This article describes Roy Howard’s attempts to find out what caused the False Armistice on 7 November 1918 and the information he obtained from sundry sources. A companion article relates how Arthur Hornblow, who met Howard in Brest on 7 November 1918, acquired separate information about the Jackson False Armistice Telegram. Combined, their findings (which they seem not to have shared with each other) offer an insight into what occurred, and allegedly occurred, in connection with the false armistice news circulating in France that day.
Howard’s Pursuit of False Armistice Facts and its Results, November 1918–August 1919
When Howard left Brest on 10 November 1918, he was still “utterly distressed” over the armistice message he had sent to New York City three days earlier, according to Fred Cook who saw him on board ship just before his departure. (AT END) NOTE 1a The few days it took to cross the Atlantic would have given him time to reflect on what had happened and Howard returned firmly convinced that the US authorities were withholding important information from the public concerning the 7 November armistice news.
He set about trying to unearth the truth behind the misinformation in his armistice cablegram from Brest that embroiled him and United Press (UP) in acrimonious controversy and threatened them with ruinous consequences. If he could “get into the facts deeply enough”, he believed he would uncover the “whole story” about the False Armistice. 2a With this, he would then be able to demonstrate irrefutably to detractors that he and United Press had not behaved dishonestly, unprofessionally and unscrupulously in their handling of what the New York Times labelled “a monstrous invention” about the end of the war. 1b
Letters in his private papers show that Howard initiated a search for False Armistice information using UP’s news-gathering resources. And with some early promising leads. For during the first nine months after the war ended, Howard acquired details about eight telegrams carrying false messages announcing a German armistice on 7th November 1918.
One of these was the Jackson Telegram to Admiral H.B. Wilson in Brest, whose premature peace news Howard himself had forwarded to the United States.
Two were allegedly sent to the Navy Department from Admiral Wilson in Brest, and two to the State Department from Special Representative Edward House in Paris.
One was supposedly dispatched from Paris by a Lieutenant Emmett King.
And two were naval signals sent by British warships.
The information Howard collected from these eight sources is described in Part One of this article (in this font colour). Part Two, a Commentary section, discusses the sources in their broader context.
Part One: Information Collected
Meeting with Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels (19 November 1918)
Howard’s first attempt to obtain False Armistice information seems to have been with Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy.
On 19 November, having barely returned from France, Howard had a meeting with Daniels (in his private life, a newspaper proprietor and Associated Press subscriber). In a statement he made afterwards, Howard told reporters he had been to see Daniels “to express his appreciation” for Admiral Wilson’s statement exonerating him and United Press from any blame for the false armistice news. But it is more likely that his main purpose had been to ask Daniels about the armistice misinformation itself, and that Daniels had given him nothing that he might use. The New York Times quoted Howard as saying:
“Nothing much has yet been said as to the source of Admiral Wilson’s information. This is not for me to discuss. Nothing has been said as to the reason for the report current on that day throughout France. No explanation has yet been offered of how the report reached the American Embassy in Paris as official. Neither has any explanation been offered yet as to what became of the first German armistice delegation, headed by von Hintze, which was reported to have reached the French lines on Nov. 6 ….” 1b
Approaches to Admiral Wilson
Around the same time, Howard wrote to Admiral Wilson (who was still in Brest) evidently hoping to go over some points with him about what had happened during “the somewhat memorable incident of November 7th last in which you and I appeared as co-stars” – some information about its “interesting phases” having come to Howard’s attention on his return home. 3a
Wilson ignored this and other attempts Howard made to question him about False Armistice intelligence he may have been holding. He adamantly refused to talk to Howard about the events of 7 November 1918. 16
A few days later, in a confidential letter, Howard disclosed to Robert (Bob) Bender, his manager at the UP office in Washington, DC, that he possessed details about German-armistice telegrams which Admiral Wilson had sent to the Navy Department and which Edward House had sent to the State Department on 7 November. He was hoping he could use the details to elicit False Armistice information he was certain officials like Josephus Daniels and Admiral Wilson were concealing.
“I don’t want you to mention [this letter’s] contents to a soul in Washington ….” (2 December 1918)
Howard revealed he had received information that:
On 7 November the Navy Department received a cablegram at 12:10 pm from Admiral Wilson in Brest stating “Headquarters reports armistice signed”; and that the State Department received one, at 12:30 pm, from the President’s Special Representative in Paris, Edward (Colonel) House, stating “Armistice signed congratulations”.
But at 12:40 pm, just ten minutes after its armistice announcement had arrived, the State Department received another message from House warning that the peace news was an error and promising to send a “full report”. At 1:10 pm, the Navy Department received a similar message from Admiral Wilson, stating that “Headquarters report error in signature”.
