The Secret War on the United States in 1915
One of the fascinating aspects of The Secret War on the United States in 1915 is the author’s use of behavioral science to help the reader understand the motivations and the reactions of both major and minor characters during this important period of history. Lawyers, engineers, naval captains, politicians, secret agents, ambassadors, scientists and bankers are just a few of the dramatis persona in the tightly knit complexity of plot and counter-plot in the frightening days of 1915.

Plans and conspiracies, increased naval activity, sabotage (sometimes clever, sometimes stupidly executed), all formed a part of the effort to counter “neutral” America’s growing support by President Wilson to Germany’s enemies. As the war in Europe intensified, more and more American and Canadian supplies were being shipped to Europe to aid those nations allied against Germany. So, too, did German counter-moves through persuasion, propaganda, subversive techniques, and ultimately active submarine warfare, attempt to undermine these efforts. German efforts in Mexico both in supporting the Revolution and attempting to create a second front formed another fascinating strategy which Heribert von Feilitzsch has already written a volume on and is considered an expert.

For the scholar, he has provided ample resources. He has done his research carefully and well. He has in the process corrected flawed assumptions which were disseminated by earlier historians and often smacked more of war propaganda than actual. Some of the assumptions based on this false data were even repeated in later texts without correction. This book sets the record straight and even takes on Barbara Tuchman, who did not have access to valuable research now available to the author back in the 1960s, and repeated some of these errors of assumption.

This is an important book on the history of World War I. It is part of a trilogy which shed light on an important segment of the histories of the United States, Mexico and Germany in prose that is crisp, precise and compelling for the general reader as well as the historian. I recommend it most highly.
— Michael Hogan, author of Abraham Lincoln and Mexico
No será ventajoso para el ejército actuar sin conocer la situación del enemigo, y conocer la situación del enemigo no es posible sin el espionaje.”
Sun Tsu

Una nueva mirada sobre la “Revolución Mexicana” y la “Decena trágica”, llega a nuestras manos tras una minuciosa investigación sobre el espía alemán que con los auspicios del Almirante Paul Von Hintze logró infiltrarse en el círculo íntimo de Francisco I. Madero.

Sommerfield, un alemán aventurero quien estuvo en la guerra de los Boxers en China por azares del destino unió su destino con Francisco I. Madero, quien inició bisoñamente la lucha armada contra del Porfirio Díaz. Gracias a sus dotes organizativas y a su preparación en inteligencia, Sommerfield llegó a ser el principal enlace entre el gobierno norteamericano y el entonces candidato y después Presidente de México, quien fue asesinado a instancias de Henry Lane Wilson, embajador de Estados Unidos en México.

El libro nos muestra como este sujeto desde las sombras movió los hilos del poder entorno a Francisco y a su hermano Gustavo Madero, quienes fueron cruelmente asesinados en la “Decena Trágica” pese a las advertencias de éste agente de inteligencia alemán, quien tras el inicio de las hostilidades en la primera guerra mundial (1914-1918) fue interrogado por agentes norteamericanos quienes lo tenían en la mira por sus continuos viajes a la Unión Americana y por sus nexos con congresistas norteamericanos, quienes desde entonces veían con recelo la insurgencia armada.

El libro producto de una investigación ardua y minuciosa, nos muestra en sus páginas la vida y obra de Félix A. Sommerfield y de cómo logró convertirse en el recurso alemán más valioso dentro del gobierno revolucionario y de cómo México, mucho antes del telegrama Zimmerman, estuvo en la mira del gobierno del Káiser, que vio con recelo el declive de Porfirio Díaz quien tanta simpatía mostró hacia el imperio teutón.

Una investigación que dará mucho de qué hablar y que nos muestra a esos guerrero en las sombras quienes son los que tras bambalinas entretejen el destino de los pueblo. Un libro que sin duda dará mucho de que hablar y que nos muestra una vez más que nada es lo que parece.

