1956 Tainaste Attack in Morocco

In the mid-1950s, violent attacks by local rebels against French targets – military, administrative and civilian – proliferated in French North Africa, which encompassed Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. At the beginning of 1956, several units of the Foreign Legion were stationed in Morocco. Among them was the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment (2e REI) of Lieutenant Colonel Jacquot. The regiment was based in the northern part of the country, in the Taza region, already well-known for the Legion.

Unfortunately, in late January 1956, the 2e REI suffered heavy losses there. Major Escaron‘s 3rd Battalion was attacked by local rebels near Tainaste, some 25 miles (40 km) north of Taza. This resulted in the Legion’s largest combat loss in Morocco since the end of the country’s pacification in 1934. It was also one of the three largest losses of the Foreign Legion in a single battle during that conflict, which is now collectively known as the Algerian War (1954-1962).

So what happened? In the morning of January 28, 1956, during a standard patrol, the 3rd Battalion’s 11th Company had advanced to the north, following the ridges along the Tahar Souk line. The Support Company (CA) was conducting reconnaissance in the particularly steep gorges there and the 10th Company marched on the road. The three elements were to converge at the Aknoul crossroads. They all met there at 11 o’clock.

After a short break, the units were about to move off in their respective directions. Suddenly, the rearmost men of the 10th Company were fired upon by rebels; two legionnaires fell. The 11th Company, arriving at the same point, was in turn assaulted by heavy fire, while a large number of rebels crossed a road to the nearby village of Tainaste to cut off the path of retreat. After the first moment of surprise, Lieutenant Schmidt‘s platoon attacked a slope from which a particularly well-equipped and trained enemy commando was firing all his weapons. The platoon went up and came almost face-to-face with the enemy. Lieutenant Schmidt, a former legionnaire who had been rising through the ranks, was killed along with half of his men.

Later, the bodies of 21 Riffains (rebel tribes from Northern Morocco), including that of their leader, and a dozen weapons were collected there.

On the other side, Captain Ungerman, with the rest of the 11th Company, held off tens of rebels who had managed to surround him to within 50 yards. The 10th Company was pinned down while trying to outflank the enemy. The CA had been alerted by radio and sent in two platoons, that of 2d Lieutenant Verwaerde and that of Lieutenant Monin, which continued the opposing rush. Captain Fraisse was advancing tenaciously with his platoon as well, pushing back the delaying elements in front of him, and he succeeded in threatening the adversary with encirclement.

Around 6 o’clock in the evening, the 9th Company – which, although far away, had been in radio contact with their fellows since the beginning of the engagement – finally reached the scene of the battle. The fighting ended with the falling of night.

The 11th Company had no more ammunition but remained in a fighting position, as did the 10th Company and the CA.

The legionnaires decided to stay on the spot even though the rebels were on the ridges less than 1,500 yards away. All night, under the protection of armored cars, they carried away the dead, the wounded and their supplies of food and ammunition.

The intensity of the attack had surprised everyone. On the Legion side, there were 18 dead, including Lieutenant Schmidt and Staff Sergeant Schuster; 8 men were wounded. On the enemy side, the 300 rebels, who had opposed 180 legionnaires, buried 42 of their own on the spot and took 13 others away to be buried by their tribes. Thereafter, the legionnaires returned to Taza and on 31 January, they buried their dead.

Four weeks later, Morocco gained its independence from France and the regiment, whose men had taken part in the first French actions in Morocco a half-century earlier, would leave the country entirely and move to Algeria.

2e REI - 1956 Tainaste Attack in Morocco - Map

2e REI - 1956 Tainaste Attack in Morocco
Taza, January 31, 1956. 2e REI legionnaires killed during the Taineste Attack in Morocco.