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Not so Secret After All...

I am floating on a cloud in seventh heaven: Another picture of Felix A. Sommerfeld surfaced. The grandson of Sommerfeld's secret service handler in Mexico City in 1912 found it! Thank you! The picture with Sommerfeld (second from stage left) was taken in May 1911, just after the forces of Mexican revolutionary leader and future president Francisco I. Madero had won the battle of Ciudad Juarez. It was taken at the house of German Consul Max Weber. Although no other pictures of the German Consul of Chihuahua  have surfaced, I venture to bet that the balding man on stage right is him: Sommerfeld's secret service boss Otto Kueck.

From left unknown man, Felix A. Sommerfeld, Mrs. Elena Arizmendi, Francisco I. Madero, Max Weber, Sara Perez de Madero, Mrs. Max Weber, unknown woman (maybe one of the Ketelsen daughters), unknown man (likely Consul Otto Kueck), unknown woman (likely Emilie Kueck)  

His wife, Emilile, was the daughter of the wealthy merchant and former German consul Emil Ketelson. When her father died, she and her two siblings inherited a whopping one million pesos ($11 million in today's value).

Why am I so excited? I wrote in "In Plain Sight" that Sommerfeld worked for the German government in 1911 while at the same time serving as Francisco Madero's secret service chief and bodyguard. Sommerfeld denied this vehemently, claiming that he barely knew the German consuls of the era. Suddenly we find a photo with all of them in it: Sommerfeld, Kueck, Weber, and Madero. More puzzle pieces falling into place....  

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The Murder of William S. Benton

Villa’s secretary Luis Aguirre Benavides, an eyewitness, told the New York Times in 1915 that when Benton called Villa a bandit he “…did not finish the sentence. General Villa quick as lightning, threw himself, pistol in hand, on the Englishman with the intention of instantly killing him. The woman [Villa’s wife Maria Luz Corral] placed herself between th[e] two, thus preventing Villa from firing. The officers of the guard threw themselves on Benton, and, disarming him, led him off immediately to an adjoining room, where he was handcuffed and detained…”


Exactly how Benton died is not known. Villa and his secretary Aguirre Benavides maintained that Fierro took Benton in a caboose to nearby Samalayuca and smashed his scull thereby killing him. According to Villa and many historians who have researched the incident, Benton was an abusive hacendado who had lived and worked in Chihuahua under the protection of Terrazas and Creel. Understandably, Villa and the revolutionary propaganda machine would use these charges to somehow justify the murder. However, the alleged abuses seemed to have transferred into the historiography unchecked. Whether or not the Scottish hothead was more abusive than the American hacendados who were fortunate enough to keep their lands and cattle is unclear. According to historian Katz, Villa and Benton had had an earlier run-in, which had resulted in Villa taking horses and supplies from Benton’s ranch. Benton also had been overheard in the Foreign Club in Chihuahua as supporting the military dictatorship of Huerta. Clearly, the altercation had very personal roots that had little to do with Benton’s treatment of Mexican villagers or the supposed confiscation of his ranch.

An added fact that could have exacerbated Villa’s hatred for Benton exists in the curious timing of the altercation at Villa’s office. As Felix Sommerfeld hunted down the fugitive General Pascual Orozco in the months before, one specific lead pointed to Benton who allegedly knew where Villa’s nemesis was hiding. Agent Blanford of the BI asked Sommerfeld to verify the rumor. “Sommerfeld stated that he knows Benton so I requested him to interview him.” The BI agent reported to his superiors on January 19th 1914, “Sommerfeld told me later that he had found Benton and that he had been informed that the friend of young [William S.] Benton is a Mexican and that this Mexican talked with Orozco in Shafter on the 15th instant. The present whereabouts of Orozco was not known to Benton, although he was certain Orozco had left Shafter." The implication was that Benton somehow had been involved in hiding Villa’s most hated opponent. It might never be known what Sommerfeld had reported to Villa with respect to his investigation. However, if Benton indeed had been in any way implicated in the disappearance of Orozco, Villa’s wrath would have been boundless.

