False Armistice Cablegrams from France

By Thursday 7 November 1918, separate armistice agreements had already stopped the fighting between the Allies and Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey (the countries aligned with Germany).  And during that day, German delegates were making their way to the Western Front to conclude an armistice between Germany and the Allies, which they eventually signed on Monday 11 November 1918. 1 ENDNOTES

The delegates did not reach the Front until late evening on 7 November, but hours before their arrival the news broke in Paris that they had signed an armistice: the false German armistice news of 7 November 1918.

The news spread around France initially, then to Britain and the USA.  From the USA it crossed into Canada, Mexico and other parts of Latin America, and from Canada reached Australia and New Zealand.

What follows is an account of how the false armistice news entered the USA and Britain in official and allegedly official cablegrams from Paris and in Roy W. Howard’s notorious uncensored cablegram from Brest.  Included are official reports to Washington, DC, about the false news, a discussion of the Jackson False Armistice Telegram, and an addendum relating to the earliest of the cablegrams.

[Note: The time of the day in France and Britain in November 1918 (Allied time) was the same.  In the United States, Washington, DC, time – Eastern Standard Time (EST) – was five hours behind Allied time.  German time was one hour ahead of Allied time.  Thus, 11:00 am in Britain was 11:00 am in France, 6:00 am in Washington DC, and midday in Germany.]

Official Cablegrams To The United States

The earliest false armistice cablegram was the one Major B. H. Warburton, the Military Attaché at the American Embassy in Paris, sent to Secretary of War Newton D. Baker at the War Department in Washington, DC.

It read simply “Armistice signed” and arrived at 8:55 am local time, which was 1:55 pm in Paris. 2  Unfortunately, neither this nor other cables Warburton sent on 7 and 8 November show the time of transmission from Paris.  But at 1:00 pm in Paris Warburton told Colonel Cabot Ward, the Assistant Chief of Staff of G-2 (SOS) – American Military Intelligence – that he had sent it “during the morning”. 3

The Attaché was (presumably) based in the Embassy where there was a so-called “war-time system of quick communication” by telegraph with Washington, DC. 4    Using this, it would have taken about 10 minutes for his armistice cablegram to reach the War Department from the Embassy.  But if it had been in a transmission queue, it could have taken much longer.

At 12:25 pm, over three hours later, the War Department received a follow-on cablegram from Warburton cancelling his “Armistice signed” message.  He stated – without elaboration – that the armistice news had been “confirmed by G-2 (?) S.O.S., Paris”; but then explained that a Major Straight (American liaison officer presumably) had telephoned a denial of it from Marshal Foch’s headquarters and told him that the German delegates would arrive at 5 o’clock that afternoon. 7  

The War Department demands an explanation

The following day, Friday 8 November, General Marlborough Churchill, the head of the War Department’s Military Intelligence Division, demanded an explanation from Warburton.  Evidently annoyed, the General instructed him to:

“… explain fully the circumstances which led you to make the unqualified statement that the armistice had been signed, based merely on the authority of G-2, S.O.S., as stated in your No. 629.  Rush answer.” 20

Warburton replied the same day.  He now told Churchill he had initially received the armistice news from the American Embassy; but repeated his claim that G-2 (SOS) had “confirmed” it:

“[The] information was furnished me by embassy, as I thought, officially.  Subsequently after having sent my [“Armistice signed” cablegram] embassy, to my astonishment, asked me if [armistice] report had been confirmed.  Immediately upon discovery of my error endeavored to secure confirmation, which was obtained from Lt. Col. Ward, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, S.O.S., who stated at 1:00 P.M. that French War Office had called him by telephone and confirmed report and had requested him to notify our General Headquarters.  This report was given absolute credence by various departments of French government and was not officially denied until the afternoon and at the same time this office sent you cable No. 629 [his follow-on cancellation message].”

He concluded his explanation with the following somewhat vague comment:

“Probable reason for universal belief of [armistice] report was no doubt caused by interception of wireless message ordering cessation of fire yesterday afternoon (November 7.) to permit the plenipotentiaries to cross lines.” 21

With no other information to clarify it, the War Department may not immediately have comprehended what Warburton meant by his last sentence.  But he was saying, in effect, that everyone in Paris believed the armistice news on 7 November because an intercepted wireless message contained an order for a cease-fire that afternoon to enable the German armistice delegates to cross the front lines.

In summary, Warburton named the American Embassy, Colonel Cabot Ward of G-2 (SOS) in Paris, and various French government departments as having either spread or confirmed the morning false armistice news.  And he affirmed that everyone believed it because of an intercepted wireless message about an afternoon cease-fire on 7 November for the German plenipotentiaries.  What he did not explain, however, was whose wireless message was intercepted, who intercepted it and when, at what time in the afternoon the cease-fire was to begin, and why the message itself made people believe an armistice with Germany had been concluded. 13 

What General Churchill made of Warburton’s false armistice cablegrams is not known.  But it is evident that he was not impressed by the Military Attaché himself.  (See the Addendum about Major Warburton and Colonel Cabot Ward.)

The State Department becomes involved

At “about 10 o’clock” on 7 November, General Churchill took a “secret copy” of Warburton’s “Armistice signed” dispatch to the State Department.  Here, Secretary of State Robert Lansing, Army Chief of Staff General Peyton March, and State Department Counsellor Frank Polk all agreed that it must be a mistake.  They reasoned, accurately in the event, that because the German delegates had left Berlin for the Western Front (hundreds of miles away) only the previous afternoon, “it was physically impossible for [them] to have [already] reached the French lines and much less to have conferred with Marshal Foch”.