“Of course,” Howard asserted, Josephus Daniels and Frank Polk (State Department counsellor) know “all about these messages”. 2a
This was most likely the information Howard alluded to in his letter to Admiral Wilson soon after he returned home, information he therefore already had when he met Josephus Daniels on 19 November and would have raised with the Admiral had Wilson agreed to see him again.
Howard explained that he had received it “in a round-about way” from a person “unknown” to him and “whose acquaintance [he] deliberately avoided making”. But he apparently believed it. For he proposed to use it to obtain a statement from the Navy Department that Admiral Wilson received the armistice news “officially from [Navy] Headquarters [in Paris]” and had reported it as such to them; and a similar statement from House that he or an aide “actually filed the same [false] news” on 7 November to either the State Department or President Woodrow Wilson.
He also wanted to learn what the “error” was that Admiral Wilson and House referred to in their follow-on cablegrams, where Navy Headquarters in Paris “got their report in the first place”, what originally gave rise to the report, and what had happened to the German delegates Howard believed had crossed the Allied lines on Wednesday 6 November with authority to sign an armistice (the delegates he alluded to in his press statement a few days earlier). And he told Bender he had decided President Wilson and Edward House themselves should be approached for the information he wanted. He felt they would be more understanding and ready, for party-political reasons, to provide details that would put a stop to slurs still being made about him and United Press because of their handling of the false armistice news.
“I think that this can better be done in Paris”
The Peace Conference between the Allies and defeated Central Powers, which drew up the treaties that formally ended the Great War, was due to open in Paris (at Versailles) on 18 January 1919. House was already in Paris; President Wilson would soon be travelling there for the Conference. And Howard proposed to take advantage of the occasion to obtain answers from them to his False Armistice questions.
Bob Bender was one of the United Press team preparing to cover the Conference. Also in the team were Fred S. Ferguson, UP’s chief war correspondent in France, William Philip Simms, manager of the agency’s Paris Office, and Ed Keen, manager of the London Office. 4
Howard instructed Bender to show his letter to the others when they met in Paris. He wanted them all to assist in gathering information from US officials there – “I would like that all four of you keep your ears open for any clues or any information that may be obtainable bearing on the real reason for the [armistice] report of November 7th”. Once he himself was back in Paris to oversee UP’s coverage, Howard intended to “take … [the] matter up with House personally”; but if anything happened to prevent this, Fred Ferguson was to assume responsibility for meeting House.
As well as being manager of UP’s Washington Office (since 1917) Bender was also the agency’s “regular White House correspondent”. 5a He had been assigned to President Wilson’s press entourage and, as he was due to travel to France on the President’s ship, Howard thought that an opportunity might arise during the voyage for Bender advantageously to “take the matter up with the President directly”. He urged him to do so “if such a contingency should arise”.
Howard reasoned at some length why President Wilson and House could be persuaded to provide answers to his questions:
“In view of the fact that all of our troubles were occasioned by information furnished us through American government channels, in further view of the fact that the American government in Washington was a recipient of the very same information that we received – received it from its most trusted representative abroad Colonel House – and in further view of the fact that our misfortune was intensified and complicated by the action of the Navy Department in holding up our correction, there seems to me to be good reason why the American government itself should willingly and quickly take whatever action is necessary to restore to us any standing or prestige that we may have lost by reason of handling information secured through the government agents.” 6
And alluding to UP’s support of the Democratic Party and of Wilson’s Administration, he added that it was “to [the President’s] interest that an organization such as United Press should not be discredited in the public mind. The President is acquainted with the Associated Press and will be able to understand the unfair advantage they have of this incident in an attempt to belittle our standing and our reliability”.
Howard considered that it was “vitally important” to obtain the information quickly and be able “to have this thing sprung as a full fledged story with all the punch and carrying force that can be put into it”, rather than “have the facts dribble out a bit at a time” without any “corrective effect”. But he realised this might not be possible. In an interesting, somewhat cryptic comment, he summed up the choices facing them: “If it can be done without embarrassing the American position” then it should be, because “the quicker this matter is cleaned up the better for us”. However, if House were to intimate that he could not “clear it up at this time without embarrassing the government”, then they would have to wait until the story could be told “without damaging the interests of the government”. And in this event, United Press would have to “stand the gaff a little longer”. 2a
President Wilson left for France on 4 December 1918 on board the SS George Washington, as presumably did Bob Bender with his copy of Howard’s confidential letter dated 2 December. The ship arrived at Brest on 13 December; the President and his party reached Paris the following day. Howard intended to leave for France on 14 December but seems to have postponed his departure until after Christmas. Whether he eventually went to Paris himself for the Peace Conference is not certain from available sources. 2b1
During the Peace Conference, Fred Ferguson (from UP’s office there) managed to gain an illicit exclusive pre-publication access to the text of Article Ten of the Treaty of Versailles. This was concerned with the Covenant of the League of Nations and made provision for guaranteeing the territorial integrity and political independence of all League Member-States. Ferguson had tried in vain to obtain information about Article Ten from Edward House; but he succeeded with someone he knew “who was a minor official of the delegation”. Apparently, the latter arranged for Ferguson clandestinely to read the text of Article Ten in a room of the Crillon Hotel in Paris, where House and other American officials were staying during the Peace Conference. 5b
However, whether Ferguson, Bender, Simms, Keen, or Howard (if he was there) managed to obtain any confidential information about the False Armistice is not known. For whatever may have transpired in Paris, there is nothing in Howard’s private papers to indicate what resulted from his plans, as outlined to Bender, to resolve the 7 November 1918 mystery and rehabilitate UP’s reputation in the newspaper world.
