Felix A. Sommerfeld

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Felix A. Sommerfeld (May 28, 1879 –¿ ?) was a German secret service agent in Mexico and the United States between 1908 and 1919. He was chief of the Mexican Secret Service under President Francisco I. Madero, worked as a diplomat and arms buyer for Venustiano Carranza and Francisco "Pancho" Villa, and ran the Mexican portion of Germany's war strategy in North America between 1914 and 1917.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the tenth most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.

Francisco I. Madero Mexican revolutionary leader and president

Francisco Ignacio Madero González was a Mexican revolutionary, writer and statesman who served as the 33rd president of Mexico from 1911 until shortly before his assassination in 1913. He was an advocate for social justice and democracy. Madero was notable for challenging Mexican President Porfirio Díaz for the presidency in 1910 and being instrumental in sparking the Mexican Revolution.

Venustiano Carranza Mexican politician and president of Mexico

Venustiano Carranza Garza was one of the main leaders of the Mexican Revolution, whose victorious northern revolutionary Constitutionalist Army defeated the counter-revolutionary regime of Victoriano Huerta and then defeated fellow revolutionaries after Huerta's ouster. He secured power in Mexico, serving as head of state from 1915–1917. With the promulgation of a new revolutionary Mexican Constitution of 1917, he was elected president, serving from 1917 to 1920.



Born on May 28, 1879 in Schneidemühl, in the Prussian Province of Posen, Germany, Sommerfeld grew up in a middle class Jewish household as the youngest son of Pauline and Isidor Sommerfeld. [1] After finishing high school Sommerfeld began studies in Berlin as a mining engineer. However, for unknown reasons he dropped out and came to the United States in 1898 to visit his brother. [2] In the excitement over the outbreak of the Spanish–American War, the 19-year-old joined the army but deserted a few months after. [3] In 1900 Sommerfeld, this time as a German soldier, went to war in China to put down the Boxer Rebellion. [4] He was a "Meldereiter," German for horse messenger. When he returned in 1901 he completed his mining engineering studies and returned to the United States in 1902. [5] After briefly staying with his brother Julius in Chicago, Sommerfeld set out to the West as a prospector. He worked his way through Arizona, Sonora (Mexico) and Durango (Mexico) until 1905 when he returned to Chicago totally broke. [6] Not much is known about the German adventurer between 1906 and 1908. It is possible that he returned to Germany and received secret service training in Berlin.

Piła Place in Greater Poland, Poland

Piła is a town in northwestern Poland situated in the Greater Poland Voivodeship, previously capital of Piła Voivodeship (1975–1998). It had 73,791 inhabitants as of 2017 making it the fourth-largest city in the voivodeship after Poznań, Kalisz and Konin and is the largest city in the northern part of Greater Poland. It is the capital of Piła County. The town is located on the Gwda river and is famous for its green areas, parks and dense forests nearby. It is an important road and railway hub, located at the intersection of two main lines - Poznań - Szczecin and Bydgoszcz - Krzyż Wielkopolski.

Kingdom of Prussia Former German state (1701–1918)

The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871 and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.

Province of Posen province of Prussia

The Province of Posen was a province of Prussia from 1848 to 1919. Posen was established as a province of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1848 after the Greater Poland Uprising, converted from the Grand Duchy of Posen annexed by Prussia in the Polish partitions of 1815, and became part of the German Empire in 1871. Posen was part of the Free State of Prussia within Weimar Germany from 1918, but was dissolved the following year when most of its territory was ceded to the Second Polish Republic by the Treaty of Versailles, and the remaining German territory was later re-organized into Posen-West Prussia in 1922.

In 1908, he suddenly showed up in Chihuahua, Mexico. [7] He again worked as a mining engineer, however, in reality he became an informant for the German government. [8] Chihuahua was ripe with rebellion and Sommerfeld did all he could to find out as much as possible about the anti-reelection movement led by wealthy Coahuila landowner, Francisco I. Madero. After the fraudulent elections that brought Porfirio Díaz yet another term as president in 1910, the Mexican Revolution erupted. Sommerfeld ostensibly worked for AP News but filed regular intelligence reports for the German government. [8]

Coahuila State of Mexico

Coahuila, formally Coahuila de Zaragoza, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Coahuila de Zaragoza, is one of the 31 states which, along with Mexico City, compose the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico.

