The impressive service record of the Regulars that overlapped the Annual Disaster

Regulares infantrymen shooting at the enemy.+ info
Regulares infantrymen shooting at the enemy.


In a statement as unfair as it is summary, all the Regulars are usually included in the massive desertion that occurred by the indigenous people in the Annual disaster, which was one of the causes that led the men of Manuel Fernandez Silvestre towards the abyss. The facts, and even the medals, demonstrate the tremendously unfair of this topic: of the eighteen decorations that were awarded after the fighting, three were awarded to soldiers of the Regulares for their heroic actions, including two laureates for Captain Joaquín Cebollino von Lindeman and the also captain Juan Salafranca Barrios. For a reason, it was the most successful unit after that terrible campaign.

In the shadow of the most mediatic Legion, everything related to the Regulars is more unknown than other units, despite the impressive record of service they treasure. Its creation, prior to the Spanish Legion, dates back to 1911 and responds to the protests of the civilian population that was being forcibly recruited to serve on another continent and to the very need to have a professional infantry made to fight in the Spanish protectorate. The Army had already counted on indigenous troops in the past both in Oran, the Rif region as in Ceuta, formed with members of local tribes and clans, but now it tried to establish its use as ‘regular’ in Melilla.

A necessary unit for Africa

Shortly after its creation, they took the name of the Melilla Indigenous Regular Forces, whose first chief was the lieutenant colonel of the cavalry. Dámaso Berenguer Fusté, veteran of the campaigns in Cuba. The Regulars were required to have a very good knowledge of how to conduct African warfare and to understand their role as the spearhead of the Spanish offensives. Very soon they proved their worth, specifically on May 15, 1912 during the Kert Campaign, where one of his lieutenants was awarded the first Cross of the Royal and Military Order of San Fernando for his performance in taking the town of Haddu Al-lal u Kaddur.

The Regulares de Larache Providing guard duty at the Regia residence.+ info
The Regulares de Larache Providing guard duty at the Regia residence.

The Regulars were established in three infantry tables, one cavalry and a machine gun company. Each tabor had three companies or squads, whose rosters included two “Moorish officers”. Most of the recruits came from the Spanish Protectorate, although, given the need to also enlist Policemen among the natives, it was necessary to go to the French zone and deserters from the sultan’s mehallas to find volunteers. In addition to these natives, around 20% were of European origin.

As the teacher tells Julio Albi de la Cuesta in his work ‘Around Annual’, published by Defense in 2016, did not help with the recruitment that the initial salaries, 2.50 pesetas a day, were less than those of a day laborer, and the 3.25 that France paid its local troops, which was an additional difficulty that at the beginning was compensated with the looting of enemy populations, but that with time also was suppressed. In the words of General Francisco Gómez-Jordana: “the Defense Boards, on the one hand, and the suppression of rewards, on the other, have dealt a very hard blow to this army”; Destinations formerly “highly coveted” by commanders, such as those of Regulares, are covered “now many times with forced labor.”

When Annual’s defeat occurred, the Regulars’ forces were not at their best, but strong discipline and the great prestige they had acquired among the local population still survived in their spine: “Our Rif Regulars were highly respected, and there was no Bocoya, Beni bu Yahi or Beni Sicar who dared to say anything to a 15-year-old cornet something that could annoy him, because the cornet answered him with a shot “, as he declared on August 27, 1921 Franciscan Father Alonso Rey.

Towards disaster

Commander Manuel Fernández Silvestre, a cavalry officer recommended by the Monarch, led in the summer of 1921 a reckless campaign from Melilla to Alhucemas, a coastal city on the way to Ceuta, to carry out Alfonso XIII’s imperial dreams. In a few days, Fernández Silvestre advanced more than a hundred kilometers with hardly any casualties, by bribing the local tribes, while distributing his troops through a dense network of positions in an inhospitable territory. The Regulars also marched with him, including the general’s son, the Second Lieutenant of Cavalry. Manuel Fernandez Duarte, whom his father affectionately called “Bolote”.

Appearance of the Melilla dock when the Indigenous Regular Forces embark.+ info
Appearance of the Melilla dock when the Indigenous Regular Forces embark.

