For years I've been trying to find out the origins of this photo of a group of soldiers lifting a Willys CJ-3A. It was clearly in the desert, and I speculated it was the French Foreign Legion. I mentioned it in articles about the movie Sahara and a desert-themed toy Jeep from Matchbox in 2005.
Finally Pedro Prieto in Spain saw it and sent a note clarifying that in fact it is the Spanish Foreign Legion (Tercio de Extranjeros) in the Spanish Sahara in 1964.
Pedro referred me to a number of other photos from the website La Mili en el Sáhara, showing CJ-3As and 3B's in use by the Spanish Army in western Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This photo was taken by Juan O. Piñero in 1958.
The Spanish Legion (formerly the Foreign Legion) is an elite unit of the Spanish Army modelled on the French Foreign Legion, but in fact most of its personnel have always been Spanish nationals, rather than foreigners as in the case of the French Légion étrangère.
"Spanish Sahara" was the name used for the modern territory of Western Sahara when it was ruled by Spain between 1884 and 1975. After nearby Morocco gained independence in 1956, it laid claim to Spanish Sahara, and in 1957 the Moroccan Army of Liberation nearly occupied the small region of Sidi-Ifni during the Ifni War.
The Spanish Army brought in a significant force including the Legion, and continued to protect the territory during the 1960s, despite the United Nations calling for decolonization.
This 1960 drill has the drivers keeping a low profile while legionaries maximize firepower from Jeeps not equipped with machine guns.
It's not completely clear why the Legion was using modified civilian CJ-3As, but they probably received some of the first Jeeps sent as military aid when the U.S.A. established relations with Francisco Franco's Spain in 1953.
Another 1958 photo by Juan O. Piñero was taken near El Aaiún, which was located close to the northern border with Morocco, and was the capital of Spanish Sahara (Sahara Español).
This map is from an early-1970's postcard.
Spain withdrew from the Sahara in 1975, and much of what is now Western Sahara has been controlled by Morocco since then.
Radio communication was clearly important in patrolling the vast area stretching south from El Aaiún, and this photo by Matias Pulido shows that some of the Jeeps were radio-equipped in 1958.
The Spanish Army also had VIASA CJ-3M's in the Sahara in 1958, when this picture was taken by Fernando Campo, in Bin Anzarane, halfway between El Aaiún and the southern border. The soldier holds a young Gacela (Springbok Antelope.)
Like the Jeep seen above, this CJ-3M photographed by Juan O. Piñero surprisingly has a hardtop. And once again there's a mascot in the picture.
See Military Jeeps in Spain for more on the CJ-3M.
Juan O. Piñero was apparently in the Batallón de Automóviles (Transport Battalion), and took this great shot of trucks ready for inspection at El Aaiún. Looks like perhaps both a CJ-3A and a CJ-3M in the background.
Thanks to Pedro Prieto and the photographers, and La Mili en el Sáhara. The coat of arms of Spanish Sahara is used under the terms of a CC license. -- Derek Redmond
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