Perhaps any attempts to engage President Wilson, Edward House, and other officials with questions about the False Armistice were rebuffed. Or perhaps information about it was actually obtained, but on condition that it would remain strictly “off the record” because the matter could not be cleared up “at this time without embarrassing the government” – as Howard (in his letter to Bob Bender before the Conference) suggested might happen (and as Josephus Daniels may well have intimated to Howard on 19 November 1918).
The Peace Conference ended on 21 January 1920. President Wilson had returned to the United States long before that – in the middle of February 1919. When Howard’s United Press team left Paris is not known here.
“It is too bad that the whole case cannot be put before the public.” (December 1918)
Meanwhile, before the end of December, a few more False Armistice snippets were forwarded to Howard. These are in a letter dated 19 December from US Navy Headquarters in Paris. The letter was sent by Emmett King to “W. F. L.”. It was copied and presumably forwarded to Howard by “W. F. L.” – William F. Lynch, described as being UP’s “Chief Operator” (of telegraph) in 1916. 5c
King described himself as the Headquarters’ “Chief Electrician, (Radio)” and presumably knew Lynch through their work in radio telegraphy. His navy rank seems to have been that of lieutenant. 7
He claimed to know “what caused the whole [false armistice news] affair”, and though he said he was not at liberty “just at present [to] explain it”, nevertheless offered the following items of information:
“About 3:50 p.m., the seventh [of November] a message was handed me, in plain English, reading identically the same as the message that was afterwards published in America to the effect that hostilities had ceased. I flashed the message and as soon as had finished it was taken from my hands and never returned to the files. I can assure you that the signature on the message was thoroughly official and that the message itself was absolutely from official channels, so much so, that in half an hours time the entire Atlantic fleet would have been on its way into port, but they stopped the proceedings before they got too far …. But rest assured of this fact: That the United Press had the right dope and had in reality pulled the biggest “beat” of all time. I know this for I handled the whole case. The whole ‘bone’ [‘stupid mistake’] lay in a government official (not American). It is too bad that the whole case cannot be put before the public ….”
King mentioned that he had been working on the armistice and “later peace stuff” and was now engaged “in handling all Colonel House’s work”. 8 Under the impression that Howard was in Paris in December 1918, he hoped he would be able to “drop around and see what he knows regarding that message”. 2c
It is not certain when (or where) Howard saw King’s letter, or whether he or one of his colleagues was able to talk to King about it. But, from what King wrote, it seems likely that the message he claims to have “flashed” on 7 November was based on the message in the Jackson Armistice Telegram.
Copy of the Jackson Armistice Telegram to Admiral Wilson (July-August 1919)
Hugh Baillie, UP’s new Washington, DC manager, sent a letter dated 19 July 1919 to Howard at United Press in New York City. (Perhaps Howard was there at the time, or the letter was forwarded to him in Paris.)
In it, Baillie told Howard a colleague had called him that day to tell him that a lawyer in Washington, DC, by the name of Carey “was in possession of the original [armistice] telegram” Captain Jackson had sent to Admiral Wilson on 7 November 1918. Carey, he explained, was the Admiral’s former secretary in Brest. He was not “mercenary” but “would expect some cash for the telegram”, and was prepared to state that “Captain Jackson got his information of the signing [of the armistice] from the French Foreign Office.” This latter detail was “new stuff” to Baillie. 2d
The following month, Howard received a letter from L. B. Mickel, who became the United Press Superintendent of U.S. Bureaus some years later, in which a copy of Jackson’s armistice message and an outline of its signal-sheet were typed onto a United Press Associations headed-letter: 2e
“Amnavpar” signifies that the telegram is from the American Navy in Paris, sent from the “Naval Forces in France Communication Office”.
“#2833″ (#2833) – presumably denotes the number of this telegram among those transmitted from the Communication Office on 11/7 ( November 7, 1918).
It is to be sent to (“DESTINATION”) “COMFRAN” – ‘The Commander in France’, that is Admiral Wilson, for him to act upon (“ACTION”).
“15207” is the time and date notation for the telegram – 3:20 pm on the 7th (November 1918) – indicating when the message was originally released by ‘Jackson’ for transmission from the Communication Office in the US Navy Paris Headquarters.