As it turns out, Sommerfeld not only knew Benton, but the English-born cattle rancher who had meanwhile become a Mexican citizen was his friend. See the drawing... 


William S. Benton drawn by Felix A. Sommerfeld



Albert Ballin and Alfred von Tirpitz - Two Naval Giants of Imperial Germany

The German Empire went through a period of tremendous commercial growth between the 1880s and 1914. A crucial ingredient to this growth for both, the sourcing of raw materials and the exportation of finished goods, was Germany's merchant fleet. Two corporations dominated that market, HAPAG and North German Lloyd. From 1886 up to 1914 HAPAG grew from twenty-six ocean vessels to one-hundred-and-eighty with a gross tonnage of 1.5 million,  about half of the total German merchant marine.  In 1911, HAPAG liners carried 403,000 passengers and eight million tons of freight.  In 1911, the North German Lloyd moved 514,000 passengers and 3.6 million tons of freight.  By 1913, it had a fleet of 133 vessels with 821,000 registered tons. In short, together with forty-one smaller lines, the German merchant marine was second only to that of Great Britain at the outbreak of the Great War.

In the German Empire Albert Ballin was the civilian alter ego of Alfred von Tirpitz. Both men had realized their visions of a strong naval fleet for Germany. The pride of the second empire was split between the proud battle cruisers of the High Seas Fleet and the commercial liners, the largest of which, the “Vaterland,” Ballin had put into service in 1913. She not only represented the might of German engineering and ship construction, she was the largest ocean liner in the world, larger than the “Lusitania,” “Mauretania,” or “Titanic.” The “Vaterland” not only eclipsed the British liners in terms of size and power, but also in terms of design and luxury. While larger and wider, she approximately matched “Lusitania” and “Mauretania’s” speed.  German ambassador to the United States, Count Johann von Bernstorff commented after traveling on the mighty ship in 1914, “Germans who live at home can hardly imagine with what love and what pride we foreign ambassadors and exiled Germans regarded the German shipping-lines.”  To Count von Bernstorff and many others, the “Vaterland” was an ambassador in itself.

Von Tirpitz’ navy and Ballin’s merchant marine were linked together as the symbols of German ambitions for being a naval super power. However, these links were not just symbolic. The two organizations, HAPAG’s merchant marine and the German navy, cooperated all along, but when the war started, they virtually operated as one. Almost every officer of the merchant marine had served actively in the German navy or was listed a reserve officer. Most sailors on Ballin’s ocean liners were reservists. HAPAG’s second man in command was Director Arndt von Holtzendorff. His older brother, Henning von Holtzendorff, a commander of the High Seas Fleet between 1908 and 1913, had risen to the rank of Admiral. At the outbreak of the war, Emperor Wilhelm II called him up to become chief of staff of the navy. He was a fervent supporter of unrestricted submarine warfare in the war years. While Ballin and von Tirpitz both had the ear of the Kaiser and counseled him on naval strategy, the von Holtzendorff brothers represented but one of many other links between military and civilian authorities that reached deep into the German government.




Supplying the Constitutionalists in the Mexican Revolution

In the summer of 1913, exactly one hundred years ago, Sommerfeld and his people along the border were busy organizing the supply for the Constitutionalist armies now in excess of fifteen thousand men. Just as he had in the Orozco uprising, Sommerfeld remained a key source for intervention with the Mexican revolutionaries on behalf of American citizens. On June 20th 1913, Agent Breniman wrote to his superior in San Antonio: “Am just informed from the American Consul Nuevo Laredo that C.M. Rippeteau and Henry Crumpler, two American citizens and the bearers of messages for Consul Garrett, were arrested yesterday by Carranzistas in vicinity of Nuevo Laredo and have been taken to Hidalgo enroute to Piedras Negras where it is feared that they will be summarily dealt with. We [the Bureau of Investigation] are requested to use our influence to protect these citizens. Suggest you see Sommerfeld.”

