Roy Howard’s Search for Information about the False Armistice

This article describes Roy Howard’s attempts to find out what caused the False Armistice on 7 November 1918 and the resulting 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. ENDNOTE 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 which would “round out and throw a new light on the developments of November 7th”. 2a);2b2)  And with this he would 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 archive 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. 

Two of them were allegedly sent to the Navy Department from Admiral Wilson in Brest, and two of them to the State Department from Special Representative Edward House in Paris. (Information Howard acquired by 2 December 1918.)

One was supposedly transmitted from US Navy Headquarters in Paris by a Lieutenant Emmett King. (Information sent to United Press on 19 December 1918.)

One was the Jackson Armistice Telegram to Admiral H.B. Wilson in Brest, whose premature peace news Howard himself had forwarded to the United States. (Acquired during July and August 1919.)

And two were naval signals sent out by British warships. (How and when Howard acquired these is not known.)

The information they contain relates to the false armistice news that arose during the afternoon of 7 November (as distinct from the news that began circulating in Paris during late morning that day) and is described in Part One of this article (in this font colour).  In Part Two, a Commentary section, the telegrams are discussed in their broader context. 1c)

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. 18

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 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)

(There are no other  documents relating to these messages among his papers, only what he reports in this letter to Bender.)

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) 

In Paris

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 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 7 November 1918 is not known.  For whatever may have transpired in Paris, there is nothing in Howard’s archive papers to indicate what resulted from his plans, as outlined to Bender, to resolve the False Armistice 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 apparently knew W.F.L. – perhaps through their work in radio telegraphy.  His navy rank seems to have been that of lieutenant. 7 The letter may be a reply to one mentioning events in the USA on 7 November that W.F.L. had already written to him, but the impression is that King wrote it without any prompting from W.F.L.  He had, he explained, read some American newspapers reporting the False Armistice there and the “strong criticism” levelled against United Press by Associated Press and other agencies, and wanted to assure W.F.L. that United Press had “pulled the biggest ‘beat’ of all time” with its armistice bulletin. 

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 … what a shame that [they] don’t know the facts.”

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 Howard received King’s letter, where he may have been at the time and whether he or one of his team was able to follow it up.  In view of King’s evident willingness to discuss the 7 November armistice message, the likelihood is that someone did see him in Paris to talk about the events outlined in the letter, though there is no reference in Howard’s papers to such a meeting and discussion.

(The message King transmitted from Paris was, in fact, the Jackson Armistice message: he was the operator who forwarded it from Paris to Brest. 1d))

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.

(Admiral Wilson received the telegram in Brest sometime before 4:00 pm.)

The letters “RBWH” in the “DUTY” box indicate, presumably, personnel on duty at the time.

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):

Clarifications:

“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):

Clarifications:

“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.

In summary, the information Roy Howard acquired about the False Armistice between November 1918 and August 1919 (as saved in his archive) 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 by Admiral Wilson, Edward House, and Emmett King. And copies of two British naval signals with false armistice messages.  None of it answers the most fundamental of the questions he set down in his letter to Bob Bender about his search for False Armistice facts: where the armistice report came from in the first place, and why it arose. 2a)  To settle these, in his 1936 memoir he left readers with two conspiracy theories: the first (his own apparently) which involved a German delegation headed by Admiral Paul von Hintze and an armistice-signing with Marshal Foch on Wednesday 6 November, which he then discarded in favour of an unprovable German spy theory Arthur Hornblow had first aired in his 1921 ‘Amazing Armistice’ article. 20

Part Two: Commentary

The Two British Naval Signals

Both signal sheets are accompanied in Howard’s 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)     

(It would be pure speculation to suggest that Emmett King at US Navy Headquarters in Paris was involved in Howard’s acquisition of them.)

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 warshipIndeed, 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.  

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

Whether the afternoon 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. 13

The false armistice messages allegedly sent by Admiral Wilson to the Navy Department, and by Edward House to the State Department.

