Monday 22 April 2024

Battle for the Peñas de Kaiat

Battle for the Peñas de Kaiat

Morocco, 19th August 1923 by Richard Baber

Comandante Benigno Fiscer Tornero (OC I Tabor, Grupo Regulares de Tetuán)

The first battalion of Regulares was formed on June 30th 1911, under the command of Col. Damaso Berenguer (who later in August 1919 would become High Commissioner to the protectorate) The battalion was made up of native troops under Spanish officers were modelled on similar units created by the French. This unit was titled: Grupo de Fuerzas Regulares Indigenes de Melilla No1, (literally 1st Fusilier Regiment of Natives from Melilla). The battalion consisted of four companies of infantry and a squadron of cavalry scouts. By the next year the strength had increased to six companies of infantry and three squadrons of cavalry.

NCO from Grupo Regulares de Tetuán
(Tetuán units wore the blue sash) 

 The Regulares took part in many of the major battles across the protectorate and were highly regarded by their officers for the bravery and skills. It is with this "high regard" in mind we find that of the five Grupos de Regulares that served in the protectorate only one Tabor (battalion) was ever awarded the Collective Military Medal (Spain`s second highest decoration). The action by the Tabor also resulted in more citations for individuals than any other Regulares unit in a single action. What follows is a brief account of the action which led to the awards and some ideas of how to recreate the action on tabletop.


In early 1923, the Spanish military have withdrawn from large parts of the protectorate though they tried to hold a solid line of defence from the sacred city of Tetouan and along the Wad (river) Lau. For the most part Abd el Krim`s forces are mostly in the Eastern Zone, but there have been several major (and costly) engagements including Coba Darsa during June-July. It was along the Wad Lau that Grupo de Regulares d`Tetuán No1 found itself with four (4) Tabors (battalions) of infantry and one of cavalry. These units occupied strong-points and blocaos (blockhouses); escorted supply convoys or carried out patrol activities. Unfortunately the prolonged inactivity by the Spanish military made Abd el Krim bolder and he attempted to expand his rebellion into Yebela in the Western Zone by sending harkas (war bands) to attack Spanish positions, etc. This was part of a two-fold strategy - attack the Spanish and keep his own warriors busy whilst at the same time spreading notice of his own power (baraka) into and among the Yebela tribes.

 In early 1923, the area of ​​Yebela remained calm and the Spanish finished the construction of a proper road that connected Tetouan with Xauen. A serious attempt at a treaty by the High Commissioner, which included a pact on behalf of the Government with the Raisuni, provides a time of relative tranquillity in this part of the Western Zone.

In the months of March and April Abd el Krim, who had the intention of extending his fight to the western zone and winning the support of the Yebela Kabyles, violently attacked M'Ter's post several times - Abd el Krim referred to this position as "the Door of the Western zone" this is quoted in several international newspapers of the time. During the month of May Riffi aggression steps up all along the Wad Lau Valley, causing the Spanish to carry out transfer more troops to the area. The military situation of the Spanish troops continued to be unravel with groups of warriors from local kabyles (previously neutral or even friendly to the Spanish) began to attack speculative targets. Some positions felt themselves more in a state of siege than simply security/police posts.

Meanwhile, in the region of Gomara in June, an attack was being prepared on the city of Xauen and at the end of the month the brother of Abd el Krim leads an attack on the position of Tazza which, in accordance to the tactics usually employed by the guerrillas of the Rif, had been attacked without rest by the harkas day and night. Supply lines to forward positions were cut and the need for a re-supply mission became critical to break the siege but the Minister of State did not authorize its shipment not to upset negotiations with The Raisuni by flooding his area of control with more Spanish troops! The High Commissioner decided nevertheless to send the convoy without prior notification to the Government once again demonstrating a breakdown in communications between the Spanish authorities in Morocco and those of the Madrid government.

