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Posted: 10/6/2017 9:51:27 PM EDT
One of the United States' battles of World War One was not fought on the Western Front, but on its own border with Mexico.  My thanks to Accidental for bringing this topic to my attention.

The border region was restive, to say the least, with revolution occurring in Mexico, and the US intervening to stop the forces of Pancho Villa.  The town of Nogales, which straddles the border between Arizona and Sonora, had been the site of skirmishes in 1913 and 1915, and in 1918 there was a strong US Army presence in the region.  Elements of the 10th Cavalry Regiment and the 35th Infantry Regiment were assigned duty in Nogales. 

US and Mexican soldiers patrolling the border at Nogales:



In addition to the usual border troubles, some US Army intelligence reports suspected that German agents provocateur were working to aid the Mexicans in stirring up trouble.  On August 27th, 1918, a Mexican national returning to Sonora with a package failed to stop at US customs while heading south.  Border agents on both sides starting shooting at one another, which drew civilians and soldiers into the fray as well.  5 US soldiers were killed (as well as 2 civilians) and 29 wounded, while an estimated 15 to 130 Mexicans were killed (depending on which reports are believed) and up to 300 wounded.  2 US soldiers were awarded the brand new Distinguished Service Cross for their actions on that day. 

From the 35th Infantry Regimental History website:

"Colonel H. B. Warfield wrote of the "Battle of Ambos Nogales" in his book, Tenth Cavalry Border Fights.

Nogales, Sonora of 1918 was under control of a Mexican federal garrison. The local situation was complicated by agitation aroused through German agents and an accompanying rising dislike for us --- the Gringos. On the American side the people were on the alert, Most of the householders had a Winchester or other weapon in a convenient location.

On August 20, 1918, the 35th Infantry was transferred to Camp Travis, Texas. However, during the latter part of August, 1918, the Thirty-fifth Infantry at Camp Stephen D. Little was just completing its movement to the eastern staging area for overseas war duty. Only Companies G, F, and H remained, awaiting relief by the Twenty-fifth Infantry (Negro). The 10th Cavalry camp had Troop A, Troop C, and Troop F. Troop M was at Arivaca, and Lochiel was occupied by Troop B.

    Manning the international guard station in Nogales were details from the Thirty-fifth Infantry. And patrolling east and west along the border were cavalry detachments. Lieutenant Colonel Frederick J. Herman, Tenth Cavalry, was with the cavalry troops and also acting Nogales sub-district commander.

   Military intelligence developed information that the Nogales situation was becoming critical. The Mexican garrison were, digging some trenches in the hills overlooking the American side. Groups of mounted Mexicans, some in uniforms, were seen moving along the trails into town, and the Sonora border guards at the crossing gate had adapted a changed and officious attitude. Such an explosive condition seemingly only awaited an incident for ignition.

   At 4:10 PM. on August 27, 1918, a Mexican coming from the American side tried to walk through the guarded international gate without interrogation. When the U.S. Customs inspector (Arthur G. Barber) ordered " Halt! " the man kept moving toward the other side. Then the government official drew his revolver and went after the person. Private W. H. Klint of Company H, Thirty-fifth Infantry, followed for protection. A Mexican custom guard fired at the American official, missed him but killed Private Klint. Instantly Corporal William H. Tucker of Company H shot the Mexican officer. More Mexican guards came running and started shooting. The corporal opened fire with his Springfield and killed three more. The U.S. Inspector gunned one down. A civilian at the gate (Mr. Frank Eames of the Nogales Theater) phoned to the Thirty-fifth guard detail at the West Coast Company warehouse about the emergency. Another (Mr. Otto Mayer) cranked up his truck and sped to the place, returning with Lieutenant Fanning (Fannin) and the soldiers. They arrived amidst a fusillade of lead from the Mexican side. That was the beginning of the Battle of Nogales."


35th Inf Rgt at Nogales

Nogales border area, circa 1898:


From the bordereco.com website, the story continues:

"After the initial shooting, reinforcements from both sides rushed to the border. Hostilities quickly escalated and several soldiers were killed and others wounded. The U.S. 35th Infantry historically had a border protection mission and on August 27, 1918 the border post had about 15-18 men.

The 35th infantry requested aid from the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry. After observing the situation for a few moments, Lt. Colonel Herman ordered an attack on the Mexican and German held hilltops overlooking Nogales. Machine gun placements and defensive trenches were dug at the hilltops near the border.

