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Air Marshal Sir George Jones KBE, CB, DFC (18 October 1896 – 24 August 1992) was a senior commander in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He rose from private soldier in World War I to Air Marshal in 1948, and served as Chief of the Air Staff from 1942 to 1952, the longest continuous tenure of any RAAF chief. Jones was a surprise appointee to the Air Force’s top role, and his achievements in the position were coloured by a divisive relationship during World War II with his head of operations and nominal subordinate, Air Vice Marshal William Bostock.

Jones first saw action as an infantryman in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, before transferring to the Australian Flying Corps the following year. Initially an air mechanic, he undertook flying training in 1917 and was posted to a fighter squadron in Francemarker, achieving seven victories to become an ace. After a short spell in civilian life following World War I, he joined the newly-formed RAAF in 1921, rising steadily through training and personnel commands prior to World War II.

He did not actively seek the position of Chief of the Air Staff before being appointed in 1942, and his conflict with Bostock—with whom he had been friends for 20 years—was partly the result of a divided command structure, which neither man had any direct role in shaping. After World War II Jones had overall responsibility for transforming what was then the world's fourth largest air force into a peacetime service that was also able to meet overseas commitments in Malaya and Korea. Following his retirement from the RAAF he continued to serve in the aircraft industry and later ran unsuccessfully for political office.

Early life

Jones was born near Rushworthmarker, a rural community in Victoriamarker. The date that appears on his birth certificate is 22 November 1896; however this was the date of registration and not of the birth itself, which occurred on 18 October. His father, a miner, had died three months earlier. Jones was brought up in a strict Methodist household and for the rest of his life rarely touched alcohol. He attended Rushworth State School, leaving at the age of 14 with a Certificate of Merit.

Following his schooling, Jones took an apprenticeship as a carpenter before moving to Melbournemarker, where he became a motor mechanic. He undertook three years part-time military service prior to World War I, firstly in cadet and later in a Militia mounted infantry unit, the 29th Light Horse Regiment (also known as the Port Phillipmarker Horse).

World War I

In May 1915 Jones joined the Australian Imperial Force, embarking for Egyptmarker in August with the 9th Light Horse Regiment. He landed at Gallipoli the following month and served there until the end of the campaign in December. His experiences at Gallipoli, especially witnessing the death by enemy fire of one of his friends, affected him deeply and he suffered from headaches and nightmares for years afterwards. After briefly transferring to the Imperial Camel Corps, Jones applied to join the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) in 1916, taking a drop in rank from corporal to private to do so.

Sopwith Snipe of No.
4 Squadron Australian Flying Corps, c.
1918
Jones became an air mechanic in No. 1 Squadron AFC, before being accepted for flying training in England. He gained his wings on 22 November 1917 and was posted to No. 4 Squadron AFC (numbered 71 Squadron Royal Flying Corps by the British) as a Second Lieutenant in January the following year. Flying Sopwith Camels and Snipes on the Western Front, Jones finished the war a Captain and an ace, with seven victories from 150 patrols, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was badly injured by a bullet wound and petrol burns in combat with a German fighter in March 1918, and did not return to his squadron for three months. On 29 October 1918 he achieved two kills in one engagement, at Tournaimarker, in what is frequently described as "one of the greatest air battles of the war". Amid a confrontation involving over 75 Allied and German fighters, Jones led his patrol of three Snipes in a dive on ten Fokkers, destroying a brace of enemy aircraft in the attack.

Inter-war years

Jones remained with the Australian Flying Corps until June 1919, as part of the British Occupation forces in Germany. After returning to Australia he worked as a turner in Melbourne. He married Muriel Cronan, a clerk who also played piano professionally, on 15 November 1919. They had met prior to the war and kept in touch throughout Jones' overseas postings. The couple's first child, Ronald, arrived on 2 October 1920. A second son, Ian, would be born on 26 June 1934. Jones was described by family members as being a somewhat distant husband and father, dedicated to his career and rarely given to obvious displays of emotion.

