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The Spanish-Moroccan War

By Jose Santos




Day 1: July 17th 2002



In an ironical twist of fate, this war will start in exactly the same place and date than the last war Spain suffered 66 years before.

2AM: the Spanish airspace is closed; every plane on it asked to land as soon as possible. The civilian airports of Cádiz, Málaga , Almería, Ceuta and Melilla are closed too. [This happened in OTL, although the closure would only last a few hours]

3-5 AM: Spanish submarines and warships take positions near Perejil . The straits of Gibraltar are closed to civilian traffic; ships crossing it are ordered to move to the nearest available port.

5.30 AM: 5 transport helicopters escorted by attack helicopters and warplanes, with the the assault team on board, take off from Ceuta and head for Perejil while the sun rises.

6AM: the helicopters reach Perejil Island and hover above it.

6.05 AM: It is unclear who shot first. The Moroccans say that a Spanish helicopter shot first upon seeing the Moroccan positions. The Spaniards say that the Moroccan defenders shot first to prevent a landing. Anyway, a few minutes after the arrival of the commandos, what was supposed to be a bloodless operation has become a firefight, with Spanish helicopters firing to the Moroccan positions while they try to find a good spot to land.

6.15AM: after some minutes of chaos and with both sides already sustaining some casualties, the first squad of Spanish commandos is able to land in the highest point of the island while some of the Messerschmit combat helicopters escorting them open fire on the Moroccan positions.

6.25 AM: the Spaniards have won a decent foothold on the island despite having suffered heavy losses. Meanwhile, the Moroccan defenders call for support.

6-30 AM: PM Aznar is informed that things have gone horribly wrong. He still can’t suspect that they will go much, much, worse.

6.45 AM: Moroccan light artillery based off the coast opens on the Spanish positions in Perejil. [heavy artillery would probably reduce the entire island to rubble :p]

6.50 AM: Spanish F-18 patroling the zone bomb the Moroccan batteries, evading before any enemy AA battery can lock on them. Unfortunately for a lot of people, the Moroccan commander is able to send a radio message informing that his position is under attack of Spanish warplanes.

7AM: The Spanish commander, Admiral Moreno Barberá, coordinating the entire operation aboard the ship Castilla in the Gulf of Cadiz receives intel reports about the magnitude of the Moroccan deployment around Ceuta. What seems to be several infantry brigades supported by helicopters and heavy artillery have been deployed around the city. Barberá is now in a difficult position. It looks like the situation in Perejil has gone out of control, with the fighting extending to the mainland. Instead of the quick, clean operation expected, the assault on the island has become a bloody mess with casualties ranging on tens. And now the Moroccan deployment seems to indicate that the Perejil operation is only a small part of their operative. Spanish doctrine in this event has always been to strike first in case preparations for a Moroccan offensive are evident to deny them any numbers and surprise advantage. With the available information, Admiral Barberá decides that only a preemptive air and naval strike on the Moroccan positions can prevent a surprise Moroccan attack in Ceuta.

7.05 AM: After a brief conversation with Admiral Barberá, PM Aznar authorizes the raid. Shortly after, he will report to the King and present his resignation as President of the Spanish government.

7.15 AM: The frigates Navarra and Numancia open fire on the Moroccan positions around Perejil and Ceuta.

7.20 AM: The Moroccan command in Rabat receives news of the Spanish raid. It seems that the Spaniards have gone nuts and started bombing Moroccan territory. Contingency plans for such an event are activated.

In Perejil, the fighting stops briefly as the soldiers see how the missiles raise from the frigates’ launchers towards the Moroccan positions. They know that now the situation has gone out of control.

In the Gulf of Cadiz, the Principe de Asturias goes into full alert. The planes aboard the carrier are readied for a combat exit.

The air bases of Alcantarilla, Morón, Los Llanos, Talavera, Armilla and San Javier, [all the airbases assigned to the Strait Air Command] receive orders to prepare for an eventual strike on Northern Morocco.