Sommerfeld's organization and he personally channeled important intelligence to the Justice Department agents. On July 5th 1913 Sommerfeld informed BI agent Breniman via the San Antonio BI chief H. A. Thompson “Evaristo Guajardo left here yesterday from Eagle Pass with six men. Guajardo and his brothers intend to immediately start a movement against Carranza from just below or above Eagle Pass.” The German agent asked the BI to investigate the rumor and “ascertain, if possible, the movements of these people, and…to take steps to anticipate them.” The report alludes to the fact that the Sommerfeld organization, again, told the BI what to do and how to do it. Sommerfeld dispatched Agent Jack Noonan from Nogales to Tucson with a companion to scour the desert for federal munitions dumps. “Noonan and Clark intend going out on a still hunt for these deposits of ammunition which they believed to exist.” Of course Noonan also was a well-known smuggler for the Constitutionalist army.

On October 7th, BI Chief Bielaski directed Agent H. A. Thompson to “…close the bridge at Eagle Pass from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m….it is hoped that a special agent can be stationed permanently at Eagle Pass and that the matter of the closing of the bridge at Eagle Pass will be taken up by you.” Although on the surface one can interpret these instructions as hostile to the resupply efforts of the Constitutionalists, the opposite was the case. Thompson, who left the Department of Justice shortly thereafter to work for Sommerfeld, had allowed Eagle Pass to be virtually open for Constitutionalist supplies to pass through. The State Department wanted to arrange for superficial action to maintain the neutrality laws. In the same telegram Bielaski wrote that the “…Secretary of State has been advised that arrangements are being made to add to the force of special agents now working in Texas and Arizona on neutrality matters.” Of course, adding one man to the main border crossing through which the Villistas received their supplies for the upcoming battles was a joke. The fact that by October 1913 there was not a single agent watching Eagle Pass-Piedras Negras illustrates the U.S. government’s tacit support for Pancho Villa’s fall campaign. The situation at other critical crossings was no different. While the government went after several arms merchants in Nogales and Douglas, Arizona in October, the courts acquitted all of them and the smuggling continued unabated.



Where is Pancho Villa's Gold?


Ever since the demise of Francisco Pancho Villasoldiers-of-fortune as well as treasure hunters from all over the world have looked for the famed gold that Pancho Villa might have buried in the mountains of Chihuahua. Emil Holmdahl, the soldier-of-fortune who is suspected to have stolen Pancho Villa’s head and sold it to the “Skull and Bones” secret society at Yale, spent many years after the Mexican Revolution to find Villa’s gold. Since Villa certainly never admitted to having buried any treasures, we might never know whether the gold exists. However, historians could help with the solution to this important riddle. Primary sources that detail the expenditures of Villa are now open to the public. The University of California at Berkley holds the papers of Silvestre Terrazas, Villa’s secretary of finance and former governor of Chihuahua. The University of Texas has the papers of Lazaro de la Garza, who for most of Villa’s campaigns controlled the arms and munitions sourcing in the United States. FBI files available in the National Archives in Washington detail the smuggling arrests, money transfers, and financial activities of Felix A. Sommerfeld. In short, the finances are literally an open book. So, the final question will be, did Villa have gold?

There are two documented instances, when Villa captured bullion. Cathlene Scalise of the University of California at Berkley uncovered an incredible story in 1999. On April 9th 1913 Villa’s finances received an immense boost because of a daring heist. With a small force of about two hundred men, the rebels stopped Mexican Northwestern Train No. 7 south of the Chihuahua’s capital. The train, which they captured, carried 122 ingots of silver bullion worth about $160,000 ($3.4 million in today’s value), which the rebels took. Because the bullion belonged to American smelting companies it would be hard to sell in the United States without risking confiscation. Villa proffered a “strictly confidential” deal to Wells Fargo to return the loot for $50,000 in cash ($1 million in today’s value). On top of the “finder’s fee,” Villa also offered “protection” for future bullion transports. According to documents found at Wells Fargo, Villa received the $50,000. Not surprisingly, the Villistas eventually returned ninety-three of the silver ingots, the rest, according to Villa, had been “stolen by his men.” The savvy methods through which Villa built not only a superior fighting force but also maintained financial independence fromVenustiano Carranza served him well in the years to come.

