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Air Commodore Jack Holmes D.F.C. Bar.

Born: June 30th 1917 in Norwich, Norfolk. Died: December 31st 2013. Age 96.

Air Commodore Jack Holmes was an RAF pilot who braved tempestuous seas to rescue eight airmen who had been shot down over the Atlantic

Air Commodore Jack Holmes, landed his aircraft on stormy seas to rescue a crew shot down by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic.

During the late morning of June 11 1943 a Coastal Command Fortress aircraft attacked and destroyed the submarine U-417, 250 miles north of the Shetland Islands. 

Return fire from the U-boat damaged the engines of the bomber, and the captain (Wing Commander R Thompson – later an air vice-marshal) was forced to ditch . 

The eight-man crew scrambled into a dinghy as the Fortress sank, and a search aircraft located them eight hours later.

A US Navy Catalina attempted a landing on the rough sea but crashed. 

For the next three days – with conditions still unsuitable for a sea landing – aircraft patrolled overhead keeping watch. 

On the third morning Holmes, serving with No 190 Squadron, headed for the scene in his own Catalina.

Holmes decided that he must attempt a rescue despite the hazardous conditions. 

After two dummy runs he landed 400 yards from the dinghy, cut the engines and drifted down to the survivors. 

The eight men were hauled on board, but Holmes realised that the aircraft would be too heavy to take off in the conditions so he jettisoned 700 gallons of fuel.

After 90 minutes on the sea, the Catalina started its take-off run, hitting a large wave and bouncing into the air. 

Holmes managed to keep control and the aircraft staggered upwards. 

Now short of fuel, he headed for Sullom Voe in the Shetlands, where the eight survivors were taken to hospital; all recovered from their ordeal. A detailed account of the rescue appeared in The Daily Telegraph on July 16 1943.

The official RAF report praised Holmes for his “fine judgment, superb airmanship and great determination”, and shortly afterwards he was awarded an Immediate Bar to the DFC he had earned earlier in the war.

Jack Albert Holmes was born in Norwich on June 30 1917, educated at Notre Dame School in the city, and joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice at Halton in 1934. 

Passing out near the top of his entry, he was awarded a cadetship to the RAF College, Cranwell, and trained as a pilot. A fine sportsman, he won his colours at football, athletics and boxing.

In August 1939 Holmes was posted to No 240 Squadron. 

Flying the antiquated biplane London flying boat from the Shetland Islands, he carried out patrols over the North Sea and Atlantic. 

In June 1941 the Stranraer, the last biplane flying boat to serve in the RAF, replaced the London, and Holmes flew coastal patrols and convoy escorts over the south-west approaches. 

The long-range Catalinas arrived in June 1941 and three months later Holmes left to be an instructor. 

He had been on constant operations for two years and was awarded a DFC and mentioned in despatches.

In March 1942 he returned to operations with No 210 Squadron, which had just moved to the Shetlands to carry out patrols over the Arctic Ocean with its Catalinas. 

On promotion to squadron leader he was appointed a flight commander on the recently formed No 190 Squadron.

After two years in the Air Ministry, Holmes converted to transport aircraft and later became a flying instructor. 

In 1950 he joined the RAF’s Air Training Group in Rhodesia. 

In 1955 he converted to jet bombers, and in 1956 left for Germany to command No 88 Squadron, equipped with Canberras. 

A year later he was promoted to group captain and took command of RAF Geilenkirchen, which had Canberra and Javelin squadrons.

After a tour as the senior air staff officer of the Central Reconnaissance Establishment, he left in July 1962 to be air attache in Athens, where he represented the British military at the state funeral of King Paul. 

The Greek government appointed him a Commander of the Royal Order of the Phoenix.

After two years as assistant commandant at the RAF’s College of Air Warfare, he retired on his 50th birthday and joined Marconi as a consultant in the aviation and international sales division.

Holmes retired to Leigh-on-Sea, where he enjoyed sailing and landscape painting.

Jack Holmes married, in 1952, Babette, a South African. She died in 2012, and he is survived by their three daughters, a son predeceased him.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 26 March 2014, 21:32