We perform detailed finite element simulations of impact of metallic plates by spherical particles over a range of impact angles and speeds with a view to develop an insight into the fundamental mechanisms underlying solid-particle erosion. The particular experimental configuration and data set which we analyze corresponds to the experiments of Hutchings (Proc. R. Soc. London, Ser. A 348 (1976) 379), consisting of high-strength steel spherical particles striking mild-steel target plates, The material description used in calculations includes finite deformations, strain hardening, thermal softening, rate sensitivity, frictional contact, heat generation due to plastic working and friction, dynamics and heat conduction. The analysis reveals insights into the relative roles played by plastic flow, friction and adiabatic shearing over the full range of impact angles from glancing to normal impact; and over impact velocities ranging from 141 to 2000 m/s. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.