The American Army G-2 Report on the False Armistice News of 7 November 1918

This article is in three parts.  First, a copy of the report itself; second, an analysis of the report’s findings together with relevant additional information; and third, complementing G-2’s findings, three short reports for the US War and State Departments about the false armistice news. 1 ENDNOTES

Part 1: The G-2 Report 2

[Explanatory Notes:

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

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

G-3 GHQ AEF = the Third Section of the General Staff of the American Expeditionary Forces at General Pershing’s Headquarters in Chaumont, about 300 kilometres south-east of Paris. It was responsible for “Operations”.

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

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

False Report of Signing of Armistice

AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCES,

November 9, 1918.

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

To: Commanding General, S.O.S.

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

CABOT WARD,

Lieut. Colonel, General Staff.

Part 2: The G-2 Report’s FindingsAnalysis and Additional Information

The G-2 (SOS) report was one of at least four reports by American officials about the false armistice news that had spread to the United States from France.  The other three are in Part 3 of this article.  Most of the information the latter sent to the State and War Departments is also in the G-2 report which says more about who was considered responsible for spreading the misinformation and about how it apparently arose. 

It is dated 9 November 1918.  Colonel Cabot Ward, G-2 (SOS) Assistant Chief of Staff in Paris, sent it to the SOS Commanding General, James G. Harbord.  It is not certain whether Harbord, or anyone else, had ordered Ward to investigate the false armistice news or whether the report was seen by others.

The investigation itself appears to have been completed very quickly – between Thursday 7 and Saturday 9 November.  Answers to questions which could be considered central to an investigation of the false armistice news, however, are not provided. 

The information in the report’s ten numbered-sections is repetitive and contradictory in parts – it was probably collected by more than one G2 agent.  The following arrangement of it highlights the investigation’s findings about those responsible for spreading the false news and where the news came from.

Those Responsible for Spreading the False News

The investigation found that two US Army Liaison Service officers, Captain H. J. Whitehouse and Captain Stanton, had released the armistice news to American and French “circles” in Paris, but concluded that the French were mostly to blame for spreading it. 

Liaison Service Officer Captain H. J. Whitehouse

In a telephone call at about 11:30 am, Captain H. J. Whitehouse, the Acting Director of the Liaison Service, told the G-2 (SOS) office in Paris that the “Armistice had been signed that morning”.  He said his information was “absolutely reliable and authentic”.  (The report does not expand on this or subsequent claims about the authenticity of the armistice news.)  Nevertheless, Colonel Cabot Ward had strong doubts about it and tried to obtain verification of it from the French Military Intelligence Service – the Deuxième Bureau (Second Bureau) – (no details given about the latter’s location). 

Having failed to obtain verification, Ward sent the following telegram to the AEF Headquarters in Chaumont of General John J. Pershing: “Rumor stated by responsible parties to have been received from the Ministry of War states that German[s] signed Armistice terms at ten o’clock this morning. This is sent with all reserve.”  (This apparently identifies the French War Ministry as the source of the misinformation.)

Around midday, Ward spoke to the Liaison Service office again.  They “once more assured [him] of the correctness of the statement that an armistice had been signed that morning”. 3  (The impression is that the 11:30 am telephone call was initiated by Captain Whitehouse, and the midday one by Colonel Ward.)

About an hour later – at 1:00 pm – Ward spoke to Major Warburton, the Military Attaché, who told him he “had received authentic information, and had sent a cable to Washington during the morning to the effect that the Armistice had been signed”.  Ward had “reason to believe” that the Liaison Service had telephoned the information to the attaché. 4  It is not clear whether Ward or Warburton initiated this conversation.

[In his own reports to the War Department (see Part 3), Warburton gave the impression that it was he who contacted Ward.  He also stated that the Embassy gave him the armistice news and alleged that Ward confirmed it to him.]  

