Skirmish at El Tintero - April 1916


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)


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 (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…

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:
Screenshot 2021-02-12 230144.gif

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 –

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.

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.


An example of a Jeffery-Nash Quad (BTW, those are US Marines on board)
(Photo from Wikipedia)

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.

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
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.“

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
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.

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

0910 situation map - contour source map from
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.

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.

1000 – April 13 – On the canyon floor East of El Tintero

Rommel, along with Jacobus’s squad carefully made their way down to the canyon floor and their first priority was to be sure none of the Villista survivors were going to take potshots at them. Pvt Adams snapped his rifle butt onto his shoulder, ready to fire when he saw a pair of hands tentatively raised from a body lying face-down on the ground. Jacobus shouted in his best halting Spanish “Manos arriba lentamente!” (Hands up slowly!) – Jacobus hoped that was the right thing to say…. To everyone’s surprise, several pairs of hands slowly rose from spots nearby. The original hand raiser slowly stood as well, and Rommel was stunned to see a youth, maybe thirteen or fourteen years old, obviously scared. Some of the others stood then too, and they were of varying ages and conditions. Rommel now said “Por ahi” (over there) and used his pistol to point the upright prisoners over towards an open area by the creek bed, just so they were all in one spot. Still, there were plenty of bodies lying around, some quick, some probably dead. There was also the piteous neighing of badly wounded horses.

“Dickenson and Szymanski, each of you grab one of the Mexican pistols and finish off those wounded animals. Be careful there’s no bushwhackers out there” Off they went and soon there were several sharp pops as Dickenson and Szymanski made their grim rounds.

By now, Montoya and his squad had worked their way down to the canyon floor. Rommel ordered Montoya and three of his men to work their way up to the head of the canyon to be sure that the Villistas were gone. “They still outnumber us three to one. Be sure they haven’t got a rearguard waiting on the reverse slope!”

Meanwhile, the rest of Montoya’s and Jacobus’ men made their way around checking wounded or making sure the dead were really, truly dead. The wounded that could be moved, were brought over by where the first prisoners were gathered and some elementary first aid was done. Some of the wounded were in such bad shape that moving them would kill them anyway, so they were made as comfortable as possible where they were found. Cold-hearted, but no real fix for the problem, under the circumstance.

“Jacobus, take a quick look around and let me know how many Villistas are dead. We’ll need back into a number to give the Captains an idea of how many got away”

Now Leclerc and his squad were down on the floor too. Leclerc was the unofficial armorer and gunsmith of the platoon, so Rommel gave his squad the assignment of quickly collecting all the weapons and ammunition bandoliers, both lying loose on the ground and on the wounded and dead. “We’re not leaving anything behind that can be used against us later.” Leclerc had also made the point of bringing down the bodies of Dimmington, Calloway, and Worsely, carrying them in impromptu slings made from blankets.

Bryggen and his squad were the last off the canyon rim and on to the canyon floor. They had the unenviable task of bringing the bodies of McCowan, and Wickes, who had been killed later in the fight.

There were eight of his men wounded, nine counting himself. Most were fairly superficial, but Corcoran and Nelson were more severe.

“What should we do with these horses, Lieutenant?”, asked Szymanski, as they lead up seven lean animals of the Villa band and four more jogging up behind on their own.

“Perfect. See if you can find a usable pack-saddle or two in this mess and take those two fitter-looking horses for Leclerc’s guns. Put two of our dead up on three others and get the wounded who can still ride, up on the rest. Those that are too bad off to ride or walk, we will need to carry down in blankets. Those able-bodied prisoners can help with that chore. I’m afraid we’ll need to leave the Villista dead where they are. No help for it right now. We need to get a move on.”

Leclerc and his squad had a stack of about fifty rifles and a similar number of pistols. “Christ Lieutenant, if we need to pack this stuff out, we’re gonna be making several trips, sir. I’d say that we break down the pistols and chuck the cylinders over’n that mud hole an’ throw the frames in a scraped-out hole in the crik bed over yonder. Mebbe do the same with some of the older and oddball rifles too. Then smooth some dirt over ‘em. What a goddam olio of equipment…. There’s three old black powder guns, twenty or so Winchester and the like of differ’nt models an’ calibers, three old Krags! would ya believe, an’ sixteen real nice Mesican Army issue Mauser carbines – nice guns there… Oh yeah, eleven 1903’s, including some of our own. One is very beat-up. On second thought, If I may suggest, we could quick break down some of the old-timers and try smashing the actions on the rock over there. That won’t take but a few minutes. We could build a quick fire with some of the creosote bush and mesquite up-canyon and dump some of the oddball ammunition and the wrecked weapons in the fire. O' course, we’d need to get the hell outta the way, quick-like though. We should keep them Mausers and the Springfields and a couple of other prizes. We might need ‘em later…”

“Do that. We need to shake a leg though. We’re exposed down here just as bad as those fellows were” Rommel replied, pointing to the nearby dead soldados. “….Wait, what prizes?”

Leclerc let a wolfish smile spread across his face. “Well, there’s this one” as he pulled an odd-looking pistol from the back belt of his pants. “I’m purty sure this is a Mauser self-loader pistol. It’s stamped with Mesican Army lingo. Eik found that one by that big fellow near the front of the company. He musta’ been an officer to have that weapon. We’ll show you who we mean in a bit. But that ain’t nuthin’. Right at the start of the fight, I saw a big packhorse with what looked to me to be a gun scabbard up’n top. From the distance, I couldn’t tell what it was fer sure, but it had ta’ be important. It took me and Posey several shots, but we finally dropped that horse an’ he rolled over the edge of the crik bank with his feet in the air. We also dropped another pack horse that was his sidekick. Weeelllll, when we finally got down here and were policing the canyon floor, the first thing we did was to roll that first pack horse over and lo an’ behold that scabbard contained a real honest to god automatic machine rifle! Once agin’ stamped with Mesican Army markings. I’m dead sure it’s a Madsen. The other packhorse was carrying six trays loaded with ammunition and other para’nalia for the gun. Christ, if they’d gotten that gun set up, they coulda drummed a real paradiddle on our heads. You can see by the number of bodies around that pack horse, that they sure tried to get ta’ that gun. Now,…. the shoes wrong-footed ag’inst them. IF’n Villa’s boys come back over the ridge, we can give ‘em some hellfire an’ damnation!”

“Do you have any idea how to make that thing work? ….Nevermind, Of course you will figure it out. Get your men going on the destruction work, and we’ll start down the canyon. Don’t take too long! Ten minutes, no more.”

“Bryggen, get a couple of your men to untangle the pack saddles from those dead horses and put ‘em on these two fit-looking animals. Lash as many of the captured guns and bandoliers on them as you can. We’ll need to carry the others. Leave Leclerc’s machine rifle and magazines up on top.”

Jacobus came back with a count of twenty-three Villista bodies on the canyon floor. Rommel had counted eighteen wounded and nine able-bodied prisoners. So maybe one hundred, give-or-take, that got back over the pass? That would still be a substantial force to run to ground.

1020 – April 13 – On the canyon floor East of El Tintero

They all turned as they heard several sharp cracks from rifles near the head of the canyon. Pvt Hicks had come back down off the top of the pass to wig-wag with his hat and bandana “attack coming”.