The U.S. 35th Regimental infantry soldiers and 10th Cavalry troops crossed the border into Mexico, fighting their way through the buildings and streets of Nogales, Sonora and up onto the nearby hilltops, while other units of the 35th Regiment held the main line.

After about 4 hours, the Mexicans waved a white flag of surrender and an immediate cease-fire was ordered."


Battle of Ambos Nogales

Note: while US Army reports mention German agents, it has not been definitively proven one way or the other.

After the battle government officials on both sides quickly stepped in to tamp down tensions.

"Within hours of the outbreak of violence in Ambos Nogales, leaders of the two governments dispatched officials to investigate the Nogales incident and determine what could be done to resolve the situation. President Carranza sent Sonoran governor Plutarco Elías Calles to represent the Mexican government in diplomatic talks scheduled for 28 August, while Gen. DeRosey Cabell, a veteran of the Punitive Expedition, represented the US and sought information on the violence. “I met with General Calles at 3 o’clock, having previously received a telegram from him expressing regret at the unfortunate incident of yesterday afternoon,” Cabell remarked. “Upon meeting with General Calles I have expressed equal regret that this incident should have occurred.”

Cabell reiterated the US demand that Sonoran officials halt the sporadic shooting from the Mexican side of the border, to which Calles said that the shooters were “irresponsible men” and beyond his control. All civilians in Nogales, Sonora, had been ordered to turn in their weapons to the authorities; some, however, retained their arms. In addition to exchanging mutual assurances of peace, Cabell and Calles each pledged to investigate the incident. Border traffic resumed as the military conference continued, and peace apparently had returned to Ambos Nogales.[29] Before full normality returned to the community, a US soldier was wounded by fire from the Mexican side; after lying in the post hospital for a few hours, the angry trooper went to the border and shot and wounded a Mexican sentry keeping guard. After a brief but angry exchange with Calles, Cabell ordered the arrest of the vengeful army private and prevented further violence."


Wiki article on Battle of Ambos Nogales

Afterwards, a permanent 2 mile long border fence (the first of its kind) was put up, permanently separating Nogales, Arizona from Nogales, Sonora.


For additional reading:

Buffalo Soldiers at Huachuca- Battle of Ambos Nogales
Link Posted: 10/6/2017 10:03:12 PM EDT
Very cool. My grandfather was born in Nogales, so this has some significance to me personally. It’s always cool to learn new things
Link Posted: 10/6/2017 10:10:36 PM EDT


Nice post BNR.
Link Posted: 10/6/2017 10:14:51 PM EDT
Krauts were involved
Link Posted: 10/6/2017 10:16:35 PM EDT
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Originally Posted By Miami_JBT:
Krauts were involved
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Do you have an information source on that?
Link Posted: 10/6/2017 10:35:14 PM EDT
Probably Russians
Link Posted: 10/7/2017 2:38:17 PM EDT
Always enjoy reading your history threads, thanks for posting them.
Link Posted: 10/7/2017 2:53:22 PM EDT
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Originally Posted By ByNameRequest:
Do you have an information source on that?
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Originally Posted By ByNameRequest:
Originally Posted By Miami_JBT:
Krauts were involved
Do you have an information source on that?
Fred Herman, whose wartime rank of lieutenant colonel had been reverted to his regular army (i.e. peacetime) rank of captain, testified before a congressional committee headed by New Mexico Sen. Albert Fall that he believed that German agents led the Mexican combatants during the 27 August battle.
Link Posted: 10/7/2017 5:43:54 PM EDT
Link Posted: 10/8/2017 1:25:01 AM EDT
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Originally Posted By Miami_JBT:
Fred Herman, whose wartime rank of lieutenant colonel had been reverted to his regular army (i.e. peacetime) rank of captain, testified before a congressional committee headed by New Mexico Sen. Albert Fall that he believed that German agents led the Mexican combatants during the 27 August battle.
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I saw that quotation in the wikipedia article as well.  However, it does not constitute proof.  If Colonel Herman had testified under oath in front of the committee that he knew, not "believed", but knew that German agents were present, that constitute proof.  Captured Germans would constitute proof.  Files from the Kaiser's Intelligence Service showing that they had agents in Sonora leading Mexican forces would constitute proof.  In looking at the sources currently available, there are a lot of rumors of German involvement- and indeed in the quotations I posted to introduce this topic, the soldiers mention that they thought they were fighting Germans as well.  So, I did some research, and I cannot find undeniable evidence either way--- so far.  However, as I have learned, absence of proof is not proof of absence, so I will be glad to post what I have found so that people can make up their own minds.