7.25 AM: A missile launched from the Numancia misses and hits the’ village of El Horra, killing several civilians.

7.30 AM: In Washington, President George Bush’ aide awakens him, reporting that what seems to be a shooting war has broken out in the Gibraltar Straits.

In Las Palmas, the Air Command of Canarias based at the Gando airbase is ordered to go into full alert.

In Ceuta and Melilla, the mayor-presidents of both cities [yes, that’s their official title] are informed by the military commanders of the plazas that, since the situation may degenerate into a full war, the cities must be placed under curfew. Military forces in the cities start to occupy defensive positions.

The Moroccan Royal Air Force is ordered to take off to engage the Spanish agressors. Moroccan airbases at Rabat, Meknes and Kenitra start preparations for the raid on the Spanish fleet.

7. 40 AM: The Ceutans are waken up by what seems to be very nearby explosions. In a few minutes, telephone lines at police, firemen and radio stations are collapsed, while people starts noticing the columns of military vehicles moving towards the city outskirts. The explosions actually come from Moroccan batteries bombed by the Spanish frigates.

In Washington, the Moroccan ambassador contacts with the US secretary of state and informs him that Spanish air and naval forces are attacking Moroccan soil.

10 miles across the Strait, the sound of the explosions is clearly heard at the city of Tarifa. In a few minutes, radio stations are flooded with calls. Less than 15 minutes later, the main media in Spain and Morocco stop their regular broadcasts to inform that Spanish and Moroccan forces are fighting above the strait and that Ceuta may be under attack. These reports are greatly exaggerated (for now, the fighting is reduced to Perejil) but will turn out accurate in a few hours.

7 45. AM: the last defenders of Perejil, outnumbered and outgunned, surrender to the Spanish special forces. In the island lay 15 moroccan marines and 9 spanish commandos, next to several wounded.

In Washington, Spanish ambassador Westendorp contacts with the US secretary of state confirming that Spanish forces have been forced to conduct a preemptive strike on Moroccan positions to prevent an attack on Ceuta. He is confident that the situation will sort out in a few hours and that no US help is needed for now.

8AM: At the military plazas of Vélez de la Gomera, Alhucemas, and the Chafarinas islands, the Spanish garrisons take defensive positions.

In the combat zone of Ceuta, Spanish planes and frigates stop their bombardment after running out of air to land missiles. They have managed to inflict a great damage into the Moroccan artillery and troop concentrations, but the strike has been too limited to destroy their offensive capability.

In the Gulf of Cadiz, the Alvaro de Bazan activates its AEGIS systems, while the first planes take off from the Principe de Asturias.

All over Europe, broadcasting media open their news services with breaking news about heavy fighting over the straits; the only images available now being blurry images of warplanes flying over Ceuta.

A first wave of Moroccan planes takes off the airbases at Rabat, Kenitra and Meknes.

In the Canary Islands, every available plane at Gando is ordered to take off and proceed to positions east of Lanzarote to prevent any Moroccan raid on the islands

In Rabat, King Mohamed, after being informed of the situation by his Chiefs of Staff, authorizes an attack on the Spanish plazas in addition to the attack on the fleet. He also contacts the Arab League and the US government insisting that Spain has started an all-out attack against mainland morocco.

In Tangiers, Casablanca and Al-Hoceima, the small Moroccan fleet is ordered to go into combat gearing. Although the Moroccan commanders know that they can’t do much against the much bigger Spanish fleet; the Mediterranean fleet based at Al-hoceima an be useful in an attack on the plazas.

In Madrid, King Juan Carlos accepts Aznar’s resignation as President and, less than 24 hours after the Congress has gone on vacation, starts the task to make up an emergency government.

All over Spain, the country wakes up in what was supposed to be an uneventful summer morning, only to find out that Spain is at war, although not officially yet. For the entire day, people will gather around TV’s and radios.

815 AM: A Moroccan missile battery unnoticed by the Spanish reconnaissance fires on the Spanish frigates. All missiles are shot down.