The only false armistice message to the United States that was made public at the time was the afternoon one Roy Howard obtained from Admiral Wilson and sent to United Press in New York City.  The morning armistice message from US Military Attaché Barclay H. Warburton was not made public until the 1930s; it went first to the War Department and from there to the State Department without being leaked.

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 unnamed person who provided the information about them must have been an insider or someone with insider-contacts in Washington, DC. 11 

The alleged messages from Admiral Wilson to the Navy Department

There is no mention in Admiral Wilson’s archive that the Jackson armistice news from Paris and its later cancellation were forwarded from his headquarters in Brest to the US Navy Department.  But it seems unlikely that information of such obvious military importance would have been kept in Brest and not sent on to Washington, DC, particularly since Admiral Wilson decided to release the armistice news, signifying the end of the war, to the local French population.    

The dispatch-time of the alleged messages is not given, but they allegedly reached the Navy Department respectively at 12:10 pm and 1:10 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST).

The first message read “Headquarters reports armistice signed  Wilson”.  So, not included are any of the Jackson Armistice Telegram details about an 11:00 am Armistice, a 2:00 pm cessation of hostilities, the taking of Sedan by the Americans, and the French Foreign Office’s release of the news. 

Its 12:10 pm arrival means that it left Brest (where it was five hours ahead of EST) sometime before 5:10 pm local time.  And this is entirely feasible because Roy Howard’s armistice cablegram arrived in New York City around the same time, having been transmitted from Brest not long before 4:30 pm local time. 

The 1:10 pm arrival of Wilson’s alleged cancellation message – “Headquarters report error in signature  Wilson” – 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 an armistice-cancellation message from Paris two hours after receiving the Jackson armistice telegram – which would have been sometime before 6:00 pm.  It stated, “signature Armistice unconfirmed” – slightly different to the alleged cancellation message.  Wilson does not actually say that he sent this cancellation message to Washington, DC, but it may be assumed he did and that it arrived there early in the afternoon, local time. 3b)

It does seem, therefore, that at least two armistice messages were sent from US Navy Headquarters in Brest to the Navy Department on 7 November 1918, and that the information Roy Howard obtained related to them and was authentic. However, attempts to locate the alleged messages themselves in Navy Department archives have proved unsuccessful.  

(It also appears that the Navy Department received a copy of the Jackson Armistice Telegram itself.  Practically hidden in the Naval History and Heritage Command Archive in Washington, D.C. there is a copy that may well have been sent from Brest or from Paris on 7 November.  The false armistice information Arthur Hornblow obtained in later years certainly suggests so.1d))   

The alleged messages from Edward House 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, the second at 12:40 pm local time.  They must therefore have left Paris, at the very latest, before 5:30 pm French time. 

The first message simply read: “Armistice signed congratulations  House ”. 

Given the arrival time at the State Department and transmission time from Paris of this message, it would be reasonable to assume that the armistice it refers to is the one  mentioned in the ‘armistice, cease-fire, and Sedan’ afternoon armistice news detailed in the Jackson Armistice telegram.  Certainly, the Jackson armistice news Roy Howard sent to New York City not long before 4:30 pm French time was already spreading across the United States when this alleged message from House arrived there at 12:30 pm.

By the same reasoning, the cancellation message, which arrived just ten minutes later, was a retraction of the same afternoon armistice news message.  It read “Error but will [?] later full report follows  House”.  (The word after ‘will’ is not clearly typed; it may be ‘communicate’.)

However, according to published official sources, at 11:00 am EST – 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 to tell them (if it was true) when they could publish the Allies’ armistice terms – 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 in Washington, DC.) 11

Given this circumstance, it could be assumed that the alleged “Armistice signed congratulations” message was House’s reply to Lansing’s “confirmation or denial” request relating to the morning armistice news; that it had been sent in the belief that the afternoon armistice news was true; and that – for some reason – it was quickly cancelled with the alleged “Error but will [communicate] later full report follows” message.  

