Reginald Victor Jones file photo [26167]

Reginald Jones

Given NameReginald
Born29 Sep 1911
Died17 Dec 1997
CountryUnited Kingdom


ww2dbaseAlthough not as well known as, for instance, J. Robert Oppenheimer in the United States or Wernher von Braun in Germany, the contribution of the young English physics professor, Reginal Victor Jones, a leading Intelligence expert on German air technology, would play an important role during the war in the defence of Great Britain. His inspired Intelligence work solving a number of tough Scientific and Technical Intelligence problems (not least, in Winston Churchill's words: "The man who broke the bloody beams") would be of considerable value in achieving the final victory over Nazi Germany.

ww2dbaseReg Jones was born in South London on 29 September 1911, the son of a sergeant in the Grenadier Guards. Educated at Alleyn School, Dulwich, London where he demonstrated a precocious brilliance and then at Oxford University where he studied Natural Sciences and, for a time, under Frederick Lindeman - later Lord Cherwell - he became fascinated by the possibilities of exploiting infra-red technology to detect aircraft. In 1932 he graduated with a degree in physics finding employment in the Clarendon Laboratory and subsequently a Skynner Senior Studentship in Astronomy at Balliol College, Oxford.

ww2dbaseIn 1936 he accepted an Air Ministry post at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough where he worked on the problems associated with defending Britain from an air attack. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was assigned to the Intelligence section of the Air Ministry, where he became closely involved in the scientific assessment of enemy technology, and in the development of offensive and counter-measures systems needed to defeat them.

ww2dbaseQuickly rising to become Assistant Director of Intelligence (Science), R. V. Jones was briefly attached to Bletchley Park in September 1939 but returned in November to Broadway Buildings (the MI6 Headquarters in Whitehall) where he was invited to share an office with MI6 officer Wing Commander Fred Winterbotham (later to oversee the Special Liaison Unit that fed Ultra obtained intelligence to commanders in the field). R. V. Jones left behind a small team at Bletchley's Hut 3 to report on any scientific or technology information discovered through decrypts of Enigma intercepts.

ww2dbaseIn November 1939 a document, later known as the "Oslo report", was sent anonymously to the British Legation in Norway, which was forwarded to London by the Naval attach├ę. The anonymous author (later discovered to have been the work of a German physicist named Hans Ferdinand Mayer who was employed by Siemens) asserted that Germany was developing various new technological devices and offered to provide details. But the part that most interested Jones was the wavelengths on which German radar stations were operating. The "Oslo report", was largely dismissed by the War Cabinet and MI6 as an elaborate German plant but Jones, almost alone, elected to believe that it was authentic. Some instint told him to look further. By July 1940 he had gathered enough intelligence (see Note 1) to suggest that the Germans could have developed an aparatus (something called the X-Ger├Ąt) with which, he perceived, radio navigation beams (the "Knickebein" system) would be used to accurately guide bombers to their targets. On Sunday, 16 June, the ebullient twenty-eight-year-old physicist took his suspicions personally to Air Marshal Sir Philip Joubert at the Air Ministry. Also present was Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding (q.v.), Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command. The senior officers listened in silence as Jones presented his evidence. At the end, in complete agreement, it was decided that the beams, if they existed, needed to be found quickly and jammed.

ww2dbaseOn the night of 21 June 1940, Flight Lieutenant Hal Bufton and his wireless operator Corporal Mackie took off from RAF Wynton in a small Anson trainer. Knowing nothing of the Knickebein story they had, for three night, been sent northwards to search for Lorenz-type transmissions. Around 10 p.m. Bufton and Mackie struck lucky. Suddenly a series of shrill dots sounded in Mackie's earphones at a steady beat of sixty to the minute. As they flew on the dots merged into a steady monotone and then, further north, into a series of rapid dashes. They had chanced upon a narrow beam, no more than 50 yards wide, which was subsequently found to intersect with a second beam passing over Beeston, Nottinghamshire, meeting exactly over the Rolls-Royce factory at Derby. Dr. Jones' suspicions had been found to be correct.

ww2dbaseEarlier that same day Dr. Jones with the support of his former mentor, Frederick Lindemann, now Churchill's chief scientific adviser, had, in the Cabinet Room of No. 10 expounded the story of his investigations to a concerned meeting consisting of the Prime Minister, Sir Archibald Sinclair, Dowding and Sir Cyril Newall. The discovery of the first beam resulted in the Telecommunications Research Establishment at Swanage under Dr. Robert Cockburn being commissioned, with the highest priority, to find a means of jamming the beams, and a special anti-beam organization (No. 80 Wing RAF) under Wing Commander Edward Addison based at Radlett, north of London was set up for operating purposes (see Note 2). The first jammers were simply electro-diathermy sets hastily snatched from hospital wards to set up a "mush" of noise on the Knickebein frequencies. Later custom built jammers named "Aspirins", would superimpose powerful morse dashes into the German wavebands thereby resulting in German bombers wastefully scattering bombs over empty countryside. Subsequently both German and British scientists become involved in a mutual competition to develop new navigation systems and the counter-measures needed to defeat them.

