“Brother” North: Morocco’s Involvement in the Spanish Civil War

January 4, 2013

Summary of the essay “El abrazo mortal de Franco: La participación de las tropas marroquíes en la Guerra Civil Española,” which earned an Honorary Mention in the Undergraduate category for the 2012 Watt Award.

Although the Spanish Civil war is an extensively studied topic, the role of Spain’s neighboring country Morocco in this conflict still requires attention. This body of research highlights the situation of Spanish Morocco before and during the Spanish Civil War and examines how it contributed to the battle. The original work fully explores this relationship by framing the historical background of Spanish-Moroccan relations, the creation of distinct Moroccan troops and armies, the growth of conservative ideology in Morocco, the contributions of the Moroccan troops in the Spanish Civil War, and finally, highlights the consequences that this Moroccan militant presence had on Morocco and in peninsular Spain.

Spain had a weak presence in Morocco for centuries until the humiliating losses incurred at the end of the 19th century with the Spanish-American war made Morocco the final foreign Spanish territory. Although Spanish Morocco offered little financial gain to mainland Spain, many officials were determined to maintain it. From the first moment these officials entered Spanish Morocco, two separate groups emerged: Las Africanistas (African-ists) and Las Africanomilitaristas (African-militarists). Las Africanistas dedicated themselves to the study of the Moroccan people and established positive relationships with the locals. Las Africanomilitaristas took advantage of these relationships with the goal of expanding commerce under a clandestine agenda of strengthening their conservative ideology.

Spanish officials in Morocco established three distinct troops that entered the Spanish Civil War unified under the name of El Ejército de África (Army of Africa): La Policía Indígena (Indigenous Police) which grew into Las Regulares (The Regulars), Los Legionarios (The Legionaries), and the Mehalas Jalifianas (Halifian Troops).

Prior to the Spanish Civil War, Morocco served as a cradle for fascist ideology. Franco began his military career in Morocco, emerging from the Rif War as a hero. Franco expanded Los Legionarios and Los Regulares, promising higher salaries and assistance for the soldier’s families. The legitimate Spanish government rarely supervised Spanish-Moroccan activities, and the fascist forces manipulated anti-republican sentiment to increase enlistment. Acknowledging this history, it is not a coincidence that the Spanish Civil War was declared in Spanish Morocco on July 17th 1936.

In the actual conflict, the Ejército de África played a decisive role in various crucial battles that lead to the dictatorship of Franco. The first group of soldiers arrived in Cádiz in July 1936, and was the beginning of what would total 80,000 Moroccan soldiers fighting in peninsular Spain. These same men were instructed to terrorize villages upon arrival of the fascist forces. This was a deliberate decision by the fascist forces to relate the barbaric side of the war with the re-emergence of the mythical image of the “maligno moro” (dangerous Moor) of the re-conquest period of Spanish history. While the Moroccan soldiers committed war atrocities, the fascist army planted fear in Spanish citizens’ hearts and demonstrated its power without staining the reputation of the government that would emerge following the war.

The use of Moroccan soldiers had destructive effects in the homeland. It created rifts within the Moroccan communities themselves, dividing villages into those who sympathized with the Spanish colonizer or those who fought for Moroccan nationalism, created greater poverty, and isolated young marriageable women who lacked a male guardian to sign their marriage certificates.

In conclusion, although the Spanish Civil War took place in peninsular Spain, it is necessary to highlight the participation of the Ejército de África in this historical event. One cannot determine whether history would have ended differently without the contribution of the Moroccan troops, however we cannot forget the enormous sacrifices that Spanish Morocco and its people made to the advancement of fascism in Spain.

Minda Jerde is a student at Pacific Lutheran University.


9 Responses to “ “Brother” North: Morocco’s Involvement in the Spanish Civil War ”

  1. abdu on April 13, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Few spanish want to admit that without the help of moroccans franco would never win the war,in fact the moroccans took the facists in spain to power.

  2. William Zemsky on November 6, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    What happened to the Morroccans after the civil war. Were they repatriated to Morrocco?

  3. […] לא היו רק יהודים ביניהם קורבנות הפשיזם והרגולרס ׁThe Regularesׂ של פרנקו – כוחות של מתנדבים מרוקאים עם סכינים […]

  4. Lloyd Bishop on July 18, 2017 at 3:39 am

    Between the two, the lesser of the two evils would be fascism in this case. The Republican side, controlled by Stalin, held no future for the people of Spain.

  5. Lloyd Bishop on July 18, 2017 at 3:47 am

    Actually, I lived in Spain for three years and felt very comfortable with Franco in charge-

    Yes, many atrocities were committed on both sides. Trying to pin those on one side or the other is futile.

    The Soviet purges of the late 30’s made communists everywhere re- evaluate the wisdom of supporting this diseased system.

  6. Billyboy on April 23, 2020 at 7:00 am

    What you’re forgetting Lloyd is that the Spanish Republic wasn’t aligned with the Soviets at the start of the war, but with France, Britain and the US. It was, broadly speaking, a Liberal/Republican government (albeit left-of-centre, and troubled by factionalism) and saw its natural allies as the western powers. It was pushed into the hands of the Soviets by an arms embargo imposed by those same powers, in a futile attempt to appease Hitler.
    So are we saying that between liberal democracy and National Socialism the latter is the lesser of two evils?

  7. SAMI on July 15, 2020 at 4:10 am

    can I know the primary sources of this information >

  8. Andrew Waller on June 22, 2022 at 7:49 am

    Lloyd, really silly and ignorant remark from you. Firstly, the whole point is that the Republican govt was moderate and democratic, though many on their side were communists. They had no choice but to turn to Stalin for help as Britain and France deliberately refused to do so via their “non-intervention” policy while Hitler and Mussolini supplied planes, troops and ammo.

    Secondly a key difference was that atrocities committed by Republican side were random and done by individuals whereas in the case of the nationalist camp, it was authorized from the very top ! The Regulares were specifically instructed to sow terror among opponents. Yes I’m sure you lived a very peaceful expat existence with sun and wine above the graves of so many who died in Franco’s concentration camps. IDIOT

  9. Michael Grainger on August 3, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    Powerful comments, from both sides!
    Walked the Camino many times, and always pondered at ‘sites of the disappeared’.