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 the Ottoman Empire (the countries aligned with Germany).  And on that day, German delegates were travelling to the Western Front to conclude an armistice between Germany and the Allies, which they eventually signed on Monday 11 November 1918. 1ENDNOTES

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 verifiable and unverified cablegrams from American officials in Paris and in Roy W. Howard’s notorious uncensored cablegram from Brest.  Included in the account are official reports sent to Washington, DC, about the false news, a contextual account 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.]

Verifiable False Armistice Cablegrams To The United States

The earliest official 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 “G-2 S.O.S., Paris” had “confirmed” the armistice news but a Major Straight (American liaison officer presumably) had telephoned from Marshal Foch’s Headquarters to deny the news and tell 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 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.

To summarize, 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 explanation about his false armistice cablegrams is not known.  But 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) 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” and so would have arrived sometime after about 4:10 pm in Paris. 6  

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

In the meantime, 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 and had immediately informed the State Department.  Sometime after 12:45 pm Frank Polk handed a copy of Warburton’s cancellation to Secretary of State Lansing at a club where he was having lunch.

So, no armistice had been signed and Warburton’s false news about it had been contained in the War and State Departments.  However, as yet unknown in Washington, DC, Roy Howard’s false armistice cablegram had arrived in New York City (some 300 miles away) around midday and was spreading rapidly across the United States.   

Roy Howard’s Uncensored Armistice Cablegram To New York City

The message in Howard’s cablegram was a curtailed version of the Jackson false armistice message sent to Admiral Wilson in Brest.  It read:

UNIPRESS NEWYORK

URGENT ARMISTICE ALLIES GERMANY SIGNED ELEVEN SMORNING HOSTILITIES CEASED TWO SAFTERNOON SEDAN TAKEN SMORNING BY AMERICANS” 9

Transmitted from the Brest Post and Telegraph Office around 4:20 pm, it left without prior clearance from the French cable censors there because they believed it had arrived in Brest en route to New York City from the United Press office in Paris and that the Paris censors in the Bourse had cleared it. In New York City, the American censors also believed United Press had sent it from Paris and that it had been cleared in Paris.  They therefore allowed the United Press office 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”. 11 

Howard’s false armistice cablegram achieved notoriety in American newspapers outside the United Press syndicate and an unenviable place in the history of American journalism; its impact across the country was remembered for years afterwards.  When Major Warburton’s and the other verifiable false armistice cablegrams were publicized in 1933, press comments saw them primarily in the context of the controversy over Howard’s cablegram and as vindication of his defence of it against his detractors. 9 

The State Department demands explanations

With Roy 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 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, Lansing sent a similar, separate message to President Wilson’s Special Representative in Paris, Edward House.  He wanted House to make sure the Embassy investigated Howard’s false armistice cablegram, which he believed the United Press office in Paris had concocted.  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 [in New York] 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 later reported to President Wilson about the armistice news, the State and War Departments decided that French and British censors must have been 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 also 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.

(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 there is another report about it which the American Army’s G-2 Intelligence Service in Paris made after conducting its own investigation during 7-9 November into why the false news had started and how it had spread.  G-2’s findings were far more detailed than those in the Warburton, Sharp and House reports to the War and State Departments. 22)

The Navy Department demands an explanation from Admiral Wilson

On 8 November, the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, telegraphed Admiral Wilson wanting to know whether he was responsible for releasing the false armistice news the previous day.  Wilson admitted he had announced the news, which he assumed to be official as it was from the Naval Attaché in Paris, and handed a copy of it to Roy Howard.  But he said he was not aware at the time that Howard intended to send the news home to be published and insisted that, had he realized it “was to be sent to America . . . by reason of information received from [him]”, he would certainly not have authorized it.   