Encouraged by a fellow 4 Squadron veteran, Harry Cobby, Jones applied to join the Permanent Air Force on 22 March 1921. His rank was Flying Officer, one below the equivalent of his AFC rank of Captain. Another Australian pilot joining the fledgling Air Force was William Bostock who, though a Lieutenant in World War I, had been commissioned a Flight Lieutenant in the RAAF, giving him seniority over Jones. The pair nevertheless became firm friends, Bostock acting as something of a mentor to the younger officer. Jones was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 1 July 1923.

Posted to RAAF Point Cookmarker, Jones was put in charge of the Motor Transport Repair Section and made acting (later permanent) Officer Commanding Workshops. He was highly regarded for his technical and administrative ability but rated only "average" in command and dealing with personnel. In 1926 he took up flight instruction and within a year had been graded a 1A Flying Instructor. He was promoted to Squadron Leader on 31 March 1927 and given command of Flying Squadron at No.1 Flying Training School (1FTS). Jones spent two years in Britain from 1928, attending the Royal Air Force Staff College and graduating top of his class at the RAF’s Central Flying School. While in the UK Jones had expected, as the RAAF's senior officer in the country, to accompany the airship R101 on its maiden flight to Indiamarker. Instead another Australian officer was nominated; Jones was chagrined at the time but it meant that he avoided the disaster which followed. Returning to Australia in October 1930 he was made Chief Flying Instructor at Point Cook and Officer Commanding 1FTS. On 16 November 1931 Jones became Director of Training at RAAF Headquarters in Melbourne and in April 1936, having been promoted to Wing Commander, he was made Director of Personnel Services.

World War II

Rise to Chief of the Air Staff

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, in December 1939, Jones was raised to temporary Group Captain. In 1940, returning to the position of Director of Training, he assumed responsibility for Australia’s part in the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), establishing many schools, acquiring hundreds of aircraft, and overseeing the training of thousands of airman. The RAAF's Central Flying School was reformed in April 1940 to meet the vital requirement for additional flying instructors, whose numbers would grow from 16 in the first year of the war to 3,600 by 1945. His achievements in this role led to Jones being made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1941 for "diligence, devotion to duty and perseverance of outstanding merit".

On 5 May 1942, Jones was appointed Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), the RAAF’s senior position. He was considered an unlikely choice, a contemporary newspaper describing him as "the darkest of dark horses". Jones was still only a substantive Wing Commander and acting Air Commodore (since 21 February 1941) when he succeeded to the role, leapfrogging several more senior officers including his friend Bill Bostock, now an Air Vice Marshal and Deputy Chief of the Air Staff. Bostock, described as the RAAF’s "most capable senior commander" at the time, was believed by himself (and Jones) to be the leading candidate for the position. The suggestion even arose that Jones' selection was a mistake, based on the government's reading of an organisation chart that implied he was the RAAF's most senior officer after Bostock, when in fact he was ranked six places below.

Other potential appointees had included Air Marshal Richard Williams and Air Vice Marshal Peter Drummond. Williams, however, had been out of favour since his dismissal from the position of CAS in the wake of the Ellington Report criticising RAAF flying safety in 1939, while Drummond was not released from his position as Deputy Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief RAF Middle East. Bostock was first choice of the incumbent CAS, Air Chief Marshal Charles Burnett, but the latter’s ill-concealed contempt for John Curtin's Federal Labor government helped ensure that his preference was ignored. Although he admitted to being "stunned" by the decision, Jones himself had the ambition and a reasonable expectation of becoming CAS at some point in his career. However, he found it occurred "much sooner than I anticipated". Jones had proved his organisational abilities directing EATS, and believed that this was a significant factor in his appointment. His working class origin has also been seen as contributing to his suitability to a Labor government.

