The Spanish-Moroccan War
By Jose Santos
DAY 4: JULY 20TH 2002
Despite their air superiority and some isolated victory like the one at the Battle of Congress Island, the Spaniards have been losing ground under the steady pressure of the Moroccan army. Alhucemas and Velez fell on surprise strikes. Melilla was surrendered to prevent civilian deaths, and the defenders of Ceuta are exhausted and falling back towards the sea. The Spanish army has needed two days to prepare his men and the fleet for a full fledged invasion of Morocco. But, finally, everything is ready. As outlined in Plan Blue, at dawn, preceeded by a large naval and air bombardment, tanks, soldiers and marines will land in northern morocco and hopefully push the invaders south. Meanwhile, in the Western Sahara, the Polisario is about to backstab the Moroccans in a desperate push to achieve freedom for the Sahrawi people…although they’re actually working for Spain’s hidden interests.
0.00AM: The Russian freighter Rostov becomes the last civilian ship to cross the Strait before closure is official. The Spanish fleet is already taking positions. Task Force Serrano is already in front of its landing area west of Ceuta while Task Force Prim is still heading for its final position. [Generals Prim and Serrano lead the Spanish army in the first Morocco war in 1859-60]
In Rabat, the Moroccan leadership is awaiting the invasion. Their only hope to win the war now is to push as deep as possible into Ceuta before the invaders can hold a big beachhead. What remains of the Moroccan airforce will be sacrificed if necessary.
However, they have failed to predict the true scale of the Spanish attack. The Spaniards have received fresh supplies from their NATO allies and they want to use them with full effect. They know that the enemy outnumbers them, so the only option to land an army in such a difficult terrain is to overwhelm the enemy with fire, destroying its command and supply line.
The Spaniards have decided to drop twice as many missiles in only 4 hours as have been dropped in the past 4 days, in a not very large area already very punished by constant bombardment. They’re intending to do Shock And Awe… at the limited scale Spanish resources allow.
In Washington, Moroccan diplomats have finally managed to convince the US government that they have nothing to do with the Madrid bombings. Surprinsingly, the Spanish diplomats confirm their counterparts’ claims.
In the Berm, the Polisario soldiers are deploying for their surprise attack. In the Moroccan side of the wall, the now reduced Moroccan garrisons, mostly made up of conscripts and unexperienced soldiers, are in alert in case the Polisario is up to something, but they cannot suspect that the Sahrawis are about to start a full attack, not that they have somehow managed to get antitank and antiair weapons, nor that they somehow have gotten precise, up-to-date maps of the Moroccan deployment and the minefields that border the Berm.
In America, people is staring at the TV’s, ready to witness history’s first amphibious invasion in prime time.
In Ceuta, night doesn’t stop the combat. The availability of night combat gear gives a certain advantage to defenders, but they’re too outnumbered to effectively stop the attack.
In Spain and Morocco, almost nobody sleeps tonight. While the Spaniards mourn the dead of the last morning terror attack on Madrid, people meets at bars and houses to witness the invasion live.
0.30AM: Spanish special forces teams are inserted via light boat in Moroccan territory. Their task is to designate targets for the bombardment and cause as much mayhem as possible in the Moroccan rear guard.
1.AM: Task Force Prim (two Pizarro class amphibious ships escorted by frigates and patrol boats) has reached its position southwest of Ceuta. Fighting inside the city is clearly visible from there.
At the Strait Air Command bases planes start to take off…
At Gando, more planes take off for a very risky mission that will push them to their combat range limit.
1.15AM: Admiral Barberá gives authorization to start the bombing as the planes are arriving.
1.16AM: The entire Spanish fleet starts firing over the Moroccan coast without further warning. The primary targets of the bombardment are coastal positions around the landing zones, transportation hubs in the rear zones and especially command positions and supply depots. The Spanish know that they will be hopelessly outnumbered so they want to face an enemy as unorganized as possible.
Observers on civilian ships describe the view as "morbidly beautiful". The image of a missile hitting an ammunition depot near Tangiers, producing an enormous mushroom cloud in the clear summer night, becomes another of the images of the war.
