Viva la muerte!--A brief history of the Spanish foreign legion.
As we all know, "independence" for Spanish Sahara, now known as Western Sahara, has led, not to joyous freedom and prosperity for the populous, but to a protracted three way war as Mauretania and Morocco squabble between themselves and fight with the Polisario freedom fighters of the former colony. The long running UN mission in the territory, MINURSO, has included a number of Australians. The point I want to make here, however, is that in 1975, at the height of the "Green March" crisis, the world's TV viewers were introduced fleetingly to a fighting force that most had never even heard of, the Spanish Foreign Legion. It had been the Legion's 3rd and 4th Tercios that had stood ready behind the minefields, prepared to repel the "Green Marchers" and the sight of the hard bitten, sun tanned legionaries in their distinctive Saharan uniforms had aroused some, admittedly short lived, interest.
The aim of this paper is to introduce the audience to this little known, odd, even bizarre fighting force, with a short but bloody history and a very special place in modern Spanish history. The Spanish Foreign Legion, officially the "Tercio de Extranjeros " (Regiment of Foreigners) but never referred to by its members, serving and former, as anything other than "la Legion de Extranjeros " or simply "la Legion ", is an organization that grew naturally out of Spain's African adventurism. Long past its former globe conquering glory and humbled by its defeat in the Spanish American War of 1896-97, Spain, more correctly many influential people and groups in Spain, was desperate to recover some semblance of past glory. The road to such a form of national salvation seemed to lie in Africa and from the turn of the 20th century, successive Spanish administrations continued to make stealthy inroads into Moroccan sovereignty.
Unfortunately for Spain the pre-eminent North African power, France, at first actively worked against Spanish ambitions. In 1904, however, recognizing both that there was more than enough of the Moroccan pie to go around and also that Spanish occupation of the Moroccan coastline to the west of Algeria represented a useful buffer zone, France entered into a secret agreement with Spain. The agreement recognized the northern coastal zone of Morocco as a "Spanish zone of influence", while reserving the right to encroach further to the southwest. Needless to say, neither France nor Spain bothered to consult with the Moroccan people or authorities about this, nor even tell them! For several years Spain was happy to sit in the northern zone, desultorily carrying out a program of limited colonization and some economic exploitation, notably potash and nitrate mining. When in 1911, however, France occupied Fez, far to the south, however, the Spanish felt obliged to sally out of their five garrison towns into the hinterland.
Ostensibly designed to extend the authority of the largely puppet Sultan of Morocco over the interior, the move was actually nothing more than an effort to assert Spanish authority more forcefully. Unfortunately, the kabyles or tribes of the Rift, resentful of Spain but willing to live and let live so long as the Spanish stayed on the coast, actively, savagely, bloodily and fairly successfully resisted early Spanish moves. At least the Spanish activity resulted in a formal, and this time non-secret, Protectorate Treaty with France in 1912. This treaty formally recognized Spanish control of the northern area of Morocco, as shown on this map. The treaty did not, however, physically secure Morocco for Spain as the kabyles remained determined to resist all Spanish attempts at pacification.
To enforce its writ across its North African holdings, Spain relied on a hotchpotch army made up of volunteers, recalled reservists and, after 1912, conscripts serving in "African Battalions" and on locally enlisted mercenary troops termed Regulares. Spain's military efforts were not helped by the largely unprofessional nature of the Spanish officer corps. While reasonably well educated by contemporary standards, Spanish officers were hampered by outdated, outmoded and unimaginative training, rigid tactical doctrine, obsolete equipment, promotion based strictly on seniority and a culture that encouraged sloth rather than diligence. The very best of the officers tended to gravitate towards Africa. One reason for this was that here was an avenue to military glory and, if lucky, early advancement. Another attraction was the extra pay and the ability to actually live on one's base pay rather than in a state of permanent debt, as was the case for junior officers serving in Spain itself. As with the best of the officers volunteering to serve in Africa, the best of THESE gravitated towards the Moorish Regulares. These irregular mercenary levies founded in 1911 by Berenguer, were to shoulder more and more of the burden of the fighting as Spain forced its presence on more and more of the country. One of the officers attracted
to serve with the Regulares was Juan Jose Millan Astray. Born in 1880 Millan Astray had served in the Philippines as a junior officer during the Spanish American War. Spain's humiliation in the war was to him a personal humiliation. Charismatic, fanatically brave, deeply religious and nationalistic to the point of xenophobia, Millan Astray saw in Africa the chance for Spain to regain its lost glory. For that reason, he was one of the first officers to volunteer to serve in Africa in 1904 and was one of the first volunteers for service with the Regulares, being appointed to the Grupo Regulares de Larache No. 4 in 1911. Continuous service with the Regulares saw Millan Astray acquire a reputation for both professional dedication and competence and for fanatic bravery. By 1919, Millan Astray, now a lieutenant colonel, had become convinced of two things. Firstly, that Spain's destiny, its path back to greatness, lay in Africa. Secondly, that the conquest of Africa could not be accomplished with conscript and low quality volunteer troops. Millan Astray was convinced that what was needed in Morocco was a supremely professional, totally dedicated fighting force, devoted to Spain and the Spanish cause. For his model he looked to the French Foreign Legion in neighbouring Algeria.
Millan Astary drafted a plan for a volunteer force modelled on the French Foreign Legion and presented it to the Minister of War, General Tovar. The minister accepted the plan and authorized Millan Astray to proceed to Algeria. There, from 7 to 27 October 1919, at Tlemcen and Sidi bel Abbes, he studied at first hand the organization, training, discipline and elan of France's world famous corps of foreign volunteers. Following this period, Millan Astray suffered almost a year of frustration as the plan for his legion worked its way tortuously up the labyrinthine pathways of the Spanish War Ministry. Finally, on 4 September 1920, a Royal **** Decree was issued that authorized the formation of three banderas (battalions) of the 'Tercio de Extranjeros'--the 'Regiment of Foreigners.'
It needs to be clearly understood here that the term 'Tercio de Extranjeros' was not analogous with the French 'Legion Etrangere.' The French title referred specifically to a corps recruited from foreigners whilst the Spanish term referred to a corps recruited foreign service. In fact the Spanish Legion has always differed markedly from its French name sake in that very few foreigners joined it and it has remained fairly consistent over the years at about 90% Spanish membership. The title 'Tercio' was selected in memory of the 'tercios', the invincible regiments of Spanish infantry which had swept all before them in Italy and Flanders in the 16th and 17th centuries. The title, however, was never accepted by Millan Astray, who always insisted on calling his creation la Legion; as indeed did all others who served in it.
After organizing recruiting offices in Madrid, Zaragosa, Barcelona and Valencia, Millan Astray proceeded to the coastal town of Ceuta, in Spanish Morocco on 11 September to establish his HQ and Central Recruiting Office in the crumbling and near derelict King's Barracks. One of the problems faced by Millan Astray was that he was a visionary and man of action, rather than an administrator and details man. He needed a sound administrator to translate his theories and visions into reality. Luckily for him, he had just the right man. In September 1918 he had attended a field officer's marksmanship course at which he had met a young captain of infantry named Francisco Franco. Millan Astray had been impressed by the younger man's dedication to his profession, something of a rarity in the Spanish officer corps, and by his theories of infantry tactics and organizations. Although the two parted at the end of the course they remained in contact and when it came time to select a second in command for the Legion in 1920, Millan Astray had no hesitation in offering the position to Franco. For his part, Franco accepted immediately.
At this point, it is worth digressing for a moment to examine in detail the early career of Francisco Franco. This digression is worthwhile for two reasons. First, Franco is integral to the birth and early years of the Legion. Secondly, he is an incredibly fascinating person in his own right.
Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teodulo Franco y Bohamonde was born on 4 December 1892 in the Galician city of El Ferrol, on the north coast of Spain. El Ferrol was and is a major port city and is one of the three main bases of the Spanish Navy. Franco himself came from a naval family--his paternal grandfather was an Intendente-General (equivalent to Vice Admiral) in the Corps of Naval Administrators; his maternal grandfather was a Rear Admiral in the Corps of Naval Constructors; his father, the rakehell and ne'er do well Don Nicolas, was an officer in the Corps of Naval Administrators, eventually to rise to the same rank as his own father--Intendente-General; and his brother Nicolas was an officer in the line who was eventually to rise to the rank of Admiral. Franco himself was always intended for a naval career and at the age of 12 had passed from the hands of the nuns at the local school into those of retired Lieutenant-Commander Saturnino Suances who ran the "Naval Preparatory Academy" in Ferrol. Unfortunately, in 1907, the year he was to enter the Naval Cadet School at Ferrol, the school was closed. Sources differ as to why the school was closed. Some say it was for reasons of cost, others that it was necessary to restrict the intake of junior officers to help clear a glut of middle ranking officers, and still others that it was simply another of the Spanish military's seemingly interminable reorganizations. Whatever the reason, and it was probably a combination of all three, the school did not re-open until 1911 and by then Franco would have been too old to enrol.
With the navy closed to him, Franco had to look elsewhere for a career. The law or one of the professions, such as medicine, were not viable choices as they would have required far too much money for the university courses. Commerce was unthinkable and Franco did not even consider the Church (although such a choice would probably have pleased his mother, the long suffering and extremely pious Dona Pilar). That left the Army!