Texto más que indispensable para ver las intrigas y los personajes que hicieron de la Revolución Mexicana, el primer movimiento insurgente del siglo XX y de cómo el legado de Sommerfield continúa en los servicios secretos nacionales.
— Tomás Borges Viernes, Ruiz-Healy Times, 19 de Febrero 2016
All of us old-fashioned historians, of course, know how important the recall of historical events can be for national culture. You are doing excellent work and it will be decades later when that work will be discovered and help to have a clearer picture of how it was. “Wie es war” will hopefully again be of importance to understand the highway of mankind... Anyway never mind that we disagree on some interpretations, I find your publications important and hope that some libraries will keep books, ours included, for future generations who may actually care to know how it really was. I often check your books and always find your comments relevant and of interest!
— Prof. Dr. Dr. Reinhard R. Doerries, Professor Emeritus Hochschule Erlangen
5.0 out of 5 stars An important fascinating work of original research, October 10, 2013

A gripping read and at the same time a vital contribution to understanding the Revolution of 1910 and the government of Francisco I. Madero. Highly recommended.
— C.M. Mayo
Excellent research has been done ! April 14, 2013

I am from Mexico and I was fascinated by the amount of research that was done to write this book. What I like about the book is the way it challenges facts given by other authors.
— Karen Maldonado
Fascinating, September 10, 2013

This is an extraordinary account of a relatively unknown figure in history who played a major role in the Mexican Revolution. Von Feilitzsch writes the saga of Felix Sommerfeld’s rise from obscurity to rub elbows with Mexican President Madero, while acting in secret liaison with German intelligence and developing significant contacts in America. What makes this book fascinating is the meticulous attention to research and detail. Unlike many histories which are bogged down by arduous fact, the details here bring life to Sommerfeld’s story. Everything is put into its broader context, displaying the importance of Sommerfeld in history and revealing how complicated a chess game the revolution was. I appreciated Mr. von Feilitzsch’s world view of the events that took place during this time. Nothing happens in a vacuum, as his book clearly demonstrates.
— CJD
Villa Rides The Sommerfeld Tide? October 6, 2013

In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908 to 1914 by Heribert von Felitzsch is a comprehensive, well-researched and intriguing biography focusing on the life and times of Felix Sommerfeld, arguably the most successful double agent in North American history. Von Feilitzsch provides us with an intimate look at a perfectionist and disciplinarian whose need to succeed took him from his native Germany to America on to Mexico where he established his legend. The author’s meticulously documented study of Sommerfeld’s life and times is an incisive study of the internecine activity during the Mexican Revolution of the early 1900’s.

Historians note that Sommerfeld was of Jewish descent, a native of Posen, Germany, which makes this study all the more fascinating. Sommerfeld was a complex man whose life was filled with contradictions suggesting a continuous internal struggle. Sommerfeld studied engineering in Berlin but gave up his studies to visit his brother in America. He answered President Mc Kinley’s call for volunteers in the Spanish-American War, yet decided to desert to attend to his ailing father back in Germany. Upon his return, Sommerfeld is brought up on charges of stealing the money for his trip. It marks the beginning of Sommerfeld’s career of scheming and double-dealing which eventually ends with his retirement before the dawn of the anti-Semitic Nazi Regime of the Thirties in his native country.

To von Feilitzsch’s credit, this is not an apologetic narrative of Sommerfeld’s life though the temptation is apparent. By most accounts, Sommerfeld is seen by his contemporaries as sublimely clever, an ambitious opportunist who was visionary in his ability to predict political climates and maximize every resource to influence the course of history. Yet the author points out the ambiguity and moral turpitude of many of the key figures and major players of that episode in German-Mexican-American relations. Among these are the constituents of the Madero regime, the revolutionaries of the Carranza and the Pancho Villa factions, and the agents of pre-WWI America and Germany. One of the more interesting figures is Franz von Papen, described as a Captain by von Feilitszch during this point in history. Scholars will note that von Papen rose to prominence during the Hitler Era, but was marginalized to the point of obscurity by the Nazis precisely for his inconsistency and vacillation.

This scholarly yet quick-paced and well-written narrative is a worthy read for both Mexican-American history students as well as espionage buffs and biography lovers alike. In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908 to 1914 by Heribert von Feilitzsch is one you won’t want to miss.
— John R. Dizon
Insight into what really goes on behind the political scenes, February 25, 2013

If you really want to understand how international political maneuvering works, this is the book for you.