ww2dbaseAnother of R. V. Jones' early projects was "Window", bundles of narrow metal foil strips dropped from a bomber to create fake images on German radar. This he had suggested as early as 1937 but Lord Cherwell's remarks that if it worked against German radar then it could equally be used by the Luftwaffe during attacks on Britain. This argument threw Fighter and Anti-Aircraft Commands and Herbert Morrison's (q.v.) Ministry of Home Security into confusion. They successfully opposed the introduction of Windows by Bomber Command, despite the efforts of Sir Henry Tizard to have them overuled. It would not be until the autumn of 1942, by which time, Luftwaffe raids had become such a negligible threat that Windows was belately authorised for use - making its first appearance during a July 1943 raid on Hamburg.

ww2dbaseIn the winter of 1941 it was realised that German night-fighters were being guided from the ground by two linked radar systems, codenamed "Freya" and "W├╝rzburg". Dr. Jones and the boffins at the Telecommunications Research Establishment in Swanage, identified these as key elements in the so called "Kammhuber Line", a network of guidance stations that enabled the Luftwaffe to inflict punitive loses on the RAF's Bomber Command. While it was known that Freya monitored British bombers it was only surmised that "W├╝rzburg" guided the German fighters and it was not known how the system worked. The boffins needed to get hold of a set, or at least some components in order to prepare a counter measure. On 5 December 1941, a suspected "W├╝rzburg" facility was detected on the clifftop at Bruneval in northern France. Dr. Jones' proposal to the Air Staff that a commando raid be conducted against this target was accepted and Combined Operations HQ were approached to provide the resources. On 28 February 1942 a company of the Parachute Regiment led by Major John Frost and accompanied by a section of engineers led by Lieutenant Denis Vernon and RAF radar mechanic Flight Sergeant Charles Cox made a daring raid on Bruneval. The raid was a complete success with vital components of the equipment hurried back to England for examination by the boffins at the Telecommunications Research Establishment.

ww2dbaseLess successful was his two-year long battle with High Wycombe to stop aircrew from using IFF - Identification Friend or Foe transmissions - over German territory. It was widely believed in the RAF that IFF somehow jammed the German searchlight system if the aircraft was coned, Dr. Jones and his colleagues at Scientific Intelligence argued in vain that the use of IFF over Germany was pointless since all transmissions could be monitored. Therefore its use actually increased the danger to the bomber's safety. High Wycombe, nonetheless, remainded unconvinced arguing that if pilots believed IFF benefited them then, for the sake of morale, their illusion should be cherished. It would not be until the spring of 1944 that Scientific Intelligence, with evidence obtained from Ultra intercepts, was able to convince Bomber Command to accept the reality and order crews to discontuinue IFF transmissions over Germany.

ww2dbaseFears of a German secret weapon stretched back to a speech Adolf Hitler had made in Danzig in September 1939 in which the dictator had threatened "a weapon with which we ourselves could not be attacked". Dr. Jones was tasked with discovering if this mystery weapon existed, and by February 1943 through intelligence reports and reconnaissance photographs it was clear that Germany was indeed working on some sort of long-range projectors capable of firing at Britain from across the English Channel. Even though Reg Jones was now heading a Cabinet Defence Committee focused on the German long-range weapon programmes, even he recorded surprised when a V-1 struck a nearby building in Birdcage Walk, close to his office, with devastating effect. Obviously, he realised, the Germans would need to know where their V-1s were reaching their targets. He suggested, in a secret report to the War Cabinet, that a deception plan be employed whereby turned agents would be used to convince the enemy that the missiles were overshooting London. This deception worked quite well, dramatically improving the situation in such London boroughs as Stepney, Islington, Shoreditch and Wandsworth (and even giving Lewisham an easier time) but meant, much to the annoyance of Herbert Morrison who attempted to frustrate the plan, that more missiles would fall on parts of Croydon, Bromley, Bexley and Orpington with greater loss of life and property damage in those suburbs.