“Damn!..... Get the prisoners and our wounded into the creek bed. Our own wounded can guard them. That’s the best we can do. Shoot any of them who tries to bolt”

“Leclerc, get your automatic rifle set up. Everyone spread out in extended order, Find whatever cover you can.”

Looking back up the canyon, Rommel could see Montoya, Hicks, and O’Rourke working their way back down the slope as quickly as they could manage, by leapfrogging of two covering the third in motion. No sign of Giertich, or the Villistas though.

Rommel took a quick scan around to see if there was a better disposition for his own force, but there probably wasn’t enough time now to regain the heights quickly. The canyon floor was just as rounded and with as limited of cover as when his boys ambushed the Mexicans’. There was just a bit of a step down in the canyon floor to the west which would provide a bit of cover for half his men against an attack from the east. The only other geography working in their favor right now, was that the Villistas couldn’t spread out to take advantage of their superior numbers. Several of his soldiers were frantically digging shallow fox holes, but not enough time to really make them useful. He’d been too hasty in bringing his platoon down to the canyon floor, but nothing to be done for that now.

Montoya was only about one-hundred and fifty yards away now, and the three turned and just started sprinting for their compatriots.

Three Villista’s appeared on the top of the pass, clearly scanning the layout below. One turned back and disappeared.

“Hold fire till they’re closer. Bryggen, Tikkanen, target anyone you think is a leader” (those two were the better shots in the Platoon.)

“Leclerc, have you figured out how to fire that machine rifle yet?”

“Yup, purty sure….” From Leclerc. “Say, how ‘bout we get a fire going out front in the crik bed and toss in some of pistol and odd ammunition? That may give ‘em the idea there’s more to us down here. We gotta get rid of it anyways.”

“….No time for that, I’m thinking.”

Montoya, Hicks, and O’Rourke regained the US position. Between gasps for air, Montoya rolls out, “Maybe eighty-five or more were heading this way before we skeddadled. Giertich took one in the chest on the other side of the pass. He’s dead.”

Montoya joined O’Rourke in using one of the dead horses for cover.

Montoya barked at Rommel, “They’re comin’ over the pass now in force. Get down sir! Those fellows can shoot!”

Tedeschi handed Rommel one of the spare Springfields and a belt full of ammunition pouches. He hunkered down behind another of the dead horses, knowing that the 7mm bullets of the Mexican Mausers might well pass right through the horse and into him. At least, there was an illusion of protection.

The Villistas could only spread out ten or fifteen riders wide, without being bunched up, or too far up the steeper part of the slopes. They were still over six hundred yards away up canyon, so Rommel let them come on farther. He was unsure of his own men’s marksmanship. The Army had allowed very little range time from before they crossed the border. Apparently, bullets were too expensive to waste on practice….

Now, they were down to four-hundred yards off. “Open Fire! Fire at will!”

A rippling set of shots from the Springfields, with the staccato chattering of the Madsen tore the air. Men and horse went down in the first rows, and a few riders pressed on, but others, who had been at Celaya where the machine guns of Obregon’s troops had cut them down like wheat, held up. There was no future in this fight. Time to live to fight another day, so the brief attack ended and the survivors headed back up the slope.

Rommel called “Cease firing” when the Villistas got to about six hundred yards off.

“Montoya, Jacobus, find out what we have left for ammunition. Everyone should still have a couple of dozen rounds left. Distribute more from Leclerc’s cache, if needed.”

Speaking to Leclerc about the Madsen, “You weren’t joking one bit about Hellfire and Damnation with that thing!”

Leclerc blinked a few times and exhaled slowly. ”Well…. That was SOMETHING, wasn’t it? Just a few seconds of firing… I can’t even begin ta imagine what those boys in Flanders go through when there’s hunnerds of machine guns laying down a hailstorm of bullets…”

A quick look with the binoculars provided an estimate of fifteen to eighteen more Villistas on the ground, along with a number of horses but that was as close as he was going to check.

“Get our wounded, the prisoners ready to move, and our other gear packed up right now. I doubt they come back again today, but I don’t want to give them time to loop around through another canyon to hit us on the flank.”

Thinking to himself, “They have to low on ammunition too”

Leclerc and his men got on with their earlier task of destroying the incompatible ammunition and some of the earlier Mexican guns. They also finish pack-tying the Mausers and spare Springfields and bandoliers onto the two pack horses. Leclerc rigged up an impromptu sling for the Madsen from horse reins and he carried the gun and a spare magazine himself. It was heavy, but manageable. The other magazines, including the now empty one and the partial were divided up among his squad.

As they formed up to leave the canyon, Rommel had Montoya’s squad step off to the new front (West), and Bryggen’s squad as rear guard. Jacobus and Leclerc on the flanks, with the wounded and prisoners in the middle. They had left the second attack wounded for the Villista’s to deal with their own.

As they were leaving, Private Eik showed Rommel the body of the soldado where he had found the Mauser pistol and Leclerc’s guess that that man was an officer. “Judging by his clothes and the fancy tack on his horse, you’re probably right about him being an officer. Put his body up on that big horse, along with Dimmington’s body. We’ll see if anybody back at El Valle recognizes him”

About ten minutes later, Leclerc and his men came slowly jogging down the trail to catch up with the rest of the column. Rommel could hear a series of pops from roasting ammunition (and odd rifles) and see a dirty column of smoke arising from Leclerc’s bonfire. “Ennnh, I’ve got my doubts about how well that’s gonna work, but it was the best we could do…:

1020 Situation map - source contour map from
(please forgive my terrible cartography.....)
1020 Map.gif

1245 – Near the canyon mouth – East of El Tintero

Rommel’s motley column was on the move finally, and coming out of the canyon into the broader valley. In a day full of surprises, the Brrrrappp engine sound from a pair of dispatch motorcycles with sidecars came quartering off the road and weaving through the low scrub towards him, caught him with his mouth open. Even a quarter mile away, he could see the occupant of the sidecar on the first motorcycle was Captain Pope.

Only a couple of minutes passed and Pope hopped out and seeing Rommel’s quizzical look, Pope said “I got antsy to know what you were up to. So earlier today, I bent the ear of your Colonel Allaire to have him authorize the use of these wonderful machines. You really ought to try this. Quite an experience.”

“I know… I own one myself and I’ve rebuilt a couple of motorcycles. I’ll tell you about that sometime.” Rommel said with a hint of a smile. “We’ve had our hands more than full this morning.”

Pope looked at the mix of dirty, obviously tired US Infantry and the ragged collection of wounded and prisoners, most of which looked ready to fold up. “I see that! You ran into far more trouble than I thought you would. Tell me your short version of events, and I’ll send a messenger back for some help” Pope quickly strode back over to the sidecar and pulled out a dispatch bag and a notebook and pencil from within. Pope looked back to Rommel, “How many Villistas would you estimate were up there? So that the Colonel has a handle on what to expect.” Pope’s eyes widen a bit when Rommel gave him the estimate of the number coming down the canyon and the greatly reduced number heading back up. He quickly scribbled a note and handed it to the rifle-toting Corporal in the second motorcycle’s sidecar. “Take this note directly to Colonel Allaire. Pronto! Don’t spare the throttle. Return as soon as you can, so I know what action is being taken. I expect to see you in a couple of hours.”

