Battle of Annual

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Battle of Annual
Part of: Rifkrieg (1921)
Fallen Spanish soldiers on Monte Arruit (June 1921)
Fallen Spanish soldiers on Monte Arruit (June 1921)
date July 22, 1921
place Annual , Morocco
Exit Decisive victory for the Rifkabylen
Parties to the conflict

Spain 1875Spain Spain

Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg Rif Republic


Spain 1875Spain Manuel Fernández SilvestreFelipe Navarro y Ceballos-Escalera
Spain 1875Spain

Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg Abd al-Karim Ali el-Khattabi
Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg

Troop strength
18,011 soldiers and Regulares 3,000 insurgents , between 6,000 and 10,000

13,363 dead and missing

1,000 dead

The Battle of Annual took place on July 22, 1921 at Annual in northeastern Spanish Morocco as part of the Rif War . It was a military conflict between the Spanish army and rebels from the Rif region . In Spain there is talk of the disaster of Annual in connection with the battle . The defeat led to a domestic political crisis in Spain and to a rethinking of colonial policy in the Rif region.


In 1921, Spain launched an offensive into north-eastern Morocco from the already occupied coast . The advance took place without the establishment of (well) functioning communication channels or secure supply lines and the newly occupied areas were not under complete control at this point in time.

General Manuel Fernández Silvestre was in command . The trained cavalry officer was used to rapid advancement and was favored by the Spanish King Alfonso XIII. ; Silvestre had charisma and was popular with the troops; he was seen as brave and daring - but also as impulsive. After the tragedy of Annual, he was accused of carelessness and gross miscalculations.

The rebellious Rifkabylen were under the command of Abd al-Karim . He had previously worked for the Spanish Native Affairs Bureau in Melilla and was one of the tribal leaders of the Aith Ouriaghel . He and Silvestre knew each other personally from their time in Melilla.

Spanish troops

Silvestre's troops consisted of around 16,000 soldiers, 4,000 Moroccan regulares and a few hundred allied local police units ( Mías de Policía Indígena ). The Regulares were experienced in combat and carried the brunt of the offensive actions (spearhead). The bulk consisted of infantry, but artillery, cavalry and a squadron of obsolete aircraft were also available. Certain units were permanently stationed in fortresses, cities or on islands off the coast and could not be used at the front. The Spanish soldiers were poorly trained, poorly equipped and their weapons in poor condition. Many of the recruits came from the social middle or lower class and did not have the financial means to buy their way out of three years of military service in North Africa; Last but not least, they lacked the motivation to fight far away from home.

Military advance

The advance was quick and without any noteworthy resistance, but the consolidation of the front was inadequate afterwards. The security posts along the conquered areas consisted of blocaos , fortifications similar to log cabins, the surrounding area was additionally secured with sandbags and barbed wire. The crew typically consisted of 12-20 men. The blocaos had been built on heights, but usually did not have a well or access to drinking water and were often too far apart to give each other cover. The daily march for water exposed the soldiers to the danger of ambushes, which made it easy for the blocaos to be cut off from supplies.

After Silvestre's troops had advanced from Melilla to Annual (January 15, 1921), Abd al-Karim sent him a warning: Should Silvestre only move one of his men further west or ( the Christians ) cross the river Amekran (Oued Amakrane) , the river will be soaked with their blood. Regardless of this, on May 15, 1921, a Spanish column advanced over the Amekran to Sidi Driss on the Mediterranean coast to establish a base there. The front thus reached its maximum extent and now extended from Melilla about 130 km to the west in a long arc over the south. To secure the line, around 14,000 men had to be stationed in 155 positions (4,000 men in the west, 10,000 in the south).

