Wednesday 16 February 2022

The Battle of R`Fakha

 The Battle of R`Fakha

Chaouia, Morocco February 29th, 1908

A version of this article originally appeared within The Journal of the SOTCW

The French attempts to pacify the southern Moroccan region of Chaouia had began back in 1906 when they were forced to land troops at Casablanca to protect European interests from local rebels. At the request of the Sultan Abd el-Aziz the French first garrisoned the town, and then began to expand their control in an attempt to rest the area from rebel control. All efforts were restricted by governmental interference and political bickering from back home in France and it wasn’t until Sultan Aziz`s rule was in seriously in danger late in 1908 that the French finally decided to act.

Chaouia is an area seventy miles from north to south, a flat plain along the coast rising gradually to a plateau about 1,500 feet high. Bare covered in lush grasses and carpets of wild flowers in spring; the area is very fertile and therefore valuable.

The man given the task of pacifying Chaouia was General Albert d`Amade (who later in 1916 proved very mediocre as commander of the French contingent in the Dardanelles). D`Amade was military attaché in London and had served as French observer attached to Lord Robert’s staff during the Boer War. From this experience he developed a tactic of converging columns based on the tactics of the Australian and New Zealand mounted infantry in South Africa.

Trouble is d`Amade was unable to get the Moors to accept battle, on this large open plain the Moroccan horsemen evaded the columns again and again. When the French did arrive at the isolated douars (villages) or Ksars (walled compounds also called Kasbahs) they found them abandoned except for Jewish merchants or Moors too old and weak to flee. When resistance was encountered the disciplined rifle fire from the legionnaires, Zouaves and tirailleurs usually discouraged the Moroccans from getting too close, the French could also call on their 75s to add quickly to their available firepower.

The French quick fire 75mm model 1897 was a wonderful weapon of warfare, perfectly suited to an area like Chaouia. Extremely light, it could be towed along with its caisson by a team of four horses or at a pinch even two mules or camels. This made it highly mobile, it also had a high rate of fire and had an effective range of 6 miles, though before the days of aerial observation it was seldom used against targets over two-and-a-half miles away.  

One of my 75mle1897 with a mixed plastic crew using Hat & Airfix figures

An odd thing about the style of warfare in Morocco was that it began at 10AM and finished at 5PM, actions rarely took place after dark or in the early hours or during dusk. The French soon learned that if they set out pre-dawn their flying columns could sometimes surprise their enemies. The make up of the French columns which could at times number thousands of men varied dependent on the mission, though the columns consisted of all-arms groups with infantry, artillery and cavalry.

Pressure on d`Amade built up over the months of his command, his in-ability to bring the rebels to battle, mounting casualties among the French officers and the escalating costs of the campaign all counting against him.

Due to this pressure in late February he ordered another column assembled add headed out onto the plain to harass the rebels. The actual size of the force committed was very large as d`Amade hoped to bring a major portion of the rebels to battle and crush them in one action.

French forces of General d`Amade

7 Battalions of infantry – 2 Legion, 2 Zouave, 3 tirailleur

3 batteries of 75mm guns

5 squadrons of cavalry – 3 Chasseurs d`Afrique, 2 Spahis Algerian

A mountain gun battery

A section of quick-fire naval 37mm guns

Total strength – 5,500 men

On February 29th the column arrived at Wadi M`Koun (sometimes called Oued M`Koun), the river was wide and the banks steep, on the far side the bank climbed up to a crest known locally as R`Fakha. Whilst scouts searched for suitable fords and engineers began to prepare trails for guns and wagons d`Amade ordered Colonel Luigne and his Chasseurs d`Afrique to cross over and secure the crest.

Chasseurs d`Afrique

Founded in 1831 in Algeria primarily as mounted infantry, each man carried a sabre, but was also armed with a carbine. The Chasseurs suffered from an inferiority complex where they tried at every opportunity to downplay their role as glorified infantry and to act as more prestigious troops – the cavalry of old with panache and offensive spirit.

The Chasseurs orders were to occupy the crest, if attacked they were to dismount, form a firing-line and await reinforcements. A Company of Legionnaires and another of Zouaves were also sent across to picket the eastern shore, but the bulk of d`Amade`s force remained on the western side awaiting a re-supply column, this left those men on the eastern bank dangerously exposed.

As the first squadrons climbed the crest they came under fire from concealed Moroccans, as per the unit’s nature, sabres were drawn and they charged. Whilst several rebels were cut down, others remaining concealed continued to pour fire into the horsemen, causing several casualties. Col. Luigne attempted to rally his men by bugle call, but this caused further confusion as the bugler was some distance away and the troops headed towards him back down the crest rather than to their commander!

