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Bombardment of Salé
Bombardment of sale 26th novem hi.jpg
Bombardment of Salé by Jean Antoine Théodore de Gudin
Date26–27 November 1851
LocationSalé, Morocco
Result Undecided
France French Second Republic Flag of Morocco (1666–1915).svg Sherifian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Louis Dubourdieu Abdelhadi Zniber
Casualties and losses
  • 4 dead
  • 18 injured
  • Henri IV damaged
18–22 dead

The Bombardment of Salé was a naval attack against the Moroccan city of Salé that took place between 26 and 27 November 1851, in response to the looting of a French cargo ship by residents of the city. After seven hours of fighting, the Moroccan artillery suffered severe damage, and the French bombarded the city through the night, damaging the city's infrastructure and the Great Mosque of Salé.

French losses were minimal, with only four dead and 18 wounded. Between 18 and 22 Moroccans died, two-thirds of whom were civilians. The French forces withdrew, and both sides claimed victory.


The Battle of Isly in 1844

After the French conquest of Algeria, Abdelkader El Djezairi declared war against France, and requested assistance from Sultan Abd al-Rahman of Morocco. When the Sultan responded favorably, it triggered the Franco-Moroccan War.[1] France sent warships to bombard Tangier on 6 August 1844; destroying large parts of the city and its defenses. The French then bombarded Essaouira, and occupied the Iles Purpuraires.[1] After the French army defeated the Moroccan cavalry at the Battle of Isly on 14 August 1844, Sultan Abd al-Rahman asked for peace with France, leading to the signing of the Treaty of Tangier on 10 September 1844. Morocco's defeat caused a revolt in Rabat;[1] in Salé, the Sharif sent a letter to the Sultan complaining about the lack of weapons and ammunition in the city.[2]

Meanwhile, in France, anger against Morocco was increasing. A series of incidents in October 1849 damaged relations between both countries.[2] From 1845 to 1851, Morocco had a serious agricultural crisis caused by drought, resulting in crop failure. The people of Morocco were suffering as the price of wheat and barley reached unprecedented heights. In Salé, many people were starving, and the agricultural crisis and anger towards France ultimately led to the bombardment of Salé.[2][3] [4]


Louis Dubourdieu

On 1 April 1851, a French cargo ship carrying 98 long ton of goods from Gibraltar to Rabat capsized near the coast of Salé.[4] A few tons of goods were rescued, and were temporarily stored in the city.[4] The following day, hundreds of townspeople decided to steal the goods.[4] Abdelhadi Zniber managed to briefly stop the theft, but it later continued.[4] The French lost 11,391 franc germinals worth of goods as a result of the theft.[5][6]

Nicolas Prosper Bourée reported the situation in France, and accused the residents of Salé of piracy, and recommended sending military forces to the city.[4] The French government heeded his suggestions and decided to take military action in an attempt to remedy the situation.[7]

On 10 November 1851, Louis Dubourdieu was appointed by the Secretary of the Navy to carry out the mission,[8] and five vessels were assigned to him: Henri IV (armed with 100 cannons and captained by Louis Henri de Gueydon), the Sane (14 cannons),[9] the Gomer (14 cannons),[10] the Narval (4 cannons),[11] and the Caton (6 cannons).[8][12][13] The fleet gathered in Cádiz on 19 November, and after being supplied with food and coal, sailed for Salé on 21 November.[12]


The Gomer, a steam frigate with 14 cannons

On 24 November, some of the French ships traveled to Tangier, where they picked up Julius Doazan and his secretary, Fleurat, on the Narval. That same night, Caton reached Salé and offered safe passage to Rabat for the British consul Elton and his family, before they attacked Salé.[8] The following day, at 11:00 a.m., the Caton anchored between the cities of Rabat and Salé. Its commander demanded an apology from Morocco and an immediate refund for the theft of goods, under the threat of bombardment. The rais of the ports of both cities promised to answer to the French demands within three hours.[8] Two hours later, all of the French ships had reached the mouth of the Bou Regreg, between Rabat and Salé.[14]

