The various items in this Commentary provide clarifications and other details relevant to this website’s articles and information contained in them. They are available separately in order to avoid distraction from an article’s main focus. A list of Notes follows each item.
The false armistice news: neither fake news nor hoax news
The AEF Liaison Service Officers Captains Whitehouse and Stanton
Lieutenant Colonel Cabot Ward and Major Barclay H. Warburton
Captain R. H. Jackson
In Brest on 7 November 1918
Few False Armistice recollections by allied officials
Marshal Foch and the German requests for a cease-fire
The literal meaning of armistice is ‘a halt to, or stopping of, the use of arms’ (as in weapons of war). It is the same word in English and French; in German it is ‘Waffenstillstand’. For most people in November 1918, it meant simply an end to the war and a return of peace. To those with a wider understanding, it meant a preliminary agreement to stop fighting, a truce which would probably lead to the end of the war itself. Before halting the fighting, belligerents agreed to certain armistice terms or conditions, an obvious one being to cease hostilities (cease firing) at the same, pre-arranged date and time.
An armistice, however, was not a peace treaty. A peace treaty came later, after an armistice agreement had been implemented by the belligerents and the war effectively ended. A peace treaty marked the formal end of a war.
The false armistice news: neither fake news nor hoax news
The Fake Armistice was the original, pre-publication, title of Arthur Hornblow’s 1921 article about the 7 November 1918 premature peace news in Brest. He changed it following comments Roy Howard made to him about the connotations of the word fake.
Howard pointed out that “Inasmuch as the idea of a fake story involves palpable and deliberate intention to deceive, and inasmuch as your article makes clear that there was no such intention on the part of the newspapers or the newspapermen, I feel that your purpose would be better served and an unintentional injustice avoided by the substitution of another term for the word ‘fake’”.
Howard suggested that ‘false’ should be used instead of ‘fake’, but Hornblow avoided both, settling on The Amazing Armistice: Inside Story of the Premature Peace Report as his publication title. When Howard’s memoir of 7 November in Brest was published many years later, it appeared under the title Premature Armistice – Roy W. Howard Speaking.
Howard was surely correct to assert that the 7 November 1918 peace news was ‘false news’ rather than ‘fake news’ – both as he understood the terms’ meanings then, and as they are still differentiated today. In spite of the German-spy-conspiracy theory and some ‘fake-news’/’hoax-news’ editorials at the time, the 7 November 1918 peace news was not made-up or knowingly put together as a lie intended to deceive and to achieve some planned objective. It was erroneous, misconstrued, information that circulated initially in Paris. And it spread as misinformation not disinformation; as a rumour or canard, at worst.
The quote is from the letter: Roy W. Howard to Arthur Hornblow. San Diego. June nineteenth 1921. (Page 2). Held in the Arthur and Leonora Hornblow Papers. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Beverly Hills, California.
Hornblow sent Howard a copy of his article before it had been accepted for publication.
The AEF Liaison Service Officers Captains Whitehouse and Stanton
The AEF Liaison Service was established in February 1918 “for the purpose of facilitating the transaction of business between the Allies and the A.E.F.” Its “scope of service” covered “liaison with the French bureaus and administrations in Paris; liaison with the regions, [and] liaison with the armies” but excluded “tactical liaison”.
Liaison officers were required to have (ideally) “a knowledge of French customs and language, a certain amount of military experience, an adaptability to circumstances, and a great deal of tact and good judgment”. They were subject “not only to the orders of [their] immediate American commander, but also to orders of the Allied authority to whom … attached”. They were “to transmit all orders, all requests for information and all demands of any kind formulated by the Allied authority to the competent and interested American authority, and vice versa”. 1
According to John Toland, Captain Whitehouse was “relieved from duty” as Acting Director of the Liaison Service (presumably for his part in spreading the false armistice news). But “no action was taken” against Captain Stanton, the liaison officer on the Second Bureau staff of General Alby. 2
However, attempts to locate the documents Toland based his comments on, and view their contents in full, have proved unsuccessful. 3 And any other information that may be available about the two Liaison officers has so far not been found.
The Liaison Service building, from where Captain Whitehouse made his telephone calls, was at “No. 45, Avenue Montaigne, Paris”, across the River Seine from the Quai d’Orsay. 4 The premises of the French Army General Staff Second Bureau were on the Boulevard Saint-Germain.
Where Captain Stanton was on 7 November 1918 is not clear from the SOS G-2 Report; nor is it clear which French Second Bureau he was attached to – that of the Army General Staff, or one embedded in a French government ministry. Most likely, he was in the War Ministry building in the Rue Saint-Dominique, attached to the War Ministry’s Second Bureau.
General Alby, whom the G-2 Report calls “the Chief of the 2nd Bureau”, was presumably head of this War Ministry Second Bureau section; but no information about his links with the Second Bureau in November 1918 has been found for this article. The Head of the Army General Staff Second Bureau was Colonel de Cointet.
