Spanish Morocco African Troops (Fuerzas Regulares Indígenas)

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The Spanish Morocco African Army, also known as the Army of Africa was one of the distinct forces of the Spanish Army. It primarily consisted of two units – The Spanish Legion and the Regulares. It is called the Spanish Morocco African Army because it was a field-armed force of the Spanish Army that garrisoned the Spanish protectorate in Morocco in the late nineteenth century. The Spanish protectorate in Morocco was built up in November 1912 by an arrangement between France and Spain that changed a Spanish dominated area in Morocco into a formal protectorate. The Spanish protectorate comprised of a northern strip on the Mediterranean and the Strait of Gibraltar, and a southern piece of the protectorate around Cape Juby, circumscribing the Spanish Sahara.

Spanish Morocco African Army - pic1 - flag

Origin and Establishment

Spain had battalions in its two Moroccan coastal territories – Melilla and Ceuta. At different times these comprised of mariners, disciplinary organizations, marine infantry, free organizations and sometimes as detachments from metropolitan units. The Spanish Army of Africa could be said to have been founded in 1893 with the establishment of the Regimiento de África No 1 (The first African Infantry Regiment).

Spanish Morocco African Army - pic2 - spanish protectorate of morocco
Spanish Protectorate of Morocco


The Regulares

In around 1909– 10 Spain started growing inland from its set up waterfront possessions and a power of Policia Indigena (Native Police) was made with Moroccan personnel. This force gave the premise to the foundation in 1911 of the Regulares – Moroccan infantry and rangers units with Spanish officers.

The Spanish Legion

The Spanish Legion or the Tercio was formed by the royal declaration of King Alfonso XIII on 28 January 1920 as the Regiment of Foreigners. Its motivation was to give a corps of expert troops to battle in Spain’s pioneer crusades in North Africa instead of the already recruited units that were demonstrating inefficiency. Initially, the make-up of the regiment was that of a central command unit and three contingents known as Banderas (“banners”) – an antiquated sixteenth century term.

The Army of Africa had almost 35,000 personnel in total. By the 1920s, the Army of Africa was made fundamentally out of the Spanish Legion and the Regulares; also the cazadores (Spanish infantry), artillery, engineers and support units. There were around 30,000 warriors and they were the most expert and powerful battling power in the 100,000-man Spanish Army amid the 1930s. Indigenous infantry enlisted in the enclave of Ifni (Tiradores de Ifni) from 1934 on, were also considered to be a part of the Army of Africa.

The Regulares
The Regulares (Regulars) or The Fuerzas Regulares Indígenas (“Indigenous Regular Forces”) were volunteer infantry units of the Spanish Army. Their development came around when the Spanish armed force was venturing into the Moroccan hinterland from the long-held beachfront enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Initially comprising of indigenous infantry with selections from Spanish Morocco, forming a piece of the Army of Africa and officered by Spaniards, these troops played a noteworthy role in the Spanish Civil War. The Regulares infantry were known for their capacity to navigate the “dead ground” in hiding, that is, without being compromised, yet their Spanish officers hated their offbeat fighting and sometimes exploited this aptitude.


The Regulares had a similar camouflage uniform for special and normal operations to the rest of the Spanish Army; however, it had a one of a kind, khaki tropical uniform for semi-formal barrack dress. Maybe the most unmistakable highlights of the new Regulares uniform was the red fez, red or blue sashes and white shrouds (burnous) held from the Moorish style dress regalia worn preceding 1956.

The Spanish Legion

The Spanish Legion, also known as the Tercio, is a unit of the Spanish Army and Spain’s Rapid Reaction Force. It was established in the 1920s to fill in as a component of Spain’s Army of Africa. The unit was at first known as the Tercio de Extranjeros (“Tercio of Foreighners”). In spite of the fact that it enrolled a few non-natives for the most part from Spanish-speaking countries, it selected overwhelmingly from Spaniards. The Legion did a noteworthy job in the Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. In post-Franco Spain, the Legion found roles in the Yugoslav Wars, Afghanistan, Iraq and Operation Libre Hidalgo UNIFIL.


