living barricade", consisting
of outposts manned by his best troops protecting the perimeter of
French territory with lower quality troops manning the rear-guard
positions. Over the next four years the French retained most of their
territory despite intelligence and financial support provided by the
Central Powers to the
Zaian Confederation and continual raids and
skirmishes reducing scarce French manpower.
After the signing of the
Armistice with Germany
Armistice with Germany in November 1918,
significant forces of tribesmen remained opposed to French rule. The
French resumed their offensive in the
Khénifra area in 1920,
establishing a series of blockhouses to limit the Zaians' freedom of
movement. They opened negotiations with Hammou's sons, persuading
three of them, along with many of their followers, to submit to French
rule. A split in the
Zaian Confederation between those who supported
submission and those still opposed led to infighting and the death of
Hammou in Spring 1921. The French responded with a strong,
three-pronged attack into the
Middle Atlas that pacified the area.
Some tribesmen, led by Moha ou Said, fled to the High Atlas and
continued a guerrilla war against the French well into the 1930s.
2.1 Groupes mobiles
3 First World War
3.1 Battle of El Herri
3.2 After El Herri
Central Powers in Morocco
4 Post-war conflicts
5 See also
Main article: French conquest of Morocco
General Mangin entering
Marrakesh on 9 September 1912
The signing of the
Treaty of Fez in 1912 established a French
protectorate over Morocco. The treaty had been prompted by the
Agadir Crisis of 1911, during which French and Spanish troops had been
Morocco to put down a rebellion against Sultan Abdelhafid. The
new French protectorate was led by a resident-general, Louis-Hubert
Lyautey, and adopted the traditional Moroccan way of governing through
the tribal system. Upon taking up his post Lyautey replaced
Abdelhafid with his brother, Yusef. The tribes took offence at
this, installing their own Sultan, Ahmed al-Hiba, in
taking eight Europeans captive. Lyautey acted quickly against the
revolt, dispatching General
Charles Mangin and 5,000 troops to retake
the town. Mangin's men were highly successful, rescuing the captives
and inflicting heavy casualties on vastly superior numbers of
tribesmen for the loss of 2 men killed and 23 wounded. Al-Hiba
escaped to the Atlas mountains with a small number of his followers
and opposed French rule until his death in 1919.
General Lyautey photographed in 1908–09
A popular idea among the public in
France was to possess an unbroken
stretch of territory from
Tunis to the Atlantic Ocean, including
expansion into the "
Taza corridor" in the Moroccan interior.
Lyautey was in favour of this and advocated French occupation of the
Middle Atlas mountains near Taza, through peaceful means where
possible. This French expansion into the
Middle Atlas was strongly
opposed by the "powerful Berber trinity" of Mouha ou Hammou Zayani,
leader of the Zaian Confederation; Moha ou Said, leader of the Aït
Ouirra; and Ali Amhaouch, a religious leader of the
Darqawa variant of
Islam prevalent in the region.
Hammou commanded between 4,000 and 4,200 tents[nb 1] of people and had
led the Zaians since 1877, opposing the French since the start of
their involvement in Morocco. An enemy of the French following
their deposing of Sultan Abdelhafid, who was married to Hammou's
daughter, he had declared a holy war against them and intensified his
tribe's attacks on pro-French (or "submitted") tribes and military
convoys. Said was an old man, who was held in good standing by
tribesmen across the region and had formerly been a caïd (a local
governor with almost absolute power) for the Moroccan government, even
serving in the army of Sultan Abdelaziz against a pretender at
1902. Despite initially being open to negotiations with
the French, pressure from pro-war chiefs and the fear of ridicule from
his tribesmen had dissuaded him. Amhaouch was a strong and
influential man, described by French officer and explorer René de
Segonzac as one of the "great spiritual leaders of Morocco" and the
"most powerful religious personality of the south east". The French
had attempted to persuade the Zaians to submit since 1913 with little
success; most tribes in the confederation remained opposed to French
Lyautey's plans for taking
Taza also extended to capturing Khénifra,
Hammou's headquarters. He had been advised by his political officer,
Maurice Le Glay
Maurice Le Glay that doing so would "finish him off definitively" and
cut the Zaians off from support of other tribes. The French outpost
at nearby Kasbah Tadla had recently been attacked by Said and
subsequent peace negotiations led by Lyautey's head of intelligence,
Colonel Henri Simon, had achieved little. As a result, Mangin was
authorised to lead a retaliatory raid to Said's camp at
El Ksiba but,
despite inflicting heavy casualties, was forced to withdraw with the
loss of 60 killed, 150 wounded and much equipment abandoned.