Divided command

Air Vice Marshal Jones shortly after he was appointed Chief of the Air Staff in May 1942
Passed over as CAS, Bostock became Air Officer Commanding RAAF Command, in charge of RAAF operations in the Pacific. Jones' role, in contrast, was primarily administrative, that of "raising, training and maintaining" the service. Though the CAS was de jure head of the RAAF, Jones’ new rank of Air Vice Marshal was no higher than Bostock's. In the words of Air Force historian Alan Stephens, "Jones was the head of his service, but he was neither unambiguously its senior officer, nor presiding over a unified command. [...] The system of divided command... was not an ideal arrangement, but with men of goodwill it could have worked. Regrettably Bostock and Jones were not of that mind..."

Friction between the two senior officers over the command structure rapidly deteriorated into a state of "complete obduracy", and remained so until the end of the war. As a direct report to George C. Kenney, USAAF, commander of Allied Air Forces in the South West Pacific Area (SWPA), Bostock was able to ignore many directives from Jones, his nominal superior in the RAAF. The CAS, however, continued to assert his authority over Bostock’s supplies of manpower and equipment.

In March 1943 Jones proposed that he take over responsibility for air operations in defence of the Australian mainland but General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander SWPA, refused to countenance it. The next month, with the support of the Air Board, Jones tried to remove Bostock from RAAF Command and replace him with Air Commodore Joe Hewitt, Air Officer Commanding No. 9 Operational Group (9OG). Bostock appealed to Kenney, who advised Jones that he was opposed to any such change of command and threatened to escalate the matter to the Australian Government. MacArthur subsequently told Prime Minister Curtin that Hewitt "was not an adequate replacement" for Bostock, and the matter was dropped. Six months later Jones would sack Hewitt over morale issues in 9OG raised during the offensive on Rabaulmarker; Kenney called Hewitt’s removal "bad news".

Jones himself came under threat of transfer or subordination in April 1943 when the Federal Government began moves to unite the Air Force's command by creating an overarching Air Officer Commanding RAAF position that would have effectively replaced Jones as CAS and also been senior to Bostock. Air Marshal Drummond was again approached but once more the British Air Ministry refused to release him, having selected him for an Air Council post. Macarthur rejected two other RAF candidates, and the plan was held over. In the King's Birthday Honours that June, Jones was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath.

By June 1944 the Jones-Bostock conflict and the anomalous division of administrative and operational responsibilities again led the Australian government to consider the appointment of a new commander senior to both officers. Air Marshal Sir Keith Park, the New Zealandmarker-born AOC of No. 11 Group RAF during the Battle of Britain, was sought for the position but negotiations were broken off when MacArthur advised that it was too late to make such a change and that the problem had now gone "quiet". That it was far from over, however, was apparent in a series of cables exchanged between the two Air Vice Marshals in January 1945. Jones sent a signal to Bostock complaining of the latter’s "insubordinate tone" and "repeated attempts to usurp authority of this Headquarters". Bostock replied that as AOC RAAF Command he was "responsible to Commander, Allied Air Forces, and not, repeat not, subordinate to you”, and that he would "continue to take the strongest exception to your unwarranted and uninformed interference". Despite such acrimony, the command structure remained unchanged for the rest of the war.

Responsible as CAS for building up Australia's air combat assets, in 1943 Jones had given an assurance to the Australian government that he could maintain a force of 73 squadrons, despite Kenney's prediction that even the RAAF's then-currently approved strength of 45 squadrons was beyond its capacity. In the event, by the end of the war Jones had expanded the RAAF to 70 squadrons in the Pacific and Europe, including several heavy bomber units. One of his most controversial decisions of the war was during the invasion of Tarakanmarker in May 1945 when he grounded Australian B-24 Liberator squadrons scheduled to take part in the attack, due to their crews having exceeded their monthly quota of flying hours. Bostock was not consulted, and said that he would have thankfully "fallen through a crack in the boards on the deck" as he watched the attacking formations from a U.S. warship, minus the expected RAAF aircraft. Kenney sympathised with him; he once commented in his diary that "Jones and Bostock ... fight each other harder than the Japs".