Mount Abarrán

On June 1, 1921, Spanish units again crossed the Amekran to secure Monte Abarrán (hill, approx. 500 m above sea level) 7 km west (as the crow flies) of Annual with 276 men. 200 of them were Moroccan regulars and police Mías. The position had hardly been established when the Rifkabylen attacked it. After four hours of intense fighting, the defenders ran out of ammunition or the gun and cannon fire subsided; When most of the officers were wounded or fallen, individual units of the Regulares and Mías fled or ran over to the enemy (depending on the source, even at the beginning). Most of the defenders were killed, a few captured and only a few managed to escape.

The next day the position in Sidi Driss was also attacked. However, the Spanish occupiers (approx. 150 men) managed to repel the attackers successfully. These two events as well as increased attacks on his supply columns made Silvestre sit up and take notice, he then reinforced Annual with additional troop contingents and had the base fortified. On June 7th, the Spaniards set up an upstream base in Igueriben ( Ighriben ) about 5 km south of Annual; the path led through narrow gorges and over steep slopes. Igueriben was endowed with a crew of 300-350 as well as four artillery pieces ( Schneider ) and four machine guns ( Hotchkiss ). Using a heliograph , the outpost was able to communicate with the garrison in Annual, from where the logistical supply (water) took place on a daily basis.

Abd al-Karim had used the victorious battle at Abarrán to win more tribes and fighters for the war of independence. Their numbers grew strongly (to 6,000-10,000). The Rifkabylen had realized that they could defeat the colonial occupiers.


On July 14, 1921, Abd al-Karim's men attacked a supply force from Annual and began to fire and besiege the position near Igueriben. On 17 and 18 July, the situation for the encircled troops intensified dramatically because the two Riffs at Abarrán captured guns inserting against them and fired more targeted. Igueriben was cut off from the supply and the water supply was almost used up; the convoys from Annual couldn't get through and were wiped out. Even a column of 3,000 men did not make it and had to retreat under heavy fire and losses. The occupiers in Igueriben were severely decimated, dehydrated and had to cope with further failures due to heat collapse and the stench of corpses and animal carcasses lying around. After they had used up the juice from the cans, they pressed the liquid out of the potatoes and finally had to drink ink, perfume, or urine mixed with sugar. Given the hopeless situation, Silvestre gave the order to give up Igueriben. On July 21st, the occupiers tried to break through the siege ring. The officers gave them fire protection and were the last to evacuate the position. Only one officer and 15 soldiers survived, with the officer and four soldiers being captured. Of the eleven soldiers who made it to Annual, a few are said to have succumbed to heat stroke shortly after their arrival.

Silvestre was horrified to find that the enemy was numerically much stronger and better armed than assumed - too late, Annual was already besieged. Silvestre now feared losing this base too.

Spanish positions / retreat (schematic)


Carga del río Igan , by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau (2013).

After the siege and fall of Igueriben , the Garrison of Annual fell on July 22nd, 1921 . Silvestre ordered the retreat to Melilla, which ended in an irregular escape; Wounded, sick, weapons, equipment were left behind.

“So they flee, run into each other, stumble, run back, hurry forward like mad. The dead are piling up next to the railway line, […] on the driveway that runs parallel to it. In the distance, the breath of plague that rises from them mixes with the full, drawn out tones of pandero and chirima (Moroccan instruments) […]. The Moroccan patrols became more and more numerous and from El Bokete, the mountain range near Dar Drius, to Tistutin [places between Anual and Melilla] the ground was literally littered with mutilated corpses. Persecuted soldiers come closer and closer, they flee directionless, horrified, and fall under hoof kicks and sword blows. Four infantrymen, without ammunition, gather together and await a troop of lancers with bayonets. When the pursuers saw that there was resistance, they stopped and grabbed the carbine without dismounting. Rapid fire. The soldiers splatter, fall. The hunt roars over them. "

- Ramón J. Sender : Imán

General Silvestre was killed in Annual. The exact circumstances of his death could never be clarified, his remains have been lost to this day.