Having failed to make any impression on the Zaians through negotiation
in May 1914, Lyautey authorised General
Paul Prosper Henrys
Paul Prosper Henrys to take
command of all French troops in the area and launch an attack on Taza
and Khénifra. Henrys captured
Taza within a few days using
units drawn from garrisons in Fez, Meknes, Rabat and
then turned his attention to Khénifra.
The routes of the French columns that marched on Khénifra
Henrys planned his assault on
Khénifra to begin on 10 June 1914 with
the dispatch of three columns of troops, totalling 14,000 men equipped
with wireless radios and supported by reconnaissance aircraft. One
column was to set out from
Meknes under the command of
Lieutenant-Colonel Henri Claudel, another from Rabat under
Gaston Cros and the third from Kasbah Tadla under
Colonel Noël Garnier-Duplessix. Henrys took overall command,
directing the forces from an armoured car within the Claudel
column. Aware that he knew little of the terrain or the allegiance
of local tribes Henrys offered a generous set of terms for tribesmen
who submitted to French rule: they would have to surrender only their
rapid firing rifles and any captured French supplies, and pay a small
tax in return for protection. He also set aside substantial funds
to bribe informants and tribal leaders.
Despite these measures, Claudel's column came under attack before it
even left Meknes, although it was the largest and intended as a
diversion. Hammou's forces attacked their camp on three separate
nights, inflicting losses of at least one officer and four men killed
and nineteen injured, but leaving the other two columns unopposed.
Claudel launched a counterattack on 10 June while Hammou was preparing
a fourth attack, sweeping the Zaians away with artillery and ensuring
little resistance for his march to
Khénifra on the next day.
After enduring some sniping attacks in Teguet, Claudel's cavalry
crossed the Oum er Rbia at el Bordj and advanced to the outskirts of
Khénifra. The rest of the column joined them on 12 June, fighting
off Zaian attacks on the way and meeting up with the other two
columns, finding the town emptied of people and raising the French
flag. The column had lost two men killed in the march.
A modern image showing the landscape near Khénifra
The columns experienced repeated, strong attacks by Zaian tribesmen
that day, repelled by late afternoon at the cost of five men killed
and nineteen wounded. Further attacks on the nights of 14 and 15
June were repulsed by artillery and machine gun fire, directed by
searchlights. Henrys then dispatched two columns south to the
Zaian stronghold of Adersan to burn houses, proving his military
abilities but not provoking a decisive confrontation with the tribes,
who returned to guerrilla warfare tactics. In response all
French-controlled markets were closed to the Zaians and their trade
convoys were intercepted.
Henrys became aware of a Zaian presence at el Bordj and sent a column
to attack them on 31 June. South of el Bordj the French came under
heavy fire from tribesmen with modern rifles and resorted to bayonet
charges to clear the way. The encounter was Henrys' first major
engagement with the Zaians and his losses were high, 1 officer and 16
men killed and a further 2 officers and 75 men wounded. Zaian
losses were much higher: the French counted at least 140 dead
remaining on the battlefield, and considered the battle a victory.
Henrys expected a pause in activity while the Zaians recovered, but
instead Hammou stepped up attacks on the French. Just four days
later an attack on a French convoy by 500 mounted tribesmen was only
repulsed after several hours by more bayonet charges. French
losses were again significant with one officer and ten men killed and
thirty men wounded.
A near-contemporary depiction of Senegalese troops en route to Morocco
In light of the increased attacks in the
Khénifra area Henrys
established three groupes mobiles, made up of troops mostly drawn from
the Army of Africa. Each groupe was designed to be highly mobile
and typically consisted of several battalions of regular infantry
Senegalese Tirailleurs or
French Foreign Legion
French Foreign Legion troops),
a squadron of cavalry (Algerian Spahis), a few batteries of artillery
(field or mountain), a section of Hotchkiss machine guns and a mule
train for supplies under the overall leadership of a French senior
officer. In addition each groupe mobile would have one or two
goums (informal groups of around 200 men) of goumiers, irregular
tribal auxiliaries, under the leadership of a French intelligence
officer. The goums were used for intelligence gathering operations
and in areas of difficult terrain.