The letters “RBWH” in the “DUTY” box indicate, presumably, personnel on duty at the time.
[Admiral Wilson received the telegram in Brest sometime before 4:00 pm.]
Exactly what “This is a translation, shall never be transmitted” means in the message is not certain. Perhaps it was translated from a French or German source, and the information was not for general circulation or publication until official confirmation of the details had been received and approval given for their release.
Mickel stated that the original telegram was still “in Wilson’s file”. But a wireless operator “in Wilson’s office at Brest” [not named] had copied it at the time, and what he was now sending to Howard was a copy of the wireless operator’s copy. This had been made for Mickel by an employee of the Oklahoma News named M.R. Toomer. Mickel sent Toomer’s copy to Howard from Oklahoma City on 11 August 1919.
Toomer does not appear to have been the same person as the unnamed wireless operator in Brest – there are no Toomers recorded in the US Navy Lists for 1918. Apart from making the copy for Mickel, it is not clear whether Toomer was involved with the Jackson Telegram in any other way.
What link there may have been between Baillie’s and Mickel’s letters about the telegram is not clear; and how Mickel had found out about the copy’s availability is not explained. But that Howard should have received Mickel’s letter, containing a copy of it, within three weeks of Baillie’s, informing him of its availability (albeit from a different source) would seem to be more than coincidental.
Two British Naval Signals
In Howard’s archive there are copies of two British naval signals which have been included in a collection of telegrams from his four days in Brest.
Their sparse details are printed on what appear to be authentic Royal Navy signal sheets.
The first one 2f:
“C. in C. G. F.” is an abbreviation of Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet.
The British Grand Fleet was deployed in the North Sea to blockade Germany. In November 1918, its Commander-in-Chief was Admiral David Beatty.
“General”, presumably means for ‘general release’ to other warships.
“System- Sem”: ‘Sem’ is an abbreviation for ‘semaphore’, indicating that the message “Hostilities ceased at 2:00 P.M. to-day” was transmitted, in this instance, by semaphore signals (made by signal lamps, flags, or mechanical semaphore arms).
“Date- 11 7 1918”: that is, November 7 1918.
This ‘month-day-year’ is the American style of writing the date. The British style is ‘day-month-year’, which would make it ‘7 11 1918’.
“Time- 1553”: that is, 3:53 pm, indicating the time the message was recorded as having been received. .
“1555”: that is 3:55 pm, indicating the message’s ‘time-of-origin’ – the time the signal was ordered to be made (rather than when it was transmitted).
There is obviously an error in these times – as it stands, the message was received by semaphore two minutes before it was originally ordered to be sent.
The second one 2g:
“Lion” denotes the British warship HMS Lion.
H.M.S. Lion was the flagship of the British Grand Fleet’s battlecruiser force, under Vice Admiral Sir William Pakenham in November 1918.
“System – S. L.”: meaning sent by signal lamp, most probably.
“Time- 1655”: that is, 4:55 pm, when the message “Cancel signal re hostilities ceasing” was recorded as having been received.
“1650”: that is, 4:50 pm, indicating the message’s ‘time-of-origin’.
From these two signals, it seems therefore that sometime before 3:53 pm on 7 November 1918 a message from Admiral Beatty with the British warships blockading Germany was transmitted, for release to other warships, stating that hostilities had ceased at two o’clock that same afternoon. In other words, that the war with Germany had effectively ended. However, about an hour later, from the same source a message cancelling the ‘hostilities ceased at 2:00 pm’ message was transmitted. In other words, there had been some mistake, the war was not over, hostilities were continuing.
Part Two: Commentary
The Two British Naval Signals
Both signal sheets are accompanied in the archive by what appear to be photographic negatives from which they were produced. But there is nothing to explain from whom, when or how Howard acquired these documents. 2h
The use of the American date-format on these British Royal Navy signal sheets suggests they were being used by an American signals-operator on an American warship. Indeed, in November 1918 US warships were operating with the British Grand Fleet, namely the USS New York, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, and Wyoming – five battleships that formed the Fleet’s ‘6th Battle Squadron’ (in the US Navy’s own deployment, known as ‘Battleship Division Nine’). 15 It seems entirely possible, therefore, that the two signals are authentic, and that Roy Howard’s copies are from photographs of originals or of copies of originals.
Who ordered the two signals to be sent is not certain. But Admiral Beatty would not have had them transmitted on his own authority. The messages and instructions to transmit them would have come from the British Admiralty in London, and been based, presumably, on military intelligence acquired by or passed on to them.