This incredibly detailed and documented history of the shenanigans going on during the Mexican revolution will give you a new perspective on the possible intrigue behind current world events!
— Patrick F. Egan Jr.
For years I have hoped that someone would disentangle Sommerfeld s role in the Mexican Revolution. You have done that and much more utilizing a most impressive range of archival sources. In Plain Sight is a splendid work.
— Charles H. Harris III, Professor Emeritus, New Mexico State University
You have a winner! Tying Sommerfeld to Hopkins is all new to me and linking the soldiers of fortune to Sommerfeld is also new. We know a bit about Flint and you have excellent detail on that relationship.
— Louis R. Sadler, Professor Emeritus, New Mexico State University
This current work is not only a must-read for people interested in history but also highly recommended for those who like to get a glimpse into the causes and motives of human activity and historical events. In a brilliant style the author takes the reader on a trip back in time, where he illuminates the relationships between Mexico, the United States, and Germany in a new approach not seen until now. It is correct, as the author writes, This book is not designed to provide a complete recollection of the causes and course of the Mexican Revolution , but it does have the intention to describe, that there had been a man, whose name appears in almost every work on the Mexican Revolution , Felix A. Sommerfeld. Though minute correlation, and analysis of original archival sources, some of which had never been used before, the author succeeds in painting the picture of a man, who grew to become the most influential and most effective spymaster. He succeeded in tying together Mexican, German and US interests in an inimitable way. Previous publications on Sommerfeld came to the flawed conclusion that he was a double, even triple agent. Von Feilitzsch proves beyond doubt that Sommerfeld had much more complicated and peculiar character. He was conservative, yet had no ethical problems with giving information to Germany...his intelligence was instrumental in changing German attitudes and foreign policy. He traded information and favors, not loyalties. He thirsted for power and influence, collected information and used it according to his own discretion. He played in his own movie like a chess player with an ingenious strategy. He did nothing without intent and therefore worked alone. Consequently, he built Mexico s secret service, which was so effective that parts of the organization became absorbed into the American Bureau of Investigations. As a German agent working on behalf of the Mexican revolutionaries, his activities coincided with the interests of the US and German governments. Using this knowledge Sommerfeld succeeded in manipulating everyone around him. As a result it came as no surprise that Sommerfeld through the network of his connections in America, Germany and Mexico finally became the highest placed German agent in North of America. This short summary alone should create curiosity about reading the whole, over 300 page manuscript. Most impressive in addition to the story is the use of the sources. Rarely has it been possible to document motivation of secret agents in such detail and so accurately. This fact alone pays tribute to the author and makes this work so significant.
— Guenter Koehler, Professor Emeritus, Humboldt Universitaet Berlin
5.0 out of 5 stars In Plain Sight, December 13, 2012

I bought this book for a friend so I have not read it but...He loved it! He’s a major history nut, thought it was very well written, was impressed with all the research, learned things he didn’t know and loved the writing style!
— Totsie Slover
Cornucopia shaped Mexico is blessed with a varied climate producing agricultural wealth and a soil filled with mineral riches. This land of plenty has, therefore, attracted explorers, entrepreneurs and adventurers who became involved in the country‘s struggle for equitable government and control of its natural resources. And, as the flag follows commerce, so do diplomats and intelligence agents. Felix A. Sommerfeld was a German born mining engineer, veteran of the Imperial German Army and an agent of German Naval Intelligence . Operating in Mexico in the early years of the twentieth century he became heavily involved in Mexico’s tumultuous history, providing security to Mexican leaders and logistic expertise to their armies, often interacting with United States authorities and citizens; all the while working for the Imperial German Government. He supported Madero against Diaz and for a while Carranza, eventually switching to Villa.

Concluding in 1914, this volume may be followed by another detailing Sommerfeld’s activities in Mexico during World War I.

Despite the author’s explanation that “Madero was the most viable not only in the eyes of Sommerfeld but also the broad coalition of Mexicans’ (p. 380) one wonders whether it was a judgment of Sommerfield’s conscience or in accordance with his instructions from Berlin. And of course the naïve, bumbling, racist United States, despite all the information given to them by Sommerfeld, botch their efforts to control events in Mexico. The reviewer is not inclined to accept Mr. Feilitzsch’s analyses of the foreign policy of Presidents Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson. And, one is left to wonder what the Kaiser’s plan for Mexico was.