The Moroccan military is fully mobilized by now. Knowing that Melilla is almost undefendable by the spaniards, most efforts are devoted to an assault on Ceuta, despite the havoc the Spanish strike has created on the existing Moroccan deployment.

First news of the combats arrive on the Sahrawi refugee camps in Southern Algeria. The Polisario government starts thinking that this may be their great opportunity.

830 AM: The Battle of the Strait starts as Moroccan Mirages fire antiship missiles on the Numancia and Navarra. Luckily for the Moroccan air force, the Spanish F-18 have withdrawn to their airbases to refuel and load antiground missiles, while the planes from the Principe de Asturias are still underway.

Spanish forces in Perejil are ordered to take defensive positions since their relief is now impossible.

8.35 AM: a Moroccan missile hits the Numancia, killing 25 crewmen and effectively leaving the frigate out of combat. The Numancia must abandon the combat zone.

8.40 AM: Spanish and Moroccan planes engage over the strait. Despite the Moroccan superiority, the 12 Spanish Harriers manage to destroy several Mirages before they are even able to lock on them. The support from the Alvaro de Bazan proves invaluable for the Harriers.

In Tarifa, the exit roads from the city are already crowded by tourists fleeing the city under fear of an attack; while a pillar of smoke coming from the Numancia is clearly visible on the horizon.

9AM: The air battle over the strait is over after the remaining Moroccan planes flee the combat zone. The Spanish Harriers do not pursue them fearing Moroccan AA batteries.

The first news of the combats arrive to the Spanish troops in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Spanish NATO soldiers deployed in Aviano (Italy) and the Indian ocean will soon also learn about the fighting.

King Juan Carlos contacts the Permanent Commission of the Congress and outlines his plan for a new emergency government, using his royal prerogative for the first time in 25 years.

In Cairo, the Arab League starts an emergency meeting.

In Brussels, NATO does the same.
In Morón, San Javier, Armilla and Alcantarilla, fighters prepare for an attack on AA defenses and radar all over Northern Morocco.

First images of the aerial combats over the straits and civilian victims of the first strike make it to the Moroccan and arab media. Immediately, outrage spreads throughout the arab world.

930 AM: A royal message to the nation is announced for broadcast at 10 AM in every spanish radio and TV. Newspapers are already busy working on special editions.

Submarines from the Mediterranean command take positions near the Al-hoceima naval base.

In the Principe de Asturias, the planes arrive safe and prepare for a 2nd raid on the Tangiers naval base. Admiral Barberá assumes that he has won the Battle of the Straits mauling a good deal of the Moroccan airforce; but at a high cost with the loss of the Numancia

The frigate, badly wounded, withdraws towards Ceuta. In a few hours, video images of the burning frigate entering the port will are being endlessly repeated by world news broadcasts.

In Ceuta, Melilla, and the rest of the plazas, the Spanish legionaires and soldiers prepare for the now expectable Moroccan strike. Ceuta is easy to defend since the city center is on an island easy to supply by sea, but Melilla is on the bottom of a valley surrounded by Moroccan territory by 3 sides. The main issue, though, is that there are around 70000 civilians in each city and now it is too late to start an evacuation, so both Spanish and Moroccan commanders must be careful or the situation will become a massacre. Panic is already widespread among the population. Anyway, plans are activated to start an evacuation of as many civilians as possible from Ceuta.

In Rabat, commanders congratulate themselves at the news of the damaging or sinking of the Numancia; but the news about the air battle are bleaker. Less than one third of the planes sent to attack the Spanish fleet has come back. The Moroccans know that what comes next is a massive Spanish attack on radar and AA positions, followed by a raid on the Moroccan airbases, hoping to destroy as much of the Force Aérienne Royale as they can. It is decided that a token force with the oldest planes will be left at the 3 bases of Kenitra, Meknes and Rabat, while the core of the airforce is withdrawn to other airbases or civilian airports far from the strait. This means giving the Spaniards air superiority over the strait, but at least the Moroccan airforce will be more or less intact to be able to conduct isolated strikes. While the Moroccans can now still reach the strait, the Spaniards, operating from bases in Spain, cannot reach the most faraway bases in central and southern morocco.

