The World at War

MAURITANIA 1815 - 1960


1815The Congress of Vienna recognizes French sovereignty over the coast of West Africa from Cape Blanc south to Senegal.
1825Mohammed al Habib, Emir of Trarza, attempts to reassert his authority over the Kingdom of Oualo, a French protectorate south of the River Senegal, through marriage. The French see the marriage and Habib’s efforts to sell gum arabic to the British as a threat to their own profitable trade in gum.
1840An ordinance declares Senegal a permanent French possession with jurisdiction extending over all settlements under French control including those in Mauritania.
1854December 16 General Louis Faidherbe is appointed Governor of Senegal with orders to end tribute payments, secure the gum arabic trade and protect the sedentary populations on the southern bank of the River Senegal from Moorish raids.
1855General Faidherbe conquers the Kingdom of Oualo then turns to the emirates of Trarza and Brakna. The Moors attack Saint Louis and nearly succeed in taking the settlement before they are repulsed.
1856The Moors are defeated. A French protectorate is established over Trarza and Brakna. Tribute payments are replaced with a 3% royalty on the value of gum arabic delivered. French sovereignty is recognized over the northern bank of the Senegal River.
1859 – 1860 General Faidherbe sponsors five expeditions to undertake geographic studies and establish political and commercial ties with Mauritania.
1890A French post office opens in Kaedi. The telegraph line reaches Kaedi the next year.
1899Sheik Me el Ainin settles with 375 soldiers in Smara where they build a casbah and a mosque.
1900Negotiations with Spain are undertaken as a prelude to the demarcation of frontiers with Rio de Oro and the attachment of Mauritania to French West Africa.
1901France adopts Xavier Coppolani’s plan for "peaceful penetration" of Mauritania. Coppolani enlists the support of Sheiks Sidiya Baba and Saad Bu in ending the depredations of the warrior clans thus exploiting a rift in Moorish society to the benefit of the French. His task is made difficult by opposition from the administration in Senegal which sees no value in the arid wastelands and the commercial companies for whom pacification means the end of the lucrative arms trade.
1902Xavier Coppolani completes the conquest of the interior Chinguitt country which he names Mauritania.
The first French school in Mauritania is opened in the Senegal River valley at Kaédi.
1904Mauritania is organized as a protectorate separate from Senegal though administered by a delegate general in Saint Louis.
October Following the success of Coppolani’s pacification attempts in Trarza, Brakna and Tagant, France upgrades Mauritania to the status of a civil territory administered by a commissioner of government. Although formally separate from French West Africa Mauritania is closely tied to its administrative structure and has its annual budget appended to that of French West Africa.
1905May 12 Xavier Coppolani is killed in Tidjikdja while preparing to march against Shiek M el Ainin of Adrar who enjoys the military as well as moral support of Morocco. The Shiek recognizes Moroccan claims to sovereignty over Mauritania. The death of Coppolani turns the tide in favor of M el Ainin, who is able to rally many of Moors with promises of Moroccan help. The French government hesitates for three years while M el Ainin urges a jihad to drive them back across the Senegal.
1906The first Mauritanian postage stamps are issued bearing the likeness of General Louis Faidherbe.
1907November Colonel Henri Gouraud, who had defeated the resistance movement in the French Sudan, is appointed Commissioner of the Territory of Mauritania.
1908December Colonel Henri Gouraud assembles a column of 800 infantrymen and 200 cavalry to march on Adrar where nomadic warriors have taken refuge between raids that claimed the lives of 3 French officers, 5 NCOs and 134 soldiers in Mauritania.
1909January 9 Colonel Gouraud’s column captures Atar, the capital of Adrar, after a month long campaign and 3 major skirmishes.
September Colonel Gouraud’s column reaches Koudiat d' Idjil where it disperses the surviving Adrar warriors into the desert.
During the Year The Gouraud column comes under attack on 135 occasions. Trade with Senegal is disrupted alarming the French colonial lobby which teeters between support and refusal to back permanent occupation of the Adrar.
Albert Reynier augments Father Marie Bernard’s 1893 work on the idiomatic Arabic of Senegal with publication of his Method for the Study of the Moor Dialect.