In other words, Admiral Wilson denied giving Howard permission to send the armistice news to the United States and, by implication, denied the allegations that he assisted him with its transmission which Ambassador Sharp and Special Representative House made in their (above) reports to Secretary of State Lansing; allegations which Roy Howard also made in his account of 7 November events in Brest. 26

(Unverified) 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 messages allegedly sent to Washington, DC, about the false armistice news.  Two of them were from Edward House in Paris to the State Department; and two were from Admiral Wilson in Brest to the Navy Department. 

The unverified cablegrams from Edward House

Howard’s letter claimed that on 7 November 1918 the State Department received a cablegram at 12:30 pm from Edward House 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 cancelled the previous one.  The transmission-times from Paris are not stated, but to reach the State Department at 12:30 pm and 12:40 pm EST both must have left Paris before 5:40 pm French time at the very latest. 

Putting House’s alleged cablegrams in context, before they arrived at the State Department:

Major Warburton’s “Armistice signed” cablegram had arrived at the War Office; Secretary of State Lansing’s request to House to confirm or deny Warburton’s armistice news had left soon after 11:00 am EST and arrived in Paris soon after 4:10 pm French time; the American Embassy in Paris had received the afternoon false armistice news from the French Foreign Office; Roy Howard’s armistice news had begun spreading across America; and Major Warburton’s cancellation of his morning-armistice-news had arrived in the War Department at 12:25 pm – just five minutes before House’s first alleged false armistice message “Armistice signed congratulations”. 

(House’s “Armistice has not yet been signed” verified reply to Lansing’s 11:00 am request for a confirmation or denial of the Warburton news did not arrive at the State Department until 2:04 pm EST.  And Lansing’s requests for information from House and Ambassador Sharp about Roy Howard’s cablegram did not leave the State Department until shortly after 4:00 pm.)

From their context, if House’s alleged cablegrams were authentic then it could be argued that his “Armistice signed congratulations” message was actually his ‘first reply’ to Lansing’s request concerning Warburton’s morning-armistice-news.  A reply made in the mistaken belief that the French Foreign Office afternoon-armistice-news to the American Embassy was true, and sent just ten minutes before being cancelled by the “Error but will [communicate] later full report follows” message.  And it is conceivable that to cover the embarrassing error, the two alleged cablegrams were later excluded from State Department records to leave only House’s verified cablegram, “Armistice has not yet been signed”, as his reply to Lansing’s 11:00 am request concerning the Warburton news.

In short, it may be that there were three false armistice news cablegrams to the State Department during the afternoon of 7 November showing House’s name – the two alleged ones and his  published response to Lansing’s confirmation or denial request.  But only one of them was included in the official records.

(But see below ‘Unverified false armistice cablegrams from Ambassador William Sharp to the State Department’)

The unverified cablegrams from Admiral Wilson to the Navy Department

According to the information in Howard’s letter noted above, Admiral Wilson’s first alleged false armistice message read “Headquarters reports armistice signed Wilson.” Its dispatch-time is not given, but it arrived at the Navy Department at 12:10 pm apparently, which means it left Brest sometime before 5:10 pm (the Jackson Armistice Telegram had reached Brest not long before 11:00 am EST, 4:00 pm French time).  Around the same time as this alleged cablegram arrived at the Navy Department, Roy Howard’s false armistice cablegram arrived in New York City, having been transmitted from Brest not long before 4:30 pm local time.

There is nothing in Admiral Wilson’s archive about the Jackson armistice news 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 evidence that the Navy Department was indeed notified: Moses Cook informed Hornblow that, when he contacted Brest from Paris Navy Headquarters to try to cancel the Jackson armistice message, he was told that the news “had gone to Washington long ago”. 24

An hour elapsed before the arrival at 1:10 pm EST of Wilson’s second alleged cablegram, which cancelled the first one with the message “Headquarters report error in signature Wilson.”  Again, the dispatch-time is not given, but it must have left during early evening in Brest – sometime before 6:10 pm French time.  This is entirely plausible because Admiral Wilson records in his private papers that he received a “signature Armistice unconfirmed . . . let it be known at once” message from Captain Jackson himself in Paris two hours after receiving the armistice news – which would have been sometime before 6:00 pm French time.  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

Attempts to locate Wilson’s two alleged messages in US Navy Department archives have not so far been successful.  But the overall probability is that they were authentic, that the information Roy Howard obtained about them was accurate, and that they also have been excluded from the public records. 

