Skirmish at El Tintero – April 1916

Introduction

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Skirmish at El Tintero – April 1916
(A tale of a different Pancho Villa Punitive Expedition, including the early adventures of Lt. Erwin Rommel - US Army)

Pershing-Villa.jpg

Generals Alvaro Obregon, Pancho Villa, John Pershing (in happier days)

This will be a very short TL.

There are two POD’s involved:
  • First and foremost, this is a tale of 2nd Lieutenant Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel of the US Army. The son of German immigrants to the US. ITTL, Rommel was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana (I stole this concept from Carl Schwamberger via this thread https://www.alternatehistory.com/fo...rchill-us-officer.337147/page-2#post-10349845 (Post #25). Carl's thought has stuck with me and rattled around my brain ever since. For this tale, I made the assumption that Rommel’s early personality would be still be shaped by the strong personalities of both his parents, who greatly influenced his OTL life, even into the start of his military career. Also, as is common with many first-generation immigrants, he’s caught between two cultures.

  • ITTL, Pancho Villa does not suffer the debilitating friendly fire wound to his leg that he received on March 27, 1916. In OTL, that wound shattered one of Villa's lower leg bones, to the extent that his life was in danger and he completely dropped out of contact with his command for several months, while he recuperated. That left his forces physically divided and with no central command. Here, ITTL, Villa may be wounded, but not as seriously, so that he remains in charge. He’s generally avoiding contact with the larger and better armed US Army units where it can be managed. Somewhat similar to OTL, but not quite the same.
I chose the setting of the US incursion into Mexico of 1916-17 in pursuit of Pancho Villa. That pursuit came about following Villa’s attack on Columbus, New Mexico in March 1916. Villa was a charismatic general of the Mexican Revolution/Civil War. Villa’s waning power center was the big north-central state of Chihuahua, with a total area larger than the island of Britain. It is rugged, mostly rural countryside, with the western half being part of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range, desert to the north, and steppe lands to the east. A very demanding environment.

Given Rommel’s age, this would be his first real shot at war zone experience. Historically, the campaign was a touchstone for many of the junior officers who were either in the roughly 10,000 man US force in Mexico, or the up to 100,000 men on the border. The list headlines like a “who’s who” of top US World War 2 generals, with Patton, Eisenhower, Patch, Simpson, Hodges, Kruger, Eichelberger, Crittenberger, Spaatz and many others not quite so well-known being involved.

I also find this Expedition a fascinating transitional period for the US Army. Some of the Army’s doctrine and equipment were still anchored in the old wild west 19th Century constabulary mindset, and some doctrine and equipment were just inching into modernity. Also, the pursuit of Villa shares a common thread with many US interventions over the length of our history: it was reactive in origin, with a poorly thought out definition of realistic goals and how to end the intervention. We certainly know how to get into trouble, but we struggle with getting out….

As this historical setting is not familiar to many here, I will show OTL history events in italics. I will also use the modern 24-hour military clock (not implemented till WW2 for the US.) It’s just easier here…
 
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OTL map of the campaign

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Prior to our starting date of the TL:

The US Expeditionary Force – mainly several regiments of horse calvary, had pursued Pancho Villa hard, biting at the heels of the Villistas through the month of March and into April. There were a half dozen sharp meeting engagements and ambushes where the US Cavalry surprised the Villistas and inflicted several small-scale tactical setbacks on them. On March 28, 1916, they nearly caught Villa himself at Guerrero, nearly 300 miles into Mexico. Villa had just left the town hours earlier after being wounded the day before.

The mostly OTL map of the campaign:

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1330 on April 12 - El Valle

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El Valle, Chihuahua State, Mexico – April 12 1916. US Army 16th Infantry Regiment encampment – 1330 hours

Lt Rommel photo.gif

Lieutenant Erwin Rommel – US Army
(source for original photo – warhistoryonline.com)

Private Morgan, the Captain’s aide strode up and quietly said: “Lieutenant Rommel(1), the Cap’n like a word or two wit’cha now if ya please”. Rommel quickly finished up his instructions to Corporal Calloway and then made his way to Captain Spalding’s tent.

Inside the tent, Captain Waldo Spalding(2) was conversing with another officer Rommel had met once before, a Captain Francis Pope(3). Pope was attached to the Quartermasters for this expedition, running motor supply convoys from Arizona down to the Namiquipa forward base. (Namiquipa was the temporary supply depot for the cavalry chasing Pancho Villa.) After making some brief re-introductions and an equally short bit of niceties, Captain Spalding gets to the point: “Lieutenant, your platoon is to undertake a different route on your patrol tomorrow. You get the nod, as you’ve patrolled out to the very area that Captain Pope needs to be reconnoitered.