This withdrawal also impeded the second Chasseurs squadron which was galloping up to the hill towards the battle. Whilst both squadrons were reorganising, they saw to their horror that their comrades, who lay wounded on the hill or had be un-horsed were being hacked to pieces by the Moroccans who were now swarming over the crest.

Col. Luigne ordered another charge to rescue the survivors and regain the crest. Another bloody attack was mounted against the Moors on the hilltop; a company of tirailleur had waded across the river and climbed up to support their cavalry comrades in the attack.

The Moors fought furiously against the cavalry until the tirailleur reached the crest and joined the battle; there was also some belated artillery fire from the far bank. At which point they withdrew down the far side of the ridge and with surprising speed and organisational skill shifted their entire force (shielded from French observation by the ridge) to the French left and launched an attack against the infantry struggling up the wadi banks there!

The Legionnaires and Zouaves formed up and repelled the attack with concentrated steady fire, supported by 75s from the far bank.

The Chasseurs lost twelve dead and another twenty-five wounded plus over thirty horses, the 1st tirialleur company had four killed and several wounded by their own guns! And the Zoauves had a dozen killed and twenty more wounded against some forty Moorish dead. At the end of the battle with the Moors in full retreat, Col. Luigne rode up to d`Amade saluted him with his sabre and said – “My General, you ordered me to hold the crest of R`Fakha – I held it”. 

Recreating the battle

The French commander should be encouraged to believe that the main battle will take place at the village and Kasar (or Kasbah) at M`Karto several miles east of Wadi M`Koun. The need to build a track and ford for his artillery and wagons should be made his priority, how he sets his pickets is of course up to him, but no more than 2 infantry companies and 2 squadrons of cavalry should be allowed.

Initially the Moors have only a few sharpshooters up on the ridge on the French right, these should attract the cavalry picket, but be too scattered for any artillery set up on the far bank. Once the cavalry engage the Moors, more and more rebels will arrive and join the battle. At this point the French commander may send infantry reinforcements (the company of Tirailleur) from across the river, but he must not use those infantry already on the east bank.

The French artillery on the west bank will be unable to give support due to having trouble finding and identifying targets over the river, any attempts to fire into the melee will inevitably cause allied casualties…… 

Once the tirailleur arrive at the ridge, the Moors will withdraw and be seen to flee east away from the river. This is a faint and a little later they launch a surprise attack against the French crossing the river. Moorish horsemen and infantry charge into the left flank of the unsuspecting column (the French thought the battle was over) catching a company of Zouaves mid-stream helping wagons/gun limbers. Things were pretty close until a company of Legionnaires arrived and some 75s on the west bank assisted with canister and high explosives. 

Battle for the ridge – French forces

1st Squadron Chasseurs d`Afrique (high morale) with

HQ – CO, 2IC, standard, bugler, 6 men

5 - troops of 20 men (carbine + sabre)

2nd Squadron Chasseurs d`Afrique

As 1st squadron

Rifle Company 5th Algerian Tirialleur (regular)

120 men

Once the tirailleur arrive at the foot of the ridge, the French get support fire from a battery of 75s on the west bank *

Moorish forces (all regular)

30 – 40 riflemen (most armed with old muskets), start concealed on the ridge.

30 – 40 sword/spear armed warriors, initially hidden behind the ridge

20 – 30 mounted warriors (half armed with rifles/muskets), initially hidden behind the hill

* Once the tirailleur arrive at the foot of the ridge the French commander gets the option of support fire from a battery of 75s. Unfortunately during the battle the range, confusion in orders and poor visibility caused the battery to fire upon the tirailleur, thinking they were the enemy!

After a couple of salvos the “enemy” were seen to go to ground and the battery shifted its fire further up the ridge. About twenty minutes later a dusty and very tired tirailleur arrived at the battery and smartly saluted the officer in command – 

“Sir with the compliments of my officer, your shooting was excellent – you killed four of our men”!

Once the tirailleur arrive at the ridge top, the Moors will break off and retreat and it will look to French as if they have won. Actually the enemy are moving along the dead ground from the French right to their left, from where they launch a surprise attack against the column which have now relaxed believing the battle over.

 Moorish forces (all regular)

30 – 40 rifle armed warriors (half armed with old muskets)

30 – 40 sword/spear armed warriors

20 -30 mounted warriors (half rifle armed)

 French forces

Company of Zouaves (regular)

100 men

Wagons, guns & limbers

1D6 + 6 turns after the battle begins the French get –

Company of Legionnaires (veteran)

120 men

Support fire from a battery of 75s

An interesting colonial action, where for a change the natives have the upper had in position, numbers and tactical awareness.