Unverified false armistice cablegrams from Ambassador William Sharp to the State Department

Over thirty years later, Roy Howard told David Lawrence, the Washington Evening Star journalist, that Edward House and Secretary of War Newton D. Baker had disclosed to him that Ambassador Sharp, Major Warburton (Military Attaché) and Captain Jackson (Naval Attaché) had each sent “messages virtually identical to the one received by Admiral Wilson” to Secretary of State Lansing, War Secretary Baker and Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels. 

He continued, “Colonel House told me that as soon as he learned of the messages . . . 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   (No dispatch-times given.)

[Note: Warburton’s message to War Secretary Baker – “Armistice signed” – was not “virtually identical to the one received by Admiral Wilson” i.e. the Jackson false armistice message.]

Exactly when Howard obtained this information from House and Baker is not known, but it was most likely sometime during 1919.  Perhaps House divulged it in Paris at the Versailles Peace Conference (if Howard was actually there with the rest of his United Press team) or at meetings Howard  probably had with them in America after the war. 23

What is new here is the claim that Ambassador Sharp also sent a false armistice message to the State Department and that Edward House intervened to have it cancelled.

The American Embassy certainly passed on the morning and the afternoon false armistice news, so Ambassador Sharp may well have informed the State Department on 7 November 1918 that an armistice had been signed with Germany.  However, there is no suggestion in the 1933 published wartime State Department papers that Sharp sent any such news to Lansing or that House intervened to have it cancelled.  But in light of the G-2 (SOS) report that the American Embassy was involved in spreading the false armistice news that day; 22 and of the following snippets Fred Ferguson, of United Press in Paris, sent to Howard about the Embassy, it seems more than likely that he did and that his false armistice cablegram, like the others discussed above, was excluded from the official records: 

Ferguson informed Howard that “friends” in Edward House’s entourage had told him that “[in] response query [concerning an armistice with Germany]” House had advised Lansing “otherwise safternoon”.  And that 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   

Perhaps not surprisingly then, 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 

Put in context with the verified and two unverified armistice cablegrams from Edward House discussed earlier in this article, it is possible House’s unverified ones were actually the ones here allegedly sent by Ambassador Sharp from the Embassy, wrongly attributed to Edward House at the time for reasons now unknown.

A False Armistice Cablegram to the American Embassy in Britain

The false armistice news reached Britain sometime before 4:00 pm on 7 November, that is, well before it reached the United States in Roy Howard’s cablegram from Brest.  US Navy Headquarters in London received the news from France, passed it to the American Embassy which leaked it, and the Reuters news agency released it to the British press.  By 4:00 pm it was being reported that, according to “official American information”, an armistice with Germany had been signed at 2:30 that same afternoon.  Within minutes Reuters learned that the news was unconfirmed and immediately withdrew it; but their retraction failed to stop its amazingly rapid spread across England, Wales, and Scotland where premature peace celebrations went on late into the evening. 12

There is evidence that helps explain how the armistice news reached the American Embassy and was acquired by Reuters.  It comes from a letter the Bureau Chief of the Associated Press in London, Robert Collins, sent to Jackson Elliott, the Associated Press News Department Chief in New York City.  In the letter, Collins admitted that he had a part in the publication of the news. 35

He explained that he had contacts in the Embassy (then situated in Grosvenor Gardens) who telephoned on 7 November to tell him the American Naval Attaché in Paris, Captain Jackson, had sent information that an armistice had been signed with Germany.  A staff member cabled the information to the News Department, describing it as an “unconfirmed rumor”, which “seemed about what it was worth” in the circumstances.  A little later, Collins passed it on to the “Reuter editor”, cautioning him that Associated Press was handling it “most guardedly”. 