Porfirio Díaz President of Mexico

José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori was a Mexican general and politician who served seven terms as President of Mexico, a total of 31 years, from February 17, 1877 to December 1, 1880 and from December 1, 1884 to May 25, 1911. The entire period 1876-1911 is often referred to as the Porfiriato.

When forces supporting Madero succeeded in overthrowing the Diaz in May 1911, Sommerfeld joined the new president's entourage, first as a personal assistant, then as Mexico's chief of the secret service. Working under the direction of the president's brother, Gustavo A. Madero, Sommerfeld led the Mexican secret service. [9] He helped put down the Orozco uprising in the spring of 1912, in the course of which he led the largest foreign secret service organization ever operating on U.S. soil. [10] The secret service organization Sommerfeld built included Mexican-Americans, Mexican expatriates, other German agents such as Horst von der Goltz and Arnold Krumm-Heller, as well as two of the most notorious soldiers of fortune of the decade, Sam Dreben and Emil Lewis Holmdahl.

Gustavo A. Madero Mexican politician

Gustavo Adolfo Madero González also known to many as "Ojo Parado", born in Parras de la Fuente, Coahuila, Mexico, was a participant in the Mexican Revolution against Porfirio Díaz along with other members of his wealthy family.

Pascual Orozco Mexican general and politician

Pascual Orozco Vázquez was a Mexican revolutionary leader who rose up with Francisco I. Madero late 1910 to depose Porfirio Díaz. Sixteen months later he revolted against the Madero government and ultimately sided with the coup d'état that deposed Madero.

Horst von der Goltz German spy

Horst von der Goltz was a German counterintelligence agent during World War I. In 1918, his autobiography, My Adventures as a German Secret Service Agent, was published. Written and directed by Raoul Walsh, von der Goltz appeared as himself in the U.S. propaganda film, The Prussian Cur for Fox Film Corporation. The film was produced by the U.S. Committee on Public Information and designed to influence public opinion about the involvement of the United States in World War I.

In 1913, after Madero's overthrow and murder by Victoriano Huerta, Sommerfeld left Mexico under the protection of German ambassador Paul von Hintze, went to Washington, D.C. where he received funds from lawyer and Madero supporter Sherburne Hopkins and signed up with the rebel movement assembled to overthrow Huerta. Governor of Coahuila, Venustiano Carranza, who declared against Huerta's regime and created the Constitutionalist revolutionary movement against it, sent Sommerfeld to El Paso and San Antonio to organize weapons for the revolutionaries. [11] Access to arms was a key element of a successful military movement. Northern Mexico's access to the border made procuring arms easier than in southern Mexico, where the Zapatistas operated. Sommerfeld also functioned as a liaison between the U.S. government and Carranza. [12]

Victoriano Huerta Mexican military officer and 35th President of Mexico

José Victoriano Huerta Márquez was a Mexican military officer and 35th President of Mexico.

Paul von Hintze German admiral

Paul von Hintze was a German naval officer, diplomat, and politician who served as Foreign Minister of Germany in the last stages of World War I, from July to October 1918.

Washington, D.C. Capital of the United States

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, the first President of the United States and a Founding Father. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city is also one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually.

In the spring of 1914, Sommerfeld began working closer with successful Constitutionalist Army General, Pancho Villa, commander of the División del Norte. When Villa and Carranza split their alliance after the defeat of Huerta in July 1914 and a civil war of the winners ensued, Sommerfeld stayed with Villa as his chief weapons buyer in the U.S. [13] Sommerfeld also lobbied the U.S. government on Villa's behalf to receive diplomatic recognition. The task brought Sommerfeld close to General Hugh Lenox Scott and American Secretary of War, Lindley Miller Garrison, both of whom he assisted numerous times when U.S. nationals found themselves in trouble in Mexico. [14] Sommerfeld was questioned following the mysterious disappearance of prominent writer Ambrose Bierce, who had attached himself to Villa's forces but then vanished without a trace. [15]

Pancho Villa Mexican revolutionary

Francisco "Pancho" Villa was a Mexican revolutionary general and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution.