In the following 19 days, all 155 Spanish bases were overrun and the crews killed. This caused the overstretched Spanish military structure in Spanish Morocco to collapse. On the Afrau coast , Spanish warships managed to evacuate the garrison. In Zoco el-Telatza de Metalsa in the south, however, the Spanish troops and civilians settled into the French zone.

Monte Arruit

The almost 5,000 Spanish troops in Annual retreated 80 km to Fort Monte Arruit under the command of General Felipe Navarro . However, when the garrison was attacked and the first shots were fired, order dissolved. The narrow path from Annual south-east to Izumar led over windings through a narrow gorge, where a traffic jam quickly formed. Abd al-Karim's men were well positioned on both sides and found it easy to target the fleeing troops. Over 2,000 soldiers died within a few hours. Those who had made the journey alive sought refuge in Dar Drius , a well-developed base. The option was to stay in Dar Drius, which would have been relatively easy to defend with water, supplies and ammunition. Instead, Navarro ordered a retreat to Monte Arruit, a base some 40 km to the east, with few supplies and poor water supply, but closer to Melilla. The troops reached Monte Arruit on the night of July 29, 1921, where they were shortly afterwards surrounded and cut off from the outside world. The siege lasted 10 days.

General Dámaso Berenguer Fusté , Spanish High Commissioner of the Protectorate, finally agreed on August 9 to surrender with the leadership of the insurgents. However, these did not adhere to the agreement and killed 3,000 of those trapped in Fort Monte Arruit. Another 600 were captured. The city of Melilla was only 40 km away, but the Spaniards could not expect any support from there, as Melilla itself was only protected by a few defense troops. Silvestre had withdrawn all reserves for the unsuccessful liberation of Igueriben. As a rule, the Rifabyls showed no mercy for the colonial occupiers; if they did not kill them immediately, they mistreated their enemies in every possible way and took only a few prisoners - mostly officers - in order to exchange them for ransom and their own captured fighters. In this way, General Navarro and around 400 captured Spaniards were released after 18 months.


After the event, Spain quickly assembled its forces in the African Army, which consisted almost exclusively of the Spanish Legion and Moroccan Regulares . The troops were shipped to Melilla and helped to secure the city there. Monte Arruit could be taken again at the end of November .

Investigation - Picasso agent

The Spanish Minister of War then ordered an investigation. Led by Juan Picasso González ( Pablo Picasso's uncle), the commission concluded that serious military and strategic errors had been made. She spoke to King Alfonso XIII. however free of all wrong decisions, although various sources indicate that the king had encouraged General Silvestre to the advance. The report for the attention of the Spanish parliament ( expedient Picasso ) lists 13,363 dead and missing persons who fell between July 21 and August 9, 1921 (10,973 Spaniards and 2,390 regulares and Mías). About 1,000 insurgents were killed. The Spaniards lost over 20,000 rifles, 400 machine guns and 129 artillery pieces in the conflict. Picasso had worked out the report meticulously, it comprised more than 2,400 pages and was astonishingly transparent and ruthless. Accordingly, attempts were made to hinder Picasso in his investigations. He could not do this on site because the area was now in enemy hands. The commission questioned 77 eyewitnesses from Annual and evaluated military plans, maps and hundreds of dispatches, telegrams, reports, letters and documents.

In his report, Picasso accused the military leadership of disorganization, negligence and irresponsibility ( negligencia e irresponsabilidad ). Both the General Staff in Madrid and Silvestre and his superior, General Berenguer. The intelligence situation about the enemy (strength, armament, locations) was insufficient, as was the level of knowledge about the area of ​​operation, the condition and operational capability of the troops and their equipment. Reports of this had been ignored and the resources for the military endeavor inadequate. Blinded by the rapid success and to impress the king, Silvestre's advance was too daring, without air support, without a retreat plan or the most elementary precautions to be taken.

