Manuel Fernández Silvestre
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He was the son of the lieutenant colonel of artillery Victor Fernandez and of Doña Eleuteria Silvestre. In 1889 he enrolled in the Military school of Toledo, where he met with the future high commissioner of Spanish Morocco, Dámaso Berenguer.
After the Academy, he headed to Cuba in 1895 to fight there until the Spanish withdrawal in 1898. There he received 22 wounds altogether, and had a severe incapacity of the left arm which he disguised very well.
In 1904, after many postings to peninsular regiments, he was dispatched to the Spanish exclave of Melilla on the Mediterranean Rif coast of North Africa, where he proved to be an excellent negotiator, although also a fierce and an unpredictable man. In 1912 he occupied Larache and in 1918 he become the Commandant-General of Ceuta. As such he reported to the High Commissioner, a position that was filled by Dámaso Berenguer.
Silvestre led several campaigns against Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni, a notorious North Moroccan brigand, from 1913 through 1920. Though he never defeated Raisuni outright, his men inflicted such high casualties on him that Raisuni ceased to be threat to Spanish authority.
After stopping in Ceuta, Silvestre marched in 1920 to take command of the Command of Melilla, from where, in January 1921 he led the Rif invasion in order to stop the local resistance led by the guerrilla leader Abd el-Krim. The operation was risky and dangerous, since the Spanish soldiers were very poorly trained and scared of the Rifians. The local resistance began to believe that they were able to defeat the Spanish when, on June 1 of 1921, they took the position from Abarrán, killing many Spanish soldiers in combat.
After the fall of Igueriben in July 22, the rebels attacked a Spanish military camp. The garrison of 5,000 soldiers ran away instead of fighting. There were at least 1,000 casualties among the Spanish. Silvestre reportedly further demoralized his men by yelling at them, "Run, run, the bogeyman is coming!" as they attempted to rally following their initial defeat.
According to many witnesses, Silvestre, on seeing the disaster, got into his tent and committed suicide with a bullet to the head. A total of 15,000 Spanish soldiers fell in the days from July 22 to August 9; most died during the infamous Battle of Annual (known as the Disaster of Annual to Spanish historians). On that final day, Silvestre's deputy, general Navarro, surrendered with his men in Arruit mountain.
References and notes
Much of the content of this article comes from the equivalent Spanish-language Wikipedia article, accessed April 9, 2007.
- Woolman, David S. Rebels in the Rif: Abd el-Krim and the Rif Rebellion (Stanford: University Press, 1988), 91