 In August 1923 negotiations with the Raisuni had reached impasse and the military situation is aggravated by the pressure of the harkas on the more advanced positions of the line Wad Lau - Xauen - Wad Lucus. The general uprising in the Western Zone escalated with the arrival of a large harka led by Ahmed Heriro (one of Abd el Krim`s top field commanders) which increased the number of raids and actually cut communications between Tetouan and Xauen. There were also uprisings in the area of ​​Larache much further west. The whole of the Yebela was now in a state of general rebellion pressing the Spanish forces on all fronts.

Soldado Grupo Regulares de Tetuán

 The Battle

In this period of heightened tension and increased military action, bases and outposts still had to be re-supplied and their garrisons rotated. 1st Group of Regulares d` Tetuán were assigned to the River Lau section of the front throughout July and were fully committed to convoy escort, garrison and outpost duty.

 On August 16 news reaches the Spanish of enemy movements which threatened communications between the vital positions of Talambot and Adgos and a column was formed to cover the area.

Under the command of Commander Fiscer (officer commanding I Tabor of the Group of Regulars of Tetuán No1)

His command is composed of:

I Tabor de Regulares de Tetuán

1º Squadron of Cavalry of the Group of Regulares of Tetuán

10 charges of the Mobile Ammunition Park

Medium Section of the Mountain Ambulance

After a couple of days of searching for the enemy with no result, so on 19 August the column was returning to base when it approached the heights known as Peñas de Kaiat, where scouts reported an enemy presence. An attempt by a company from I Tabor to set up an observation post was countered by enemy fire, other Riffi began firing upon engineers constructing a better track near the rocks.

Commander Fiscer with the rest of the Tabor moved forward only to find a large number of the enemy, strongly entrenched; whose intention was to form a strong blocking position and cut the Road between Taguesit and Tazza and intercept communications with Adgos.

Commander Fiscer gives the order to halt the Taguesit column and for all available forces to occupy the most dominant point on the high ground and to attack the enemy. He reinforces the most advanced company with four machine guns to secure and hold the enemy's centre while the other two companies supported by four machine guns from 3rd Legion Bandera which was stationed at Adgos, moved to attack the Flanks.

The battle progressed, with two companies of the Tabor assaulting the crests where the enemy was entrenched, the fighting was intense and the enemy only finally dislodged after vicious hand-to-hand combat! The actions of I Tabor is well supported by the companies of 3rd Bandera and other units of Regulares and the Tercio deployed on the flanks to the east and west.

The enemy consisted of a force of 200 to 250 men, well dug-in and hidden in many of the caves in this rocky outcrop. Thanks to the rapid dispositions made by Commander Fiscer, his command without any artillery preparation and using rapid movement and a decisive, almost reckless assault, surprised and overcame the enemy.

 Given the number enemy troops and their excellent positions, which allowed them to pour deadly fire on the attackers. The decisive and prompt action of the Commander and the bravery and speed of which his men carried out their assault reduced the casualties considerably from what would have occurred if the assault had been allowed to falter! Also by the Tabor relatively quickly occupying enemy positions, the possibility of the enemy bringing up more men and reinforcing the blocking position was neutralized, all this without artillery support! In fact the only support the Tabor received was by its own machine guns and those provided by 3rd Legion Bandera and of course the advances made by those supporting units both Regulares and Legion.

During the fighting, Commander Fiscer kept moving up and down the line, giving and providing clear and accurate orders, this helped his mens morale and contributed to the success of the attack.

 At 1700 hours on 19 August the Spanish forces established and fortified a post 200 meters west of the massif. Equipped with 8 machine guns of the 3rd Bandera and 1 Section of rifles, this position provided cover fire allowing those forward elements of I Tabor and of the Tercio retreat step by step towards Adgos. Such a withdrawal under fire whilst in direct contact with a skilled and determined enemy could easily lead to a disaster, but once again Commander Fiscer demonstrated his command abilities taken personal control over the withdrawal which was handled with great skill by the entire command.

Due to the exemplary nature of how they performed during this action, I Tabor was awarded the Collective Military Medal by Royal Order on February 16, 1924.