Notwithstanding, In Plain Sight gives a useful detailing of events in Mexico prior to the First World War, including a Mexican cast of thousands, in that peoples’ struggle for decent government and the foreigners who became involved.. It also provides a decidedly antipodal view of American foreign policy during the period and sets the stage for an interpretation of German machinations in Mexico during World War I.

The author, a native of Germany graduated from the University of Arizona with an MA in Latin American History and holds an MBA
— James B. Ronan II
The biography of a German spymaster in Mexico during the tumultuous early 1900s.

Born in 1879 in Germany, Sommerfeld was the fourth son of a middle class Jewish couple. His early life was fraught with questionable decisions and adventures across the globe: He stole money from his brother’s landlord in the U.S., joined the U.S. Army to fight in the Spanish-American War only to drop out and make his way to China to fight during the Boxer Rebellion. When he was done with battlefields, he returned to the U.S. and attempted to become a prospector in the West but ended up back in Chicago, broke. Though von Feilitzsch assiduously researched his subject’s life, he admits that there are holes in history’s account, including that no one knows exactly where Sommerfeld was from 1906–1908. The author speculates that during this time Sommerfeld could have traveled to Germany for secret-service training. What is known is that this enigmatic figure worked as a German informant (he posed as a mining engineer and then an Associated Press reporter) in Chihuahua, Mexico, starting in 1908. When Francisco Madero overthrew Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz, Sommerfeld’s spy career quickly began to take shape. He positioned himself as Mexico’s chief of secret service and helped put down uprisings and overthrow rebellions. In 1913, he traveled to Washington, D.C., and liaised with chief weapons buyers. This in-depth biography takes readers up to the year 1914, carefully detailing the shifting reigns and unrest of Mexico during these years. Fans of Latin American history and global politics during this time period are sure to appreciate von Feilitzch’s illuminating attention to detail. Unfortunately, since Sommerfeld was so elusive, von Feilitzsch has a hard time truly capturing his character. The epilogue allows him to flesh out Sommerfeld’s personality somewhat, but rather frustratingly the spymaster’s intents and motives remain largely a mystery.

A well-researched historical account.
— Kirkus Reviews
This decade marks the centennial of both the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and the First World War (1914-1918). They overlapped in more ways than just simple chronology. During the pre-revolutionary regime of Porfirio Díaz (1876-1880, 1884-1911), American, British and German businesses competed for business opportunities in Mexico, especially for mining, oil, and railroads. After the World War began, in large part because a new Mexican-American War would distract the U.S. and divert arms then going to the Allies, Washington, London and Berlin’s interest in Mexico intensified. In short, Mexico became an important front in the intelligence sector of the World War.

Numerous studies have been released over the past few years, most notably books by Charles Harris III and Louis Sadler. Independent scholar Heribert von Feilitzsch has added a new volume to these studies with In Plain Sight, which discusses the career of Felix Sommerfeld, sometime miner and soldier of fortune, who became an advisor to Mexican President Francisco I. Madero during his short-lived presidency (November 1911-February 1913). While he acted as Madero’s advisor and gatekeeper, Sommerfeld worked as an agent for the German government, reporting not just on Mexican affairs, but also on American policies in Mexico.

Sommerfeld was born in 1879 into a middle-class family in Germany. He studied to be a mining engineer before immigrating to the US to join a brother. He enlisted in the US Army for the Spanish-American War, deserted—perhaps out of boredom—and returned to Germany. Sommerfeld served in the Kaiser’s army in China during the Boxer Rebellion. He returned to the US, avoiding arrest for his desertion, and passed through Arizona and northern Mexico working as an engineer. His actions from 1906-1908 are hazy, but Feilitzsch suggests that he returned to Germany to train for intelligence work. Sommerfeld reappeared in Mexico as a German agent and in 1910, while he was officially a reporter for the Associated Press (AP), he worked his way into Madero’s inner circle. After President Madero’s assassination in early 1913, Sommerfeld began working for various revolutionary factions, often collaborating with the US Bureau of Investigation while secretly sending reports to Berlin. By 1915 he was “Pancho” Villa’s major arms broker in the US while working for German Naval Attaché Karl Boy-Ed, who was then running a large spying and sabotage organization in the US working to interfere with arms sales to the Allies. Sommerfeld suggested using Villa to create an incident to drag the US into a war with Mexico. In March 1916, Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico can very close to doing just that. Interned as an enemy alien once the US entered the war, Sommerfeld was interviewed by the US Army in 1918 and much of this book is based on those interviews. Sommerfeld disappeared from the historical record in the 1930s.