Then Pope returned to Rommel, “In the note to your Colonel, I made a strong request for him to dispatch at least another platoon, using the same trucks as this morning. I also asked him to relay to my Quartermaster troop that they need to round up whatever other vehicles we can to get down here right away. Your men look about done in. Also, any idea on what the Mexicans were doing?”

Rommel replied: “I don’t know their plan. To be honest, I haven’t tried to get information from the prisoners yet”

“Well, by the sound of things, you shot them up quite badly, and they’re also likely short of ammunition themselves, and probably not coming back to this spot again, but that doesn’t solve the convoy problem. I’ll need to get a message through to our base at Namiquipa that we’ll need to hold the convoy in El Valle for a day, till we can protect the route more thoroughly, and probably get a cavalry troop to scour the countryside where the Villa troop headed. I’ll have hell to pay for holding up the convoy, but it’s gotta be done.”

“To state the very obvious thought, you and your men did a hell of a job in waylaying that bunch. They could have devastated our convoy had you not acted. Well done!”

1535 – April 13 - On the road back towards El Valle

Once again, they heard the welcome Brraaappp of the motorcycle coming towards them. It shortly pulled up, the dusty rider saluted, and handed a note to Captain Pope. Pope scanned the note, snorted, and said, “Just before my dispatch rider returned to camp, Colonel Allaire was informed that one of our aviators had spied a large body of mounted men on the east side of this range – a few days ago. Had-we-but-known before you left camp this morning…. Apparently, the plane couldn’t get over the mountain range, so they had to fly the long way around and then ran out of fuel, leading to more delay….”

“Also, in response to that new piece of tactical information, Colonel Allaire is immediately dispatching the rest of your company, with a Lieutenant Orton(5) leading the first wave in the Quartermaster trucks and Captain Spalding with the balance of the company on foot. They should expect to see the trucks by 1800 hours, if not before. The rest of the Regiment is also on a greater state of preparedness.”

That was good, as darkness fell after seven this time of year. The temperature would drop quickly, which would not help the wounded any.

Pope quizzed the dispatch rider if he had sufficient fuel to go on to Namiquipa with the news of the skirmish and the planned delay of the convoy to both the Cavalry and Quartermaster officer in charge. The driver replied he should be all set for that trip (he carried a spare fuel can lashed to the back of the sidecar). Off he tore on his appointed mission.

(5)Lt William Orton – OTL member of the 16th Infantry Regt.

1735 – April 13 - On the road back towards El Valle

Now the weary band, which hadn’t gotten very far in five hours of trudging, heard the encouraging sound of approaching trucks.

In a few minutes, the first truck, a Jeffrey Quad pulled up and Lieutenant Orton bounded out of the front seat over to Captain Pope and after the military formalities, he turned to Rommel and said, “You look like hell, Erwin”

“Good to see you too, Bill”

Soon, the other trucks pulled up and unloaded Orton’s platoon. There were three other Dodge automobiles and an FWD that came as well. Apparently, that was all that could be scraped up on short notice.

The US wounded, (and Villista wounded, under guard) were loaded onto four of the trucks. Then Rommel and the rest of his able body men clambered up onto the back of the remaining trucks and the autos. Leclerc’s booty of the Mauser and Springfield rifles, the Madsen, along with a surprisingly good supply of 7mm ammunition was going back to El Valle. The able-bodied prisoners (still under guard) were also loaded up.

Pope chose to remain behind (along with the second motorcycle and the Mexican horses) and satisfy himself that Lieutenant Orton and Captain Spalding followed the plan.

0730 – April 14 – El Valle Infirmary

With Captain Spalding still out on the road near El Tintero, Colonel Allaire, the commander of the 16th Infantry Regiment, made a point of visiting his men in the infirmary. Corcoran and Nelson had been pulled through their wounds, but Corcoran’s days as a soldier were finished. He would need to have a medical discharge once he mended up enough to make the trip back to Arizona. Nelson would be laid up for some weeks. The wounds on Rommel’s other men were easily enough treated, but the Surgeon wanted all of those fellows to remain under medical watch for at least a day or two, to make sure no sepsis developed. Rommel’s badly scraped-up knees and right hand were a nuisance. His left thigh still burned from where the bullet creased it, a hands-breadth above his knee. He was still puzzled by the several cuts scattered across his face. He had no idea when and where he acquired those wounds.

He gave Colonel Allaire a lengthy verbal accounting of their actions yesterday, including what he saw as his own mistakes, and promised he’d complete a written report later in the day. Rommel admired the tough and capable Allaire and wanted to be sure he made his report in a full and formal manner. The Colonel seemed quite genuine in his congratulations on Rommel’s impromptu ambush plan and that the casualty list was surprisingly low, under the circumstance. The Colonel even said, “Well done running your first skirmish! My only criticism is that you were too impetuous coming off the ridgeline. By your description, that was a solid defensive position. That move could have gone badly. It would have been better to have dispatched a small scouting party to the pass first. As to the soldiers trying to flank you via the ledge, perfect reconnaissance of a battlefield isn’t always possible and good soldiers find weak spots. Remember that for next time and be prepared. Still, very commendable results in the end. It’s also nice to get one over on the cavalry too. They’ve had all the excitement so far on this expedition.”

“We interrogated most of your prisoners overnight. Some are long service revolutionary soldiers, so we got little information out of them – they’re pretty hard nuts to crack. Some are recent volunteers, and others I gather, are press-gang conscripts, and once we separated them off from the veterans, several were quite… chatty…. Any idea who shot the officer?

Rommel replied to the last question, “Not that I’m aware of. No one claimed that when we put his body on the horse. Is that important, sir?

“Some of your prisoners are claiming that officer’s body you brought back is Pancho Villa himself! That just seems too fantastic to be true, as we believe he’s well west of here. That tale of a Villa sighting has been told many times before, so…. don’t get too excited. A couple of our officers who had seen Villa close-up at that El Paso pow-wow two years ago say that the body certainly looks like Villa, but he could be a doppelganger meant to throw sand in our eyes as to Villa’s real whereabouts. Keep all of this under your hat till we learn more. In fact, I’m only telling you since too many people back on base heard the prisoners’ chatter last night. That information is already common gossip around the camp. You might be the last one in the loop to hear it! ”

“Villa? Seriously!?”

“I’ve sent a coded telegram to General Pershing at his Namiquipa base to inform him of the claim. If push comes to shove, the General and several of his staff have met Villa in person, so they may decide to judge for themselves.” Col Allaire stated

“Yes sir. To be honest, I didn’t press the prisoners – able or wounded – for information. I considered that we had other tasks to do first. Did they allow any idea about what they were doing there? Did they intend an attack on a convoy? Those comments and queries from Rommel.

“As I said earlier, the veterans were tight-lipped and they would be more likely to know the plans. Two of the conscripts thought the idea was to keep their force on the move, hopefully, one step ahead of our cavalry patrols. They thought the group was headed to the canyonlands to the other side of the road, west of El Tintero. The 10th Cavalry is already on the move north, based on the sighting by our aviators a few days ago. They will pursue the survivors of your band. The Buffalo Soldiers may be a couple of days behind, but we’ve boxed in that Villista force.”

“Since we have real enemies sighted and engaged, I’ve dispatched the rest of your battalion out there along the road, along with some of the Signal Corps troops. If your foes re-emerge we will be able to intercept them.”