From its foundation, the army was noted for its plain and basic style of uniform, rather than the bright uniform garbs worn by the Peninsular regiments of the Spanish Army until the topple of the Monarchy in 1931. Even the modern legion has a similar uniform now, although some unique things were kept intact like sage green Tropical colour-scheme for semi-formal barrack uniform. The most remarkable elements of the legion uniform is the khaki “gorrillo” cap or “chapiri”, with red hanging tassel and piping. As opposed to normal military practice, Legionaries are permitted to brandish facial hair and are allowed to wear their regalia, both traditional and service, open at the chest.


The major battles the Spanish Moroccan African Army was engaged in were the:

  • First Hispano-Moroccan War;
  • First Melillan campaign;
  • Second Melillan campaign;
  • Rif War; and
  • Spanish Civil War

First Hispano-Moroccan War

In the late 1859, Moroccan tribesmen attacked a Spanish battalion on the edges of Ceuta, inciting a reaction from the Spaniards who, disregarding Britain’s supplications for a non-military solution, attacked Morocco; they immediately vanquished the Sultan’s Army close in Ceuta.  On February 5  1860 the Spanish entered the city, finishing both the fight and the war. Frightened by the Spanish triumph at the clash of Tetuán, the British put pressure on both the Moroccans and Spanish to find a peaceful solution.

First Melillan campaign

The First Melillan campaign, or the Melilla War (to Spain), was a conflict between Spain and 39 of the Rif tribes of northern Morocco, and later the Sultan of Morocco, that started in October 1893. It was pronounced on November 9, 1893, and was settled by the Treaty of Fez in 1894.

Second Melillan campaign

The Second Melillan battle was a conflict in 1909 in Morocco around Melilla. The fighting included the neighborhood Riffians and the Spanish Army. The Spanish Army lost this battle due to lack of expertise and equipment. They stopped all military operations after this and they recruited a new army of 35,000 personnel – the Army of Africa, i.e., the Spanish Morocco African Army, and by the end of August 1909, they were ready to launch a new attack.

Rif War

The Rif War was an armed clash that lasted from 1920 to 1927 between the Colonial power Spain and the Berber tribes in the mountainous regions of the Rif cultural groups.

Spanish Civil War

The Army of Africa was to have a key influence amid the Spanish Civil War of 1936– 39. Alongside different units in the Spanish Army, the Army of Africa fought against the Second Spanish Republic and partook in the Spanish coup of July 1936 on the sides of the Nacionales.

The underlying expectation was to transport the Army of Africa to Spain via ocean. However, the crew in Spanish navy was more loyal to the republican government, which overwhelmed the officers. Between 29 July and 5 August 1936 1,500 individuals from the Army of Africa were transported to Spain by an airlift.

Subsequent to arriving in Spain, the Army of Africa was split into two segments, one commanded by General Juan Yagüe and the other directed by Colonel José Enrique Varela. On account of the Army of Africa’s advances, all of western Spain was in Francoist Nationalist hands before the finish of September 1936. By mid 1937 the Army of Africa’s size had been expanded to 60,000 men. The Legion and Regulares initiated the Nacionales‘ activities for the rest of the war and assumed a focal job in the Nationalist triumph.


With the closure of the Civil War the Army of Africa was reduced to a peacetime size. Following Moroccan autonomy in 1956 the majority of the enrolled Regulares were transferred to the new Royal Moroccan Army. The regions of Melilla and Ceuta, and the lesser plazas de soberanía too, stayed Spanish and are still guarded by Legion and Regulares units.


  • “Treaty Between France and Spain Regarding Morocco”. The American Journal of International Law. 7 (2 [Supplement: Official Documents]): 81–99. 1913.
  • Bueno, Jose. Uniformes de las Unidades Militares de la Ciudad de Melilla. pp.1–40.
  • Hugh Thomas, pages: 200 – 360 “The Spanish Civil War”, Penguin Books 2003.
  • MB van Roode. “La Legión Española – HISTORIA]”. Archived from the original on 2011-11-14. Retrieved 2011-11-13.
  • David S. Woolman, page 186 “Rebels in the Rif”, Stanford University Press

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Spanish Morocco African Troops (Fuerzas Regulares Indígenas)

by Editorial Team time to read: 6 min