Appointments to the various Spanish military academies of the time were not plucked out of the air, especially at short notice. Franco's family obviously had some influence, however, as he was permitted at very late notice to sit the competitive exams for the Infantry Academy at Toledo, qualifying for admission along with 381 other cadets. As a digression within a digression, it is worth noting that one of the reasons for the poor performance of the Spanish Army at the time was the extremely divided nature of its officer corps. Each of the major branches of the army maintained its own officer academy. One graduation, officers passed onto separate promotion and seniority lists, managed by the corps, not by the army. It was not until an officer reached the rank of Brigadier General that he passed onto a central promotion and seniority list. There was little interplay between the corps and the officers of each corps stuck very much to themselves and each other. Needless to say, this did little for the efficient command and management of the army! In the end it would be Franco himself, under the impetus of the Spanish Civil War, who would dissolve the separate academies and establish one single institution for the training of Army officers! But that's quite another story.
To return to the main thread of the story, Franco reported to the Infantry Academy, located in the historic Alcazar overlooking ancient Toledo, on 29 August 1907. He was to be at the academy for 3 years. It was not a happy time for him. Franco was not a particularly popular cadet. First of all, he was younger the rest of his class, being in fact not quite 15 when he was sworn in, as opposed to the rest of class whose average age was 16 and a half. Second he was physically unprepossessing--he was small in stature, had a pale complexion and distinct Semitic features. He was also cursed with a high-pitched, almost feminine voice and a lisp. Finally, he spoke with a thick Galician accent that immediately identified him as a "country bumpkin." As a result of all of these, he was the target of constant and merciless harassment. His uniforms were messed up just before inspection parades, his room was "tossed" just before inspection, his text books were hidden from him just before class, he was subjected to taunts, physical abuse and beatings. Yet he persevered. The small Galician possessed a couple of qualities that stood him in good stead at Toledo. First, he was dogged. Not only did he withstand and weather the constant harassment, his doggedness was an asset in study. As with the other Spanish Army Academies, learning at Toledo was almost exclusively by rote. By dogged perseverance Franco memorized his texts and eventually passed the academic requirements of the cadet course, if not with flying colours, at least with good, solid marks. His second quality was courage. No matter how big his attacker, or how many there were, France never hesitated to fight back, a courage that eventually earned him the grudging respect of his fellow cadets and finally led to the cessation of the harassment. His peers also respected his refusal to name his tormentors when called to account by the Academy staff, a refusal that often led to his own punishment. Another area where Franco demonstrated his courage was in equitation. All cadets were required to master horse riding under some of the most exacting riding masters in Europe. Franco had never been on a horse in his life when entered the academy. To the small Galician boy from the seacoast, the huge cavalry chargers used by the Equitation School must have been terrifying. Yet, as with his studies and the harassment of his fellows, Franco persevered. Not only did he pass the equitation course, he actually became a highly skilled rider and enjoyed a daily horse ride for the rest of his life whenever possible, almost up to the last days of his life.
One area in which Franco did not need any training or development was shooting. The ne'er-do-well shenanigans of his father Don Nicolas meant that, amongst other things, there had never been much money in the Casa Maria. As a consequence, Franco and his brothers had all hunted for the pot from an early age. Stalking rabbits and game birds in the hills above Ferrol, shortage of money for ammunition had meant that the boys had to make every shot count and they all became expert marksmen. This expertise stood Franco in good stead at Toledo where he consistently won shooting prizes for his class and for the academy.
Francisco Franco graduated from the Infantry Academy on 13 July 1910. He immediately volunteered for service in Morocco but was refused on the grounds of his youth (he was barely 17) and the fact that were was a waiting list of officers senior to him for the few active duty slots available in North Africa. Instead of Africa, he went home to Ferrol. Franco was commissioned Segundo Teniente (Second Lieutenant) into the 8th Regiment of Foot, the Zamora Regiment, the army unit that provided the garrison for the naval base at El Ferroi. This was common practice in the Spanish Army, most newly commissioned officers being gazetted to their local regiment. This was done for a couple of very practical reasons. First, Spanish Army units were recruited locally, a practice that led to language problems. Spanish as spoken on the Iberian Peninsular is not the homogenous tongue one might suspect, the country being a welter of regional accents and dialects. A Galician peasant from the hills above El Ferrol, for example, is well nigh unintelligible to a Castilian, and vice versa. It was therefore vital to post officers who could understand and be understood by the troops to the army's regiments. Second, posting a young officer to his home town or region had cost benefits. Newly commissioned officers were expected to live with their parents or relatives, dining in the mess one or two nights a week, taking the remainder of their meals at home. This relieved the army of the burden of accommodating and feeding its young officers and also gave the officers a small chance of being able to live on their meagre pay.
Franco found garrison life at El Ferrol both tedious and boring. With little real work to do, he went for long rides in the hills, hunting for both pleasure and the pot. Lacking either the dashing naval uniform of his older brother Nicolas or the mischievous charm and good looks of his younger brother Ramon (an Air Force pilot), he was also not much of a success in the social life of the town. To the matrons of El Ferrol, 'Franquito' (Tittle Frankie-boy'), the army officer son of a drunken, rakehell navy officer who had left his wife was no great match for their daughters and no encouragement was given to any senorita to return any look of admiration cast in her direction by the young officer.
It must therefore have come as a huge relief to Franco when his persistent requests for a posting to Africa paid off. Here luck played a part along with perseverance. At the end of 1911, the former Commandant of the Infantry Academy, Colonel Jose Villalba Riquelme, was posted to command of the 68th Regiment of Foot, the African Regiment. Responding to a personal appeal from Franco, whom he recalled with some affection, Riquelme pulled the necessary strings to have him transferred to the 68th. The Spanish Army Franco reported to in North Africa, was wracked by as many problems and disasters as the home army. Mismanagement and corruption were rife. The army suffered from a dearth of competent officers and NCO's. Arms and equipment were inadequate, ammunition and rations in short supply. A constant stream of casualties were reported in the national papers. During operations to re-establish the River Kert Line in September 1912, these casualties were to include, amongst others, one general and three colonels. On the other hand, the situation, visibly poor management and leadership at middle and higher level and constant conflict with the rebellious Rif, was almost tailor made for an ambitious young officer to make a name for himself.
Arriving in Africa on 24 February, Franco took very little time in getting himself noticed. And in doing so, he demonstrated another facet of his character, moral courage. In May 1912, Franco's platoon of the 68th was in the vanguard of a column tasked with clearing out the followers of the charismatic Rif leader El Mizzian from the Garet region, with a sub-task of capturing or killing the "holy man" himself Approaching a suspect village in the Garet, Franco's platoon was fired on a strong force of hidden Rif The young officer was faced with a quandary. The solution to such an ambush is a quick attack. Unfortunately, in the Spanish Army of the time, there was no such thing as a "quick attack". Everything in the Spanish Army was done by the book, and any deviation from the book was a grave transgression--with one exception. If the deviation worked, it was forgiven. In this instance, what Franco should have done was halt his platoon, carry out a thorough reconnaissance by binocular, then deploy his platoon in the exact formation decreed by the Infantry Manual and finally advance to the sound of the bugle. The manual decreed that this process would take an average of two hours. But Franco didn't have two hours, he probably didn't have two minutes. Instead of following the book he had painstakingly memorized at Toledo, he instantly wheeled his platoon into line and led a wild bayonet charge, sword and pistol in hand. As a result the Rif were immediately routed and the way to the rebel village cleared with minimal casualties. Fortunately for the young officer, his tactic had worked. Even more fortunately, it had been witnessed by one of the few competent senior officers in Morocco, Damaso Berenguer, a man who had the ear of the King. Berenguer noted the tactic and asked for the young officer's name. Berenguer, who had established and commanded the Moroccon Regulares, remembered the name when Franco applied for a transfer to the Regulares in December 1912. With the patronage of both Villalba Riquelme (recently promoted to Brigadier General), and Berenguer, Franco's request was approved and in April 1913 he was transferred to the 1st Tabor (Half-Battalion) of Regulares of Mellila. The transfer was accompanied by Franco's promotion (his first) to the rank of Primero Teniente (First Lieutenant).
Franco found himself more at home commanding the Moroccan and Algerian mercenaries of the Regulares than he had the mixture of volunteers and balloted conscripts in the 8th and 68th Regiments. He dedicated himself totally to his profession, when his mess mates went into town in search of what little entertainment was available, Franco remained in his tent reading military history and politics and studying manuals and maps. Something of a rarity among Spanish officers, he showed a genuine interest in the welfare of the men under his command. He also gained a reputation for fanatical bravery and total disregard for danger, his preferred tactic being to lead bayonet charges armed only with his fustina (swagger stick). The moros under his command believed he had the baraka, a form of divine luck that protected him and those near him from harm. There was great competition among the Regulares to serve with him. His dedication and bravery were both recognized when he was promoted to Capstan (Captain) in March 1915. At the age of 22, this made him the youngest Captain in the Spanish Army. Interestingly, Franco had declined the promotion at first as it would in the normal course of events have required him to leave the Regulares as there were no vacancies for captains in the force. Franco flatly refused to command anything but a company of Regulares so the nonplussed Spanish military authorities agreed to carry him on the rolls of the Regulares as supernumerary captain until a vacancy occurred in May!
