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Professor R V Jones

When the 2nd World War began, at 28 he became MI6's principal Scientific Adviser; keeping up his Air Ministry connection for cover. His first important task was to discover how Luftwaffe pilots navigated when they overflew England by night, during the Battle of Britain and the blitz. He unravelled the Lorenz beam navigation systems they were using, and was sometimes able to jam, sometimes to divert their beams. On the night of the Coventry raid in mid-November 1940, Jones guessed correctly which wavelength they would be using; a clerical error transmitted the guess wrongly to the jamming stations, and so helped to account for the raid's success.

It was Jones who briefed the RAF expert who dropped by parachute on to the Bruneval Radar Site, in February 1942, to dismantle a German radar device and bring it back for inspection. It was Jones who, after years of struggle, convinced Bomber Command that pilots who left their IFF (identification friend-or-foe) sets switched on over Germany guided German night fighters on to themselves. It was Jones who played a leading part in discovering what the V-1 and the V-2 were, and how they might best be countered.  Several times over, he found himself confronted by Winston Churchill, in meetings of Ministers and Experts; even Churchill's personality was not so strong that Jones fell silent in his presence. By standing up to him, he helped to persuade him to give orders on which the nation's safety turned; though of course he earned enemies for himself among the Bureaucrats of Whitehall.

Jones could not work usefully unless he was privy to every secret. He was cleared to receive messages from the ultra secret decipher service at Bletchley Park; he was cleared to read spies' reports, as they were received, not in the laundered form in which they reached lesser Intelligence Officers; he knew a great deal both about impending operations and about the current organisation of the armed forces, the air force in particular. He knew work was in progress on an atomic bomb. He was a large man, broad-shouldered and over 6 ft tall, with a strong voice when he cared to raise it. Moreover, he had a disconcerting habit of usually being in the right, as well as displaying admirable manners when he was in the wrong - as of course he sometimes was.

As soon as he was released from National Service, he was snapped up by Aberdeen University, where he spent 35 years as Professor of Natural Philosophy, teaching generations of undergraduates and research students who appreciated his wit, his knowledge, and his enormous fund of common sense. He was fond of quoting Crow's Law - "Do not believe what you want to believe until you know what you ought to know."

When Churchill came back into office in 1951, he tried to recall Jones to Whitehall; an embarrassed year in 1952-53 as Director of Scientific Intelligence at the Ministry of Defence resulted. Long afterwards, Jones explained that intelligence could not usefully be organised in committees of fairly Senior Officers who knew nothing about the subject in detail; and he left official life to become an Academic. He did notable work for the Royal Society, and belonged to Institutes and Academies for the promotion of electronic research, almost without number. He wrote numerous scientific papers, and papers on the history of science, as well as 2 remarkable studies in the practice of his wartime craft: Most Secret War (1978, called in America The Wizard War); and Reflections on Intelligence (1989). They are much the best and fullest books ever to have appeared on the wartime secret service's workings.

Professor Emeritus R.V.Jones (1911-1997) C.H., C.B., CBE, D.Phil., D.Sc., LL.D., F.R.S., F.R.S.E.

At the age of 80, he lost in a fortnight his wife of over 50 years and 1 of his daughters; he went on writing learned articles all the same, a model to younger scholars of devotion to even temper, good-humour and scientific truth.

R V Jones's 1st job was to study "new German weapons", real or potential. The 1st of these was a radio navigation system which the Germans called Knickebein. This, as Jones soon determined, was a development of the Lorenz blind landing system and enabled an aircraft to fly along a chosen heading with useful accuracy.

At Jones's urging, Winston Churchill ordered up an RAF search aircraft on the night of 21 June 1940, and the aircraft found the Knickebein radio signals in the frequency range which Jones had predicted. With this knowledge, the British were able to build jammers whose effect was to "bend" the Knickebein beams so that German bombers spent months scattering their bomb loads over the British countryside. Thus began the famous "Battle of the Beams" which lasted throughout much of World War II, with the Germans developing new radio navigation systems and the British developing countermeasures to them. Jones frequently had to battle against entrenched interests in the armed forces, but, in addition to enjoying Churchill's confidence, had strong support from, among others, Churchill's scientific advisor F. D. Lindemann and the Chief of the Air Staff Sir Charles Portal


Battle of the Beams
In the early part of the 2nd World War the Germans began to use a radio beam system which they had been developing since the mid 30s. It was a guidance system, which used intersecting radio beams to direct aircraft to any particular target in Britain.  Radio beams were transmitted from a coastal site in occupied Europe, pointing at a target city in England. A bomber could fly along this beam and when it reached its target a further radio beam would signal this, and its bombs would be released. For months in early 1940 many British towns and cities had been bombed with reasonable accuracy, causing much death and destruction.  A brilliant scientist, Professor R V Jones, working for British Intelligence, was responsible for investigating the German application of this system, and to discover a means of countering it.  It became known as “The Battle of the Beams”.