But to be entirely certain, Secretary of State Lansing asked Edward House, President Woodrow Wilson’s Special Representative in Paris, to “confirm” Warburton’s message and “notify us of when we may publish armistice” – what Lansing called a “confirmation or denial” request to House. The request carries the time “11 a.m.” from the State Department.  Apparently, it “got through to the embassy … in nine minutes” 6; and so, would have arrived sometime after about 4:10 pm in Paris.  House’s reply denied the armistice news – “Armistice has not yet been signed.  German representatives will not meet Marshal Foch until this afternoon at 5 o’clock”.  It carries the time “6 p.m.” from Paris (1:00 pm EST).  The State Department received it at 2:04 pm (7:04 pm French time), around three hours after Lansing had requested confirmation of the armistice news. 16

However, at 12:25 pm – over an hour and a half before House’s reply arrived – the War Department received Major Warburton’s follow-on cablegram cancelling his “Armistice signed” message.  They immediately informed the State Department, and sometime after 12:45 pm Frank Polk handed a copy of the cancellation to Secretary of State Lansing at a club where he was having lunch. 

Meanwhile, unbeknown to the State Department, around midday Roy Howard’s false armistice cablegram had arrived in New York City (some 300 miles away) and was spreading rapidly.   

The State Department demands explanations

With Howard’s false armistice news racing around the United States and into Canada, Secretary of State Lansing demanded to know why it had not been contained in France.  As yet unaware that Roy Howard had sent the news from Brest, he had the following telegram, its text evidently restrained, sent to the American Ambassador in Paris, William Sharp:

“United Press [in New York City] received telegram today before 1 p.m. announcing armistice had been signed.  Telegram published at once and greatest excitement and enthusiasm prevails.  This Department and War Department have been informed no foundation for story.  Please find out why censor passed this report as the incident is most unfortunate.” 14

The message left at 4:00 pm. At the same time, he sent a similar, separate message to President Wilson’s Special Representative in Paris, Edward House. He wanted House to make sure that the Embassy investigated Howard’s false armistice cablegram which he believed the United Press office in Paris was responsible for.  In a longer, less restrained message to him, the Secretary of State presumed some sharp practice on the part of the news agency:

“United Press received telegram this morning which was published at once announcing armistice had been signed.  Later information from War Department and from you is that there is no foundation for report.  Similar report was received early this morning by War Department from Warburton but not credited.  The effect of publication of news naturally has created tremendous excitement.  People marching through streets cheering peace.  If as you report there is no foundation for report, it would seem a grave error has been made by censor in permitting this message to pass and that the United Press has been guilty of reckless news work.  Please have Embassy investigate and report how United Press has made such a serious mistake.” 15

Judging from what Lansing said he reported to President Wilson about the armistice news, the State and War Departments decided that French and British censors must be to blame for its arrival in America.  In a memorandum the same day, he wrote that he told the President the French and British “had permitted the press telegram to come through” – what he described as “a strange neglect of duty”.  He did not say, however, on what evidence he based his assertion. 8

The reports from Sharp and House

Ambassador Sharp’s reply to Lansing arrived in two parts, during Friday 8 and Saturday 9 November.

In the first part (Friday 8), the Ambassador explained:

“Preliminary investigation shows that the telegram referred to was filed in Brest by Mr. Roy Howard head of the United Press who is now at that Port enroute to the United States.  The telegram was passed by the American authorities at Brest.  Will cable you when further investigation shows where responsibility lies.”

In the second part (Saturday 9), he added:

“Paris representative of United Press states that he has been in communication telephone with Mr. Howard at Brest who informs him that Admiral Wilson, having received a telegram from the Naval Attaché at the Embassy that armistice had been signed, gave out the news to the local press at Brest, also to Mr. Howard; the latter accompanied by one of Admiral Wilson’s aides filed the cable to the United States which was passed by the censor.” 17

Special Representative House replied on 8 November. Stating that his information “coincides” with the Embassy’s, he explained:

“Most of the officials in Paris and practically every non-official person here believed yesterday that the armistice had been signed.  Captain Jackson, Naval Attaché at the Embassy, sent Admiral Wilson at Brest a wire to that effect.  Wilson showed wire to Roy Howard at Brest and sent an aide with him to cable censor so that Howard would be permitted to send through a dispatch stating that the armistice had been signed.  It is perfectly clear that United Press was not at fault in this matter and that the fault if any, lies with Jackson or the French official who started the rumor….” 18

Clearly, Lansing’s assumptions about British and French censors in France neglecting their duties and of “reckless news work” by United Press were not borne out by Sharp’s and House’s reports.  On the contrary, they absolved United Press and Roy Howard of any wrongdoing while insinuating that it was American and French authorities in Paris and American authorities in Brest who were responsible for what Lansing had termed the “grave error” and “serious mistake” of allowing the armistice news to spread.

False Armistice Cablegrams Allegedly Sent To The United States

After the war, Roy Howard acquired a number of documents relating to the False Armistice, among the first of which was a letter containing details about four alleged armistice messages sent on 7 November.  Two are from Edward House in Paris to the State Department; and two are from Admiral Wilson in Brest to the Navy Department. 

