Raymond Towers Holmes
|Born||20 August 1914|
|Died||27 June 2005 (aged 90)|
|Service/||Royal Air Force|
|Unit||No. 504 Squadron RAF|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Elizabeth Holmes (née Killip)
(m. 1941; died 1964)
Anne Holmes (m. 1966)
|Other work||King's Messenger, journalist|
Raymond Towers "Ray" Holmes (20 August 1914 – 27 June 2005) was a British Royal Air Force fighter pilot during the Second World War. Holmes is best known for his notable act of bravery, while taking part in the Battle of Britain. On 15 September 1940, Holmes saved Buckingham Palace from being hit by German bombing, when he used his Hawker Hurricane to destroy a Dornier Do 17 bomber over London by ramming but at the loss of his own aircraft (and almost his own life) in one of the defining moments of the Battle of Britain. He was feted by the press as a war hero for his saving of Buckingham Palace. The British pilot became a King's Messenger after the war, and died at the age of 90 in 2005.
Raymond Towers Holmes was born in born on August 20, 1914 in Wallasey, Cheshire to Mabel Annie Holmes (née Latham) and journalist Christopher Holmes. He attended Wallasey and Calday Grange Grammar School and worked as a crime journalist at the Birkenhead Advertiser before joining the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1936 as their 55th volunteer.
Second World War
Battle of Britain
In June 1940 he joined No. 504 Squadron RAF. He became known among his flight comrades as “Arty” which was taken from the initials of his name R.T.
On 15 September 1940, known as the Battle of Britain Day, Sergeant Holmes was flying a Hawker Hurricane fighter when he spotted a formation of three Dornier Do 17 bombers of Kampfgeschwader 76 heading for central London, to make a bombing attempt. As he made an attack on one of the bombers, the bomber fired a flamethrower at him, and Holmes' windscreen was covered in oil.
The flamethrower, obviously intended for use on the ground, was not working properly at 16,000 feet, giving a jet of flame only some 100 yards long. The oil had not caught fire, and it was this that had found its way onto the Hurricane. Knowing that the airflow would clear the oil away, Ray Holmes waited for his view to be restored. As his windscreen cleared Ray realised that he was dangerously close to the Dornier, and ramming the stick forward, passed beneath the bomber.
I made my attack on this bomber and he spurted out a lot of oil, just a great stream over my aeroplane. blotting out my windscreen. I couldn't see a damn thing. Then, as the windscreen cleared, I suddenly found myself going straight into his tail. So I stuck my stick forward and went under him, practically grazing my head on his belly.
He attacked the second Dornier, causing a crew member to bail out.
I got to the stern of the aeroplane and was shooting at him when suddenly something white came out of the aircraft. I thought that a part of his wing had come away but in actual fact it turned out to be a man with a parachute coming out. I was travelling at 250 miles per hour, it all happened so quickly, but before I knew what had happened this bloody parachute was draped over my starboard wing. There was this poor devil on his parachute hanging straight out behind me, and my aeroplane was being dragged. All I could do was to swing the aeroplane left and then right to try to get rid of this man. Fortunately his parachute slid off my wing and down he went, and I thought, Thank heavens for that!
Holmes then spotted the third Dornier still heading onwards, making directly for Buckingham Palace. Avoiding the bomber's machine gunfire, Holmes quickly climbed ahead of it, then swung around to made a head-on attack on the Dornier. however upon firing discovered his machine guns failed. Holmes decided to ram the bomber hoping his plane could withstand the impact and cut through it. He flew his plane into the top-side of the German bomber, cutting off the rear tail section with his wing.
As I fired, my ammunition gave out. I thought, Hell, he's got away now. And there he was coming along and his tail looked very fragile and very inviting. So I thought I'd just take off the tip of his tail. So I went straight at it along him and hit his port fin with my port wing. I thought, That will just take his fin off and he'll never get home without the tail fin. I didn't allow for the fact that the tail fin was actually part of the main fuselage. Although I didn't know it at the time, I found out later that I had knocked off the whole back half of the aircraft including the twin tails.
On the ground, the event was captured on film, and witnessed by a large group of people in nearby Hyde Park. Jimmy Earley was playing football at the corner of Ebury Bridge Road, near Victoria station. The air-raid siren had gone off, but as usual he and his friends ignored it. Suddenly they heard gunfire. Earley recalled, "We ran up to the Ebury Bridge and I can remember the Hurricane seemed to go underneath the Dornier, which split and all of sudden - wallop! - it came down in no time. Obviously the Hurricane pilot had no care for his own safety, he couldn't have done. He just hit it and the back of it came off."