On that comment, Pope unrolls a hand-drawn sketch map of the rough track the convoys have been running on between El Valle and Namiquipa, forty miles to the south. Pope circles a small area several miles to the south and east of El Valle, which Rommel remembers is rough ground with much smaller scrub crowned canyons opening up close to the trail (calling it a road would be too generous) “About an hour ago, I was informed by one of my Sergeants, running the empty return trip of a forage mule train going through that stretch that he saw furtive movement and a flash of light come from the foot of a canyon – right here, near El Tintero (Pope taps the map). That got their attention, as there’s no habitation there, nor have they seen herds of any kind. This fellow is nobody’s fool and no nervous nelly either, so I’m quite sure there was someone out there watching the convoy. I started with your Colonel Allaire and he has directed Captain Spalding here to dispatch a patrol to check out that area. By now, whoever was there this morning, may - or may not be there. Still, we need to know more about who was watching and what they’re up to. The concern is that area is just about the most perfect spot to set an ambush in this part of our route. Those narrow canyons could hide a good size company of Villa’s boys, and the openings are just a few hundred yards from the trail on either side. They could be on top of us before we even pulled our few rifles out.” Pope paused, and then continued “I’ve come to the Infantry for help, as all our cavalry regiments are scattered 50 mile or more to the south right now. The convoys are critical to supplying those operations, so we dare not take chances with their potential disruption. There’s a motor convoy carrying food, clothing, horse tack, ammunition, some guns, and whatnot, heading south through there day after tomorrow, so…, timeliness is paramount”

At this point, Captain Spalding jumps back in “I must admit, I’m very skeptical of finding anything useful, but we will honor Captain Pope’s request. His point about the importance of the convoys is valid. Draw three days supplies for your platoon, and head down that way, checking out that particular canyon, and its immediate neighbors. Don’t get carried away, as you could be down there for a month, IF you were to check all of those canyons”, giving Captain Pope what is commonly known as the fish-eye…. “Any questions, Lieutenant?”

Rommel quickly scanned the map, before responding. “I gather that we don’t have any reliable information that Villa has forces in the area? Also, is the purpose of the patrol just to identify footprints, horse tracks, that sort of thing? Or, are we to pursue any evidence we come across and apprehend anyone we meet, or bring them to a fight? I can imagine that if there were some scouts still present, they’d scoot off as soon as we approach from the road… that is… if we outnumber them….”

At that last line Captain Spalding harrumphs, but Captain Pope chimes back in, “Good point. I’m a cavalryman by trade, just temporarily attached to the Quartermaster’s to make absolutely sure that our cavalry regiments get sufficient supplies. My decided preference is to capture those scouts, and I believe we are being scouted. We need to find out what their purpose really is. I agree that marching down the road and up to the canyon mouth where they were seen isn’t likely to gain us much. I’d rather you err on the side of caution, so that we know what we’re facing if anything. As I said earlier, that stretch has several jim-dandy potential ambush spots.

Captain Spalding, rubbing his forehead, “I think you may be getting ahead of yourself here. Let’s just see if there’s anything out there first”.

Captain Pope, “We need to be sure before this next convoy goes through. There was no purpose to attack empty northbound wagons. There would be little to gain. However, a southbound truck convoy would be a nice fat target. If we don’t get this patrol done quickly and well, then I’ll ask Colonel Allaire(4) to have one of your infantry companies to secure the area. This may seem a dubious errand to you, but it’s not worth the risk…”

Rommel comes back with a thought, “Maybe the quick answer is for me and one of our Apache scouts to ride out that way and do a fast look-see?”

“No”. Captain Spalding sighs, and says “Take that pack of hooligans of yours and see what, if anything is, or was…., out there..” Rommel bites his lip at the description of his platoon as a pack of hooligans. Rommel sees them as rough, tough, and disciplined soldiers in the field, and only a bit …boisterous when not on duty.

Rommel lets the hooligan remark slide, but he asks, “May I request a section of the automatic rifle folks join us? It would be a good field exercise for them. We will already have a couple of mules for our supplies, so their mules wouldn’t be a problem.”

“I don’t see the virtue in that action, so no….” from Captain Spalding with a set note in his voice.

Looking again at Pope’s map and recalling their earlier road march out that direction, Rommel queries, “If we’re to take some prisoners, I’d suggest we jump off the road a bit north of where your men saw the snoopers and trek up one of the side canyons and take them from behind.”