The second heist is the stuff of legends. When Villa took Chihuahua in December 1913 Luis Terrazas with the majority of his clan had to flee for safety to the U.S.  One of Villa’s first moves was to clear the Banco Minero of its deposits. When the Villistas came to rob the Terrazas bank they made a remarkable discovery. Luis TerrazasJunior, the hacendado’s son, had remained behind to safeguard the remaining family including his mother and the bank of which he was a director. For reasons of insanity or overconfidence, the young Terrazas thought that Villa would not touch him. Shortly before the Villistas could nab him, he took refuge in the British Consulate. Whether or not Villa was aware of international law, which designated diplomatic missions immune, or whether he simply did not care less about British sympathies, he ordered the billionaire’s son arrested. The British Consul protested vehemently but the Villistas removed Terrazas by force. Villa had learned from a director of the Banco Minero, that a large stash of gold had been removed from the vault and hidden. After a few hours of light torture and a mock execution Terrazas revealed that the gold was hidden in a column inside the bank. He did not know which. Raul Madero, by now a Villista general and Luis Aguirre Benavides, Villa’s secretary found the horde: 600,000 Pesos in gold ($6.3 Million in today’s value). For a second time in the history of the revolution, the Banco Minero in Chihuahua City had taken center stage. Where the gold ended up remained Villa’s secret. Treasure hunters, including Soldier-of-Fortune Emil Holmdahl, would spend decades after the revolution searching for the famed gold to no avail.




Happy Birthday, Felix A. Sommerfeld!

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The 28th of May 1879 marked the birth of one of the most fascinating, complex, and enigmatic personalities of his time. Felix A. Sommerfeld’s mother, Pauline Sommerfeld, nee Rosenbaum, was delighted to have delivered the fourth healthy son to her husband Isidor. His brothers Hermann, eight years older, Julius, almost exactly six years his senior, and Siegfried, a vibrant four-year-old, all curiously waited to see the baby for the first time. The family lived in Borkendorf, a little village six miles or “half-an-hour away” from Schneidemühl. The Sommerfeld family operated the Borkendorfer Mühle, a grain mill and distribution center.

Not much is known about the early years of Sommerfeld’s life in Borkendorf. Throughout the school year one can imagine little Felix driving by coach or riding with his father from Borkendorf to Schneidemühl in the mornings, having lunch at the father’s office or in one of his relative’s homes, finishing his homework in the afternoon, and joining his father for the journey home at night. In 1889, after grade school, Sommerfeld entered the “Oberrealschule” on the Berlinerstrasse, only a few blocks from his parents’ store. The middle – or “real” school taught knowledge usable in „real life,” such as science, finance, and one or two living languages such as English and French.

Foreign lands and culture especially fascinated Sommerfeld. The popular magazines were full of fascinating articles about the American frontier. Both the gold rush of 1849 and the Apache wars of the 1880s inspired most youths in the tightly regulated Prussian state. Schneidemühl saw a comparatively large percentage of émigrés with descendants living all over Latin America, United States, and Canada.One can picture the young man lying on his bed and day dreaming about the seemingly endless space of the “Wild West,” the lack of rules and freedom to do whatever one chose.

By the time Sommerfeld graduated from high school both his two older brothers, Julius and Hermann, had already decided to seek their fortune in the United States. The Spartan discipline of pre-1900 Prussia left an unmistakable imprint on the development of Sommerfeld’s personality. Obedience to authority, precision, punctuality, and toughness all became traits that characterized the grown man. His well-honed manners allowed him to dine with presidents, prominent politicians, and social elites alike.

Sommerfeld went on to study mining engineering, then joined the German military and served in the Boxer campaign as a horse messenger. After military service he came to the United States in 1902, prospecting for gold in the American West and Northern Mexico. Before he returned to Germany in 1905 or 1906, he worked as an insurance salesman in Chicago. In 1908, he returned to Northern Mexico. By then he worked for the German Ettappendienst der Marine, the precursor to the German Naval Intelligence Service. It is unknown but highly likely that Sommerfeld went to the Naval Intelligence School in Berlin between 1906 and 1908. Within two years of returning to Mexico, Sommerfeld became the personal assistant to the revolutionary leader Francisco I. Madero. When Madero defeated President Diaz in 1911, Sommerfeld joined him as head of the Mexican Secret Service in Mexico City. Sommerfeld was so close to the presidential family that his apartment was in Chapultepec Castle. No foreigner ever played such an important role in revolutionary Mexico.

Sommerfeld went on working for Venustiano Carranza, Pancho Villa, and Adolfo de la Huerta. In the later 1920s he had an office in the Hotel Bristol in Berlin and asked his mail to be forwarded to Francisco Madero's widow Sara in Mexico City. Nothing is known about the business he was involved in then other than Frederico Stallforth and the Madero family had something to do with it. When the Nazis took over Germany, he came back to either Mexico or the United States. In 1942, weeks after his brother Siegfried either committed suicide in the Gestapo offices of Schneidemuehl or was murdered by the Nazi thugs, Sommerfeld volunteered for service in the US army. He was 63 years old. The Nazi government had killed his sisters, his bother, uncountable cousins, uncles and aunts. The city of Schneidemuehl (today Pila) was cleansed of its entire Jewish history, the synagogue destroyed, the cemetery leveled, and records of its Jewish families burned.

The army registration is the last known document of a man whose career spanned three decades, who was a spymaster, secret service agent, arms dealer, prospector, and mining engineer. Having served Germany for decades, and being a fervent nationalist, the rise of Nazism in Germany and the destruction of his family and heritage must have been hard to comprehend. He never married. The place of his last resting place, the time of his death, and the name that is on his gravestone is unknown.  He remains an enigma, a fascinating one, at least to me. Happy birthday.




The Disappearance of Ambrose Bierce

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What happend to the American literary icon Ambrose Bierce?  Bierce, who wrote the last known letter to his daughter Helen on December 26th 1913 from Chihuahua City, had been seen as an active participant in the Battle of Ojinaga. “He said that he had ridden four miles to mail the letter and that he had been given a sombrero as a reward for ‘picking off’ one of the enemy with a rifle at long range. He also told her that he was leaving with the army for Ojinaga, a city under siege, the following day.” After the battle he disappeared and no trace of him was ever found. Bierce’s daughter Helen became alarmed after she had not heard anything of her father by January. Most disturbing was the appearance that Bierce had arranged his affairs at home in a way that pointed to his expectation not to return. The seventy-one-year-old writer had been suffering from depression. In a letter to his cousin Laura, Bierce wrote on December 16th 1913: “Good-bye — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia!”

Helen approached the U.S. government to help find her father. Apparently, and quite different from the timeline most historians offer on the efforts of the U.S. government to find Bierce, the request was not made until September 1914. General Hugh Lenox Scott related the message from Secretary of the Interior, Franklin Lane, to Felix Sommerfeld. “The Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Franklin K. Lane, is very anxious to get news of a man by the name of Ambrose Bierce, who went to Mexico last year and his friends have heard nothing from him since last December. He is quite a poet and writer, was 71 years of age when he left Washington last fall, was feeling exceedingly strong and healthfull [sic]…He…was accredited to the Villa forces…He had a considerable sum of money with him…In this letter [dated 12-26-1913] he said that his subsequent addresses would be indefinite, that he intended to go [on] horseback and by rail, when possible, through to the West coast of Mexico and from thence to South America…The Secretary would like you to have confidential inquiry made to trace Mr. Bierce. Anything you can do in this direction will be greatly appreciated by him and by the Secretary of War.”

The German agent tracked Bierce from El Paso to Chihuahua City where the writer’s presence had been confirmed and the last letter was sent from on December 26th. In this letter Bierce claimed that he was leaving on a troop train from Chihuahua to Ojinaga. The time frame coincides exactly with the dispatch of six brigades under Generals Ortega and Natera to Ojinaga. Of course, the generally accepted story that Bierce somehow attached himself to Villa is untrue given this time frame. Very surprising is the fact that Bierce did not join the movie producers, journalists, and other foreign admirers of Pancho Villa to witness this last battle for control of Chihuahua. At least, none of those remembered Bierce after his disappearance. Tex O’Reilly, the soldier-of-fortune turned writer was one of the few people who claimed to have heard of Bierce coming through El Paso and on to Chihuahua City. “O'Reilly says that several months later, he heard that an American had been killed in a nearby mining camp of Sierra Mojada. He investigated and heard how an old American, speaking broken Spanish, was executed by Federal Troops when they found out he was searching for Villa's troops. The locals told how he kept laughing, even after the first volley of his execution.” Since not many of Tex’ stories pass the truth test, it is likely that O’Reilly simply related rumors as his own research. The most widely accepted stories placed Bierce in Ojinaga in the beginning of January. There, the course of events separate. Some rumors had it that the “old gringo” got in a fight with Pancho Villa and was executed. “Odo B. Slade, a former member of Pancho Villa’s staff, recalled an elderly American with gray hair and an asthmatic condition who served as a military advisor to Villa. The American was called Jack Robinson, and he criticized the Mexicans’ battle strategies with the accomplished eye of a military expert.” Another claimed that Bierce got lost on the battlefield and was captured by federals that killed him.

A more conservative and perhaps more realistic twist was that Bierce “…started out to fight battles and shoulder hardships as he had done when a boy, somehow believing that a tough spirit would carry him through. Wounded or stricken with disease, he probably lay down in some pesthouse [sic] of a hospital, or in some troop train filled with other stricken men. Or he may have crawled off to some waterhole and died, with nothing more articulate than the winds and the stars for witnesses.” George Weeks, a friend of Bierce, traveled to Mexico in 1919 to research the author’s disappearance. According to an officer of the Mexican army, Bierce “had collapsed during the attack on Ojinaga and had died from hardship and exposure.” Sommerfeld’s research revealed a potentially different chain of events: Bierce probably never was in Ojinaga or survived the battle and returned to Chihuahua City right after the battle. Sommerfeld found out that the writer left Chihuahua City to the south not to the north where Ojinaga is located. “I investigated in Chihuahua, Mexico and found out that Mr. Bierce left that City some time [sic] in January 1914 for the South, and that is the last anybody [had] ever seen or heard of him. I communicated that information at that time to General Scott on my return to Washington.” Bierce leaving to the south solves several inconsistencies: Villa, who Bierce claimed to have been with, was in Chihuahua City in the beginning of January and had had no plans to come to Ojinaga. If Bierce was with Villa and stayed with him through the battle, why did neither Villa nor anyone else in the Villa camp remember seeing him? If Bierce traveled south towards Durango, he was executing his plan of trying to make it to Mexico’s west coast. If he wanted to see fighting, there was plenty of action in January of 1914 in the Laguna region. Also important was the fact that in order to go west, one had to come through Torreon, the railroad hub in central Mexico.

Carey McWilliams, a journalist and Bierce’s biographer, seemed to share Sommerfeld’s conclusion that the famous writer was alive after the Battle of Ojinaga. Through the good offices of Sherburne Hopkins, McWilliams addressed a letter to Sommerfeld in April 1930 in which he asked for any information about “an ammunition train that was supposed to have been captured by Gen. [Rudolfo L.] Gallegos in the state of Durango in February 1914? It had been rumored that Bierce was attached to this train which was destined for the Huerta forces in Torreon.” Sommerfeld could not offer McWilliams much additional information. The only leads he could provide to the journalist were to check with the Arrieta brothers who were in charge of the Constitutionalist forces in the Laguna and around Torreon in 1914. The matter of Bierce carrying “a large sum of money” has not been mentioned in the historiography of his disappearance. The Mexican countryside in the early days of 1914 was notoriously infested with rebels of any shape and form, deserted bands of federal soldiers, hapless and homeless peons, and bandits. An old “gringo” traveling with guides, or on a train that had been captured, would have been a prime target for robbery or worse. Conceivably, he was robbed and dumped somewhere along the way without any witnesses. The true story might never see the light of history. Sommerfeld explained the reason why he did not search further for Bierce in 1914. “When I received the letter from General Scott, it was impossible to make any inquiries in the South as I was with the Villa faction and the South was in the hands of the Carranza partisans.”

Sommerfeld felt that he satisfied his obligations to General Scott and his superiors in the Wilson administration. Clearly, he did not obsess over the vanished poet. Sommerfeld had more important things to do in the final push against Huerta than to research the disappearance of a suicidal writer in the middle of a war. In a strange twist of history, Sommerfeld’s response to Carey McWilliams in May of 1930 from the Hotel Bristol in Berlin is the last known correspondence of the German agent. Just as is the case with Ambrose Bierce, when, where, and how Sommerfeld died remains a under a veil of secrecy that no historian has lifted to this day.




Dr. Arnold Krumm-Heller

One of the strangest German agents involved in the Mexican Revolution and World War I appeared on the scene in 1913 to work in the Carranza camp, most likely reporting to Felix Sommerfeld. His name was Arnold Krumm-Heller, a German nationalist, born in Salchendorf, Germany in 1876. He left Germany “with permission of the military authority” at age eighteen and worked in Chile, Peru, and Mexico mostly as a scientist. Between 1907 and 1909 he studied medicine in Paris and transferred to Mexico in 1910.

Krumm-Heller became Madero's private doctor in the beginning of 1911. According to the American Military Intelligence Division MID, Krumm-Heller worked for Sommerfeld in the Mexican Secret Service in January of 1912. One year later, after Madero’s murder, Krumm-Heller became a secret agent for Carranza who sent him on diplomatic missions to Texas. Then-Governor Ferguson, with the prodding from the German secret service agent, was the first U.S. state executive to formally recognize the Constitutionalists as the legitimate government of Mexico.Carranza also dispatched Krumm-Heller on diplomatic missions to Argentina and Chile. In June 1913, exactly 100 years ago, the Huerta government arrested Krumm-Heller, ostensibly for hosting a “meeting of socialists and anarchists.” Germany intervened on his behalf and affected his release. Documents in the German National Archives show that the German government thought Krumm-Heller to be weird at best, maybe even mentally deranged, but loyal and fanatically committed to the Fatherland.

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Appearing in El Paso in the summer of 1913, the trained doctor then met up again with Carranza and served as a colonel in the Constitutionalist army. He became General Obregon’s chief of artillery, an occupation many German and American mercenaries  pursued. Artillery required precision, thorough knowledge of mathematics, and most artillery pieces ued at the time were either German or French-made canon. In the German army, training focused on the effective use of canon in combination with cavalry attacks, a strategy that Mexican revolutionaries knew very little about. In the First World War, Krumm-Heller worked for the German Secret Service. On a mission to Germany, British authorities arrested him at Falmouth as a spy. Because of his Mexican citizenship he could resume his trip to Berlin where the agent spent the rest of the war as the military attaché for the Mexican embassy. While in Mexico he also founded the Society of the Iron Cross, a Germanic-imperialist order, with Carranza as head and himself as secretary. While in his published works he presented himself as a “rational nationalist,” the German government came to think of him as crazy. Krumm-Heller had become fascinated with occultism in Paris in 1908. After he moved to Germany, he became a bishop in the Gnostic Church. He died in Germany in 1949.




Felipe Angeles - Hero, Villain or Martyr? First Installment

 Felipe Angeles

Felipe Angeles

When in the spring of 1914 Venustiano Carranza ordered Felix Sommerfeld to go to Pancho Villa's camp and see what could be done to instill a sense of order and control into the Division of the North, Sommerfeld did not go alone. Carranza dispatched his Secretary of War, Felipe Angeles, to join him. 

Ángeles had been an officer in the federal army under President Diaz. Born in the state of Hidalgo on June 13th1869, Ángeles grew up on a livestock farm. When he was only fourteen-years-old, his father sent the extremely bright Felipe to the Heroico Colegio Militar at Chapultepec, an equivalent to West Point in the United States. Ángeles did extremely well in math and sciences. He concentrated his studies on artillery, which brought him into close contact with the chief of artillery and future Secretary of War, Manuel Mondragon. When he graduated, the college offered him various lectureships. In 1898, Ángeles married the German-American Clara Kraus. It did not take long for Ángeles to become fluent in German. In 1904, Mondragon sent the artillery major to the United States to study the newest development in the war industry of the time: Smokeless powder. When the thirty-five-year-old Ángeles returned he was promoted lieutenant colonel. He now spoke English fluently. In 1908, Mondragon sent him to France where the Mexican army much to German chagrin was now buying most of their heavy guns. Ángeles, as a result of the travels and contact with democratic and parliamentary regimes, had developed a thorough social conscience. He began to publish articles on his ideas for political reform in Mexico. Officers of the federal army were not supposed to have political ideas and especially not mingle in politics. Accordingly, in 1908, he was arrested and charged with sedition. Thanks to his incredible brainpower and the goodwill of General Mondragon, the star officer was released and returned to an assignment in France.

For Ángeles there was no turning back. In the autumn of the Diaz regime he clearly saw the need for change. When Francisco Madero surfaced from the sea of anti-reelectionist activists, many of whom were far too radical for Ángeles, he had found his cause. Upon the outbreak of the revolution, the colonel, who was by then studying modern artillery warfare in Paris, requested to return to Mexico. With his political views known to his superiors the request was denied. He had to remain in France where he was to“distinguish himself.” In May 1911, Colonel Ángeles became a knight of the Legion of Honor, an award Napoleon Bonaparte had instituted in lieu of nobility titles when France became a republic.

Finally, in January 1912, after the Mexican presidential elections, Ángeles returned home. Madero appointed him commander of Ángeles’ alma mater, theColegio Militar. In June 1912, Ángeles, now brigadier general, received an active command to replace Huerta in the war against Zapata. Huerta had been unable to smash the peasant forces by using the most brutal tactics of mass execution and torture, wiping out whole villages, and terrorizing the civilian population. Ángeles applied a new set of “anti-insurgent” tactics hitherto unknown in Mexico. While he did not defeat Zapata, he introduced rules of engagement, humane treatment of prisoners, prevention of civilian casualties, and a code-of-honor in dealing with the enemy. Despite the fierce fighting, Ángeles succeeded in winning many hearts and minds throughout the population of Morelos. His tactics reduced Zapata’s ability to recruit. The development of trust between the warring factions also lends truth to William Bayard Hale’s claim that the Zapatistas stood down throughout the “Decena Tragica,” the rebellion taking place in Mexico City.

According to historian Ross, it was in Cuernavaca where the President asked Ángeles to become the new supreme military commander and replace Huerta as soon as possible. With the loyal general having agreed to move his forces to the capital Madero returned the next morning. Ángeles, who accompanied Madero to Mexico City, brought one thousand men with sufficient weapons and ammunition to the Presidential Palace. The army staff rejected Madero’s request to make Ángeles supreme commander. His promotion to brigadier general had not yet been confirmed in congress, making him theoretically ineligible for the position. However, he took over responsibility for the artillery emplacements in the center of the capital. A week later Felipe Ángeles, the trusted and loyal artillery commander who had been in charge of defending the Presidential Palace, received orders to move to another position further way. General Blanquet now took over the responsibility for the President’s security. Considering that everyone, including Sommerfeld, Gustavo Madero, and the president knew of Blanquet’s questionable loyalty, it is hard to understand that no one stopped Ángeles’ reassignment. Then the coup happened: In a broad sweep with black lists in hand, Huerta’s agents went through the city and arrested influential members of the Madero government. General Felipe Ángeles who faithfully continued his artillery fire on the Ciudadela ended up a prisoner within hours. 

He languished in prison until July 1913, 100 years ago. After he made it to safety in the United States he joined the Constitutionalist movement and became one of the most influential military tacticians in the Mexican Revolution.