Thomas Ross "Tommy" Wheler

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RCAF Shoots Down 26 Enemy Planes in Normandy Between Dawn and Dusk

By P/O H. R. McDONALD, A Canadian Airfield in France, June 29, 1944 - (CP) - Canadian fighter planes, in one of the most brilliant achievements in the history of the R.C.A.F., shot down 26 out of a total of 34 enemy aircraft destroyed over the Normandy front between dawn and dusk yesterday.
In addition, R.C.A.F. pilots chalked up a number of enemy planes probably shot down and a number of others which were damaged.
Four pilots scored double kills. They were Wing Cmdr. J. E. (Johnny) Johnson, English–born commander of a Canadian fighter wing operating from an R.C.A.F. base in Normandy, and F/Ls H. C. Trainor, Charlottetown, W. T. Klersy, 14 Harcroft Rd., Toronto, and R. K. Hayward, St. John's, Nfld.

Destroys Two, Damages Third
Hayward destroyed two FW-190's and damaged a third, which gave him the highest R.C.A.F. individual score of the day.
Earlier reports indicated the Canadian airmen had downed 18 enemy planes in yesterday's daylight operations.
The complete figures were reached by intelligence officers today after a period of aerial operations which exceeded in intensity anything since the Allied Normandy beachhead was opened June 6.
Besides the toll of enemy planes, which included all fighter types, R.C.A.F. pilots also strafed transport on the roads.

Final claims on two aircraft are being sifted
Among the R.C.A.F. Spitfire pilots contributing to the total with one Hun each were: F/Ls. Irving Kennedy, Cumberland, Ont.; G. R. Patterson, Kelowna, B.C.; J. McElroy, Kamloops, B.C.; Henry Zary, New York; R. M. Stayner, Saskatoon; A. F. Halcrow, Penticton, B.C.; G. W. Johnson, 102 Beechwood Ave., Hamilton, Ont.; D. E. Noonan, 146 Willingdon Ave., Kingston, Ont.; J. P. Rainville, Montreal; and Flying Officers W. J. Banks, Leaside, Ont. and G. H. Farquharson, Corbyville, Ont.
Wing Cmdr. Johnson's score of two brought his total of enemy planes downed to 32, equaling the mark set by Group Capt. A. G. (Sailor) Malan, a South African, now on ground duty.
Among the R.C.A.F. fliers scoring probables were F/O A. C. Brandon, Timmins, Ont.; F/O J. B. O'Sullivan, Vancouver and P/O J. M. Flood, Hearst, Ont.

Nine Others Damaged
At least nine others wire damaged by fliers of the R.C.A.F.
Of the wings comprising Group Capt, W. (Bill) MacBrien's R.C.A.F. sector, the one led by 22-year-old Wing Cmdr, George Keefer, D.F.C. and Bar, Charlottetown, was high scorer of the day with 13 confirmed victories. Johnson's wing was second with seven, in a close race with a unit led by Wing Cmdr. R. A. Buckham, Vancouver.
The margin for Keefer's wing was established in two dusk operations in which seven enemy planes were destroyed and two damaged. In the first action Hayward sighted more than 25 Nazi fighters and led his formation in pursuit. He damaged one.
Later the same Spitfires became embroiled with a dozen FW-190's, and Hayward got two of them. The first fell out of control, and the second burst into flames and crashed after Hayward had followed it down to tree-top height.
"The Huns were like bees,” said W/O Murray Havers, 1 Lloyd St., Hamilton. Ont. "They seemed confused and acted as though they did not know what they were doing."
The Canadian airmen said the Germans did not put up much of a fight despite their numerical advantage.
Other Canadians credited with kills during the day were F/O G. R. Stephen, Montreal; F/O Larry Robillard, Ottawa; F/O W. A. Gilbert, Dartmouth, N.S.; F/O Don Goodwin, Maynooth, Ont. and F/O Tommy Wheler, 10 Beauford Rd., Toronto.
F/O Klersy took a prominent part in athletics at St. Michael's College, playing hockey and rugby. He also rowed for his college, and was goalie for Ostrander's mercantile hockey team. Enlisting in June 1941, he took aircrew training in Toronto, Oshawa and Dunnville and after nearly a year with a fighter squadron at Bagotville, F/O Klersy went overseas in May 1942.
The 21-year-year old airman is the son of Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Klersy, 14 Harcroft Rd.