Captain Pope makes an extraordinary offer, “I tell you what… I’ve got a half-dozen empty trucks that we have here that I held up to do routine maintenance on. – changing oil and such. In order to speed up this process, I’ll authorize the use of those trucks, they’re the Jeffery Quads, to ferry your platoon to whatever jumping off point you wish. That will save several hours of hoofing down the road and your boys will arrive fresh as a daisy and ready for some hard work. When can you shove off? If we can drop you off just before dawn to the North, no one may be the wiser as to what you are up to. That terrain is such a convoluted anthill that I’m not sure how far sound carries”.

Captain Spalding was so stunned by the offer of using trucks to haul troops, he just opened and closed his mouth several times. Rommel thought for a second that the Captain resembled a sunfish…

Before Spalding could respond, Rommel burst in with “We can be ready to load by 0300”

Pope replied, “Well, make it 0330, but no later. The only question I have at this point, is how you let us know what you’ve learned?”

“Well, if there’s nobody there when we come through the canyon, then we’ll hoof it back to El Valle and either we get back before the convoy comes through, or we meet it in route. If there’s any shooting involved, I’d bet that noise will carry.” Rommel replies with a smile.

A quick nod from Pope on his way out of the tent. “I’ll also send out a motorcycle dispatcher by 1300 tomorrow to see if you have something to report. If you are on your way back, he can carry your report to Captain Spalding and me. If the dispatch rider doesn’t encounter you by then, well, that’s a problem. I think we’re done here for now. I will see you at 0330”

(1) 2nd Lieutenant Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel. Born in 1891 in Lafayette, Indiana​
(2) Captain Waldo Spalding – fictitious​
(3) Captain Francis Pope – Historical in the role as described​
(4) Colonel William Allaire – Historical as the commander of the 16th Infantry Regiment at that time.​
 
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0330 April 13 - El Valle

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US Army Soldiers - Pancho Villa Expedition
(Photo from the Vermontjournal.com)

0330 April 13 - El Valle

“All present and ready to go, sir” That coming from Sergeant Carlos Montoya. Montoya was the platoon Sergeant from Southwestern Colorado. He was no taller than Rommel, but half again as much wider and most of the width was through his chest and neck, hence the nickname of “Stumpy”. Only his good friends dared call him that name when off-duty. He was a veteran of the fighting in Cuba and the Philippines. In spite of his Hispanic sounding name, Montoya’s Spanish was as hit-or-miss as Rommel’s German. (Rommel’s indifferent acquisition of skills in German and Swabian were a source of considerable annoyance to his immigrant father – an educator)

“We’re going to be jammed onto the trucks with our men and gear. (Counting himself, there were thirty-eight men in his platoon). No room for the pack mules, and they’ll never keep up, so we’ll need to divvy up the supplies across the platoon.” Rommel could hear some muffled grumbling on that score, but the whole platoon was genuinely excited over the prospect of the ride on the trucks. Many had never been onboard a motor vehicle, so this was a bit of an adventure for them, and the Army chiefs were notoriously opposed to transporting foot soldiers via truck. “Captain Pope and myself will be on the first truck; Sergeants Montoya, Leclerc and Corporals Bryggen, Calloway, and PFC Tikkanen in charge on the other vehicles. We don’t know what we will encounter, so,….No talking, NO Noise once we get rolling. The objective is to get to our unloading polnt in SILENCE, and SILENCE there after till I tell you otherwise! Anybody who makes noise will be shoveling mule shit in the Quarter Master stables till we go home. Ve….Understood!” Rommel just caught himself in time by saying “Understood” rather than the familiar “Verstehen” of his youth back in Indiana. Back then, his father would give him an instruction and end the one-sided conversation with a statement phrased in the form a question – but it was never a question… That was one of the few nuggets of German that was imprinted in Rommel’s brain..

Rommel spoke privately to his Sergeants and Corporals. “As I said, I don’t know what we’re going to see out there. There may not be a soul out there, but we will treat this as seriously as Captain Pope sees it.”

Rommel himself had been talked into carrying a rifle for this mission, at the steadfast urging of his sergeants, both of whom had seen combat in Cuba or the Philippines. “IF we do run into some shooting, that little pop-gun in yer holster won’t do you no damn good at a distance. You know?…”. That comment from normally stoic Sergeant Montoya. Picking up on that thought, Sergeant Hercules Leclerc chimed in with his cheerful thought, “Yup. What Montoya said, an’ if’n there are Villista’s out there, they’re likely to plug the pistol waving officer first thing. Best carry the rifle, even if’n you don’t use it. Why they shoulda given all the field officers pump shotguns back when we were in the Philippines. That’d been a damn sight more useful in the jungle than them damn revolvers.” Corporals Bryggen and Calloway nodded in agreement.