On Sunday 10th November 1940 Professor Jones received a decoded message from a German Enigma signal being sent to a radio beam transmitter in France. It told the enemy stations to prepare for operations against 3 targets in England, numbers 51, 52 & 53 and it gave the beam settings for the 3 target towns.  It didn't take Professor Jones to discover that number 51 was Wolverhampton, 52 was Birmingham and number 53 was Coventry.  The following day another message was received which contained orders for what was evidently to be very major operations under the code name "Moonlight Sonata". However, no details were given regarding when and where.  No bombing raids were made on 11th/12th/13th November 1940, so everyone braced themselves for the following night 14th/15th.

If the raids were to be in number order, Wolverhampton could be the 1st target, but this could not be certain.  One word in German was mentioned in the deciphered message, "korn", this is German for corn and it was wondered if this was a code-name for Coventry and that might be the 1st target, but again, this was just a guess.  The following night a massive “Moonlight Sonata” (Operation Mondscheinsonate) raid was made on Coventry. Heavy bombs and incendiaries were dropped causing huge fires and massive destruction. 554 civilians were killed and 865 seriously injured in just a few hours.  After Coventry, the Germans mounted a similar attack on Birmingham under the code-name of "Regeschirm". This is the German for Umbrella, which was associated with Neville Chamberlain, who himself was linked with Birmingham.

The 1st target, number 53, was Coventry, and the second target was Birmingham. It left only one remaining target - Wolverhampton.  Professor Jones urgently telephoned Anti-Aircraft Command and requested them to move all available guns to Wolverhampton. This was swiftly done and dozens of gun emplacements were formed in a circle around the town and surrounding area.  On the morning that Professor Jones had requested movement of the anti-aircraft guns to Wolverhampton, he made a point of going to see Air Marshall Sir Philip Joubert, to explain to him why he thought Wolverhampton was the next target for a massive air raid.  The Air Marshall reacted suitably, and the result was that our defences were braced as never before, for a raid on a particular target.  But nothing happened!  It appeared that Professor Jones had alarmed and upset the defences of the whole country on a false deduction and he was heavily criticised for it.  However, shortly afterwards he had an enthusiastic telephone call from Squadron Leader Felkin, who said that a conversation between 2 German prisoners had been overheard. They said that the raid on Coventry had been very successful and so had the raid on Birmingham.  One of them then said that there was to have been a similar raid on Wolverhampton under the code-name “Einheitspreis”. Felkin explained that “Einheitspreis” meant “unit price”, as at Woolworth’s where most things cost 6d, and this was an obvious link between the code-word and the target town.

It isn’t known at what stage the attack on Wolverhampton was cancelled, but it in a further check of information from the radio beam stations, it was discovered that German photographic reconnaissance had shown that many anti-aircraft batteries had been installed surrounding Wolverhampton, in anticipation of a large air raid. It was cancelled because the Germans expected very heavy losses of bomber aircraft and aircrew, which they could not afford.  By the foresight and decision of one man, Professor R V Jones, in November 1940, the Wolverhampton area escaped the horror of a massive "Coventry-like" air raid.  The people of Wolverhampton were not made aware of these facts at the time, but looking back they can consider themselves very fortunate indeed.

Beam Jamming Stations
In
1940 civilians discovered that the Germans were using a radio signal guidance system code-named 'Knickebein' (Headache to the British) to direct night bombers on to a target. The system enabled bombing raids to be made on specific targets without the need for highly trained navigators and even when thick cloud covered the target. The civilians and others experienced in wireless operation were incorporated into the RAF and, with other RAF personnel, became officially designated '80 Wing' with their HQ at Radlett in Hertfordshire. A jamming system was devised by these men which located the exact frequency of the German Beams and transmitted a continuous note within the flight path area in such a strength that it swamped the German Signals and disorientated the bombers designated flight path. The anticipated result was that the bombs would probably be released but not on target therefore minimising damage and injury. One of the jamming stations was in St. Joseph's Field in Charley Parish; 3 Sheds and 1 reinforced brick and concrete shelter were built to house the jamming equipment which were of the 'Aspirin', 'Bromide' and 'Benjamin' types. A book was written about 80 Wing, called "Royal Air Force Beam Benders No. 80 (Signals) Wing 1940-1945,

I’ve been reading the section on this page about the ‘Beam Jamming Station’ at St Joseph’s Field, Oaks Road, Oakswood, Charnwood, Charley. I’m a member of the Charley Heritage Group who have carried out  much research on this station in St Joseph’s field, which was the Coalville Outstation of RAF 80 Wing.  We have been able to gather 1st hand testimony from a local surviving WW2 Wireless Mechanic who served here, as well as from the records at Kew.  In fact, there was only 1 brick structure, a set of blast walls surrounding a Trailer housing 2 'Benjamin' Transmitters.  The other transmitters were in 3 wooden sheds, with a 4th shed as the central stores.  We are staging a re-enactment of all that on 14-15th September 2013. - Terry S.

The RAF Codespeak - Aspirin et al have interesting derivations. The Knickebein beam threat was perceived as a Headache, so the countermeasure was the Aspirin transmitter.  The more accurate X-Gerat threat was seen as a bunch of Ruffians, to be calmed down with a dose of Bromide.  Y-Gerat was seen alongside that other thorn in the Allies’ side, Benito (Mussolini), and it was dealt with by Benjamin...a simple pun. Ben Jamming.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013