News that Germany had signed an armistice was not entirely unexpected in London on 7 November, which perhaps explains why “a few minutes afterward the Reuter ticker” released the news, stating that it had been received in “American official quarters”.  Shocked, Collins rushed to the Reuters office, told them he thought they were “making a mistake” and persuaded them to cancel the news.  He did not have to go far to do this (the Associated Press offices were in the same building as the Reuters offices at 24 Old Jewry) and the “kill” went out “seven minutes after the message”.

Ending his letter, Collins confided to Elliott that the Embassy “lied like troopers later, and said that they had received nothing of the kind”; he also assured him he did not “give away” his Embassy contacts.  The only person to blame for the blunder, he claimed, was the (unnamed) Reuters editor: he “made [the] mistake” when he became “over excited” on hearing the armistice news.  Because he had passed the news on to Reuters, Collins felt “in part responsible for [its] publication”; but the “guiltily responsible” person, he insisted, was undoubtedly the Reuters editor (probably S. C. Clements, Reuters ‘manager and secretary’ at the time).   

It is not certain that the American Embassy complex did receive the false armistice news directly from US Navy Headquarters in Paris: it may have arrived indirectly via US Navy Headquarters in Brest.  Admiral Wilson remarked in a letter to Josephus Daniels that “Our own messages went out [to Daniels at the Navy Department] over our own direct lines to the U.S. Naval Headquarters in London”. 26  So, if the armistice news Brest Headquarters allegedly transmitted to Washington, DC, on 7 November (see above) travelled via the London Headquarters (also in Grosvenor Gardens) it would have been picked up there and reported to the Embassy building close by.  And this may have been the armistice news that was leaked to Robert Collins.

(If the Jackson armistice message did go straight to London from Paris, then Emmett King probably transmitted it: he was the operator who sent it to Admiral Wilson in Brest.  And both telegrams would have arrived at their respective destinations at around the same (Allied) time in London and Brest.) 

But whether the news went to Grosvenor Gardens directly from Paris or indirectly via Brest, it remains a mystery why British newspapers reported that an armistice with Germany had been signed at 2:30 that afternoon, rather than at 11:00 that morning as stated in the Jackson Armistice Telegram; and similarly, why the Jackson news of a 2:00 pm ceasefire and the taking of Sedan by the American Army was omitted.  Perhaps the information from Collins’ contacts became garbled somewhere along its route from the nearby Navy Headquarters to the Embassy (by telephone or courier most likely) and from here by telephone to him; or perhaps the press-release put together and rushed through the Reuters “ticker” was the source of the error. In which case, the Embassy’s statement that “they had received nothing of the kind”, in reference to the bulletin Reuters released, might not have been lies: what they received (the Jackson armistice message) would have been entirely different to what was printed in the British newspapers.   

In the report the US Army’s G-2 produced on the false armistice news, there is nothing about its spread to Britain from France and no evidence that enquiries were made into it. 36

The Jackson False Armistice Telegram

The Jackson False Armistice Telegram was behind most of the verified and the alleged false armistice cablegrams from France.  Its message, “Foreign Office announces Armistice signed 11 a.m. hostilities cease 2 p.m. today Sedan taken this morning by U.S. Army”, was received at the American Embassy in Paris, telephoned from there to US Navy Headquarters in a building close by, and telegraphed from here to Admiral H. B. Wilson at his headquarters in Brest.

This is what the Jackson armistice news from Paris looked like after its transfer onto a telegram form at Brest US Navy Headquarters: 30

From the American Embassy to US Navy Headquarters

At the time, the Embassy was situated at 5 Chaillot Street (rue de Chaillot) in Paris, a few minutes’ walk away from the Navy Headquarters which were based in the Jena Hotel (Hôtel d’Iéna) at 4 Jena Square (Place d’Iéna).