10 AM: King Juan Carlos addresses the nation. In a brief communication, he informs that Spain has been forced to attack Moroccan forces to prevent an invasion of Ceuta and Melilla, and that for all purposes a state of war exists between the kingdoms of Spain and Morocco. He also announces that the Aznar government has resigned due to the failure to take Perejil bloodlessly and that a new emergency government is being set up.

In Southern Spain, people stares at the skies as dozens of warplanes flying at low height head south…

Spanish officials have already started contacts with port authorities to start renting or confiscating civilian ships, in case an invasion becomes inevitable.

A few minutes after King Juan Carlos, King Muhammad VI addressed the Moroccans. The Spanish agressors had tried to retake Laila [Moroccan name of perejil] and attacked the Moroccan mainland when the defenders had tried to repel them.

In Washington, the US government finds itself with a serious headache. On the first hand, Spain is a valuable ally which has contributed troops to Afghanistan and ships to Enduring Freedom. On the other hand, Morocco is one of the few reasonably secular Islamic states which supports the US, and it is more or less clear that it was actually the Spaniards who attacked first, albeit they claim it was just a preemptive strike. In two hours of conversations with the ambassadors, both sides refuse any agreement to a ceasefire and the American position becomes more and more uncomfortable as hours pass.

10.30: The second wave of Spanish warplanes starts bombing Moroccan radar and AA positions all over the strait region, arriving as south as Ksar-El Kebir, at less than 100 miles from Rabat.

The first land combat engagements outside of Perejil starts as Moroccan artillery starts bombing the Spanish outposts at Velez de Gomera and Alhucemas; supported by the small Moroccan flotilla anchored at Al-hoceima.

As the morning passes in both Spain and Morocco, the streets are mostly empty and none of the usual ambient of a summer morning is to be found. Most people is either at home or at a bar staring at the TV’s while the news of the combats spread slowly. In Morocco, people cheers when the CNN and al-Yazira show the first images of the Numancia burning next to Ceuta, while Spaniards shout in anger.

11PM: Naval aviation from the Principe de Asturias bombs the naval base at Tangiers, followed minutes later by a missile salvo from the Alvaro de Bazán. This is the first attack on a Moroccan city and destroys the tiny fleet (mostly patrol boats and a corvette) the Moroccans had to control the straits.

In Madrid King Juan Carlos ends a frantical successions of phone calls to make up a new emergency government. Fortunately, most Spanish politicians are still in the city due to the latter day’s debate and the closure of airspace that night.


12PM: after heavy damaging the Moroccan installations in the north of the country, the 2nd wave of Spanish airplanes returns back to base, where frantical efforts are made for a raid on the Moroccan airbases.

the Arab League issues a declaration condemning the Spanish aggression on a member of the League and declaring that Morocco shall be provided with "moral and material support". Minutes later, NATO issues a similar declaration on behalf of Spain, but neither side decides for a more direct military help.

Algeria, though, decides to abstain and declares a strict neutral stance in the conflict, declaring that no planes carrying supplies towards either Spain or Morocco will be allowed to cross Algerian airspace. Morocco can now only be supplied from Mauretania.

The closure of the straits to navigation is already having effect into world navigation and economy. European trade stocks have opened with significant losses. Madrid’s stock exchange session is suspended at 12.15 PM to prevent a total breakdown.

In Lavapiés, Madrid’s most Islamic district, things are even calmer than usual. The streets are empty and almost no stores are open. In the first hours of war, the growing muslim population in Spain prefers to have a low profile. Despite that, the first racist incidents are reported at 12.20 PM. Most are about people of muslim origin being insulted or beaten by an angry mob; but there are several isolated cases of muslims attacking Spaniards. In Morocco, many Spaniards and westerners take shelter at the embassy and consulates in the main cities.

