by Lori S. Stewart, USAICoE Command Historian
9 NOVEMBER 1918
On 9 November 1918, Lt. Col. Cabot Ward, the assistant chief of staff, G-2, for the Army’s Services of Supply (SOS) in France, submitted an unusual report to his commander. This report outlined Ward’s investigation into the origins of an erroneous rumor of a signed armistice ending World War I four days before the true armistice took effect.
In March 1918, Colonel Cabot Ward, a 42-year-old New Yorker and member of the Army Air Service, joined the SOS as its new G-2. The SOS was charged with provisioning the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) during the war. Its Intelligence Section, with offices in Paris, kept the SOS staff informed and liaised with the intelligence services of the Allies. Ward was also responsible for the Corps of Intelligence Police, which handled counterintelligence throughout the AEF’s area of operations. [See “This Week in MI History” #2 13 August 1917] Despite his lack of intelligence experience or combat service, Ward’s efforts as G-2 earned him a Distinguished Service Medal and praise from the SOS chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Johnson Hagood. Hagood lauded Ward’s section as “the best Intelligence Service of this kind conducted by any of the Allies,” and also remarked, “I know of no man connected with the SOS who would be so hard to replace in case he were lost.”
Ward first heard the rumor Germany had just signed the armistice during a late morning telephone call with Capt. H. J. Whitehouse on 7 November. While Captain Whitehouse, temporarily in charge of the Liaison Service office in Paris, stressed his information was “absolutely reliable and authentic,” Ward remained cautious. He knew the German delegation had only left Berlin for the front lines the previous evening. Given the war-ruined condition of the roads, he believed it inconceivable the German representatives could have already arrived, met with French officials, and signed the armistice. Failing to receive confirmation from the French Second Bureau, Ward immediately alerted the SOS commander to the dubious information and opened an investigation to track down its origins. He submitted his report on 9 November.
As part of the investigation, Ward and his staff followed several leads that eventually led to a telephone call made by Pierre Audibert, editor of the newspaper L’Information, to the Second Bureau. A Capt. Stanton, American liaison officer at the French intelligence organization, had answered the phone and, upon being told of the armistice, shared the news “unofficially” with other members of the office as well as with Captain Whitehouse at the Liaison Service. Additional phone calls were made to the Ministry of War and the American Embassy. Attachés cabled the news to the State and War departments in the United States. In the early afternoon, the American consul-general announced it during an American Club luncheon in Paris. About the same time, Admiral Henry B. Wilson, commander of U.S. Naval forces in France, heard it from an aide and informed Roy Howard, the president of United Press. Howard immediately sent a cable to the United States. Soon, newspapers around the world were prematurely heralding the end of the Great War, and people were celebrating in the streets throughout France and the United States.
In his final analysis, Ward reported the “original source of the mistake” was the interception of a wireless telegram declaring a local cease fire at the location where the German delegation would cross the Allied lines. The message was interpreted as a general cease fire, a sign the armistice had been signed. Human nature then took over and the rumor spread like wildfire.
In the days following the “false armistice,” retractions and apologies were published; Allied forces were ordered to continue their attacks on German forces at the front lines; and the work of finalizing the actual armistice continued. The cease fire ending World War I went into effect four days later, at 1100 on 11 November 1918.
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|Date Posted:||11.03.2023 16:34|