The report names Captain R. H. Jackson, alternately described as “Naval Attache” and “Naval Intelligence Officer in Paris”, as being responsible for sending the armistice news to the headquarters in Brest of Admiral Henry Wilson, the Commander of US Naval Forces in France.  It does not record the message that went to Brest (‘armistice signed at 11:00 am, hostilities ceased at 2:00 pm, Sedan taken by the Americans’), say where Jackson obtained the information (through the Embassy according to other sources), or when during the day he allegedly dispatched it from Paris (mid-afternoon).  In fact, G-2 (SOS) officials do not appear to have spoken to Jackson himself.  Ambiguously, the report merely states that he “has just been relieved by Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long, Naval Attache, Paris”. [This could be taken as implying that Jackson was very quickly dismissed for sending the armistice message to Admiral Wilson.  But it means simply that Admiral Long (who had been in London until late September 1918) was replacing Jackson on the latter’s transfer to Washington, DC. ]

The report goes on to name Admiral Wilson as being responsible for giving the news from Jackson to Roy Howard, President of the United Press news agency; and Howard as being responsible for sending it by cablegram to the USA.  [The Admiral admitted giving Howard a copy of the news and had to explain his action to the Navy Department in Washington, DC.  Howard claimed (unreliably) that Wilson assisted him in getting his cablegram cleared for transmission by the French censors in Brest. 22

The report ascertained that the American Embassy also “received the news … through the liaison service”, and that the US Consul-General, Alexander Thackara, announced and later retracted it during a luncheon on 7 November at the American Club in Paris. 

Colonel Ward remained unconvinced that the news, “however authenticated”, could be true.  It seemed to him “physically impossible” for the German delegates to have reached the front lines so soon after leaving Berlin.  As well as AEF Headquarters in Chaumont, his office therefore advised SOS Headquarters at Tours and other American facilities not to trust the news, informing them that, despite its “apparent authenticity”, both “the Chief of the French 2nd Bureau and the representatives of Marshal Foch in Paris … refused to confirm the rumor”. 7

Liaison Service Officer Captain Stanton

The report states unequivocally that Captain Whitehouse, the Liaison Service Acting Director, had received the armistice misinformation from Captain Stanton, the AEF “liaison officer with the Chief of the 2nd Bureau”.  Stanton, therefore, was considered to be the American officer responsible for initially releasing the armistice news to American circles in Paris. The report identified “General Alby” [Major General Henri Alby] as the 2nd Bureau Chief.  [No information to confirm Alby’s connection with the French Second Bureau has been found.]

According to “some reports” a Captain de Cartusac (presumably French and a Second Bureau officer) “had been the one” who gave the news to Stanton. [No background information about Captain de Cartusac has so far been found.]  But Stanton himself does not seem to have named de Cartusac as his source when he was interviewed. 

Rather, in Section 4 of the report, Stanton is said to have stated that the “Chief of Cabinet of the Head of the 2d Bureau” (not named) gave it to him.  In Section 6, however, he reportedly stated that he received it from “M. Audibert [Monsieur Pierre Audibert], editor of L’Information” in a telephone call Audibert made to the Second Bureau.  Stanton explained that he took the call because the ”Chief of Cabinet of the General in Command of the 2d Bureau” was absent at the time. 9 [L’Information, a Paris daily newspaper, dealt mainly with economic and financial affairs.]

These details about who gave Captain Stanton the armistice news – either Captain de Cartusac, or the unnamed Second Bureau Head’s Chief of Cabinet, or L’Information editor Monsieur Audibert – are glaringly contradictory.  They certainly do not help to identify Stanton’s source.  And the obvious question of where Stanton’s source – whoever he may have been – had acquired the news is not addressed.  [Stanley Weintraub states that L’Information was the “Second Bureau’s newspaper” and that Audibert, its editor, was responsible for confirming “the news to callers”. 10  However, there is no evidence to suggest that L’Information was the French Second Bureau’s mouthpiece during the First World War or that Pierre Audibert was associated with the Bureau.]

Stanton admitted that he believed the news to be true and had passed it on to Captain Whitehouse, being “accustomed to inform his chiefs in the liaison service of any information he may have picked up”.  He also “repeated” it to “various French officials [and] immediately various members of the Ministry began telephoning it”.  But he claimed that he “did not pass it along in any official sense”.  He issued it, he said, “personally”. 11  [The “Ministry” referred to here is the French Ministry of War, named as such or as the “War Office” in separate parts of the report.  It was situated in the Rue Saint-Dominique.  By implication, Stanton communicated the news to officials in the War Ministry from wherever he was at the time.]

G-2 (SOS) evidently accepted Captain Stanton’s explanation.  The report’s Conclusion (Section 10) acknowledged that “through [him]” the Liaison Service had passed on the false information and even “stated it was correct”, but decided he had indeed given it out “in each case as a personal message” and “in no case stated or acted on it as official”.  On this basis, therefore, the report absolved Stanton of any  major blame for spreading the 7 November armistice news.

