The Report on the 7 November Armistice News in France
The SOS G-2 Report on “the false information … that the [German] Armistice terms had been signed on the morning of Thursday November 7” was one of four separate reports by American officials about the false armistice news that had spread to the United States from France. The other three were from William Sharp, the American Ambassador in Paris; Edward House, President Wilson’s Special Representative in Paris; and Major B. H. Warburton, the US Military Attaché there. Most of the information these sent to the State and War Departments in their (much shorter) reports is also in the G-2 Report. But the latter offered more about who was considered responsible for spreading the misinformation, and about how it apparently arose.1 ENDNOTES
Lieutenant Colonel Cabot Ward, SOS G-2 Assistant Chief of Staff in Paris, sent the Report, dated 9 November 1918, to the Services of Supply Commanding General, James G. Harbord. It is not certain whether Harbord, or anyone else, had ordered Ward to investigate the false armistice news, or whether the Report was seen by others.
The investigation itself appears to have been completed very quickly – between Thursday 7 and Saturday 9 November. It comprises ten numbered sections whose information probably came from different G-2 agents. In parts it is repetitive and contradictory; and details which could be considered central to the investigation are neglected or simply not provided.
The Report’s findings may be broadly divided into two parts: one relating to people considered responsible for having spread the false news; the other specifying that an intercepted cease-fire wireless telegram was the original source of it.
Those Responsible for Spreading the News
G-2 found that two US Army Liaison Service officers were responsible for releasing and spreading the armistice news to “American circles” in Paris.
Liaison Service Officer, Captain H. J. Whitehouse
In a telephone call at about 11:30 am, Captain H. J. Whitehouse, the Acting Director of the Liaison Service, told the G-2 office in Paris that the “Armistice had been signed that morning” (no time specified in the Report). He said his information was “absolutely reliable and authentic” (but the Report does not expand on this or subsequent claims about the authenticity/correctness of the armistice news). Nevertheless, G-2 had strong doubts about the news and tried to obtain verification of it from the French Second Bureau (Military Intelligence). Having failed to do so, they spoke to the Liaison Service office again – around midday – and were “once more assured … of the correctness of the statement that an armistice had been signed that morning”.2
(The impression here is that the 11:30 am telephone call was initiated by Captain Whitehouse, and the midday one by G-2.)
About an hour later – at 1:00 pm – Lieutenant Colonel Cabot Ward spoke to Major Warburton, the Military Attaché. According to Cabot Ward, Warburton told him he “had received authentic information, and had sent a cable to Washington during the morning to the effect that the Armistice had been signed”. Cabot Ward had “reason to believe” that the Liaison Service had telephoned the information to the attaché.3
(It is not clear from the Report who initiated this conversation, Ward or Warburton. In his reports to the War Department, Warburton gives the impression that it was he who contacted Ward, states that he received the armistice news from the Embassy, and alleges that Ward confirmed it to him.)4
The Report names Captain Jackson, alternately described as “Naval Attache” and “Naval Intelligence Officer in Paris”, as being responsible for wiring the armistice news “as authentic” to the headquarters in Brest of Admiral Henry Wilson, the Commander of US Naval Forces in France; the Admiral as being responsible for giving the news to Roy Howard, President of United Press news agency; and Howard for sending it by cablegram to newspapers in the USA.
G-2 does not appear to have spoken to Jackson about his part in spreading the news. The Report records none of the details of the message he sent to Brest – armistice signed at 11:00 am, hostilities ceased at 2:00 pm, Sedan taken by the Americans – does not name the source of his information, or say at what time during the day he sent it or where he was when he sent it. Ambiguously, it merely states that he “has just been relieved by Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long, Naval Attache, Paris”.5
The investigation ascertained that the American Embassy “received the news also through the liaison service”, and that the US Consul-General, Alexander Thackara, announced and later retracted it during a luncheon on 7 November at the American Club in Paris.6
(The Consul-General had most likely been given the news by the Embassy, rather than directly by the Liaison Service.)