Born 14 February 1921 in Tignall, Georgia, USA
To Canadian parents
The family returned to Canada in 1927
Lived five years in Ottawa
Home in Toronto
Former mail clerk and hardware clerk
Enlisted 28 January 1941, in Toronto
Trained at
No.3 ITS, Victoriaville
No.11 EFTS, Cap-de-la-Madeleine &
No.8 SFTS, Moncton, (graduated 2 January 1942)
Sailed overseas in January 1942 (SS Vollendam)
Taken on strength of RAF overseas on 23 January 1942
First flying in Britain was at Thames (on Hotspur gliders,
training to fly them into Europe for sabotage ops)
Tried for fighter OTU but was switched to glider tug duties
(Hind, Hart, Audax, Hector) until finally
Posted to 57 OTU (Eshott, Northumberland) at the end of 1942
Posted to 411 Squadron
Commissioned 11 July 1943
Released in October 1945
Rejoined in 30 December 1948 (service number 17954) &
Assigned to support staff of 401 and 411 (Auxiliary) Squadrons
Later flew with No.444 Squadron and was
On staff of No.2 AFS, Portage la Prairie
Retired on 6 September 1968 with the rank of Squadron Leader
Settled in Pickering, Ontario
Appointed Honourary Colonel, No.411 Squadron, January 1985


The War Reviewed

30 June 1944 - Over Normandy yesterday 11 German planes were destroyed. The Allies lost four planes. Enemy planes strafed British troops on the Odon river front. Mosquitoes attacked a German convoy in the Bay of Biscay. North and south of Havre enemy minesweepers, motor torpedo boats and armed barges were raided. Today U.S. bombers bombed the Vienna region and points in Hungary and Slovakia. A fighter plane base 20 miles north­west of Vienna was pounded. Three heavy tanks were destroyed and others damaged by Allied planes in Normandy. On Wednesday Canadian fliers shot down 26 German planes. Flying Officer Tom Wheler of Toronto was attacked by 15 of the enemy but he shot down one and got back safely.


WHELER, F/O Thomas Ross (J18199) - Distinguished Flying Cross - No.411 Squadron
Award effective 8 December 1944 as per London Gazette of that date

This officer is a highly efficient pilot and section leader. He has displayed the greatest keenness to engage the enemy and has set a fine example of courage and resolution. Flying Officer Wheler has shot down two enemy aircraft and assisted in the destruction of another; he has also been responsible for the destruction of many mechanical vehicles.


Toronto Flyer Awarded O.B.E.

Ottawa, 14 Sept. 1945 - (CP) - Air force headquarters announced today the appointment of fighter pilot F/O T. R. Wheler, D.F.C., Toronto, as a member of the Order of the British Empire and a citation told how he showed outstanding ingenuity and perseverance in twice escaping from the Germans after being shot down, but then was discovered and put in a truck to be transported.


Tommy & Brude Whiteford
Tommy & Bruce Whiteford (Whiteford photo)

WHELER, F/O Thomas Ross, DFC (J18199) - Member, Order of the British Empire - No.411 Squadron
Award effective 14 September 1945 as per London Gazette of that date &
AFRO 1704/45 dated 9 November 1945.

Public Records Office Air 30/186 has text as submitted to Buckingham Palace which differs in no significant degree from the following which was published:

On 7th August 1944, whilst on an armed reconnaissance in the Lisieux area, Flying Officer Wheler's aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire and he was forced to descend by parachute. After hiding his unwanted equipment, and laying a false trail, he ran north for two hours, and spent the night in a barn. After hiding and walking for three days, during which time he swam two rivers, Flying Officer Wheler came to a deserted house where he remained for two days. He cooked vegetables and frogs legs for food. After resuming his journey he was captured on 11 August. He was sent to Pont l'Eveque and after two days there he was taken by truck via Lisieux towards Paris. Noticing a small door window in front of the truck, Flying Officer Wheler managed to ease his way through it. When the truck stopped, owing to an air raid ahead, he dropped down and rolled between the wheels towards a ditch. Having succeeded in evading detection he walked away and continued walking all night. In the morning, north of Livarot, he saw a farmer who gave him food and a bed for the day. At night the farmer gave him a map and leather tunic, and informed him that the English were near St.Pierre. After walking by night and resting at farms in the daytime, Flying Officer Wheler was recaptured on the 17th August. He was taken to a farm where 20 Germans were ready to move off and he walked with this party for two days and nights, stopping only for meals and short rests. They halted at a house and Flying Officer Wheler was interrogated but refused to give any information. Flying Officer Wheler met five more prisoners of war here and on the night of the 20th August, after picking up 20 POWs, the whole party started off in a truck and were not allowed to lift the curtain to let in air. This caused several of the prisoners to faint. The next day they left the truck and started marching with guards on each side of them. At night Flying Officer Wheler managed to escape by slipping into the file of guards and then stepping to the side of the road. He set off east across a valley and river and laid up in a barn near St. Etienne l'Allier. The next morning he was given food by the parents of a French girl who had discovered him and at night he was taken to another farmer, where he remained until the 26th August when British forces arrived.

Document DHH file 79/507 has his MI.9 evasion report based on interview of 28 August 1944. It began by stating he had taken off from airfield B.4 at 1830 hours and came down five miles west of Pont l'Eveque. The report went on as transcribed below (marginal notes in bold and brackets); map references are to France, 1:100,000, Sheets 7F and 8F:

[7 Aug 44] I took off on 7 August on armed reconnaissance in Lisieux area, had destroyed three trucks when my radiator was hit by flak. I climbed to 7,000 feet but my engine was running rough so I called up to say I was going home. The engine packed up and I baled out.

I landed in an orchard 467014 (Sheet 7F), hid my parachute, mae west in bushes, ran up a lane where I threw my gloves down, and turned back. I ran north for two hours, crossing a river and main road at 4605, then removed my badges, pockets etc in a barn, got out my escape kit, got my position and headed west, sleeping that night in a barn.

[8 Aug 44] I walked all next day passing north of Branville at 277059, ate raw potatoes and Horlicks in the evening, and that night walked along the railway to Houlgate, then headed south passing through some mine fields on the way. At 242018 I turned west, swam two rivers at 2102 and came upon a deserted house next morning.

I remained here two days cooking myself vegetables and frogs legs for food.

[10 Aug 44] On night of 10 August I set off west through the marshes but as the water reached my waist and once up to my neck, I turned north, passed [past ?] the race track (2104), swam the river and crawled by the side of the main road. At the fork 2105 there were two sentries whom I got by and continued by the road going west.

[11 Aug 44] As Germans were passing along the road I turned south into the marshes and had to keep going after daybreak as there was nowhere to hide, and I was wet, cold and hungry with our shells bursting all round. I reached some woods at 182052 but walked into some guards on a radar station who took me prisoner. They first took everything from me, including watch, escape kit, ring, lighter, pen and ten pounds of my own money, then gave me food.

I was taken by cycle to Cabourg and in the evening to Pont l'Eveque (5204 Sheet 8F). I stayed here two days without interrogation although they returned my RAF (k) 1250 and shaving kit. There were 150 various POWs here and the French Red Cross supplied many necessities.

[13 Aug 44] On night of 13 Aug all service personnel were taken by truck towards Paris passing through Lisieux. I was in the rear and noticed it was an iron "wood burning” truck, with space for a boiler between the truck and the driver’s cabin. There was a small door window 1 2 feet x 2 feet in the front of the truck which kept banging. I called to the front to ask if there was glass in this opening as I meant to try to escape through it. I made my way to the front of the truck and stood with my back to the opening facing the guards at the rear.

The truck was travelling fast, and there was some noise and shaking about, and it was dark. I closed the small door behind my back and then opened it slowly, keeping myself in the front of the opening so the faint light outside did not show. I eased myself out through this opening, pulled the door over it and sat on the boiler. The truck stopped at about 589813 (Sheet 8 F) because of an air raid ahead. I slipped down underneath and rolled between the wheels towards the ditch, the guards now standing at the back. An aircraft dropped a flare so I rolled back and when it went out I got to the ditch over an edge and ran. I crossed a river bridge at approximately 586818, walked all night, crossed the road and river north of Fervaques 5476, and in the morning saw a farmer north of Livarot 4672.

