IN discussing the situation in Morocco, the question has repeatedly been debated during the past few months as to why the French, with the greatest modern army in existence in the world today, with a vast air superiority over any other nation, with the senior Marshal of France present in person in the theatre of operations, should have been unable to subdue a comparatively insignificant enemy in a campaign which, commencing the latter part of last April, has just terminated with the coming of the torrential rains of winter. This question is particularly enigmatical when it is known that a large Spanish army has been practically beseiged in three widely-separated, fortified areas on the eastern and western extremities of the Riff ever since their withdrawal from more advanced positions in the interior in 1924.

Recently General Boichut was asked this very question. The General commands the East Sector, or Nineteenth Corps, of the French Army with headquarters at Taza on the main road from Fez to Algiers. General Boichut answered that it was not a question of defeating Abd-el-Krim, but a question of defeating Nature, who has put all her advantages in favor of the Riffs. Mobile columns can push ahead with little difficulty but can only do so with safety if their rear and lines of communication are protected. The war, such as it is, is a war of transportation, for the greatest difficulty is the entire absence of roads. The mountainous country of the Riff is one of contrasts. In the dry season there is no water at all save in the few wells that are occasionally found. Advances must be from water hole to water hole. In the rainy season, the plains of the Ouergha and the Moulouya are a morass; water courses, dry the greater part of the year, are raging torrents. Woe betide the column cut off by rain in the Riff during the wet season. Starvation is certain for those fortunate enough to escape the incessant sniping of Krim's troops, who, accustomed to operate as individuals or in parties of two or three at most, have few wants and roam the country at will.

The almost insuperable difficulties of the terrain may perhaps be more clearly visualized by considering the numbers of troops engaged in and around a theatre of operations only 125 miles from east to west and only 37 miles from north to south.

The Spanish permanent Army of Morocco consists of a European force of 69,290 officers and men and a native force of 15,000 of all ranks. In addition to the permanent Army of Morocco, Spain had an Expeditionary Force of 35,000 of all ranks in her zone at the beginning of October. This made a total of 104,000 Spanish troops in Morocco, in addition to the native "Regulares" and "Mehalla Jalifiana." The large force of Spain's European troops was distributed as follows toward the close of this summer's campaign: Melilla Zone, 45,142; Ceuta Zone, 40,516; El Araish Zone, 18,537. Fourteen thousand Spanish troops took part in the landing operations on Alhucemas Bay and the capture of Ajdir which followed.

The French force in Morocco at the beginning of the year numbered some 72,500 officers and men. This number has been increased until, today, there are over 150,000 French troops available.

Against these large forces, Abd-el-Krim has only his "regular army" of the Riff, numbering from 6,000 to 10,000 well-armed men, and such tribes as he could induce or coerce to assist him against the ring of steel with which his mountainous haunts are surrounded. All reports are to the effect that the Riffs never have had more than 40,000 to 50,000 rifles, and it may be accepted as a fact that their forces at no time have exceeded that number.

Spain has attempted to pit European troops against these people and, leaving out for the moment her recent successes at Ajdir, has failed. European troops must have some semblance of European comforts; but their present opponents, accustomed to this kind of warfare, can endure unbelievable hardships.

France, on the other hand, is using African troops to fight Africans. Her Africans are better disciplined than the Riffs, better led and better equipped with every weapon that is effective in this type of warfare; further, they are just as habituated to lifelong campaigning as are the Riffs. Of the 150,000 French troops in Morocco, only 12,000 are Frenchmen, which number supplies all the officers, non-commissioned officers and specialists of this large force. The rest (apart from the Foreign Legion) are Africans -- Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians and Senegalese. The French Foreign Legion, by the way, now has sixteen of its nineteen battalions in Morocco, numbering 12,800 men, forty percent of whom are Germans, forty percent Russians, and the remainder a mélange of all nations. The officers are enthusiastic about the fighting qualities of their men, who spend their entire term of service in the field under an iron discipline.

Thus, while Spain relies almost entirely on her own nationals for this trying military service, the proportion of her European troops to her native troops being almost five to one, France reverses this proportion, her ratio at present being roughly twelve natives to one European.

It is often forgotten that continuous warfare has been carried on by the French in Morocco since 1919 when, with the ending of the World War, they were enabled once more to resume the pacification of their Moroccan protectorate.

The operations of 1923 were conducted by some 22,000 out of the 63,000 troops which France then had in Morocco. In 1924 a large force under General de Chambrun badly defeated Abd-el-Krim's regulars and was able to establish firmly a new frontier on a line of crests dominating the country north of the Ouergha River. This brought within the French line a rich country which had been indispensable for the supply of the Riffs in their main operations against the Spaniards, and established a new line of outposts near the edge of the Spanish Zone. The same year, however, saw the termination of Spain's efforts to control her portion of Morocco. Spain proceeded to withdraw her troops, until at the close of the year only the Melilla area on the east and the extreme western end of her zone remained in her possession, and this not including the country of the Andjera and El Haouz tribes between Ceuta and Tangier.