In Spain, despite the mourning for the terror attacks, the reaction to the attack is scarily similar to the one after La Selección scores a goal at an important match.
1.25 AM: The airforce joins the bombing attacking specific targets deep inside the Moroccan rear.
1.27AM: the Moroccan commander for Northern Morocco is killed when a missile salvo blasts his command bunker near El Fendek.
In Rabat, the reports are extremely worrying. Not only are the Spaniards throwing amazing amounts of High Explosive into the Moroccan positions, but they have managed to damage the Moroccan chain of command.
1.50: The planes off Gando reach the African coast south of Tarfaya, flying at very low height to avoind being detected by any remaining Moroccan radar.
2.15AM: Spanish planes attack a Moroccan command post next to the Berm, while other planes use missiles to attack the wall itself.
2.30AM: at both invasion fleets, soldiers and tanks start being hurried into the landing boats. The bombardment has lowered intensity since the first wave of planes is heading back to airbase while the second has yet to arrive.
In Rabat, every effort is now being made to retrieve communication with the front. This will lead the Moroccan strategists to make some fatal mistakes dismissing reports of other attacks in the Western Sahara giving greater priority to any operation in the North.
In Ceuta fighting resumes after some minutes of chaos. The situation kind of mirrors the one in Perejil 3 days before, but at a much bigger scale.
In the Western Sahara, fight breaks loose when Polisario units attack Moroccan positions with mortar fire and light rocket launchers mounted on pickups [the Polisario used those with great success during their war with morocco in the 80’s. They were called "the poor man’s Tank"] . Polisario soldiers cross the Berm at several places, avoiding the minefields. What Sahrawis will call Third War of Independence has just begun.
2.45AM: First reports of something wrong going in Western Sahara arrive to Rabat. Fortunately for the Polisario, they are dismissed as the activity near Ceuta claims all attention. Reports about Spanish planes striking that far south are also dismissed.
3AM: the Polisario spearhead has crossed the Berm after destroying several Moroccan outposts. Instead of a single push towards Smara and El Aaiun, the sahrawis know that they are too few and lightly armed to wage a conventional war,so they will resort to good old hit-n-run guerrilla warfare. To counter the Moroccan air superiority, they can now rely on their brand new AA equipment, occasional Spanish air support and the fact the Moroccan airforce will be pinned down and hopefully destroyed in the north.
5AM: after 4 hours of continued missile raining, the bombing ends.
Spanish paratroopers land near the invasion beaches, at the villages of Dar el Kerroub, Afersigoua, Fahama and Aaliyine. [You can check all those names in Google Earth, I’m not making them up. :p]
6AM: 72 hours after the war began, the first troops from the Spanish Marine Corps land at Mendieta Beach supported by Pizarro APC’s and helicopters. They find no resistance and advance inland to get to the important Road 416 that links Ceuta and Tangiers. [The landing beaches have codenames after Spanish football players. For the sake of the timeline, let’s assume this is the small beach next to the village of Ksar-El-Srir. Use Google Maps in hybrid mode to see it clearly]
6.15AM: shortly after, a 2nd landing takes place at Casillas Beach 5 miles north of Mendieta Beach. This beach is protected by a pier, so Leopard Tanks can be safely landed. The invaders find some heavy resistance here.
6.25AM: The Spanish helicopters and tanks make an easy job of the defenders at Casillas Beach and seize the small port while advancing south towards the road.
6.30AM: first, confuse news of the landings arrive to Rabat.
More landings take place at Puyol Beach, assigned to Task Force Prim, south of Ceuta. [Puyol Beach is the long beach at the village of Restinga, in the Mediterranean side of the Straits] The Moroccans had accurately predicted that this beach would be scenario of a landing, but their forces have been crushed by the bombing.
At H+1 hour, the Spanish army has around five thousand men in Moroccan soil, supported by tanks and helicopters and holding 3 small beachheads around Ceuta that expand slowly while more soldiers are poured onto the beaches. They’re facing an enemy that greatly outnumbers them but that has been decapitated by the initial Spanish bombardment. Time is running out for the Moroccans.