1910February Deputy Messimy launches an attack on the government’s Sahara policy in the Chamber of Deputies. In regards to Mauritania, he declares, “We went into the Tagant; it is still acceptable, but where we should not go is into the Adrar. Why are we in the Adrar?" The Minister for Colonies responds, “The Adrar was for Senegal what Guir, Zousfana and the Oasis were for the southern Oranais [Algeria]; the point of departure for incursions, of plunderers and fanatics. ...It is for our Black Africa and not for the charms of the Sahara .... that we went into the Adrar and that we will remain there, if not as occupiers, at least as men who make the rounds as police”. During the Year
The French troops continue to penetrate the fringes of the Adrar and linkup with their counterparts from Algeria at EL M’zzerreb. Moorish leader Ehel Ejour attacks four French detachments while Sheik M el Ainine disappears from the scene.
1911Ehel Ehlou, the Awlad Ghailane and the Laghlal launch several attacks against the French in the Adrar, Tagant and Assaba.
1912January 16 The capture of Emir Sid Ahmed Ould Aidah and death of Sid Ahmed Ould Brahim Ould Megueya breaks the official resistance of the Adrar. The conquest of Adrar assures the ascendancy of French supported sheikdoms over the warrior clans in Moorish society.
March 1 Colonel Charles Mouret is appointed Commissioner for Mauritania.
September 6 El Hila, son of M el Ainin, is defeated at Sedi Bon Othman by General Charles Mangin.
During the Year France forges an agreement with Spain over zones of influence, leaving Mauritania fully in the hands of France.
1913January Sheikh Mohamed Laghdaf, brother of El Haiba, and a company of 250 riflemen inflict a severe defeat on the French at Lebeyratt.
Sheikh El Haïba Ould Sheik M el Ainine is installed as Caliph in southern Morocco and the Western Sahara despite his defeat by Colonel Mangin at Marrakech.
February 9 Colonel Mouret leads a 400 man expedition from Teyarett against Smara, the town of Sheik M el Ainine in the Upper Saguia El Hamra.
March 1 Colonel Mouret’s expedition reaches Zemmour and raises the sacred town which is empty.
March 2 Colonel Mouret occupies Smara.
March 9 Colonel Mouret defeats Mohammed Laghdaf’s 1,000 man force in a battle at Oued Tagliat. The French kill 130 rebels somewhat effacing the results of Lebeyratt despite the loss of 24 dead including Captain Vehardt and Lieutenant Merello and 44 wounded.
March 28 The Mouret column returns to Atar after having traversed 1,800 kilometers.
April Nomads attack French camps in North Trarza and several skirmishes occur in Atar and Chinguetti regions.
September Mejbour massacre 28 French riflemen at Ouadane in the Fofrat region.
During the Year René Basset devotes a number of chapters in his book Missions to Senegal to, “historic studies of the Moors”.
1914March The R'Gueybatt and Awlad Dleim attack at Trarza in the South, thus scorning the French detachment up to their defensive positions from the rear.
May A violent confrontation east of Tichitt pits the Méharistes against R'Gueybatt warriors.
June The forces of Ehel Sahel continue to attack the French at several points in the Tagant.
1915The Mejbour continue to harassing the Méharises and raid numerous camps subjugated by the French.
1916April The Moors continue to harass French detachments in the Adrar, Tagant and Hodh.
October Nomadic raiders sweep over vast areas stealing cattle.
1917The French sign a convention with the R’Gueybatt and the Awlad Dleim authorizing the use of pastures in the Adrar.
1918Abderrahmane Ould Bakar Ould Soueid Ahmed is named Emir of Tagant.
Mejbour stage a few attacks pillaging in the Hodh and the Azawad before turning to the Adrar and Tagant before taking refuge in the Spanish colony of Rio de Oro.
1919Spain resumes monthly payments to Sheikh Mohamed Laghdaf after a year interruption.
1920January 12 Mauritania is organized as a French colony.
December 4 A decree of the Colonial Ministry in Paris officially includes Mauritania in French West Africa with Senegal, French Sudan, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Dahomey, and Niger.