The AEF liaison officer at the French War Ministry at the time was Lieutenant Colonel P. M. Lydig. It is uncertain whether he was interviewed by G-2 about the 7 November armistice news or whether any of the information in the G-2 Report came from him. He kept a diary during his liaison service at the War Ministry, but there is no mention in it of the false armistice rumours or of what happened there that day. 5
Whether the French carried out an investigation into events at the War Ministry and elsewhere on 7th November, or took any action against their officers involved in them, is not known here. And no background information about Captain de Cartusac has so far been found.
1. Extracts from Sections 1 and 5 of ‘ORGANIZATION OF LIAISON SERVICE, A.E.F. General Headquarters A.E.F. France. February 13, 1918. General Orders. No. 28’, in United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919. Volume 16. General Orders. GHQ, AEF. (Washington, DC, 1948; 1991) Online.
2. John Toland, No Man’s Land: The Story of 1918. (London. 1980.) In Chapter 15, ‘The False Armistice’, on p548 in a footnote marked *; and on p628 – ‘Notes’: ‘False Armistice’ ‘page 547’ Memoranda, December 4, 7, Gen. Hq., AEF, subject: Captain H.J. Whitehouse.
3. Result of enquiries made by the writer regarding the memorandums, sent during October-November 2015, to the US Army Center of Military History, Washington, DC; and the National Archives and Records Administration, Maryland.
4. G-2 Report, Section
5. Philip M. Lydig, Diary of Lieut. Col. Philip M. Lydig, Infantry, liaison officer A.E.F. with the French Ministry of War from January 1, 1918 to March 9, 1919. (Undated typescript.) Harvard University, Houghton Library, Massachusetts.
Lieutenant Colonel Cabot Ward and Major Barclay H. Warburton
Major B. H. Warburton, the American Military Attaché who sent the first false armistice cable to the United States on 7 November 1918, claimed twice that the SOS G-2 Assistant Chief of Staff in Paris, Lieutenant Colonel Cabot Ward, actually confirmed the news to him when they spoke about it at 1:00 pm that day (by telephone presumably).
He informed General Marlborough Churchill at the War Department in Washington, DC, that Ward told him the French War Ministry had confirmed the armistice news by telephone, and asked G-2 to report it to the American Army’s General Headquarters. A denial of the news, Warburton stated, came to him later in the afternoon from a Major Straight at Marshal Foch’s Headquarters. 1
However, Warburton’s explanation to General Churchill completely contradicts Ward’s assertions in the G-2 Report that he and his office treated the armistice news “cautiously” and “answered all inquiries” about it with warnings that it could not be trusted.
Different Sections of the Report record:
- that G-2 in Paris had not been able to obtain confirmation of the armistice news from the French Second Bureau;
- that Ward felt “it was incredible that [the news], however authenticated, could be correct”;
- that, around midday, G-2 informed US Army GHQ, “with all reserve” that the French Ministry of War had announced a 10:00 am signing of the German armistice;
- that the same warning was given to SOS Headquarters in Tours;
- that G-2 “answered all inquiries by stating that the Chief of the French 2d Bureau and the representatives of Marshal Foch in Paris both refused to confirm the rumor”;
- that the “Intelligence representatives [G-2] at G.H.Q. and in Paris answered all inquiries by stating that it was a rumor that should be taken with the greatest caution”. 2
Ward did not record in the G-2 Report what he said to Major Warburton, only what Warburton said to him. Nevertheless, on balance, it seems unlikely that he would have told Warburton at 1:00 pm on 7 November that the armistice news had been confirmed – in other words, that it was true.
It seems more likely that Warburton misunderstood or recalled incorrectly what he claimed Ward told him, and had taken the information about the French War Ministry to mean that its armistice announcement was accepted by Ward as official verification, rather than as information to be treated with reserve.
Drawing from Section 3 of the G-2 Report, John Toland wrote that the armistice news “reached” Major Warburton “at 1 P.M.” on Thursday 7 November. 3
But Section 3 actually says that “at one o’clock” that afternoon Warburton told Ward that he had received authentic information about the armistice-signing and sent his “Armistice signed” cable to Washington “during the morning”. 4 And Warburton himself told General Churchill that he spoke to Ward at one o’clock on Thursday afternoon about armistice news he had received earlier from the Embassy. 5
In simultaneous correspondence between Washington, DC, and Paris about a separate matter, Secretary of State Lansing warned Edward House, President Wilson’s Special Representative in Paris, that Warburton – a “nice man but not discreet” – did not have the “full confidence of military intelligence” at the War Department. “Strongly” advising him “to be very careful with Warburton”, Lansing told House it would be “better all around if you did not take him into your confidence”.