The French crews received a telegraph from Admiral Louis Henri de Gueydon, suggesting that the bombardment of the city would begin soon,[12] which the crew welcomed with enthusiasm. A large crowd of people in Rabat and Salé observed the French ships after they were spotted by Moroccan artillery battery gunmen. To start the bombing, the Admiral had to wait for the British consul to board the Caton, which he did four hours later; he was then taken to Rabat.[14]

At dawn on 26 November, the British steamer Janus joined the Caton, and the consul left the Caton and boarded the Janus. The Moroccan soldiers in both cities prepared to repel the French attack, arming both cities with artillery batteries.[14] The Sané had moved to the fort at the entrance to the Bou Regreg river; Henri IV was a short distance from Moroccan batteries north of Salé. Gomer prepared for battle, and Narval and Caton provided logistical support.[12][14] The French opened fire on the forts of Salé at 10:00 a.m., and the Moroccans retaliated instantly with forty battery artillery weapons.[12][15] After an hour of confrontation, the batteries in Salé were destroyed, and the artillery in Rabat were rendered useless.[14][15] The battle gained intensity, but at 3:30 p.m., the batteries were removed from the city;[14] however, resistance did not stop until 5:00 p.m.[16] The Sane and Gomer, lacking in ammunition, withdrew from the battle,[17] while Henri IV continued bombarding the city until 7:00 a.m. the next morning.[16]


The following day, Dubourdieu sent a report to the Minister of War describing the French losses. Henri IV took several hits, with 1 dead and 9 wounded.[16] The Sane suffered more damage than the Gomer, but neither was seriously damaged. Three men were killed on the Sane, and nine were wounded.[4]

The damage to Salé was considerable; a wall from the Almohad Caliphate was severely damaged, and the Great Mosque of Salé was struck by six cannonballs. Several homes were destroyed, and many were burnt down. Between 12 and 15 civilians were killed, along with six to seven soldiers.[18] In military terms, the battle was a victory for France. In order to prevent Tangier from receiving a similar bombardment, Morocco agreed to pay 100,000 francs to the French on November 29, 1851.[4]

Politically, the battle is considered a failure for France. Initially, France had desired a revolt against the governor of Salé to force repayment and avoid destruction of the city, but this did not occur.[19] The French demanded that those who killed Christians in the city be sentenced to death, and that thieves have their hands cut off; however, the governor of Salé simply banished these people from the city.[19]

Following this confrontation, diplomatic relations between France and Morocco ended for several months,[18] until a French diplomatic mission returned in 1852.[12][17] After the bombardment, Dubourdieu was promoted to Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, and then to vice-admiral in February 1852.[20]



  • L'Économiste (2009) (in French). Les Alaouites Mohammed VI : Une Dynastie, un Règne. L'Économiste. 
  • Brown, Kenneth L. (1976). People of Sale: Tradition and Change in a Moroccan City, 1830–1930. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674661554. 
  • Godard, Leon Nicolas (1860) (in French). Description Et Histoire Du Maroc. ISBN 978-1167728860. 
  • Muḥammad bin 'Alī Dukkālī (1986) (in Arabic). Al-Ithaf Al Wajiz, Tarikh Al-Adwatayn. Salā, al-Maghrib: al-Khizānah al-ʻIlmīyah al-Ṣabīḥīyah. OCLC 427353826. 
  • Cousté, Jean (1989) (in Arabic). Buyūtāt madīnat Salā. Salā, al-Maghrib : al-Khizānah al-ʻIlmīyah al-Ṣabīḥīyah. OCLC 29284954. 
  • Dubourdieu, Louis (26 November 1851). "Expédition du Maroc" (in French). A. Jacqueline. OCLC 759696511. 
  • "Louis Thomas Napoléon Dubourdieu" (in French). Ecole. 
  • J. Dubochet. "L'Illustration" (in French). L'Illustration. OCLC 13246743. 

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