Franco's luck, baraka or not, could not of course last forever. On 29 June 1916, while taking part with his company in operations in the Anyera region, he received his one and only wound. Franco being Franco of course, the wound was far from trivial, he was in fact shot in the stomach. Abdominal wounds are highly dangerous at the best of times, but for Franco, wounded in the middle of the desert, far from any medical facility, surrounded by murderous, semi-barbaric savages (and that was just his own men), and serving in an army with the most primitive medical establishment of any European army, his outlook was grim. But that wasn't the end of it.
That day happened to be Tuesday, which was pay night, and Franco had the company payroll with him, 20,000 pesetas. The Regulares were pure mercenaries; dedicated and grim fighters, their loyalty only lasted from one payday to the next. If they did not get paid on time, they had a habit of deserting to the enemy, usually at the most inopportune time, generally taking with them every weapon they could carry off and as often as not cutting the throat of every Spaniard in sight before departing. Franco knew all of this and was quite aware that the minute he allowed himself to lapse into unconsciousness, one of his men would abscond with the payroll, immediately followed by the rest of the company, at least one of whom would most likely pause just long enough to cut his throat. Thus Franco could not allow himself the luxury of surrendering to unconsciousness. Instead, he stayed awake, a blood soaked native head cloth wrapped around his abdomen, guarding the payroll for several pain filled hours until another Spanish officer arrived to take over command of the company. Franco then handed over the payroll (and obtained a receipt) before slipping into unconsciousness. There followed a nightmarish two-day trip back to the field hospital at Ceuta, jolted every foot of the way in the back of an unsprung mule cart. At the hospital, the doctors took one look at the wound and didn't even bother to go any further. Their treatment consisted of putting Franco in a tent and telling an orderly to go in from time to time to confirm that he was dead. Incredibly, Franco lingered for five days in the tent, his sole treatment being an occasional sponge with tepid water by an orderly and having flies brushed off him. Eventually the doctors decided to take another look at him. Whether this was due to the fact that they had decided that Franco was not ready to die after all or because they wanted to try out their new X-ray machine is unknown. Whatever the reason, Franco's stomach was x-rayed and to their astonishment the doctors discovered that the Rift bullet had missed every vital organ, vein and artery. A rapid operation followed and Franco was to make a full, if slow recovery. Eventually decorated with the Cross of Maria Cristina, Franco was also recommended for promotion to Commandante (Major), but this was rejected on grounds of his youth and the fact that he had already overstepped the bounds of seniority by his accelerated promotion to Capitan. Franco was not satisfied with this and, as was his right, petitioned his case to the King. The King was favourably disposed and in February 1917, Capitan Franco was promoted to Commandante, with seniority to date from 28 June 1916.
Unfortunately, by this time all vacant major's positions in the Regulares had been filled and Franco reluctantly accepted a transfer back to the mainland where he was posted to the 3rd Regiment of Foot, the Prince's Regiment stationed at Oviedo on the north coast of Spain. Oviedo was somewhat quieter than Africa had been. Appointed regimental adjutant, Franco added accountancy studies to his other bookish pursuits and lectured his brother officers on the war then raging in Europe, just across the borders of neutral Spain. The tedium of garrison life was broken in June of 1917 when Franco hastily put together a mixed column of soldiers and Civil Guards to put down a miner's strike in Oviedo during a period of unrest and martial law. This brief interlude, an interlude which aroused Franco's life long interest in the study of politics and socialism, was followed by more tedious garrison soldiering. Far from the bullet swept fields of Africa, Franco was learning at first hand the truth of Mola's angry assertion that the Spanish Army of the Peninsular was "an army that existed on paper rather than in fact".
The monotony was broken again in September 1918 when he attended a field officer's course in marksmanship. It was here that he met the fanatical and charismatic Major Milldn Astray. Both Franco and Milian Astray shared a common history of service in the Regulares, although the former's service had been with the Regulares of Mellila and Tetuan while the latter's had been with the Regulares of Larache, and thus the two had never actually served together. Both had also come to the conclusion that the Spanish infantry text books were hopelessly out of date and needed total revision. At the end of the course, Franco went back to Oviedo and Milldn Astray was posted to Madrid to serve on a commission advising on the revision of military text books. But the two did not forget each other and remained in constant touch by letter.
Back in Oviedo, as 1918 wore on into 1919 and then into 1920, Franco found the time to woo and become engaged to the attractive daughter of a high ranking Asturian family, Carmen Polo y Martinez Valdes. Senorita Carmen's family had at first opposed the match but Franco's fame and his obvious court connections won them over and the wedding was set for the autumn of 1920. However, in September of 1920, Franco received a telegram from his old friend Milian Astray, offering him an appointment as second-in-command of the newly created Legion. Franco accepted immediately although this meant the indefinite postponement of his marriage to Senorita Carmen! Thus the Legion gained as its second-in-command perhaps the ablest officer in the Spanish Army, certainly one of the best prepared and bravest, if not one of the most intelligent. But what Franco may have lacked in intellect, he made up for with erudition, experience and plodding, meticulous attention to detail.
Besides the officers for his new Legion, whom he had already picked, Milldn Astray correctly anticipated that there would be no shortage of volunteers. The recently ended "war to end all wars" had left a surplus of trained fighting men with little inclination to return to the tedium of civilian life. Germans, Austrians, Frenchmen, Italians and even Englishmen, former soldiers of the Great War, were among the first recruits for the Legion. Other recruits came from Central and South American political and revolutionary exiles living in Spain. Finally, there were enough young Spaniards who had recently completed their periods of volunteer or compulsory service with the Colours or with the Civil Guards or Carabiniers to whom the military life remained attractive to ensure a good crop of recruits to choose from. Franco departed Spain on 10 October with the first 200 recruits for the Legion. On their arrival at Ceuta, the new recruits were warmly and enthusiastically welcomed by their new commanding officer. But the eccentric Milian Astray also warned the new recruits:</p> <pre> There will be constant sacrifices. In combat you will defend the most difficult and dangerous posts, and many of you will die. There is nothing finer than to die with honour for the glory of Spain and its army, as you will soon learn. </pre> <p>Not exactly designed to inspire confidence, the speeches of the fanatical Lieutenant Colonel still seemed to strike a chord in the new recruits.
On 11 October, the first recruits were formed into the three company strong 1st Bandera (Battalion--"bandera" literally means flag or banner), placed under the command of Franco, and training began. On 16 October, the 1st Bandera marched from Ceuta to Dar Riffien, approximately 10 kilometres away, and set about establishing a permanent home. Within a few short years Dar Riffien would boast the finest living quarters in the Spanish Army, along with workshops, gardens and recreational facilities, the envy of the rest of army. A fresh water reservoir with water piped from mountain streams would provide pure safe water for the Legion and the Legionnaires would dine on fresh meat, fruit and vegetables from the Legion's own farms. All of this was the product of the work that industrious and meticulous organizer, Commandante Franco.
Even as Milldn Astray and Franco set about training the first recruits, new batches of recruits arrived from Spain and shortly the 2nd and 3rd Banderas joined the 1st. Recruits needed to be aged between 18 and 40 and were required to pass a not too rigorous medical inspection. They needed no documentation and could enlist under their own name or an assumed one. Daily pay was 4 pesetas 10 centimos, more than double that of the Spanish Army, extra pay was available to specialists and enlistment bounties of 500 pesetas for a three year enlistment and 700 pesetas for a five year enlistment were paid. On the down side, training was rigorous and hard and discipline was unbelievably harsh. The 1st Bandera immediately established a Punishment Squad, later a feature of every Bandera, and recruits were condemned to the squad for the most minor infractions. A Legionero sentenced to the punishment squad found himself subjected to long hours of drill interspersed with back-breaking manual labour under the sweltering African sun. Refinements included running back and forth on the parade ground in full kit with a full sandbag added to the load until the defaulter dropped or being made to dig a pit and then spend several days in it unsheltered from the either the heat of the day's sun or the cold of the desert night (this latter was copied from the French Foreign Legion). NCO's had the power to deliver immediate corporal punishment to any soldier and were liberal in its use, while officers and warrant officers had the power to summarily execute soldiers guilty of an offence.
On 31 October 1920, barely 3 weeks after the arrival of the first recruits, the newly formed 1st, 2nd and 3rd Banderas of the Legion paraded at Dar Riffien to swear fidelity to Spain and King Alfonso XIII. Intense hours on the drill square resulted in an impeccable and even impressive ceremony as the band played "God Save The King" (the Spanish version) and "Tipperary" as the inspecting general marched down the ranks. It was at this time that Milian Astray gave to the Legion its eccentric, fatalistic and morbidly Spanish "Credo." The "Creed of the Legion" is worth repeating in full. It states:
The Spirit of the Legionary: It is unique and without equal, blindly and fiercely combative, seeking always to close with the enemy with the bayonet.
The Spirit of Comradeship: With the sacred oath never to abandon a man in the field, even if all perish.
The Spirit of Friendship: Sworn between each two men.
The Spirit of Unity and Succour: At the cry of "To me the Legion!", wherever they may be, all will go to the rescue and, with or without reason, will defend the legionary who called for aid.
The Spirit of Marching: A legionary will never say he is tired until he collapses with exhaustion. The corps will be the swiftest and the toughest.
The Spirit of Endurance and Perseverance: He will never complain of fatigue, nor of pain, nor of hunger, nor of thirst, nor of drowsiness; he will do all tasks: he will dig, will haul cannons, vehicles; he will man outposts, escort convoys; he will work on whatever he is ordered.