The details are:

On 7 November the State Department received a cablegram at 12:30 pm from Edward House in Paris stating “Armistice signed congratulations”.  This was followed ten minutes later at 12:40 pm by another message – “Error but will [communicate] later full report follows House” – which presumably cancelled the previous one. (The word after ‘will’ is not clearly typed; it seems to be ‘communicate’.)

And the Navy Department received a cablegram at 12:10 pm from Admiral Wilson in Brest stating “Headquarters reports armistice signed”.  But at 1:10 pm received a follow-on message reading “Headquarters report error in signature”. 23

Many years later, in a letter to an American journalist, Howard disclosed that Ambassador William Sharp had also sent a false armistice cablegram to the State Department on 7 November – its message “virtually identical to the one received by Admiral Wilson”, information he is most likely to have obtained sometime after acquiring the above details. 27

Attempts to locate these cablegrams have not been successful.  If genuine, which Roy Howard believed them to be, they have either been lost somewhere in the archives or deliberately excluded from recorded collections of official documents.

The alleged messages from Edward House to the State Department

Special Representative House’s alleged messages reached the State Department within ten minutes of one another – the first at 12:30 pm, the second at 12:40 pm local time.  Their transmission-times are not stated, but they must have left Paris before 5:30 pm French time at the very latest. 

When they arrived in Washington, DC, the afternoon false armistice news from Paris to Admiral Wilson in Brest which Roy Howard forwarded to New York City was already spreading across the United States.  The following puts House’s alleged cablegrams in the context of verifiable 7 November ones:

1. Major Warburton’s “Armistice signed” cablegram.  Arrived War Office 8:55 am.  Copy to State Department about 10:00 am.

2. Secretary of State Lansing’s request to House for confirmation of Warburton armistice news.  Left for Paris soon after 11:00 am.

3. The Jackson False Armistice Telegram message – ’11 am armistice, 2 pm cessation of hostilities, taking of Sedan’ – telephoned from the American Embassy to the American Navy HQ in Paris and from here to Admiral Wilson in Brest.  Around 3:20 pm in Paris (10:20 am in Washington, DC).  Reached Brest sometime before 4:00 pm (11:00 am in Washington, DC).

4. Roy Howard’s false armistice cablegram.  Left Brest around 4:30 pm.  Arrived New York around midday.

5. Major Warburton’s cancellation of his armistice news.  Arrived War Department 12:25 pm.  Copy to State Department and Secretary Lansing.

6. Edward House’s alleged “Armistice signed, congratulations” cablegram.  Arrived State Department, 12:30 pm. 

7. Edward House’s alleged cablegram cancelling number 6.  Arrived State Department, 12:40 pm.

8. Edward House’s “Armistice has not yet been signed” reply to Lansing’s request for confirmation of Warburton’s “Armistice signed” cablegram.  Sent from Paris 6:00 pm (1:00 pm Washington, DC time).  Arrived State Department, 2:04 pm.

9. Secretary of State Lansing’s requests to Ambassador Sharp and House for information about Roy Howard’s cablegram and its transmission.  Left State Department after 4:00 pm.

So, when House’s two alleged cablegrams (6. and 7.) arrived at the State Department, the American Embassy in Paris had already received the afternoon false armistice news and started spreading it; and Major Warburton’s cancellation of his morning false armistice news had just arrived at the War Department.  House’s awaited reply to Lansing’s request for confirmation of Warburton’s morning “Armistice signed” cablegram, however, was still about ninety minutes away, and was pre-empted by Warburton’s own cancellation cablegram. 

Hypothesizing, the alleged “Armistice signed congratulations” message (6.) may have been House’s ‘original’ reply to Lansing’s request for confirmation of Warburton’s morning armistice news (2.).  A reply sent in the mistaken belief that the afternoon Jackson armistice news in Paris (3.) was true, but then quickly cancelled by alleged cablegram (7.) with its “Error but will [communicate] later full report follows” message.  To cover the error, both were later replaced in the records by House’s ‘official’ reply denying the Warburton armistice news (8.).  Transmitted from Paris twenty minutes after his alleged cancellation cablegram (7.) arrived at the State Department, it was in transit for sixty-four minutes.    

In short, the hypothesis is that there were three armistice cablegrams to the State Department during the afternoon of 7 November showing House’s name – the two alleged ones and his published official reply to Lansing’s request for confirmation or denial of the morning Warburton armistice news.  But only one of them survived for inclusion in the official records.    

The alleged messages from Admiral Wilson to the Navy Department

As noted above, Wilson’s first alleged message read “Headquarters reports armistice signed Wilson”.  Not included are the Jackson False Armistice Telegram details about an 11:00 am Armistice, a 2:00 pm cessation of hostilities, the taking of Sedan by the Americans, and the French Foreign Office’s announcement of the news.  Its dispatch-time is not given, but its alleged 12:10 pm arrival at the Navy Department means that it left Brest sometime before 5:10 pm, which is entirely feasible because Roy Howard’s armistice cablegram from Brest arrived in New York City around the same time, having been transmitted from Brest not long before 4:30 pm local time.  

An hour then elapsed before the 1:10 pm arrival of Wilson’s alleged cancellation message – “Headquarters report error in signature Wilson”.  This means that it left during early evening in Brest – sometime before 6:10 pm French time (again, its dispatch-time is not given).