Holmes' own plane began to dive to the left, and was no longer responding to the controls. As the Hurricane went into a vertical dive, Holmes bailed out. As he climbed out, the air-stream caught him and smacked him down on to the roof of the Hurricane. Then, as he was thrown backwards, his shoulder hit his own tail fin. When he finally managed to pull his ripcord, the jolt shook off his flying boots and he found himself swinging violently about. Above him he could see the Dornier dive out of control and crash near Victoria tube station.
The pilot of the Dornier, Feldwebel Robert Zehbe, bailed out, only to die later of wounds suffered during the attack. Jim Earley watched Holmes' Hurricane crash twenty yards from where they had been playing football, near the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Earley recalled, "As soon as it hit the road, it went straight down and burst the water main. Water was all over the place, my feet were soaked."
I got hold of the guy ropes and stopped the spinning and looked down. I was right over the railway lines running into Victoria Station. I thought, "Hell, I'm going to get electrocuted now after all this!" Then I was swinging towards a row of houses. I hit the roof of one and could not get any grip on the slates in my stockinged feet. I slithered down the roof until I got to the gutter and thought, Now I'm going to break my back and kill myself falling off a three-storey house! But as I fell there was a sudden jerk and I stopped with just my toes on the ground. My canopy had snagged over an up pipe running past the gutter and that had stopped me. But both my feet were inside a dustbin, the lid was on the ground; the bin had obviously had just been emptied. My two toes touched the bottom of the bin but my heels were off the ground.
Calmly, Holmes undid the parachute harness and dusted himself down. In the next garden were two girls who had seen him come down. Holmes recalled, "I went over the fence and we all kissed each other". Jim Earley recalled the ecstatic crowd that greeted the downed pilot as he made his way out into the street. "The blokes were shaking his hand, but it was mostly women gathered around him. I wish it had been me, they all cuddled him and kissed him. Then he was carried over their heads towards Chelsea Barracks. Everybody was touching him as he was taken over the bridge. You know, I don't think he wanted to go to Chelsea Barracks, I think he wanted to stay where he was being made a fuss off!"
Holmes was feted by the press as a war hero for his saving of Buckingham Palace. As the RAF did not practice ramming as an air combat tactic, this was considered an impromptu manoeuvre, and an act of selfless courage. This event became one of the defining moments of the Battle of Britain and elicited a congratulatory note to the RAF from Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands who had witnessed the event. The bomber's engine was later exhibited at the Imperial War Museum in London.
When recovered, he became part of No 81 Squadron, and was sent to the Northern Front near Murmansk in Soviet Russia to help train the Russian air force in flying the Hawker Hurricane. Here he claimed a further kill; a Bf 109 F. He married Elizabeth Killip in April 1941 and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 10 June 1941, promoted to Flying Officer on 10 June 1942, and Flight Lieutenant on 10 June 1943.
Returning from Russia, Holmes served as an instructor with 2 FIS, Montrose, from 1942 until 1944. He then flew PR Spitfires with 541 Squadron from February 1945.
After the war, he was a King's Messenger, personally delivering mail for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. After leaving the RAF in late 1945, he returned to journalism, joining his father's news agency covering Liverpool Crown Court for local and national newspapers.
He had two daughters with his wife, Elizabeth, who died in 1964. He later married Anne Holmes in 1966.
In 1989, he published his autobiography entitled "Sky Spy: From Six Miles High to Hitler's Bunker".
65 years later, the wreckage of Holmes' Hurricane was discovered and successfully excavated from the streets of London. The discovery was featured on the National Geographic Channel documentary, "The Search for the Lost Fighter Plane".
He died on 27 June 2005, aged 90 at Hoylake Cottage Hospital, following a two-year battle with cancer. He was buried in Rake Lane Cemetery, Wallasey.
In popular culture
The Edward Fox character "Pilot Officer Archie", in the film Battle of Britain, was based on Holmes. Holmes also was mentioned in an episode of Battlefield Britain. His story was also subject of the National Geographic Channel documentary, "The Search for the Lost Fighter Plane".
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- Ray Holmes (1989). Sky Spy: From Six Miles High to Hitler's Bunker. Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-85310-054-4. [autobiography]