Once the French occupied Bou Denib in May of 1908 they quickly set about fortifying their new foothold in Morocco by building a walled redoubt surrounding their camp just north of the Guir River (about a mile N/W of the Ksar) and constructing a blockhaus on a prominent hill on the south side of the river (about 2,000m from the redoubt). The French garrisoned about 1,600 soldiers, several hundred horses and mules and a battery each of 75mm cannons and 80mm Mountain howitzers at Bou Denib. They had never really dealt a powerful blow to the rebellious Berber harka that they rousted from Bou Denib in May. There was fear of an imminent attack and the blockhaus vigilantly kept lookout for signs of enemy movement while the soldiers frantically built up the perimeter defenses. During this time the Legionnaires became full time brick makers and masons turning out 1,600 adobe bricks a day for use in fortifying the redoubt and building the blockhaus. For the meantime, the tribesmen had pulled back to the Tazzouguerte Pass in order to better organize and provision their forces which continued to grow in numbers as more and more recruits flocked to the call for jihad. Many of the gathered tribesmen came from tribes all over eastern Morocco and swelled the size of the harka to almost 20,000 by mid-August. Their intention was to overwhelm the French at Bou Denib when they were strong enough to attack. On 22 August the Moroccans finally began probing the French defenses. These were usually conducted at night, but never involved significant forces. Small harassing attacks started on the 28th and 29th and the telegraph line to Bou Anane was temporarily cut. On the 29th the French executed a display of force in an attempt to discourage the harka. Instead the Moroccans pressed closer to the redoubt and begin maneuvering to the south of the blockhaus (which reported on every enemy movement they could see on the Djorf plain). On the 1st of September the Moroccans begin to maneuver large forces towards the redoubt, the palmerie and the blockhaus.
By late afternoon 7,000 of them began their attack on the blockhaus, probably thinking that this position would fall quickly and then provide them with the dominant terrain overlooking the redoubt. Moroccan attacks would come from three directions (West, South and East) but they didn’t count on the French artillery and machine gun support from the redoubt that was to be called in on them while scaling up the steep sides of the hills. The blockhaus was only manned by 75 men (40 Legionnaires and 35 Turcos) led by Lieutenant Vary and Sergeant Koening of the Foreign Legion. This attack lasted all night long with several attackers actually making their way within the blockhaus walls before they were killed with dynamite. Over and over Lt. Vary called in devastating artillery support that kept the Moroccans from overwhelming the small position. When the enemy was found to have infiltrated too close to the French position they were hit with explosive melanite charges thrown down from the walls. Vary’s blockhaus defenders suffered only one Turco killed and 25 wounded. The Moroccans lost probably over 200-300 fighters–173 dead were left on the mountain. Eventually, before dawn, the Moroccans broke contact and moved back to their assembly areas to the west.
After their failure to capture the blockhaus, the Moroccan’s again made a serious mistake by dithering in their camps while the French were rushing a Brigade-sized relief column to Bou Denib. In fact, at the first sign of imminent conflict, word was sent back to the French command that the enemy was sighted in force. Colonel Alix quickly assembled a column of around 4,000 soldiers and began a force march toward Bou Denib. He had three maneuver battalions comprising a total of 8 companies of Algerian Turco’s and four companies of the Foreign Legion (6th and 8th of the II BN/2RE and the 18th and 20th of the V BN /1RE), 500 Spahi and mounted scouts and four batteries of Artillery. Alix arrived at Bou Denib on 05 September. On 07 September he formed his column with forces from the redoubt on the Djorf plain north of Bou Denib. He advanced toward the Tazzuguerte Pass in a diamond shaped formation supported by 16 cannons. This maneuver provoked the Moroccans into attacking the French head on. When the French opened fire on the charging tribesmen the results were predictable–total and utter defeat for the rebellion. After four hours the Moroccans fled in disarray leaving over 700 dead and wounded littering the battlefield and abandoning many tents and camp followers. French cavalry pursued them up to the pass. There were only 22 French wounded. This was the end of the last large scale tribal uprising against the French in southeastern Morocco.
I’ve attached a set of .pdf slides below that cover this fighting and contain many pictures of the Blockhaus and the Bou Denib situation. I also posted the original French report on Operations in the Haut Guir and two French Engineer articles on the Bou Denib defenses that I found on Galica. Part III will be posted soon and that will cover how the redoubt was built up and a European style village was built to the north. Please feel free to comment if I missed something important on this series of posts.
Genie Article on Poste De Bou Denib
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