There is nothing in Admiral Wilson’s archive about the Jackson armistice news from Paris going to the Navy Department from his headquarters.  But it is highly unlikely that news signifying the end of the war would not have been quickly sent on to Washington, DC.  To announce it to the local French newspaper and population without informing the Navy Department of it is just not credible.  Indeed, among the false armistice details Arthur Hornblow acquired after the war there is some evidence that the Navy Department was notified: Moses Cook informed him that, when he contacted Brest HQ from Paris HQ to cancel the Jackson message, he was told that the news “had gone to Washington long ago”. 24

Regarding cancellation of the armistice news, Admiral Wilson does record in his private papers that he received a “signature Armistice unconfirmed … let it be known at once ” message from Navy Headquarters in Paris two hours after receiving the Jackson Telegram – which would have been sometime before 6:00 pm.  Wilson does not actually say that he had this cancellation message sent to the Navy Department, but it may be assumed he did and that it arrived there early in the afternoon, local time. 26

The following puts Admiral Wilson’s alleged cablegrams in the context of verifiable 7 November ones:

1. The Jackson False Armistice Telegram message – ’11 am armistice, 2 pm cessation of hostilities, taking of Sedan’ – telephoned from the American Embassy to the American Navy HQ in Paris (around 3:20 pm in Paris, 10:20 am in Washington, DC); and from here wired to Admiral Wilson in Brest.  Reached Brest sometime before 4:00 pm (11:00 am in Washington).

2. Alleged “Headquarters reports armistice signed ” cablegram from Admiral Wilson to the Navy Department.  Arrived 12:10 pm.  No transmission time from Brest given, but must be before 5:10 pm there.

3. Roy Howard’s false armistice cablegram.  Left Brest around 4:30 pm.  Arrived New York around midday.

4. Telegram “signature Armistice unconfirmed … let it be known at once ” from Navy HQ in Paris to Admiral Wilson.  Sent to Brest around 6:00 pm. (1:00 pm in Washington).  Not mentioned in Wilson’s papers that it was forwarded to the Navy Department.

5. Alleged “Headquarters report error in signature” cablegram from Admiral Wilson to the Navy Department.  Arrived 1:10 pm.  No transmission time from Brest given, but must be before 6:10 pm there.

Attempts to locate Wilson’s alleged messages in US Navy Department archives have not been successful.  But the overall probability is that they were authentic and that the information Roy Howard obtained about them was therefore accurate. 

The Navy Department demands an explanation from Admiral Wilson

The Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, telegraphed Admiral Wilson in Brest on Friday 8 November wanting to know whether he was responsible for releasing the false armistice news the previous day.  In reply, Wilson explained that he had announced the news, which he assumed to be official as it was from the Naval Attaché in Paris, and had given a copy of it to Roy Howard.  He denied, however, that he gave Howard permission to send the news to the United States and helped him with its transmission (allegations made in Ambassador Sharp’s and Special Representative House’s reports to the State Department, and later by Roy Howard in his account of 7 November events in Brest). 26

The alleged message from Ambassador Sharp to the State Department

Over thirty years later, Howard told journalist David Lawrence that Edward House and Secretary of War Newton D. Baker had disclosed to him that:

“Messages virtually identical to the one received by Admiral Wilson were sent to Lansing by Ambassador Sharp, and to Baker and [Josephus] Daniels by Major Warburton and Captain Jackson, the Army and the Navy Attaches at the Paris Embassy.

Colonel House told me that as soon as he learned of the messages which had been sent to Washington he got in touch with Ambassador Sharp and told him that the information was erroneous and that as a result the messages sent to State, War and Navy were promptly killed from Paris.  Captain Jackson also wired a kill to Admiral Wilson ….” 27  

When Howard obtained this information from House and Baker is not known – the letter containing it is separate from others relating to the False Armistice in his archive.  Perhaps House divulged it in Paris during the Versailles Peace Conference – if Howard was actually there with the rest of his United Press team. 23

What is new here is that Ambassador Sharp also allegedly sent a message to the State Department along the lines of “Armistice signed congratulations”; that Edward House intervened to have it cancelled; and that a Jackson false armistice cablegram and subsequent retraction went from Paris to the Navy Department as well as from Paris to Brest.   

The American Embassy certainly passed on the morning and the afternoon false armistice news, so the ambassador could well have sent an “Armistice signed congratulations” message to the State Department.  However, there is no suggestion in the 1933 published wartime State Department papers that Ambassador Sharp sent any such news to Lansing or that House had intervened to have it cancelled.  But in light of the G-2 (SOS) report of the American Embassy’s involvement in spreading the false armistice news that day 22; and of two telegrams Fred Ferguson from United Press in Paris sent to Howard about the Embassy, it seems more than likely that these alleged cablegrams were also actually sent but later discarded. 

Ferguson informed Howard that “friends” in House’s entourage had told him that “[in] response query [concerning an armistice with Germany]” House had advised Lansing “otherwise safternoon”.  And that Edward House himself had told him: “they tried [to] make me believe it [the armistice news]” – ‘they’ being American Embassy officials.  Tellingly, Ferguson added “embassy in very bad will write details”. 28   

In Ambassador Sharp’s memoirs, there is nothing about False Armistice events inside the Paris Embassy or anywhere else.  Indeed, there is no coverage of any events occurring during the first week of November 1918.  And the Embassy’s documents held in the State Department archives hold no information about 7 November false armistice messages, while the relevant State Department Weekly Report contains no references either.29 

The False Armistice News In Britain

Unfortunately, there seems to be little evidence to explain how the false armistice news reached Britain, other than it arrived at the American Embassy in London sometime before 4:00 pm on 7 November and was leaked to the British press.  It was, perhaps, sent by cablegram directly from the American Embassy/Navy Headquarters in Paris or indirectly from Navy Headquarters in Brest – Admiral Wilson remarked in a letter to Josephus Daniels that “Our own messages went out over our own direct lines to the U.S. Naval Headquarters in London”. 26 

If the armistice-signed news Brest Headquarters allegedly transmitted to the Navy Department went via American Navy Headquarters in London, it would have been picked up there and reported to the Embassy.  But the message must have been misread somewhere along the route to its publication, because the British newspapers quoted the American Embassy as having announced that an armistice with Germany had been signed at 2:30 that afternoon (but no mention of a cessation of hostilities or taking of Sedan). 