The French

According to the report, the main blame lay with the French.  Based on “the facts thus far ascertained”, it asserted that “French officials originally circulated the rumor”; that the Ministry of War sent out messages about an armistice “the entire day”, giving 10:00 am as the time of its signing; and that “members of the French Staff Departments undoubtedly telephoned the rumor to various banks in Paris”.  Overall, the report concluded, “dissemination of the news from [French] … sources was much more widespread than … through … American sources”. 12

Exactly which “French officials originally circulated the rumor” is not made clear in the report, though its evidence seems to point to the Second Bureau officers Captain Stanton was with at the time. 

Genesis of the False Armistice News

The report’s findings on how and why the armistice news arose during the morning of 7 November are in Section 8, the only part of the report where these fundamental questions are approached.

Section 8 reads:

“From the information received by this office, it would appear that the original source of the mistake was the fact that a number of officers here caught a wireless telegram stating that an order had been given to cease firing at 3 o’clock on that afternoon [7 November].  This, as it since appears, was to allow the German Armistice Delegates to get through the lines, and was only local in its scope.  It was, however, interpreted as being a signal that the Armistice had been signed.” 13 [My highlighting.]

[Evident here is Military Attaché Warburton’s short explanation to the US War Department on 8 November (below, Part 3) that everyone in Paris believed the armistice news because of an intercepted wireless message about an afternoon cease-fire on 7 November.] 

Section 8’s explanation thus gave the start-time of the cease-fire – 3:00 pm – and the hindsight (“as it since appears”) that it was only a local arrangement so that the German armistice delegation could cross the front lines.  It stated, as a “fact”, that the cease-fire message was intercepted by officers who misconstrued it to mean that the German armistice had been signed, thus presenting this as the genesis of the false armistice news.

There is nothing here [or in Major Warburton’s report] about the provenance of the intercepted telegram with its cease-fire order, or when during the day it was intercepted.  And there is virtually nothing about the officers who supposedly misinterpreted it; most obviously missing are any details about who they were, their ranks, nationalities and military rôles.  But it does say that they were “here” when they “caught” the transmission, which must mean they were in Paris at the time rather than somewhere else in France.

According to the last sentence of Section 8, the officers misinterpreted the cease-fire order because they took it to be “a signal that the Armistice had been signed”.  There is no clarification of this terse explanation, but it presumably means that the officers thought an armistice must already have been signed if a cease-fire was due to come into effect at 3:00 pm – a cease-fire whose limited, specific nature they may not have appreciated at the time.  As the false armistice news started circulating in Paris before midday on 7 November, they most likely intercepted and misinterpreted the message sometime that morning. 14

The implication is that Captain Stanton’s French Second Bureau colleagues acquired their armistice misinformation from these unnamed officers.  Were the latter, perhaps, also French Intelligence officers situated in the same building (where radio equipment would have been operating)? 

Additional Information

The AEF Liaison Service was established in February 1918 “for the purpose of facilitating the transaction of business between the Allies and the A.E.F.”  Its “scope of service” covered “liaison with the French bureaus and administrations in Paris; liaison with the regions, [and] liaison with the armies”.  But it excluded “tactical liaison”.

Liaison officers were required to have (ideally) “a knowledge of French customs and language, a certain amount of military experience, an adaptability to circumstances, and a great deal of tact and good judgment”.  They were subject “not only to the orders of [their] immediate American commander, but also to orders of the Allied authority to whom … attached”.  They were “to transmit all orders, all requests for information and all demands of any kind formulated by the Allied authority to the competent and interested American authority, and vice versa”. 15 

Captain H. J. Whitehouse, on 21 November 1918, was listed as a US Army representative on the Inter-Allied Committee on Franco-American War Affairs.  He is shown as being a member of the A.S.S.C. – the Aviation Section, Signal Corps.  How long he had been a representative on this Committee is not known, and his name has not been found in available US Army Directories for 1918 and 1919. 23 

Captain Stanton is not given any forename or initials in the G-2 (SOS) report.  There are four Stantons listed in the Army Directory, August 1918, only one of whom has the rank of captain – “Ernest N. Stanton “inf. American Exped. Force”. 24  But an Internet search shows that he was a front-line combat officer and clearly not a liaison officer based in Paris.  Whether any details about Stanton and Whitehouse are to be found in other AEF military Directories is not known.

