The G-2 (SOS) Report on the False Armistice News of 7 November 1918

This article is in two parts.  The first contains the report itself, as printed.  The second offers an analysis of the report’s findings and an addendum concerning two American Liaison Service officers said to have spread the armistice misinformation.

First Part: the Report

[The report is reproduced here from: 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.]

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.

Second Part: Analysis of the Report’s Findings

The G-2 (SOS) report was one of four reports by American officials about the false armistice news that had spread to the United States from France.  The other three were from William Sharp, the American Ambassador in Paris; Edward House, President Wilson’s Special Representative in Paris; and Major B. H. Warburton, the US Military Attaché there.  Most of the information these sent to the State and War Departments is also in the G-2 (SOS) report.  But the latter provides more about who was considered responsible for spreading the misinformation, and about how it apparently arose. 1 [ENDNOTES]

It is dated 9 November 1918.  Lieutenant 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 – and answers to questions which could be considered central to an investigation of the false armistice news are not provided. 

The information in the report’s ten numbered sections is repetitive and contradictory in parts and was probably collected by a number of G-2 agents.  It is re-arranged in this analysis to bring some focus to the investigation’s findings as to who was considered responsible for having spread the false news, and to where the news itself came from. 

Those Responsible for Spreading the News

The investigation found that two US Army Liaison Service officers – Captain H. J. Whitehouse and Captain Stanton – were initially responsible for releasing and spreading the armistice news to “American circles” in Paris. 

Liaison Service Officer, Captain H. J. Whitehouse

In a telephone call at about 11:30 am, Captain H. J. Whitehouse, the Acting Director of the Liaison Service, told the G-2 (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 Ward had strong doubts about the news and tried to obtain verification of it from French Military Intelligence – the Second (Deuxième) Bureau (no details about the latter’s location). 

Having failed to obtain verification, Ward sent the following telegram to the Headquarters in Chaumont of AEF Commander General John J. Pershing: “Rumor stated by responsible parties to have been received from the [French] Ministry of War states that German[s] signed Armistice terms at ten o’clock this morning. This is sent with all reserve.”  And spoke again (around midday) to the Liaison Service office; they “once more assured [him] of the correctness of the statement that an armistice had been signed that morning”. 2

(The impression here is that the 11:30 am telephone call was initiated by Captain Whitehouse, and the midday one by 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. 3

(It is not clear from the report who initiated this conversation, Ward or Warburton.  In his reports to the War Department, Warburton gives the impression that it was he who contacted Ward, states that he received the armistice news from the Embassy, and alleges that Ward confirmed it to him. 4

The report names Captain R. H. Jackson, alternately described as “Naval Attache” and “Naval Intelligence Officer in Paris”, as being responsible for wiring the armistice news “as authentic” to the headquarters in Brest of Admiral Henry Wilson, the Commander of US Naval Forces in France; the Admiral as being responsible for giving the news to Roy Howard, President of the United Press news agency; and Howard as being responsible for sending it by cablegram to the USA.

G-2 (SOS) officials do not appear to have spoken to Captain Jackson about his part in spreading the news.  The report records none of the details of the message sent to Brest – armistice signed at 11:00 am, hostilities ceased at 2:00 pm, Sedan taken by the Americans – does not name the source of the information, or say at what time during the day Jackson allegedly sent it or where he was when he sent it.  Ambiguously, it merely states that he “has just been relieved by Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long, Naval Attache, Paris”. 5

The report ascertained that the American Embassy “received the news also through the liaison service”, and that the US Consul-General, Alexander Thackara, announced and later retracted it during a luncheon on 7 November at the American Club in Paris. 6

(The Consul-General had most likely been given the news by the Embassy, rather than directly by the Liaison Service.)

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 advised SOS Headquarters at Tours and other American facilities not to trust the news because, 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” – whom it identified as “General Alby” (Major General Henri Alby).  Stanton, therefore, was considered to be the American officer responsible for initially releasing the armistice news to American circles in Paris. 8

(No specific information about Major General Henri Alby’s connection with the French Second Bureau has been located for this article.)

According to “some reports” a Captain de Cartusac (presumably French and a Second Bureau officer) “had been the one” who gave the news to Stanton.  But Stanton himself does not seem to have named de Cartusac as his source when he was interviewed by G-2 (SOS).

Rather, in Section 4 of the report, he 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” (a Paris newspaper) in a telephone call Audibert made to the Second Bureau.  Captain 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

These details about who gave 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’Informationwas 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 indicate that L’Information was the French Second Bureau’s mouthpiece during the First World War or that Pierre Audibert was associated with the Bureau.)

Stanton admitted that he believed the news to be true and had passed it on to Captain Whitehouse, being “accustomed to inform his chiefs in the liaison service of any information he may have picked up”.  He also gave it to “various French officials …. 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” = the French Ministry of War, named as such and as the “War Office” in other parts of the report.  Situated in the Rue Saint-Dominique.)