A four-battalion-strong groupe mobile was established at Khénifra,
Lieutenant-Colonel René Laverdure; one based to the west under
Claudel and one to the east under Garnier-Duplessix. In addition
fortified posts were established at
Sidi Lamine with the
areas between patrolled by goumiers to protect convoys and submitted
tribes from attack. Increasing attacks on
July, repelled only by concentrated artillery and machine gun fire,
left Henrys concerned that a combined force of tribesmen could
threaten the town and the submitted tribes. This fear was
partially allayed by the separate defeats of Hammou and Amhaouch by
the groupes mobiles of Claudel and Garnier-Duplessix and by increasing
numbers of auxiliaries becoming available from newly submitted tribes
through the levy system.
Claudel and Garnier-Duplessix were ordered to patrol the French bank
of the Oum er Rbia and attempt to separate the Zaians from the Chleuh
to the south while Henrys planned for an advance through the Middle
Atlas to the Guigou River. These operations were halted by the
reduction in forces imposed on him by the outbreak of the First World
War in Europe.
First World War
Lyautey received orders from Army headquarters in Paris on 28 July
1914 the day the
First World War
First World War began, requesting the dispatch of all
available troops to
France in anticipation of a German invasion and
the withdrawal of his remaining forces to more defensible coastal
enclaves. The French government justified this stance by stating
that the "fate of
Morocco will be determined in Lorraine".
Lyautey, who had lost most of his own possessions when his house in
Crévic had been burnt to the ground by advancing German forces, was
keen to support the defence of
France and within a month had sent 37
infantry and cavalry battalions and six artillery batteries to the
Western Front – more than had been requested of him. A
further 35,000 Moroccan labourers were recruited by Lyautey over the
course of the war for service in France.
A 1914 drawing of Senegalese Tirailleurs
Nevertheless, Lyautey did not wish to abandon the inland territory his
men had fought so hard for, stating that if he withdrew "such a shock
would result immediately all over Morocco ... that a general
revolt would arise under our feet, on all our points". Left with
just 20 battalions of legionnaires (mainly German and Austrian[nb 2]),
military criminals of the Infanterie Légère d'Afrique, territorial
Senegalese Tirailleurs and goumiers, he switched from the
offensive to a long-term strategy of "active defence". Lyautey
withdrew all non-essential personnel from his rear garrisons, brought
in elderly reservists from
France and issued weapons and elements of
military dress to civilians in an attempt to convince the tribes that
the French army in
Morocco was as strong as before. Lyautey
referred to this move as similar to hollowing out a lobster while
leaving the shell intact. His plan depended on holding a "living
barricade" of French outposts running from
Taza in the north through
Khenifra, Kasbah Tadla and
Marrakesh to Agadir on the Atlantic
Lyautey and Henrys intended to hold the Berbers in their current
positions until they had sufficient resources to return to the
offensive. The recent French advances and troop withdrawals had
Khénifra badly exposed and from 4 August – the day two
battalions of infantry left the garrison for
France – the Zaian
tribes launched a month-long attack on the town, supply convoys and
withdrawing French troops "without interruption". Lyautey was
determined to hold
Khénifra to use as a bridgehead for further
expansion of French territory and referred to it as a bastion against
the "hostile Berber masses" upon which the "maintenance of [his]
occupation" depended. Attacks on
Khénifra threatened the vital
communication corridor between French forces in
Morocco and those in
Algeria. To relieve pressure on the town, Claudel and
Garnier-Duplessix's groupes mobiles engaged Hammou and Amhaouch's
forces at Mahajibat, Bou Moussa and Bou Arar on 19, 20 and 21 August,
inflicting "considerable losses". This, combined with the
reinforcement of Khenifra on 1 September, led to reduced attacks,
decreasing to a state of "armed peace" by November.
German prisoners of war at work in Morocco
Henrys began to move towards a more offensive posture, ordering mobile
columns to circulate through the
Middle Atlas and mounted companies to
patrol the plains. This was part of his plan to maintain pressure
on Hammou, who he considered to be the linchpin of the "artificial"
Zaian Confederation and responsible for their continued
resistance. Henrys was counting on the onset of winter to
force the Zaians from the mountains to their lowland pastures where
they could be confronted or persuaded to surrender. In some cases
the war assisted Lyautey, allowing him a freer hand in his overall
strategy, greater access to finance and the use of at least 8,000
German prisoners of war to construct essential infrastructure.
