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OTD - 15 September 1940

Updated: Mar 1

On what became known as the Battle of Britain Day, RAF pilot, Ray Holmes of No. 504 Squadron RAF rammed a German bomber he believed was going to bomb Buckingham Palace.

Having run out out of ammunition Sergeant Holmes made a spur of the moment decision to ram his Hawker Hurricane into the German bomber.

Holmes had spotted a formation of three Dornier Do17 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, & Holmes' windscreen was covered in oil. The flamethrower, was intended for use on the ground, & wouldn't work properly at 16,000 feet. Luckily the oil had not caught fire, & it was this that had found it’s way onto the Hurricane. Knowing that the airflow would clear the oil away, Holmes waited for his view to be restored.

As his windscreen cleared Ray noticed that he was dangerously close to the Dornier, & ramming the stick forward, passed beneath the German bomber.

"I made my attack on this bomber & 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 & went under him, practically grazing my head on his belly."

He attacked the second Dornier, causing a crew member to bale out.

"I got to the stern of the aeroplane & 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, & my aeroplane was being dragged. All I could do was to swing the aeroplane left & then right to try to get rid of this man. Fortunately his parachute slid off my wing & down he went, & I thought, Thank heavens for that!"

Holmes then spotted a third Dornier still heading onwards, in the direction of the Palace. He avoided the bomber's machine gunfire, & quickly climbed ahead of it, then swung around to made a head-on attack on the Dornier. Upon firing he discovered his machine guns had failed. Holmes decided to ram the bomber hoping his plane could withstand the impact & 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 & his tail looked very fragile & very inviting. So I thought I'd just take off the tip of his tail. So I went straight at it along him & hit his port fin with my port wing. I thought, That will just take his fin off & 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.

Source - By Arpingstone [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Royal Air Force - Hurricane Mk1

The event was captured on film, & 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 & 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 & the back of it came off."

Holmes' Hurricane began to dive to the left, & he no longer had any control of his fighter. As the Hurricane went into a vertical dive, Holmes bailed out. As he climbed out, the air-stream caught him & 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 & he found himself swinging violently about. He could see the Dornier above him dive out of control & crash near Victoria tube station.

The pilot of the Dornier, Feldwebel Robert Zehbe, bailed out, but died later of wounds suffered during the attack. Jim Earley watched Holmes' Hurricane crash twenty yards from where they had been playing football, near to Buckingham Palace & recalled, "As soon as it hit the road, it went straight down & burst the water main. Water was all over the place, my feet were soaked."

Holmes meanwhile, came down in a narrow back garden, & ended up dangling inside an empty dustbin!

"I got hold of the guy ropes & stopped the spinning & 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 & could not get any grip on the slates in my stockinged feet. I slithered down the roof until I got to the gutter & thought, Now I'm going to break my back & kill myself falling off a three-storey house! But as I fell there was a sudden jerk & I stopped with just my toes on the ground. My canopy had snagged over an up pipe running past the gutter & 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 & dusted himself down. In the next garden were two girls who had seen him come down. Holmes recalled, "I went over the fence & 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 & 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, & an act of selfless courage. This event became one of the defining moments of the Battle of Britain & 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.

Life after the war;

After the war, Holmes (Full name: Raymond Towers "Ray" Holmes, born on 20 August 1914) 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 & 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 & 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 was awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Wirral in January 2005.

May he Rest in Peace, a true hero


Buckingham Palace during the war;

During World War II, the palace was bombed a total of nine times, the most serious & publicised of which resulted in the destruction of the palace chapel in 1940. Coverage of this event was played in cinemas all over the UK to show the common suffering of rich & poor.

One bomb fell in the palace quadrangle while King George VI & Queen Elizabeth were in residence, & many of the windows were blown in & the chapel totally destroyed.

War-time coverage of such incidents was severely restricted.

However. The King & Queen were filmed inspecting their bombed home, the smiling Queen, as always, immaculately dressed in a hat & matching coat seemingly unbothered by the damage around her. It was at this time the Queen famously said: "I'm glad we have been bombed. Now I can look the East End in the face".

The royal family were seen as sharing their subjects' hardship, as The Sunday Graphic reported:

By the Editor: The King & Queen have endured the ordeal which has come to their subjects. For the second time a German bomber has tried to bring death & destruction to the home of Their Majesties ... When this war is over the common danger which King George & Queen Elizabeth have shared with their people will be a cherished memory & an inspiration through the years.'

The royal family refused to leave London for a safer life. Queen Elizabeth publicly refused to leave London or send the children to Canada, even during the Blitz, when she was advised by the Cabinet to do so. She declared, "The children won't go without me. I won't leave the King. And the King will never leave."

Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018
King George VI & Queen Elizabeth visit London's East End (1895-1952), 23 Apr 1941

On VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) on 8 May 1945 the palace was the centre of British celebrations. The King, Queen, Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen), & Princess Margaret appeared on the balcony, with the palace's blacked-out windows behind them, to the cheers from a huge crowd in the Mall. The damaged Palace was carefully restored after the War by John Mowlem & Co.

source - Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018
King George VI visiting Bristol following bomb damage, 17 Dec 1940

The Queen when Princess Elizabeth delivers a radio broadcast to the nation's on 'Children's Hour'.


Robert Zehbe's Dornier falling on Victoria Station after being rammed by Ray Holmes, 15 September 1940.
This is a picture taken over 70 years ago of a Dornier Do 17 bomber of Kampfgeschwader 76, brought down on Sunday 15 September 1940 in Shoreham field. It was flown by Rudolf Heitsch and carried an unusual flame thrower defensive mechanism. This image was taken by an anonymous civilian.

Further interest;

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