The Spirit of Seeking Battle: The Legion, from the lone man to the entire Legion, will hasten always to where firing is heard, by day, by night, always, even though not ordered to do so.
The Spirit of Discipline: He will accomplish his duty, he will obey until death.
The Spirit of Combat: The Legion will demand always, always, to fight, out of turn, without counting the days, nor the months, nor the years.
The Spirit of Death: To die in combat is the greatest honour. One does not die more than once. Death comes without pain and to die is not as terrible as it appears. More terrible is it to live as a coward.
The Flag of the Legion: It will be the most glorious because it will be stained with the blood of its legionaries.
All legionaries are brave. Each nation has a reputation for courage. Here it is necessary to demonstrate which people is the most valiant."
Milian Astray also gave the Legion its battle cry: "Viva la Muerte!" (Long live death!). Reading the "Credo" and the battle cry, both the products of the mind of Milldn Astray, is it any wonder that I assess him as being as mad as a cut snake?
Even as the Legion was training and forming, trouble in the Protectorate was on the increase. In the Western Zone (Ceuta), a notorious rebel cheiftan, El Raisuni, was mounting attacks against military posts and convoys. The High Commissioner, General Berenguer (the same Berenguer who had established the Regulares and observed Franco's quick attack at Garet back in 1912) sent three columns of troops against El Raisuni. These troops occupied the holy city of Xatien on 14 October 1920, and then continued to advance along the Gomara coast. Hard pressed for reinforcements, Berenguer ordered the partially trained Legion into the field at the end of October.
The Legion now embarked on eight years of almost continuous fighting. At first, recognising the inadequate preparation of the Legion, Spanish commanders declined to commit the Legion to the vanguard of operations, relegating them to vital but unspectacular defensive duties. This changed at the end of June 1921, however, when the 1st and 3rd Banderas fought a vicious action south of Uad Lau. The two banderas fought off a series of concerted attacks by vastly superior enemy forces, suffering about 40 dead each.
A month later came what was possibly the Legion's finest hour. The 1st and 3rd Banderas were taking part in the siege of El Raisnui's strong hold at Tazarut when Franco's 1st Bandera was ordered to make a forced march to Fondak. Franco led his unit, plus a company of the 2nd Bandera, on a forced march that started at 4 am and finished at midnight. No sooner had the exhausted legionaries fallen out by the roadside at Fondak, however, when they were roused to continue the march. Setting out again at 3.30 am, the Legion force marched to Tetuan, which was reached at 9.45 am. The Legion had marched 60 miles in a gruelling exercise that saw two legionaries die of exhaustion. But, there was no rest for the exhausted legionaries as the 1st and 2nd Banderas were bundled aboard trains for a high speed dash to Ceuta. The exhausted legionaries heard rumours of a disaster in the Eastern Zone of the Protectorate as the trains rattled north.
The rumours were true. Goaded by the heavy handed actions of the Spanish conmaander in the east, General Silvestre, and nursing a number of grudges, both real and imagined, a charismatic and very able former official of the Bureau of Native Affairs, Abd el Krim, had rallied the Rif to rise against Spain. Silvestre had been handed a stunning a blood drenched defeat at Annual and had led a disorderly retreat towards Ceuta. By the night of 23 July, the Rifs had reached the hills surrounding Ceuta and were investing the town. Behind them lay a trail of over 9,000 mutilated Spanish corpses.
Responding to pleas for reinforcements, Bernenguer ordered the 1st and 2nd Banderas of the Legion and two Tabors of Regulares to the assistance of the threatened city. Departing Ceuta by ship at 6 pm on 23 July, the reinforcements reached Mellila at 2 pm the next day. Informed of the panic in the town, Milldn Astray harangued the crowds in typically overblown fashion, telling them: "Away with fear! The breast of the Legion stand between you and the enemy. Long live Spain! Long live Mellila! Long live the Legion!" He then ordered Franco to lead the Legion through the city with bayonets fixed and colours flying. Order was restored and panic dampened. The two banderas of the Legion marched out to man defensive positions in the suburbs while the Regulares covered the eastern and western approaches. The following day a further two Tabors of Regulares and three battalions of regular Spanish infantry arrived and the town was secure.
The Legion and the Regulares pushed south of the town a rapidly secured the hills dominating the approaches. Timidity on the part of senior commanders, however, saw the Spanish soldiers stalled in the hills for several weeks. The Legion was employed on convoy escort, defensive and fighting patrols, all of which saw a steady trickle of casualties. In one memorable fight on 8 September, both Milldn Astray and Franco were engaged in a savage fight while leading a convoy to a besieged outpost. At the height of the battle, Franco led the 2nd Bandera and two companies of his own 1st Bandera in a bayonet charge to clear the enemy from the heights overlooking the Spanish column. Almost 200 legionaries and regulares died in the battle.
On 14 September, another typically grimly glorious page was written in the history of the Legion. A blockhouse at Dar Hamed, so exposed that it was called 'El Malo' (the 'Dreadful One') was relieved by troops from a Disciplinary Battalion. On the afternoon of the 15th Rifian artillery fire partially destroyed the blockhouse, killed the commanding officer and killed or wounded the rest of the garrison. A call went out in the 1st Bandera of the Legion for volunteers to relieve the besieged garrison. As all of the men called on volunteered, despite the fact that they knew they were going to certain death, the officer in command was able to hand-pick a relieving force of a corporal and 14 legionaries. The reinforcement party worked its way to the blockhouse after dark, sustaining two casualties on the way. At first light the next day, the Rifs renewed their attacks but the repeated attacks were beaten off by the legionaries with rifle fire and grenades. Finally, the enemy brought artillery up and pounded the block house. When the ruined block house finally fell to the Riffs just after midnight, not a man of the garrison was left alive. This sort of sacrifice in the face of certain death was to come to be the expected norm for legionaries.
By mid-September, General Berenguer had decided that he had collected enough force in Melilla to go on the offensive. On 17 September, the 1st and 2nd Banderas of the Legion, four Tabors of the Regulares of Ceuta and three regular infantry battalions advanced under heavy artillery and air support. Franco and Milian Astray were in the lead when the column was held up by a strong enemy forced entrenched in a gorge near Amadi that the force had to pass through. As the two were conferring on the situation, as usual standing fully exposed to enemy fire, Millan Astray was hit in the chest by an enemy bullet. As the blood soaked and gravely wounded colonel was being carried off the field, he continued to shout: "Long live Spain! Long live the King! Long live the Legion." Although he survived his wound, Milldn Astray was now out of the fight and Franco was effectively in command of the Legion. He led the two banderas in a series of bayonet assaults that outflanked the enemy and gradually drove them back. The Legion finally reached its objective, the town of Nador on 19 September. After securing the town and its surrounds, the Legion spent six days burying over 2,000 putrid and mutilated Spanish corpses that had littered the town for weeks.
Success brought expansion to the Legion. In October a 4th Bandera was formed at Dar Riffien and an extra rifle company was added to each bandera. Companies were now numbered consecutively through the Legion as follows:</p> <pre> 1st Bandera 1st, 2nd 3rd and 13th Companies. 2nd Bandera 4th 5th 6th and 14th Companies. 3rd Bandera
7th, 8th, 9th and 15th Companies. 4th Bandera 10th, 11th, 12th and 16th Companies. </pre> <p>The 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th Companies were now machine gun companies. The 13th and 14th Companies were formed from recruits from Central and South America. The 15th Company, oddly enough, contained a large number of British recruits. Commandante Franco Salgudo, Francisco Franco's cousin, placed a standing order for tea with Fortnum and Masons in London to make sure the British legionaries would not go without!
Throughout October and November, the Legion fought its way south, taking and giving casualties at it forced the Rifs back further and further into the mountains and deserts. Operations culminated in an assault on a fortified mountain position at Uisan, which the legionaries carried at the point of the bayonet after scaling the heights leading to the position under cover of a driving snow storm.
In the Western Zone, meanwhile, the 4th Bandera was also heavily engaged, suffering casualties of 23 dead and 212 wounded in actions between 23 and 28 October alone. The 4th was joined in November by a newly raised 5th Bandera (consisting of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Companies), raised at Dar Riffien. Milian Astray arrived back in the Protectorate on 10 November and took command of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Banderas in operations to the south of Ceuta. On 10 January 1922, however, the mad colonel was again wounded when a Rif bullet shattered his right leg during a fighting withdrawal. During this fight, the 8th Company of the 4th Bandera fought off so many attacks they ran out of ammunition but fought on with knives, bayonets and rocks. Milian Astray was once more carried from the field and again evacuated to Spain. Meanwhile, the Legion kept up its pressure and finally, on 12 May 1922, the 3rd and 5th Banderas participated in the final assault and occupation of El Raisuni's stronghold at Tazarut. El Raisuni himself escaped. The Western Zone of the Protectorate was now largely pacified.
In the Eastern Zone, operations continued, however, and, unbelievably, Millan Astray, his smashed leg splinted, rejoined the Legion at the end of February. When operations resumed in mid-March, Milian Astray, painfully astride a horse, took his place at the head of the 1st and 2nd Banderas.
