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A great fighter who survived the War of 1914-18 and served with the R.A.F. in many fields


Squadron Leader Ira Jones DSOSQUADRON LEADER JAMES IRA JONES is probably endowed with more practical experience of Service aviation than any other living officer. He originally entered the infantry, but he joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1915, and from that time he has served as a pilot in many different fields.

The solid foundation of Squadron Leader Jones’s career was laid by his war service, when he was officially credited with forty victories. As he was inclined to be over-cautious in his claims - though he was far from cautious in his fighting methods - many of the pilots who fought beside him believe that the number of his victories was considerably greater than this.

His service in France during the war period was from 1915 to 1917. During that time he was with a squadron whose fame was unsurpassed for its offensive spirit and for its successes in combat. It was in this squadron that Squadron Leader Jones served with Major Mannock. Jones became, many years afterwards, Mannock’s biographer, and presented the history of Mannock’s astonishing career in his book King of Air Fighters.

Jones achieved his spectacular fighting successes in France during the war of 1914-18, but he served afterwards in many other places. In 1919, for instance, he was in North Russia; in 1923 he went to Iraq, where he was stationed until 1925; in 1925 he went to Egypt, where he stayed until 1927. After that he was stationed for a long time at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, Hampshire.

Here Jones acted as a test pilot. His views on new fighting aircraft were of particular importance because of his experience in warfare and also because he had been flying regularly since the beginning of his period of service. In addition, Jones’s tactical knowledge was of value to the Royal Air Force.

Rather short of stature, but exceptionally keen of eye and having a slight stutter, which seems to lend added point to his remarks, Squadron Leader Jones may claim to be one of the prominent flying personalities today. His methods when he was fighting in France were uncompromising and he demanded the highest standards of courage and tenacity from all those who served with him.

One of the most remarkable combats in which Jones engaged was over Hazebrouck in the summer of 1918. Led by the smoke puffs in the sky which showed where anti-aircraft shells were bursting, he came upon a Halberstadt two-seater. He attacked it at once, flying towards it head-on and shooting. The first burst missed; Jones swung round and came up under the machine’s tail. He then decided to use his Lewis gun on the top plane mounting. This mounting permitted the gun to be pulled partly down, and in this position to be used for shooting upwards at an angle. He pulled the gun down and, having moved up close to the enemy, fired another burst at point-blank range.

Still there seemed to be no effect. The German pilot had been manoeuvring with great skill and in such a way that he put off the aim of the British pilot. At the same time he sought to get into a position from which his observer could return fire. Jones moved from side to side under the machine, dodging the observer’s fire and occasionally getting in bursts himself. Jones often saw the observer, leaning over the side with his gun and taking aim. In the end Jones’s persistence told, as it told in so many other combats. The Halberstadt tipped steeply over and began to go down.

On another occasion Jones attacked a formation of nine German machines. He had first made a false attack, having failed to cock his gun in his excitement. Still unnoticed by the enemy, he then approached and almost flew as part of the German formation, awaiting another opportunity to make an attack. He was so close that he could see the backs of the helmeted heads of the German pilots. Yet he was not noticed by them.

Then two of the enemy began a dive on a lone British machine far below. At once Jones opened the throttle and went after them. When he was about two hundred yards from them he opened fire.

Having heard the gun behind him the leader made a sharp left turn and collided with his compatriot. The two machines, interlocked, went into a flat spin. They then caught fire. The seven remaining German machines now attacked Jones and he had to fight hard to escape them.

Number 74 Squadron, which was the one in which Jones was serving at the time he was fighting beside Mannock, was noted for its offensive spirit and for having attempted the analytical approach to problems of air tactics. There can be little doubt that some of its success as a squadron on both these counts must be attributed to Jones.

You can read more on “Captain Ball”, “Evolution of the Fighter” and “William Bishop VC” on this website.

Squadron Leader Ira Jones, DSO