Army of Africa (Spain)
The Army of Africa (Spanish: Ejército de África or Cuerpo de Ejército Marroquí, "Moroccan Army Corps" Arabic: الجيش الإسباني في أفريقيا Al-Jaish Al-Isbaniy fi Afriqa) was a Spanish field army that garrisoned Spanish Morocco from the early 20th century until Morocco's independence in 1956.
Origins and early years
Spain maintained garrisons in its two Moroccan coastal enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta from the fifteenth century. At different times these were made up of sailors, disciplinary companies, marine infantry, free companies and detachments from metropolitan units. The Spanish Army of Africa can be said to have originated as a permanent institution with the establishment in 1893 of the Regimiento de Africa No 1 (1st African Infantry Regiment). Following the Melilla Campaign of 1908-09 Spain began expanding inland from its established coastal holdings and a force of Policia Indigena (Native Police) was created with Moroccan personnel.
By the 1920s the Army of Africa was composed of Spanish troops as well as the Spanish Foreign Legion (created in 1921) and locally recruited Moroccan infantry and cavalry units called Regulares (created in 1911). In total, the Army of Africa numbered 30,000 soldiers and was the most professional and effective fighting force in the 100,000-man Spanish Army during the 1920s and 30s. Infantry recruited in the enclave of Ifni ("Tiradores de Ifni") were also considered part of the Army of Africa.
Spanish Morocco was the closest Spanish colonial territory to mainland Spain and the most difficult to control. A major Moroccan revolt against both Spanish and French colonial rule began in 1921, with the destruction of a Spanish army at Annual. The Rif tribes were finally subdued only with difficulty by substantial Franco-Spanish forces after several years fighting. The Spanish Army of Africa played a major part in these campaigns, spearheading operations while the role of the less effective Metropolitan conscripts was, after Annual, generally restricted to the provision of support and garrison units.
Role in the Spanish Civil War
The Army of Africa was to play a key part during the Spanish Civil War of 1936–39. Along with other units in the Spanish Army, the Army of Africa rose against the Republican Government and took part in the Nacional military rebellion of July 1936. On July 18, 1936, General Francisco Franco assumed the supreme command over this force.
Spanish Morocco fell to the rebels without significant opposition. The initial intention was to transport the Army of Africa to mainland Spain by sea. However the crews of Spanish warships whose officers had joined the revolt remained loyal to the Republican government in Madrid. Significant numbers of the Army of Africa were accordingly transported to mainland Spain in a bold airlift led by Junkers and Savoia-Marchetti transport planes supplied by Germany and Italy.
After landing in Spain, the Army of Africa was split into two columns, one commanded by General Juan Yagüe and the other commanded by Colonel José Varela. Yagüe's force advanced north, making remarkably rapid gains, and then turned north-eastwards towards Madrid and Toledo. Varela's force entered Andalusia and took control of the key cities of Seville, Granada, and Cordova. Thanks mostly to the Army of Africa's advances, almost all of western Spain was in Francoist Nacionales hands by the end of September 1936. By early 1937 the Army of Africa's strength had been increased to 60,000 men. The Legion and Regulares spearheaded the Nacionales's operations for the remainder of the war and played a central role in the Nacional victory.
Post Moroccan independence
Following Moroccan independence in 1956 the bulk of the locally recruited Regulares were transferred to the new Royal Moroccan Army. The cities of Melilla and Ceuta and the lesser plazas de soberanía as well remained Spanish and are still garrisoned by Legion and Regulares units.