According to historian John Toland, “several weeks [after 7 November] Captain Whitehouse was relieved from duty as liaison officer” – no reason offered, but presumably because he  passed on the false armistice news he received from Captain Stanton.  However, “no action was taken in the case of Captain Stanton” – again, presumably because the G-2 (SOS) report concluded that he had not played a significant part in spreading the news. 16  However, attempts to locate the documents Toland cites as sources for his comments have proved unsuccessful. 17

The Liaison Service building, from where Captain Whitehouse made his telephone calls, was at “No. 45, Avenue Montaigne, Paris”. 3  It was not far from G-2 (SOS) headquarters at 11 Avenue Montaigne.  (Avenue Montaigne was across the river Seine from the Quai d’Orsay and French Foreign Ministry building.) 

Where Captain Stanton was on 7 November 1918 is open to question.  If he was indeed the American liaison officer with the French Army General Staff Second Bureau, as the report implies, then he was in their premises on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, a few minutes’ walk away from the Quai d’Orsay.  However, it is possible that he was actually attached to a team of Second Bureau officers based in the French War Ministry on the Rue Saint-Dominique.  General Henri Mordacq, Head of the Military Cabinet under Georges Clemenceau (French Prime Minister and Minister of War), refers to the “liaison officers of my staff and of the G-2 of the French army at the ministry”, in an article he wrote in 1928 about the 7 November 1918 armistice news. 18  If the G-2 (SOS) report is mistaken about Stanton’s attachment to the French Army General Staff Second Bureau, then he was most likely the American liaison officer with the French Second Bureau team in the War Ministry.  And this would place him, his French Intelligence colleagues, and the War Ministry officials who also circulated the false armistice news all in the same building at the same time.     

The American liaison officer at the French War Ministry itself (as distinct from the liaison officer with the Second Bureau team there) was Colonel P. M. Lydig.  It is uncertain whether he was interviewed about the 7 November armistice news or whether any of the information in the G-2 (SOS) Report came from him.  He kept a diary during his liaison service at the War Ministry, but there is no mention in it of the false armistice rumours or of what happened there that day. 19

General Mordacq claimed that he carried out an investigation into 7 November 1918 events in the Ministry of War, states that it was from here that the armistice message was telephoned to the American Embassy in Paris, and subscribes to Arthur Hornblow’s German spy theory as the explanation of its origins. 18  But his explanation relates to the afternoon armistice message that went to Admiral Wilson in Brest as distinct from the morning armistice message which is the focus of the G-2 (SOS) Report.

Whether any other French investigations were carried out into the false armistice news is not known here: there are no references to the news in other officials’ recollections of events that day. 20

G-2 (SOS) seem to have been unaware that false armistice news was also sent to the American Embassy in London on 7 November, was leaked to the British press and spread throughout Great Britain.  Its report makes no reference to the misinformation the Embassy naval authorities received, and so offers no clues as to who may have sent it to them, from where and at what time.  So, open to speculation is why the false news in Britain specified that an afternoon armistice (not a morning one) had been signed at 2:30 pm and contained no mention of any cease-fire having occurred. 21 

Part 3: Reports for the War and State Departments on the False Armistice News

Major B. H. Warburton, the Military Attaché at the American Embassy in Paris, sent the first of several false armistice cablegrams which Washington, DC, received on 7 November 1918.  It went to Secretary of War Newton D. Baker at the War Department, read simply “Armistice signed”, and arrived at 8:55 am local time.  At 12:25 pm, over three hours later, Warburton cancelled his “Armistice signed” message, stating – without elaboration – that the armistice news had been “confirmed by G-2 (?) S.O.S., Paris” but that a Major Straight (American liaison officer presumably) had telephoned a denial of it from Marshal Foch’s headquarters. 

The War Department demands an explanation

The following day, Friday 8 November, General Marlborough Churchill, the head of the War Department’s Military Intelligence Division, demanded an explanation from Warburton.   Evidently annoyed, the General instructed him to:

“… explain fully the circumstances which led you to make the unqualified statement that the armistice had been signed, based merely on the authority of G-2, S.O.S., as stated in your No. 629.  Rush answer.” 

Major B. H. Warburton’s report

Warburton replied the same day.  He now told Churchill he had initially received the armistice news from the American Embassy; but then repeated his claim that G-2 (SOS) had “confirmed” it:

“[The] information was furnished me by embassy, as I thought, officially.  Subsequently after having sent my [“Armistice signed” cablegram] embassy, to my astonishment, asked me if [armistice] report had been confirmed.  Immediately upon discovery of my error endeavored to secure confirmation, which was obtained from Lt. Col. Ward, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, S.O.S., who stated at 1:00 P.M. that French War Office had called him by telephone and confirmed report and had requested him to notify our General Headquarters.  This report was given absolute credence by various departments of French government and was not officially denied until the afternoon and at the same time this office sent you cable No. 629 [his follow-on cancellation message].”

