A Question About The WW1 Armistice

In one of the Harry Turtledove tales, there is a story about the end of the Great War. Supposedly, he is with a British cavalry unit, which has orders to launch an attack on German position-scheduled for 9:00 AM, on Nov. 11, 1918. Everybody knows that there is going to be a cease-fire at 11:00 AM, but the plan is to launch the attack anyway-it goes ahead, and many men are killed and seriously wounded.
Did this kind of idiocy actually happen in the days before the cease fire?
Did the troops know that the war was about to end?
I would imagine it would be hard to order men to go to their deaths, knowing that the whole disaster was about to be called off!
I know that there were many incidents (at Christmas) where both sides stopped shooting at eachother, and actually fraternized a bit.
It must be a bummer, being ordered to fight, when you know the whole thing is pointless.

It’s been a while, but yes. Generals such as John Pershing were still ordering attacks up to and even after the armistice.

In some places they went at it hammer and tongs right up to the last.
The poet Wilfred Owen was killed on 4th November, one week before the ceasefire.

More here. Pershing was not nearly the only one to do it.

One vignette:

But why? Gen. Sherburne:

One more quote:

I believe some commanders justified these actions by claiming that they needed to capture important positions just in case the Germans, for whatever reason, decided not to honor the armistice.

There was also a bunch of artillery gunners who wanted to be able to claim they had fired the last shot of the Great War. So when 11:00 arrived there were guns being fired all up down the line. And of course, when they heard other gunners trying to be the last one, many of the gunners reloaded and fired again so their second shot would be the last one. It ended up with some artillery gunners continuing to fire for days after the ceasefire in an attempt to fire the last shot - some officers finally had to go up and confiscate their shells to stop it.

Yet another reason why WWI generals have such bad reputations.

And, speaking generally, troops are highly sensitive to rumors of impending peace to the point of obsession.

This concerns a slightly earlier war, and I don’t remember my source right now, although it was almost certainly the writing of Foote or Catton, but the soldiers at the end of the American Civil War were keenly aware that they didn’t want to die on the last day of fighting. I’m paraphrasing from memory as well as summarizing, of course.

When Lee’s line had been broken and the Army of Northern Virginia began its last retreat, the Confederates were exhausted , suffering from months and years of malnutrition, grossly outnumbered, and in many cases badly armed, as they had abandoned a lot of cannon and even in some cases their firearms. The Union soldiers, driven by the relentless Sheridan, pursued them energetically, and finally brought them to bay, after a chase of several days. Everyone on the Union side knew this was the end and wanted to make sure of it…but.

As the Union line got organized to charge home one last time, the soldiers looked across the field at that ragged gray line with so few men in it…and, the soldiers wrote afterward in their diary, suddenly they recalled just how dangerous the Army of Northern Virginia really was. These men would die hard, killing as many bluecoats as they could, even in their disadvantaged state. The Union soldiers got cold feet and thought about dying on what they now saw was almost certainly the last day of the war, in the last charge. One of them wrote that they cursed themselves for having so eagerly given chase that they were now in the front lines for the last killing.

But they were hard men too. They gripped their weapons and prepared to step out, drums rolling, for that last desperate fight.

And then a lone rider came out of the long gray line with a piece of white cloth.

No order needed to be given. The charge was not made – now, it could never be made. I don’t think any general alive could have gotten them to keep fighting at that point. The soldiers stared, and waited.

I just today finished a history of the Allied air attacks on Japan. Some US (and more Japanese) fighter pilots were killed after the surrender. Force of habit mainly, it seems.

There was a large number of Japanese officers who launched suicide attacks against the Americans after hearing that Japan had surrendered. Their idea was that it was more “honorable” to die than to live on after a surrender. (Some of them also probably feared being arrested for war crimes.)