Jeffery_Quad_truck_with_U.S._Marines.jpg

An example of a Jeffery-Nash Quad (BTW, those are US Marines on board)
(Photo from Wikipedia)
 
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0505 April 13 - The trek up and across

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0505 – April 13 - Northeast of El Tintero

There was still some frost in patches on the ground and they could see snow in north-facing hollows. This was high country on the edge of the Sierra Madres. Even the canyon floor here was a mile above sea level and the surrounding hills and mesas were up to two thousand feet higher.

Rommel’s men got off the trucks in a quiet and orderly fashion, got their gear sorted quickly in the growing dawn, and then they moved surprisingly silently off the track into the scrubland and up into the mouth of the nearby side canyon. This particular canyon was a mile or so north of the one suspected of harboring Villista scouts.

In a dip close to the road, the men formed up into four loose lines by squad, so the Sergeants’ could give them one final check. Everyone had their standard field pack, along with their M1903 Springfield, a full complement of ammunition (ten belt pouches, holding twenty clips of five rounds each), some food, a blanket, and two canteens, (hopefully) full of water.

“Adios, and Vaya con Dios Lieutenant, as they say down here… I expect to see you later today back in camp” in sotto voce from Captain Pope, as he got back onto one of the now-empty trucks and headed back to El Valle.

“Let’s get moving up-canyon. It looks like it starts roughly south by southeast and then hooks around to the south. As best we can, keep in extended order till we’re about a mile and a half in, by what I can judge from here. Then we’ll cut over the ridge top and head south.” This command was quietly passed from Rommel to his Sergeants and then down the line.

The slope was steep, but even. It didn’t require mountaineering skills, but rather some good fitness and endurance. Rommel was quite proud of the efforts his men made at maintaining quiet, while on the steady ascent up the canyon. He did hear a few muffled curses as his foot soldiers occasionally bumped into thorny scrub, or stumbled on loose rock. By and large, they maintained silence. He also considered that the mules, as handy as they could have been, would also not have been very silent and may well have given away their location. Even though the sun was up now, shining over the high ground to their East, it was still cold.

0745 – April 13 – Near the canyon Northeast of El Tintero

The trek up the canyon was only about the mile and half Rommel estimated, but it had been arduous, climbing about 1000 feet in altitude. They reached a decision point where Rommel took out his compass again, referred to the incomplete map again, and then took a sighting on a path across the saddle ridge between two peaks. This course would run roughly to the southwest, with a pair of good landmarks to guide on. That path should bring them in several hundred yards behind and above their goal.

Sergeant Montoya whispered to PFC Milo Tedeschi, “This mountain goat work ought to make you feel right at home” (Tedeschi was from the foothills near Yosemite NP). Between breaths, Tedeschi just smiled and nodded. It was freezing cold at this time of the morning and there were patches of snow banks to work around or through. It was good to keep moving.

They got to the saddle between peaks and Rommel could see that they needed to sidle across another short stretch of side-hill first, not much more than 500 yards, to get to where he expected to be. Time for a quick rest on the reverse slope of the canyon rim, before sweeping down the target canyon.
 
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This is a very interesting topic I hadn't considered. So far you've done a great job writing it! Especially the conflict between Rommel's german roots and his American upbringing. I'm keen to see Rommel earn his stripes in the deserts of Mexico. Do you think you will take this timeline past the end of the Villa Expedition? I'm also excited to see Rommel in the trenches of France, and the conflict he will experience fighting against his family's homeland. Watched.
 

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This is a very interesting topic I hadn't considered. So far you've done a great job writing it! Especially the conflict between Rommel's german roots and his American upbringing. I'm keen to see Rommel earn his stripes in the deserts of Mexico. Do you think you will take this timeline past the end of the Villa Expedition? I'm also excited to see Rommel in the trenches of France, and the conflict he will experience fighting against his family's homeland. Watched.
At this point, I'm only thinking to the end of the Expedition. In part, I'd need to do a lot more homework on what's a plausible path for Rommel in the AEF. By comparison, his German record in WW1 was very impressive, with his customary impetuousness and his "Napoleonic" good luck showing through. (I know he's a good (officer), but is he lucky?

The US Army jumped in size quite drastically, starting later in 1916 and into 1917. They had a tremendous need for capable leaders on the battlefield, but also for training, logistics, other staff work, etc. i.e. Patton first continued his role as a Pershing ADC, before shifting over to the fledging armored force, at the recommendation of Gen'l Fox Conner, if I recall correctly. The 16th Infantry Regiment, that Rommel is a member ITTL, was also a foundation unit in the 1st Division of the AEF. The 1st Division also included George C. Marshall and Leslie McNair in staff positions, so you can see there are several wildcards to factor in.

*edit* I'm forgetting my manners.... Thank you! I am glad you're enjoying the tale. As I noted in the intro, I've been mulling this idea over for several years and have knocked around several premises, before writing this version.
 