The "Morotai Mutiny"

Towards the end of the war Jones intervened in the so-called "Morotai Mutiny", when a number of senior pilots in the Australian First Tactical Air Force (1TAF) proffered their resignations rather than carry on attacking what they saw as unimportant targets. Jones personally interviewed all but one of the officers involved, later declaring, "I believed them all to be sincere in what they were stating and what they had attempted to do ... Yes, sincerely held beliefs, no matter how ill-founded, coupled possibly with a rather exaggerated sense of national duty."

Kenney also insisted on speaking to the pilots himself, overriding Jones' protestations that it was an internal RAAF matter, and threatened to appear on behalf of the pilots should they be court-martialled. Jones sacked the Air Officer Commanding 1TAF, his former 4 Squadron comrade Harry Cobby, along with two of Cobby's staff. In what has been considered a reaction to Kenney's threat, Jones insisted that the subsequent inquiry before Justice John Barry focus not only on the attempted resignations but on reports of alcohol trafficking on Morotai. While no action was taken against the pilots over the mutiny directly, two of the RAAF's best-known aces, Group Captain Clive Caldwell and Wing Commander Bobby Gibbes, were court-martialled for their involvement in the alcohol racket and reduced in rank. Although Barry did not find it a significant factor, the Jones-Bostock conflict was also blamed for contributing to the poor morale that precipitated the “mutiny”. One of the other participants, Wing Commander Kenneth Ranger, told the inquiry: "I deplore the fighting and wrangling between them which is common knowledge throughout the Air Force. Every week there are instances of it."

Post-war career

The "Interim Air Force"

Along with Bostock, Jones represented the RAAF at the Japanese surrender aboard USS Missourimarker in September 1945. With Jones’ concurrence, Bostock and a number of other senior commanders were summarily retired in 1946, in Bostock's case for "inability to work in harmony with certain other high ranking RAAF officers". The CAS oversaw planning for the demobilisation of thousands of RAAF personnel and the creation of a peacetime service, known as the "Interim Air Force". When he was eventually promoted Air Marshal in 1948 the RAAF was made up of approximately 8,000 staff, compared to 175,000—the world's fourth largest air force—he had commanded in 1945 as Air Vice Marshal. Believing that wastage was reaching a critical point, Jones proposed recruiting women into a new service to replace the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force that had been disbanded in September 1946. Blocked initially by the Labor government of the day, it came into being in 1950 as the Women's Royal Australian Air Force, following the election of Robert Menzies' Liberal Party in December 1949.

Concurrently with demobilisation, Jones shaped the RAAF’s "Plan D", adopted in 1947. It outlined the service’s post-war organisation and requirements, which included 16 squadrons flying technologically advanced aircraft. This basic structure remained in place for the next 20 years. In 1949, Jones visited the UK with a team of advisors and recommended the English Electric Canberra jet to replace the RAAF’s Avro Lincoln piston-engined bombers. Entering service in 1953, the Canberras ultimately equipped three Squadrons, operating with distinction in the Vietnam War and continuing to fly until 1982. Other enduring types purchased under Jones’ tenure as CAS included the CAC Sabre, P-2 Neptune and CAC Winjeel.

Overseas commitments and retirement from RAAF

When Australia committed forces to the Malayan Emergency in April 1950, Jones formed the requisite RAAF assets into one unit, No. 90 (Composite) Wing, to ensure they would operate autonomously rather than be dispersed throughout other Allied groups. He also stipulated that the Air Officer Commanding all Commonwealth air force units should be from the RAAF. This was agreed by the British Air Ministry, and the position gave valuable experience to two future Chiefs of the Air Staff, Air Vice Marshals Frederick Scherger and Val Hancock. Jones allocated No. 77 Squadron, then based in Japan as part of British Commonwealth Occupation Forces, to the United Nations Command when the Korean War broke out. Prime Minister Menzies rang Jones at home on Saturday, 1 July 1950, requesting a squadron and the unit went into action the following day.