In addition, widespread and systematic corruption within the army in North Africa was uncovered, which had contributed to the defeat: Countless officers had regularly massively exceeded the budget and let money for infrastructure projects seep away without completing the routes, roads or bridges that were important for supplies. Funds for the procurement of equipment and provisions had also been diverted while the troops starved to be poorly supplied.

Political Consequences

The defeat at Annual contributed to the fact that on September 13, 1923 Miguel Primo de Rivera break the monarchist constitution and under the tolerance of Alfonso XIII. could establish a military dictatorship . In this way he prevented the responsible military leadership (and Alfonso XIII) from having to give an account (dissolved) on October 2, 1923 as part of a second investigation before parliament. A military court had previously convicted Berenguer of negligence and put him in reserve. Primo de Rivera was High Commissioner of the Protectorate of Spanish Morocco from 1924 to 1925 . The Linea Primo de Rivera was named after him, the line of retreat behind which the Spanish troops withdrew when they evacuated Spanish Morocco as part of Hugo Stoltzenberg's contamination strategy for the use of chemical weapons in the Rif War . Primo de Rivera pardoned Berenguer in 1924 and after his resignation in 1930 Alfons XIII. appointed him as Spanish Prime Minister.

The crisis was one of many that undermined the position of the monarchy over the next few decades and led to the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic . There was great indignation among the population at the defeat and the atrocities committed against their soldiers, and this led to a swell of nationalist sentiments and a sense of retaliation. The budget for the campaign in Spanish Morocco was tripled and the North Africa Corps was equipped with modern weapons. The armament expenditures thus devoured a third of the Spanish national budget (2019 below 5%). Primo de Rivera had ensured that the Picasso report along with the evidence of corruption disappeared into oblivion. It was later to be, of all things, the armored North Africa Corps, which rose up in a military coup against the democratic government in July 1936 and plunged Spain into civil war . The disaster of Annual marks an event widely ramified implications for some historians.

The Battle of Annual is described in two famous Spanish short stories - Iman by Ramón J. Sender and La Ruta by Arturo Barea .


  • Fernando Caballero Poveda: La Campaña del 21 en cifras reales (I) y (II). , In: Ejército. No. 522 and 523, 1984, ISSN  0013-2918 .
  • Dirk Sasse: French, British and Germans in the Rif War 1921–1926. Speculators and sympathizers, deserters and gamblers in the service of Abdelkrim. Oldenbourg, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-486-57983-5 ( Paris Historical Studies 7), (also: Münster, Univ., Diss., 2003). Online at
  • Perry, James M .: Arrogant Armies: Great Military Disasters and the Generals Behind Them . Castle Books, Edison, NJ 2005, ISBN 978-0-7858-2023-9 .