”One more thing… Your PFC Jacobus gave me quite a colorful account of your actions on the flank when you dropped into the midst of the banditos. He said, and I quote,” The Lieutenant was just like a Fox in the chicken house! The Lieutenant. shot ‘em to pieces!.”. I would like to have seen that myself.”

OTL Villista prisoners taken near Namiquipa in April (photo from Wikipedia)


April 17, 1916 – Maynas Corral, Chihuahua (North of El Tintero)

The depleted remainder of the Villista force, after leaving the battle canyon, backtracked several miles back to the other side of the range of hills. There, they regrouped (partly sorting out new leadership in the depleted band) and treated their wounded, or found care for the more badly injured. They also need to forage for food and water for both men and horses, further delaying their progress. Nothing could be done here to relieve the dwindling ammunition supply though. After a long day of recovery and some replenishment, an alternate plan was formed for their western trek. They couldn’t stay where they were. They headed north for several miles, before turning back west through a different series of canyons and over lower ridges till they came to a spot for another attempt to cross the flat valley that the road ran through. That crossing spot was a wider part of the valley, so less than ideal, but there were some low hillocks that might prevent their being seen… If they could just complete the night-time crossing of a few miles across the valley floor and then disappear into another rugged range of high hills after that..

However, scouts from the 10th Cavalry Regiment under Major Charles Young(7), had spotted the band before they cleared the northern canyon. Trying to dodge between Infantry and the pursuing Cavalry, the Villistas were caught in the open, by the Buffalo Soldiers, near the Maynas Corral. The battle was short and sharp, with the bulk of the Villista force now numbering only seventy-odd, being mostly captured or killed. The rest were scattered. The 10th made use of their fire-power advantage: two Hotchkiss M1909 Benet-Mercie Machine Rifles, along with their other weapons

One of the low-ranking survivors had the notion that the group was heading to an area south of the Campo Verde area, fifty miles to the west.

(7) Major Charles Young – OTL leader of the 10th Cavalry Regiment

I'm going to plug in a few historical notes from time to time for context. Outside of North America, the world has been engaged in the Great War of course. The US has been quite publically trying to stay far away, while happily selling whatever could be sold within the limits set by Congress. "Eat your cake and have it too"

However, by early 1916, the slide towards war is picking up pace.


Apr 18, 1916 – Washington DC.

US Secretary of State Warns Germany that the USA may break diplomatic relations unless torpedo attacks on unarmed ships stop

April 20, 1916 – On the road South of Namiquipa.

Road marches down here in Chihuahua were often hot when the sun was up and cold at dusk and always very dusty work. The column of the 16th Infantry was on a road march south of Namiquipa, which was new territory for them They were in a broad flat valley with rugged mountains several miles away. Up till now, they’d spent most of their time in Mexico shuttling back and forth between Colonia Dublan and El Valle. Now, they had been called south

Rommel’s abraded knees caused him more aggravation than the sutured bullet graze on this thigh, so he was glad to be able to ride a horse on the march as the rest of the officers were.

Bill Orton was riding alongside and struck up a conversation, “So…. What do you hear about your mystery man from the skirmish?” The supposed secret had indeed become a topic of common gossip. (To keep a lid on that gossip, an Army Intelligence officer fed the counter-rumor that the body might have typhus – hence clamping a lid on too much prying)

Rommel laughed, and replied, “Honestly, I haven’t heard boo about who he is. Maybe he’s just a soldier with a nice uniform and a fancy gun.”

The column was called to a halt, as several vehicles approached from the south (8). Rommel’s platoon was near the front at this point of the march, so he had a bird’s-eye view as the cars and trucks pulled off the edge of the road and halted themselves.

A dusty collection of senior US officers and several non-coms dismounted. Rommel soon picked out General Pershing himself as Colonel Allaire brought his horse over, dismounted, and salutes were shared all-around.

Pershing and some staff with the Dodge staff car(photo from


Rommel thought to himself, “How about that! Where had Pershing and his staff been if they were coming up from the south?”

Rommel saw a tall younger officer from the staff cars ask the Colonel’s aide a question and the aide pointed to Rommel. The younger officer strode over and as he got closer, he boomed, “Are you Lieutenant Erwin Rommel?”

Rommel replied in the affirmative.

“I’m Lieutenant George Patton(9) , one of General Pershing’s ADC’s. I’m very pleased to meet you! I got a quick peek at your report and maps of the shootout you had last week. I’m frankly envious. That sounds as though it was quite the hot time! The General would like a few words with you now.”

Lt. George Patton - 1916 (Photo from


Patton quick scanned over Rommel’s appearance. “Quick, I’d lose the bandana and straighten your tie… The General is very persnickety about the uniform, even in the field.”

Rommel did as Patton suggested, dismounted and handed the reins of his horse to Pvt Tedeschi and walked over to the group, with only a hint of a limp.

Military courtesies ensued as introductions were made. General Pershing opened the conversation with, “Congratulations Lieutenant. That was a daring and resourceful action you took up on El Tintero Canyon (the canyon had no name till now…). Quite the audacious coup defeating and killing Pancho Villa! Seeing Rommel’s raised eyebrows, Pershing continued, “We have since confirmed that your man was indeed Villa. That feat will go down in the annals of United States Army history. Congratulate your men for me as well. Lieutenant you will accompany Captain’s Ryan and Burtt in one of the autos. They have some additional questions for you. You and I will talk another time.”

General Pershing turned back to Colonel Allaire, “Bill, we are all returning to Namiquipa in a few minutes, your Regiment as well. Gentlemen, time is pressing”.

(Pershing needed access to the telegraph station in Namiquipa to wire Washington for instructions. Pershing had satisfied himself of Villa's identity by: having assigned staff who had personally met Villa to independently confirm that the body was Pancho Villa, plus verification of Villa’s route by US agents(10), putting Villa very near the location right before the skirmish; and some known battle scars. Nearly as important, a few days prior, US Cavalry units had gotten into a running series of skirmishes with Mexican locals and Constitutionalist soldiers in Parral and points north of there. That was a decidedly un-wanted political-diplomatic development that Pershing had been specifically warned against by his superiors. Pershing was furious at the attacks but also was cognizant this set of fights changed their situation dramatically. Pershing had also stuck his small field HQ out in dangerous territory near San Geronimo. With the recent developments, his temporary HQ was looking quite exposed, leading Pershing to pull in his HQ back north to a more defensible and better communication linked location, along with restricting Cavalry movements to the south. His Cavalry Colonels weren’t keen on that idea, but also, the supply line had become a very arduous 500-mile-long trail back to the US. Keeping the forces in the field adequately supplied that far south was becoming very problematic. )

Captain Burtt(11) was Pershing’s Assistant Chief-of-Staff and Captain Ryan(12) was the Staff Intelligence Officer (and spymaster). Rommel was a bit wary at first by this turn of events, but the questions asked were straightforward enough. They were just looking for him to expand on the contents of his report, such as why he chose the original route, and if he had educated guesses that couldn’t be put in a fact-based report. Ryan let on there was some speculation that Villa had made a secret trip into Chihuahua City for an unknown purpose, and then was later trying to work his way back to the western mountains. Both officers complimented Rommel on his daring, the thoroughness of his text, and the sketch maps that help place events at their place in time. He was also counseled that when any reporter wants to question him about the action, he should refer that reporter to Col. Allaire, or the General. (No official announcement has taken place yet) The feeling he got as they rode along, was that he was being sized up. For what, though? Rommel doubted that nice reports were that important.