Meanwhile, chaos has broken out in Western Sahara, with the cities going in Intifada mode and the Moroccan garrisons and MINURSO blue helmets completely overwhelmed by the situation and the swift polisario attack.
7AM: The heavy bombing has been successful so far, creating havoc in the Moroccans rear and flanks and making them unable to mount a coordinate counterattack in the first, decisive hours.
In Mendieta Beach, Marines advance quickly to take the low hills that surround the beach. The few scattered defenders are taken out quickly. APC’s and light armour advance towards the village of Afersigoua.
In Casillas Beach, the first Leopards are being unloaded at the docks while the marines are still cleaning the area from Moroccan defenders. Infantry units supported by helicopters and VAMTACs [which is Spanish for Humvee; the name change is due to the Spanish army having both American-made Hummers and Spanish-made Uros] have taken the road crossing, cutting an important supply line for the Moroccans.
In between both beachheads, the paratroopers have taken the village of Dar el Kheroub. The village lies at about 2 miles of each beach, making it a very important location. The paras will have to hold on to it until they can be relieved.
In Puyol Beach, Moroccan resistance has been higher due to their accurate estimation of a large Spanish landing here. Some Spanish units are even pinned down in the beach for some minutes under heavy fire from the defenders, entrenched at the tourist resorts [Puyol Beach, or Restinga as it is known, seems to be a tourist resort with urbanizations and bungalows. Cool image, isn’t it?].
7.20AM: Spanish infantry takes Afersigoua without finding much resistance.
The paras at Dar el Kheroub have to endure a first Moroccan counterattack to retake the village. The attackers are repulsed due to their lack of armour and artillery support.
Harriers from the Principe de Asturias attack Moroccan artillery in the area to prevent a bombing of the landing zones.
In Puyol Beach, naval support has allowed the Spaniards to progress from the beach towards the road. The Moroccan defenders of the beach either withdraw or surrender.
In Rabat, news of the landings have arrived, but the chaos in command and communication makes the Moroccan command unable to respond co-ordinately in these first hours. Even worse, the Spanish paratroopers and special units infiltrated into the Moroccan rear, leads the Moroccan officials to believe the Spanish beachhead is much deeper than it actually is.
Leopard 2 Tanks make their first real tank battle ever when tanks at Casillas Beach try to advance north through Road 416 and force the mountain pass that leads to El Horra. They meet with moroccan armoured units that have been trying to start an improvised counterattack towards the beachhead.
Spanish units advance west from Mendieta Beach to protect the Spanish right flank and prepare for an advance on Tangiers.
In the Western Sahara, the Moroccans have achieved some isolated successes against the polisario by using helicopters to move troops quickly towards the combat points, but the unexpected use of AA weapons by polisario soldiers has caused them high casualties. The polisario advance towards Smara and Dakhla.
7.35AM: The Spanish have won the tank battle of El Horra pass after the Leopards prove to be very superior than the Moroccans’ outdated M-60.
Another Moroccan counterattack against Dar el Kheroub is more successful. The Moroccans know that the village is key to prevent both beachheads at Mendieta and Casillas beach to join, and several improvised units supported by tanks, helicopters and light artillery assault the village. The paratroopers try to resist but are forced to fall back towards the coastal road.
7.45AM: The Moroccan counterattack is met by large concentrations of naval fire and air attacks.
In Puyol beach, the Spanish deploy along the road. The small port of Restinga is taken, while some units advance towards the hills and the village of aaliyine. But the bulk of the Spanish advance is directed north, towards the city of Fnideq. If the Spanish take Fnideq and the important road junction north of the city, the attackers of Ceuta will have lost their last supply route. Other units deploy south to protect the flank of the beachhead and prepare for an advance on Tetouan.
8AM: In Rabat, the Moroccan command is starting to have a clearer view of the situation. Communications with the combat area have now been retrieved, and a new commander is named to coordinate the counterattacks against the beachheads. Unfortunately, most of the most important and well-placed units have been crushed by the initial bombardment. To the Moroccan command’s dismay, many ammunition and fuel depots have been destroyed. The Moroccans have a big army in the combat zone, but have no way to resupply it, at least in the first hours.