In addition the increased national pride led many middle-aged French
Morocco to enlist in the army and, though they were of
poor fighting quality, Lyautey was able to use these men to maintain
the appearance of a large force under his command.
Battle of El Herri
Main article: Battle of El Herri
A modern image of the Oum er Rbia at Khénifra
When Henrys had successfully repulsed the attacks on Khénifra, he
believed he had the upper hand, having proven that the reduced French
forces could resist the tribesmen. The Zaians were now contained
within a triangle formed by the Oum er Rbia River, the Serrou River
and the Atlas Mountains, and were already in dispute with neighbouring
tribes over the best wintering land. Hammou decided to winter at
the small village of El Herri, 15 kilometres (9 miles) from Khénifra,
and established a camp of around 100 tents there. Hammou had
been promised peace talks by the French, and Lyautey twice refused
Laverdure permission to attack him and ordered him to remain on the
French bank of the Oum er Rbia. On 13 November Laverdure
decided to disobey these orders and marched to
El Herri with almost
his entire force, some 43 officers and 1,187 men with supporting
artillery and machine guns. This amounted to less than half the
force he had in September, when he had last been refused permission to
Laverdure's force surprised the Zaian camp, mostly empty of fighting
men, at dawn. A French cavalry charge, followed up with infantry,
successfully cleared the camp. After capturing two of Hammou's
wives and looting the tents the French started back for Khénifra.
The Zaians and other local tribes, eventually numbering 5,000 men,
began to converge on the French column and began harassing its flanks
and rear. The French artillery proved ineffective against
dispersed skirmishers and at the Chbouka river the rearguard and gun
batteries found themselves cut off and overrun. Laverdure detached
a small column of troops to take his wounded to Khénifra, remaining
behind with the rest of the force. Laverdure's remaining troops
were surrounded by the Zaians and were wiped out by a mass attack of
"several thousand" tribesmen.
The wounded and their escort reached Khenifra safely by noon, narrowly
outpacing their pursuers, who had stopped to loot the French
dead. This force of 431 able-bodied men and 176 wounded were
the only French survivors of the battle. The French lost 623 men
on the battlefield, while 182 Zaian were killed. The French
troops also lost 4 machine guns, 630 small arms, 62 horses, 56 mules,
all of their artillery and camping equipment and much of their
After El Herri
A drawing showing
French Foreign Legion
French Foreign Legion troops in action against
tribesmen in Morocco
The loss of the column at El Herri, the bloodiest defeat of a French
force in Morocco, left
Khénifra almost undefended. The senior
garrison officer, Captain Pierre Kroll, had just three companies of
men to protect the town. He managed to inform Lyautey and
Henrys of the situation by telegraph before the town came under siege
from the Zaians. Henrys determined to act quickly against the
Zaians to prevent Laverdure's defeat from jeopardising the French
presence in Morocco, dispatching Garnier-Duplessix's groupe mobile to
Khénifra and forming another groupe in support at Ito under
Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Dérigoin. Garnier-Duplessix fought
his way to the town, relieved it on 16 November, and was joined by
Henrys shortly afterwards. The 6th battalion of the 2nd French
Foreign Legion Regiment also reached the town, having fought off Zaian
attacks during their march from M'Rirt. Henrys led excursions from
El Herri as a show of force and to bury their dead, some
of whom had been taken as trophies by Hammou to encourage support from
The Zaian victory at El Herri, combined with slow French progress on
the Western Front and the siding of the Muslim
Ottoman Empire with the
Central Powers, led to an increase in recruits for the tribes and
greater co-operation between Hammou, Amhaouch and Said. To counter
this Henrys undertook a reorganisation of his forces, forming three
military districts centred on Fez,
Meknes and Tadla-Zaian (the
Khénifra region), the latter under the command of
Garnier-Duplessix. Henrys aimed to maintain pressure on Hammou
through an economic blockade and the closure of markets to unsubmitted
tribes. He imposed a war penalty, in the form of money, horses and
rifles, on submitting tribes, believing that their submission would
last only if they paid for it. Few tribes took up Henrys' offer
and the Zaians continued to cross the Rbia and attack French
The French returned to the offensive in March with Dérigoin's group
sweeping along the French bank of the Rbia, north of Khénifra, and
Garnier-Duplessix the left. Dérigoin faced and drove off only a
small Zaian force, but Garnier-Duplessix faced a more significant
force – his troops were almost overrun by a large mounted group but
managed to repulse them, inflicting "serious losses" in return for
French casualties of one man killed and eight wounded.