Lansing made these “absolutely confidential” comments in response to a cable in which House, commending Warburton for providing “a great deal of assistance to us” and taking “no end of trouble in our behalf”, had confided that “we have given him certain information respecting negotiations of the past week” on condition that he did not report it to “the military intelligence in Washington”.
It seems that “negotiations of the past week” referred to recent discussions in the Allied Supreme War Council (based in Versailles) and that General Churchill, head of the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department, had been demanding information about the discussions from Warburton, who was helping the US military representative on the Council (General Tasker H. Bliss).
House did not want Warburton to pass the information on to Churchill. And he asked Lansing to explain to Churchill that he expected the latter to obtain “all information of this character” from President Wilson. The discouraging comments about the Military Attaché, presumably influenced by the War Department, followed not long afterwards.
House must have been taken aback by them. He agreed to “carefully” follow the Secretary of State’s advice, confiding that he had “no illusions with respect to this man”. Changing tone, the President’s Special Representative now asserted that Warburton had been given “no information of any value whatever”, and that his “service to us” had been only “in many minor matters”. 6
After the war, Major Warburton received the Army Distinguished Service Medal for his work as Military Attaché in Paris and for rendering “invaluable assistance and conspicuous service to the military representative of the United States on the Supreme War Council”. Following his return from France, he served for a time as Director of the Philadelphia Public Welfare Department and was appointed (unpaid) Special Police Commissioner for Philadelphia in August 1921. During 1928-1930 he was mayor of Palm Beach, Florida. He died in December 1954. 7
Lieutenant Colonel Cabot Ward, “United States Army Air Service”, received the Army Distinguished Service Medal for his work as “Assistant Chief of Staff, in charge of the Intelligence Section of the Services of Supply”, with particular reference to “the important task of counterespionage throughout the American Expeditionary Forces and in the neighboring neutral countries”. He remained with the US Intelligence Service in France until June 1919. He became a Commander of the French Legion of Honour, and was awarded the British Distinguished Service Order. He died in May 1936, and is buried at Menton, in south-east France. 8
1. See the False Armistice News from France article, under ‘The War Department Demands an Explanation’ section.
2. See The G-2 Report article, Sections 2,3,9,10.
3. John Toland, No Man’s Land: The Story of 1918. (London. 1980.) In Chapter 15, ‘The False Armistice’, p548.
4. The G-2 Report, Section 3.
5. As for note 1.
6. ‘Edward House to Secretary of State. Number 52. November 6, 1918, 4pm.’ File# 121.54/1718; ‘Lansing to House. Number 17. Special Cipher. November 7, 1918.’ File# 121.54/1718; ‘Edward House to Lansing. Number 65. November 8, 1918. 7 p.m.’ [Page 2, in response to Lansing’s number 17.] File# 763.72119/9100. Department of State Records, Record Group 84, United States National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
7. Hall of Valor. Military Times. ‘Valor Awards for Barclay H. Warburton’; The New York Times, 13 August 1921 ; the Gettysburg Times, 7 December 1954, p8; J.P. Webster, The Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry. (Charleston. 2013).
8. Hall of Valor. Military Times. ‘Valor Awards for Cabot Ward’. Burial information from: Cimetière du Vieux Château. Menton. Département des Alpes-Maritimes. ‘Memorial ID, 160903996’.
Captain R. H. Jackson
Captain Jackson went to France initially as the “Representative of the United States Navy Department … and senior United States Naval Officer on shore in France”. As such he acted under the orders of Vice-Admiral William S. Sims, the Commander of US Naval Forces in Europe, whose headquarters were in London. He was Sims’ liaison officer at the French Ministry of Marine in Paris, and was in “immediate command” of US “Naval and aviation bases” in France. He was instructed to “confer”, as necessary, with the “Senior Naval Officer afloat in French Waters”, whose headquarters were at Brest.
When Jackson arrived in Paris in June 1917, the US naval attaché there was Commander W. R. Sayles; Jackson replaced him in May 1918. And Rear Admiral William Fletcher was the “Senior Naval Officer afloat in French Waters” (also known as “Commandant of U.S. naval forces in France”) based in Brest. Fletcher was in post at Brest only during June to late October 1917. Following the torpedoing of an American army transport ship, he was relieved of his command and replaced by Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson, who had recently arrived at Gibraltar to command US naval forces based there.
By the beginning of December 1918 (not long after the Armistice) Jackson was in Washington, DC, at the Office of Naval Intelligence. 1 He was one of a number of contributors to the Office of Naval Intelligence 1919 edition of The Duties of Naval Attachés, became a Rear Admiral in June 1921, and died in October 1971, at the age of 105.
In Section 6 of the G-2 Report, it states that Captain Jackson “has just been relieved by Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long”. This could be taken as implying that Jackson was very quickly dismissed for sending the armistice telegram to Admiral Wilson. But it means simply that Long (who had been in London until late September 1918) was replacing Jackson on the latter’s transfer to Washington, DC.