During the Year The Spanish establish a post at Laguerra.
1921Sheik Taleb Khyar Ould Sheikh M el Ainine offers his submission to the French authorities.
September Disparate groups of R'Gueybatt, Tekna, Kounta and Berabich mount a few small raids on Hodh and in the Azawad.
1922A few raids against Tidjikja are reported.
Rumors persists that Sheik El Weli Ould and Sheik M el Ainine are ready for a rapprochement with the French.
1923May Mohamed Taghiyoullah Ould Ely Sheik, aka Ouajaha, instigates an uprising in the Chinguetti region.
October – November A group of “unsubmissives” plunders eastern Mauritania, the Azawad and the Hodh before they are wiped out by the Méharistes of the Adrar at El Ghalaniya.
November 28 The Second Patrol of the Adrar is attacked by Ouajaha at Chreirick in the N'Tid region and inflicts a severe defeat on him.
November Ahmed Ould Hamadi attacks near Tidjikja with a 100 man force and plunders Tagant and Trarza.
December The Méharistes battle Hamou Tormozi’s raiders in the Azawad.
During the Year Ould Deid and Ahmed Saloum Ould Brahim Salem reconcile at Trarza.
Rumors of a Franco-Spanish deal in Rio de Oro circulate after the pillage of airline camps on the Casablanca, Cape Juby, Villa Cisneros to Dakar route.
1924"El Sultan Azul", M'Rebih Rebou Ould Sheik M el Ainine, who maintains cordial relations with Spain, declares that Ahmed El Haiba will succeed his bother.
March 26 Ouajaha attacks Port Etienne under cover of darkness but the raiders are driven off by the garrison under Lieutenant Le Rumeur.
May 5 Ouajaha is killed in an attack on the Méharistes at Bou Garn in the Adrar.
October 23 Ismai Ould Badi and Ould Hamadi two veterans of the R'Gueybatt resistance, launch a new and deadly attack against the French at Lekdim in the Hofrat of Ouadane.
December Ismail Badi leads 26 men in a daring attack on the French post at Chinguetti. The raid fails but Badi earns prestige.
1925January 16 French authorities meet in Marrakech to discuss borders and extension of security zones with an eye towards joint action against the dissidents of Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania. Tindouf is also discussed as objective for neutralization.
April 2 – 5 Three R'Gueybatt leaders direct 350 riflemen in an attack on the 1st Méhariste Company of the Adrar at Treyfiya about 20 kilometers southwest of Char. One French observer calls it, “the longest and probably the most glorious and most agonizing of all the Saharan battles”. French authorities link, “the revival of the offensive spirit of the the events of the Rif .”
April 7 – 27 Captain Ressot leads the Company of the Saoura from Tabeibal against the still unsubjugated Tindouf.
May 1 Captain Ressot leaves the Tindouf for Ouarkziz in Morocco. General Carde tells the General Council of French West Africa , “It is necessary to note the strong impression produced on the corsairs of the desert by the recent and brilliant excursion of the Méharistes of the Saoura to the walls of Tindouf."
July 17 Mohamed El Mamoua, brother of Ouajaha, massacres the Mauritanian guards at Azoueigan in the Atar. El Mam is subsequently trapped at Ghassremett where he loses a few men but manages to escape annihilation.
July The R'Gueybatt chiefs negotiate terms of their submission with the French authorities in Saint Louis, Senegal.
October 18 Pilot Martin Despallieres is killed when his Breguet XIV crashes at Port Etienne while flying the Latecoere Airlines mail run from Casablanca to Saint Louis, Senegal.
1926Mauritania enters a lengthy period of relative peace which the French authorities ascribe to the scarcity pastures in the north and to the high prices which R' Gueybatt camels fetch in the markets of Senegal. Le Journal Officiel asserts, "the nomads of North Mauritania were tamed by a policy of the markets and pastures."
1929Robert Arnaud, a friend and companion of Xavier Coppolani, authors a romanticized history of his mission to Tagant under the nom de plume Randau.
1931March 26 A surprise attack at Tajalett En Naaje ends a several year period of relative peace in Mauritania.