Garnier-Duplessix crossed the Rbia again in May to confiscate crops,
and was attacked there by a force of 4–5,000 tribesmen at Sidi
Sliman, near Kasbah Tadla. He repulsed them with artillery and
counterattacked successfully over the course of a two-day engagement,
killing 300 of the attackers and wounding 400 at the cost of 3 French
dead and 5 wounded. This victory restored the image of French
superiority and led to an increase in tribal submissions, the
withdrawal of Said's forces further into the mountains and a six-month
period of relative peace. In recognition of this Garnier-Duplessix
was promoted to major-general.
The peace was broken on 11 November 1915 by an attack on a supply
convoy headed for
Khénifra by 1,200–1,500 Zaians and allied
tribesmen. The Moroccans pressed to within 50 metres (55 yards) of
the French, and Garnier-Duplessix, in command of the convoy, was
forced to resort to the bayonet to push them back. French
casualties amounted to just 3 killed and 22 wounded but Henrys was
concerned by the influence that Hammou continued to hold over other
Berber tribes. In retaliation Henrys took both groupes mobiles
across the Rbia and bombarded the Zaian camp, inflicting casualties
but making little impression on their will to fight. The Zaians
recrossed the Rbia in January 1916, camping in French territory and
raiding the submitted tribes. Feeling that his communications with
Taza were threatened Henrys withdrew his groupes to the Khénifra
area, both of them coming under attack en route. At
sizeable Zaian attack was repulsed with 200 casualties but the French
suffered the loss of one officer and 24 men killed and 56 wounded.
A 1907 drawing of mounted goumiers attacking Moroccan tribesmen
Lyautey had successfully retained the territory he had captured before
the war but was of the opinion that he could not advance any further
without risking "an extremely painful" mountain conflict. He faced
having his troops withdrawn for service on the Western Front and being
left with what he described as "degenerates and outcasts", a loss only
partially mitigated by the expansion of the irregular tribal units to
21 goums in strength. Henrys accepted an offer of a position
France and was replaced by
Colonel Joseph-François Poeymirau, a
keen follower of Lyautey who had served as Henrys' second in command
at Meknes. Lyautey was offered the post of Minister of War at the
invitation of Prime Minister Aristide Briand, which he accepted on 12
December 1916. Lyautey was replaced, at his request, by
General Henri Gouraud, who had experience fighting alongside Lyautey
Morocco and who had recently returned from the Dardanelles, where
he had lost his right arm. Lyautey soon became disillusioned
with French tactics in Europe, the disunity prevailing between the
Allies and his position as a symbolic figurehead of the
government. He was unfamiliar with dealing with political
opposition and resigned on 14 March 1917, after being shouted down in
the Chamber of Deputies. The government could not survive the
resignation of such a senior cabinet member and Briand himself
resigned on 17 March, to be replaced by Alexandre Ribot.
Lyautey returned to his former position in
Morocco at the end of May
and immediately decided on a new strategy. He concentrated his forces
in the Moulouya Valley, convinced that the submission of the tribes in
this area would lead to the collapse of the Zaian
resistance. In preparation for this new offensive
Poeymirau established a French post at El Bekrit, within Zaian
territory, and forced the submission of three local tribes. He
then used this post to protect his flanks during an advance
south-eastwards into the valley, intending to meet with a column led
Colonel Paul Doury, advancing north-west from Boudenib. The
two columns met at Assaka Nidji on 6 June, a moment which represented
the establishment of the first French-controlled route across the
Atlas mountains, and earned Poeymirau promotion to
brigadier-general. A defensive camp was soon established at Kasbah
el Makhzen, and Doury began construction on a road that he promised
would be traversable by motor transport by 1918.
