Veteran Stories:
Richard Holmes

Navy

  • Richard Holmes in battle dress and camouflage scarf made of parachute material in February 1945 while on leave in Rome

  • A letter of congratulation which accompanied a medal and was signed by King George VI for Richard Holmes' efforts on the island of Crete in July of 1943

  • Official citation for Military Medal signed by General Wilson and General Scobie which attests to the part Richard Holmes' played on the successful air raid on a fuel dump near Peza on the island of Crete July 4th, 1943

  • Military Medal awarded 'For Bravery in the Field' for destroying a fuel dump near the island of Crete on July 4th , 1943. The silver medal has L. CPL R.J. Holmes engraved on the rim

  • Richard Holmes (Right) and fellow SBS trooper Fred Crouch on the Island of Leros on the eve of German occupation, October 1943. Fred Crouch was killed in the largest action seen by the SBS during the Second World War.

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"Again, the noise of the barking broke the silence, and when I peered over wall, the same two soldiers (I think) with their dogs were chatting away just a short distance away."

Transcript

My name is Richard Holmes, and I was a Sergeant in the Special Boat Service [SBS], which was the amphibious force of the Special Air Service - a regiment formed in 1941, specializing in raids on enemy airfields in the vast expanse that was known as the western desert of North Africa.

Enemy forces in North Africa had been pushed back to Tripoli, where the majority were taken prisoner, though some escaped through Sicily or Italy. British forces were poised to put into action the next phase of the Allied battle plan - namely, the invasion of Sicily. In order to minimize the number of enemy aircraft available to attack the invasion fleet, the SBS were commissioned to attack the airfields on the island of Crete, several hundred miles to the east of Sicily.

We were to attack the airfield at Heraklion, while the targets for the others were Castelli and Canea. The journey was uneventful, the sea as smooth as glass, and we made landfall on the south coast of Crete just before nightfall. The next night everything was transported over a range of hills, where Captain Sutherland, our CO [Commanding Officer], set up camp. When darkness fell, we headed north towards our targets, carrying our bombs, food for several days, water bottles, weapons, ammo, grenades and our sleeping bags, weighing somewhere between fifty and sixty pounds.

The next night, the group who were to attack Castelli parted company with us, and our group guide Yanni led us northwards towards our target. We were handed on from village to village. Sometimes the Greeks supplied the food, sometimes we used our own rations. The terrain was rugged, and it took us about five nights to cover a distance of about fifty miles. Eventually, the guide took us to a hideout, which was about an hour north of the airfield, and left us to recce the field, where he hoped to find some planes we could sabotage. He returned about noon to inform us that there were no targets on the airfield, but he'd been able to recce an alternative target - a large dump of several hundred barrels of aviation fuel.

As soon as darkness fell, we slung our haversacks over one shoulder, picked up our weapons, and set out for the target. Two hours later, we crept into a small hollow from which we could see the two dumps delegated to me. Not thirty yards away, I could see forty gallon barrels lying on their side, piled four high, inside an earthen barrier. Yanni pointed to the entrance and then disappeared, and I headed for the spot he had indicated. Once inside, I looked about me. I could see a path leading down the centre, and another leading around the perimeter inside the earthen wall. I placed my bombs, and was just about to exit the dump when I heard an awful racket outside. One look over the wall made my blood run cold. Not twenty yards away two German soldiers, each holding a vicious dog on a leash, were carrying on a conversation. One dog was barking continuously and pulling at his leash, as if anxious to investigate the interior of the dump. His handler took no notice, and after ten minutes the two soldiers continued their patrol.

My pulse returned to normal, I hurried on to the second dump where I placed the rest of my bombs, and crept towards the exit to make my way back to the rest of the group. Again, the noise of the barking broke the silence, and when I peered over wall, the same two soldiers (I think) with their dogs were chatting away just a short distance away. This time, their conversation lasted even longer - almost twenty minutes by my watch. As soon as they left, I crept out of the dump and made my way to where my friends were waiting. No sooner was I crouched behind the bush that concealed me than the two guards were back once more. By the time they had left, over an hour had elapsed since I had placed my first bomb. I pointed out the barb-wire to Lieutenant L., but he had decided there was not enough time to place his bombs. Eddie Sapshead argued with him, but to no avail.

We made our way back to where we had left our packs, picking up the guide on our way. We stood on the hill side and watched the dumps blow up, and Yanni led us to a cave where we hid up. The following morning, a group of Greeks descended on us with the news that the whole dump had been destroyed, as some of the barrels that I had sabotaged had been hurled into the air, and had ignited most of the dumps inside the wire. Good news to begin our march back to our base on the south coast.

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