G-2 (SOS) seems to have accepted Stanton’s explanation.  In the report’s Conclusion (Section 10), they acknowledged that “through [Stanton]” the Liaison Service had passed on the information and even “stated it was correct”, but decided he had given it out “in each case as a personal message” and “in no case stated or acted on it as official”.  On this basis, therefore, it seems that Captain Stanton and the Liaison Service were not considered to be greatly to 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

It is not clear, however, exactly which “French officials originally circulated the rumor” – liaison officer Captain Stanton’s Second Bureau colleagues or those in the Ministry of War.  In other words, did Second Bureau Intelligence officers give the false news to officials in the War Ministry, or did the latter give it to the Intelligence officers? 

Explaining 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 section 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 that everyone in Paris believed the armistice news because of an intercepted wireless message about an afternoon cease-fire on 7 November. 4

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, presenting this as the apparent genesis of the false armistice news.

There is nothing here, however, (or in Major Warburton’s report) about the provenance of the intercepted telegram and its cease-fire order, or when during the day it was intercepted.  And there is virtually nothing about the officers who supposedly misinterpreted it.  Most obviously missing are any details about who they were, their ranks, nationalities and military rôles.  But it does say that they were “here” when they “caught” the transmission, which presumably means 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”. (My highlighting.)  There is no clarification of this terse explanation, but it presumably means that they thought an armistice must have already occurred if a cease-fire was due to come into effect at 3:00 pm – a cease-fire whose limited, specific nature they may not have appreciated at the time.  As the false armistice news started circulating before midday on 7 November, presumably the officers had intercepted and misinterpreted the message sometime that morning. 14

The implication is that either the French Second Bureau or the War Ministry acquired the armistice misinformation directly from these unnamed officers.  And this raises the possibility that the officers were inside one these buildings when they intercepted the afternoon-cease-fire telegram – there would have been radio equipment in both buildings.  They may even have been duty officers in the Eiffel Tower radio station which picked up the telegram before midday on 7 November 1918.

NOTES:

No background information about Captain de Cartusac has so far been found.

The American liaison officer attached to the French War Ministry at the time was Lieutenant Colonel P. M. Lydig.  It is uncertain whether he was interviewed by G-2 (SOS) about the 7 November armistice news or whether any of the information in the 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. 15

General Henri Mordacq, Head of French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau’s Military Cabinet, claimed, in an article he wrote for the Washington, DC, Evening Star newspaper of 14 November 1928, that he carried out an investigation into 7 November 1918 events in the Ministry of War.  But his account is confined to allegations that the armistice message that went to Admiral Wilson in Brest was telephoned to the American Embassy in Paris from the Ministry of War, and subscribes to Arthur Hornblow’s German spy theory as the explanation of its origins.  Whether any other French investigations were carried out into the false armistice news is not known.  References to it in other officials’ recollections of events that day are absent. 16

G-2 (SOS) seem to have been unaware that false armistice news was sent from France to the American Embassy in London on 7 November, was leaked to the press and spread throughout Great Britain.  Its report makes no reference to the misinformation the London 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. 17

Addendum: AEF Liaison Service Officers Captains Whitehouse and Stanton

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”. 

[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.]

According to historian John Toland, Captain Whitehouse was “relieved from duty” as Acting Director of the Liaison Service (presumably for his part in spreading the false armistice news).  But “no action was taken” against Captain Stanton, the liaison officer on the Second Bureau staff of General Alby. 

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

Attempts to locate the documents Toland based his comments on, and view their contents in full, have proved unsuccessful.  And any other information that may be available about the two liaison officers has not been found.  (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.)

The AEF Liaison Service building, from where Captain Whitehouse made his telephone calls, was at “No. 45, Avenue Montaigne, Paris” (not far from G-2 (SOS) headquarters). It is assumed that Captain Stanton was across the river Seine in the French Army General Staff Second Bureau premises on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. 

© James Smith  (Re-arranged November 2020, from two previously separate articles.)

ENDNOTES

1. See Three False Armistice Cablegrams from France (on this website) for the other reports.

2. ReportSections 1 and 2.

3. Report, Section 3.

4. See ‘The War Department Demands an Explanation’ in Three False Armistice Cablegrams from France. And the addendum there on Lieutenant Colonel Cabot Ward and Major Barclay H. Warburton.

5. Report, Sections 6 and 7.  For more about Captain Jackson and the message to Brest, see ‘Two to the United States’ in Three False Armistice Cablegrams from France.And Arthur Hornblow’s Information about the Jackson Armistice Telegram.  Biographical details about him are in False Armistice Commentary

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 7 November Cease-Fire Orders and Armistice Messages.

15. 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.

16. See ‘Few False Armistice recollections by allied officials’ in False Armistice Commentary.

17. See ‘One to Britain’ in Three False Armistice Cablegrams from France.