(8) OTL General Pershing’s overextended field HQ historically withdrew from San Geronimo to Namiquipa following the skirmish at Parral. They met the road-marching 16th Infantry Regiment south of Namiquipa.
(9) Lieutenant George S. Patton Jr. – Yup, THAT Patton. He was quite active as one of General Pershing’s ADC’s during the campaign.
(10) US Agents – OTL – mostly itinerant Chinese and Japanese traders. Historically, they moved freely throughout northern Mexico. Several were recruited by US Army Intelligence and they provided very useful information, albeit sometimes delayed by the nature of their movements and the limitations of the communications infrastructure. They kept accurate tabs on Villa and his Lieutenants
(11) Captain Wilson Burtt – OTL Assistant to Pershing’s Chief-of-Staff Lt Col De Rosey
(12) Captain James Ryan – OTL Pershing’s Intelligence Officer and spymaster.

April 22, 1916 – Namiquipa - Colonel Allaire’s tent

Rommel is summoned to Colonel Allaire’s tent, where the Colonel and Captain Spalding are waiting.

Colonel Allaire: “I’ve been asked by the General to forward his regrets at not being able to meet with you in person at this time. The pace of events for this expedition are picking up and the demands on his time are great. He did forward this personal note for you”, and passes Rommel a hand-written letter.

The gist of the letter is a re-iteration of congratulations on Rommel’s initiative and daring at El Tintero, his adaptation to a fluid situation, and of the importance of the outcome. There was also a bit of counsel about not letting the “heady experience of fame” go to the Lieutenant’s head. Officers can look to advance their careers but are better served by continual growth in professional ability, rather than riding on past laurels. Rommel would later frame the letter and it often traveled with him during his service.

April 23, 1916 – El Paso, Texas

General’s Hugh Scott (US Army Chief-of-Staff), Frederick Funston (US Army commander for the border region and Pershing’s commander), and Alvaro Obregon (Minister of War for Mexico) meet in El Paso. Obregon has already been notified by Scott that Villa is dead. Villa’s body had been preserved and was forwarded to the US base of operations at Colonia Dublan, and Obregon has dispatched his own representatives to verify the body’s identity.

Additional discussions determine that relations have reached a military breakpoint between the US and Mexico, which neither side can afford. Given the change in the situation, the US will soon begin a wind-down of operations and a phased withdrawal.

There were leverage points that both sides were well aware of: The US Army estimates they would need an invasion force of over 200,000 men – upfront - to conquer northern Mexico – The Constitutional forces of Mexico are plentiful, well-enough armed, and well-led. There weren’t 200,000 men in uniform across the entire US Army. From Mexico’s perspective, they were already in the midst of a long-running civil war, so an expanded fight served no one.

(This meeting of the brass historically took place May 9, following the fight at Parral. That fight and the later fight at Carrizal caused the US to drag its feet about withdrawal, so as to not appear to be forced out by Mexico)

April 28, 1916 – Mexico City and Washington DC

Both President Venustiano Carranza and President Wilson issue separate formal announcements of the death of Pancho Villa. Carranza’s statement notes Villa’s past patriotic service to the Revolution and hopes his death at the hands of US forces violating the sovereignty of our country will serve to unite the people of Mexico. Wilson’s statement refers to Villa as the notorious brigand, who was destroyed by the righteous wrath of the US.

April 29,1916 – Namiquipa

General Pershing issues a formal statement for the reporters scattered across Chihuahua state. “A patrol of the US Army’s 16th Infantry Regiment encountered a large force of Villista troopers in the canyonlands near El Tintero, Chihuahua. In a display of daring, our infantrymen inflicted a sharp defeat on the Villlistas, driving them from the field. A later counterattack by that same force was decisively crushed by the 10th Cavalry. It was recently verified that in the first fight that the desperado, Pancho Villa, was killed”. (The Cavalry had done the bulk of the searching and several sharp skirmishes in the first several weeks of the campaign, so Pershing was going to make sure they got some credit as well. Besides, Pershing himself had once commanded the 10th. That’s where he acquired the “Blackjack” sobriquet)

Subsequent digging by the few reporters venturing all the way down to Namiquipa gets beyond the bare pith of Pershing’s announcement, with Colonel Allaire providing some additional information. The Colonel makes the point of crediting the success in the fight to the skill and courage of the men in the 16th Infantry platoon, the original sighting and support of the patrol to the Quartermasters, and the great skill of the Cavalry in finishing the job. Rommel is mentioned as the platoon leader and that there’s no way of determining who killed Villa. (“Fair’s fair. Many hands played a role in this scrap.” – Col. Wm Allaire)

By the time the additional information filters back to US papers, the news makes for exciting reading, but on page two of the papers.

The Army brass prefers not to single out any one individual for public notoriety (mostly to keep peace in the “family” and a limit on the inter-branch carping from the Calvary about doing all the hard work only to have the Infantry blunder into success), so Rommel and his platoon are kept busy for a few days on routine patrols.

May 4, 1916 – Berlin

At request of the US, Germany curtails its submarine warfare (......for the time being....)

May 5, 1916 – Dominican Republic

US Marines invades the Dominican Republic, stay until 1924

May 5, 1916 – Namiquipa

Events had settled down for a time and life on base had assumed a routine. The tent was hot as blazes in the afternoon and freezing cold at night. Rommel’s platoon was still short-handed. The Army’s replacement methods weren’t very swift in this campaign.

Rommel even had a bit of time to do some pleasure reading. He had just re-read “The Defense of Duffer’s Drift”, sent to him by his sweetheart in El Paso. She had found it at a church sale, of all places. While the notion of reliving dreams to tell the story was a bit clumsy, the essential idea of how to read and respond to a battlefield resonated with him. He may need to re-think how he fought the skirmish near El Tintero with an approach towards what he could learn to improve his performance for next time – whenever that may be. For instance, what if he held his platoon up on the ridge and sent scouts to follow the Villistas (just like Col. Allaire recommended)? What if he’d sent Calloway around to the right flank earlier? Should he have scouted the canyon more thoroughly, or wasn’t there time for that? What if his small force had entered the canyon mouth, only to encounter the Villistas, or been even been caught out in the open on the road? What if his Infantry platoon had a more man-mobile automatic rifle or two? What impact had the trucks had?

Studying American Civil War tactics, as taught at West Point was only marginally useful in 1916. There were a thousand possibilities and Rommel wasn’t going to “navel-gaze”, but rather see if he could find better ways to read a battlefield.

(This train-of-thought would stick with Rommel and in the 1920’s he would analyze what he had seen in Mexico and France and coalesce his personal experience into his well-received “Infantry Tactics” book.)

May 10, 1916 – El Paso, Texas

Following the death of Pancho Villa and the significant damage done to his command, several days of wired back-and-forth discussions ensued between President Wilson, Secretary of War Baker and General Scott in Washington, General Funston in El Paso, and General Pershing in Namiquipa. That led to the decision to withdraw US forces from Mexico, starting on June 1, 1916, which was an earlier date than first planned. It would take several days to communicate to the cavalry troops spread across patrol zones up to 500 miles to the south of the border.

