A Journey In the Desert Part 3
The quiet dawn was torn up when the first rounds were fired on the Spanish stronghold. The Spaniards, mostly conscripts or servicemen were astonished at first, then horrified when they discovered that a direct hit blown up their radio station. Farewell their hopes to get reinforcements or even ammo and food. They were no professional soldiers, and those stationed in the desert loath everyday their bad luck. Standing by them were some Tropas Nomadas. These are locals the Spaniards rely on as their guides, their escort and occasionally their workforce to police some troublesome tribe. The most experienced officers knew how to use the ancestral rivalry between the tribes, but couldn’t be sure of their entire submission. The Sahrawis took the bribe, accepted the honours, nonetheless they had nothing but contempt -save for some extraordinary occurrences- for the Nassranis. The Tropas felt even more let down, and some of them have already defected with their rifles and their priceless experience to serve the MLA by the time Ayour’s task force reached their target. the MLA’s spirit was quite high, as they had assurance many other auxiliaries wanted to take up arms with them and drive the Spaniards out. All the night long, Ayour and his new men started a stealth reconnaissance of the surroundings for the scheduled assault at dawn.
When they got back to their camp, He found the men already feasting on a camel they slaughtered for the occasion. The battle will turn them into one outfit, he hoped. Only in the battle does the comradeship become true, he experienced it with the Rif veterans, for they came from all over Morocco and ended up fighting together. “Tomorrow is another day, let us now get some rest”.
First mortar rounds. Explosions. bullets zigzagging all over the place. He felt breathless. An understatement of his state right then. He couldn’t feel his legs though he was surprised he had such strength to run so fast. The assault on the tiny Spanish outpost east of Sidi Ifni begun, first thing in the morning. After a brief mortar shelling, he led his party across 600 meters or so to get to the outpost. To his right, he saw two men fall, deadly shot. He had a ridiculous thought about it, because it looked as though they fell stupidly, like they couldn’t get up on their legs, and suddenly, the crumbled like a pile of cards, or an amateur building with shaky foundations. He found it even strange to have such thoughts at a time where the mind is like muted out, and were the basic thinking is devoted to the one aim that matters: to get back to the other end of the ground. A couple of seconds later, he saw three other guys fall, shot dead too. He guessed there was a machine gun nest somewhere on his right, so he nervously got a grenade out of his haversack, took the pin out but maintained its safety till he saw three tracing bullets flaring out of a dark smoky cloud a hundred meters far or so. He hated using grenades because he felt it was not a proper weapon. He was fond of his rifle, he didn’t mind using mortar when the occasion arises, but he hated using grenades. Not ‘man enough’ was his main reason. Besides, it does not kill as sure as a bullet or a bayonet blow does, and the result can be very ugly. He released the safety, threw his grenade as far as his arm could and dove to the ground, waiting for the explosion. A small earthquake followed, silencing the nest. And just as the warring noise came all of the sudden, a deadly silence took over, stressing the dramatic effect of smoke and dust. When it all settled down, he was relieved to see that the assault succeded, the outpost was overrun.
It was brief; no more than 15 minutes long. The survivors fled to the city while the MLA started checking the outpost. Nothing much of a loot, Ayour noted. Some rifles to equip the Reguibats, some grenades for training maybe. The prize was the machine gun he spotted earlier on. Luckily, the piece of equipment was not badly damaged by the shrapnels, but it was too heavy to be carried out. He decided to hand it to the Reguibat boss as a war trophy, a gesture that enhanced even more the MLA reputation.
After the loot, came the mourning. The dead were buried, the wounded were however a handicap. Right from the beginning, Ayour knew strategic supplies, especially medicine, were scarce among the MLA. They had to capture some from the enemy, or make use of every resource they can get, which is virtually impossible in the desert. The party was in a chance because the local nursery had a small stockpile of morphine, which was used to alleviate the wounded suffering. The decision was made to get them back to the departure point and recover. The campaign was just starting, and the battle group could not be slowed unnecessarily. In any case, corpses were pulled back from the battlefield and buried hurriedly. Stealth and secrecy were the watchwords.
Meanwhile, a large French Air force Languedoc just landed on the small Las Palmas airport. La Ferté, with a top-ranking civil servant from the Ministère d’outre-Mer et des Colonies and the commander of AOF (Afrique Occidentale Française), were to meet their opposite numbers in Spain to discuss the now serious situation in Spanish territory. Down the airport were the Commader of Spanish West Africa, his chief of staff, and the Airforce commander. No civilians, just the military. La Ferté thought they were old-fashioned. They were all wearing immaculate uniforms, shining knee-high boots, horse-riding breeches and collar-buttoned blouses decorated with impressive arrays of medals and awards. The contrast was stricking between the French three-stars general, dressed casually in his Saharienne, his baggy trousers closer to the Seroual than any Spanish regulation would allow for, and his Khaki béret, his Spanish counterpart on the other hand, was dressed in a uniform that did not change much since the Great War. No wonder they keep losing to the MLA mob was La Ferte sarcastic comment. The meeting seemed unreal, though La Ferté noted the Spanish willigness to turn the blind eye if the French were to chase the MLA on their side of the Sahara. In return, the French agreed to share their intelligence with the Spanish. They didn’t have to blow up much secrecy: It was a fact French military advisors in Morocco were quite influential, and many high-ranking Moroccan officials were on their payroll. There was even a rumour the Palace would be quite satisfied if the MLA was destroyed. The web of a nasty conspiracy were woven against the MLA.