Interestingly, the Sun, a New York City newspaper, commenting on the uncertainty surrounding the origins of the 7 November 2:00 pm cease-fire misinformation, reported that “Talk was heard along Park Row of the possibility of the American warships having picked up a lie sent broadcast by the Nauen wireless in Germany. But this was pure guessing.” 16
[Park Row, in New York City, was the location of the US daily newspaper industry at that time. The Nauen wireless station, north-west of Berlin, was Germany’s long-range transmitter from where the Spa telegrams about the German armistice delegation were broadcast for Marshal Foch’s headquarters at Senlis to pick up.]
Surviving from the time of these events, is a diary kept by a wireless telegraphist aboard HMS Lion; a number of letters sent home by an officer from the same ship; and diaries kept by an officer of HMS Indomitable, like Lion, deployed in the Grand Fleet’s battlecruiser force. There are mentions in them of the 11 November Armistice and celebrations of it by ships in the Fleet, and of the arrival shortly afterwards of German admirals to arrange for their warships to be surrendered and moved to the British naval base at Scapa Flow in the Scottish Orkney Islands. But none of the sources carries any information concerning the 7 November False Armistice signals. 17
The Jackson Armistice Telegram
Captain Richard H. Jackson went to France initially as the “Representative of the United States Navy Department … and senior United States Naval Officer on shore in France”. As such he acted under the orders of Admiral William S. Sims, the Commander of US Naval Forces in Europe, whose headquarters were in London. He was Sims’ liaison officer at the French Ministry of Marine in Paris and was instructed to “confer”, as necessary, with the “Senior Naval Officer afloat in French Waters”, whose headquarters were at Brest. He replaced Commander W. R. Sayles as US naval attaché in May 1918. 9
Jackson does not seem to have made any public statements – at the time or later – about the afternoon armistice telegram of 7 November 1918 sent to Admiral Wilson in Brest. But in Arthur Hornblow’s collection of False Armistice information there is evidence to suggest that he did not, in fact, authorize the telegram or indeed see its message before it was transmitted from Paris – evidence which is in Admiral Wilson’s July 1921 letter to Hornblow commenting on the latter’s ‘Fake Armistice’ article; and in letters Hornblow received in later years from an American Navy radio operator who claimed to have been present when the message was sent to Brest. 18
(The American Military Attaché, Major Warburton, as explained elsewhere, informed the War Department in Washington, DC, of the armistice news circulating in Paris earlier that day in a morning “Armistice signed” dispatch. Whether he knew about the 7 November afternoon armistice news is not known. It could reasonably be assumed that he did, but he appears not to have reported it to the War Office.)
Until Roy Howard saw a copy of the Jackson Telegram in August 1919, he may have been unaware that its message came (apparently) from the French Foreign Ministry – this detail was possibly “new stuff” to him as much as it was to Hugh Baillie at that time. He introduced the detail, without explanation, in his 1936 ‘Premature Armistice’ chapter for Webb Miller’s book, to assert that German agents in Paris on 7 November 1918 had fooled a secretary at the American Embassy into believing the news was from the French Foreign Ministry on the Quai d’Orsay. 10
That news – “Armistice signed 11 a.m. hostilities cease 2 p.m. today. Sedan taken this morning by U.S. army” – would seem to be more appropriate to a French War Ministry bulletin than to an announcement from the Foreign Ministry. But it is unlikely that the War Ministry would have announced during the afternoon of 7 November that the American Army had taken Sedan that morning, because the War Ministry would undoubtedly have known that the statement was not true. Neither the American nor the French forces co-operating to expel the Germans from Sedan had progressed much further than the outskirts of a small part of the city by 7 November.
During the morning of 7 November, the Americans had released a communiqué stating that “At 4.00 o’clock yesterday afternoon advance troops of the 1st American Army took that part of the city of Sedan which lies on the West bank of the [river] Meuse.” 14 The finer details were evidently lost in the spread of this announcement around Paris, where celebrations of a supposed liberation of Sedan fused with those of the supposed armistice.
Whether the alleged French Foreign Ministry’s misinformation arrived at the British Embassy as well, or at any other diplomatic offices in Paris, is not known. The British Ambassador in Paris, the 17th Earl of Derby, like American Ambassador Sharp, excluded from his memoirs any references to the 7 November false armistice news, and seems not to have communicated with the Foreign Office in London about it. 13a
The false armistice messages allegedly sent
- by Admiral Wilson to the Navy Department,
- by Edward House to the State Department.
The only false armistice message that was made public at the time was the one from Paris to Admiral Wilson in Brest which Roy Howard sent to United Press in New York City. The only one sent to Washington, DC, to have been made public, but not until the 1930s, was that from US Military Attaché Barclay H. Warburton to the War Department. 11
If authentic, therefore, these alleged messages to the Navy and State Departments were neither made public at the time nor included in collections of documents published later. And the person who provided Howard with the information about them must have been an insider or someone with insider-contacts in Washington, DC.
The alleged messages from Admiral Wilson to the Navy Department
There is no indication of the time-of-transmission of the two alleged messages from Brest on 7 November 1918. But they were said to have reached the Navy Department at 12:10 pm and 1:10 pm respectively Eastern Standard Time (EST).