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 told Moses Cook, the “chief radioman in charge of the wire room”, that a “commander” at the Embassy had just telephoned it.  (Cook said he knew who the commander was, but had forgotten his name over the years.) 24 

However, the Embassy’s forwarding of the false armistice message to Navy Headquarters has been obscured by a paucity of information about what was happening in the Embassy on 7 November 1918 (there seems to have been a deliberate attempt to hide it) compounded by hardly credible ‘explanations’ postulating a German false-armistice-news conspiracy.  Namely, Arthur Hornblow’s theory that a German spy concocted the false news and fooled Embassy staff into believing he was sending it from the French War Ministry; Roy Howard’s variation on this that the spy claimed to be sending the news from the French Foreign Affairs Ministry; and Moses Cook’s theory that the spy contacted the Navy Headquarters directly and fooled Lieutenant Barler into believing he was an official at the American Embassy telephoning the news from there. 31

Once inside the Embassy, however, the message would have been translated, if necessary, and sent first to Ambassador W. G. Sharp’s office for their information and action.  Other obvious ‘need-to-know’ recipients of news of this nature were the Naval and Military Attachés on the Embassy staff, and President Wilson’s Special Representative in Paris, Edward House.

The news obviously went to the Naval Attaché for his attention.  It may be assumed that the Military Attaché, Major Warburton, became aware of it but decided not to believe it.  And that Edward House became aware of it, at his residence and offices on University Street (rue de l’Université) near to the French Foreign Office buildings at 37 Quay d’Orsay across the River Seine, and may have believed it at first (as discussed above).

From US Navy Headquarters in Paris to US Navy Headquarters in Brest

Lieutenant Barler, the duty communication officer, handed the Embassy’s message to Moses Cook, 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.  About twenty minutes later, Barler rushed back into the wire room and tried to have the message stopped – “it’s a fake” he shouted.  But it was too late: the message had already arrived in Brest and been forwarded from there to Washington, DC. 24

As Naval Attaché, Captain Jackson was the person in command at Navy Headquarters – his Staff Office was located there.  Where he was when Lieutenant Barler received the message and then had it sent to Brest is not certain.  But there is reason to believe that Jackson 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.  And Moses Cook told Hornblow this was so in May 1941 – Captain 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, 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 he 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 in the message, decide it should go off to Brest without delay and added “15207 Jackson” to it himself?  Given the punishment Moses Cook claims befell the lieutenant, the latter scenario seems more credible.

At US Navy Headquarters in Brest

Here, an operator transcribed the Morse Code message and transferred it and related details to a blank telegram form for Admiral Wilson’s information and action. 

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 (whose building was close by) to be announced to people in the square outside his headquarters, and, with consequences impossible to foresee, gave a copy of it to Roy Howard, who had arrived at the headquarters just a few minutes beforehand, with permission “to use” it. 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 Armistice Telegram.  But no such transaction seems to have taken place because another United Press official, L. B. Mickel, claimed later that the “original” Jackson Telegram was still in Admiral Wilson’s “file”.  Mickel, however, had somehow come across a “copy” of the original which, he said, a wireless operator (unnamed) had made in Brest; he secured a copy of this “copy” 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, unauthorized duplicates of the Jackson Armistice Telegram made as souvenirs of 7 November 1918 events.  (And were quite possibly one and the same rather than two separate documents. 23)  Whether other duplicates were made and still exist is not known.  But in the United States there is at least one (in private possession for more than two generations) that is almost identical to the completed telegram form shown above.    

The “Foreign Office announces”  

As shown above in the Jackson Armistice Telegram, the message the American Embassy received reads:

“Foreign Office announces Armistice signed 11 a.m. hostilities cease 2 p.m. today Sedan taken this morning by U.S. Army 15207 Jackson

This is a Translation, shall never be Transmitted”

This 3:20 pm armistice news confirms the late morning news of an armistice-signing reportedly released by the French War Office. It gives 11:00 am as the time the signing occurred.  (The G-2 Report says it was a 10:00 am signing. 22  Whether these are Allied or German times is not clear: there is nothing in the Jackson armistice message or G-2 Report to suggest why the supposed signing occurred at 10:00 or 11:00 am; or where it took place.)   