By late 1917 motorised lorries were able to traverse much of the road,
allowing the French to quickly move troops to areas of trouble and
supply their garrisons in eastern
Morocco from the west rather than
over long routes from the Algerian depots. A secondary road was
constructed, leading southwards from the first along the Ziz River,
that allowed Doury to reach
Er-Rich in the High Atlas, and major posts
were established at
Midelt and Missour. The Zaians refused to be
drawn into attacking the fortified posts that the French built along
their new roads, though other tribes launched attacks that summer
after rumours of French defeats on the European front. In one
instance, in mid-June, it took Poeymirau's entire groupe three days to
restore control of the road after an attack.
Doury had expanded the theatre of operations, against Lyautey's
orders, by establishing a French mission at Tighmart, in the Tafilalt
region, in December 1917 in reaction to a rumoured German presence
there. The land here, mainly desert, was almost worthless to the
French and Lyautey was keen for his subordinates to focus on the more
valuable Moulouya Valley. Local tribes resisted the French
presence, killing a translator working at the mission in July
1918. Doury sought to avenge this act on 9 August by engaging up
to 1,500 tribesmen, led by Sidi Mhand n'Ifrutant, at Gaouz with a
smaller French force that included artillery and aircraft
support. Entering a thick, jungle-like date palm oasis, one
subgroup of Doury's force suffered a close, hard-fought action,
hampered by exhaustion and poor supply lines. The whole force
suffered casualties of 238 men killed and 68 wounded, the worst French
losses since the disaster at El Herri, and also lost much of their
equipment and transport. Lyautey was doubtful of Doury's claim
to have almost wiped out his foe, and in response chastised him for
his rash action in "this most peripheral of zones" and placed him
under Poeymirau's direct command. Thus, as the war in Europe
was drawing to a close in the early summer of 1918, the French
remained hard pressed in Morocco. Despite the death of
Ali Amhaouch by
natural causes, significant numbers of tribesmen under the leadership
of Hammou and Said continued to oppose them.
Central Powers in Morocco
Former Sultan Abdelhafid in 1914
Central Powers attempted to incite unrest in the Allied
territories in Africa and the Middle East during the war, with the aim
of diverting military resources away from the Western Front.
German intelligence had identified Northwest Africa as the "Achilles'
heel" of the French colonies, and encouraging resistance there became
an important objective. Their involvement began in 1914, with the
Germans attempting to find a suitable Moroccan leader that they could
use to unite the tribes against the French. Their initial choice,
former Sultan Abdelaziz, refused to co-operate and moved to the south
France to prevent any further approaches. Instead they entered
negotiations with his successor Abdelhafid. He initially co-operated
with the Germans, renouncing his former pro-Allied stance in autumn
1914 and moving to
Barcelona to meet with officials from Germany, the
Ottoman Empire and the Moroccan resistance. During this time he
was also selling information to the French. These mixed loyalties
came to light when he refused to board a German submarine headed for
Morocco, and the
Central Powers decided he was of no further use.
Abdelhafid then attempted to extort money from the French intelligence
services, who responded by halting his pension and arranging his
internment at El Escorial. He was later awarded a stipend by
Germany in return for his silence on the matter.
The failure to find a suitable leader caused the Germans to alter
their plans from a widespread insurrection in
Morocco to smaller-scale
support of the existing resistance movement. German support
included the supply of military advisers and Foreign Legion deserters
to the tribes as well as cash, arms and ammunition. Money (in both
pesetas and francs) was smuggled into
Morocco from the German embassy
at Madrid. The money was transferred to
boat or wired through the telegraph before being smuggled to the
tribes, who each received up to 600,000 pesetas per month. Weapons
arrived through long-established routes from Spanish
Larache or else
purchased directly from French gun runners or corrupt Spanish Army
troops. The Germans found it hard to get resources to the Zaians
Middle Atlas due to the distances involved and most of what did
get through went to Said's forces. German attempts to distribute
supplies inland were frustrated when many tribes hoarded the best
resources. Ammunition remained scarce in the Middle Atlas, and
many were forced to rely on locally manufactured gunpowder and
Ottoman Empire also supported the Moroccan tribesmen in this
period, having provided military training to them since 1909. They
co-operated with German intelligence to write and distribute
propaganda in Arabic, French and the
Middle Atlas Berber dialect.
Much of the Ottoman intelligence effort was coordinated by Arab agents
operating from the embassy in Madrid and at least two members of the
Ottoman diplomatic staff there are known to have seen active service
with the tribes in
Morocco during the war. Ottoman efforts in
Morocco were hindered by internal divisions among the staff,
disagreements with their German allies and the outbreak of the Arab
Revolt in 1916, with which some of the embassy staff sympathised.