The military man promised the King to enter Santiago Day on Al Hoceima and to found on the place a city called Alfonso, but the reality was that it was in the antipodes of being able to fulfill its promise. The dispersal of the troops caused a serious logistical problem that, together with the lack of communication with the commander of Ceuta, Damaso Berenguer, guaranteed disaster. What began in early July as an isolated uprising by some indigenous tribes was transformed by the charismatic Abd el-Krim, who had served as a translator for the Spanish Army, into a widespread rebellion. Throughout the Spanish area there were stabbing in the back by indigenous troops.

Fernández Silvestre tried to go on the offensive, but only managed to fall into a trap. Isolated without ammo or water in a camp in Annual, the general commander of Melilla had to rush out in front of three thousand Spaniards and two thousand Moroccans in what resulted in a march to the death that cost the lives of nearly 10,000 people. Annual withdrawal It began on July 22, with the Spanish column protected by the Indigenous Police on the left flank and by the Regulares on the right. The Police assassinated their officers and joined the rebels in the first attacks, while the Regulars wavered, and although they did not ultimately desert, their loyalty was in question for the rest of the campaign.

Cavalry of the Indigenous Regular Forces in Bu Xda.+ info
Cavalry of the Indigenous Regular Forces in Bu Xda.

However, Annual’s flight could have been more bloody if the Regulars under the command of Commander Llamas, at the head of three infantry teams, the Cavalry and the machine gun company, had not resisted in the southern heights of the camp, giving time for the fled to traverse the narrow Izumar pass. The Regulars withdrew by steps, retreating through the mountain parallel to the road, without mixing with the flood of fleeing soldiers.

In the midst of the final rout, Fernandez Silvestre he perished in the camp and his body could never be recovered. The survivors barricaded themselves in a hill forty kilometers from Melilla. The Spanish city itself was saved from falling into enemy hands because indigenous warriors were too entertained by robbery. It was impossible to go to rescue the survivors and, on August 9, General Berenguer, also from the palace environment, authorized them to surrender. The Riffians, breaking their word, massacred the unarmed soldiers and they left the corpses to the fate of the earth.

The injustice

Llamas was in the front line during the retreat, but his flanking work was not effective enough and his career was marked by the defections of the Regulars. Arriving the column to Dar DriusThe regular squadrons were ordered to spend the night out of position and the following day the squadrons and companies would leave for Zeluán and Nador respectively, since the high command did not want to have indigenous elements in their column in view of the desertions that were taking place. they were producing. It was not necessary. On the afternoon of July 23, in Zeluán, most of the native officers of the Cavalry tabor they deserted, a large part of the horsemen marching with them with their horses and rifles.

The infantry drums, for their part, arrived in Nador by train at 13:15 on the same day, and there it was decided to disarm them and grant them a permit to see their families until the afternoon. None returned at the agreed time. The fear that theirs would be retaliated as soon as the Spaniards left this territory overcame them.

The group of machine guns of the Regulars of Ceuta.+ info
The group of machine guns of the Regulars of Ceuta.

Of the Regulars who accompanied Silvestre, only 79 infantry men, practically all European, and 19 cavalry men, 12 of them Moroccans, remained after the disaster. Were the rest annihilated? The data deny it: along with these few common survivors, 54 chiefs and officers also remained alive. There were many officers, but few soldiers, that is, many deserters.

The stain of massive desertions overlapped, as in the case of Llamas, who would be prosecuted, the great episodes starring members of the Regulares in those days. It is the case of the lieutenant Nunez de Prado, who led an almost suicidal column towards the nearby town of Igueriben for which he was decorated or Captain Joaquín Cebollino von Lindeman, at the head of the 3rd Regulares Squadron, who led from precisely Igueriben the last convoy that entered Annual at the cost of five dead and eleven wounded in their ranks.

Another exceptional example is that of the captain Juan Salafranca Barrios, of the Regulares Melilla No. 2, who defended Abarrán and was wounded along with other officers such as Antonio Reyes or Vicente Camino. Salafranca fought, wounded several times, until his position was completely lost.

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