A 6th Bandera was formed in September 1922, but the success of the Legion was not without its critics and detractors. One victim of the internal rivalries in the Spanish Army between so-called "Spanish officers" and "Africanistas" was Milian Astray who, by Royal Decree of 13 November, was transferred from command of the Legion to command of a regiment at Cadiz. His place as head of the Legion was taken by Teniente Coronel Rafael de Valanzuela Urzais. Valanzuela was a highly decorated and respected "Africanista" who had founded and commanded with conspicuous success the Regulares of Alhucemas. Franco also left at this time, requesting and receiving a posting back to his old unit, the Prince's Regiment at Oviedo. Franco departed the Legion on 17 January 1923 and once back in Spain, he resumed his marriage plans.
Unfortunately, Franco's wedding plans were to be postponed yet again. On 5 June 1923, the 1st and 2nd Banderas were involved in a vicious battle at Tizzi Asa. Among the 186 dead legionaries at the end of the day was Teniente Coronel Valanzuela who had been killed at the head of a bayonet charge by the 2nd Bandera. While Milian Astray asked for the position of commander, he was still not fully recovered from his wounds. Instead, Commandante Franco was promoted to Teniente Coronel (the youngest in the Spanish Army) and appointed to command of the Legion. Bidding his long suffering fiancee a hasty farewell, the new lieutenant colonel rushed to Morocco where he immediately undertook an extended inspection of his widely scattered banderas. On 22 August he led an attack by the 1st and 2nd Banderas that outflanked the enemy encircling the town of Tifaruin and allowed a force of Regulares to fight its way through to the town and relieve the garrison.
Operations were brought to a somewhat confused halt in the Protectorate on 12 September when a coup d'etat replaced the government in Spain. Taking advantage of the hiatus in operations, Franco took 40 days leave and headed home to finally marry his fiancee. On the way he paid the obligatory call on the King in Madrid. Here he took the opportunity to place before the King mad the new Prime Minister, General Primo de Rivera, a plan to defeat the Rifian rebels by an amphibious landing at Alhucemas. Finally, on 22 October 1923, in Oviedo, Tenient Colonel Francisco Franco married Carmen Polo Martinez-Valdes. Among the congratulatory telegrams Franco received were one from the King and one from eight legionaries imprisoned in the Punishment Barracks at Ceuta. The eight legionaries assured their colonel that none of them were deserters!
Franco returned to Morocco on 23 February 1924 to rejoin his hard fighting legionaries. Despite earlier successes, the Spanish were now hard-pressed in the Protectorate. Abd el Krim had gathered a well armed, well trained, well equipped army of over 80,000 men and had extended his influence to the Western Zone where he was now recognised by many influential leaders as the Emir of the Rif. Viewing the situation with some alarm, Primo Rivera decided to withdraw his forces from the hinterlands and concentrate them in prepared defensive positions around Ceuta and Mellila. This was accomplished via a series of hazardous but finally successful operations throughout September, October and November. The Legion was prominent in the operations, covering the withdrawal of the Spanish forces and civilians from a number of town in both the Western and Eastern Zones. Franco personally commanded the last major operation when the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Banderas covered the withdrawal from Xaiien. The operation was marked by a successful deception plan put in place by Franco. On the night of 16 November the walls of the city were manned by straw dummies, prepared in secret the previous week, dressed in the green tunics and caps of the Legion. Franco then led his five banderas, the last Spaniards in the city, silently out at 1 am on the 17th. It was over six hours before the enemy discovered the ruse.
Primo Rivera was pleased by the success of the operations, which had cost about 2,000 Spanish lives. He was also extremely pleased with Franco, who he promoted to full colonel (the youngest in the Spanish Army) on 7 February 1925. On 16 February, a Royal Decree changed the name of the Legion from "Tercio of Foreigners" to "Tercio of Morocco." A 7th Bandera was formed at Dar Riffien on 1 May, along with a Squadron of Lancers. On the following day, another Royal Decree cancelled that of 16 February and reduced the Legion's official title to simply "Tercio."
Further reorganisation now saw the Tercio organised into two Legions as follows:
Colonel Commanding the Legion (Dar Riffien): Legion HQ, Training Depot, Squadron of Lancers.
Eastern Zone (Mellila): 1st Legion--1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Banderas.
Western Zone (Ceuta): 2nd Legion--5th, 6th, 7th and 8th (1 January 1926) Banderas.
Each bandera now consisted of a headquarters, three rifle companies and a machine gun company. Located at Dar Riffien was the Legion band, the best in the Spanish Army. Interestingly, these name changes were largely ignored by the Legion itself. Serving personnel, from the colonel to the newest joined recruit continued to refer to the "Tercio" as "the Legion" and, to the confusion of outsiders, referred to the two Legions as "Tercios."
On 9 April 1925, Abd el Krim made the fatal mistake of attacking the French positions along the Uarga River. Although his attacks would see the deaths of over 3,000 French troops and his forces would threaten Fez, Rabat and Casablanca by the end of June, they were to be the undoing of his power, Thoroughly aroused, the French sent Marshal Petain and significant troop reinforcements to Morocco and entered into military negotiations with Spain. At the end of July, a plan was agreed between the two powers that would see 160,000 French troops attack Abd el Krim from the south while 75,000 Spanish troops would attack from the north.
Part of the plan incorporated Franco's suggestion for an amphibious landing at Alhucemas. The landings commenced at 6.30 am on 8 September, spearheaded by the 6th and 7th Banderas of the Legion with Franco in personal command. The confused fighting on the beaches of Alhucemas Bay was marked by ferocious hand to hand struggles as the legionaries, supported by Regulares, a harca of Riffian irregulars and the Spanish Army's African Battalion No. 3 cleared the heights at the point of the bayonet. Despite fierce Riffian counter-attacks, by 20 September the Spanish had 15,000 troops, supported by artillery and ten tanks in the Alhucemas bridgehead. The drive out of the bridgehead began on 23 September, spearheaded by the Rifian harca (which was commanded by Colonel Munoz Grandes who would go on to command the Spanish "Blue
Division" in Russia in 1941), supported by the 6th and 7th Banderas of the Legion. As the harcas and legionaries were sweeping all before them, to the east the 2nd and 3rd Banderas sallied forth from Mellila to secure the heights to the south of the city. Meanwhile, to the west, the Ceuta Column, including the 1st, 4th and 5th Banderas, pushed the Rifs back from the coast. By 30 September the Rifs were in retreat everywhere and had been completely expelled from French territory. On 2 October the Legion marched into Abd el Krim's capital at Axdir and put it to the torch. Finally, on 8 October, the Spanish and French troops linked up at Zoco el Telata.
Although the war was not over, the Rifs were largely broken. In recognition of his contributions to the campaign, on 3 February 1926 Franco was promoted to Brigadier General (at 33 not only the youngest general in the Spanish Army but the youngest in Europe) and relinquished command of the Legion. His place was taken by the Legion's founder, Milian Astray, who had been promoted to full colonel on 24 October 1924. Five days after that promotion, Milian Astray had taken command of a column near Fondak. In a fight on the first day of his command his left arm had been shattered by an enemy bullet. The wound had become gangrenous and his arm had been amputated. It was thus a one-armed colonel who arrived on 10 February to happily take over command from his old comrade in arms. Franco departed for Madrid on 17 February and his official involvement with the Legion ended.
The final offensive against the Rifs was launched at the beginning of March 1926 when 140,000 Spanish and 325,000 French troops commenced their final advance against those kabyles still under arms. On 4 March, while inspecting under fire a machine gun position of the 8th Bandera, Milian Astray was wounded yet again. This time an enemy bullet struck him in the face, destroying his right eye, smashing his jaw and exiting through his left cheek. Characteristically, as he was carried from the field in a grave condition, he still managed to shout: "Viva Espana! Viva la Legion!" His amazing collection of wounds saw him awarded a unique version of the Spanish Army's wound medal--the Medal of Suffering for the Country--bordered with diamonds, and earned him the nickname of "El grande Mutilado."
On 15 April, the last big push began, the French pushing north from the River Uarga and the Spanish pushing south. Between 8 and 10 May the last major battle of the war was fought on the heights of Loma de los Morabos as the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th Banderas, supported by Regulates, Native Police and Spanish infantry crushed the last remnants of Abd el Krim's army. Abd el Krim himself eventually surrendered to the French (the Spanish would have hung him) and was exiled to Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean.
Incredibly, on 28 July, Milldn Astray arrived back at Dar Riffien and took command of his beloved Legion yet again. The last six months of the 1926 saw the banderas of the Legion marching the length and breadth of the Protectorate, escorting convoys and disarming kabyles. From March to June 1927 the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 8th Banderas of the Legion were involved in one last action, stamping out a last final defiant rebellion in the Ketama region.
A Royal Decree of 18 June 1927 promoted Milian Astray to Brigadier General and thus he finally had to hand over command of the Legion, with whom he had personally fought in 62 actions. On 10 July 1927, the Spanish government declared the Protectorate fully pacified. The Rif War was over. In 825 battles, the Legion had suffered 2,000 dead, 285 missing and 6,096 wounded. Collective awards of Military Medal (equivalent to a Unit Citation) were made to the 1st, 2nd and 4th Banderas. There were 12 individual awards of Spain's highest military decorations, the Laureate Cross of St. Ferdinand, bestowed on members of the Legion and 49 Individual Military Medals. In a final tribute, a Royal Decree of 1 October 1927 named General Milian Astray Honorary Colonel of the Tercio.
With the Rif War finally over, the Spanish Army went through an inevitable period of reorganisation and contraction. As part of this process, the 7th and 8th Banderas and the Squadron of Lancers were disbanded. Unlike the rest of the Spanish infantry, however, which was reduced to a three-company establishment, the Legion's Banderas remained at four companies. Despite the official announcement of pacification, sporadic outbursts of rebellion in the Protectorate kept the Legion busy up until the 1930's.