 The I Tabor casualties of this day were four Officers and twenty-six Troops killed and three Officers and thirty-three Troop wounded.

Collar badge of I Tabor

 Individual Award winners

Comandante Benigno Fiscer Tornero (OC I Tabor, Grupo Regulares de Tetuán)

Capitán Carlos Muñoz Güi (OC 2nd Company, I Tabor)

Capt. Güi (mounted) with his company

Teniente Fernando Herrero de Tejada y Francia (1st Coy. I Tabor)

Teniente Manuel Peñarredonda Samaniego (2nd Coy. I Tabor)

Teniente Samaniego

Teniente Celestino Ruiz Sáenz de Santamaría (3rd Coy. I Tabor)

Sargento Domingo Chao Martín (2nd Coy. I Tabor)

Sargento Fernando Relimpio Carreño (3rd Coy. I Tabor)

Cabo Ceferino Santamaría Pérez (1st Coy. I Tabor)

 Grupo Regulares Indígenas de Tetuán nº 1 today has the title - Grupo Regulares de Ceuta nº 54 and I Tabor, Grupo Regulares de Tetuán survives today as - Tabor "Tetuán" I / 54.

 The scenario

Obviously this is a fairly straight forward attack/defence over rocky terrain, with the Spanish forces first trying to clear the high ground then dig in against possible counter attacks. I decided to cut the table in two with a winding rough road representing the track between Taguesit and Tazza.


Riffi – the Berbers must keep the road closed for 20 turns, if they manage this they gain a strategic victory, if they fail but break or destroy any attacking Spanish units this should be considered a tactical win.

Spanish – the Spanish forces must clear the Peñas de Kaiat and open the road for the supply column within 20 turns to win, no other result is acceptable.

My table


Now my first problem is I don`t own enough Regulares to field an entire Tabor on tabletop, so I was forced to compromise and give 3rd Bandera of La Legion a bigger role. I decided the Regulares would attack the left side of the Peñas whilst the legionnaires attacked the right.

 I Tabor, Grupo Regulares de Tetuán No1

                    My Regulares are a mix of Bandera, Irregular, Barcino & Tumbling Dice 

2 companies each with:

2 x 10 man Pelotónes + HQ

Machine gun Pelotón

                                                        3rd Bandera Spanish Foreign Legion

Now all these except one of two more recent additions were painted by Matt Slade Painting Services at a time when I was getting a few articles published in Miniature Wargames but had no time to paint my own stuff.

               My Legionnaires are a mix of Irregular, Bandera, Barcino and Barcelona Universal Models


3 x 10 man Pelotónes (each has an LMG)

Machine gun Pelotón

Riffi Harkas

My Riffi are from all over the place - Irregular, Bandera, Italeri, Airfix, Early War Miniatures, Blitz, Force20, Shellhole Scenics

Can be dug in (medium protection) or hidden from view at the start of the game

 Right hill

4 x 10 warrior Hamsein (all armed with rifles, swords, knives, etc)


Left hill

3 x 10 warrior Hamsein (all armed with rifles, swords, knives, etc)

Reinforcements on turn 10

1-3 10 man Hamsein

4 LMG team

5 Juramentados (men sworn to die in battle) armed only with close combat weapons attack a random Spanish unit and fight until destroyed

6 10 man Hamsein with inspired leader (adds +1 to all morale/combat rolls to all with command radius)

                                                                     The game

Saw the Regulares on the left and 3rd Bandera on the right with the Riffi waiting among the hills

3rd Bandera

1st Tabor

What followed was 11 turns of painful advance against a determined enemy, who used the terrain to slip around the flanks and attack when the opportunity presented. The Legion and Regulares advanced in leaps, one platoon covering the next all supported by their machine guns which also leapfrogged to keep up with the advances and continue their support.

Legion pack mule carrying an MMG moves up towards the next firing position

One Regulares platoon moved straight down the track throughout the game, this brave move effectively outflanked the Berber defence plan on its own!