May 14, 1916 – San Miguelito Ranch – Northern Chihuahua

While on an un-related purchasing mission, an American guide, who had once ridden with Villa, spotted associates of a Villa leader. Acting on that tip, Lt. George Patton Jr. and squad from the 6th Infantry drive to the ranch at San Miguelito in two staff cars. Three riders bolt from the enclosure, firing their guns as they attempt to leave. Patton shot two of the three and the third went down in a hail of gunfire. The first man who charged towards Patton was Julio Cardenas, a Villa Lieutenant. Patton had the three corpses mounted across the fronts of the cars, like deer hunters returning from a successful hunt. Pershing later referred to Patton as “my bandit.”

Years later, Patton and Rommel would both engage in good-natured gibes about who made the first mechanized attack in US Army history.

May 16, 1916 – Namiquipa – Captain Spalding’s tent

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

“Sir. You wanted to see me?”

“Round up your gear, and report to Major Madden(12) over at the General’s headquarters. You are now on detached service with the General’s staff, ….at least till we return to the US.” Captain Spalding read from a written order. He handed the document over to Rommel. “Lieutenant Orton will take your place for the time being.”

This time, it was Rommel’s turn to open and close his mouth in surprise, but he regained his composure quickly. “Do you know what that’s about, Sir?

“Heh, all I know is what you see on the paper. Madden is the Chief Quartermaster down here, so I’m gathering you must be assigned to his staff. I’m guessing your fight in the Canyon impressed some of the brass over there, so now you’re going to be tested in other ways. I know your preference is with the line soldiers, but this could be an outstanding opportunity for your military career. Congratulations and good luck!

May 16, 1916 – Namiquipa – Major Madden’s bigger tent

“Lieutenant Erwin Rommel reporting as ordered, Sir.”

“Have a seat. We will be at this for a while. I’m sure you’re wondering what you are doing here in Quartermaster country. You may blame Captain Burtt and Captain Pope for the idea. You impressed them with the way you organized and ran the fight at El Tintero. The Army needs fighters and those fighters also need to understand how to keep their men supplied in any long-term fight. This experience will make you a better Infantry officer. Consider this assignment as an early trip to the War College.”

“On to the business at hand. Here’s the idea in a nutshell. Starting on June 1, the whole Expedition will begin a controlled and staged withdrawal from Mexico. That will be a considerably complicated event, that will require close co-ordination from start of the movement, till the last man wades across the Rio Grande. There will be a number of seemingly conflicting events going on at the same time: Soldiers and Troopers heading north on tight schedules, large quantities of supplies coming south, in order to keep those northbound soldiers fed, watered and clothed. We also will be dismantling several good size supply depots along the way during that withdrawal, and some important decisions will need to be made at different times on whether to relocate supplies to the US, consume them during the withdrawal, sell them to the locals, or destroy them in place. Meanwhile, my counterparts back in the US will fight me tooth-and-nail to restrict every fleck of hay, every single shirt button, and every scrap of paper that we need to complete the withdrawal on time. Are you with me so far on the general enormity of this move?”

With furrowed brow, Rommel nodded in the affirmative.

Major Madden: “Your part in this enterprise is to be one of my extensions in the field, my factotum of sorts in the beginning, till you instinctively understand what needs to be done. You will need to unsnarl snags, to bully or cajole the recalcitrant into following our supply plan, whether they like it or not. That may include persuading Captains, Majors, and Colonels of the wisdom of that plan. To be fair, some of the Cavalry units in the field may be facing some hostile action from locals trying to goose them along their way, so that adds yet more calculations. Your experience with infantry on the march will help, as you well know, they don’t move at the speed of the cavalry, or even the artillery. Our mule trains carrying forage don’t move at the speed of our truck convoys. There are some spots, closer to the border, where our engineers have improved the roads to the point where they are no longer an impediment, but elsewhere, pfffft…. Basically, our clocks and calendars don’t work at the same speed throughout this Army. I will run you ragged before you cross the Rio Grande yourself, but you will have gained a useful education along the way.”

Following those preliminaries, Major Madden spread out a large map of Chihuahua and the US border country, and the lengthy discussion settled into planned routes and timetables.

(Rommel would be a frequent sight during the withdrawal, speeding along either in the Dodge car assigned to him, with his “driver” riding shotgun; or, when he could arrange it, making his rounds aboard a motorcycle, again with his “driver” riding in the sidecar. He endeavored to appear at the moving headquarters locations at intervals so that he could be seen by the staff that Lieutenant Erwin Rommel was making a useful contribution to the process. (A little self-promotion never hurt). Still, Major Madden had been correct, this was an enormously complex operation and like an early trip to the War College for what he learned about supplying a large force on the march in hostile country)

As noted earlier, the US Army recruited and employed many Chinese in their intelligence operations during the Villa Expedition. Those traders, tinkers, and others moved frequently and unobtrusively throughout Northern Mexico - between Villista and Constitutionalist territory. They were present in many locations, but not part of the local community structure, or part of the local extended families, so their irregular comings and goings were expected. When the US Army returned to the US in OTL 1917, those Chinese and their dependents were brought back to the US – 427 people in all. General Pershing had to arrange for a special dispensation from the Chinese Exclusion Acts (anti-immigration laws) of the time. Most settled in different spots in South Texas and were referred to as “Pershing’s Chinese”. Part of Rommel’s efforts in this withdrawal was to arrange transport or at least security for part of these folks on their way to Texas.

(12) Major John Madden – OTL Chief Quartermaster for the Expedition

Early June 1916 – On the road back to the US

Some of what Rommel learned during his temporary detached service to the Quartermasters was how un-appreciated their work was. Supplies could not arrive fast enough anywhere to suit either the local unit commanders involved in the withdrawal or their non-coms actually picking up the supplies. Tough-minded, honest Sergeants had to be left in charge of armed guards at every temporary depot along the route. Otherwise, the supplies would disappear. Plus, whenever a depot was finished, Rommel (and his other QM counterparts) had to arrange transit for those guards to the next depot, or back to their home unit. Rommel considered the functional difference between this withdrawal and a retreat in battle. In battle, you’d hope to leave nothing useful for your enemy, so anything that required more transport than its basic worth would be destroyed. Here, if there were odds and ends left that couldn’t be immediately used or sensibly transported, he’d leave for the locals.

He also came to learn that finding animal forage in the hot dry summers of the Chihuahua mountains and high desert was harder than arranging for fuel for the trucks. Between the three fighting forces, most of the local forage had already been requisitioned and consumed or was in deep hiding for use by the locals' own herds. Therefore most of the forage was mule-trained in from the US, as was much of the potable water. Water was a comparatively scarce commodity in several spots, and where it was found, was often too alkaline for drinking use by animals or men.

Finding a competent mule driver might even be harder than training a functional truck driver. Finding a competent wheelwright was every bit as hard as finding a competent truck mechanic. Broken down wagons and trucks impaired the schedule, and then there was holy-hell to pay.

He also employed the “Pope Plan”, where if there were usable space on the trucks or wagons, he’d allow elements of the Infantry ride on board – so long as it kept everyone on schedule. There was some headquarters “harumphing” about that seeming innovation, but Captain Pope reminded the brass that he himself had done that same thing on the Expedition’s march into Mexico, and again at El Tintero.