The first message’s 12:10 pm arrival in Washington, DC, means that it left Brest (where it was five hours ahead of EST) sometime before 5:10 pm. Its message reportedly read “Headquarters reports armistice signed”, omitting the information in the Jackson Telegram 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 release of the news.
The 1:10 pm arrival at the Navy Department of Wilson’s alleged cancellation message – “Headquarters report error in signature” – means that it was sent during early evening in Brest – sometime before 6:10 pm French time.
Admiral Wilson records in his private papers that he received a cancellation message from Paris two hours after receiving the armistice message – which would have been around 6:00 pm. It stated, “signature Armistice unconfirmed” – slightly different to his alleged cancellation message to the Navy Department that “Headquarters report error in signature”. Wilson does not actually say that he sent a cancellation message to Washington, DC, but it may be assumed he did and that it arrived there around 1:00 pm local time. 3b
The judgment made here is that it does seem that at least two armistice messages from US Navy Headquarters in Brest to the Navy Department were indeed sent on 7 November 1918. Moreover, it seems that the Jackson armistice message itself was also sent to the Navy Department: Arthur Hornblow’s False Armistice information suggests so, and the following image of it is to be found in the Naval History and Heritage Command Archive in Washington, D.C. (See the article about Hornblow’s Jackson Armistice Cablegram on this website).
The alleged messages from Paris to the State Department
The two armistice messages allegedly from Edward House reached the State Department within ten minutes of one another – the first at 12:30 pm local time, the second at 12:40 pm. They must therefore have left Paris, at the very latest, before 5:40 pm French time.
The first message simply read: “Armistice signed congratulations”.
The cancellation message read: “Error but will [communicate] later full report follows”.
According to published official sources, at 11:00 am – one and a half hours before House’s alleged “Armistice signed congratulations” message arrived – the State Department had asked him to confirm the armistice news the War Department had received earlier that morning from Military Attaché Major Warburton in Paris and notify them when the terms of the Armistice could be published – what Secretary of State Lansing termed a “confirmation or denial” request to House. The request reached the Paris Embassy quickly, by direct wire, and would have arrived there around 4:10 pm French time, 11:10 am Washington, DC, time. 11
House’s alleged “Armistice signed congratulations” cablegram arrived at the State Department at 12:30 pm, one and a half hours after Lansing’s “confirmation or denial” request had been sent to House, suggesting that its message was House’s reply to Lansing’s request which he then quickly cancelled with his alleged “Error but will [communicate] later full report follows” cablegram.
In the published official sources, however, House’s reply to Lansing’s confirmation request is identified as a message sent from Paris at 6:00 pm (1:00 pm EST), after the two alleged messages had been sent to and arrived in Washington, DC. It explained that the Armistice had not yet been signed, the German delegates were not due to meet Marshall Foch until 5:00 pm, and the Armistice terms must not be made public beforehand. It reached the State Department at 2:04 pm local time. 11
The question, therefore, is whether House sent not two but three armistice cablegrams to the State Department during the afternoon of 7 November – the two alleged ones and his reply to Lansing’s request for confirmation or denial of the news. The answer seems to be in a letter Howard wrote in November 1951, thirty-three years later, to journalist David Lawrence. In it Howard claimed that he had been informed by both Colonel House and Newton D. Baker (Secretary of War in 1918) that:
“messages virtually identical to the one received by Admiral Wilson were sent to [Secretary of State] Lansing by Ambassador Sharp, and to Baker and [Josephus] Daniels [Navy Secretary] 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 ….” 2i (My italics)
[When and where Howard obtained this information from House and Newton D. Baker is not known. Perhaps from House in Paris during the Peace Conference.]
The above details refute the information Howard had obtained (and confided to Bob Bender) early in December 1918 that Edward House was responsible for sending the alleged armistice message to the State Department and then cancelling it a short time later. Howard’s assertion here is that William Sharp, the American Ambassador in Paris, was the one who sent the “Armistice signed congratulations” message while House promptly intervened to have it cancelled.
There is no suggestion in the 1933 published selection of wartime State Department papers that Ambassador Sharp sent any false armistice news to Secretary of State Lansing, though this should not be taken to mean that he did not, in fact, do so. For given the US Embassy’s involvement in spreading the false armistice news on 7 November 1918, it would seem to be more than likely that he did, that House intervened to cancel it and then instigated an investigation into the armistice rumours which he reported later to Lansing. Indeed, late on 7 November (around 11:00 pm) Fred Ferguson from the United Press office in Paris telegraphed to Howard in Brest that “friends” in House’s entourage had told him that “[in] response query [concerning an armistice with Germany]” House had advised Lansing “otherwise safternoon”;adding the following day that House had told him “they tried make [him] believe it [the armistice news]”. The “embassy in very bad”, Ferguson observed, and stated that he would “write details”. 2j
In the memoirs of Ambassador Sharp there is no mention of 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 documents in the State Department archives hold no information about 7 November 1918 false armistice messages, while the relevant State Department Weekly Report contains no references either. 13b
Emmett King’s false armistice message
King did not say where the message he transmitted around 3:50 pm had come from, who handed it to him, where or to whom he sent it. But he did state that it read “identically the same as the message that was afterwards published in America to the effect that hostilities had ceased”. This implies that it contained the same wording as Roy Howard’s 7 November bulletin that an armistice was signed at 11 am, hostilities ceased at 2 pm, and the US army took Sedan during the morning, which was the news the American papers printed.