G-2 remained unconvinced on the 7th that the news, “however authenticated”, could be true: it seemed to them “physically impossible” for the German delegates to have reached the front lines that day so soon after leaving Berlin. They therefore warned the Headquarters in Chaumont of AEF Commander General John J. Pershing that the armistice news should be treated “with all reserve”. The Services of Supply Headquarters at Tours, having also been given the news by telephone, checked it with SOS G-2 in Paris. They and other inquirers were advised not to trust it. G-2 told them that, despite the “apparent authenticity”, both “the Chief of the French 2nd Bureau and the representatives of Marshal Foch in Paris … refused to confirm the rumor”.8
Liaison Service Officer, Captain Stanton
The Report states unequivocally that Captain Whitehouse, the Liaison Service Acting Director, had received the armistice information from Captain Stanton, the AEF “liaison officer with the Chief of the 2nd Bureau”, the latter named in the Report as General Alby.9 Stanton, therefore, was considered to be the American officer responsible for initially releasing the armistice news to American circles in Paris.10
According to “some reports” a Captain de Cartusac (presumably French and a Second Bureau officer) “had been the one” who gave the news to Stanton. But Stanton himself does not seem to have named de Cartusac as his source when he was interviewed by G-2.
Rather, in Section 4 of the Report, he is said to have told G-2 that the “Chief of Cabinet [not named] of the Head of the 2d Bureau” gave it to him. In Section 6, however, he is reported to have stated that he received it from “M. Audibert, editor of L’Information” (a Paris newspaper) in a telephone call (Pierre) Audibert made to the Second Bureau. Captain Stanton explained that he took the call because the Chief of Cabinet was absent at the time.11
These details about who gave Stanton the armistice news – either Captain de Cartusac, or the unnamed Second Bureau Chief of Cabinet, or L’Information editor Monsieur Audibert – are glaringly contradictory. They certainly do not help to identify Stanton’s source. And the obvious question of where Stanton’s source – whoever he may have been – had acquired the news is not addressed.
Stanton admitted that he believed the news to be true and had passed it on to Captain Whitehouse, being “accustomed to inform his chiefs in the liaison service of any information he may have picked up”. He also gave it to “various French officials” – “various members of the Ministry” – who “immediately … began telephoning it”. But he claimed that he “did not pass it along in any official sense”. He issued it, he said, “personally” and “merely as news”.12
(The “Ministry” referred to was most likely the French Ministry of War, named as such and as the “War Office” in other parts of the Report.)
G-2 seems to have accepted the explanation. For although they acknowledged that “through [Stanton]” the Liaison Service had passed on the information and even “stated it was correct”, they decided he had given it out “in each case as a personal message” and “in no case stated or acted on it as official”. On this basis, G-2 concluded (somewhat disingenuously perhaps) that Captain Stanton and the Liaison Service were not greatly to blame for spreading the 7 November armistice news.13
The main blame lay with the French, according to the Report. Based on “the facts thus far ascertained” G-2 asserted that “French officials originally circulated the rumor”; that the Ministry of War sent out messages about an armistice “the entire day”, giving in some 10:00 am as the time of its signing; and “members of the French Staff Departments undoubtedly telephoned the rumor to various banks in Paris”. Overall, G-2 concluded, “dissemination of the news from [French] … sources was much more widespread than … through … American sources”.14
G-2’s decision that the French originally circulated the armistice news would suggest that they also probably thought that the French were the first to hear about it – from their own sources most likely. The Report, however, is vague and non-committal as to where the news came from in the first instance.
Explaining the False Armistice News
G-2’s findings on how and why the armistice news arose during the morning of 7 November are in Section 8, the only part of the Report where these fundamental questions are approached.