Captain Jackson does not seem to have cabled his armistice message of 7 November to the Navy Department in Washington, DC, (as well as to Admiral Wilson), unlike Major Warburton, the Military Attaché who sent his armistice news to the War Department. Whether it was Jackson who telegraphed the follow-on cancellation of the armistice message that Admiral Wilson received not long after having released the false news in Brest and to Roy Howard, is not known here. 2
There is some evidence to suggest, however, that Jackson did not, in fact, authorize the telegram to Admiral Wilson that contained the 7 November false armistice news – that he had not seen the message before it was transmitted.
1. See: Biographical Chronology of Richard H. Jackson, available online from United States Naval Academy, Nimitz Library: Richard H. Jackson papers, 1802-1988 (Bulk 1883-1971). Also: Vice Admiral William S. Sims to Captain Richard H. Jackson, London, 5th July, 1917, available online from the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), Documentary Histories, WWI. And, Manley R. Irwin, Under Administrative Stress: The U.S. Navy Base, Brest, France, 1917. Available online. In the January 1925 Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, p3, he is listed as a Rear Admiral and Assistant Chief of Naval Operations. He became Rear Admiral in June 1921 (p364).
2. Some of Jackson’s papers are deposited at Stanford University, but throw no light on the 7 November false armistice news or his involvement in it. Among them are translations of the Spa-Senlis wireless messages “issued in Paris last night [7 November]”. They are included in a collection of contemporary newspaper reports from his time there. Richard Harrison Jackson Papers, 1917-1930, ‘1918 Paris, France: November 8’. Stanford University – Hoover Institution Library and Archives.
In Brest on 7 November 1918
Roy W. Howard. (1883–1964)
There is a great deal of information available about Howard, in print and online. A recent (2016) biography of him is by Patricia Beard – details in the Bibliography section of this website. His obituary in The New York Times on 21 November 1964 (front page) may be viewed online.
Arthur Hornblow, Jr. (1893-1976)
In November 1918, Hornblow was the American Army G-2, SOS, Intelligence Officer in the French port of Brest, or Base Section Number 5 as the area was designated. He had been enrolled, aged twenty-four, as a second lieutenant (Infantry, National Army) in October 1917 and ordered to report for duty at the Military Intelligence Section of the War College in Washington, DC. He was in France by March 1918, attached to G-2 and carrying out special duties in Paris, Bordeaux, Biarritz, and Hendaye before being assigned to Brest in June 1918. The following September, he was promoted to first lieutenant.
Shortly after the Armistice, Hornblow reported to Lieutenant Colonel Cabot Ward, the G-2 SOS Assistant Chief of Staff in Paris, “for conference and instructions”. A few days later, by orders from US Army Headquarters in Paris, he was appointed “Conducting Officer, G-2, S.O.S.” at AEF Headquarters in “Neufchateau, St. Mihiel, Verdun, Metz and such other points as may be necessary”. During December, he was transferred to Paris to work as a “negative intelligence” officer with the “American Commission to Negotiate Peace” (located in the Hotel Crillon) which, together with duties as “Intelligence Officer for the District of Paris”, took him through to discharge from the Army (at his own request) at the beginning of September 1919.
Lieutenant Hornblow was highly regarded by superiors. General G. H. Harries, his commander at Base Section Number 5 in Brest, described him as being “100% efficient” but whose “great merit” had gone “without the recognition which promotion should have given him”. Left to Harries, Hornblow would have reached the rank of major.
Colonel R. H. Van Deman, who was in charge of the Office of Negative Intelligence in Paris, considered him to be “a most excellent officer” who had displayed “in a high degree” all the characteristics demanded by the “unusual character” of his department’s work: “exceptional judgment, tact and attention to detail”. In a private letter to Hornblow, the Colonel complimented him and thanked him for “never [having] been found wanting” in the “discretion and constant attention to innumerable details” that his work required, and for his contribution in the solving of “many perplexing questions”.
Lieutenant Colonel Cabot Ward, the G-2, SOS, Assistant Chief of Staff in Paris, summed up Hornblow’s work in Brest (for which he was accountable to Paris) as having been “remarkably successful”; and “all his service” as having shown “industry, efficiency, and general ability”, marked “military qualities and loyalty”, and a “high character and intelligence [that] have made him of great value to the work”.
In March 1920, the Adjutant General’s Office of the War Department notified Hornblow that the French Government had made him a Chevalier of the ‘Ordre de l’Étoile noire’ (‘Order of the Black Star’) – essentially an award recognising services to the French Empire in Africa. In his acknowledgment of the notification, Hornblow asked for details of what “services rendered” had been cited for his receipt of the decoration, and what ribbon he would be entitled to wear “with civilian clothes”. Surprisingly, he was informed there was no citation accompanying the certificate conferring the award, and that the Adjutant General’s Office did not know what ribbon could be worn by its recipients. Whether Hornblow subsequently obtained answers to these obvious questions about his award is not recorded in his private papers.