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Great story so far! However every time I read “Captain Spalding”, I couldn’t help but think of this (sorry;) )

ric350
 

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Great story so far! However every time I read “Captain Spalding”, I couldn’t help but think of this (sorry;) )

ric350
Oh, yeah.... XD That thought crossed my mind a few times too. I'm okay with that too, as I hoped readers won't take Spalding too seriously. I think of him as one of those officers who got there as much by seniority than ability.
 
0830 April 13 - Canyon rim

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0830 – April 13 – On the canyon rim East of El Tintero

Sergeant Montoya, PFC Tedeschi, and Lt. Rommel carefully crossed over the saddle for a quick reconnoiter and scanned the canyon below for signs of activity. The upper canyon wall dropped off sharply for the first 50 yards, before the slope flattened some, and then it dropped off steadily again towards the West and what passed for the road about a mile distant. All three were only bit surprised to see a half dozen armed riders moving from East to West along the canyon floor, a couple of hundred yards away.

“I’ll be damned. I kinda thought we were chasing ghosts” This whisper from Montoya, half to himself, half to the Lieutenant.

Rommel, shading the top of the lens of his binoculars with the map (to protect against a tell-tale glare of sunlight off the lenses), scanned back up canyon to the East. He could see off about a thousand yards to the East near the head of the canyon where there was another high saddle pass between peaks that a much larger group of horsemen were coming along at a slow jog trot on the same track as the outriders. At that distance, it was hard to pick out details, but the clothing was not uniform, the riders were in loose clumps as space on the path would allow. They were moving purposefully down slope towards the mouth of the canyon and the road. The apparent tail end of the group now seemed to clear the ridge. As they got closer, the Yanqui’s were able to pick out some details on the front riders of the main body. They appeared well armed, with ammunition bandoliers crossing their chests.

“Jesus…. How many do you estimate Sarge?”

“A hunnert and fifty, maybe?” from Montoya.

“That’d be my guess. They’re definitely Villistas not Constitutionalists”. From Rommel.

Rommel blew out a slow breath while he considered their next move. Thinking aloud, but softly, he opined, “We’ve got the high ground, and it will be damn hard for them to storm us here where it’s so steep. We’ve got the element of surprise… so far. Sarge, we’ve got to take those fellows on. They’re a threat to any of our supply operations. Let’s quick get our men in place and we’ll serve up a “Springfield breakfast surprise”.”

(0830 situation map - contour source map from mapcarta.com)
0830 Map.gif

0835 – April 13 – Near the canyon rim East of El Tintero

Back down the reverse slope, Rommel quickly gathered his Sergeant and Corporals. “Here’s the plan. We’ve got a Villista force coming down the canyon. We’ve got a real solid position here. High ground, steep slope that will keep them at arms-length, and we’ve got surprise. We’re going to ambush them from up on the canyon rim. Bryggen, you and your boys are on the left. Montoya in the center, Leclerc on the right. Calloway, you keep your boys in reserve and watch our back. I don’t think there’s any likelihood of someone coming around that big peak to the Northeast, but just the same….. Calloway, also be prepared, if necessary, to work around the back of this knob to the West and down to the shelf below. The rim wall of the canyon there hooks around to the south. We may need to use that rim to enfilade them. There’s a lot more of them than us, so make your shots count. Open fire only on my signal. I hope we can split that main group in two and then they scatter, but we will give them a hot time in any case. Questions?...... Go.“
 
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0840 April 13 - Canyon rim - opening shots

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0840 – April 13 – On the canyon rim East of El Tintero

Everybody scrabbled and then crawled into position on the rim of the canyon. Rommel removed his Montana hat and peered over the rim and now he could see the bulk of the Villista troop just starting to pass directly below. Thinking to himself, “give them about ninety seconds more and it would be time to open fire.” He could now see that the men at the front were better armed than those in the middle, and the rear guard was armed somewhere in-between. The fellows in front appeared to mostly have Mauser cavalry carbines and maybe a few M1903’s of their own. The middle group had a variety of long arms - lots of lever-action guns, and the fellows at the rear had some type of bolt-action rifles. The riders up front were likely the most skilled soldiers, so maybe we need to shoot at them sooner than he had first thought. Rommel took aim at a tall, bulky rider in the front group, figuring that he was a bigger target….. Rommel was only an adequate marksman himself and he’d never shot at another person… yet…. Deep breath, slow exhale, squeeze and Crack! The horse and rider tumbled to the ground. The rider got himself untangled from the fallen animal and then he lurched again and went down to stay. Within a second of Rommel’s shot, most of the rest of his men had opened fire. The sound was a deafening succession of great, deep crackles, that reminded him of the unholy sound he’d once heard when standing next to a big racing motorcycle.