Almost immediately that Menzies' Liberal Party replaced the Chifley Labor government at the end of 1949, it began to investigate possible replacements (largely from the RAF) for the incumbent CAS, eventually deciding on Air Marshal (later Air Chief Marshal) Sir James Hardman. Jones was informed of his retirement, which he claimed to have been expecting, in December 1951. In a farewell speech at the Australia Club in Melbourne, attended by Menzies, Jones said that organising EATS and expanding the Air Force in the South West Pacific had been his greatest achievements. His official exit from RAAF was on 22 February 1952. The Prime Minister sent him a letter thanking him for his "valuable contribution", which would "long be remembered".

Later life

Following his departure from the Air Force in 1952, Jones became Director of Coordination with the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) and member of the board of Ansett Transport Industries. In the 1953 New Year Honours, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his military service. He retired from the CAC directorship in 1957 but remained on the Ansett board until the early 1970s. Jones pursued a political career in parallel to his aviation industry work, unsuccessfully standing for Liberal Party pre-selection in the seat of Flinders in 1952. In 1958, he left the Liberals in favour of the Labor Party, contesting the seat of Henty in 1961. He switched parties when his views became too leftist for the Liberals, declaring "They got rather nasty with me and wouldn't give me a fair go, so I resigned and joined the Labor Party". He pursued an energetic campaign in Henty, but lost to his Liberal opponent by fewer than 3,000 primary votes.

Jones also evinced an interest in unidentified flying objects, having first encountered unexplained aerial phenomena at Warrnambool, Victoriamarker, in 1930. He reported witnessing another UFO in October 1957, but admitted that he was "loath to talk about it publicly lest people should think I was either an incompetent witness or getting a little screwy in the head". In the mid-1960s he patronised the Commonwealth Aerial Phenomena Investigation Organisation and joined the Victorian UFO Research Society. In 1988 Jones published his autobiography, From Private to Air Marshal. He was Australia's last surviving World War I ace when he died in 1992, at the age of 95.

Legacy

Jones' ten years as CAS was the longest continuous tour of any RAAF chief. Despite his longevity in the position, he is still primarily known for two events early in his term, the surprise circumstance of his appointment, and his feud with Bill Bostock that lasted until the end of World War II. The conflict between its two senior officers has been labelled "disastrous" for the RAAF, one that "diminished its standing" in the eyes of its Allies. Jones would claim in his autobiography that he had never intrigued for the role of CAS and would have worked loyally for Bostock if the latter had been appointed.

Air Vice Marshal George Jones pictured shortly after the end of World War II, August 1945
Beyond these controversies, however, Jones significantly influenced the Air Force's development during and after the war. He was honoured for his work running the Empire Air Training Scheme in 1940–42 and has received credit as CAS for building up the RAAF's strength to 70 squadrons by 1945. After the war he played a personal part in improving education within the service, including the establishment of RAAF College, along similar lines to Royal Military College, Duntroonmarker and the Royal Australian Naval Collegemarker, as well as the RAAF Staff College. One of his last directions as Chief was the formation of RAAF Museum at Point Cook, where it is still based.

Jones encouraged local industry to design and build trainers for the RAAF and produce more sophisticated combat aircraft under licence from overseas manufacturers. This led to the Winjeel basic trainer and Australian industry co-partnership in production of the CAC Sabre and Canberra jets; such local participation has continued to figure in major RAAF aircraft acquisitions.

He refused to update the Air Force's command structure from one based on region to one of function, something his successor, Air Marshal Sir Donald Hardman, would accomplish, and has been criticised for a systemic resistance to change. Jones was described in David Horner's The Commanders as "a steady, sincere but colourless leader", while the official Air Force historian, Dr Alan Stephens, found him "a good and decent man, who had overcome considerable personal hardship in his youth to achieve exceptional professional success" but "neither an inspiring leader, nor a notable thinker". Nevertheless his 'Plan D' for the RAAF's post-war organisation remained the service’s blueprint until the early 1970s.

Notes

References



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