When Americans Bombed Chefchaouen: L’Escadrille Chérifienne

TALIM Escadrille group cropped
"Moroccan Bomber: American Fighters in the Rif War, 1925" (by Colonel Paul Ayres Rockwell, ed. Dale L. Walker; Aviation Quarterly, Volume 5, Number 2, 2nd Quarter 1979)

Note: Thanks to TALIM Board member Dr. Majida Bargach of the University of Virginia, we have just been provided a rare copy of the now-defunct "Aviation Quarterly," with a lengthy selection from a manuscript by Col. Paul Rockwell, an American who fought three times in the service of France (WW I, Rif War, WW II).  We have covered the "Escadrille Chérifienne" in a prior post; now we provide excerpts – dealing especially with the unpopularity of the Rif War in the US at the time – from Rockwell's richly illustrated first-person account of Americans in this almost-forgotten war.

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June 1925: Telegram from Charles Sweeny, fellow American volunteer in the French Foreign Legion during World War I: "Propose reforming Lafayette Escadrille, service Morocco.  Have half dozen old members already lined up, would like you join."

The official name of our group was the Escadrille de la Garde Chérifienne, the Nineteenth Squadron of the Moroccan Aviation Regiment.  The attempt to call the unit the Lafayette Escadrille had been abandoned almost before we left Paris, as there was not one former pilot of the famous World War squadron in our group.

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September 7, 1925: Our objective was Chefchaouen, the holy city of the Djebala tribesmen, a place of some 7,000 inhabitants, built against the foot of the precipitous Mzedjel Mountain.  It had not been bombarded previously, and because of its prestige and sacredness as a holy shrine, an air attack against it was expected to intimidate the Djebalas and be effective in detaching them from the cause of Abd-el-Krim.

The city looked lovely from the air, hugging its high mountain and surrounded with many gardens and green cultivations…  I looked down upon the numerous sanctuaries, the six mosques, the medieval dungeon, the big Square with its fountain playing and fervently hoped none of them had been damaged.  I regretted having to attack a town that always had maintained its independence except for the few years of Spanish occupation.

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A mild sensation was created in our ranks by the receipt of telegrams from various newspapers and press agencies saying that the Washington State Department was preparing to take away our American citizenship if we did not leave the Cherifian Air Service.  One message stated that we were faced with imprisonment and a fine for having enlisted in a foreign military force.

We never received an official communication from the United States Government on the subject, nor did we learn what had prompted the sudden action of the Secretary of State.  Kellogg had indeed made a threat against us, we later found, but was forced to retract it the following day, after consulting his Attorney General.

When the mail came through it brought a flood of anonymous letters and clippings from American newspapers of abusive articles and editorials.  There appeared to be a concerted campaign afoot aimed indirectly, perhaps, more at France than at the members of the Cherifian Escadrille.  We were told that we had best never return to the United States, to which we were a disgrace.  We learned that we were baby-killers and that our principal occupation was burning the crops of peaceful farmers.

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Note: The Epilog by Dale L. Walker states "The Escadrille was disbanded in November, 1925, after flying 470 missions and logging 653 air hours in observation and bombing operations."

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