Rommel quickly re-gathered his thoughts and first scanned the pack down below, where chaos had taken over. There were quite a number of men and horses, including some pack animals down on the ground, some moving, some not. Other riders, still in the saddle, were wildly looking around to identify where the shooting was coming from. He thought to himself “The sound must echo off the canyon walls down there”. Other riders were scattering to find what little cover they could on the valley floor. The leading group had been hit hardest but were re-grouping quickly, the middle group was a swirling mass of confusion.

Rommel slid back from the edge of the rim so he could raise up a bit and see what his own men were doing. Most were taking advantage of hard rock rim, along with the little cover provided by the sparse scrub growing in the fissures at the edge. At least it was something. Almost all of his men were firing carefully. A couple had just hunkered in with heads down, one of them getting a poke of encouragement from his neighbor.


0841(or so…) – April 13 – On the canyon rim East of El Tintero

Now the bulk of the survivors of the first few shots by Rommel’s platoon had identified where their attackers were shooting from, and Rommel could hear the zip of bullets flying overhead. Not very accurate shooting so far, but they seemed to be getting better. Rommel heard Leclerc bark “Git down you damn fool” as one of his men had jumped up and started to bolt towards the rear. He only got half way up and turned before a Villista bullet hit the rising man in the back of his head and he tumbled over.

Rommel rolled over and turned and shouted to Cpl Calloway about thirty yards back, “Make sure no one runs. Just…. get ‘em back on line if they try.” Calloway nods.

Scooting on all fours back up to the rim himself, Rommel could see that his men’s shooting had been fairly effective, especially considering the range (300-400 yards) and that the Villistas below were moving in several directions at once. Some had taken what limited cover that a dead horse could provide, some found a stray boulder to crouch behind, or the shallow dry streambed and they were pouring fire at the canyon rim. They were in a bad place, but were disciplined soldados when under fire.

Rommel again scooted back and ran over to Calloway. “The shooting’s getting a bit hot up here. Take your squad and work around the knob over there and get down on that rim wall where it hooks over around to the south. That enfilade fire will give them something else to worry about and give us some more room. Go!”

0840 situation map ( contour map sourced from mapcarta.com)
0840 map.gif


0845(or so…) – April 13 – On the canyon rim East of El Tintero

Calloway and his men took off at a lope along the steep sidehill to the West. It was steep and a mix of bare country rock and loose shale, so they needed to be careful of their footing. They only needed to move about 500 yards, so they should be in position shortly.
 
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0846 April 13 - Canyon rim

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0846(or so…) – April 13 – On the canyon rim East of El Tintero

Rommel first scrambled on all fours back towards the rim, then he crawled the final few yards, to check in with Cpl Bryggen. “How goes it here?”

“Pfffft. Those boyss know dere stuff. We’ve hit ‘em hard and hurt ‘em bad, but dere rallying pretty good. We’re shooting careful too, so I think our ammunition is holding jus’ fine, so far.” Cpl Bryggen finished that observation with a wink and a slight smile. It was the longest speech he’d ever heard from Bryggen. PFC Tikkanen had shifted his spot down the line to be closer to Pvt Willis, who had been one of the fellows earlier with his head down. Willis was at least firing his rifle now.

Crawl back, scrabbling to the right, crawl ahead to check with Sgt Montoya.

“We’re doing damn good, but it would help if we could get some fire coming at them from the West.” Observed Montoya

“I sent Calloway over that a way a couple of minutes ago” replied Rommel

“Good! That will help.”

“A couple of my boys have some slight wounds, but nothing serious. I think they’re mostly rock chips or bullet pieces hitting the rocks. This is good spot, but kinda narrow. We can’t shift positions easily.”

Crawl back a few yards, scrabble over further to the West towards Leclerc. He had to work around Pvt Dimmington’s body. There was a lot of blood and matter everywhere, so the Lieutenant had to concentrate hard on the business at hand. “How goes it?” to Leclerc

“Other than Dimmington panicking and getting hisself kilt, I’d say we’re doing well enough. Those fellows at the head of the column below are pinging away at….. Say! There’s a small bunch of the Mesican’s that are working along a narrow ledge right below us here. I bet they’re trying to get around our flank. How’d they get there!?!?”

Rommel took a chance and quickly leaned over the rim for a lightning quick peek to see what Leclerc was referring to. There were indeed a group of six soldados working along the base of the canyon rock wall about fifty yards below. If they indeed got around Rommel’s flank before Calloway got to his spot, that could be trouble.