September 7 A group of Atar nomads is attacked at Toujounine by the Souad Thalat raiders led by the Sheik of Ehel Dieh El Mokhtar.
September The Atar garrison is attacked at Chaimam and Aguneinitt.
1932January 3 A Spanish newspaper publishes a polemic entitled, "French Penetration into Rio de Oro for security or towards at protectorate?" The correspondent writes in regards to comments in France following the Chaimam raid against the gendarmrie of Atar, "the French press can see that there is, for Spain, a problem much more serious than preventing, as France requires it, the formation of harkas and the preparation of raids against the French posts...."
March 14 Emir Sid Ahmed Ould Aida, who was exiled after repeated argument with the Commandant Bouteil of the Adrar, kills Lieutenant Mussat at El Beyed and executes Adjudant Négroni soon after.
March 18 Captain Lecoq of the Chinguetti gendarmes catches up with Emir Sid Ahmed Ould Aida at Ouedane El Gharoub in the Ghallamane. The Emir is cutdown by a burst of machine gun fire.
March 28 The Gendarmrie of Trarza at Oumoutounsi, 80 km northwest of Nouakchott, is attacked by a band composed of Souad R'Gueybatt, Awlad Bousbaa and Awlad Dleim causing consternation and distress throughout the subjugated tribes and clans of Mauritania.
April 29 A band of rebels under Ould El Kentaoui attacks Hodh. The French utilize air support for the first time in the Sahara campaign with a raid by Lieutenant Jouhaud.
September The preceding year is recorded as one of the most murderous in the French colonial annals. Since September 1931 the Méharistes troops of Mauritania have reported the loss of 25% of its officers, 35% of its European NCOs, 20% of its riflemen and 12% of its Moorish guards.
The Bulletin of the Committee of French Africa and the Committee of Morocco laments, "For a year the great nomads of Rio de Oro, emboldened by a certain number of circumstances... have carried out several important operations against our Méharistes units stationed between Timbuktoo and the Atlantic.
December A strong party of Awlad Dleim attacks Birigni. The Gendarmrie is attacked again this time by a band under Mohamed El Mamoun Ould Abeidy.
During the Year Mauritania’s 7 schools enroll 1.1% of the school age population, a total of 439 students.
1933January 6 – 7 Moorish raider attack laborers working on the Atar – Idjil road and a pasturage protection group of the French forces camped at Atar.
January 7 – 8 French forces are attacked during the night 10 kilometers from Akjoujt.
January 15 Mejbour attack Moudjéria, cut the telegraph lines, then vanish into the desert taking many camels with them.
January 20 French forces are attacked 60 kilometers southeast of Chinguetti. The gendarmerie in Tichitt comes under assault.
January The French, worried by the increasing boldness of the Moorish raiders after six months of systematic plunder in the Adrar, occupy the Idjil, establish a post and block one of the rebels’ essential routes. The occupation and establishment of a solid and permanent base fulfills a major French objective; to have a force near the Rio de Oro frontier as an, "indispensable antenna to our security, to our troops and above all aircraft and motorized units." A French journalist responds by proposing the "taking of the zone" by France by, "... lease... with the payment of a royalty."
The Bulletin of the Committee of French Africa, commenting on the exchange, rejects the use of the term protectorate and calls for a Sahara delimited by Franco-Spanish convention of 1900.
Azione Coloniale reports that Madrid plans to discuss the "price and particular advantages of", and placing "weak Spanish garrisons of Cape Juby, Cisneros Villa and Laguerra." in “French hands.”
February French forces from the Idjil post under Lieutenant Guffe attack a Thalat Souad group at Mifek killing Ely Ould Mohamed Fara among others.
During the Year Ernest Psichari, a veteran of the Gouraud Column and the gendarmerie of Tichitt and Atar publishes two memoirs of the epoch.
Captain Augieras publishes a Code of Conduct for Méharistes Patrols, a case study of the fighting at Shreick in 1923.
1934January Author Odette du Puigaudeau and illustrator Marion Sémones leave France to journey, “barefoot and on camelback across Mauritania”. They reach Timbuktu from the west following the Azalai, an immense caravan of several thousand camels which once a year travels northward across the driest stretch of the Sahara to the salt mines of Taoudeni.