Who leaked the information from the Embassy is unknown.  But he passed it on to the Reuters news agency in London which then made it available to newspapers just before 4:00 pm in a short bulletin describing it as “official American information”.  As the time in Britain was the same as in France, the false armistice news therefore arrived and began spreading in Britain well before Roy Howard’s cablegram had left Brest for New York City.

Reuters did not submit its armistice bulletin to the British press censors before sending it out.  But  within minutes it was informed – perhaps by the American Embassy or British Foreign Office – that the news was unconfirmed.  The agency immediately withdrew it, but this failed – for several hours – to stop its amazingly rapid spread across England, Wales and Scotland. 

Whether enquiries were made into how the false news reached Britain, is not known.  No evidence of any has been found. 12

Roy Howard’s Uncensored Cablegram To The United States

The message in Howard’s cablegram – a curtailed version of the Jackson false armistice message – read:

UNIPRESS NEWYORK

URGENT ARMISTICE ALLIES GERMANY SIGNED ELEVEN SMORNING HOSTILITIES CEASED TWO SAFTERNOON SEDAN TAKEN SMORNING BY AMERICANS

HOWARD SIMMS

It was transmitted around 4:20 pm from the Brest Post and Telegraph Office and left without prior clearance from the French cable censors there.  When it arrived not long before noon in New York City, the New York press censors believed Howard had sent it from the United Press office in Paris and that the Paris censors must have already cleared it.  They therefore cleared it and allowed United Press on Park Row to send it “on the leased wires of the service … to all parts of the country”.  Within a very short time, “the nation was aflame, and started a celebration that was never halted until after the real signing of the armistice”. 

Howard and his cablegram achieved immediate notoriety in American newspapers outside the United Press syndicate and an unenviable place in the history of American journalism.  And of the false armistice cablegrams sent from France, his is the most well-known.  Major Warburton’s morning cablegram was effectively contained within the War and State Departments on 7 November 1918 and not revealed to the public until many years later; it is still relatively unknown even in the United States. 13  The London American Embassy’s afternoon false armistice news and the events it provoked were very quickly forgotten about in Britain. 

After receiving the reports on Warburton’s and Howard’s cablegrams, the War and State Departments seem to have made no further demands for information about the false armistice news.  But at least one other report was made at the time.  This was by the American Army’s G-2 Intelligence Service in Paris which conducted its own investigation during 7-9 November into why the false news had started and how it had spread.  Its findings were far more detailed than those in the Warburton, Sharp and House reports to the War and State Departments. 22

The Jackson False Armistice Cablegram

The Jackson Telegram was behind most of the official and alleged false armistice cablegrams from France.  It went to Admiral H. B. Wilson in Brest by military wire from the Communication Office at US Navy Headquarters in Paris.  These were in a building close to the American Embassy.

Apparently, during mid-afternoon on 7 November, the duty ‘communication officer’ at the headquarters – a Lieutenant Barler – rushed into the signal room with a message telephoned to him from the Embassy.  He handed the message to Moses Cook, the ‘chief radioman in charge of the wire room’, and ordered it to be transmitted without delay.  Cook passed the message to the  operator of the ‘Brest Wire’ – a Lieutenant Emmett King – who sent it in uncyphered Morse Code to Navy Headquarters in Brest, where it arrived not long before 4:00 pm.  Here, an operator transcribed the Morse Code message and transferred it to a ‘blank’ telegram form for Admiral Wilson’s information and action. 24 

This is what the completed form – the Jackson False Armistice Telegram – then looked like 30:

Admiral Wilson accepted the armistice message at face value – with Captain Jackson’s name on it, he had no reason to doubt its authenticity.  He ordered the news to be taken to the local French newspaper building close by, to be announced from the bandstand in the square outside his headquarters, and, with consequences impossible to foresee, allowed Roy Howard, who had arrived at his headquarters just a few minutes beforehand, to leave with permission “to use” the news. 26

Duplicates of the completed telegram form appear to have been made in Brest and later taken to the United States.  After the war, J. A. Carey, Admiral Wilson’s former “Flag Secretary”, offered to sell to Hugh Baillie, the United Press manager in Washington, DC, what he said was the “original” Jackson Telegram.  But the transaction seems not to have taken place, and information obtained by another United Press official, L. B. Mickel, claimed the “original” Jackson Telegram was still in Admiral Wilson’s “file”.  However, Mickel had somehow come across a “copy” of the original which a wireless operator (unnamed) had allegedly made in Brest, and arranged for a copy of this “copy” to be made for Roy Howard (who had by now returned to the United States). 23 

J. A. Carey’s so-called “original” and the wireless operator’s so-called “copy” of the original in Admiral Wilson’s file were in all probability duplicates put together from the transcribed Morse Code armistice message sent from Paris.  They may have been authorized duplicates made for legitimate purposes, but were more likely to have been unauthorized and intended as souvenirs.  How many of them may have been made and still exist is not known.  But in the United States, at least one has been in private possession for more than two generations; it is almost identical to the completed telegram form shown above.    

