Loads of Brits now head to Morocco for their holidays, most of whom won’t be aware of our long and fascinating history of involvement with the country. To be fair, a lot of that history has been about peaceful collaboration, but there has been military action as well, and it’s such an interesting and little-known story, I’ve got to give it all a quick mention here.
When Brits think of Queen Elizabeth I, they don’t tend to think of Morocco, but the fact is that she got on rather well with the Sultan of Morocco, Ahmad al-Mansur, apart from anything else because both of them feared and disliked Philip II of Spain. There was plenty of trade and even discussions of possible joint attacks on Spain. It was all rather warm and cosy.
And to some extent this spirit of friendship and cooperation continued under their successors. In 1632, for instance, English and Moroccan forces cooperated to capture the city of Salé in Morocco from pirates.
However, things were to get a little less friendly towards the end of the seventeenth century. That was when we took over Tangier. Charles II was given it as a wedding present from the Portuguese when he married Catherine of Braganza. Some people give fondue sets (which are very nice, I love a fondue). The Portuguese, however, were thinking on a rather bigger scale and gave Tangier instead. So, in a sort of peaceful invasion, we actually occupied and ran Tangier from 1661 to 1684. Yes, temporarily we controlled a little bit of Morocco. We thought it would make an excellent naval base and spent a lot of time and money building a mole there, of the harbour kind obviously, not some kind of large imitation of a small, furry tunnelling creature. However, not all the locals were very enthusiastic about our presence. In 1664 they killed the second English governor there, Lord Teviot. The Sultan decided he wanted us out as well, and as it became clear that our base in Tangier was more of a liability than an asset, we decided to leave. Before we did so, we demolished bits of the town, including our expensive mole, which we blew up.
So ended our occupation of Moroccan soil rather ingloriously. At least friendly relations with Morocco were gradually restored during the eighteenth century. When Operation Torch, the Allied Invasion of Algeria and Morocco, took place in November 1942, the invasion of Morocco was basically an American mission, but British forces did play a minor supporting role; the escort carrier HMS Archer arrived in Casablanca on 18 November bringing US personnel and aircraft.