After leaving the army he resumed his pre-war career as a lawyer in New York City for a few months, but then found success in the Broadway and Hollywood entertainment industries as a writer and producer. There is a great deal of information online about his later careers.
1. The above account of Hornblow’s military service during the Great War is based on documents contained in the Military File of his private papers, which are located in the Arthur and Leonora Hornblow Papers at the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Beverly Hills, California.
2. There are no details in his papers that give an insight into the Intelligence work he carried out or cases and investigations he may have been involved in. For information about aspects of US Military Intelligence at the time, see Frank J. Rafalko (Ed.), A Counterintelligence Reader, American Revolution to World War II, Volume 1, Chapter 3, ‘Post Civil War to World War I’. Available online.]
Major Fred C. Cook
In The Rotarian magazine of June 1917, Cook is listed as news editor of the Washington Star newspaper, and as a lieutenant-colonel in the National Guard. Roy Howard also gave the detail that he had been a news editor of the Star before the war, in his chapter for Webb Miller’s memoirs and in his private papers.
In November 1918, Cook had the rank of major and was serving on the staff of General George Harries at the AEF base in Brest.
Cook accompanied Howard to Admiral Wilson’s headquarters around 4:00 pm on Thursday 7 November, and witnessed what happened there. He did not go with Howard and Ensign John Sellards to the Atlantic cable-head building, but remained at the Admiral’s office. He may also have been with Howard for a time after the false armistice cablegram was sent, trying to obtain more armistice news.
Howard evidently wrote to Cook after 7 November asking him for a written statement testifying to what occurred in Admiral Wilson’s office when Howard was given permission to use Captain Jackson’s armistice message from Paris. Cook obliged, and sent Howard, by then in New York City, a “letter based on incident of November 7”, which he asked Howard not to publish or “use otherwise than as you stated to me”. Howard’s request for the statement is not available.
Cook returned to Washington, DC, in December 1918, and worked with the Washington Evening Star. He recalled his part in events in Brest on 7 November 1918 in two Armistice anniversary articles for the newspaper which appeared in the 11 November 1924 and 1925 issues. Roy Howard wrote to him about the later (much longer) article, pointing out what he considered to be erroneous details, and information he thought Cook had overlooked and could have included to make the narrative more accurate.
It is not known here whether Cook responded to Howard’s comments on his article, or to an invitation to have lunch with Howard in Washington “sometime in the near future”.
[The Rotarian, Volume X, No. 6, June 1917, p.664; and the Roy W. Howard in Brest article on this website.]
[Clipping from The Washington Times, 24 December 1918, p3, under ‘Maj. C. Fred Cook Reaches New York’. Available through the Newspapers.com portal.
[Letters: Fred C. Cook to Howard, Nov. 15 (Note sent with testimony letter.) Fred C. Cook to Howard, A.P.O. No. 716, A.E.F., France, November 15, 1918. (Testimony letter.) Accessible online from The Roy W. Howard Papers, 1892-1964. (MSA 1) at The Media School Archive, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, Indiana.
Articles: ‘Real “False Armistice” Story Is Now Told By Eyewitness’, by C. Fred Cook. The Evening Star, Wednesday, November 11, 1925, p4; and ‘False Armistice Day Report Vividly Recalled’. The Evening Star, Tuesday, November 11, 1924, p5.]
Other information about Cook seems to be unavailable.
Admiral Henry Braid Wilson (1861-1954)
Rear Admiral Henry B. Wilson had been sent to Gibraltar in August 1917 to command US naval forces based there, but was transferred to Brest in January 1918 as Commander of US Naval Forces in French Waters. He remained here until the end of January 1919.
He gave a newspaper interview for the tenth anniversary of the False Armistice, but it contains no information about what happened in Brest on 7 November 1918 which was not already available from previous press reports and Hornblow’s 1921 magazine article.
There are a few items of information about him online.
[The Madera Daily Tribune and Madera Mercury (California), 7 November 1928, p3, under ‘World War Officials Give Story of How False Report Started’. Wilson’s interview is one of two separate articles on the page, but paragraphs from both articles evidently became mixed-up during publication, causing confusion in parts.]
John Armstrong Sellards. (1889-1938)
Sellards graduated from Illinois University in 1912 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He moved to Stanford University in California to become a teaching assistant in French and Spanish, was awarded a Master’s degree there in 1916, and appointed instructor in French. He enlisted in the ‘Second Stanford Ambulance Unit’ after the United States entered the war, but, having “a thorough knowledge of French, German, Italian, and English”, was transferred in France to General Pershing’s staff as an interpreter. [The Stanford Daily, 29 October, 1917, under ‘Sellards is Member of Pershing’s Staff’; 20 April, 1938, under ‘Sellards Shows Profs Can Still Be Versatile’, p2] It is not known here when he became an ensign in the US Navy and Admiral Wilson’s aide and interpreter in Brest, but he is listed as a lieutenant (junior grade), enrolled 28 December 1918, in the US Navy Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of 1 January 1919 (page 735).