I game in 20mm so used the following figures -

Zouaves and Legionnaires looked and dressed pretty similarly during this period with white trousers, jackets and soft kepi with havelock. To vary the types you could have the Legion in their blue frock coat or have the Zouaves in sun-helmet. B&B Miniatures do nice figures with both kepi and helmet including mounted and artillery crews; you could obviously also use figures from Tumbling Dice, or in plastic by Italeri or Airfix (Hat) too.

Algerian Tirialleur wore a red tarbush (fez), baggy Turkish trousers, shirt and a red cummerbund (sash), Tumbling Dice do excellent Tirialleur in their WW1 range, you could also use SCW Moroccans or Sudan/Mahdi uprising Egyptian figures.

Senegalese Tirialleur were dressed as the Algerians above, but of course were black Africans, I use Waterloo1815 Anglo-Egyptian Infantry for these.

Algerian Spahis - white or red cloaks over red jackets, baggy Turkish trousers and cummerbund, I converted Warrior Miniatures SCW Moroccan cavalry with heads from Raventhorpe and cloaks of plasterscene for my Spahis.

Chasseurs d`Afrique – white tall kepi, pale blue jacket and red breeches, I use Warrior Miniatures SCW mounted infantry with head-swaps using Raventhorpe tall kepi heads for these.


In Morocco with General D`Amade by Sir Reginald Rankin (published by John Lane the Bodley Head Ltd, 1931)

The Conquest of Morocco by Douglas Porch (ISBN 0-88064-057-X)

France, Soldiers and Africa by Anthony Clayton (ISBN 0-08-034748-7)

Les Chasseurs D`Afrique by Jacques Sicard & Francois Vauvillier (ISBN 2-908-182-874)













Monday 7 February 2022

Dash to the Oum er Rbia

Dash to the Oum er Rbia

Morocco 10th November 1942

This is a fictional game. Part of the orders placed upon Sub-Task Force BLACKSTONE after its landing and seizure of Saafi during Operation Torch was to send an armoured task force overland north to Casablanca. Critical to this advance were the road and rail bridges over the Oum er Rbia River near the town of Mazagan . This game is based on the premise that Vichy forces Attempted to halt the US advance from Saafi to Casablanca following the landings, after all Casablanca didn`t surrender until November 11th! Historically forward elements of 2nd Armoured reached Mazagan in the early hours of November 11th to find the bridges intact and unguarded.

Maj. Gen. Ernest N. Harmon has to therefore as per his initial campaign orders send a probe north to secure those crossings ahead of his tank battalion which has to be unloaded and prepared before they can follow.

US orders

You are a Captain with "B" Company, 67th Armoured Regiment, 2nd Armoured Division this morning your command was finally unloaded at the Port of Safi in French controlled Morocco.

You have been given command of an all-arms task group with the mission of heading north along the coastal road from Safi until you reach the River Oum er Rbia where you are to seize and secure the road and rail bridges and hold them until the rest of 2nd Armoured can arrive and push onto Casablanca. Your force is very ad hoc with the infantry elements motorised using whatever old French vehicles they could find and get running from Safi.

 This is your chance to make a name for yourself, gain glory for your regiment - make it happen!

 US Forces

Elements 1st Tank battalion, 67th Armoured Regiment

4 x M3 Stuart

Elements 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion

1 x GMC 75SP TD

Elements 81st cavalry Group

Jeep w/radio, Jeep w/MMG, White scout car (14 men)

Elements "B" Company, 41st Armd Infantry (carried in assorted confiscated French trucks/cars)

HQ - CO, RTO, NCO, driver

2 platoons each with:

10 men (BAR, Rifle grenadier)

From battalion:

60mm mortar team, .30cal MMG team, Bazooka team (3 rockets)

 On turn 6 + 1D6 a single F4F flying from a make-shift landing strip at Saafi will arrive over the table and attack targets of opportunity

Vichy French orders

You are a lieutenant serving with the 41st colonial mixed regiment in Morocco. You have been placed in command of the defences of the two vital bridges (road and rail) across the Oum er Rbia River south of Casablanca. A rather boring detail, but hey ho but at least you are out of the garrison and in command.

Then yesterday morning the air was full of aircraft, American aircraft! The sounds of explosions drift in the still desert air. Now this morning when scanning the sea you see many ships of all sizes moving north towards Casablanca and south towards Saafi - invasion! Early yesterday a motorised column from your regiment drove through heading south towards Saafi answering a call for reinforcements.

You have to organise some form of defence!

 The bridge garrison is centred at a small farm near the southern end of the road bridge, there is a check point for road traffic near the farm gate. There is a single concrete bunker situated at the northern end of the road bridge with a check point for south moving traffic.  