In Madrid, their Spanish counterparts congratulate themselves as the landings are going on schedule.
The Moroccan airforce makes its last combat sortie in a desperate attempt to attack the beachheads.
8.15AM: Marine units from Mendieta Beach contact with the paratroopers at the outskirts of Dar el kherroub and engage the Moroccan spearhead. Shortly after, Leopards coming from Casillas Beach arrive and engage the Moroccan right flank.
The Spanish airforce takes off to counter any air counterattack from the Moroccans.
8.30AM: The Moroccan counterattack has been repulsed, with the Moroccans losing most of their tanks and the Spaniards accomplishing their goals of retaking the village and joining both beachheads.
The new Moroccan commander on northern morocco is facing now a dilemma. Should he order his best units, fighting in Ceuta to fall back and attack the beachheads? Or should he try a last, desperate attempt to take the city before the Spanish Task Forces can join, trapping his army at Ceuta?
8.35AM: The last surviving Moroccan mirages attack the Spanish landing places, but the AA support from the frigates destroys many of them before they can make significant damage. When the F-18 and Harriers arrive, the battle is lost for the Moroccans. At 8.50 AM, the Moroccan airforce has ceased to exist as a significant combat force.
9AM: the Spanish reach the southern slums of Fnideq.
In Cairo, the Arab League starts another emergency meeting to discuss the alleged Algerian support to the Spaniards and the sahrawi "rebels".
In the beachheads, unloading of soldiers and equipment keeps on at good rhythm. So far, every Moroccan attempt to attack the landing zones has failed.
9.30AM: The new Moroccan commander has made his decision. And it is the worst one. Instead of throwing the lot using his best units to either attack Ceuta or the beachheads, he will keep on the pressure on the city while some units are withdrawn for a counterattack. The most obvious targets for this are the Spanish advance on Fnideq and the villages of afersigoua and El Horra, but the difficult terrain and terrible logistics are turning the organization and movement of troops into a nightmare.
In the main cities of the Western Sahara, riots keep raging. El Aaiun and Smara are under martial law.
10AM: Ironically, the Spaniards prefer not to advance too much by fear of exposing their flank. They have also overestimated the Moroccan capability to mount an early counterattack. Instead, more troops are being unloaded into the beaches at a frantic pace while the most important points and mountain passes are being fortified. The Spaniards want to turn the rugged terrain to the moroccans’ disadvantage.
In Ceuta, the attackers have reached the port after one day of street battle. However, rumours are being spread about a massive landing in their rear that will cut them off.
In Tindouf, Sahrawi president Abdelaziz announces that the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is tired of awaiting for the UN decision for a referendum, and that the ceasefire is broken.
10.30AM: In Cairo, members of the Arab League approve trade sanctions and boycotting of Algeria due to its collaboration with Spain.
The Spaniards reach the village of Dar Guarda, only 8 miles north of Tetouan. The eastern beachhead around Puyol Beach already stretches through 12 miles of Moroccan coast while the Spaniards cautiously advance west to occupy the litoral plain.
Combat breaks out in Fnideq. The Moroccan defenders are able to repulse a first Spanish attack before naval artillery opens fire on the city.
10.45AM: The Spanish police has identified the terrorist cell that organized the Madrid bombing.
The first coffins carrying dead Spanish soldiers arrive to Madrid Barajas Airport, being received by the royal family and members of the government.
Opinion polls in both countries still show mass support for the war.
Moroccan units in the outskirts of Ceuta start being withdrawn for the counterattack, scheduled for 3PM.
Without waiting for the counterattack order and due to a failure in communications, Moroccan troops try a frontal attack into the Puyol Beach beachhead.
In Western Sahara, Moroccan troops achieve a first success towards Polisario destroying a Polisario cell near Smara.
Several freighters leave the naval base of Rota. Nobody notices them as there are hundreds of freighters in an enormous traffic jam all over the Gulf of Cadiz.
11AM: The Spanish airforce launches an attack on road junctions and railway installations all over northern and central morocco to prevent reinforcements to attack northwards. This is the first major attack on civilian targets.