Web links

Commons : Battle of Annual  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Geoffrey Regan: Historia de la incompetencia militar (= Biblioteca de Bolsillo (Crítica); 64). Editorial Crítica, Barcelona, ​​2001, ISBN 84-8432-186-X , p. 347.
  2. a b c d e f g h Manuel P. Villatoro: La gran mentira sobre el general Silvestre: el héroe 'culpable' de que 10,000 españoles fuesen masacrados en el Rif. ABC Historia, November 14, 2017, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  3. a b c d e Manuel P. Villatoro: El telegrama secreto que pudo evitar la mayor debacle militar de España en Annual. ABC Historia, November 28, 2019, accessed February 20, 2021 (Spanish).
  4. a b c d e f Julio Martín Alarcón: Juegos de Guerra: 12,000 españoles muertos en Annual por la temeridad de un rey. El Confidencial, November 29, 2020, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  5. a b c d e Perry, James M .: Arrogant Armies: Great Military Disasters and the Generals Behind Them . Castle Books, Edison, NJ 2005, ISBN 978-0-7858-2023-9 , pp. 277-280 .
  6. a b Manuel P. Villatoro: Las confesiones más íntimas de Abd el-Krim, el caudillo rifeño que asesinó a 10,000 españoles. ABC Historia, August 19, 2019, accessed February 16, 2021 (Spanish).
  7. a b c d e f Luis Miguel Francisco: Aquellos muertos bajo el sol de África. El País, November 13, 2014, accessed February 15, 2021 (Spanish).
  8. a b c d e f g h i j k José Antonio CANO MARTÍN: En el 98 aniversario de la pérdida de ABARRÁN .... CARCOMA DE LOS HUESOS ... Prologo del Desastre de Annual (I). Melilla Hoy, July 14, 2019, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  9. a b c d e f g h Julio Martín Alarcón: Expediente Picasso: la vergüenza del ejército que arrinconó a Alfonso XIII. El Mundo, April 22, 2016, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  10. Mikel Urretabizkaia: Héroes de El Annual., January 22, 2021, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  11. a b c Guillermo D. Olmo: La derrota más amarga del Ejército español. ABC Historia, July 19, 2011, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  12. Pedro Blasco: Flores en homenaje a los tres mil españoles pasados ​​a cuchillo por los árabes hoy hace 95 años en Monte Arruit. Vozpópuli, August 9, 2016, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  13. José Antonio CANO MARTÍN: .... CARCOMA DE LOS HUESOS ... Prologo del Desastre de Annual (II). Melilla Hoy, July 21, 2019, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  14. a b c José Antonio CANO MARTÍN: En el 98 aniversario de la pérdida de ABARRÁN .... CARCOMA DE LOS HUESOS ... Prologo del Desastre de Annual (IV). Melilla Hoy, August 4, 2019, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  15. a b c José Manuel Guerrero Acosta: Las Levas Heroicas de Igueriben. In: ABC Blogs. January 13, 2021, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  16. a b c d e Centro de Historia y Cultura Militar de Melilla: Hecho Histórico: Aquel 21 de julio de 1921. Igueriben. Melilla Hoy, July 20, 2019, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  17. a b c Guillermo D. Olmo: «Heroes de Igueriben, resistid unas horas más. Lo exige el buen nombre de España ». ABC Historia, July 20, 2011, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  18. Ramón J. Sender: Imán: novela. Editorial Cénit, Madrid 1930, OCLC 463135090 , pp. 133, 137, 157. New edition: Colección Áncora y delfín series; 482. Ed. Destino, Barcelona, ​​1976, ISBN 84-233-0943-6 .
  19. a b c Julio Martín Alarcón: Annual: sangre, sed y muerte en el Protectorado de Marruecos. In: El Mundo . July 22, 2014, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  20. El desastre de Annual - Desperta Ferro Contemporánea n.º 30. In: Desperta Ferro Ediciones. June 29, 2021, accessed February 14, 2021 (Spanish).
  21. ^ Israel Viana: El secreto sobre los 13,000 españoles muertos de Annual que Franco y Primo de Rivera quisieron ocultar. In: . December 11, 2020, accessed February 16, 2021 (Spanish).
  22. José María Campos: Desastre de Annual: 22 de julio de 1921, hace 98 años. In: El Faro de Ceuta. July 22, 2019, accessed February 16, 2021 (Spanish).
  23. a b c d Edmundo Fayanas Escuer: El desastre de Annual de 1921 y Alfonso XIII. El informe Picasso. In: April 24, 2020, accessed February 16, 2021 (Spanish).
  24. a b Domingo Marchena: Los pecados de Alfonso XIII en Annual. La Vanguardia, December 13, 2020, accessed February 15, 2021 (Spanish).
  25. Resumen del Desastre de Annual en su centenario. In: Revista80dias. February 10, 2021, accessed February 19, 2021 (Spanish).
  26. Rafael Guerrero: Paul Preston: "Los tres periodos de mayor corrupción política son las dictaduras de Primo de Rivera y Franco y los últimos años del PP con la belt". In: September 14, 2020, accessed February 20, 2021 (Spanish).
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