He was at Stanford during the 1920s and 1930s, with breaks from teaching there to study in Europe as a Commission for Relief in Belgium fellow (1920-21 and 1931-33), to work with the American Relief Administration in Russia and Austria (1921-22), the Commerce Department (October 1923-February 1924), and the University of California at Los Angeles (1933-34). He gained a doctorate from the University of Paris in 1933.
His last position at Stanford was as Associate Professor of Romanic Languages and Acting Director of the Summer Quarter (1934-38), from which he moved to the University of Washington in Seattle to become Professor of Romanic Languages. He died in Seattle on 14 December 1938.
He does not seem to have left an archive of his private papers to any public institution. It is not known here whether he ever committed to paper or spoke to anyone other than Admiral Wilson about the dispatch of the false armistice cablegram from Brest on 7 November 1918.
His account of what happened that day in Brest would be of great interest and historical value to the False Armistice story.
Few False Armistice recollections by officials
When the false armistice news started spreading on 7 November, the French High Command blamed the Germans. French Deputy Chief of Staff Edmond Buat sent army commanders the following signal:
“It has happened that the enemy has spread the noise [rumour] that an armistice is signed in order to deceive us. There is nothing in it. Nobody will stop hostilities of any sort without [permission] from the C-in-C. The First Army has received very particular instructions”. 1
In his memoirs, published some years later, Marshal Foch gives the impression that he anticipated just such a move by the Germans. He recorded that he “warned all the armies against false rumours which the enemy might circulate prematurely regarding the conclusion of an armistice” and, at the same time, sent “special instructions” to General Debeney, the commander of the French First Army, to prepare to receive a German armistice delegation in a sector under his command. 2
From the immediate context of the passage, this seems to have been sometime during 4-6 November.
Surprisingly, however, the Marshal said nothing in his memoirs about the 7 November false armistice reports themselves.
In the memoirs of American Ambassador W.G. Sharp, there is no mention of any false armistice events in the Paris Embassy, or anywhere else. Indeed, events during the first week of November 1918 are ignored altogether. 3
The British Ambassador in Paris, the 17th Earl of Derby, spent much of 7 November discussing matters relating to the German armistice with various high-ranking individuals. But, like Ambassador Sharp, he excluded from his memoirs any references to the false armistice news. Nor, it seems, did he communicate with the Foreign Office in London about it. 4
General Henri Mordacq on the other hand acknowledged it in his recollections. In November 1918, Mordacq was French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau’s Head of Military Cabinet (Clemenceau was Prime Minister and Minister of War). During the inter-war period, the General wrote two books about the German Armistice; both focus on events during 8-11 November, but they also contain (identical) short accounts of the false armistice news of 7 November. 5
The accounts mention Naval Attaché Captain Jackson’s “famous” armistice telegram to Admiral Wilson in Brest, the dispatch of its message to the USA by Roy Howard, its “enormous repercussions” in America, and the German spy theory about its origins. A subsequent inquiry, Mordacq commented, revealed that Captain Jackson had received the peace news by telephone from an official at the French Ministry of War.
He disclosed that the American Embassy in Paris telephoned him a number of times hoping to verify the armistice news. “I remember very well” he recalled, that during the evening of 7 November, I was bombarded with telephone calls from the American Embassy asking whether the armistice had been signed. I of course replied that it had not, adding that the German delegates had not yet reached our lines”.
Mordacq implied that the German spy theory arose from a “detailed inquiry” into the false news carried out by “the American authorities”. These, he remarked by way of explanation, were convinced German agents thought that the premature peace celebrations would put the Allies under great pressure to end the war, a situation the German armistice delegates could then exploit during the armistice talks. “It is possible” this is what happened, he noted, “though so far, no proof has emerged to support the theory”.
The information about the telephone calls from the American Embassy seems to be his only personal contribution to the false armistice item in his Armistice books. Unfortunately, he did not specify where he was when he took the calls (at the War Ministry presumably); shed any light on what else may have occurred that day inside the Ministry in relation to the armistice rumours; or offer details about the American official inquiries he mentioned. Nor is there any hint that the French may have carried out inquiries of their own or that the General had information from any French sources.