He concluded his explanation with the following somewhat vague comment:

“Probable reason for universal belief of [armistice] report was no doubt caused by interception of wireless message ordering cessation of fire yesterday afternoon (November 7.) to permit the plenipotentiaries to cross lines.” 

With no other information to clarify it, the War Department may not immediately have comprehended what Warburton meant by his last sentence.  But he was saying, in effect, that everyone in Paris believed the armistice news on 7 November because an intercepted wireless message contained an order for a cease-fire that afternoon to enable the German armistice delegates to cross the front lines.

In summary, Warburton named the American Embassy, Colonel Cabot Ward of G-2 (SOS) in Paris, and various French government departments as having either spread or confirmed the morning false armistice news.  And he affirmed that everyone believed it because of an intercepted wireless message about an afternoon cease-fire on 7 November for the German plenipotentiaries.  What he did not explain, however, was whose wireless message was intercepted, who intercepted it and when, at what time in the afternoon the cease-fire was to begin, and why the message itself made people believe an armistice with Germany had been concluded. 

Warburton’s claims that Colonel Cabot Ward actually confirmed the news to him when they spoke about it at 1:00 pm that day (presumably by telephone) completely contradict what the G-2 Report maintains throughout – that Ward and his office treated the armistice news “cautiously” from the very beginning and “answered all inquiries” about it with a warning that it was unreliable information.

Different Sections of the Report record that:

  • G-2 (SOS) in Paris had not been able to obtain confirmation of the armistice news from the French Second Bureau.
  • Ward felt “it was incredible that [the news], however authenticated, could be correct.”
  • Around midday, he informed US Army GHQ, “with all reserve” that the French Ministry of War had announced a 10:00 am signing of the German armistice.
  • He gave the same information to SOS Headquarters in Tours.
  • G-2 (SOS) “answered all inquiries by stating that the Chief of the French 2d Bureau and the representatives of Marshal Foch in Paris both refused to confirm the rumor”.
  • The “Intelligence representatives at G.H.Q. and in Paris answered all inquiries by stating that it was a rumor that should be taken with the greatest caution.” 22

Ward did not record in the Report what he said to Major Warburton, only what Warburton said to him.  Nevertheless, on balance, it seems unlikely that he would have told Warburton at 1:00 pm on 7 November that the armistice news had been confirmed and was therefore true.  It seems more likely that Warburton misunderstood or recalled incorrectly what he claimed Ward told him, and had taken the information about the French War Ministry to mean that Ward accepted its armistice announcement as official verification, rather than as information to be treated with reserve.

Reports for the State Department from William Sharp and Edward House

As Roy Howard’s false armistice news raced around the United States following its arrival in New York City, Secretary of State Robert Lansing demanded to know why it had not been contained in France. 

As yet unaware that Howard had sent the news from Brest, Lansing had the following telegram, its text evidently restrained, sent to the American Ambassador in Paris, William Sharp:

“United Press [in New York City] received telegram today before 1 p.m. announcing armistice had been signed.  Telegram published at once and greatest excitement and enthusiasm prevails.  This Department and War Department have been informed no foundation for story.  Please find out why censor passed this report as the incident is most unfortunate.” 

The message left at 4:00 pm.  At the same time, Lansing sent a similar, separate message to President Wilson’s Special Representative in Paris, Edward House He wanted House to make sure that the Embassy investigated Howard’s false armistice cablegram which he believed the United Press office in Paris was responsible for.  In a longer, less restrained  message to him, the Secretary of State presumed some sharp practice on the part of the news agency:

“United Press [in New York City] received telegram this morning which was published at once announcing armistice had been signed.  Later information from War Department and from you is that there is no foundation for report.  Similar report was received early this morning by War Department from Warburton but not credited.  The effect of publication of news naturally has created tremendous excitement.  People marching through streets cheering peace.  If as you report there is no foundation for report, it would seem a grave error has been made by censor in permitting this message to pass and that the United Press has been guilty of reckless news work.  Please have Embassy investigate and report how United Press has made such a serious mistake.” 

Judging from what Lansing said he reported to President Wilson about the armistice news, the State and War Departments decided that French and British censors must be to blame for its arrival in America.  In a memorandum the same day, he wrote that he told the President the French and British “had permitted the press telegram to come through” – what he described as “a strange neglect of duty”.  He did not say, however, on what evidence he based his assertion.