From the American Embassy to the US Navy Headquarters.

The American Embassy gave the false armistice message to US Navy Headquarters.  At the time, the Headquarters were housed in the Jena Hotel (Hôtel d’Iéna) at 4 Jena Square (Place d’Iéna); the Embassy was situated at 5 Chaillot Street, (rue de Chaillot), a few minutes’ walk away.

Lieutenant Barler, the duty communication officer at the Headquarters who handed the armistice message to Moses Cook in the Wire Room, told Cook that a “commander” at the Embassy had telephoned it to him from there.  (Cook said he knew who the commander was, but had forgotten his name over the years.) 24 

The Embassy’s part in forwarding the false armistice news to Navy Headquarters has become obscured by the absence of any substantial information/evidence as to what transpired in the Embassy on 7 November 1918: there seems to have been a deliberate attempt to hide it.  And this has been compounded by hardly credible ‘explanations’ postulating respectively that a German spy concocted the false news and fooled Embassy staff into believing he was sending it from the French War Ministry (Arthur Hornblow conspiracy theory); from the Foreign Affairs Ministry (Roy Howard conspiracy theory); or contacted the Navy Headquarters directly and fooled Lieutenant Barler into believing he was an official at the American Embassy telephoning the news from there (Moses Cook theory). 31

Once inside the Embassy, the message would have been translated if it was still in French and sent first to Ambassador W. G. Sharp’s office for information and action.  Other obvious ‘need-to-know’ recipients of information of this nature were the Naval and Military Attachés on the Embassy staff, and President Wilson’s Special Representative Edward House at his University Street (rue de l’Université) residence across the River Seine and near to the Foreign Office buildings at 37 Quay d’Orsay. 

As the Naval Attaché (among his other responsibilities), Captain Jackson was the person in command at Navy Headquarters – his Staff Office was located there.  Where he was when the message was received at his headquarters and then sent to Brest is not certain.  But there is reason to believe that he was unaware it had been transmitted to Brest, with his name as authorization, until later in the day.  Admiral Wilson intimated as much to Arthur Hornblow in July 1921.  Moses Cook told Hornblow it was so in May 1941 – Jackson “was very much upset about it”, demanded to know what had happened and who had released the message, and as “the fault was with the lieutenant”, reprimanded Barler and had him “sent home” not long afterwards. 24

At Navy Headquarters, therefore, Captain Jackson was the intended recipient when the Embassy telephoned the message; it was for his information and any action he might take as a result of it.  So, if Jackson did not see the message after Lieutenant Barler wrote it down then someone else decided it should be sent off with his name on it.  This was not an unusual practice according to Moses Cook: “all messages leaving our headquarters had to be signed ‘Jackson’ as a matter of routine, but he did not see every dispatch that was sent”. 24 

Did Barler take the message to Jackson’s Staff Office and someone there authorize its transmission to Admiral Wilson in Jackson’s absence?  Or did Barler, knowing that Captain Jackson was not in the building and overlooking the ‘not to be transmitted’ stricture, decide the message should be sent off to Brest without delay and added “15207 Jackson” to it himself?  Given the punishment Moses Cook claims befell the unfortunate lieutenant, the latter scenario seems more credible.

The ”Foreign Office announces … ”

Ignoring the “15207 Jackson” sign-off, the message Navy Headquarters received from the Embassy reads:

“Foreign Office announces Armistice signed 11 a.m. hostilities cease 2 p.m. today.  Sedan taken this morning by U.S. Army.

This is a Translation, shall never be Transmitted.”

“Foreign Office” denotes the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then as now situated along the Quay d’Orsay on the left bank of the River Seine.  The “Foreign Office announces” phrase thus suggests that the false armistice information was made known by/released by the French Foreign Office.  (It does not necessarily mean that the Foreign Office itself transmitted the information to the American Embassy – the message could have had been picked up, translated, and sent to the Embassy by a third party.) 

Assuming it was the French Foreign Office that actually sent it to the American Embassy, then logically they would also have sent it to other diplomatic establishments in Paris, especially to those of France’s allies against Germany.  But how the Foreign Office obtained the false armistice information and who provided them with it will probably never be known.

What can be said is that the ‘11 am-armistice and 2 pm-cessation-of-hostilities’ details began circulating in Paris during late morning on 7 November.  And the Sedan false news arrived a little later, having been attributed in some quarters to a New York Times war correspondent – Edwin L. James – who allegedly reported on 7 November that “Sedan was set on fire by the Germans before they evacuated it” during their “very rapid” retreat. 32 

Further, the translated wording of the message suggests that ‘hostilities’ had not yet ceased when the message was put together, implying that the message was prepared between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm on 7 November, when the Sedan news would also have been added to it.  And the “15207 Jackson” sign-off indicates that it arrived at Navy Headquarters sometime before 3:20 pm and was transmitted to Brest sometime after that.  (Admiral Wilson received the message around 4:00 pm; Roy Howard had cabled it to New York City by 4:30 pm; and United Press had received it by about 5:00 pm French time, midday New York time.)  Moreover, by 3:20 pm both the German and French cease-fires had come into effect on that part of the Western Front where Marshal Foch had told the German armistice delegation to cross into France: the German cease-fire having started at 2:00 pm French time, the French cease-fire at 3:00 pm French time.  Circumstances that suggest it was more than coincidental for the morning armistice news to be re-announced by an official French source during the afternoon when both those cease-fires were in operation. 10 

Addendum: Colonel Cabot Ward and Major Barclay H. Warburton

Major Warburton, who sent the first false armistice cablegram to the United States on 7 November 1918, claimed twice that Colonel Cabot Ward, the G-2 (SOS ) Assistant Chief of Staff in Paris, actually confirmed the news to him when they spoke about it at 1:00 pm that day (presumably by telephone).