In Spain meanwhile, the political and economic situation worsened. In 1931, King Alfonso XIII went into voluntary exile. The election of November 1933 favoured right wing elements and the election results led to armed revolution in the Asturias. The highly politicised miners of the region, one of the poorest and most depressed in Spain, revolted on 5 October 1934. The miners numbered more than 30,000 and were well armed with dynamite stolen from the mines as well as small arms, 200 machine guns and 29 artillery pieces seized from army barracks and arsenals. They attacked and captured several towns in the Austurias, including the provincial capital of Oviedo. Franco was Chief of Staff of the Spanish Army at this time and he advised the Minister for War to despatch troops from the other provinces to the Asturias and to call for reinforcements from Morocco. As a result of this, the 3rd, 5th and 6th Banderas, along with Regulares and several African Battalions, were shipped across the straits and placed under the command of the ruthless Lieutenant Colonel Yague, a man who had made his mark as commander of Regulares. The Asturian Uprising was marked by extreme violence on both sides. While provincial troops carried out largely static defensive and security operations, the hard bitten regulars from the Army of Africa bore the brunt of the fighting. Neither the legionaries nor the miners expected or gave quarter. Faced by the collapse of political support in the rest of the country and the relentless assaults of the legionaries and moros, the miners capitulated on 18 October and Yague's column consisting of the 3rd, 5th and 6th Banderas, a Tabor of Regulares of Ceuta and a battalion of African Light Infantry, marched into and occupied the revolutionaries' main stronghold at Mieres. Although left-wing claims of Legion brutality in the campaign were rife, claims of up to 30,000 civilian dead have been refuted by most observers. On the other hand, at least 1,335 civilians did die in the fighting and enormous material damage was done to the Austurias (although the miners themselves had a large part to play in this). The Legion lost 13 dead and suffered 46 wounded in the campaign and five Individual Military Medals were awarded. At the end of the campaign, the troops from the Army of Africa were swiftly returned to the Protectorate. In February 1936, the former government was replaced by the left-wing Popular Front. Extreme violence on both sides of the political spectrum saw the country slide inevitably towards civil war. In July 1936, the Legion (still officially referred to as the Tercio) was stationed in Morocco as follows:
Legion HQ (Dar Riffien): HQ, Training Depot, Band, Hospital.
Eastern Zone (Melilla): 1st Legion--1st (Tauima), 2nd (Targuist) and 3rd (Villa Sanjurjo) Banderas.
Western Zone (Ceuta): 2nd Legion--4th (Dar Riffien), 5th (Zoco el Arbaa) and 6th (Xauen) Banderas.
Finally, on 17 July, the long planned military uprising occurred. Interestingly, the uprising was precipitated ahead of schedule by Republican police investigations in Ceuta. Believing that the conspiracy was about to be revealed, the rebels in the Protectorate made their move several hours before the time scheduled for the nation wide uprising (5 pm). The Legion was at the very forefront of the uprising in Africa. The 1st and 2nd Banderas seized control of Melilla with little resistance. The 5th Bandera marched on Tetuan that night and took the town with almost no resistance. The 4th Bandera had occupied Ceuta and the 6th Bandera had taken Larache by the morning of the 18th. Africa, and more particularly, the strategically important Army of Africa, was now in the hands of the rebels. Rebel assurances to the Sultan that the uprising was anti-Communist led to an undertaking that the Sultan would guarantee the peace and security of the Protectorate with his own troops and police. This freed the Army of Africa for service in Spain.
Franco arrived in Tetuan on 19 February, charged by the rebel junta with taking command of the Army of Africa. On the mainland, in the meanwhile, confused and bloody fighting between the two sides finally resolved itself by 20 February. When the smoke cleared, it transpired that the government or the Republic held approximately two-thirds of the country (including the capital, Madrid), most of the fleet, two-thirds of the air force, the bulk of the Assault Guards and about a quarter of the Civil Guards. The rebels or Nationalists, held about a third of the country (including all of Morocco and the Canaries and the main island of the Balearics), about half the army (but including all of the all important Army of Africa), a third of the air force and the bulk of the Civil Guards. Significantly, the Nationalists counted on the support of most of the professional officers of the army and navy and held a large proportion of the both the best agricultural and manufacturing areas in Spain.
Hard-pressed on the mainland, the first priority of the rebels was to get the Army of Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar. At first glance, easier said than done. Controlling most of the fleet and two-thirds of the air force, at first sight it appeared that the Republic would have no difficulty in bottling up the African Army in Morocco indefinitely. One of the enduring myths of the Spanish Civil War is that of the air bridge across the Straits. While it is true that a number of troops were flown across the Straits in small aircraft, the first of them arriving on 2 August, the bulk of the Army of Africa was ferried across the straits by sea. Doubting the efficiency of the practically officer less Republican Navy, Franco took the biggest risk of his career on 5 August when he crammed 3,000 troops (mostly legionaries of the 1st, 4th and 5th Banderas), 20 horses, 50 tonnes of ammunition and 12 field guns aboard two small ferries and despatched them to Spain under the escort of a small gunboat. Although the numerically superior Republican Navy tried to intervene, the handling of the government ships was so inept and that of the small Nationalist gunboat Dato so aggressive that the Republicans were driven off. Heartened by this success, the rebels a constant shuttle service across the Straits, which was barely hindered by the Republican Navy. By 4 September, due to a combination of audacity, sound planning and luck, the bulk of the Army of Africa had been ferried to Spain (most of it by sea!).
The Spanish Civil War was to last for almost three years and was to be the heyday of the Legion. Between September 1936 and April 1938, 12 new banderas would be raised. The 7th and 8th Banderas were re-raised in September 1936. The 9th Bandera was formed in December 1936 while the 10th Bandera was raised in January 1937, with the 11th and 12th Banderas formed the next month. The 13th Bandera was raised in July 1937, the 14th and 15th Banderas in August 1937 and the 16th Bandera in October 1937. The 17th and 18th Banderas were raised in 1938, in January and April respectively. The Legion Tank Bandera was raised in January 1937. The following year, in February, the Legion Light Tank Group was raised. In March 1937 a Legion Anti-Tank Company was formed, along with a Legion Flamethrower Company. To oversee the creation of the new units and to provide a flow of reinforcements, a Depot Bandera was formed at Talavera in August 1937.
An important milestone for the Legion occurred on 8 May 1937 when a government decree and accompanying Army Order at last officially recognised the title "Legion." Existing banderas (1st-6th) were now grouped into the 1st and 2nd Tercios; units raised during the war (i.e. 8th-18th Banderas and the specialist units) were not incorporated into the Tercios.
The Civil War was also to see the greatest influx of foreigners into the Legion in its history. Several thousand Portuguese volunteers enlisted in the Nationalist cause and most of these served in the Legion, although not in formed Portuguese units. French volunteers on the other hand formed the 67th Company of the 17th Bandera and were called the "Joan of Arc" Company. For a brief 6-month period there was an Irish Bandera, briefly titled the 15th. Commanded by an arch Irish nationalist (and quasi fascist), General Eoin O'Duffy, the 600 man Irish Bandera had its own flag--an Irish wolfhound in saffron on an emerald green field--and members wore a harp badge on their collars. Although the Irish Bandera conducted itself well when committed to the field, it suffered from the fact that it was transparently the political plaything of O'Duffy who was patently using the unit as a vehicle to further his own political ends in Ireland. The bandera was disbanded in June 1937 and most men went home, although a few stayed on to serve as individuals with the Legion. Besides the Portuguese, French and Irish, relatively significant numbers of White Russians, Germans and British served with the Legion during the war. Although the officer corps of the Legion was almost totally Spanish, four notable exceptions were British. Tenientes Noel Fitzpatrick and William Nangle, both former British Army officers, served with the 5th Bandera. Alferez Peter Kemp, who was fresh from Cambridge and was to be wounded four times, served with the 14th Bandera. Finally, Teniente Cecil Owen served with the 16th Bandera, with whom he was killed in action during the Battle of Ebro in August 1938. Peter Kemp is particularly significant. Besides going on to have a very interesting war with British Naval Intelligence during World War Two, in the 1950's he published a highly detailed and very readable account of his service with the Legion, one of the few sources on the Legion readily available in English.