In Puyol Beach, the Spanish are taken by surprise and are forced to withdraw towards the beach.
11.15AM: Task Force Prim starts bombing the Moroccan attackers. Their advance towards Puyol Beach soon bogs down.
In Fnideq, the combination of naval and armoured support has allowed the Spaniards to regain the lost terrain, but the Moroccan defenders are forcing the Spanish marines to engage in house-to-house fighting.
Moroccan troops are being pulled down from Ceuta.
11.30AM: Spanish advance units cross the river south of Ksar es-Srir [southern edge of the Mendieta beachhead] and see that the road to Tangiers is open, with only few Moroccan troops guarding it.
The Moroccan counterattack towards Puyol Beach is starting to falter. The attackers have lost most of their tanks (mostly obsolete M48 and M60 tanks) to the far more powerful Spanish Leopards.
In Rabat and Casablanca, antiwar demonstrations are held.
The first Moroccan prisoners are being transported into the Spanish ships. From there, they will be transferred into prisoner camps at Cadiz.
In Northern Morocco, Spanish prisoners from Melilla, Velez and Alhucemas start their 4th day of captivity. Red Cross officials visit them and insist that they are being well treated.
In Washington, Spanish representatives insist that no ceasefire will be agreed upon until Ceuta is relieved and Spain has gotten a compensation.
At midday, (H+6 hour) the Spaniards have been able to repulse every Moroccan attacks onto the beachheads. The Spanish air superiority has been decisive to drive back the Moroccan uncoordinated assaults onto the beaches, destroy artillery positions that would be able to bomb the landing places and create general mayhem in the Moroccan communications system.
Meanwhile, the Moroccans have been able to start mounting a coordinated attack on the Spanish positions. They know they will have to rely on sheer numbers since they lack air support and their weaponry is hopelessly obsolete.
In Western Sahara, the polisario offensive has been stopped whenever polisario units have met large concentrations of Moroccan troops or the Moroccans have been able to use their small remaining airforce, but the cities are already in full rebellion.
1PM: In Madrid, Spanish police locates the Al Qaeda cell in a flat in Getafe, near the airbase.
In the beachheads, the Spanish troops are finishing their preparations for the expected great Moroccan counterattack.
Around Ceuta, Moroccan troops are moving towards their new attack positions.
2PM: In Algiers, islamists starts riots protesting the alleged collaboration of the Algerian government with the "crusaders"
Troops from the Western Sahara have finally managed to cross the punished Moroccan road system and are starting to concentrate at Tetouan for a counterattack on the Spanish southern flank.
More troops are moving through the important Road S601, the only road left to supply the Moroccan army in Ceuta.
2.15PM: Spanish air reconnaissance reports about suspicious troop movements in Northern Morocco. The Spanish command knows that the Moroccans have finally managed to overcome their communication problems and that a coordinate counterattack will start anytime soon.
In Rabat, the offensive is delayed to 4PM to allow more troops to arrive.
In Ceuta, the Moroccan offensive has bogged down and the defenders are able to take terrain back for the first time in two days.
3PM: Spanish troops advancing through Fnideq are ordered to take defensive positions.
More tanks and soldiers are unloaded as fast as possible.
The first mayor anti-western riot by angry muslim radicals in Europe takes place in Rotterdam, Netherlands, being suppressed by the police.
In the Moroccan side, the best units of the Armée Royale are now ready to start the counteroffensive. They rely on a heavy artillery bombing of the beaches combined with a mass attack on Fnideq and the southern edge of Puyol Beach; together with secondary attacks on El Horra pass and Afersigoua. The Moroccan strategy relies on breaking the exposed Spanish flanks at the eastern beachhead and advance through the coastal road to destroy it. Once this beachhead is destroyed, all efforts can be devoted to a mass attack on the western beachhead while the coastal road is open again for the Moroccans.
America is waking up with CNN and Fox News constantly broadcasting images of the invasion, such as the Spanish fleet bombing the coast, Leopards firing on Moroccan M-60’s and Spanish paratroopers landing on a village. Every commentator agrees that Moroccan will have to surrender in 48 or less hours, although there are also critical voices with Spain.