División del Norte Mexico

The División del Norte was an armed faction formed by Francisco I. Madero and initially led by General José González Salas following Madero's call to arms at the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. González Salas served in Francisco I. Madero's cabinet as Minister of War, but at the outbreak of the 1912 rebellion by Pascual Orozco, González Salas organized 6,000 troops of the Federal Army at Torreón. Orozquista forces surprised González Salas at the First Battle of Rellano. They sent an explosives packed train hurtling toward the Federales, killing at least 60 and injuring González Salas. Mutinous troops killed one of his commanders and after seeing the officer's body, González Salas committed suicide.

Lindley Miller Garrison lawyer, U.S. Secretary of War

Lindley Miller Garrison was a New Jersey lawyer who served as Secretary of War under U.S. President Woodrow Wilson between 1913 and 1916.

When World War I broke out in August 1914, Sommerfeld moved to New York ostensibly to represent Pancho Villa's interests but actually worked for German Naval Attache Karl Boy-Ed. [16] In his function as a specialist on Mexican affairs, Sommerfeld helped the German government sell arms and ammunition they had bought to keep them out of enemy Entente hands. Sommerfeld also had great knowledge of U.S. munitions factories, their capacities, order status, etc. His intelligence reports had a great influence on the formulation of Germany's war strategy vis-a-vis the United States. In 1915, Sommerfeld funneled large numbers of arms to Pancho Villa, the value being estimated to about $340,000 (About $7 million in today's value). [17] Despite having large numbers of arms, Villa was decisively defeated by Constitutionalist Army General Álvaro Obregón in a series of battles in the Bajio, the most famous of which is the Battle of Celaya in 1915. Villa's huge army of movement, largely using massed cavalry charges, fell before Obregón's superior strategy and tactics of trenches improvised from agricultural irrigation ditches and machine guns. Villa's División del Norte ceased to exist, and Villa became a guerrilla leader rather than the general of a major army of movement.

In March 1916, Villa and a small group of men attacked the city of Columbus, NM. The Battle of Columbus resulted in civilian casualties and prompted the U.S. to send General John J. Pershing on a Punitive Mission, which was unsuccessful in its attempt to capture Villa. Sommerfeld, who had offered to the German government in May 1915 that he could create an incident which would provoke a war between the U.S. and Mexico, became a prime suspect in Villa's attack on Columbus. [18] However, no investigator or historian has been able to prove Sommerfeld's involvement.

In June 1918, Sommerfeld was interned in Fort Oglethorpe, GA as an enemy alien. [19] He was released in 1919. A few trips back and forth to Mexico have been recorded in the 1920s and 30s. However, the German agent disappeared in the 1930s, so far without a trace.

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  1. http://trees.ancestry.de/tree/13912585/family/
  2. Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Bestand: 373-7 I, VIII (Auswanderungsamt I), Seite 353 (Mikrofilm Nr. K_1754)
  3. New York in the Spanish–American War, 1898: part of the report of the adjutant-general of the state for 1900. Volume II, Registers of organizations, p. 319
  4. Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, Heft 34, August 24, 1900
  5. Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 373-7 I, VIII A 1 Band 135, Seite 2251 (Mikrofilm Nr. K_177)
  6. City Directory, Chicago, Illinois, 1905, page 1477
  7. Heribert von Feilitzsch, In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908 to 1914, p. 68
  8. 1 2 Katz, p. 335.
  9. Heribert von Feilitzsch, In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908 to 1914, p. 155
  10. Charles H. Harris, III and Louis R. Sadler, The Underside of the Mexican Revolution: El Paso, 1912, The Americas, Vol. 39, No. 1 (July, 1982), p. 72
  11. National Archives RG 65 M1085 Roll 853 file 232, William Offley to Department, May 23, 1913
  12. Cumberland, The Constitutionalist Years, 279
  13. Lazaro De La Garza Collection, University of Texas, Benson Library, Austin, TX, Box 1, Folder C, Villa to De La Garza, 4-14-1914
  14. For example in the case of Emil Holmdahl, Papers of Hugh Lenox Scott, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Box 15, General Correspondence, F.A. Sommerfeld to L.M. Garrison, July 10, 1914
  15. Friedrich Katz, The Life and Times of Pancho Villa. Stanford: Stanford University Press 1998, p. 865.
  16. Katz, p. 412.
  17. Katz, p. 336.
  18. Katz, p. 333.
  19. The Washington Post, June 21, 1918, "Held as Enemy Alien."