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The Hurricane That Saved London on the History Channel

By M&C News Apr 29, 2005, 10:31 GMT

In May of last year, a team of urban excavators shut down a Central London intersection used by 12,000 cars per day in search of the remains of the only allied plane lost over the skies of Central London in World War II. The plane had crashed there more than sixty years earlier after stopping a damaged German fighter from dive-bombing Buckingham Palace during the Battle of Britain. Go inside the painstaking efforts to resurrect this relic of bravery in The Hurricane That Saved London, premiering Sunday, May 15th at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on The History Channel.

In the summer of 1940, Adolf Hitler launched a furious air bombing campaign over Britain, intended to pave the way for a ground invasion and topple the final remaining pillar of democracy in Western Europe. The battle raged into September, but the British Royal Air Force, comprised mainly of Hurricane fighter planes, held the Nazi fighters at bay in an historic show of courage and guile, epitomized by the efforts of Sgt. Pilot Ray Holmes. With his guns jammed and his windshield covered in oil, Holmes used the wing of his Hurricane to clip the tail off a damaged Nazi fighter plane and stop it from dive-bombing Buckingham Palace, in the process sending both planes to a fiery crash in the heart of London. Six decades later, a group of excavators and historians collaborated on an amazingly complex effort to locate the remains of Holmes' plane from beneath the crowded city streets under which they'd become lodged.

The Hurricane That Saved London reveals past and present in tandem, alternating between historical accounts of the Battle of Britain and modern- day documentary footage detailing the excavation efforts. Sgt. Holmes himself, now 89 years old and living in Liverpool, England, was interviewed for the program, offering a self-effacing account of what happened that day over London. The excavation team details the complexities of planning and lobbying for a dig that had the potential for massive logistical complications: traffic, water pipes, gas lines, and the thick London soil, to name a few. After the war stories are all told and the dig team has overcome countless tribulations using modern technology -- a ground penetrating radar -- and the ancient art of dowsing -- the traditional method of locating water underground as well as buried metal, a touching climax ensues as Holmes returns to London for the first time in forty years for a teary reunion with members of his old squadron and the remains of his old Hurricane fighter.

In the end, Holmes' effort took just minutes to execute, but was so heroic that it fueled an excavation effort that took more than fifteen years to complete. See both stories chronicled side-by-side for the first time in The Hurricane That Saved London.



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