The activities of the Legion throughout the war are far too complex and detailed to be included in this article. Between January 1937 and April 1939 the Legion was engaged in almost every major action fought between the Nationalists and the Republicans. Some highlights of the Legion's service during the war include:</p> <pre> The savage see-saw fighting for Brunete in July 1937 (1st, 8th and 13th Banderas);
The Nationalist breakthrough in the Asturias in September 1937 (3rd
Bandera); Defence of the Madrid-Toledo Line from January-December 1938 (5th 8th 9th 10th, 12th and 16th Banderas); Battle of Alfambra (Teruel counter-offensive) January-February 1938 (1st, 3rd 4th 5th, 6th 7th, 13th, 14th and 16th Banderas); Aragon offensive March 1938 (2nd-7th, 13th-17th Banderas, Legion Tank Bandera, Legion Light Tank Group; Levante offensive and Battle of Castellon May-June 1938 (1st-7th and 13th-16th Banderas); Battle of the Ebro 25 July-3 November 1938 (1st-7th, 11th, 14th, 16th-18th Banderas, Legion Tank Bandera, Legion Light Tank Group, Legion Flamethrower Company);
Catalonia offensive 23 December 1938-10 February 1939 ((2nd-7th
and 13th-18th Banderas); Final offensives central Spain and Levante March-April 1939 (Somosierra-Levante sector, 1st and 13th-18th Banderas;
Madrid-Toledo front, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th and 12th Banderas, Legion
Tank Bandera; Cordoba front--4th, 6th, 10th and 11th Banderas,
Legion Light--2nd Tank Group; Army reserve 2nd and 9th Banderas). </pre> <p>This list of actions and units does little justice to the sacrifices of the Legion during the war. Between January 1937 and the publication of Franco's communique declaring peace, issued on I April 1939 the Legion was involved in 3,042 actions and suffered 37,393 casualties--7,645 dead, 28,972 wounded and 776 missing. The 1st, 4th, 11th and 15th Banderas were each awarded a Collective Laureate Cross of St. Ferdinand. Collective Military Medals were awarded to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 16th and 17th Banderas as well as the Flamethrower Company. The 5th Bandera actually earned three Collective Military Medals, while the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 7th Banderas each earned two awards. Seven Individual Laureate Crosses and 155 Individual Military Medals were awarded to members of the Legion.
With the war over, the Legion returned to its home in Morocco and went through a period of contraction. The 12th-18th Banderas, the Tank Bandera, the Light Tank Group and the Flamethrower Company were all disbanded. A major reorganisation occurred in December 1939 when an Inspection of the Legion (administrative headquarters) and Depot Company were formed at Ceuta and a Central Recruiting Office was established in Madrid. At the same time, the operational elements of the Legion were reorganised into three Tercios as follows:</p> <pre> 1st Tercio (HQ Tauima) 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 10th and 11th Banderas and
1st Mixed Group; 2nd Tercio (HQ Dar Riffien) 4th, 5th and 6th Banderas and 2nd Mixed Group; and 3rd Tercio (HQ Larache) 7th, 8th and 9th Banderas and 3rd Mixed
Group. </pre> <p>The Mixed Group, one per Tercio, was a heavy weapons unit consisting of an HQ, an "infantry cannon" company, an anti-tank company and an anti-aircraft machine gun company.
Although Spain remained neutral during the Second World War, the Legion was kept busy keeping the peace (always a fairly fragile thing) in the Protectorate. The Legion was also tasked with preserving the neutrality of the Protectorate and, amongst other things, was given responsibility for running an internment camp at Alhucemas Bay for both Allied and Axis personnel who had strayed onto neutral territory. Internees, both Allied and Axis, recall several things about the internment camp. First, its spectacular location, on the hills above the bay overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean. Second the food, abundant but monotonous. Third, the unwavering courtesy of the Legion guards, unfailingly polite but firm to all ranks and nations. Finally, the fact that no-one, Allied or Axis, ever escaped from the camp, due to the vigilance and diligence of the Legion guards. A number of legionaries, both officers and NCOs, were accepted for service the Spanish Blue Division (Division Azul) in Russia and number of these men died fighting alongside the Germans.
On 21 December 1943 the tercios were given the names of heroes who commanded the famous Spanish armies of the 16th and 17th centuries. Thus the 1st Tercio became "Gran Capitan"; 2nd Tercio became "Duque de Alba, and 3rd Tercio became "Don Juan de Austria." On 1 July 1947, the 10th and 11th Banderas were disbanded, although they would rise again. A Sub-Inspection of the Legion at Ceuta was created on 12 August 1950 to oversee matters of organisation and training, leaving the Inspection of the Legion free to carry out the command function. In October of that year a 4th Tercio (titled "Alejandro Farnesio") was formed at Villa Sanjurjo. It consisted of the re-raised 10th, 11th and 12th Banderas and the 4th Mixed Group. At this time the Legion also abandoned the practice of numbering companies sequentially. From now on each bandera would consist of a HQ Company and 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Companies.
On 1 January 1954 General Milian Astray, Father of the Legion, died in Madrid at the age of 74. At his own request, his Legion cap and a single white glove were placed upon his coffin and on his headstone was engraved the epitaph he had composed for himself:
Charity and pardon--Milian Astray--Legionary
Life for the Legion changed dramatically in 1956 with the independence of Morocco. This was recognised by France on 2 March of that year and by Spain just over a month later. But, although Spain recognised Moroccan independence, it retained the northern coastal enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla as well as the enclave of Ifni on the west coast. Under an agreement between the Spanish and Moroccan governments, the Legion retained its bases at Dar Riffien and Taiuma, south of Ceuta and Melilla respectively. Finally, Spain retained sovereignty of its vast Saharan territory to the south of Morocco and west of Mauretania. To police and guard the Saharan territory, the Legion formed the independent 13th Bandera in July 1956. Organised as a headquarters, three rifle companies and a support company equipped with machine guns, mortars and infantry cannons, the 13th Bandera was based at El Aaiun and was subordinate to the 2nd Tercio for administrative purposes.
Neither Ifni nor Spanish Sahara were quiet by any stretch of the imagination. Terrorist activity by the Istiqlal party required the deployment of the 13th Bandera to desert posts in the interior. Demands on the independent bandera soon saw it stretched beyond its capacity and the 4th Bandera arrived in June 1957 as reinforcements. As the terrorist activity increased the 2nd and 6th Banderas arrived in Ifni November. The arrival of the Legion reinforcements in Ithi was timely as the "Saharan Liberation Army" launched an offensive on the night of 22/23 November aimed at capturing the capital of Sidi Ifni. The 6th Bandera, in a reprise of Legion actions in the Protectorate in 1924, marched to the relief of isolated settlements and outposts in the desert and, in the face of non-stop attacks by the terrorists, had evacuated all threatened civilians and the interior garrisons to Sidi Ifni by 6 December. With the civilian population now secure, the 6th Bandera, along with the newly arrived 2nd and 9th Banderas, launched a counter-offensive which had largely cleared the territory of enemy by the middle of January 1958.
The Legion was also active in the Saharan territory, the 13th Bandera marching for miles across the burning deserts in search of the elusive foe. For the rebels, however, things took a turn for the worse in February 1958. Also threatened in its neighbouring territories of Algeria and Mauretania, the French government decided to co-operate with Spain in joint operations to defeat the "Saharan Liberation Army." Throughout February French and Spanish aircraft maintained constant attacks on rebel supply centres and caravans while on the ground 9,000 Spanish and 5,000 French troops kept up a constant pressure as they flushed the rebels out of their strongholds. The main Spanish formation involved was "Motorised Group A", consisting of the 4th, 9th 9 and 13th Banderas, the Santiago Cavalry Regiment and a battalion of Spanish infantry. The Motorised Group launched a major offensive on 10 February. By 20 February they had captured the main enemy stronghold at Smara, south of the Saguia el Hamra, in a joint operation with a French column from Fort Trinquet in Mauretania. The "Saharan Liberation Army" had been defeated by the end of March. Although much of the fighting in the Ifni-Sahara Campaign was of the small scale, hit and run type, the Legion was involved in one major action when the 13th Bandera clashed with a large rebel force around the Saguia el Hamra. During the battle, the 3rd Platoon of the 2nd Company was cut off and surrounded by a large rebel force. Fighting off constant attacks by the numerically superior enemy force the platoon had suffered over 50 percent casualties by last light. The badly wounded platoon commander, Brigada (Warrant Officer) Fadrique ordered the survivors to withdraw under cover of the gathering darkness, taking their wounded with them. Fadrique, the badly wounded Legionary Maderal and two corporals remained behind to cover the withdrawal. Once he was certain his men had made a clean break, Fadrique ordered the two corporals to withdraw as well and then faced the final rush of the enemy accompanied only the dying Legionary Maderal. The 3rd Company moving up to the relief of the cut off platoon heard the final action, with the voices of Fadrique and Maderal defiantly yelling ' Viva la Legion' to the very end. When the relief force arrived, Fadrique and Maderal were both dead, more than 30 enemy bodies strewn around their position. The enemy finally broke contact later in the night under the pressure of Legion mortar and machine gun fire and spirited company attacks. The action cost the bandera 37 dead and 50 wounded, while 241 rebel bodies were recovered from the field. In total, the Ifni-Shara Campaign cost the Legion 55 dead, 74 wounded and one missing. Two posthumous awards of the Laureate Cross of St. Ferdinand were made. These went, not surprisingly, to Brigada Fadrique and Legionary Maderal of the 13th Bandera.
In 1961 the Legion left Morocco for good. When Morocco refused to ratify the basing agreement signed with Spain in 1956, Spain agreed to withdraw completely from Morocco, except for Ceuta and Melilla of course. Consequently, on 28 February, 1961 the 4th Bandera handed over its beautiful base at Dar Riffien to the Royal Moroccan Army. The same day, the 3"1 Bandera handed over its equally lovely base at Tauima. The 1st and 2nd Tercios moved to Ceuta and Melilla. The 3rd and 4th Tercios had moved several years earlier, redeploying to Spanish Sahara in 1958 where they became known as the Saharan Tercios. Constitution of these latter in October 1958 was as follows:</p> <pre> Saharan Tercio 'Don Juan de Austria', 3rd of the Legion--7th and 8th Banderas, l' Light Armoured Group, 1st Motorised Battery. Saharan Tercio 'Alejandro Farnesio', 4th of the Legion--9th and 10th Banderas, 2nd Light Armoured Group, 2nd Motorised Battery. </pre> <p>The Light Armoured Groups had been formed during the Ifni-Sahara Campaign and retained after the end of the conflict. In 1966 they were retitled 1st and 2nd Saharan Light Armoured Groups. Originally equipped with US M24 Chaffee light tanks and old US World War Two vintage armoured cars, the Groups re-equipped over the years until by the mid-1970's they were equipped with French AMX-30 medium tanks, AML-90 and AML-60 armoured cars and Panhard M3/VTT armoured personnel carriers.