The Spanish airforce, now uncontested ruler of the sky, is making constant sorties over the deployment zones.
The Spaniards have been able to unload artillery onto the beaches.
3.50PM: When air and satellite reconnaissance confirms that preparations for a counteroffensive are obvious, the airforce and the fleet start bombing the troop concentration zones, especially the bigger ones north of Tetouan and Fnideq. The surviving Moroccan batteries are also targeted.
Spanish GEOs assault the apartment where the terrorist cell is believed to be hiding. The terrorists blow themselves before surrendering, destroying the apartment and killing two GEOs [this is the same terrorist cell that in OTL caused the Atocha bombings in 2004. In TTL, the war has prompted them to act before, in a less well prepared attack.]
After 3 days of riots and demonstration, a tense calm returns to Spain’s main cities.
4PM: The Moroccan counteroffensive starts in the middle of the mayhem caused by the Spanish attack.
Despite being quickly suppressed by the Spanish airforce, Moroccan artillery is able to hit several important targets at Puyol Beach, including an oil tank and a transport boat.
4.15PM. Moroccan infantry and tanks start moving towards the Spanish positions on Puyol Beach. After some minutes of heavy fighting, they are able to repulse the Spaniards again out of Fnideq, while the southern army tries to advance towards Dar Guarda and reach the beach there.
In the western sector, the Moroccans launch secondary attacks against Afersigoua and El Horra pass, but the Spanish defensive positions hold out, killing many attackers.
5PM: The Moroccan offensive has met a moderate success; despite suffering horrendous losses the Moroccans are able to take back Fnideq and advance through the coastal road. Their tanks now have Puyol Beach under range.
In the South, the Moroccan attackers have also penetrated into Dar Guarda, but the Spanish oppose a stubborn resistance.
In Ceuta, the city defenders are able to counterattack and expel the Moroccans from the port.
In Algiers and Orán, islamists attack government buildings. The Algerian government resorts to the army to restore peace.
5.30PM: The Moroccan attack over Afersigoua breaks down, as the inflexible Spanish resistance combined with air support and difficult terrain makes very difficult to advance. The Moroccan troops, mostly 2nd rate units made up of conscripts, soon start to withdraw.
Spanish police foils another terrorist attack against railway stations in Sevilla and Córdoba.
5.45PM: The main Moroccan attack into Puyol Beach from Fnideq is again repulsed by the combination of naval and air support to the Spanish. In a brief but intense combat, the small contingent of Spanish Leopards destroys most of the enemy’s T-72.
In Washington and New York, Spanish representatives to the US government and the UN insist that no ceasefire will be agreed until the Spanish army has achieved its estrategical goals of liberating Melilla and forcing the Moroccan government to renounce its claims on the cities.
6PM: After two hours of combat, the Moroccan offensive has bogged down and it hasn’t failed yet due to the Moroccan numerical superiority. The attackers, however, have lost most of their artillery and tanks.
8PM: The Moroccan counterattack has failed. After 4 hours of combat, the Moroccans haven’t been able to achieve their goals of destroying the Spanish position around Puyol Beach, and the Spaniards are again pushing back and regaining the lost terrain. The situation in the other beachhead is even worse for the Moroccans, since the Spaniards have not only repulsed every counterattack, but have also advanced in two directions: towards Tangiers through Road 416, and from Afersigoua towards Ben el Ouidane and its key road junction.
As night of D-day falls, the Spanish have landed a big army in Moroccan soil and repulsed every enemy attacks against the beachheads. The Moroccan airforce has been definitely destroyed along with the best units of the army. During the night, the Spanish go on the counteroffensive, with both armies slowly advancing towards each other to complete the surrounding and destruction of the Moroccan army besieging Ceuta. The Moroccans, though, still have a good deal of their army redeploying around Tetouan and south of Tangiers.
Meanwhile, an unnoticed Spanish fleet is navigating south…
Map with the situation in Northern Morocco as of Midnight, July 21st. Red arrows are failed Moroccan counterattacks during the entire 20th: