Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Felix A. Sommerfeld and the Mexican Front in the Great War

by Heribert von Feilitzsch
Henselstone Verlag Llc, 2015
Jim Gallen, Reviewer

U.S. Infantry in Brownsville, Texas,  Early in the Crisis

Even for many Roads readers, a Mexican Front in the Great War is a novel concept. In Felix A. Sommerfeld and the Mexican Front in the Great War author Heribert von Feilitzsch untangles the twines of espionage, intrigue, money laundering, and multi-party arms deals that demonstrate that there really was a Mexican Front and that it came remarkably close to igniting a second Mexican-American war. Between 1913 and 1916, Mexico was in the throes of a three-sided civil war in which the United States was deeply involved in choosing and assisting the sides, while German agents sought to exploit the unrest to distract the United States from the Great War in Europe and to divert American arms shipments from the Allied powers.

Felix A. Sommerfeld was an expatriate German Jew who came to the United States as a 19-year-old in 1898. He joined and subsequently deserted from the United States Army during the Spanish-American War, after which he returned to Germany. In 1902 he came back to the United States and spent the next several years in the U. S. and Mexico. When the interests of Germany and the United States diverged, Sommerfeld served his homeland as a naval intelligence agent. Having gained the trust of American and Mexican interests, he was called upon by both. This facilitated his operations as chief weapons and munitions buyer for Pancho Villa and as Villa’s diplomatic envoy to the United States, which made him a valuable asset for Germany.

The extent of initiatives by all parties demonstrates a much more serious situation than the Zimmerman Telegram, which is viewed as a Quixotic quest by many. German operatives were active in attempting to divert American arms from Allied to Mexican factions (some of which were to eventually be sold to Central Powers forces), to stir up trouble between Mexican partisans and the United States, and to cut off the flow of Mexican oil to the Royal Navy either through purchases of stock or sabotage of production capabilities. Many know about Villa’s Columbus, New Mexico, raid and the resulting Punitive Expedition in pursuit of him, but fewer are aware of the raids at Naco, Arizona, and elsewhere. Steps to incite insurrection by Mexican Americans threatened to set the Southwest ablaze. Concern over the situation was so great that intervention was actively debated in Congress and other public forums, and the U.S. Army drew up plans for a three-pronged invasion of northern Mexico.

Author Heribert von Feilitzsch has done almost incredible research into the activities of Sommerfield and his accomplices in transferring money and munitions among the parties and the interactions among the various Mexican factions. He has found and compared bank records, sales accounts, government archives, newspaper reports, court documents, correspondence, and other sources to unearth an extensive German conspiracy to further entangle the United States in Mexican affairs.

Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry with Dead Raiders After a 1918 Encounter in Arizona

For most Americans, the characters in this book are often familiar, such as Woodrow Wilson and John J. Pershing, but their association with Mexico is not within our ken. Others are known by name only, such as Pancho Villa, or unheard of, for example Venustiano Carranza, Felix A. Sommerfield, et al. The author helps by providing a cast of characters before commencing the text. Keep a bookmark by it for easy reference as you advance through the volume. The extensive end notes and bibliography are valuable for those seeking more.

This work reveals much about political and military conditions in Mexico in 1913–1916 and its tumultuous relations with the United States. It provides insights into Woodrow Wilson’s policy-making process regarding Mexico. Many readers may find names of familiar institutions on these pages, such as Olin Industries and Mississippi Valley Bank, as I did, plus well-known personalities, including J. P. Morgan.

Felix A. Sommerfeld and the Mexican Front in the Great War has changed my view of the role of Mexico in America’s road to the Great War. Von Feilitzsch has made a compelling case that, due to both German initiatives and Mexican instability, a second Mexican-American War was a real possibility during the early phases of the Great War. This could have had massive impact on America’s response and ability to engage in the European war. Conceivably, the international border could have migrated, either north or south, with incalculable influences on the United States, Mexico, and hemispheric relations. In my opinion Felix A. Sommerfeld and the Mexican Front in the Great War has established that, although not a belligerent, there truly was a Mexican Front in the Great War.

Note: The Spanish version of this book is also now available as a paperback and on Kindle. Thus both biographies of Sommerfeld (before 1914 and after) are now available in Spanish as well as in English.

Jim Gallen


  1. Good review of an intriguing book, Jim.

  2. Ordered! Excellent review. Cheers

  3. I wonder if Sommerfeld survived the Nazis?

    1. I have not found definitive proof of where and when he died. He lived in Berlin in 1930. In 1942 he registered with the US army in San Antonio. I suspect that he joined the OSS as did his brother in arms Frederico Stallforth.

  4. Acording to Wikipedia, Sommerfeld "disappeared in the 1930s, so far without a trace."

  5. Although proof has remained elusive when and where he died, Sommerfeld's last trace is in 1942, when he registered for service in the US military in San Antonio, Texas. He likely worked for the OSS through the war.