The 82-year-old, understood to be Clifford Caughey, a former commanding officer of the destroyer HMS Fife, was arrested on suspicion of arson after he drove his Volvo estate through the wall of the Emsworth Sailing Club in Hampshire on Tuesday morning.
Witnesses said the driver pulled out of two run-ups before crashing into the clubhouse at around 70mph on a third attempt, the Daily Telegraph said.
He is then said to have got out of the car, set off flares and poured petrol over the vehicle, setting it alight.
Residents were evacuated as firefighters tackled the blaze. The driver was taken to hospital with non life-threatening injuries and later arrested.