French Forces

Troops can be dug-in using sand bag emplacements or entrenchments, the command post is a small farm can be lightly fortified

Bridge defence company

HQ - CO, NCO, telephone op, 3 runners

2 platoons of 41st Colonial Regiment each with:

10 men (FM24/29, VB launcher)

1 Hotchkiss MMG team

1 Hotchkiss 25mm AT gun plus crew

Element 412DCA

1 x 25mm CA39 AA plus crew

 Element 67RAA

75mm Montee

 After turn 6, the French commander gains reinforcements from Casablanca, they arrive 1D6 turns after.


Renault UE Coloniale

Two platoons of Senegalese in trucks, each with:

10 men (FM24/29, VB launcher)

On turn 10 a single Morane Saulnier MS406 will arrive over the table and strafe visible Americans

The Table

Looking north towards Casablanca

Looking from the Atlantic
The bridges

The farm

French initial dispositions
The French commander placed his 25mm concealed south of the farm, he also placed a single squad with a VB launcher and some anti-tank rifle grenades in a similar forward position, both these were covered by an LMG team. 

The MMG was set up on the farm roof, the farm buildings occupied by the remains of 1st platoon, plus half of 2nd platoon (inc their VB launcher).
Across the river, the bunker was manned by half of 2nd platoon with an LMG, the 25mm AA gun was also positioned to protect the bridges. The 75 montee was concealed with heavy camouflage on the northern end of the rail bridge.

The Americans arrive

Turn 1 sees the AT gun miss the lead tank

Turn 2, sees the three leading Stuarts all engage the AT gun (which misses again), the recce units moves off the road behind the Stuarts. The Stuarts combined fire knocks out the 25mm.

Turn 3 The Stuarts still plaster the AT position, whist the recce moves parallel to the rail line and the first truck of infantry halts and debusses. The Americans get a nasty surprise as a rifle grenade hits and knocks out the lead Stuart!

Turn 4 the US infantry move to the road whilst the other two Stuarts desperately spot for the grenadier (fail), he puts a fragmentation grenade into the advancing infantry causing casualties.

Turn 5 sees the Stuarts firing HE and machine guns into the scrub where the grenadier was hiding, the US infantry are hit by LMG fire and go to ground in the ditch by the road. The Recce M3 scout car and armed Jeep add their .50 and .30cal fire to supress the French defenders, eliminating the LMG team by the farm and killing most of the outlying ambush squad.
Turn 6 sees the arrival of the French reinforcements on the tables northern edge.

The farm is under direct attack supported by the GMC75 and the various vehicle and tank mounted MGS

American air support is diced for and the F4F will arrive on turn 10
Turns 7-9 fighting for the farm in quite bloody, one American platoon is forced to ground by failed morale check due to casualties! The recce M3 takes a direct hit off a VB frag grenade which wipes out its crew, this causes the recce infantry to also fail a morale check and go to ground! The French MMG is wiped out by the GMC75! One Stuart makes a wide flanking move and bursts into the farmyard taking some defenders by surprise these receive an immediate morale check (which they all fail miserably) and they surrender!

Turn 10 sees both side air support arrive over the tabletop, it also sees the French reinforcements reach the bridge

The first Senegalese platoon debusses to support the armour at the bridge

The F4F pilot not only out flys, but successfully shoots down the MS406

The US infantry clear the farm, the recce infantry are rallied by their Lieutenant, who orders them to the railway bridge. The US support weapon sections are now also in the fight moving into position to support further advances.
Turn 11 & 12
Two Stuarts and the GMC75 exchange fire with the R-35 on the bridge - all pretty poor shooting, any hits failing to penetrate, the 75 Montee breaks cover and adds its fire against the Yanks (to little effect).

The second Senegalese platoon moves to cover the bridge, the 1st now moves right to the railway bridge. The F4F returns but is driven off by the 25mm AA.

Turn 13
The R-35 is blown to bits by the GMC75, the 75 Montee takes a 60mm mortar round which effectively knocks it out!

The US infantry are fully in control of the farm, they exchange fire with the Senegalese supported by Stuart tank MGs and their own .30cal team causing several casualties.
Turn 14 the bunker takes a direct hit from the GMC75 and although only one man is killed a morale check is required next turn. 

The Renault UE Coloniale fails its morale check and turns tail and clatters away….

The Senegalese on railway bridge find themselves facing a Stuart plus the recce infantry, they decide to retreat back to the north bank.
Turn 15 
The bunker occupants totally blow their morale check and abandon their position, the Senegalese reach the north bank as the Stuart starts across the bridge after them, the 25mm AA is wiped out by a direct hit from a Stuart`s 37mm – its all over, victory to the Americans.

Final shots of the game