Ray Holmes, a World War II fighter pilot who rammed a German plane to prevent a direct hit on Buckingham Palace, has died. He was 90. He died Monday at Hoylake Cottage Hospital in Wirral in northwest England after a two-year battle with cancer, his wife, Anne, said Tuesday.
Sgt. Holmes saw a German Dornier bomber lining up to attack the palace Sept. 15, 1940, and, finding that he had run out of ammunition, the pilot from 504 Squadron slammed into the bomber, slicing off its tail. Holmes parachuted to safety, while his Hurricane plane crashed at 400 mph behind Victoria Station, well away from the palace. The German bomber plunged into the station's courtyard. The German pilot also survived the incident, which was captured on film.
"There was no time to weigh up the situation," Holmes said. "His airplane 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!"
Last year, archeologists unearthed parts of Holmes' fighter plane for a TV documentary. The plane's engine was put on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said Queen Elizabeth II was "very sad to hear of the death of Ray Holmes, given his role in the valiant defense of London during World War II."
Holmes continued to fly throughout the war and taught Soviet pilots to fly Hurricanes. He later moved into photo reconnaissance, taking pictures from 30,000 feet of locations in Germany that included Berlin and Adolf Hitler's Alpine retreat at Berchtesgaden. When the war ended, he was a King's Messenger, delivering mail for Prime Minister Winston Churchill. After the war, he returned to Wirral, where he worked as a journalist.