Howard’s details of course came from the Jackson Armistice Telegram. If King’s message was also based on the latter, it went out about thirty minutes after the Jackson Telegram was sent to Brest. Whether King’s message contained the same details and wording as the Jackson message is not clear. Perhaps his was shorter and to the point, similar to the Warburton message to the War Department and those allegedly sent to the State and Navy Departments that day, reading simply “to the effect that hostilities had ceased” (as King summarised the Jackson message).
King commented that having “flashed” the message he was sure “the entire Atlantic fleet would have been on its way into port” had “they” not “stopped the proceedings before they got too far”. The US Atlantic Fleet in November 1918 was under the command of Admiral William S. Sims, whose headquarters were close to the US Embassy in London. Around 4:00 pm (Allied Time, the same in Paris and London) the Reuters news agency acquired information about a German armistice from a contact at the Embassy and released it to the British press. The release stated, “Reuter’s Agency is informed that according to official American information the armistice with Germany was signed at 2:30”. 12 In spite of the latter time given for the signing of the supposed armistice, there could well be a link between the US London Embassy information and the ‘hostilities ceased at 2:00 pm’ detail in the Jackson message. And King may well have transmitted it to Sims’ Headquarters, thereby unwittingly sparking the False Armistice in Britain ahead of that in America.
King noted without any explanation that as soon as he had finished transmitting the message “it was taken from [his] hands” and “never returned to the files”. Whether he subsequently sent a second message cancelling the armistice news is not known.
(It would be pure speculation to suggest that Emmett King may have been involved in Roy Howard’s acquisition of the two British false-armistice naval signals, or that he may have transmitted the first of them announcing a 2:00 pm cessation of hostilities on 7 November 1918 to Admiral Sims in London.)
In total, therefore, the information Roy Howard acquired between November 1918 and August 1919 seems to have amounted to a copy of the Jackson Armistice Telegram (not the original which Baillie had told him was for sale), some details about armistice messages purportedly sent from France on 7 November 1918 by Admiral Wilson, Edward House, and Emmett King. And copies of two British false armistice naval signals. None of it provides answers to the most fundamental of the questions he set down in his letter to Bob Bender about his search for False Armistice facts: where Navy Headquarters in Paris “got their report in the first place”, and what originally gave rise to the report. 2a
And it offers little on which to construct a narrative about the False Armistice that Howard hoped would finally “round out and throw a new light on the developments of November 7th”. 2b2 Certainly, his own 1936 memoir offered no revealing account of it. Like Hornblow’s ‘Amazing Armistice’ article, it left readers with little more than an unprovable German spy theory as an explanation of those fundamental questions of where and how the false news originated.
© James Smith (August 2019) (Reviewed and with additional information, October 2020; September 2021.)
REFERENCES and NOTES
I. Roy Howard Papers. (1892-1964). MSA 1. The Media School Archive, Indiana University Libraries. Bloomington, Indiana.
II. Admiral Henry B. Wilson Papers, Box 1. Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.
1a) Article in the Evening Star [Washington, DC] November 11, 1925, p4, under ‘Real “False Armistice” Story Is Now Told By Eyewitness’. Available online through the Library of Congress Chronicling America portal.
1b) The New York Times, 21 November 1918, under ‘Howard Excuses False Peace Report’. Available through NYTimes.com Free to Read Articles 1918 website.
For a summary of reactions to Howard’s false armistice cablegram see ‘Roy Howard in Brest’ on this website. See also, ‘False Armistice Conspiracy Theories’ on this website.
2. Howard Papers:
2a) Roy Howard to Robert J. Bender [United Press Manager in Washington, DC] CONFIDENTIAL, New York, December 2, 1918.
2b1) In a letter dated 11 December 1918, Howard told Fred. C. Cook “I had expected to sail for France on the 14th but a crush of local affairs has made it necessary for me to postpone my trip until after the holidays.” Roy W. Howard to Fred C. Cook, December 11, 1918. In Howard’s Papers only two documents are listed from the whole of 1919, none of them to/from Paris.
2b2) Roy Howard to Fred C. Cook, November twenty-eighth 1925, p3.