ww2dbaseIn July 1944 the War Cabinet was deeply concerned about the threat posed by the Germans' as yet uncommitted rocket, the V-2. Air Ministry experts speculated that the missile might have a warhead of perhaps ten-tons and a boffin despatched to Sweden to inspect some crash wreckage suggested five-tons. Reg Jones, who conceeded on 16 July that the Germans had a technically advanced weapon, was somewhat more accurate with a calculation of a one-ton warhead. This was enough for the Government to actually consider the evacuation of two million Londoners and removal of the Government out of the capital. On the night of 25 July Flight Lieutenant Guy Culliford, a New Zealand pilot and his Polish navigator F/O Szrajer made a clandestine flight in an unarmed RAF Dakota from Italy to the village of Zaborow, deep inside Nazi occupied Poland. Met by partisans they manhandled on board nineteen suitcases loaded with wreckage from a test V-2 recovered from a crash in the River Bug. Transported, with some difficulty, back to London the important cargo reached Reg Jones and his colleagues two days later. Unfortunately this exploit failed to solve the mystery surrounding the V-2 and the experts continued to remain puzzled about the technical specifications of the rocket. Only in December 1944 was it finally realised that the V-2 was not radio controlled and therefore could not be jammed. In fact no defence against V-2 attacks was practical except for ground troops to physically overrun the launch sites, factories, depots and fuel plants in Germany.

ww2dbaseAfter the war Dr. R. V. Jones returned to academic life, as professor of natural philosophy at University of Aberdeen in Scotland, having been driven out of intelligence by its time-servers, who found him too clever by half. He received approprite recognition of his wartime contribution only in 1994, when he was made a Companion of Honour. He died on 17 December 1997 (aged 86) and was buried at Strathdon, Aberdeenshire. His papers now held by Churchill College of the University of Cambridge.

Juliet Gardiner, Wartime Britain 1939-1945 (Headline, 2004)
Max Hastings, The Secret War (William Collins, 2016)
Max Hastings, Bomber Command (Pan Books, 1981)
Richard Collier, 1940 - The World in Flames (Penguin, 1980)

ww2dbaseNote 1: This included an intercepted message discoved in February by Group Captain Blandy's Y section of the RAF which contained the codename "Knickebein". Eavesdropping, in March, on Prisoner-of-War conversations at Squadron Leader Denys Felkin's RAF Prisoner Interrogation Centre, and by close examination, in June, at RAE Farnborough of a suspiciously sensitive blind landing device found on a crashed Heinkel.

ww2dbaseNote 2: In the weeks that followed the discovery of the beams a total of six intercepting beams were identified. These were given codenames associated with German rivers "Weser" , "Spree", "Rhein", "Elbe", "Isar" and "Oder". It was further revealed that during a raid the beams were closely followed the X-Ger├Ąt equipped bombers of Hauptmann Aschenbrenner's KG100 group whose prime purpose was to start fires at the target - even under blind bombing conditions - for succeeding waves of bombers to see.

Last Major Revision: Aug 2016

Reginald Jones Timeline

29 Sep 1911 Reginald Jones was born in Herne Hill, London, England, United Kingdom.
16 Jun 1940 Reginald Jones warned Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding and Air Marshal Sir Philip Joubert that the Germans could have developed a radio navigation system for the guidance of bombers.
21 Jun 1940 At the urging of Intelligence scientist, Dr. Reg Jones, Winston Churchill ordered up a RAF search aircraft which successfully discovered, in the frequency range predicted by Jones, the Knickebein radio signaled which were used to guide Luftwaffe bombers over Britain.
20 Nov 1942 British government scientist Dr. Reginald V. Jones warned Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Intelligence) of possible new German weapons, ie. rockets, that could threaten Britain.
9 May 1943 Oberleutnant Heinrich Schmitt of 10/NJG3 defected to the United Kingdom in the new Junkers Ju 88R nightfighter to the delight of Professor Reginald V. Jones, the British electronics expert, whose team is now able to examine the German FuG 202 Lichtenstein BC radar equipment.
17 Dec 1997 Reginald Jones passed away.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
24 Sep 2017 03:41:38 AM

Flight lieutenant H.E, ÔÇśHalÔÇÖ Bufton, who is mentioned briefly in this article as being the RAF pilot who discovered the German radio navigational beams, had a most illustrious wartime career. A product of the RAF College at Cranwell, he was commissioned in 1936 and in 1940 served with the highly secret Blind Approach Technical Development Unit. In early 1941 he was posted to No.9 Squadron and on the night of 26/27th August was shot down during a raid on Cologne. Three of his crew were captured but he and two other crew members evaded capture and finally returned to Britain by Christmas. In July 1942 he was promoted to Wing Commander and posted to command No.109 Squadron at Stradishall which pioneered the use of Oboe, the radar blind-bombing device. At the end of the war Hal Bufton was a Group Captain in charge of RAF Bourne in Cambridgeshire with the D.S.O., O.B.E., D.F.C. and A.F.C. to his name. He retired from the RAF in 1961 and died in Canada in 1972 at the age of fifty-six.
2. Robert Burden says:
15 Feb 2021 07:32:43 AM

Dr. R.V. Jones's book "Most Secret War" should be compulsory reading for any human being who 'thinks' they know how to Think, extrapolate logically or know the basics of what they are talking about! A truly gifted scientist!

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