Let's first examine the full section that was quoted partially:

"The US government's investigation into the Battle of Ambos Nogales indicated that the origins of the violence were found in the resentment Mexican nationals felt from the US Customs officials' poor treatment and the sense of impunity that took place when the killers of Francisco Mercado and Gerardo Pesqueira went unpunished. Nevertheless, low-level rumors circulated of potential German involvement in this battle. Echoing the comments of some US participants in the battle, James P. Finley wrote in Huachuca Illustrated "found among the Mexican dead were the bodies of two German agents provocateurs." No further corroborating evidence--such as a description of these individuals' particular persons, belongings or potential intelligence reconnaissance from Nogales residents--is presented by Finley or other authors who have written on the topic. Fred Herman, whose wartime rank of lieutenant colonel had been reverted to his regular army (i.e. peacetime) rank of captain, testified before a congressional committee headed by New Mexico Sen. Albert Fall that he believed that German agents led the Mexican combatants during the 27 August battle.

Herman claimed that "German-looking men in uniforms” were the culprits of the Battle of Ambos Nogales citing his documentation. Historians who have investigated the brief conflict have generally repeated Herman’s allegations at the expense of obscuring the social tensions that led to the battle."


Wiki- Battle of Ambos Nogales

What was Colonel Herman's documentation?  From elsewhere in that same article---

"Allegations of foreign wrongdoing arose from the US Army units that claimed their Intelligence Division in Southern Arizona reported that Germans were instructing the Mexican Army in military procedures and helping build defenses. Lt. Col. Frederick J. Herman of the 10th Cavalry (the acting commander in Nogales at the time) claimed to have received an "anonymous letter" written by an "unknown Mexican" claiming to be an ex-Villa officer in which he warned US authorities of an imminent attack on Nogales slated to take place on 25 August 1918.

In his 1921 history of the 10th Cavalry, author Edward Glass states the importance of these reports as "About 15 August 1918, the Intelligence Division reported the presence of strange Mexicans, plentifully supplied with arms, ammunition, food and clothing, gathering in increasing numbers in and about Nogales, Sonora." He also indicated the presence of several white men, apparently Germans in uniforms, instructing Mexican soldiers and militia in military methods. About this time a letter was received, written by a person who claimed to have been a major in Villa's forces. It reportedly stated the person was sickened and disgusted at the atrocities committed by Villa and his men, and without pay or reward, because of "friendly respect" for American troops, warned them of the German financial efforts and influences at work near and in Nogales. These German "agent provocateurs" were encouraging some type of attack on Nogales "on or about 25 August 1918." Lt. Robert Scott Israel, Infantry Intelligence Officer at Nogales, brought this letter to the attention of Lt. Col. Herman, 10th Cavalry, then acting subdistrict commander at Nogales. Further investigation revealed that so many points of the letter were verified that "the letter was given more than ordinary weight."

However, in a 2010 article by Carlos F. Parra, which includes additional details of the incident, the author highlights how neither the suggestive intelligence reports nor the alleged letter to Lt. Col. Herman were mentioned at all during the extensive US military investigation that took place immediately after the 27 August incident. The US military investigation of the Battle of Ambos Nogales instead traced the origins of the violence to the abusive practices of US customs officials and the resentment caused by the killings along the border during the previous year. In the written transcripts of the investigators' interviews with Lt. Col. Herman, the local commander made no mention whatsoever of the letter he later claimed to received from the "unknown" and disgruntled Villista defector. The omission of such powerful evidence from an investigation conducted mere hours after the battle took place makes the existence of these intelligence reports and Lt. Col. Herman's letter (which does not appear in the US Army investigation's document collection for this battle) highly suspect."


If Parra's assertion is true, then why did Colonel Herman not mention this German involvement to General Cabell when the general came to investigate and make peace with Mexico?