The rest of the Tabor took to the heights to root out the enemy


 On the right the Legionnaires performed splendidly

Finally fighting on the left concluded in an epic and confused melee with the Regulares victorious

Once they defeated the immediate foes the Regulares dug in to defend the track

On the right the Legion gained the heights and fortified them with their MMGs

A very different game, all infantry with no artillery. Casualties on the Spanish side were far higher than the historical battle – lucky dice!! But they still had the organisation and command to react and counter the Riffi defenders; of course they also had the machine guns which allowed them to lay down suppressing fire from a distance allowing their infantry to get close and clear stubborn enemy positions.




Saturday 20 April 2024

Archibald Dickson - Hero of Alicante (new photos of the memorial added 20/04/24)

 Archibald Dickson - Hero of Alicante

Now SCW is a periphery interest of mine and the naval aspects of that conflict even more obscure. 

But living near Alicante one does stumble upon odd bits of history which stir the interest.

Near the casino carpark, at the castle end of the marina, there is a bronze bust of a naval officer. The plaque reads:

Archibald Dickson

Capitan del barque SS Stanbrook  

(Cardiff 1892 - Mar del Norte 1939)

The bust was erected on March 30th 2014

They have recently moved the whole monument so it faces the city as part of a major upgrade to the marina

Went down to Alicante today first time since Chrismas I think? Went to the tourist information office down by the cassino as we were looking for something. As we passed the memorial I saw they have added decoration and new plaques.

Capt Archibald Dickson

The SS Stanbrook (formally called Lancer) built in 1909

Dickson was the captain of the SS Stanbrook one of a number of blockade runners who during the civil war risked life and limb to bring cargo to and from Republican ports despite a blockade imposed by the rebel forces under Franco supported by the Italians and Germans with both aircraft and submarines. 

By 1939 things were going badly for the government forces and most of the country had fallen to the rebels. While on route to Alicante Dickson had been warned not to enter the port by a nationalist (rebel) destroyer, he did so anyway on March 19th, using bad weather as a cover. He was then delayed for several days, docked off the coast awaiting his cargo (oranges, tobacco & safron) to arrive at the port. when it finally did arrive so had a large number of refugees hoping for rescue from the advancing fascists.

Famous photo of the Stanbrook her decks packed with refugees
Another image showing the refugees leaving the ship at Oran
Another photo taken of the Stanbrook at Oran

1/35 scale model of the Stanbrook on display at the Civil War Interpretaion Centre, Alicante

Dickson was told by the British owners of his ship to leave the harbor and not intervene, but he defied the order. Instead, he risked his life to save as many people as the ship could carry. An estimated 2,638 refugees were taken aboard the Stanbrook. The ship left Alicante at night, dodging Nazi artillery as it headed across the Mediterranean to the French port of Oran, Algeria.

An excerpt for Dickson`s log:

"Amongst the refugees were a large number of women and young girls and children of all ages; including some in arms.

"Owing to the large number of refugees I was in a quandary as to my own position as my instructions were not to take refugees unless they were in real need.

"However, after seeing the condition of the refugees I decided from a humanitarian point of view to take them aboard...

"A troopship leaving England laden with troops was not to be compared with my vessel. In fact in all my experience at sea, covering some 33 years, I have never seen anything like it and I hope I never will again.

"We only just got clear of the port when the air raid rumour of bombardment proved to be true and within 10 minutes of leaving port a most terrific bombardment of the town and port was made and the flash of explosions could be seen quite clearly from on board my vessel and the shock of the exploding shells could almost be felt."

An extract from a letter from Cpt Dickson describing the incident which appeared in the Sunday Dispatch newspaper 

Just days later Alicante fell to the fascists, many Republicans and refugees were taken prisoner by the vengeful victors and suffered terribly, many died.

The fortunate passengers of the Stanbrook made it safely to Oran, though the ship was initially not allowed to dock until Dickson threatened to ram his ship into the harbour. Most refugees were eventually allowed to off the ship, male passengers of military age were interned.