All-in-all, a very useful experience. The lessons learned in those few weeks would pay dividends for the rest of Rommel’s military career.


May 31, 1916 – North Sea

The Battle of Jutland: Largest naval battle of World War I between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet which killed 8,645 in an inconclusive battle but strategic British victory. German fleet never puts to sea again in WWI.

June 1, 1916 – Washington DC

The National Defense Act of 1916 goes into effect, authorizing the expansion of the US Army Regulars up to 175,000 and the National Guard up to 450,000, along with some limited “preparedness” additions. (This was mainly in response to worries about Mexico and not preparation for a European fight - much resistance to the expansion of the Regular Army, so the National Guard was expanded in compromise)

June 14, 1916 – St Louis, MO

Democratic Convention convenes in St Louis; Woodrow Wilson campaigns on the slogan "he kept out of the war"

Late June 1916 – El Paso

Even though the details of who was involved with the skirmish at El Tintero and the death of Villa have already slipped to the back pages of the newspaper by the time Rommel and his men have returned to El Paso, enough of the story has come through, where they’ve gained some local fame. That’s true both within the infantry and within the community surrounding Fort Bliss and El Paso. With time, that fame would spread.
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July 1, 1916 – numerous points across the US Army

Many US Army 2nd Lieutenants are promoted to 1st Lieutenants as of July 1, 1916, including Erwin Rommel

(By mid-May of 1917, many of those 1st Lieutenants were promoted again to Captain, as the US expanded the Army for the war in Europe) “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Conversely, and at the same time, some winnowing of senior officers was taking place following the DoW. Those who were viewed as not be up to the task of fighting the Great War were re-assigned to other tasks or even eased out to retirement. Officers where their best “ity” in their resume’ was longev-ity, rather than abil-ity… This winnowing was nowhere near as thorough as what Marshall did in the early '40s.

July 21, 1916 – Fort Bliss – El Paso, Texas

1st Lieutenant Erwin Rommel is awarded the Medal of Honor for “Displaying conspicuous gallantry in the face of overwhelming odds near El Tintero, Mexico. Though wounded himself, he continued to lead his platoon through to a signal victory. Those actions resulted in the death of Pancho Villa, and the destruction of his company.” The medal is placed around Rommel’s neck by General Pershing, with Rommel’s family and his new fiancé Lucia Sorenstam in attendance. General Pershing also comments that he expects “big things” in the future for the officer.

July 30, 1916 – Jersey City, New Jersey

A tremendous explosion of many tons of military munitions occurs on the Black Tom site in Jersey City. An investigation identifies German saboteurs as the instigators.

Nov 7, 1916 – the United States

Amidst the Mexican Revolution and with World War I in full flow, Woodrow Wilson is re-elected as President of the United States, defeating Republican candidate Charles E. Hughes

December 3, 1916 – El Paso, Texas

Rommel hops out of his Ford Model T Roadster at Fort Bliss, and Sergeant Leclerc crosses over to meet him. “Sir, I think you need to see this…..” and then he hands the Lieutenant a promotional calendar from the Colt Firearms Company featuring a lurid color painting reproduction of a snarling individual (looking remarkably like himself) armed with two blazing Colt .45 Automatics leaping down upon a cringing pack of swarthy caricatures of Mexicans, set against a red-rock cliff face. The caption underneath reads “A Desert Fox Springs to Action!”

(Deep sigh) “Oh, good God in heaven… I suppose these things are circulated all over the country by now…” He would really need to question Jacobus about who he had talked to…. Even though Rommel was genuinely distressed about the nature of the publicity, he would hang onto the calendar and in later years would sometimes compare it to General Pershing’s letter.

…Many years later the Colt Firearms Company would issue a commemorative “Desert Fox” M1911 model.

(Most of this section is historical. Much of it recognized at the time, even if not publically acknowledged. Some of the recognition of impact came later)

Dec 31, 1916 – multiple locations

Politically, Wilson’s proclamation of US success against Villa had met with a mixed reception. From the American general public, a feeling of complacent satisfaction that “well, we got him.” The portion of the US business community with ties to Mexican investment is overjoyed at the quick resolution of several problems – hopefully, back to business as usual. The international public says: “who is this Villa fellow?” International diplomats are either dismayed or pleased to see the often contradictory and ham-fisted US diplomacy that nearly caused a pointless war. The Germans in particular see some US diplomatic ineptitude.

From the Mexican (Constitutionalist) government perspective, the US incursion would remain as an egregious violation of Mexican sovereignty, Villa’s raid on US soil not-withstanding. The fact that Mexican Constitutionalist forces gave as good as they got at Parral, provided some comfort. The fact that Villa, most of his top commanders, and many of his soldiers were dead, or scattered was very helpful. For those opposed to Carranza, the destruction of Villa was a disaster.

Not fully recognized at the time, was that Villa’s death in battle at the hands of the US Army would elevate Villa to martyr status across much of Mexico and would remain a point of contention for decades. Still, as Villa died in battle, it would be less of a sore point than if he had been captured, tried, convicted, and executed by the US legal system. As it played out, Villa would be largely remembered as a Mexican Revolutionary hero, particularly in the north.

(Historically, Villa was paid handsomely to go into retirement at the end of the Mexican Revolution/Civil War in 1920. However, In 1923, he was assassinated by his political opponents as he rode through the town of Parral in his car. I don’t know if that was delayed retribution, or if that was a pre-emptive strike against Villa returning to activity.)

From the US military leadership perspective, the results of the expedition had to be seasoned with considerable interpretation – some good, some bad, much that was inconclusive.

That the Army actually succeeded in killing Villa was seen as a bit of extraordinary luck. To find one man in 100,000 square miles on his own turf, a very rugged country, with either little local cooperation, or outright active resistance, rendered catching Villa highly unlikely. General Hugh Scott (US Army Chief of Staff)point-blank told Secretary of War Newton Baker of that problem even before Pershing first crossed the border. Scott had very little, nearly zero confidence in capturing or killing Villa.

From Scott’s point-of-view, catching Villa was a political expedient. Destroying Villa’s fighting capability was the military mission.

With the lion’s share of the action being an extended pursuit by regiments of horse cavalry chasing other companies of horse cavalry, it was hard to see how those actions would translate to most modern battlefields in other areas, such as Europe. Several of the fights were ambushes or meeting engagements where the US forces had a notable firepower advantage. However, the horse cavalry brass saw the campaign as a vindication of the continuing importance of the horse on the battlefield, no matter what any naysayers might think. Several mountain artillery batteries made the trek into Mexico but never fired their guns in anger. The whole expedition was like an overgrown wild west posse.

On the other hand, the Expedition did field a force of several thousands deep into Mexico where they had little in the way of local co-operation and one hundred thousand Regulars and mobilized National Guard along the border. That mobilization and coordination of movement and supply had not been done successfully on that scale since the US Civil War. (The Spanish-American War mobilization had largely been amateurish and discombobulated by comparison). The Quartermasters, after some bumps in the early days, got their system in good working order in an often very harsh environment, with blistering heat in sandy and rocky deserts, mudholes and quicksand in spots, high mountain passes with wind-driven blizzards mixed with sand. Most of the forage for the horses and much of the potable water had to be brought in all the way from the US by mule train and other supplies by truck.

