False Report of Signing of Armistice

This is the report by the S.O.S. G-2 Army Intelligence Section in France of its investigation into “the matter of the false information, given in many quarters as official throughout American circles that the Armistice terms had been signed on the morning of Thursday, November 7 [1918]”.

In the public domain, it is reproduced here from: United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919. Volume 10, Part 1, The Armistice Agreement and Related Documents. G-3, GHQ, AEF : Fldr. 1205.  ‘False Report of Signing of Armistice. November 9, 1918’, pp 46-47. (Washington. 1991)  [Available online.]

Explanatory Notes:

S.O.S. = Services of Supply, which included, generally speaking, all the various branches of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France having some rôle in supporting the US combat units at the Front.

 G-2 = the Second Section, the Military Intelligence Organisation, of the General Staff of the American Expeditionary Forces.  S.O.S. had its own specific G-2 resources and operations, as did many other AEF components.

The Assistant Chief of Staff, S.O.S. G-2 in Paris was Lieutenant Colonel Cabot Ward.  His headquarters were at 11 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, on the Right Bank of the Seine, across from the Quai d’Orsay.

The Commanding General S.O.S. in November 1918 was Major General James G. Harbord.  Services of Supply Headquarters were in Tours, about 250 kilometres south-west of Paris.

 

False Report of Signing of Armistice

AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCES,

November 9, 1918.

From: Asst. Chief of Staff, G-2, S.O.S.

To: Commanding General, S.O.S.

  1. Report on the matter of the false information, given in many quarters as official throughout American circles that the Armistice terms had been signed on the morning of Thursday, November 7, is hereby made. At about eleven-thirty of this morning this office was in conversation over the telephone with Captain H.J. Whitehouse, Acting Director of the Liaison Service at No. 45, Avenue Montaigne, Paris. Captain Whitehouse stated that the Armistice had been signed. Surprise was expressed by this office, as well as doubt, but Captain Whitehouse stated that his information was absolutely reliable and authentic. A half hour later this office again rang up the liaison office, not having been able to get information from the French 2d Bureau that this was correct. The liaison office once more assured this office of the correctness of the statement that an Armistice had been signed that morning. It was felt, however, by the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, S.O.S., that it was incredible that this report, however authenticated, could be correct. For example, it would have seemed physically impossible for the German delegates to have left Berlin at the time wired, and, given the conditions of the railroads and war-destroyed traffic roads, to have reached the point designated in the French lines; and, as a matter of fact, the delegation did not reach the designated point until ten o’clock that night, and met the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces at nine-fifteen the following morning.
  2. Meanwhile, G-2, S. O. S., between the first telephone messages from the liaison office, sent the following telegram to G. H. Q.: “Rumor stated by responsible parties to have been received from the Ministry of War states that German signed Armistice terms at ten o’clock this morning. This is sent with all reserve.” Headquarters S. O. S., Tours, was communicated with by telephone and given the information, but was informed by this office that despite the apparent authenticity, this rumor should be accepted with the greatest reserve.
  3. At one o’clock on this day Major Warburton, Military Attache to the American Embassy, stated to the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, S. O. S., that he had received authentic information, and had sent a cable to Washington during the morning to the effect that the Armistice had been signed. There is reason to believe that he also was called up on the telephone by the liaison service. However, other departments did not treat the matter cautiously as did G-2; despite the fact that we 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, it was nevertheless telegraphed to Brest, and it is believed to one or two other points. Having been sent as official, the French at Brest assumed that it was correct, and a celebration on a large scale ensued. There were celebrations at other points, notably at Le Mans, although there is much evidence to show that at this latter place the information came from French sources. Some members of the French Staff Departments undoubtedly telephoned the rumor to various banks in Paris, and it spread at a remarkable rate and was generally believed in Paris by all those who are apt to accept such information without question.
  4. Investigation by this section reveals the fact that the liaison office obtained the information from a member of the staff of General Alby, Chief of the 2d Bureau. (This is Captain Stanton, representative of the liaison service.) He is accustomed to inform his chiefs in the liaison service of any information he may have picked up. In this case some reports stated that Captain de Cartusac had been the one to inform Captain Stanton of the liaison service. The liaison officer with the Chief of the 2d Bureau who gave the information to the Acting Director of the liaison service, and other sources, has been interviewed by this office. He states that as a part of his duty he had been accustomed to send any news he received whether informally or officially, to his liaison headquarters. In this case he states that he was told by the Chief of Cabinet of the Head of the 2d Bureau, but that he gave the message as all other messages of this type, unofficially and personally: he believed that it was true, but did not pass it along in any official sense. Messages from the French War Office were going out the entire day, stating to people the so-called news, and French officials originally circulated the rumor. These are the facts thus far ascertained by this office.
  5. The matter seems to have assumed a more serious aspect as a result of the cables sent by the Naval and Military Attaches in Paris to the United States. It appears that all the American morning papers gave out as a fact the news that the Armistice had been signed, and that Washington has now cabled over for an investigation.
  6. Vice Admiral Henry B. Wilson, Commanding U. S. Naval Forces in France, received this information from Captain Jackson, the Naval Attache, who has just been relieved by Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long, Naval Attache, Paris. The American Embassy, it appears, received the news also through the liaison service, which source was again traced to Captain Stanton. The latter states that in the absence of the Chief of Cabinet of the General in Command of the 2d Bureau, he answered the telephone and was talked to by M. Audibert, editor of the newspaper L‘Information. The latter stated that the Armistice had been signed. Captain Stanton repeated this to various French officials, merely as news, without stating it was official in any way. Immediately various members of the Ministry began telephoning it. The banks were also informed. The news spread quickly around France.  For example, at Chartres at six o’clock in the afternoon it was reported semi-officially, and a celebration was held.
  7. The Consul-General gave it out as a fact at the American Club luncheon, but had to retract afterwards. Captain Jackson, the American Naval Intelligence Officer in Paris, wired it as authentic to Admiral Wilson at Brest, who informed Roy Howard, head of the United Press, who cabled it to the newspapers of the United States. Major Warburton cabled it to the State Department and the War Department, but it did not get out to the press of the United States in this way.
  8. From the information received by this office, it would appear that the original source of the mistake was the fact that a number of officers here caught a wireless telegram stating that an order had been given to cease firing at 3 o’clock on that afternoon. This, as it since appears, was to allow the German Armistice Delegates to get through the lines, and was only local in its scope. It was, however, interpreted as being a signal that the Armistice had been signed.
  9. It should be stated that the Intelligence representatives at G. H. Q. and in Paris both answered all inquiries by stating that it was a rumor that should be taken with the greatest caution, and that official confirmation could not be obtained from the Chief of the 2d Bureau, or the representative of General Foch in Paris.
  10. In conclusion, it should be stated that, although in American circles the liaison service, through their Captain Stanton, gave out the information and stated it was correct, they did so in each case as a personal message, and in no case stated or acted on it as official. The French reported it, and their dissemination of the news from semi-official sources was much more widespread than that through our American sources.

CABOT WARD,

Lieut. Colonel, General Staff.

(January 2018.)

[The article G-2’s False Armistice Findings, on this website, presents an analysis of this Report.]