2c) Emmett King to W.F.L., December 19th, 1918. (Consists of the two-page original letter and an incomplete one-page copy of it.)
2d) Hugh Baillie to Roy Howard, Washington, July 19, 1919. Howard Papers. J.A. Morris, (Note 5), p126, mentions that Baillie became the Washington Bureau Manager during 1919.
2e) L.B. Mickel to Roy Howard, Oklahoma City, August 11, 1919. (There are three copies, each showing different recipients’ initials.)
2f) Naval Signal, 32/34 in the collection at 7 November 1918.
2g) Naval Signal, 34/34 in the collection at 7 November 1918.
2h) Naval Signal Negatives, 31/34 and 33/34 in the collection at 7 November 1918.
2i) 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”.)
2j) Telegram, Ferguson to Howard “about 11 PM Thursday”. 12/34 in the collection at 7 November 1918. And telegram, Ferguson to Howard “Friday Nov 8, 1918 3:15” [annotation]. 22/34 in the collection at 7 November 1918.
3. Admiral Wilson Papers:
3a) Roy W. Howard to Admiral Wilson, July 18, 1919.
3b) Admiral Wilson to Josephus Daniels, 1 January, 1934. Attempts to locate the alleged 12:10 pm and 1:10 pm messages in US Navy archives have so far proved unsuccessful.
4. See the Fourth Estate, December 7, 1918, p8, under ‘Howard and Keen In Charge of U.P. Staff’, for an item about United Press personnel in their Peace Conference team. Available online through the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
5a) J. A. Morris, Deadline Every Minute. The Story of the United Press, pp82, 115. (New York 1957) “[Bender] quickly made friends in the right places and was able to develop a number of exclusive stories, possibly due in part to the fact that he was one of the few Washington reporters who owned an automobile and frequently taxied Joseph Tumulty, the President’s secretary, to his home at the end of the workday.” (p82)
5b) J. A. Morris, Deadline Every Minute, p116.
5c) ‘William F. Lynch’ entries in J. A. Morris, Deadline Every Minute, pp79 and 167 refer to his telegraph work in the agency.
6. Howard claimed that his later warning that the armistice news in his first cablegram could not be confirmed had been held up in New York City by the Navy censors there, thus permitting the false news to spread and United Press to be blamed for it. Navy Secretary Daniels had already issued a statement admitting that, because he was not in Washington, DC, when Howard’s subsequent cablegram arrived, the censors had withheld it from the press for several hours until he had returned to the Navy Department.
For a discussion of Howard’s claim about his “warning” cablegram, see Addendumin the ‘Roy W. Howard in Brest’ article on this website.
7. The US Navy List for 1918 has the following entry: “Archer Emmet King Jr, Lieutenant (junior grade) 5 June 1918; born 14 September 1893. Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy, U.S. Naval Reserve Force and Marine Corps, January 1, 1919, p70.
8. Edward House’s official secretary at the Peace Conference was his son-in-law, Gordon Auchincloss. House was often referred to as “Colonel House”, but he had no official military rank.
9. See the Captain R. H. Jackson item in ‘Biographical Details’ on this website. Some of Jackson’s papers are deposited at Stanford University, but they throw no light on his involvement in the armistice telegram.
10. Chapter IV, in Webb Miller’s I Found No Peace: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, pp94-95. (London. Special Edition for the Book Club. 1937.)
11. For an account of the Warburton false armistice dispatches and the published House/State Department dispatches concerning the false armistice news, see ‘Three False Armistice Cablegrams from France’ on this website.
12. See ‘The False Armistice in Britain’ on this website.
13a) David Dutton (Ed.), Paris 1918. The War Diary of the 17th Earl of Derby. (Liverpool University Press. 2001)
13b) 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 Addendum: Few False Armistice Recollections by Officials, in ‘The False Armistice in France’ article on this website.
14. Quoted here from, T. M. Johnson, Without Censor: New Light On Our Greatest World War Battles, p350. (Indianapolis. 1928.)
15. I am most grateful to Ken Sutton, curator of the Royal Navy Communications Branch Museum/Library, for this and other contextual information relevant to the signal sheets. The museum/library is located at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, Hampshire.
16. The Sun, November 9, 1918, p2 under ‘Action on Messages’. Available online through the Library of Congress Chronicling America portal.
17. The sources are: A Diary kept by George Lea on board HMS Lion. (Held by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London; reference JOD/310); Letters from William Pakenham to Margaret Strickland-Constable. (Written whilst on board HMS Lion. Held by East Riding of Yorkshire Archives and Local Studies Service; reference DDST/1/8/1/20); Diaries of Geoffrey Coleridge Harper. (Written whilst on board HMS Indomitable. Held by the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge; reference GBR/0014/HRPR).
18. See ‘Admiral H. B. Wilson and Roy Howard’s Armistice Cablegram’ on this website.