On October 11, 1914 the Imperial German Foreign Office sent a telegram asking Ambassador von Bernstorff in Washington to purchase and ship arms and munitions for the resistance movements in British and French colonies. The group used this request as their chance to try out their plan and prove its feasibility to the German government. Germany had maintained close contacts with several resistance groups fighting their colonial masters in Ireland, Palestine, India, Afghanistan, Persia, Indonesia, and North Africa. These groups realistically only had one thing in common: Defeat England and France. That desire made them natural allies in Germany’s efforts to “hurt the enemy.” One of the most active and effective groups, an organization of Punjab Indians (Sikh not Hindu) was located in the United States. In 1913, the group had formed the Ghadr party under the leadership of Har Dayal, headquartered in San Francisco. The party grew quickly mainly as a result of its leader’s captivating personality. To his followers, Har Dayal incorporated the highest traits of wisdom and spiritualism. However, his success made him a target for the American authorities. They accused him of radical leanings and involvement with anarchist and socialist circles. Dayal’s weekly paper, the Hindustan Gadhar promoted martyrdom, and recruited volunteers to fight against British rule. English, Canadian, and U.S. authorities tried their best to disperse and prosecute the Indian resistance leaders. After a brief arrest in April 1914 for “speeches so villainously offensive to common decency and order” Har Dayal decided to jump bail and move to Germany. When the war started, he organized in the “Indian Independence Committee” in the German capital. In the first months of the war the German government actively supported several Ghadr operations in the Islamist areas of India, as well as in Afghanistan, and Singapore with money, transportation, and weapons.

The German military attache in Washington Franz von Papen eagerly accepted the responsibility to organize the proposed military support of the Ghadr efforts. Not only could von Papen now buy military supplies in the U.S. market, he could also experiment with the logistics of selling arms and ammunition from the United States to third parties. Through Felix A. Sommerfeld and the pro-German envoy of the Constitutionalists in Washington, Rafael Zubaran Capmany, the German embassy had close contacts to both the Villa and Carranza factions in Mexico. On September 26, 1914 someone of the Carranza camp petitioned the German embassy for a supply of munitions. The petitioner appears in the German correspondence log as “R. O. Fabricius, Progreso.” Whether the reference meant to describe the German businessman Adolfo Fabricius who indeed lived in Progreso, Yucatan, is not clear. Fabricius most likely was the German merchant to handle the order for Carranza’s U.S. envoy Rafael Zubaran Capmany. The request was approved on October 7 with the notation “Forwarded to Tauscher. Not more than 100,000. Delivery in three months.” The German commercial agent in New York and paymaster for all German clandestine missions Heinrich F. Albert noted in his diary on October 22, 1914, “…give (Papen) check for $100,000 for arms Tauscher.” Military Attaché von Papen, who was in charge of what the embassy correspondence log categorized as “Munitions Business,” tasked Kruup repersentative in the U.S. and German agent Hans Tauscher to procure the required arms and ammunition for both the Indian resistance movement and the Mexican revolutionary forces. The plan was to buy a large cache of rifles with corresponding cartridges. Von Papen made his first mistake of many in the execution of the operation in not telling Tauscher where the arms were destined. On October 26 Tauscher submitted his invoice for the order. He had found 10,890 rifles and 3.9 million cartridges through Robert vom Cleff, a small time New York arms dealer and friend of Tauscher. The rifles consisted mostly of Springfield 45/70 that had been designed in 1873 and not been used in the active U.S. military since 1897. The American government had been working on selling these weapons as surplus for a decade.

On October 27 the rifles and ammunition from the Kansas army surplus went to a storage facility at 521 West 20th Street in New York, a recently completed nine story building in lower Manhattan. The project now became more complex. The arms had to be delivered to San Diego where the German admiralty meanwhile was to organize the transportation to Mexico and to a meeting point with Indian resistance fighters. For the move to San Diego, Heinrich Albert booked space on the SS Nueces, a Mallory Line steamer, to take the shipment to Galveston, Texas. The Nueces was one of the ships Albert had leased for cotton shipments. From Galveston, the arms would then be transferred onto rail and taken to San Diego, California. On January 9, 1915 the Nueces left New York with 561 cases of rifles (20 per case), 3,759 cases of cartridges (1,000 per case), and 10 bales of munitions belts. The shipment had been fully insured and consigned to Walter C. Hughes in San Diego. He was Tauscher’s freight forwarder in New York with corresponding offices in Galveston and Los Angeles. However, the real consignee of course was the German consulate in San Francisco. The shipment arrived in Galveston ten days later. Even for the standards of the times when huge transfers of weapons from the United States to Mexico occurred almost daily, this was a large order. It took eleven freight cars to transport the shipment to San Diego.