“Good eyes, Sarge! Calloway’s squad is headed that way and should be there soon. I’d best go myself to warn them to expect company. Good luck”

“I think you’ll need good luck more than me.” said Leclerc, mostly to himself.

There wasn’t time to loop around the backside of the hill, as he had Calloway do. Rommel would have to trust to his luck and he half ran, half-three point scrambled across the steep front face of the hill, hoping to alert Calloway to the surprise by the soldados headed his way. The slope was steep enough where if you tumbled, you’d be on the canyon floor in a bloody pulp. Rommel’s attention was disrupted by his angry self-acknowledgement of a key attack avenue he had missed – his own version of Anopaea Pass (the backdoor of Thermopylae). In that distracted moment, he stumbled and slid downslope about fifteen feet before regaining his footing. Napoleon’s luck had come to his rescue just in time as it turned out, as several bullets pinged off the rock face where he had just been seconds before. His knees and the heel of his right hand were cut and bloodied from his slide, and his rifle was slithering away down the slope. “You stupid Muggeseggele!!!” (to use a favorite Swabian imprecation of his father’s) He couldn’t waste any more time for self-recrimination, so he quickly accelerated forward, continuing his transit. He still had his “little pop-gun pistol” in its holster, so there was that….
 
0910 April 13 - Canyon rim - right flank

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Donor
0910(or so…) – April 13 – in the canyon East of El Tintero

0910 situation map
- contour source map from mapcarta.com
0910 Map.gif

Calloway was about ten yards in front of the others. His longer legs had given him that seeming advantage. He started to clear the shoulder of the hill on his way to the East facing rim of the canyon wall, when two Villista slugs slammed into his left side. He dropped like a stone.

PFC Piet Jacobus, following behind Calloway, stopped abruptly. He dropped to one knee and fired at the first Villista coming around the shoulder of the hill and dropped him as quickly as Calloway had gone down.

Both small groups scattered out and started blazing away at each other.

Rommel dropped in on the Villistas from a few feet above on their right. The next few seconds played out like something out of Zane Grey, with Rommel “spraying lead” from his Colt, wounding or killing four of the five remaining soldados. Pvt Adams got the last one as he turned to shoot at the Lieutenant. Just like the real Gunfight at the OK Corral, this entire action started and finished in less than 15 seconds.

Pvt Worsely had taken a grievous chest wound in this short scrap. Rommel too, had been grazed on the outside of his left thigh.

“Jeeesssuss!” PFC Jacobus expelled that eloquent assessment of their situation, along with a couple of deep breaths.

“Jacobus, you’re in charge of the squad now. Have a couple of your boys cover this shelf, so no one else can sneak up on us by this same track. Take the rest of your squad out onto the rim and start enfilading those fellows down below. …….Hold it, Hold it. I think where we are now is as good as it gets.” Rommel limped over to Calloway’s inert form and quickly determined he was indeed dead. He then gimped over to check on Worsely.

Worsely, lying on his side, holding a bloody hand over his middle, just shook his head. “I’m dun fer. No help fer it sir.” Then he expired.
 
Even, if they are in a very advantageous shooting place this has become on an attrition combat and given that the numbers are on the Villa army side, I think that'd be better for them to keep firing to the Villistas while waiting to link with the rest of the US Army.
Of course, that it'd be supposing that the Villistas (thanks to their superior knowledge of the terrain) wouldn't know any alternative path through the mountains and/or that their an small group of enemies wouldn't be able to found a way to attack them for their rear guard...
 

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Even, if they are in a very advantageous shooting place this has become on an attrition combat and given that the numbers are on the Villa army side, I think that'd be better for them to keep firing to the Villistas while waiting to link with the rest of the US Army.
Of course, that it'd be supposing that the Villistas (thanks to their superior knowledge of the terrain) wouldn't know any alternative path through the mountains and/or that their an small group of enemies wouldn't be able to found a way to attack them for their rear guard...

Oh yes, to be sure. The problem for the Villista's is the opposite side of the canyon is very steep as well, so they'd need to turn their backs to the Infantry for quite a distance, in order to get over the ridge. My mental "back story" for their choosing this particular canyon is the hook-around ridge at the mouth of the canyon would keep their movements hidden from the road till the last minute. Unfortunately, those same geographic features now have worked against them.
 

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To take a step back to look on the larger situation, the reasons Villa attacked Columbus seem to vary by historian. Some think he was angry and felt betrayed by the US recognition of Caranza’s Constitutionialist government (which was on shaky ground), so he reacted without thought of consequence. Others see that he hoped the attack on Columbus would stir-the-pot and bring US involvement, destabilizing Caranza further. Still others see a smaller element of pay back against the Ravel’s (local merchants and sometime suppliers of ammunition to Villa). Or, some combination of those causes. Even after a century, it’s hard to tell. Villa was impetuous and had suffered devastating losses the year prior, so….