Indeed, judging solely from the account in his books, it would seem that most of Mordacq’s details came from the Amazing Armistice article Arthur Hornblow had written in 1921 – eight years before the General’s first Armistice book appeared in France in 1929 (the second came out in 1937). 6
Over the five days from 11 to 15 November 1928, the Evening Star newspaper (Washington, DC,) presented its readers with five articles about the German Armistice which were tantamount to a pre-publication, condensed serialization in English of General Mordacq’s 1929 book. The Washington Star was the paper Fred Cook worked for and which published his eyewitness recollections of 7 November 1918 events in Brest for an anniversary feature in 1925. But whether Cook played a part in acquiring Mordacq’s memoirs for the paper is not known here.
Mordacq included an item on the false armistice news in his fourth article. Here, in contrast to what he would relate just a few months later in his 1929 book, he disclosed far more of what he apparently knew about events on 7 November, and of what actions he had taken over the peace rumour.
Thus: referring to the findings of a subsequent investigation that Captain Jackson had received the armistice news by telephone from an official at the French Ministry of War, the General claimed that he “did [his] best to trace” what he called here “that mysterious telephone call”.
As a result of his enquiries (it seems), he was able to state in 1928, without doubt, that a liaison officer “between the French ministry of war and the American embassy” had telephoned the armistice news to the office of Naval Attaché Captain Jackson, and “one of the telephonists” there had then forwarded the news to Jackson himself. However, the liaison officer had been “careful enough to avoid saying whether he was a French or American liaison officer, of whom there were many”.
Captain Jackson tried, but failed, to “trace the call back from the embassy” to the War Ministry. General Mordacq “immediately called in” the liaison officers on his War Ministry staff, those with the Deuxième Bureau staff (“the G-2 of the French army”) based at the Ministry, and the telephone operators there. “None of them had sent the message”.
“I am convinced” Mordacq confessed, that the man who telephoned the message “was a German agent” – a belief, he noted, that many Americans shared. But whether he was suggesting that the spy operated from within the War Ministry or from somewhere else, is not clear.
“A minute investigation” was carried out by the American authorities “to discover the origin of the [false] report”, the General commented towards the end of his article. But, as in his later books, he did not complement the statement with information about the Americans’ findings. Instead, he supposed that what the Germans were hoping for from their armistice rumour – what they calculated would have been “the advantage that could accrue to [them] if they could foist the false story … upon the masses of France, America and England” – was a massive surge in favour of peace, provoked by the news, that would put pressure on the Allies to moderate the armistice conditions the Germans were expecting to receive. 7
It seems most likely that the American investigation Mordacq referred to was the one carried out by the US Intelligence Service in Paris: the 7-9 November 1918 SOS G-2 inquiry into the origin, release and spread of the armistice news. And that he was, therefore, aware of its findings, one of which was that American Liaison Service Officers had played a part in circulating the false armistice news. Another was that French officials in the War Ministry and at least one Deuxième Bureau officer had also been involved – which the General’s own alleged investigation would appear to refute .
Why his later Armistice books do not contain all the false armistice details General Mordacq included in his 1928 newspaper article, is open to speculation. But, as with his books’ accounts, his fourth article’s false armistice item seems to owe much to Hornblow’s 1921 magazine article.
[November 2018, with additional Mordacq material.]
1. “C-in-C. French Armies. To: Staffs PICARDIE CHAMPAGNE MIRECOURT CONDE LAHEYCOURT. GENERAL HEADQUARTERS, FRENCH ARMIES OF THE EAST, November 7. 1918.” [No time of day indicated.] This copy, “a contemporary translation”, is from United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919. Volume 10, Part 1, The Armistice Agreement and Related Documents. G-3, GHQ, AEF: Fldr. 1203: Telegram. Stuart Heintzelman. Brig. General U.S.A. Chief of Staff. Second Army. ‘Order Forbidding Cessation of Hostilities’.
2. The Memoirs of Marshal Foch, Book II, Chapter XIV, ‘The Armistice’, p465. New York, 1931. Translated by Col. T. Bentley Mott. And p289 in Maréchal Foch, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoirede la guerrede 1914-1918. Tome Second. (Paris, 1931). Available online through BnF Gallica website.
3. Warrington Dawson (Ed), The War Memoirs of William Graves Sharp, American Ambassador to France 1914-1919. (1931). Available online.
4. David Dutton (Ed.), Paris 1918. The War Diary of the 17th Earl of Derby. (Liverpool University Press. 2001)
5. Général Henri Mordacq, La Vérité sur l ‘Armistice. Chapitre III, ‘Les journées des 10 et 11 novembre’, pp46-48. Editions Jules Tallandier. (Paris. 1929.) And, L’ARMISTICE DU 11 NOVEMBRE 1918. RÉCIT D’UN TÉMOIN. ‘Les fausses nouvelles’, pp107-109.Librairie Plon. (Paris. 1937.) Extracts translated for this article by the writer.
6. Arthur Hornblow, Jr, ‘The Amazing Armistice: Inside Story of the Premature Peace Report’. Published originally in The Century Magazine, November 1921. Available online.