In the same published official sources, however, a telegram from House to Lansing replying specifically to the “confirmation or denial” request is identified as one sent from Paris at 6:00 pm which reached the State Department at 2:04 pm local time – that is, around ninety minutes after House’s two alleged messages had already arrived in Washington, DC.  It explained that the Armistice had not yet been signed, the German delegates were not due to meet Marshal Foch until 5:00 pm, and the Armistice terms must not be made public beforehand.  

(Very late on 7 November, Fred Ferguson from United Press in Paris telegraphed 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”.2j))

The detail in House’s reply about an anticipated 5:00 pm meeting between the delegates and Marshal Foch was part of the message sent in the second German telegram from Spa Headquarters to Foch’s Senlis Headquarters, which was received by the French authorities not long after 11:00 am local time.  It was the time stated by the Germans without any reference to the French time difference. 21  If there was no long delay before Edward House was informed of this message, he and his officials must have been aware well before 5:30 pm, and the dispatch of the two alleged messages to the State Department, that the German delegation was still en route to the front lines.  If there was a long delay for some reason – say until mid to late afternoon – a tardy receipt of the 5:00 pm detail, correctly read as 4:00 pm French time, could help explain the two alleged messages sent under the influence of the afternoon armistice news.

The question, therefore, is whether House (or his officials) sent not two but three armistice cablegrams to the State Department during the afternoon of 7 November – the two alleged ones and his published reply to Lansing’s request for confirmation or denial of the morning armistice news.  The line taken here is that there were three, that the two alleged ones are authentic, were sent with House’s name attached as authorization, but possibly without his prior knowledge (as seems to have been the case with the Jackson Armistice Telegram.1d))   

In November 1951, thirty-three years later, Howard disclosed a little more of what he had learned about False Armistice events.  In a letter to journalist David Lawrence, he claimed he had been informed by both Edward (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 highlighting)

(When and where Howard obtained these details from House and Baker is not known.  Perhaps from House in Paris during the Peace Conference – if Howard was actually there with the rest of his United Press team.) 

The new information here, then, is that William Sharp, the American Ambassador in Paris, also sent a message along the lines of “Armistice signed congratulations” to the State Department sometime during 7 November 1918, and that House intervened to have it cancelled.    

The American Embassy received both the morning and afternoon false armistice news of 7 November, so an “Armistice signed congratulations” message could have been sent either in the morning or, as Howard implies, in the afternoon.  There is no suggestion in the published wartime State Department papers that Ambassador Sharp sent any such news to Secretary of State Lansing, but this should not be taken to mean that he did not, in fact, do so.  For given the US Embassy’s recorded involvement in spreading the false armistice news that day, it would seem to be more than likely that he did. 19  (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.  Also, the Embassy documents 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.14 

That House intervened to have Ambassador Sharp’s alleged armistice-signed dispatch cancelled is credible in light of the contents of another telegram Fred Ferguson sent to Howard from Paris, this one during the afternoon of 8 November.  In it, Ferguson stated that House had told him “they tried [to] make me believe it [the armistice news]”; adding “embassy in very bad will write details”. 2k)  ‘They’ being American Embassy officials, presumably. 

Perhaps there is a connection between Ambassador Sharp’s alleged message to Secretary of State Lansing and the two alleged House messages to the State Department on 7 November 1918.  And perhaps all three were decisively negated by House’s recorded ‘confirm or deny’ reply to Lansing, and later removed from the records as of little historical value.

Emmett King’s false armistice message

The letter King wrote about the armistice message he transmitted is on headed paper, the header being “HEADQUARTERS UNITED STATES NAVY DEPARTMENT 23, RUE DE LA PAIX PARIS, FRANCE”.    However, the address he typed in the letter itself, right-hand corner below the header, is “U.S.N. Headquarters, 4 Place d’Iena, Paris, France”, which is some distance away from Rue de la Paix. 