Both Morocco and Mauretania laid claim to Spanish Sahara, but there were few internal disorders in the territory during the 1960's. In June 1969 the enclave of Ifni was transferred to Morocco and as a consequence the 13th Bandera was disbanded. Throughout the early 1970's, there were sporadic disturbances in Spanish Morocco, during which the Legion suffered three fatal casualties. An acute crisis arose in October 1975 when King Hassan II of Morocco organized the 'Green March.' In this demonstration 250,000 unarmed Moroccans marched from Agadir with the expressed intention of peacefully occupying the Saharan territory. The 3rd and 4th Tercios of the Legion stood ready behind the border minefields to repel the marchers. There is little doubt that had they been called on the legionaries would not have hesitated to fire on the marchers. Fortunately for all, at the last moment the marchers turned back. Facing reality, the Spanish government announced on 11 November that it had passed a law to decolonise their Saharan territory, the law to take effect on 28 February 1976.
It is possibly as well that Franco did not live to see the end of Spain's African mandate. El Caudillo died on 20 November 1975. Three days later the co-founder of the Legion was laid to rest in his personal long prepared basilica in the Valley of the Fallen in the Guadarrama Mountains. Many legionaries and ex-legionaries were among the hundreds of thousands who attended both the lying in state and the funeral ceremonies. The Legion carried out its final withdrawal from the Sahara in the last week of February 1976. This ended the Legion's mission in Spanish Africa and meant the disbandment of the 4th Tercio. Despite calls from some quarters for the total abolition of the Legion, it survived to celebrate its 60th anniversary in September 1980. At that time of its 60th anniversary the Legion was organized as follows:</p> <pre> Inspectorate of the Legion (Ronda)--HQ, Depot, Hospital, Band, Training Bandera.
Tercio 'Gran Caoitan', F' of the Legion (HQ Melilla)--1st, 2nd and
3rd Banderas. Tercio 'Duque de Alba', 2nd of the Legion (HQ Ceuta)--4th, 5th and 6th Banderas. Tercio 'Don Juan de Austria', j the Legion (HQ Fuerteventura, Canary Islands)--7th and 8th Banderas and 1st Light Group. </pre> <p>Since 1980 the Legion has had to work hard both for its survival and to define itself. In 1987 the King issued a decree that finally forbade the enlistment of foreigners in the Legion. Under the decree those foreigners serving in the Legion at the time were permitted to serve out their current contracts. With this decree, the name of the Legion was changed from the Spanish Foreign Legion (Legion Extranjeros Espanol) to simply the Spanish Legion (Legion Espanol).
The Legion appears to have settled into the role of the hard professional core of the Spanish Army. Even with current moves to abolish conscription and move to an all professional army in Spain, it is likely that the Legion, with its elan and its history of unquestioning obedience and professional service will remain as the fighting core of the army. Despite rigorous discipline and hard training, the Legion has little difficulty in attracting recruits. Training is certainly hard, the obstacle course at the Training Bandera at Ronda is reputed to be the toughest in Europe. The Legion still uses live ammunition during training to liven recruits up. As for discipline, the Legion has its own military code of justice, separate from the rest of the Spanish armed forces. Its troops are in the main policed by its own military police, miscreants are punished in the Legion's own punishment unit and incarcerated in the Legion's own prison, and NCO's still retain the right to physically punish recruits. On the other hand, pay is good, still more than twice that of the rest of the Spanish Army, food and living conditions (once recruit and specialist training are over) are excellent and the Legion still offers opportunities for travel. On completion of training the new Legionary is assured of a posting to either Ceuta or Melilla, still considered exotic overseas postings. Additionally, the Legion is the unit of choice for overseas operational deployments. In recent years units of the Legion have served with the UN in Guatemala and in the former Yugoslavia. With a current strength of about 8,000 men, the Legion is organised as follows:</p> <pre> Legion HQ/Inspectorate of the Legion (Vieta) Sub-Inspectorate of the Legion (Ronda):
Special Operations Bandera (BOEL) XIII Legion Brigade 'Rey Alfonso XIII' (Vieta): HQ Bandera (BCG): Command Company
Service Company Anti-Armour Company Intelligence Unit Signals Unit Band of the Legion Legion Drum and Bugle Corps. Legion Artillery Group (GALEG): HQ Support Battery 3 x Light Batteries (105/37mm
Light Gun) 1 x AA Missile Battery (Mistral) 1 x Service Battery. Legion Engineer Unit (UZAPLEG): HQ Coy Service and Support Section Engineer Company
EOD Detachment. Legion Logistics Group (GLOGLEG):
HQ Coy Administration Company Supply Company
Maintenance Company Medical Company Transport Company Personnel Section. Tercio 'Don Juan de Austria' .rd of the Legion (Vieta): HQ and Command & Support
Company 6th Light (Airmobile) Bandera 7th Light (Airmobile) Bandera Tercio 'Alejandro Farnesio', 4th of the
Legion (Ronda): HQ and Command & Support Company
10th Light Bandera Tercio 'Gran Capitan' Is' of the Legion
(Melilla): HQ and Command & Support Company 1st Bandera
2nd Bandera 3rd Bandera 1st Light Group Tercio 'Duque de Alba' 2nd of the Legion (Ceuta): HQ and Command & Support Company 4th Bandera 5th Bandera 6th Bandera
2nd Light Group </pre> <p>As can be seen the Legion constitutes almost an army within and army. And this is very much the way the Legion wants it and basically always has had it. The Legion sees itself as the elite of the Spanish Army and has always striven to stand apart from the rest. The classic example of this is the senior command of the Legion. The HQ/Inspectorate is commanded by a Major General as "Inspector of the Legion." The Spanish Army is organised at the staff level into inspectorates, one for each arm of the army, e.g. the Inspectorate of Infantry, the Inspectorate of Engineers, etc. The Legion is not subordinate to any of these inspectorates as the rest of the army is. It has its own Inspectorate, reporting directly to the Commandant General of the Army, an arrangement that lets it very much do its own thing. The Sub-Inspectorate is commanded by a brigadier general. He is responsible for the day to command and administration of the Legion, freeing the Inspector to get on with high level planning and policy. Note, however, that the Sub-Inspector has an operational role as well, with the Special Operations Bandera subordinate to him. The BOEL is actually the 9th Bandera but is not called that.
The XIII Legion Brigade is also commanded by a brigadier general, the array of support troops and assets available within the brigade ensures that the legion is almost totally self-sufficient, relying on the other arms of the armed forces only for strategic and medium range tactical transport, note, however, the lightness of the scale of equipment, the legion has historically been a fast moving force and has not seen the need to saddle itself with heavy equipment and armament that might slow it down. Each Bandera consists of a headquarters and command company, a support and heavy weapons company and three rifle companies. The support company includes mortars, air defence, anti-armour and engineer elements. The 1st and 2nd Tercios, while technically part of the XIII Legion Brigade, come under the brigade for reporting purposes only. For operational, command and administrative matters they come under the Commandant General of Ceuta and Melilla respectively. Note that the Legion no longer has troops deployed in the Canaries.
So, the legion lives on. creation of an eccentric military mystic; commanded at one time by the man who would one day be the supreme ruler of Spain; shock troops of the African army and nationalists of the civil war; unit of choice for young Spanish recruits looking for something different, the legion's place in the Spanish army is probably assured for some time to come. to me, it is one of the most interesting military units in the world, with a fascinating history.
Bolin, Luis, 1967 Spain: The vital years, Cassell & Company Ltd., London.
Broue, Pierre and Emile Temime (translated by Tony White), 1970 The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, Faber & Faber Ltd., London.
Goldston, Robert, 1967 The Civil War in Spain, Phoenix House, London.
Garratt, G.T., 1939 Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, Jonathan Cape Ltd., London.
Hills, George, 1967 Franco: The man and his nation, Robert Hale Limited, London.
Kemp, Peter, 1957 Mine were of trouble, Cassell, London.
Payne, Stanley G., 1967 Politics and the Military in Modern Spain, Oxford University Press, London.
Scurr, John, 1985 The Spanish Foreign Legion, Osprey Publishing, London.
Thomas, Hugh, 1961 The Spanish Civil War, Harper & Row Publishers, New York.
Trythell, J.W.D., 1970 Franco A Biography, Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd, London.
Turnbull, Patrick 1978 The Spanish Civil War 1936-39, Osprey Publishing, London.
Website http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Spastray.htm, Milian Astray.
Website http://www.sahara.net/conflict.html, Western Sahara--Conflict.
Graham Wilson (1)
(1) This paper was originally presented to the ACT Branch of the Society. It follows an earlier talk by Graham Wilson on "La Guerra Marina 1936-39; The Spanish Civil War at Sea" which appeared in Sabretache, Vol. XLV, No. 1, March 2004, pp. 21-36.
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