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.
Ray "Arty" Holmes in
the cockpit of Hurricane P2725 TM-B at RAF Hendon, North London.
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
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.
The picture is a still taken
from motion picture film of the German, minus tail and wing tips,
a second or so before it impacted Victoria Station.
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
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
click on images to enlarge
This is the stills photo taken
by the Fire Brigade perhaps an hour after the crash.
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 SPY committing 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.