7. The Evening Star, Wednesday, November 14, 1928, p22 under ‘The World War Armistice: Day-by-Day Negotiations Ten Years Ago’. Available through the Library of Congress, Chronicling America Historic American Newspapers portal.
On the German spy claims in Mordacq, see the False Armistice Conspiracy Theories article on this website.
Marshal Foch and the German requests for a cease-fire
In their first Spa-Senlis wireless telegram, the Germans named the delegates they were sending to meet Marshal Foch to receive the Allies’ armistice conditions. They asked for details of where the delegates could meet the Marshal, and made it known that “in the interests of humanity” they would welcome a “temporary suspension of arms” when the delegation reached the Allies’ lines.
Foch’s reply instructed the delegates to head for the French forward positions on the Chimay-Fourmies-la Capelle-Guise road, informing them that orders had been given to receive them there and take them on to where they would meet the Marshal. But there was no reply to the German “suspension of arms” suggestion.1
During the following morning of 8 November, when the German delegates finally met the Marshal at Rethondes and asked for “an immediate suspension of hostilities”, their request was refused. 2
Both German proposals for a general cease-fire to accompany the armistice talks – the first in the initial Spa-Senlis telegram, the second at the opening armistice meeting with Foch – were thus rejected by the Allies.
Foch was adamant that there would be no suspension of hostilities along the Front until after the Germans had signed an armistice on the Allies’ terms. He distrusted the Germans: he was afraid they might take advantage of a general cease-fire during the armistice talks to consolidate their positions on the Western Front before rejecting the Allies’ terms and resuming the war. And he was unsure how the Allied armies and civilian populations would react to a resumption of fighting in such circumstances.
Marshal Joffre, then a member of the Allies’ Supreme War Council, spoke frankly of the French High Command’s concerns and uncertainty about Germany’s armistice approaches, during a conversation with the American Ambassador, William Sharp, on 30 October 1918:
“Germany has continued fortifying her original pre-war frontier and the line along the Rhine, while present [preliminary] negotiations have been in progress…. We can only conclude that Germany is preparing to defend her soil, should certain eventualities occur….
Our army is impregnated with the idea that the war is virtually over. There has been so much peace talk that officers and men can almost fancy themselves at home once more. If Germany could manage to hold out for a while longer, our armies, forced to a winter campaign which they now judge impossible, would feel a disappointment whose results might be extremely serious. The French army has accomplished such prodigies of valor and of self-sacrifice during more than four years, that I do not like to think it would refuse to fight on until Spring if ordered to do so. But such a possibility does exist, owing to the spirit of peace now impregnating the air, and to the fact that the French people themselves have suffered almost as much as they are capable of suffering”. 3
Not surprisingly, similar views were held at operational command level. In the war zone, while listening-in to wireless transmissions on 7 November, radio lieutenant Henri Tscherning intercepted the German 3:00 pm cease-fire announcement, and subsequent messages about armistice developments. His general instructed him to keep everything he picked up “top secret”. Nothing was to be leaked: “if an armistice results from the talks now taking place” the general told him “then the carnage is over. But if everyone in the division finds out about it, and the talks fail and the war has to continue, what a disappointment it would be, and blow to morale, for our brave men!” 4
However, Marshal Foch did allow a cease-fire, of limited duration, to be observed in the La Capelle area where the German delegation was to cross the front lines.
French operations there were under the control of General Marie-Eugène Debeney’s First Army. Following the German request for a meeting with Foch and before his reply was sent, the Marshal informed General Debeney that a German armistice delegation would be directed to the La Capelle sector of First Army’s front lines, and instructed him to make arrangements for its arrival.
As part of the arrangements, a purely local cease-fire to allow a safe crossing for the delegation was to be implemented, while along the Front as a whole the Allies’ general offensive would continue with undiminished effort. 5
On their side, the Germans made separate local arrangements for the delegation’s arrival. 6
1. See the Spa-Senlis Wireless Telegram Messages article.
2. Information published in La Dépêche de Brest, 9 Novembre 1918, fron.t page, translated from column with heading ‘Pas de suspension d’armes avant l’acceptation des conditions’.
3. Warrington Dawson (Ed), The War Memoirs of William Graves Sharp, American Ambassador to France 1914-1919. (1931). Online.
4. Henri Tscherning, ‘Comment j’ai appris l’Armistice’. In, La liaison des Transmissions No: 119 – 1979. Available Online. Translation here by this article’s writer.
5. Patrick de Gmeline, Le 11 Novembre 1918 : La 11e heure du 11e jour du 11e mois. ‘Jeudi 7 novembre’, p196. (Presses de la Cité. Paris. 1998). And Général Maxime Weygand, LE 11 NOVEMBRE. ‘ II. L’armistice sur le front’, p2. (Flammarion. Paris. 1932).
6. See the Cease-fires for the German Armistice Delegation article.