There were AARs submitted by General Cabell, which I have not been able to find online.  The Pimeria Alta Historical Society in Nogales, AZ supposedly has copies of General Cabell's reports:

“Report on Recent Trouble at Nogales, 1 September 1918”
“Memorandum for the Adjutant General: Subject: Copy of Records to be Furnished to the Secretary of the Treasury. 30 September 1918”
“Record of Investigation held at Nogales, Arizona, 28, 29 and 30 August 1918, in regard to conflict in Nogales, Ariz., 27 August 1918”
and a letter "Cabell to Commanding General, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, 30 August 1918"

Accessing these documents may shed more light on the matter.  I would also like to get hold of Parra's article, but it is behind a jstor.org paywall.
"Valientes Nogalenses: The 1918 Battle Between the U.S. and Mexico that Transformed Ambos Nogales". Journal of Arizona History 51 (Spring 2010)

The history of the Tenth Cavalry, 1866-1921, by Edward Glass, mentions the Villista letter as quoted above, but no mention of proven German involvement on pp 82-85.
History of the Tenth Cavalry

Now to examine the pro-German involvement viewpoint.  There is a quotation in the Ft Huachuca history of the Buffalo Soldiers (10th Cav Rgt) that does mention that bodies of German "agents provocateurs" were found after the battle.  However, there is no evidence cited of what made the bodies become suspect, or who reported the data and when.  How were the bodies identified among Mexican dead when US troops pulled back quickly to Arizona?  It is kind of frustrating from a historical standpoint.  The quotation is from page 30:

"Capt. Joseph D. Hungerford, Troop F, 10th Cavalry, was killed while leading his men in a frontal assault on Mexican troops.  Lieutenant Loftus of Company C, 35th Infantry, was killed by sniper fire as he brought his men into position.  Other American casualties were three enlisted men killed, including Private W. H. Klint and Corporal Barney Lots, both of Company H, 35th Infantry, and several civilians.   Two officers, Lt. Col. F. J. Herman and Capt. H. C. Caron, both of the 10th Cavalry, and twenty-nine men were wounded.  Mexican casualties are not known, but found among the Mexican dead were the bodies of two German agents provocateur."

Buffalo Soldiers, opens as pdf

Also, to be fair, there is documented German involvement in Mexico and along the border areas.  The German saboteur and spy, Imperial Navy Lieutenant Lothar Witzke was apprehended at the border in February 1918.  However, this means Witzke did not lead Mexican troops in battle as the conflict occurred in August 1918.  From a US Army history:

"Two CIP agents in Nogales, Arizona, Capt. Joel A. Lipscomb and Capt. Byron S. Butcher, recruited Dr. Paul B. Altendorf to infiltrate German spy rings in Mexico. Altendorf was an Austrian immigrant to Mexico, where he served as a colonel in the Mexican army. Known to the CIP as Operative A-1, Altendorf managed to join the German Secret Service and become linked with several other German spies living in Mexico.

In January 1918, the CIP learned that Altendorf was accompanying one Lothar Witzke from Mexico City to the U.S. border. Witzke was a 22-year-old former lieutenant in the Germany navy, who alternately went by Harry Waberski, Hugo Olson and Pablo Davis, to name just a few of his many aliases. He had long been under CIP surveillance as a suspected German spy and saboteur. During the trip from Mexico City, Witzke had no suspicion that his companion was an Allied double agent taking note of Witzke's every move and indiscretion. At one point, a drunk Witzke let slip bits of information that Altendorf quickly passed on to Butcher. Specifically, Altendorf informed the CIP that Witzke's handlers had sent him back to the United States to incite mutiny within the U.S. Army and various labor unions, conduct sabotage and assassinate American officials.

On or about Feb. 1, 1918, Butcher apprehended Witzke once he crossed the border at Nogales, and a search of Witzke's luggage revealed a coded letter and Russian passport. Capt. John Manley, assistant to Herbert Yardley in the Military Intelligence Division's MI-8 Cryptographic Bureau in Washington, D.C., deciphered the letter, revealing Witzke's German connections. The letter stated: "Strictly Secret! The bearer of this is a subject of the Empire who travels as a Russian under the name of Pablo Waberski. He is a German secret agent."


WWI counterintelligence agents get their man


Dr Paul Altendorf seems to have infiltrated the German spy machinery in Mexico City, including befriending the chief spy, one Kurt Jancke.  His statement provided to a congressional committee reads more like a James Bond adventure than a dry recitation of fact.  From his testimony starting on p 459 of Investigation of Mexican Affairs:

"Indeed, I was appointed a captain in the German Army by direction of Von Eckhardt [German ambassador to Mexico] and a colonel in the Mexican Army with the approval of Carranza [President of Mexico].  In this dual military capacity I helped train 900 German reservists in Sonora, who were to form the nucleus of a German-Mexican army of 45,000 men which was to invade the United States simultaneously with the last great German drive in France and on the sea in July 1918- and in my true character as an American Secret Service agent I prevented the raid from being carried out.