These problems led many of the Ottoman diplomatic corps in Spain to
leave for America in September 1916, bringing to an end many of the
significant Ottoman operations in Morocco.
Poster advertising the 1915 Casablanca Fair
French intelligence forces worked hard to combat the Central Powers
and to win the support of the Moroccan people. A series of commercial
expositions, such as the Casablanca Fair of 1915, were held to
demonstrate the wealth of
France and the benefits of co-operation.
In addition to stepping up their propaganda campaign and increasing
the use of bribes to convince tribes to submit, the French established
markets at their military outposts and paid Moroccans to undertake
public works. Islamic scholars were also encouraged to issue
fatwās supporting the Moroccan Sultan's declaration of independence
from the Ottoman Empire.
French and British intelligence agents co-operated in French and
Morocco and Gibraltar, tracking Ottoman and German agents,
infiltrating the advisers sent to the tribes and working to halt the
flow of arms. German citizens in
Morocco were placed under
careful scrutiny and four were executed within days of the war's
start. The French broke the codes used by the German embassy and
were able to read almost every communication sent from there to the
General Staff in Berlin. Bribes paid to staff at the Ottoman
mission to Spain secured intelligence on the Central Powers' plans for
Although the efforts of the
Central Powers caused a resurgence in
resistance against French rule, they were largely ineffective, falling
short of the planners' aims of a widespread jihad. There
were few cases of mass civil disorder,
France was not required to
reinforce the troops stationed in Morocco, and the export of raw
materials and labour for the war effort continued. Although they
were never able to completely stem the flow of arms, despite
considerable effort, the French were able to limit the supply of
machine guns and artillery. The tribes were thus unable to
face the French in direct confrontation and had to continue to rely on
ambushes and raids. This contrasted with the Spanish experience in
Rif War of 1920–26, in which tribes with access to such weapons
were able to inflict defeats upon the Spanish Army in the field, such
as at the Battle of Annual.
A contemporary depiction of Thami El Glaoui,
Pasha of Marrakesh
The heavy French losses at the Battle of Gaouz encouraged an increase
in tribal activity across the south-east of Morocco, threatening the
French presence at Boudenib. Poeymirau was forced to withdraw
garrisons from outlying posts in the Tafilalt, including that at
Tighmart, to concentrate his force and reduce the risk of further
disasters. Lyautey authorised only a series of limited offensives,
such as the razing of villages and gardens, the primary aim of which
was to emphasise French military superiority. The French struggled
to move troops through the mountain passes from the Moulouya Valley
due to heavy snows and attacks on their columns, and Lyautey, to his
embarrassment, was forced to request reinforcements from Algeria.
By October the situation had stabilised to the extent that Poeymirau
was able to withdraw his troops to Meknes, but a large-scale uprising
in January 1919 forced his return. Poeymirau defeated n'Ifrutant
in battle at
Meski on 15 January, but was seriously wounded in the
chest by the accidental explosion of an artillery shell and was forced
to hand command to
Colonel Antoine Huré. Lyautey then received
assistance from Thami El Glaoui, a tribal leader who Lyautey had made
Marrakesh after the uprising of 1912. El Glaoui owed his
increasing wealth (when he died in 1956 he was one of the richest men
in the world) to corruption and fraud, which the French tolerated in
return for his support. Thus committed to Lyautey's cause, El
Glaoui led an army of 10,000 men, the largest Moroccan tribal force
ever seen, across the Atlas to defeat anti-French tribesmen in the
Dadès Gorges and to reinforce the garrison at
Boudenib on 29
January. The uprising was over by 31 January 1919.
French Foreign Legion
French Foreign Legion unit on the march in Morocco, 1920
The conflict in the
Tafilalt distracted the French from their main war
aims, draining French reinforcements in return for little economic
gain and drawing comparisons to the recent Battle of Verdun.
Indeed, the Zaians were encouraged by French losses in the area to
renew their attacks on guardposts along the trans-Atlas road. The
French continued to hope for a negotiated end to the conflict and had
been in discussions with Hammou's close relatives since 1917.