By 1916, Villa’s forces, while un-deniably brave, were not a peer force to the US Army. The Villistas had been decimated the year before by Mexican Constitutionalist forces lead primarily by General Alvaro Obregon. Villa’s prime tactic was the old school coup de main cavalry charges. Obregon had countered that shock action, with the use of modern tactics: trenches, barbed wire, overlapping fields-of-fire machine guns, and artillery. On several battlefields, as the saying goes, Obregon had “cleaned Villa’s clock.”

There were also several firsts in the Expedition. The First US Aero Squadron accompanied the initial incursions. However, the ramshackle planes were not up to the task in the difficult conditions, but the pilots and maintenance crews gained useful field experience. The US Signal Corps established wireless radio transmitters with modest success, but still largely relied on the telegraph and even the heliograph. One of the biggest firsts was the integration of several hundred motor vehicles into daily operations, mostly for transporting supplies and carrying messages. Transporting troops by truck was still mostly anathema to the Army senior commanders. Even though the M1903 Springfield Rifle and the M1911 Colt Pistol both had been used earlier in the 1914 Veracruz intervention, their performance in the desert and mountains showed their merit.
(A few of the cavalry old-timers preferred revolvers and would have liked a carbine version of the Springfield, but they were the exception). The M1909 Hotchkiss/Benet-Mercie Machine Rifle got a bad rap from the initial fight at Columbus, NM; but much of that performance problem was due to poor training. Still, it was too cumbersome for ready use with the Infantry at the squad or platoon level. (Normal transport was via two mules….) It was a respectable first start, but better weapons could be had.

The most important gain was the field experience in larger formations by both officers and men


Jan 16, 1917 – Mexico City

The "Zimmermann Telegram" is sent from Germany to Mexico, stating in the event of the US entering World War I on the allied side, Mexico would be given Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Intercepted by British intelligence and partially deciphered by the next day. It's release in March shifts US public opinion in favor of war against Germany.

Feb 24, 1917 – Washington DC

The German plan to get Mexican help in WW I is exposed (Zimmerman telegram)

Apr 6, 1917 – Washington DC

The US declares war on Germany, enters World War I (There was a host of “last straws” from numerous U-Boat sinkings, diplomatic hoohas, and even past the Zimmerman Telegram, before the US Declaration of War

My backstory for them is that Lucy's father runs a motorcycle and auto repair shop in El Paso. Rommel owns both a rebuilt Harley-Davidson and a cobbled-together Ford Model T. Erwin's a motoring enthusiast without much budget, who has enjoyed driving out in the countryside since high school. With rural roads being pretty ramshackle affairs back then, cars and motorcycles would have needed a fair amount of care. When Rommel's unit, the 16th Infantry gets assigned to Fort Bliss, he makes contact with Oscar Sorenstam, a Swedish immigrant who's made a point of working with soldiers on the base - especially officers (they pay a little more promptly). Oscar and Erwin strike up a mutual friendship. Lucia's mother had passed away some years earlier, and Oscar dotes on her, even sending her to college, which was uncommon for working class women. She works for the El Paso Library system and does some tutoring on the side. Oscar has seen soldiers trying to put the make on her before, so he is usually effective at screening them away. He likes the earnest Erwin, so he doesn't play gatekeeper as he has other times. Lucia and Erwin strike it off on their own pace.

The OTL Rommel while being something of a dour, earthy Swabian on the outside, he was a romantic at heart and his early love-life got messy. He had two deeply felt romances as a young man, but his mother strenuously objected to the one young lady(Volburga Stemmer) as not having sufficient social status to be a suitable mate for a rising officer, so Rommel broke that relationship off. However, he later learned she was pregnant with his child. Rommel did marry Lucia Mollin, who he was devoted to. It got messier.... When Erwin and Lucia's son Manfred was born, Volburga killed herself in despair. Rommel's biological daughter then joined his family, but she was described as a "cousin" for public consumption. I decided to simplify his life.... Lucia Sorenstam wouldn't have been mother Rommel's first choice, but once they've met and this Lucia impresses, all is well.

I'm an old movie buff, and before I filled in the backstory, the mental picture I used for Lucia was the 1930's-40's actress Brenda Marshall (real name Ardis Ankerson). It turns out she was born in the Philippines to Otto Ankerson, a Swedish plantation manager(no idea on her mother's name). She and her sister were later sent to school in San Antonio, Texas. The rest just kind of clicked for me from there. In a similar vein, whenever I'd struggle by turning Rommel into an Erich von Stroheim stereotype in a Montana campaign hat, I'd think of a young Ed Harris. His appearance has a passable resemblance to Rommel and he usually portrays earnest middle-American personalities. That helped me frame his character a bit.

December 1, 1916 – El Paso, Texas

Lieutenants George S Patton Jr and Erwin Rommel walk into a bar….. (Just because it had to happen…)

The two officers sit down at a table. Patton orders a peculiar combination of bourbon, scotch, sugar syrup, a dash of bitters and ice. When he samples it, “Well, not bad, but not right yet..”

Rommel who only occasionally drinks alcohol orders a beer. They are a seeming mismatch in temperaments, but they get on well enough in spite of that difference. There’s a bit of swashbuckler in both.

They talked for a while on the results of the Expedition, about what each one learned. Patton opined that while he would like to have seen more action, the experience working with the General and watching how a large operation (for the US…) was handled was of tremendous value. Rommel allowed that he learned that being willing to stick your neck out had great virtues, but you also had to use some good sense too. He also added the staff work with the Quartermasters was a real eye-opener.

They also talked more about what they hope and expect in the years to come for their own careers. But that’s another tale…..

This is as far as I’m taking this story, at least for now. One of my original goals was to set up an alternative American Rommel with an early and hopefully plausible path to success. To develop the Great War career of the US Army’s Erwin Rommel will require a ton more homework on my part, as there are so many possible paths or even POD’s that could come into play. My knowledge of detail for the AEF is very limited.

I am thinking about it, and have put down some generic ideas and plot questions to be sorted through, but I haven’t made up my mind to commit to the chore. If I do continue, it will be a new thread, maybe “Over There – the Continuing Adventures of Erwin Rommel – US Army (or something along those lines)

Thanks for your continued support and comments!


Partial Bibliography:

Pancho Villa and Black Jack Pershing – The Punitive Expedition in Mexico - James Hurst

The Hunt for Pancho Villa – Alejandro de Quesada

The Mexican Expedition 1916-1917 – Julie Prieto

Intervention! The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913-1917 - John Eisenhower

Chasing Villa – Col Frank Tompkins – Very detailed and the best maps, but Tompkins was very opinionated

Infantry Attacks – Erwin Rommel

Knight’s Cross – David Fraser (mostly for Rommel's early years)

US Army Infantry Drill Regulations (1914 Edition)

Handbook of the Benet-Mercie Machine Rifle – Donald McClean editor

Postscript: As noted earlier, I'm a fan of old movies, so the following idea emerged as I wrote the tale.

October 12, 1940 – Graumann’s Chinese Theater, Hollywood California

It’s the night of the gala premiere of the exciting new adventure film, “Shootout at El Tintero, starring Jimmy Stewart, along with J. Carrol Naish, Anthony Quinn, Burgess Meredith, Brian Aherne, and Brenda Marshall.” (it’s Hollywood….Some liberties were taken with the sequence of events and the location of the principals)

*** The End ***