He informed General Marlborough Churchill at the War Department in Washington, DC, that Colonel Ward told him the French War Ministry had telephoned him, confirmed the armistice news, and asked him to report it to the American Army’s General Headquarters.  Warburton stated that a Major Straight at Marshal Foch’s Headquarters had told him the news was not true later in the afternoon.

Warburton’s explanation to General Churchill completely contradicts what the G-2 (SOS) Report maintains throughout – that Ward and his office treated the armistice news “cautiously” from the very beginning and “answered all inquiries” about it with a warning that it was unreliable information.

Different Sections of the Report record that:

  • G-2 (SOS) in Paris had not been able to obtain confirmation of the armistice news from the French Second Bureau.
  • Ward felt “it was incredible that [the news], however authenticated, could be correct.”
  • Around midday, he informed US Army GHQ, “with all reserve” that the French Ministry of War had announced a 10:00 am signing of the German armistice.
  • He gave the same information to SOS Headquarters in Tours.
  • G-2 (SOS) “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”.
  • The “Intelligence representatives 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.” 22

Ward did not record in the 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 and was therefore 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 Ward accepted its armistice announcement as official verification, rather than as information to be treated with reserve.

Drawing from Section 3 of the Report, historian John Toland wrote that the armistice news “reached” Major Warburton “at 1 P.M.” on Thursday 7 November. 33  But Section 3 actually says that “at one o’clock” that afternoon Warburton told Ward he had received authentic information about the armistice-signing and sent his “Armistice signed” cable to Washington “during the morning”.  And he 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. 22

In correspondence 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 cablegram 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”.

Apparently, “negotiations of the past week” referred to recent discussions in the Allied Supreme War Council (based in Versailles), and General Churchill, head of the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department, had been demanding information about the discussions from Warburton, who was helping General Tasker H. Bliss, the US military representative on the Council.

For some reason, House did not want Warburton to pass the information on to Churchill.  And he had asked Lansing to explain to Churchill that he expected the latter to obtain “all information of this character” from President Wilson.  The warning comments to House about the Military Attaché followed not long afterwards.

House must have been taken aback by them.  For he agreed to follow the Secretary of State’s advice “carefully” and, in a change of tone, now claimed he had “no illusions with respect to this man”, that Warburton had been given “no information of any value whatever”, and that his “service to us” had been only “in … minor matters”. 34

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 became (unpaid) Special Police Commissioner for Philadelphia in August 1921.  During 1928-1930 he was mayor of Palm Beach, Florida.  He died in December 1954. 19

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. 25

© James Smith  (July 2018) (Reviewed and enlarged, May 2022)

DOCUMENT SOURCES

A) United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919. Volume 10. Part 1. The Armistice Agreement and Related Documents. Center Of Military History, United States Army. (Washington, DC, 1948; 1991) [Online]

B) Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs. Military Intelligence Division. Security Classified Correspondence and Reports, 1917-1941. Record Group 165, United States National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

C) Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1918. Supplement 1, The World War, Volume I.Part 1: The Continuation and Conclusion of the War – Participation of the United States. Editor: Joseph V. Fuller. (US Government Printing Office. Washington, DC. 1933.) [Online]

D) Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States: The Lansing Papers, 1914-1920Volume II. ‘Memorandum by the Secretary of State. November 7, 1918.’ Document 126. Editors: Cyril Wynne; E. Wilder Spaulding; E. R. Perkins. (US Government Printing Office. Washington, DC. 1940.) [Online]

E) Department of State Records, Record Group 84, United States National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

ENDNOTES

1. The literal meaning of armistice is ‘a halt to, or stopping of, the use of arms’ (as in weapons of war).

2. Warburton to War Department. Paris. November 7, 1918. No. 628. File# 2169-38.  Document Sources B).  Referred to as Document No 398 in Document Sources C) and in the Lansing Memorandum in Document Sources D).  The 8:55 am arrival time at the War Department is recorded on the telegram.

3. G-2 (SOS) Report, Section 3. Document Sources A).  And in the ‘American Army G-2 Report on the False Armistice News’ on this website.

4. The “war-time system of quick communication” is mentioned in a 1928 article, about the Major Warburton and Roy Howard false armistice cablegrams, published by the Madera Daily Tribune and Madera Mercury (California), 7 November 1928, p3, under ‘World War Officials Give Story of How False Report Started’. There are two separate articles on the page but paragraphs from each article evidently became mixed-up, causing some confusion in the narrative.

5. Lansing Memorandum, Document Sources D). And, Secretary of State to the Special Representative (House). Washington, November 7, 1918, 11 a.m. Document No 398, Document Sources C). House is sometimes referred to as ‘Colonel’ House, but he had no military service record or official military rank.