The reports from Sharp and House

Ambassador Sharp’s report arrived in two parts, during Friday 8 and Saturday 9 November.

In the first part (Friday 8), the Ambassador explained:

“Preliminary investigation shows that the telegram referred to was filed in Brest by Mr. Roy Howard head of the United Press who is now at that Port enroute to the United States.  The telegram was passed by the American authorities at Brest.  Will cable you when further investigation shows where responsibility lies.”

In the second part (Saturday 9), he added:

“Paris representative of United Press states that he has been in communication telephone with Mr. Howard at Brest who informs him that Admiral Wilson, having received a telegram from the Naval Attaché at the Embassy that armistice had been signed, gave out the news to the local press at Brest, also to Mr. Howard; the latter accompanied by one of Admiral Wilson’s aides filed the cable to the United States which was passed by the censor.” 

Special Representative House reported on 8 November.  Stating that his information “coincides” with the Embassy’s, he explained:

“Most of the officials in Paris and practically every non-official person here believed yesterday that the armistice had been signed.  Captain Jackson, Naval Attaché at the Embassy, sent Admiral Wilson at Brest a wire to that effect.  Wilson showed wire to Roy Howard at Brest and sent an aide with him to cable censor so that Howard would be permitted to send through a dispatch stating that the armistice had been signed.  It is perfectly clear that United Press was not at fault in this matter and that the fault if any, lies with Jackson or the French official who started the rumor….” 

Clearly, Lansing’s assumptions about British and French censors in France neglecting their duties and of “reckless news work” by United Press were not borne out by Sharp’s and House’s reports.  On the contrary, they absolved United Press and Roy Howard of any wrongdoing while insinuating that it was American and French authorities in Paris and American authorities in Brest who were responsible for what Lansing had termed the “grave error” and “serious mistake” of allowing the armistice news to spread.

© James Smith  (Re-arranged November 2020; reviewed November 2021; May 2022.)

ENDNOTES

1. For a discussion of these three reports in their context, see ‘False Armistice Cablegrams from France’on this website.

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

3.Report, Sections 1 and 2.

4. Report, Section 3.

5. Report, Sections 6 and 7.  For more about Captain Jackson and the afternoon message to Brest, see‘False Armistice Cablegrams from France’; and ‘Biographical Details’ on this website. 

6. Report, Section 7.

7. Report, Sections 2, 3, 9.

8. Report, Section 4.

9. Report, Sections 4 and 6.

10. A Stillness Heard Round The World. The End of the Great War: November 1918. (Paperback 1987), p39. 

11. Report, Section 6.

12. Report, Sections 2, 3, 4, 6, 10.

13. Report, Section 8.

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

15. Extracts from Sections 1 and 5 of ‘ORGANIZATION OF LIAISON SERVICE, A.E.F. General Headquarters A.E.F. France. February 13, 1918. General Orders. No. 28’, in United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919. Volume 16. General Orders. GHQ, AEF. (Washington, DC, 1948; 1991) Online.

16. John Toland, No Man’s Land: The Story of 1918. (London. 1980).  Chapter 15, ‘The False Armistice’, p548 *footnote; and p628 ‘Notes to page 547: False Armistice. Memoranda, December 4, 7, Gen. Hq., AEF, subject: Captain H. J. Whitehouse.

17. Result of enquiries made by the writer regarding the cited memorandums, sent during October-November 2015, to the US Army Center of Military History, Washington, DC; and to the National Archives and Records Administration, Maryland.

18. See ‘False Armistice Conspiracy Theories’ Addendum, on this website.

19. Philip M. Lydig, Diary of Lieut. Col. Philip M. Lydig, Infantry, liaison officer A.E.F. with the French Ministry of War from January 1, 1918 to March 9, 1919. (Undated typescript.) Harvard University, Houghton Library, Massachusetts.

20. See Few False Armistice recollections by officials, in‘The False Armistice in France’ Addendum, on this website.

21. See ‘False Armistice Cablegrams from France’.

22. See ‘Admiral Wilson and Roy Howard’s Armistice Cablegram’; and ‘Roy Howard in Brest, Parts One and Two’, on this website.

23. Papers Relating To The Foreign Relations of the United States, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, Volume 1: ‘The Commander in Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces (Pershing) to the Special Representative (House). General Headquarters [AEF], 21 November, 1918. Statement of Inter-Allied Committees and A.E.F. Members. Committee on Franco-American Affairs’.(Available online)

24. Army Directory, August 1, 1918, p84. Google Books.