Reginald Victor Jones

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Professor R V Jones

Reginald Victor Jones (28 September 191117 December 1997) was an English physicist and scientific military intelligence expert.


Born in Dulwich, Jones was educated at Alleyn's School, Dulwich and Wadham College, Oxford where he read Natural Sciences. In 1932 he graduated with First Class honours in physics and then, working in the Clarendon Laboratory, completed his DPhil in 1934. Subsequently he took up a Senior Studentship in Astronomy at Balliol College, Oxford

In 1936 Jones took up the post at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, the Air Ministry. Here he worked on the many problems associated with defending Britain from air attack.

In September of 1939, the British decided to assign a scientist to the Intelligence section of the Air Ministry. No scientist had previously worked for an intelligence service so this was unusual at the time. Jones was chosen and quickly rose to become Assistant Director of Intelligence (Science) there. During the course of the Second World War he was closely involved with the scientific assessment of enemy technology, and the development of offensive and counter-measures technology.

Jones's first job was to study "new German weapons" which were believed to be under development. The first of these was a blind bombing system which the Germans called Knickebein. Knickebein, as Jones soon determined, used a pair of radio beams which were about one mile wide at their point of intersection. German bombers flew along one beam, and when their radio receivers indicated that they were at the intersection with the second beam, they released their bombs.

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 for months to come scattered 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 equally effective countermeasures to them.

He was later instrumental in the deployment of "Window"; strips of metal foil dropped in bundles from aircraft which then appeared on enemy radar screens as "false bombers". This technology is now known as chaff. When the Germans began launching V-1s at London he arranged for double agents to inform the Germans that the missiles were over-shooting. The Germans decreased the target range of the V-1s and they began to fall not on London, but on less densely-populated areas to the south. Jones went on to solve a number of tough Scientific and Technical Intelligence problems during World War II and is generally known today as the "father of S&T Intelligence."

In 1946 Jones was appointed to the Chair of Natural Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, which he held until his retirement in 1981. During his time at Aberdeen much of his attention was devoted to improving the sensitivity of scientific instruments such as seismometers, capacitance micrometers, microbarographs, and optical levers.

R. V. Jones was awarded the CBE in 1942, CB in 1946, and the CH in 1994. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1965.

Jones married Vera Cain in 1940 – they had two daughters and a son.

His autobiography, Most Secret War: British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945, formed the basis, pre-publication, of the BBC One TV documentary series "The Secret War", first aired on 5 January 1977, in which Jones was the principal interviewee.

In 1993 the CIA created the R. V. Jones Intelligence Award in his honour.

R. V. Jones's papers are held by Churchill College, Cambridge.

Books by R. V. Jones

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Most Secret War by R V Jones - the book cover of the 1981 UK paperback edition
  • Jones, R. V., 1978, Most Secret War: British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945, London: Hamish Hamilton. (Published in the USA as The Wizard War with the same subtitle.)
  • Jones, R. V., 1988, Instruments and Experiences, London: John Wiley and Sons.
  • Jones, R. V., 1989, Reflections on Intelligence, London: Heinemann.

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