23 Rue de la Paix appears to have been in US Navy use during 1917 and early 1918; 4 Place d’Iéna was in use during 1918.  Either both locations were being used as separate HQ buildings in November 1918, or the Rue de la Paix headquarters were moved sometime in early 1918 to the Hôtel d’Iéna (Hotel Jena) at 4 Place d’Iéna and the stock of headed paper with the former address continued to be used.  The Place d’Iéna address is much closer than the Rue de la Paix address to where the US Embassy was in the Rue de Chaillot.

King did not say where the message he received around 3:50 pm had come from, who handed it to him, to whom, where, or at what time he transmitted it.  He did say that it read “identically the same as the message that was afterwards published in America to the effect that hostilities had ceased”.  In other words, it stated that an armistice had been signed at 11 am, hostilities had ceased at 2 pm, and the US army had taken Sedan during the morning – the same details that were in the 3:20 pm Jackson Armistice Telegram, Roy Howard’s 4:18 pm pm cablegram and, therefore, the American papers.  In fact, the message King transmitted was the Jackson Armistice message received in Brest by Admiral Wilson. 1d) Whether he subsequently sent a second message cancelling the armistice news is not known, but it may be assumed that he did. 

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 (the time in London was the same as in Paris) 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 not matching the time given in the Jackson Telegram for the signing of the supposed armistice, there is probably a link between the leaked US London Embassy information and the Jackson information – on its way from Brest Headquarters to the Navy Department in Washington, DC, the armistice news most probably travelled via the London Embassy. 

King’s allegation that “a government official (not American)” was responsible for the misinformation suggests it was a French or British one who was.  And his claim that the “whole case cannot be put before the public”, implies that the Allies were deliberately withholding information about what had actually happened, the most obvious reason being that they wanted to prevent any one of them being singled out for blame over the False Armistice. This may be why he did not disclose that the peace news had been announced by the French Foreign Office, according to the message he sent to Brest.

Putting King’s armistice message/Jackson Armistice Telegram in context, by the time he sent it – not long after 3:50 pm presumably – the British naval signal announcing “hostilities ceased at 2:00 P.M. today” was also being transmitted, and the peace news had probably already arrived at the American Embassy in London.  Howard’s cablegram from Brest on the other hand had not yet been transmitted, and the alleged armistice-signed messages from Admiral Wilson and Edward House would have arrived in Washington, DC, not long after Howard’s cablegram reached United Press in New York City around midday EST.

© James Smith (August 2019)  (Reviewed, October 2020; December 2021.)

ENDNOTES

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 Times21 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.

1c) On the morning and afternoon false armistice news, see ‘The 7 November Local Cease-Fire Orders and the False Armistice News’ on this website.

1d) See ‘Arthur Hornblow’s Information about the Jackson Armistice Telegram’ on this website and its ENDNOTE 7 about the copy in the Naval History and Heritage Command Archive.

2. Archive Source: Roy Howard Papers. (1892-1964). MSA 1. The Media School Archive, Indiana University Libraries. Bloomington, Indiana.

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. 

2k) Telegram, Ferguson to Howard “Friday Nov 8, 1918 3:15” [annotation].  22/34 in the collection at 8 November 1918. 

3. Archive Source: Admiral Henry B. Wilson Papers, Box 1.  Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.

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 MinuteThe 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 Addendum in the ‘Roy W. Howard in Brest, Part Two’ 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 published House/State Department dispatches concerning the false armistice news, and of the Warburton false armistice dispatches, see ‘Three False Armistice Cablegrams from France’ on this website.  Attempts to locate the alleged House messages in State Department archives have so far proved unsuccessful.  

12. See ‘The False Armistice in Britain’ on this website.

13. David Dutton (Ed.), Paris 1918. The War Diary of the 17th Earl of Derby. (Liverpool University Press. 2001)

14. 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.

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

19. See ‘The G-2 (SOS) Report on the False Armistice News of 7 November 1918’ on this website.

20. See the ‘False Armistice Conspiracy Theories’ article on this website.

21. See ‘The Spa-Senlis Telegrams and the German Armistice Delegation’, on this website.