Brahim Salem Ould Moichnan, one of the assailants at Oumtounsi in 1932, attacks the Atar-Akjoujt convoy.
Plunderers rampage across the Reguibat stealing over
800 head of cattle, 270 camels and 10 slaves over a 6,000 kilometers path.
February – March Lieutenant Aubinières unleashes a counterattack on the Awlad Dleim starting from Akjoujt and carrying on for 800 kilometers.
March - April Generals Georges Catroux and Henri Giraud pacify the dissident regions of Oued Draa and Wad Noun.
March 31 French forces from Morocco linkup with others from West Africa at Bel Guerdane, Mauritania.
April 7 A French detachment from Algeria and Morocco reaches the Idjil gendarme station at Bir Moghrein.
December 31 At the Conference of Bir Mogrein, the Spaniards commit themselves to permanent occupation of the Stations at Guelta Zemmour and Smara and to equip them with méharistes units to police the desert in Rio de Oro.
During the Year Tindouf is occupied and M’Rebbih Rabbou surrenders to the Spaniards in Rio de Oro. Resistance to French rule ends in Regueibat and Ouled bou Sba.
The Medersah of Boutilimit, the first bilingual French-Arabic school in Mauritania opens its doors.
1935The Bulletin of the Committee of French Africa, commenting on the Franco-Spanish friction in the Western Sahara, issues a sour criticism: "Spain has not yet decided to occupy definitively and to organize the possessions where its flag has flown for many long years, except on the map." More questionable, in any case, is the "lease" and "right of pursuit", though the French Méharist officers and, especially, their Moorish auxiliaries do not stop themselves "from violating" a border which is, after all, neither materialized, nor even "materializable" and which, from the human and geographical point of view, is an inept business to follow.
A center for studies for the formation of officers in charge of administrative and policy services in Mauritania is established by decree in Saint Louis, Senegal.
Captain Diego Brosset, a veteran of the Mauritania campaigns, publishes his work entitled Sahara.
1936Odette du Puigaudeau’s book Pieds nus à travers la Mauritanie (Barefoot Across Mauritania) is published with a preface by General Gouraud. Puigaudeau will write eight books, innumerable articles and a treatise on the Mauritanian people.
1937Odette du Puigaudeau’s book La Grande foire des dattes. Adrar Mauritanien (The Great Date Market - Adrar , Mauritania) is published.
The entire Mauritanian infrastructure built under the French consists of 161 wells, a few earthen dams, some dirt tracks and a few buildings constructed with unpaid forced labor.
1940Odette du Puigaudeau’s book Le Sel du Désert (Desert Salt) describing work in the salt mines of Mauritania and French Sudan is published.
1942An eminent member of the Society for International and Colonial Studies affirms in the name of the Spanish government that, "the vital space of Spain includes a great part of Mauritania".
1945Odette du Puigaudeau’s book La Route de l’Ouest Maroc-Mauritanie (The Western Route Morocco – Mauritania) is published.
1946The Mauritanian Entente is formed under the auspices of Leopold Senghor and Lamine Gueye of the Senegalese section of the French Socialist Party. The party, formed specifically for the 1946 election, is neither well organized nor mass based. Its platform calls for eventual independence and elimination of the chiefdoms.
October 27 Mauritania becomes a French overseas territory under the Constitution of the Fourth Republic.
November 10 Horma Ould Babana is elected to the French National Assembly. He easily defeats Yvon Razac, French Algerian metis, supported by the colonial administration and the clerics in an election were franchise restrictions limit participation to fewer than 16,009 chiefs, civil servants, Medersah graduates and decorated military veterans.
1947Individuals literate in French and Arabic are granted voting rights.
1949Odette du Puigaudeau’s book Tagant (Mauritanie) is published.
1951Deputy Horma Ould Babana of the Mauritanian Entente is defeated in his bid for reelection by Sidi I Mokhtar of the Mauritanian Progressive Union. Mokhtar is supported by the colonial administration and the traditional Mauritanian ruling classes who fear the Entente's socialist program.