Indeed, his nephew, Ou El Aidi, had offered his submission in exchange
for weapons and money but had been refused by the French who suspected
he wanted to fight with his cousin, Hammou's son, Hassan. With no
progress in these negotiations Poeymirau moved against the tribes to
the north and south of
Khénifra in 1920, the front in this area
having remained static for six years. Troops were brought in from
Meknes to establish blockhouses and mobile reserves along
the Rbia to prevent the Zaians crossing to use the pastures. The
French were opposed vigorously but eventually established three
blockhouses and forced some of the local tribes to submit. French
successes in the
Khénifra region persuaded Hassan and his two
brothers to submit to the French on 2 June 1920, having returned some
of the equipment captured at El Herri. Hassan was soon
Khénifra and his 3,000 tents were brought under
French protection in an expanded zone of occupation around the
Hammou's son, Hassan, surrendering to General Poeymirau
Following the submission of his sons, Hammou retained command of only
2,500 tents and in Spring 1921 was killed in a skirmish with other
Zaian tribes that opposed continued resistance. The French seized
the opportunity to launch an assault on the last bastion of Zaian
resistance, located near El Bekrit. In September a three-pronged
attack was made: General
Jean Théveney moved west from the El Bekrit
Henry Freydenberg moved east from Taka Ichian and
a third group of submitted tribesmen under Hassan and his brothers
also took part. Théveney encountered resistance from the
Zaians in his area but Freydenberg was almost unopposed and within
days all resistance was put down. After seven years of fighting
Zaian War was ended, though Lyautey continued his expansion in the
area, promising to have all of "useful Morocco" under French control
by 1923. Lyautey had been granted the dignity of a Marshal
France in 1921 in recognition of his work in Morocco.
Map depicting the staged pacification of
Morocco through to 1934
In Spring 1922, Poeymirau and Freydenberg launched attacks into the
headwaters of the Moulouya in the western
Middle Atlas and managed to
defeat Said, the last surviving member of the Berber triumvirate, at
El Ksiba in April 1922. Said was forced to flee, with much of
the Aït Ichkern tribe, to the highest mountains of the Middle Atlas
and then into the High Atlas. Lyautey then secured the submission
of several more tribes, constructed new military posts and improved
his supply roads; by June 1922, he had brought the entire Moulouya
Valley under control and pacified much of the Middle Atlas.
Limited in numbers by rapid post-war demobilisation and commitments to
garrisons in Germany, he determined not to march through the difficult
terrain of the High Atlas but to wait for the tribes to tire of the
guerrilla war and submit. Said never did so, dying in action
against a groupe mobile in March 1924, though his followers continued
to cause problems for the French into the next decade.
Pacification of the remaining tribal areas in French
completed in 1934, though small armed gangs of bandits continued to
attack French troops in the mountains until 1936. Moroccan
opposition to French rule continued, a plan for reform and return to
indirect rule was published by the nationalist Comité d'Action
Marocaine (CAM) in 1934, with significant riots and demonstrations
occurring in 1934, 1937, 1944 and 1951. France, having
failed to quell the nationalists by deposing the popular Sultan
Mohammed V and already fighting a bloody war of independence in
Algeria, recognised Moroccan independence in 1956.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Zaian War.
The Rif War, a 1920–26 conflict between the Rif people and the
Spanish, French, and Jebala people.
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^ The French did not expect men of the foreign legion to have to fight
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Franco-Spanish conquest of
French protectorate in Morocco
Spanish protectorate in Morocco
Rif War (1920–26)
Zaian War (1914–21)
Tetuan War (1859–60)
Melilla War (1893–94)
Battle of Casablanca (1908)
Melilla War (1909–10)
Battle of Sidi Bou Othman
Battle of Sidi Bou Othman (1912)
El Ksiba (1913)
Battle of El Herri
Battle of El Herri (1914)
Battle of Annual
Battle of Annual (1921)
Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni
Mouha ou Hammou Zayani
Moha ou Said
Sidi Ahmed El Hiba
Henry de Bournazel
Thami El Glaoui
Sultan Moulay Youssef
Juan García y Margallo
Manuel Fernández Silvestre
José Millán Astray
Miguel Primo de Rivera
Generalísimo Francisco Franco
Treaty of Fez (1894)
Algeciras Conference (1906)
Pact of Cartagena (1907)
Treaty of Fes (1912)
Franco-Spanish Treaty (1912)
First Moroccan Crisis
First Moroccan Crisis (1905)
Agadir Crisis (1911)
History of World War I by region and country
South West Africa