All over southern spain and the canary islands, people tries to leave the cities in the event of an unlikely Moroccan raid. The beaches of Andalusia, usually full in these days, are empty.

In Madrid, Mariano Rajoy is sworn as 5th President of the Government since the restoration of democracy in a rushed ceremony at the Moncloa Palace still occupied by the Aznar family. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero swears as Vice-President. The less vital offices such as Health or Culture are retained by their former titulars, while other offices are occupied by socialists such as Rafael Caldera (Public Administrations) and Catalonian and basque moderate nationalists. For the first time since 1981, a military takes the role of Defense Minister; General Sanz Roldán; also acting as Chief of Staff. [yep, I know, this event won’t mean anything to most of you, but my Spanish readers will surely be delighted to see a Spanish government in which populars, socialists and nationalists work together. Hey, I read lots of timelines about obscure American or British politicians I don’t know about :p]


1PM: In Cairo, Algiers, Damascus and other muslim cities, the first mobs concentrate in front of Spanish embassies.

In the Canary Islands hundreds of tourists try to take a plane to flee the islands, only to find out that the airspace is closed. In the following days, restrictions will be gradually lifted, although the Spanish airspace around the Straits will remain closed for the entire war. At the Gando airbase, the alert is lifted as a Moroccan attack becomes more unlikely.

1.30 PM: first news of the new government’s composition are filtered to several newspapers. The new PM will address the nation at 3 pm

At Madrid’s ministry of defense, Spanish officials offer the first war report to the international press. They confirm that Perejil has been taken, that several plazas are under attack, targets as south as Ksar el Kebir have been attacked and that the frigate Numancia was put out of combat and suffered the loss of many crewmen.

In America, the Eastern Seaboard wakes up with the most unexpected news of a war between two countries. Many people think that the War on Terror has reached a new stage until they notice the Spanish and Moroccan flags. The few images available (Spanish f-18 and Moroccan mirages dogfighting over the sea, the numancia burning, panic scenes at Tarifa, Las Palmas and Casablanca, Spanish commandos in Perejil, both Kings speaking to their nations…) are repeated again and again while analysts and commentators theorize.

At Sarajevo, the SFOR command decides to disarm and canton both the Spanish and Moroccan contingents to prevent any incident. Spanish contingents in Kosovo and Afghanistan are also closed in their bases in the event of attacks.

At the Strait Air Command Bases, planes are readied for a second attack on Moroccan airfields. Unknown to them, many Moroccan planes are already flying towards more secure locations in central and southern morocco.

At Ceuta and Melilla, civilians are being evacuated by the hundreds in ferries and military transports, but everybody is aware that the Moroccan attack will start before too long. The military has to be deployed around the evacuation points to prevent rioting. However, many people will refuse to leave their houses.

2PM: first contacts between the new foreign affairs minister and European counterparts.

In the first combat action of Spanish submarines since the civil war, 4 subs sink the Moroccan fleet at Al-Hoceima base.

2.30PM: The Moroccan assault team has managed to get a foothold on Velez despite losing an helicopter.

In Madrid, the police keeps receiving reports of isolated racist attacks. These incidents will soon spread to Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla and Granada. In Morocco many westerners unfortunate enough to not be near an embassy or consulate are harassed or beaten by angry mobs.

At San Javier, Armilla, Talavera and Morón, the third wave of Spanish airplanes takes off. At that moment more than half of the available Spanish airforce is in the air, some 70 planes including F-18, Mirage F-1 and even old F-5 fighter bombers. More planes from the airbases at Getafe, Zaragoza, Son Sant Joan, Santiago and Valladolid are on their way south for a 4th wave that will hopefully destroy the Moroccan airforce.

3pm: Visibly altered, Mariano Rajoy makes his first speech as Prime Minister surrounded by the other members of his cabinet. Spaniards are surprised to see so many antagonizing politicians put together.

The planes of the 3rd wave fly over Andalucia and the Western Mediterranean. People abandoning the shores is stunned at seeing so many warplanes flying at very low height. Footage of the planes heading south is soon being broadcasted around the world.