The news also states that there will be a cessation-of-hostilities at 2:00 pm (Allied or German time not specified) and that Sedan has been taken by the Americans – items which were not part of the morning news.  

“Foreign Office” denotes the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministère des Affaires Étrangères), then as now situated along the Quay d’Orsay on the left bank of the River Seine.  The phrase “Foreign Office announces” suggests that the French Foreign Office actually released the afternoon armistice news – that is, released military news usually made public by the French War Office. 

As it seems unlikely that the Foreign Office would have pre-empted the War Office in this way,  it is more likely that the Foreign Office was merely passing on to diplomatic establishments in Paris, especially those of France’s allies against Germany, afternoon armistice news it had already received from the War Office. 

Why was the morning-armistice-news affirmed during the afternoon?

The “hostilities cease 2 p.m. today” (translated) wording of the message suggests that hostilities had not yet ceased when the message was put together, implying that it was prepared before 2:00 pm French time/3:00 pm German time on 7 November. 

The Sedan false news started circulating in Paris during the late morning-early afternoon period.  (It was attributed in some quarters to a New York Times war correspondent, Edwin L. James, whose bulletin that day allegedly reported that “Sedan was set on fire by the Germans before they evacuated it” during their “very rapid” retreat. 32 )

The “15207 Jackson” sign-off indicates that the afternoon armistice message arrived at US Navy Headquarters sometime before 3:20 pm (and therefore arrived a little earlier than this at the Embassy itself) and was transmitted to Brest sometime after that.  (Admiral Wilson received it 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 midday New York time, 5:00 pm French time.) 

Significantly, by 3:20 pm (the sign-off time) 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 there at 2:00 pm French time, the French cease-fire at 3:00 pm French time.  The War Office would have known of these events soon after they occurred and, conceivably, passed on information about them to other French Ministries.    

Considering these circumstances, it is reasonable to suggest that French War Office officials took the German and French afternoon cease-fires to be confirmation of the morning-armistice-news, which they then reaffirmed with the afternoon-armistice-news not long after both cease-fires were in effect and the Sedan news was already circulating. 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. 22  And although Ward did not record in the Report what he said to Major Warburton, only what Warburton said to him, 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 May 2022; November 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. See ‘Roy W. Howard in Brest’ Parts One and Two, for an examination of what happened there during 7-9 November 1918.  And ‘Media Reminders of the False Armistice, 1918-1945’, on this website.

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

11. Madera Daily Tribune, Wednesday, November 7, 1928, p2.  In the Ralph H. Turner article.  See note 4.

12. See the ‘False Armistice in Britain’ article on this website.  And ‘Reuters and the False Armistice of 7 November 1918’ by James Smith, in The Baron Archives, 6 April 2017, at 

www.thebaron.info/archives/reuters-and-the-false-armistice-of-7-november-1918 

13. Warburton’s false armistice cablegram was made known in 1933, when the State Department Papers, cited in Document Sources C), were published.

The 7 November 1928 article in the Madera Daily Tribune (note 4) 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 1936 chapter in Webb Miller where he described Warburton’s message – erroneously – as a “verbatim duplicate” of Captain Jackson’s to Admiral Wilson. (Webb Miller, I Found No Peace. The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent. Chapter IV ‘Premature Armistice’, p87. (Camelot Press, London. Book Club Special Edition. 1937.)

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. See ‘The American Army G-2 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 information about 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.

35. R. M. Collins to Jackson S. Elliott, December 12, 1918. AP02A.03A, Subject Files, Box 27, Folder 6, Associated Press Corporate Archives.

36. 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.