It was this that made me exceedingly unpopular with Gen Elias Policarpo Calles, Carranza's governor of Sonora, and the most rabidly pro-German of Mexican officials.  Gen Calles even went so far as to offer 20,000 pesos for me, dead or alive.  I heard of this offer in good season and left Sonora in so much of a hurry that my trunks are down there yet- unless some Mexican has borrowed them.  Also I have a nice new grave in the jungle near Guayma, Sonora, which I am not yet ready to occupy."


Investigation of Mexican Affairs, US Senate, 66th Congress, 1919

I have not been able to locate Colonel Herman's congressional testimony- that we might see directly what he said.  If anyone has links to that, it would prove useful.  So in short, I have done some more digging, and have not found definitive proof either way of direct German leadership of Mexican forces in the skirmish.  If someone has access to the documents that I cannot get online, that would be great!
Link Posted: 10/10/2017 9:56:20 PM EDT
Great post!
Link Posted: 10/11/2017 8:19:42 PM EDT
I thank everyone for their kind words, and even for bringing up things they think I posted incorrectly. 

Sometimes, it is a lot of fun to go down historical rabbit holes in search of more details about an event.  Certainly, the tale of Dr. Paul Altendorf is one that needs to be brought more to light.  Even so, there are further branches this thread could go into.  For example, evidence comes from Senate hearings held by Sen. Albert Fall of New Mexico.  Given his ethical shortcomings (his later jail time for involvement in the Teapot Dome scandal while he was Secretary of the Interior), can we trust that the evidence Sen. Fall brought back from his research trips is not slanted in one way or another?  Or was it really feasible for Imperial German Intelligence to organize, train, equip, feed, and transport 45,000 Mexican soldiers to attack the US as Dr Altendorf reported they planned?
Link Posted: 10/12/2017 11:41:59 PM EDT
Link Posted: 10/16/2018 9:11:55 PM EDT
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Originally Posted By ByNameRequest:
I thank everyone for their kind words, and even for bringing up things they think I posted incorrectly. 

Sometimes, it is a lot of fun to go down historical rabbit holes in search of more details about an event.  Certainly, the tale of Dr. Paul Altendorf is one that needs to be brought more to light.  Even so, there are further branches this thread could go into.  For example, evidence comes from Senate hearings held by Sen. Albert Fall of New Mexico.  Given his ethical shortcomings (his later jail time for involvement in the Teapot Dome scandal while he was Secretary of the Interior), can we trust that the evidence Sen. Fall brought back from his research trips is not slanted in one way or another?  Or was it really feasible for Imperial German Intelligence to organize, train, equip, feed, and transport 45,000 Mexican soldiers to attack the US as Dr Altendorf reported they planned?
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It might be more feasible than you realize. The  main cause for the US intervention at Veracruz, Mexico in 1914 was Imperial Germany shipping tons of munitions to the Mexicans along with military advisers. I believe some might have been killed there. You might find some leads there. The Imperial Germans also built a cargo carrying submarine named the Deutschland that sailed to the US at least once to see how neutral the US really was at the outbreak of the war.
Link Posted: 10/20/2018 9:25:15 AM EDT
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Originally Posted By arbob:

It might be more feasible than you realize. The  main cause for the US intervention at Veracruz, Mexico in 1914 was Imperial Germany shipping tons of munitions to the Mexicans along with military advisers. I believe some might have been killed there. You might find some leads there. The Imperial Germans also built a cargo carrying submarine named the Deutschland that sailed to the US at least once to see how neutral the US really was at the outbreak of the war.
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The Deutschland and her sisters were ponderous boats that were tricky to trim.  She was crewed by German sailors who were given false merchant papers.   Upon arrival in New York she was inspected for weapons (she had neither torpedo tubes nor deck guns) and so she was treated as a merchant ship.  The British intelligence got black stevedores to report on her and her cargo.

Deustchland was later armed with deck guns but wasn’t successful as a hunter.

Good read is Messemer’s The Merchant U-Boat
Link Posted: 11/5/2018 8:10:13 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 11/5/2018 8:10:40 PM EDT by burkeva]
Great post. Inspect some time in  Sierra Vista and took many trips to the border. It was as lawless in the 1990s as it was in the beginning of the century.
Link Posted: 12/19/2018 2:35:42 AM EDT
Quality post, OP.

Interesting bit of history I had never heard of before.
Link Posted: 1/8/2019 7:48:03 PM EDT
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