Section 8 reads:
“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 [7 November]. 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.”15
(Evident here is Military Attaché Warburton’s short explanation to the US War Department on 8 November that everyone in Paris believed the armistice news because of an intercepted wireless message about an afternoon cease-fire on 7 November to permit the armistice delegates to cross the lines.)16
Section 8’s explanation added the start-time of the cease-fire – 3:00 pm – and the hindsight (“as it since appears”) that it was only a local arrangement so that the German armistice delegation could cross the Front. It also revealed “the fact” that the cease-fire message was intercepted by officers who misconstrued it to mean that the German armistice had been signed. And this, G-2 found, appeared to be the reason behind the false armistice news.
There is nothing here, however, (or in Warburton’s report) about the provenance of the telegram and its cease-fire order, or when during the day it was intercepted. And there is virtually nothing about the officers who supposedly misinterpreted it. Most obviously missing are any details about who they were, their ranks, nationalities and military rôles, and whether they were the ones who sent the armistice misinformation to Captain Stanton’s Second Bureau colleagues, the French War Ministry and other departments. But it does say that the officers were “here” when they “caught” the transmission, which presumably means they were in Paris at the time rather than somewhere else in France.
The reason the officers misinterpreted the cease-fire order, according to the last sentence of Section 8, is that they took it to be “a signal that the Armistice had been signed”.
There is no clarification of this terse explanation – the link between the morning armistice news in Paris and the intercepted cease-fire message. But, presumably, it means that the officers thought an armistice must have already occurred if a cease-fire was due to come into effect at 3:00 pm – a cease-fire whose limited, specific nature they may not have appreciated at the time. And as the armistice news started circulating before midday on 7 November, they had, presumably, intercepted and misinterpreted the message, and released their erroneous news, sometime that morning.
G-2 seem to have been unaware that false armistice news was also sent from France to the American Embassy in London on 7 November. Unfortunately, the Report makes no reference to the cablegram and misinformation received by the US naval authorities there, and so offers no clues as to who may have sent it to them, from where and at what time. Fully open to speculation, therefore, is why the false news that spread around Britain specified that an afternoon (not a morning) armistice had been signed at 2:30 pm, but contained no mention of any cease-fire.17
© James Smith
On the False Armistice Commentary page of this website, there are observations about the Report’s findings in the following items:
The AEF Liaison Service Officers Captains Whitehouse and Stanton.
Lieutenant Colonel Cabot Ward and Major Barclay H. Warburton.
Captain R. H. Jackson.
Few False Armistice recollections by allied officials.
The separate articles – The 3:00 pm Cease-Fire Order – Source of the 7 November 1918 Armistice News? and Roy Howard, Arthur Hornblow, Jr, and the Jackson False Armistice Telegram offer more details on these central factors in the events.
- To facilitate cross-referencing, the G-2 document is available on a separate page of this website. On the other reports, see the False Armistice News from France article on this website.
- G-2 Report, Section 1.
- Section 3.
- See False Armistice News from France article on this website, under ‘The War Department Demands an Explanation’.
- Sections 6 and 7. See False Armistice News from France article on this website under, ‘a) Two cablegrams to the United States’.
- Sections 2, 3, 9.
- Major General Henri Alby. No information about his connection with the War Ministry and Second Bureau has so far been located for this article.
- Section 4.
- Sections 4 and 6.
- Same. Stanley Weintraub states that L’Information was the “Second Bureau’s newspaper”, and that Audibert, its editor, was responsible for confirming “the news to callers”. In, A Stillness Heard Round The World. The End of the Great War: November 1918. (Paperback 1987), p39. However, there is no evidence to indicate that L’Information was the French Second Bureau’s mouthpiece during the First World War or that Pierre Audibert was associated with the Bureau.
- Section 10.
- Sections 2, 3, 4, 6, 10.
- Section 8. My text-highlighting.
- See False Armistice News from France article on this website, under ‘The War Department Demands an Explanation’.
- See False Armistice News from France article on this website, under ‘b) The cablegram to Britain’.