The franchise is extended to heads of households and mothers of two children.
1952The conservative Mauritanian Progressive Union wins 22 of 24 seats in the first elections for a Territory Assembly.
1954Odette du Puigaudeau’s book La Piste. Maroc-Sénégal (The Trail – Morocco-Senegal) is published. "The trail" is a route between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. It connects Morocco with Senegal from Agadir to Saint Louis via Tindouf, Bir Moghrein, Atar, Nouakchott and Rosso. Puigaudeau had journeyed on it in 1934, 1937 and for a last time in 1950. She says of it, "to see it (the trail) if varied, if changing, if fragile, exposed to the wear of the wind and gullyings of the tornadoes, I ended up liking it like a living being".
1955Tribal chiefs in the Rigaibat region submit to the French authorities.
1956June 23 Mauritania is granted internal autonomy under the Deffere Law. A council of government assumes the executive functions which up until then had been carried out by a colonial official. Moktar Ould Daddah, Mauritania’s only lawyer and a member of a prominent pro-French family becomes vice president of the council i.e. premier.
Summer In the face of the overwhelming dominance of the Mauritanian Progressive Union, Horma Ould Babana and several followers flee to Morocco where Babana forms the National Council of Mauritanian Resistance. The Council with the support of many Arab-Berbers inside Mauritania supports Morocco's claims to Mauritania and opposition to Mauritanian independence.
During the Year The Gorgol Democratic Block is formed by members of the Black African minority in the southern region to counterbalance the pro-Moroccan sympathies of the Arabs and Berbers and fight against union with Morocco.
1957Mokhtar Ould Daddah’s conservative Mauritanian Progressive Union wins 33 of the 34 seats in the Territorial Assembly. Daddah campaigns in favor of annexing the neighboring Spanish Sahara.
May Mauritania's first government is sworn in and chooses a new capital, Nouakchott, which is situated almost exactly between the Senegal River Valley, populated primarily by black farmers, and the Arab-Berber stronghold of Adrar.
During the Year Intellectuals from various black minorities meet in Dakar, Senegal and found the Union of the Inhabitants of the River Valley to fight for minority rights against Arab and Berber domination.
1958February 10 A combined Franco Spanish operation called Ecouvillon-Teide is launched just prior to the ambush of a French mobilized patrol from Bir Mogrein.
April Representatives of the French and Mauritanian governments meet with leaders of the R’Gueybatt tribe at Tin Tekrat and strike an accord that permits the successful conclusion of Operation Ecouvillon Teide and the destruction of Jeich Tahrir’s Moroccan Army of Liberation.
May The Mauritanian Regroupment Party is formed at the Congress of Aleg by a merger of Mokhtar Ould Daddah’s Mauritanian Progressive Union, elements of the Mauritanian Entente that had expelled Horma Ould Babana, and the Gorgol Democratic Bloc. The party, headed by Daddah as secretary general and Sidi el Moktar as president, calls for Mauritanian membership in the French Community and rejects both Morocco's claim to Mauritania and a French proposal to unite Mauritania in a joint Common Saharan States Organization.
July The Congress of Mauritarian Regroupment Party meets at Nouakchott. Traditional elements favoring close ties with France dominate the proceedings. The Association of Mauritanian Youth is excluded from the policy making process and break away to form a new party, the Mauritanian National Renaissance Party under the leadership of Ahmed Baba Ould Ahmed Miske. The party’s platform calling for total and immediate independence from France and a rapprochement with Morocco wins the endorsement of Horma Ould Babana and support from former members of the Mauritanian Entente.
November 28 Mauritania becomes an autonomous republic following approval of the referendum on the Constitution of the Fifth Republic.
1959Mokhtar Ould Daddah becomes premier following the total victory of his Mauritanian Regroupment Party in elections for a National Assembly.
1960November 28 France proclaims the Islamic Republic of Mauritania independent under President Moktar Ould Daddah. Arabs and Berbers with strong family ties to Morocco favor a union with Morocco. Black Africans in the south want to join the nascent Mali Federation which unites Senegal and Mali.

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