It does seem that Villa made two tactical mis-calculations with the Columbus raid that cost him badly. First, he apparently was fed inaccurate information on the size and state of readiness of the 13th Cavalry on the outskirts of Columbus (To be fair the US information on Villa was wildly inaccurate as well). The 13th was initially surprised, but rallied quickly and forcefully. The second miscalculation was the immediate military response (starting the same day) and the substantial pursuit by a large force of US regulars, pushed to the limits of endurance and backed with a quickly improving logistical train.

After Columbus, Villa retreated southwards into the western Chihuahua mountains – a stronghold area. He scattered his force – apparently for temporary purposes (they had no permanent base and so depended on foraging from the locals). Unfortunately for him in OTL, he was friendly fire wounded in a successful attack on a small Constitutionalist outpost on March 27. The gunshot would shattered one of his lower leg bones, and there was concern for his life. He left his force in Guerrero just hours before the 7th Cavalry swarmed the village. Villa dropped out of contact with his commanders for a couple of months, while he struggled to recuperate. Meanwhile, the six US Cavalry Regiments divided themselves up to chase the scattered Villistas.

Had Villa not been wounded, or as badly, my speculation is that at some point he has to re-gather his force in Southwestern Chihuahua to attack targets of opportunity, either US or Constitutionalist, in an attempt to remain viable as a revolutionary force.
 
0920 April 13 - Into the canyon

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0920 – April 13 – In the canyon East of El Tintero

Even though the new spot provided less of an enfilade angle than it appeared from above, it was still a good position. It was also a bit lower elevation, but still above the canyon floor by 50 yards or more. Jacobus and the seven others, plus the Lieutenant opened fire, catching the Villistas down below by surprise.

Now the Westernmost of the Villistas, Dorados(6) perhaps, were stuck with even less cover, so they started edging their way back up canyon to the East. With their best soldados being dislodged, the others up canyon began to lose heart and they too started to edge back up the canyon to the East.

Rommel could see that his Sergeants on the rim above recognized the turn of fortune and he could pick out Privates Tedeschi and Tikkanen, his most agile soldiers, and three others scrambling up the spur coming off the big peak to the East of their fighting ground. The Villistas were conducting a spirited fighting retreat. The Corporal’s were to keeping the fire on those retreating Villistas from above to prevent them from regrouping in the safety of the upper canyon.

Rommel judged that the fight was now moving away and potentially out of range of his small squad, “Let’s use that narrow ledge below the bluff face. The ones that the soldados came across on. We’ll keep those fellows across the way under fire for as long as we can. You two in back, keep an eye on those wounded down below. Make sure they aren’t playing possum on us”

(6)The Dorados were Villa’s top soldiers, an honor guard of warriors. Often used as shock troops at the point of attack.


0945 – April 13 – In the canyon East of El Tintero

In Rommel’s limited line-of-sight, the last of the Villistas had crossed back over the saddle pass at the head of the canyon; the same spot where they were first seen, only a little more than an hour ago. It seemed like a much longer span of time. He was exhausted and looking at PFC Jacobus’s squad, they looked just as spent.

Rommel cupped his hands and shouted to his men above on the rim “What… Can…. You… See?”

Montoya stood and leaned out as far as he dared and shouted back, “Looks…. Like…. They’re… Gone…

Bryggen, meanwhile had relayed the question up the ridgeline by slow wig-wag flagging to Tikkanen, using a pair of hats as flags. The boys up top replied in same fashion that they saw no more Villistas either.

The Lieutenant took a short sip of iodine-laced water from his canteen and the thought of the Kipling poem of “Gunga Din” flickered through. Then he quickly did some serious thinking. If the Villistas returned, he’d be running low on both ammunition and water before long, which could easily turn a temporary victory into a disaster. Also, he had been ordered to return with prisoners or information by the end of the day. There was no purpose to his own small force going back by their original track, as he had wounded from both sides and prisoners to deal with down on the canyon floor. Rommel made the calculated decision to bring his men down in staggered waves off the high ground. They’d sort through the mess on the canyon floor below and move off towards the road via the canyon mouth.
 

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I should note that the ridge that the US Infantry had been on is at 2500 meters above sea level (or 8,200 feet). It's mid-April, so it's cold up there and some snow remains in north-facing hollows
 
It's mid-April, so it's cold up there and some snow remains in north-facing hollows
So, in case that would be necessary they could have gotten water from melted snow?

Also, would be possible that the Villistas even if they were forced to withdraw that they might have let behind some men hidden to watch to the American position...
 
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