Sommerfeld successfully juggled his multiplicity of roles, at least initially. But even in a pre-electronic era, he left traces which the author successfully follows to pierce Sommerfeld’s slightly amateurish Denial and Deception campaign. For example, Sommerfeld often travelled under his real name, which left immigration records. Sometimes it’s the lack of a record that proves useful. Von Feilitzsch found no evidence to substantiate Sommerfeld’s claim that he was the manager of several Mexican mines just before the Revolution (36). Still, some parts of Sommerfeld’s activities remain clouded, such as any role he may have played in sparking Villa’s Columbus raid.

In Plain Sight is well-researched and well-argued. The bibliography is fine; von Feilitzsch used libraries and archives in the US, Mexico and Germany as well as the major scholarly works on international involvement in the Mexican Revolution. He is, however, sometimes prone to overstatement. When discussing Sommerfeld’s activities, the author will often say “the only explanation is….” His conclusions are logical, but while they are the most reasonable explanation for Sommerfeld’s activities, they are not the “only” explanations. For example, von Feilitzsch describes Sommerfeld’s relationship with the German vice-consul in Chihuahua before the Revolution. Sommerfeld’s reports praised the vice-consul’s work and the man received a promotion. The consul then put Sommerfeld on his payroll. “There is only one interpretation of what Sommerfeld was paid to do” von Feilitzsch writes, “Espionage.” (75) While I agree that’s a likely explanation given Sommerfeld’s role in Mexico at the time, it is not the only possible reason for the consul’s actions. It might also have reflected gratitude for aid in winning promotion. Often replacing “only” with “a likely” would have improved the author’s argument.

In Plain Sight was published by Henselstone Verlang, the author’s own company. Self-published books are usually ignored by academics, often for good reason. However, they seem to be increasingly popular. For example, “The History Press” has found a niche releasing local histories by talented, if sometimes irregularly trained, historians. While self-published authors often have little or no training as historians, von Feilitzsch earned an MA in Latin American history at the University of Arizona. Nonetheless, the book would have benefited from the services of a professional editor at a scholarly press. There are a few too many awkward phrasings and the author often slides into the passive voice. The index is rather spare and is merely adequate. Despite these issues, von Feilitzsch has done an exemplary job of tracing the activities of a shadowy character in a chaotic time and place. In Plain Sight is a welcome addition to the growing literature of the intelligence war of the 1910’s and is well-worth the read.
— Dr. Mark Benbow, Marymount University
Five Stars: A great piece of non-fiction, October 16, 2013

Well written, well researched and a fascinating true story. It took me a while to finally sit down and read this book, but now I’m glad that I did. The painstaking amount of detail that went into creating In Plain Sight is unfathomable. This book is worth your time. Pour yourself a glass of wine, or better yet, some German beer, and enjoy the hours you spend with this volume.
— Kevin G. Summers
An excellent book about the true story of the Mexican Revolution on the ancient art of espionage, which is a fashionable topic in Mexico, it has been practiced since ancient times (Bible).

With pleasure we expect the Spanish version which I think will be a success.
— Horacio Dominguez Lara, Coahuila, Mexico
...Besonders interessant sind die internationalen Verwicklungen der Revolutionäre sowie das inoffizielle Eingreifen amerikanischer Investoren zur Förderung der Revolution oder zur Verhinderung unerwünschter Machtanwärter in Mexiko... Nationalmexikanische sowie internationale politische und wirtschaftliche Fakten werden sehr gut beschrieben und der Einfluss bedeutender Persönlichkeiten aus Politik und Wirtschaft auf das Geschehen in Mexiko herausgestellt. Alleine aus diesem Grund ist das Buch sehr zu empfehlen... Das Buch ist für die Geschichtsforschung eine große Bereicherung. Die Forschungsarbeit und ein hervorragendes Quellenstudium in Bibliotheken und Archiven sprechen sehr für Feilitzsch und sein Werk.
— Andreas Leipold, Bayreuth