In northern morocco, troops are moving towards Ceuta and Melilla. The troops facing Ceuta have to deploy between the wreckage of the first Spanish strike. The Spanish commanders at the plazas are ready for the imminent attack.

In Cartagena, the rest of the Mediterranean fleet is being mobilized towards the combat zone to support the defenders of the plazas with naval fire. More ships are being readied at Rota and Ferrol.

3.45: The last defenders of Velez surrender to the Moroccan assaulters.

4.00: the Spanish planes arrive to their objectives: Air bases nr 1, 2 and 3 of the Royal Moroccan Air Force at Kenitra, Rabat and Meknes. Resistance is weak and in a few minutes the 3 airbases have suffered extensive damage.

4.30: the Spanish fighters withdraw north after what they think it is a major blow to the Moroccan airforce.

In the Gulf of Cadiz, the Principe de Asturias battlegroup is ordered to move south to cover a bigger part of Moroccan territory.

5.00: A Spanish cultural centre in Damascus is attacked by Molotov cocktails. Racist incidents (spurred by both Moroccans and whites) are already being reported by the hundreds all over Spain.

The main land clashes start when Moroccan artillery starts bombing Spanish positions at the outskirts of both Ceuta and Melilla. Few minutes later, Moroccan infantry starts to advance supported by T-72 tanks and APC.

5.15: the last wave of Spanish fighters takes off from their airbases; while at the same time the Moroccan airforce drives north to engage them in a desperate last stand.

An emergency meeting of the UN security council calls for an immediate ceasefire. No one seems to care.

6.00: In Ceuta, the Moroccan attack bogs down at the city gates due to naval support and few organization. In Melilla, though, the Moroccans are lucky and advance towards the airport and bypass some Spanish’ defensive positions.

12 hours after the first helicopters arrived to Perejil, both nations are into total war footing, fighting in land and air over the control of the Strait.

Moroccan artillery based off Al-hoceima starts shelling the Spanish outpost at alhucemas, in preparation of an airborne assault mirroring that of Perejil. Unlike the Spaniards, the Moroccans must assault the rock as soon as possible before the Spaniards can gather enough air and naval support around the lesser plazas.

6.30: Air battle over Northern morocco as the surviving Moroccan airforce attacks the last wave of Spanish planes. The move surprises the Spaniards; in the following dogfight they manage to repeal the Moroccan attack but losing several planes to both air and ground fire. This will turn out to be the war’s greatest air battle.

7.00 Moroccan marines cross the strait between the Moroccan coast and the Chafarinas islands in light boats hoping to surprise the garrison there.

The surviving Spanish planes withdraw north after damaging what is left of Moroccan airbases.

Incidents in Spanish embassies and cultural centers are widespread all over the world.

7.30: the Moroccan command lands and occupies Isabel II island and prepares for a landing at the only inhabited island in the archipel: Congress Island.

In Ceuta and Melilla Moroccan forces progress slowly despite the stubborn Legion resistance and the Spanish air and naval support.

8.00: Moroccan transport helicopters supported by attack helicopters assault Alhucemas. The garrison will surrender after a brief fight.

9.00: Moroccan marines land at Congress island only to find out that the Spanish garrison is waiting for them. It is interesting to note that most of the Chafarinas garrison was made up of Moroccan-born soldiers enlisted in the Spanish army; despite this they fight bravely. The battle of Congress Island will last the entire night.

Around 10 PM the sun is setting above the fighting area. In both Spain and Morocco, people goes to bed with a mixture of fear, anger and pride. The old saying about Spaniards constantly bickering with one another but uniting when faced a common enemy will prove to be true in the following days., when the usually marginal Spanish patriotism experiences an unprecedented rise. Many tourists trying to leave both countries, though, have a hard night sleeping in improvised mats at consulates, embassies or airports.

Night brings a small interruption to combat operations, except in Melilla and the Chafarinas.


Spanish airbases:


On to Day 2


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