Cpt Dickson was killed, along with his entire crew of 20, when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in November 1939 as it made its way back from Antwerp, Belgium.

At 02.13 hours on 19 November 1939 the unescorted Stanbrook (Master Archibald Dickson) was hit on the port side in the stern by one G7a torpedo from U-57 (Claus Korth), broke in two and sank quickly west-northwest of the North Hinder Lightship. The master and 19 crew members were lost. The torpedo had been a tube runner and hit despite of being launched manually due to the short distance to the target.

Like I said naval is not my thing, but if you have an interest in SCW of pre-WW2 naval I highly recommend:

 "Spanish Civil War Blockade Runners" by Paul Heaton ISBN1-872006-21-3

Post script
This appeared in the local news just recently :
May 28, 1939
Helia González Beltrán was four years and three months old and her sister Alicia was 6.
We arrived at the port of Alicante by train from Elche (Alicante). When we arrived at the port, a crowd of people separated us from a ship that seemed huge to me with a strange name. We, like everyone else, feared not being able to reach the catwalk that would allow us to reach him, my parents went into that crowd with my sister and me until they reached the catwalk. We reached the catwalk where the struggle was so strong that people fell over the edges pushed by those behind. That's when my dad told me to take care of my little sister and released us, letting the crowd carry us up the catwalk. Before reaching the ship, a huge block of people formed, and when they fell they were footsteps, which caused more people to fall over the edges. I was about to fall and my sister and my mother did not know where I was because I could not move. When I was almost about to be trampled, someone grabbed my arm and pulled me out of that ruckus, strong arms lifted me. I saw a smiling face, a sailor's cap, and he gave me a kiss on the cheek. He didn't say a single word, but that hug, that look, promised something good... it was him, it was Dickson and there was no danger.
I remember a packed deck, with the dark sky overhead. It rained that night, not too much, but it was cold, and shortly after setting sail from the port of Alicante they began to bombard the city, everyone on the ship was silent looking at the lighting caused by the bombs that fell in the port, you could see the silhouettes between the explosions of the people running and a scream that shook all of us who were on the boat. Finally we left Alicante behind and it seemed that the danger had passed, although the boat was almost heeled over, and we could capsize at any moment. We were about to capsize when Franco's cruiser "Canarias" intercepted us, which was keeping watch in the vicinity of Alicante so that no one could escape. He started firing his cannons at us, but the captain managed to dodge him and continued on his way.

It turns out French records proved Helia and her sister Alicia were numbers 2277 & 2278 of the evacuees rescued by Cpt. Dickson and the Stanbrook 
Helia Gonzalez Beltran.
Elche (Alicante) 1934-2018

The story continues:

Welshman hailed for his great humanitarian action

Back in 2015, Labour International Costa Blanca Branch arranged for a delegation from the Alicante civic commission to visit Capt. Dickson’s home city of Cardiff where they presented a stainless steel plaque to the then Lord Mayor Margaret Jones, depicting an image of the Stanbrook in Alicante harbour and bearing an inscription in English, Welsh and Spanish.

Also present were Capt. Dickson’s two children, two great-grand-children of the ship’s engineer Henry Livingstone, and members of the Welsh section of the International brigades Memorial Trust.

First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford unveiled a plaque dedicated to Captain Dickson and the Stanbrook, now permanently displayed in Cardiff Bay’s iconic Pierhead Building.

New info

Whilst browsing the internet (as you do) I came across the story of the Stanbrook and how a street was named in her honour near the site of the infamous "Field of Almonds" prison camp which held Republican prisoners after the surrender of the city. 
The prison camp was situated between the Serra Grossa hills and where todays Avienda de Denia is, the site is marked by a rough stone monument.
Now just up the road from the monument you`ll find the Vithas International Hospital, across Avienda de Denia from the hospital you`ll see a petrol garage and the street leading directly from this garage is - Carrer Del Vaixell Stanbrook 
The Valencian translates (roughly) to Street of the Vessel Stanbrook