6. The Madera Daily Tribune and Madera Mercury (California), 7 November 1928, p3.  See note 4.

7. Warburton to War Department. No. 629Paris. Dated November 7, 1918. Received November 7, 12:25 p.m. File# 2169-39. Document Sources B).

8. Lansing Memorandum. Document Sources D).

9. Webb Miller, I Found No Peace. The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent. Chapter IV ‘Premature Armistice’, p83. (Camelot Press, London. Book Club Special Edition. 1937.)

10. See the ‘3:00 pm Cease-Fire Orders and the False Armistice News’ on this website.

11. See ‘Roy W. Howard in Brest’, Parts One and Two, for a detailed examination of what happened in Brest during 7-9 November 1918.

12. A search carried out for the author in the State Department archives found no references to the London Embassy’s receipt of a false armistice message on 7 November 1918.

For more on events in Britain, see James Smith, ‘Reuters and the False Armistice of 7 November 1918’, in The Baron Archives, 6 April 2017. http://www.thebaron.info/archives/reuters-and-the-false-armistice-of-7-november-1918   And the ‘False Armistice in Britain’ article on this website.

13. Warburton’s false armistice cablegram became public in 1933, when the State Department Papers, cited in Document Sources C), were published. The 7 November 1928 article in the Madera Daily Tribune claimed it was revealing “for the first time the fact that the U.S. military attache communicated … word that the armistice had been signed”.  But it does not name Warburton.  Roy Howard named him in his account in Webb Miller (see note 9) where he described Warburton’s message – erroneously – as a “verbatim duplicate” of Captain Jackson’s to Admiral Wilson. (p87)

14. Lansing to Sharp. Washington, November 7, 1918, 4 p.m. Document 400 Document Sources C)

15. Lansing to House. Washington. November 7, 1918. 4 p.m. Quoted from File# 763.72119/9101a, Document Sources E).  Not in Document Sources C).

16. House to Secretary of State. Paris, November 7, 1918, 6 p.m. Document 399. Document Sources C). And Lansing Memorandum. Document Sources D).

17. Sharp to Lansing. Paris. November 8, 1918, 4 p.m. File# 763.72119/2514; and Sharp to Lansing. Paris. November 8, 1918, 8 P.M. File# 763.72119/2543. Document Sources E).  The latter, part two, is also in the published Document Sources C), as Document 409.

18. House to Lansing. Paris. November 8, 1918, 7 p.m. Recd. 5:10 p.m. File# 763.72119/9100. Document Sources E). Also in Document Sources C), as Document 404.

19. Hall of Valor. Military Times. ‘Valor Awards for Barclay H. Warburton’; The New York Times13 August 1921 ; the Gettysburg Times7 December 1954, p8; J.P. Webster, The Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry. (Charleston. 2013).

20. Churchill to Military Attache, Paris. November 8, 1918. File# 2169-40. Document Sources B).  No ‘time sent’ indicated.

21. Warburton to War Department. No. 642, Paris. November 8, 1918. Received Nov. 8, 10:40 p.m. File# 2169-41. Document Sources B).

22. Sections 2,3,9,10. See ‘The G-2 (SOS) Report on the False Armistice News’ on this website.

23. See ‘Roy Howard’s Search for Information about the False Armistice’ on this website.  

24. See ‘Arthur Hornblow’s Information about the Jackson Armistice Telegram’ on this website.

25. 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’. 

26. See ‘Admiral H. B. Wilson and Roy Howard’s Armistice Cablegram’ on this website.

27. R. W. Howard to David Lawrence, November 30, 1951.  The letter concerns a comment President Truman made during a Korean War press conference about Howard’s “fake” armistice cablegram.  Quoted by Lawrence in his article ‘Roy Howard Recounts ’18 Story’ for the Evening Star [Washington, DC], December 8, 1951, p13.  Available online through the Library of Congress Chronicling America portal.

Note: the armistice message Major Warburton sent to the War Department on 7 November 1918 was not identical to that in the Jackson telegram.  It stated simply “Armistice signed”.)

28. Telegram, Ferguson to Howard “about 11 PM Thursday”.  And Telegram, Ferguson to Howard “Friday Nov 8, 1918 3:15” [annotation].  See ‘Roy Howard’s Search for Information about the False Armistice’ on this website.    

29. Warrington Dawson (Ed), The War Memoirs of William Graves Sharp, American Ambassador to France 1914-1919. (1931).  Searches of the Paris Embassy documents in the State Department archives, undertaken for the author, came across no informationabout 7 November 1918 false armistice messages.

See ‘Few False Armistice Recollections by Officials’, in Addendum to ‘The False Armistice in France’ article on this website.

30. This Jackson False Armistice Telegram surprisingly turned up during searches made in the Naval History and Heritage Command Archive in Washington, D.C.  It is ‘hidden’ there alongside telegrams announcing the real Armistice on 11 November 1918.  It may well be the one put together in Brest on 7 November from Jackson’s false armistice message or a duplicate. 

31. See ‘False Armistice Conspiracy Theories’ and ‘Arthur Hornblow’s Information about the Jackson Armistice Telegram’ on this website.

32. The Auckland Star, 8 November 1918, p5, under “The Americans took Sedan just before the armistice was signed”; and the New Zealand Herald, 9 November 1918, p7, both citing reports from New York on 7 November.  Accessible online.  See ‘The False Armistice in France’ on this website.

33. John Toland, No Man’s Land: The Story of 1918. (London. 1980.) In Chapter 15, ‘The False Armistice’, p548.

34. ‘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.