The withdrawal of the Spaniards made it certain that the spring of 1925 would bring renewed attacks by the Riffs against the French. These attacks were launched between April 25 and 28 all along the French front from north of Ouezzane to Kifane, north of Taza. Though expected, the new offensive caught the French with insufficient troops, and by July the entire line of French posts, which had been established with so much difficulty the year before, was withdrawn south of the Ouergha River. Large French reinforcements arrived in July and an extensive campaign was initiated. By September the French had seven divisions in Morocco, consisting of 114 battalions of infantry, 25 squadrons of cavalry and a regiment of 22 squadrons of airplanes (6 planes per squadron), with tanks, artillery, armored cars and the necessary supply troops. The front was divided into three sectors, each occupied by a corps of two divisions. General Naulin was officially in command, with General de Chambrun in charge of the local political situation. The Moroccan Division from the Rhine was held in general reserve at Fez.

Late in July came the most significant achievement of the year's operations in North Africa. For years France and Spain had conducted entirely separate operations on opposite sides of the Riff, though almost within long range cannon shot of each other. The result was that the Moors were able to meet each of these attacks separately and either defeat or so hold it up that no real gains were made. In fact when the Spaniards withdrew to the coast after the campaign of 1924, the Riffs had been able for once to concentrate all their strength against the French. Now, mainly through the efforts of the French, an accord with the Spaniards was drawn up in Madrid. No official version of the terms of the agreement has ever been made public, but it is sufficient to know that the navies of the two nations were to operate together in blockading the Mediterranean coast of the Riff, that neither was to conclude a separate peace with Abd-el-Krim, and that troops of either might freely cross into the zone of the other. Following the Madrid agreement, Marshal Petain and General de Rivera held a conference on July 28 at Tetuan, in the Spanish Zone.

In August the results of the agreement began to be manifest. There was a general advance by strong French columns in each of the three sectors. The objects of the French attacks were as follows. In the West Sector, the objective was to regain the posts north and east of Ouezzane and to establish connection with the Spanish on the Loukos River. The Center Sector was to clear the crossings of the Ouergha River by seizing and organizing commanding positions on the north side. The East Sector was charged with making a strong drive north of Kifane, which direction constitutes the shortest line to Ajdir; there, if the Spanish attack were a success, connection with the Spanish troops might be hoped for, thus cutting the Riff in two.

Spain, not ready to shift from her passive defensive attitude to a more active status when the French began their advance in August, centered attention on Alhucemas Bay by broadcasting rumors of a projected expedition in force to capture Ajdir, the so-called "capital" of the Riff chieftain. Late in September Spain launched the much-advertised Alhucemas Bay expedition to hold as many regular Riff troops as possible in that area, secure the excellent harbor at Ajdir for future operations, and gain the moral advantage of seizing the "capital" of the chieftain himself.

A general survey of the campaign may now be made, as all active operations practically came to a halt during the first week in October when the rains commenced.

In the West Sector, General Pruneau's 128th Division strengthened its contact with the Spanish line on the Loukos River, north of Ouezzane. The 35th Division now extends the regained old French line through the Center Sector (General Marty), which is held by the 2d Division. In the East Sector (General Boichut), three rifle divisions -- the 1st, 11th and 3d -- and a cavalry division, were stopped in a drive north of Kifane by the wet weather; the cavalry division did, however, close the gap between the French and Spanish troops, a Spanish column having pushed forward at the same time from Afso. The line of the Kert River will be held by the French and Spanish together. Ajdir fell to the Spanish attack and is now strongly held by some 8,000 troops.

The net results have been, first, to initiate coördinated operations between the forces of France and Spain; second, to deprive the Riffs of their capital, Ajdir, and of their chief source of supply, the Ouergha valley; and third, to squeeze Krim into a pocket. All these reverses will have the result of very seriously impairing the loyalty of the great bulk of Krim's adherents, most of whom are kept in line only by the fear that they will lose their cattle, which are held secure in the interior as hostages for their owners' faithfulness. Cavalry raids will doubtless continue during the winter, with the probability that the Spanish line will be advanced from Afrau to connect with the position at Ajdir.

Active hostilities having ceased, the outlook for next year's campaign may be considered. Neither Spain nor France can afford to maintain the present large armies in the field for a day longer than is necessary. Against either of his adversaries alone, Abd-el-Krim, assisted by the difficulties Nature has so lavishly provided, was able to carry on most successfully. But against the two engaged in coordinated operations, with his sea-coast blockaded and his main port of entry lost, he has little chance for a continuance of successful resistance next spring. It seems more than probable that the winter will bring forth peace terms which will be acceptable to all concerned.

When fighting ceases politics holds the center of the stage. Political activity over the Morocco question will now be keener than ever. The Spanish Directorate, which was trembling in the balance during the past summer, seems once more secure. The King, in recognition of popular clamor, recently decorated General Primo de Rivera with the Cross of San Fernando, with laurels, the Spanish "Medal of Honor." But in France financial questions have just caused the fall of one Cabinet, and the French Socialists never overlook an opportunity to attack the Government for its heavy expenditures for the army in Morocco. Abd-el-Krim certainly can obtain better terms this winter than he can ever again hope for. The diplomats were responsible for the Franco-Spanish agreement which paved the way for the military successes of this summer's campaign. Diplomacy may now be expected to make next year's campaign unnecessary.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now