On the January 19, 1915, a front woman in San Francisco, probably employed by the Jebsen Shipping Line, sent a $14,000 payment to a lawyer in San Diego to lease the three-mast, 326-ton Annie Larsen. The schooner’s monthly lease was an additional $1,250. The sail ship had seen better days. It was built in 1881 and had been used in the lumber trade along the West Coast. The Annie Larson set sail in San Francisco on January 24 and took on the weapons in San Diego on February 3. The large amount of arms raised eyebrows with American customs officials in San Diego. The consignee of the shipment was “Juan Bernardo Bowen” in Topolobamba, Mexico. Topolobamba, Sinaloa, half way between Guaymas and Mazatlan on the Gulf of Mexico, was under the control of Villistas at the time but hotly contested. Indications are that the shipment of arms indeed was destined for Villa’s troops. The New York Times reported on February 19, “Villa, who has just captured Guadalajara, is centring [sic] his attention now on his west coast campaign, and is doing so because he wants to make doubly sure of receiving a shipment of 9,000 rifles and 3,000,000 rounds of ammunition now being sent on a schooner from San Diego, Cal., to the Mexican west coast…” In the meantime, Frederick Jebsen, Karl Boy-Ed’s agent in charge of supplying the German Pacific fleet, rigged an old oil tanker, the SS Maverick, to meet the Annie Larsen and take on the arms shipment for transfer to the Far East.

After spending one month in dry dock in the port of San Pedro outside of Los Angeles, the tanker took on a new crew. American-born John B. Starr-Hunt boarded the Maverick as Germany’s super-cargo to direct the American captain. Ram Chandra and his people also sent a group of five Indian resistance fighters with propaganda literature and orders on how to get the shipment to the revolutionaries in India. Finally, with eight thousand barrels of fuel oil in the hold (not for own consumption) she headed to the coast of Mexico as well. Her papers listed the final destination as “Anjer, Java.” According to the pro-English account of the affair by French Strother, who quoted the testimony of supercargo John B. Starr-Hunt, the Maverick had been scheduled to meet the Annie Larsen in San José del Cabo at the very tip of Baja California. Once the weapons would be transferred, Starr-Hunt had orders to return to the U.S. with the schooner.

John B. Starr-Hunt

John B. Starr-Hunt

Two months meanwhile had passed since the Annie Larsen had arrived in San José del Cabo. When the Maverick was finally cleared to sail in the end of April 1915, British intelligence services were watching the movements of the old oil tanker. The British agents suspected the identity of the Maverick’s owners, the American-Asiatic Oil Company to be a cover. At the insistence of British intelligence, American customs officials boarded and searched the Maverick while still in harbor. However, her hold was empty. Still suspecting a German covert operation the British cruiser HMS Newcastle shadowed the oil tanker when she finally sailed. With the British cruiser tailing, the Maverick decided to make a run to Socorro Island, about four hundred miles off the Mexican shore. The Island was the agreed to alternative meeting point with the weapons laden schooner. The oil tanker shook the British cruiser but did not find the Anne Larsen at the island. 

The Annie Larsen had indeed sailed from the tip of the Baja California to Socorro Island, the secondary meeting point. However, the crew waited for one month, after which food and fresh water ran low. In need of provisions the Annie Larsen sailed southeast to Acapulco to re-supply. Acapulco is one thousand miles south of the tip of Baja California and completely out of the way of her presumed final destination. However, the prevailing winds in the region did not allow the sail ship to go due east back to the Baja California. Instead, she had to tack south. It is not known, if the Annie Larsen cleared any of her cargo while in San José del Cabo. If she did, it would have been the shipment Pancho Villa had been expecting. When she arrived in Acapulco, which was in Carrancista territory, she cleared the majority of her load. Numerous accounts detailed how the Carrancista port authorities refused to let the weapons laden ship continue on her voyage. According to author David Wilma, “Only through the intervention by U.S. Navy officers from the cruiser U.S.S. Yorktown, also at Acapulco at the time, was the Annie Larsen released.”

After re-supplying in Acapulco, the Annie Larsen supposedly tried to return to Socorro Island. She never made it on account of “bad weather.” Indeed, it would be a tough trip to make against the strong headwinds, which prevail between the southern coast of Mexico and Socorro Island. Instead of heading out into the Pacific, the schooner headed up the U.S. coast to Washington State, her home base. Finally, on June 29, 1915 the five-month odyssey of the Annie Larsen ended at Gray’s Harbor in Hoquiam, Washington. The U.S. local customs collector impounded the ship including what remained in her hold. He found 4,000 rifles and one million cartridges worth $25,000. The German agent on board who had directed the captain’s movements escaped. In a landmark trial in 1917 and 1918, German Consul General Bopp, his attachés von Schack and von Brincken, as well as two-dozen German and Indian conspirators involved in the plot were tried and convicted to hard time. Hans Tauscher was indicted but remained free for lack of evidence. In the sensational end of the trial one of the Indian conspirators shot the leader of the Indian resistance movement, Ram Chandra. The U.S. marshal in the courtroom in turn killed the attacker.