The Airmen’s Stories – Sgt. R T Holmes
|Sergeant Ray Holmes was a highly experienced pilot by the time of the Battle of Britain. He had joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) soon after its formation in 1936. Indeed he was only the fifty-fifth man to join.
Flying with 504 Squadron it was from Hendon that Ray took off from to intercept the midday raid on London, 15th September 1940. Ray’s nickname “Arty” came about due to his initials R.T.
Ray Holmes’ ramming of a Dornier bomber over London has over the years become one of the most celebrated events of the Battle of Britain. Largely this is because of the heroic act itself, but the fact that the German enemy bomber crashed in such a public place and there was no loss of (English) life helped. And then the fact that the incident was filmed also helped.
In “Arty” Holmes’ words: “There was no time to weight up the situation. His aeroplane looked so flimsy, I didn’t think of it as solid and substantial. I just went on and hit it for six. I thought my aircraft would cut right through it, not allowing for the fact that his ‘plane was as strong as mine!”
With a closing speed well in excess of 400mph, the result was instantaneous and catastrophic. The Dornier’s entire twinrudder tail section parted company with the remainder of the fuselage which then did a violent front somersault. Indeed so violent that both of the wings snapped off outboard of the engines due to excessive g-force. Ray had aimed his aircraft with amazing precision, his wing slicing through the Dornier at its most vulnerable point – the rear fuselage. Arty initially thought he’d got away with his suicide mission but relief turned to horror with the realisation that he no longer had control over the Hurricane which entered into a vertical dive. Ray abandoned faithful old Hurricane “TM-B” and took to his parachute.
At over 400mph, “TM-B” impacted more or less in the middle of the busy crossroads where Buckingham Palace Road meets Pimlico Road and Ebury Bridge. With close on a ton of metal in her nose (the Merlin engine) the kinetic energy behind the Hurricane was tremendous, punching a large hole in the road, into which the majority of the aeroplane disappeared. The Dornier itself did a spiralling descent, crashing on the forecourt of Victoria Station. After making a successful landing beneath his parachute, Arty was led along Ebury Bridge Road to where Hurricane had impacted. In the centre of the crossroads there was a deep water filled crater surrounded by wreckage. This was all that was left of “TM-B”.
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After collecting a souvenir a small piece of the Rolls-Royce Merlin’s rocker cover with the letters “S-R” of ROLLS-ROYCE – Arty was led to the Orange Brewery a hundred yards down Pimlico Road for a swift brandy before being dispatched to Chelsea Barracks. Following a visit to an army doctor and then the Mess for a few more drinks and a bit of warranted line-shooting, a taxi transported the now celebrated pilot back to RAF Hendon and 504 Squadron.
Arty continued to fly throughout World War II, later becoming an instructor teaching Russians how to fly the Hurricane and then performing high altitude photo-reconnaissance from 30,000 feet over Germany in a specially prepared Spitfire.
Ray ended the War flying as the King’s Messenger for Prime Minister Winston Churchill. On demob, he went back to a highly successful career in journalism. In 1989 Ray had his autobiography published entitled SKY SPYcommitting to print his fascinating exploits in aviation for all time.
In 2004 the remains of the Hurricane were excavated. The picture shows Ray Holmes once again reunited with the Hurricane’s control column or “joy-stick” which he last held 64 years ago.
Appropriately the brass “fire” and “safe” ring that surrounds the gun button was still set to “FIRE”. It was very lucky indeed to find this particularly valued component as only a small amount of cockpit material was recovered.
The remains of the engine were displayed at the “West End at War” exhibition in Leicester Square London