[14 Aug 44] I spoke to him, and he gave me food and a bed for that day. That night he told me the English were around St. Pierre, gave me a map and leather coat, took my tunic and I started off.

[15 Aug 44] I walked all that night, stopped at another farm in the morning where I stayed all day. I continued each night and rested at a farm each day until 17 August when I ran into the front line and heard a concentrated barrage and machine gun east of St. Pierre, at 255765 (Sheet 7F).

[17 - 19 Aug 44] I lay in a cornfield by the road all day and at dusk saw some British tanks pass by, so I crawled to the road, and stood up ready to hail the next ones. Two Germans came up behind me with revolvers and I was taken prisoner again.

We went back to a farm where twenty Germans were ready to move off and we all started eastwards that night and walked for two nights and days, stopping only for meals and short rests, until afternoon 19 August.

[19 Aug 44] We stopped at a house where an English speaking officer interrogated us, trying to get various information which I refused. I met F/L MacDuff here and five other POWs.

On afternoon of 20th we were moved about five miles, picked up twenty POWs and that night started off in a truck. We crawled along in circles, losing our way, and finally put up in an orchard about 2330 hours, where the guards made us stand up all night.

They refused to let us put the curtains up for air. It was terribly hot and we were very tired, and POWs were fainting all round.

[21 Aug 44] Next morning the Germans wanted to paint the top of the truck white (denoting POWs) as a protection against aircraft attack, but I told them it would be suicide. I had never heard of any sign denoting POW, and felt certain that any of our aircraft would spot the white and shoot it up immediately. I know of no instructions to the contrary.

So we left their truck, marched all day, sleeping in a barn that night.

[22 Aug 44.] We marched again next day into Lieurey (7495 Sheet 8F) with instructions to get to St. Martins (7801) by 2130 hours. We lost the way in some bye-woods and by dark had reached a point 778998 (Sheet 8F).

We were in two files with a file of guards on each side, so I engaged a guard on my right in conversation, gradually dropped back with him, and then I quickened up ahead of him, slipping into the file of guards so the guard ahead and behind me each thought I was one of them.

I slipped away to the side of the road, [and] covered my face and hands until they had passed. I set off east across a valley and river and after an hours walking I laid up in a barn north of Saint Etienne l'Allier 7898.

[23 Aug 44] Next morning a French girl came in the barn who fetched her parents for me, who gave me food. That night they took me to another farmer nearby where I remained until 26 August when the British came through who sent me through various channels to IS.9 (WEA) the same day.


More details of his evasion from "411 City of North York Squadron History":


"It was another well-aimed burst of flak that started F/O Tom Wheler on an adventure-packed three-week journey that ultimately put the MBE ribbon up alongside the DFC he had won in air combat and ground attacks. Like F/L Ash, 411's other MBE winner, Tom Wheler was an American by birth, but his parents were Canadians living in the state of Georgia. On August 7th, l944, while returning to base from the Lisieux area after an armed recce, Wheler's Spitfire was damaged by anti-aircraft fire. As he was the only pilot left with some ammunition remaining, he went to strafe a truck that he had spotted on a road. Unfortunately, there was a hidden anti- aircraft battery which also had some ammunition left. Tom was forced to take to his parachute. He landed safely in an orchard, hid his parachute and other superfluous paraphernalia, and then, after laying a false trail to send pursuers off in the wrong direction, he took to his heels. After running northward for a couple of hours, Tom found a barn where he spent the night. The next three days were passed alternately hiding, walking, and, in the process, swimming two rivers. A deserted house provided shelter for two days during which the pilot lived "like a native" on vegetables and frogs' legs.

Rested and nourished, Wheler resumed his journey. Almost immediately he fell into the hands of the enemy and was taken to Pont l'Eveque. After two days confinement, he was put in a truck for transport to Paris, by way of Lisieux. Tom managed to wriggle his way outside of the vehicle through a small window at the front of the truck. A timely air raid on a target ahead of the truck forced it to come to a stop. Dropping to the ground, the pilot rolled under the truck into a ditch and, undetected, once again resumed his journey under his own power. All night long he walked southward. Morning found him north of Livarot where he approached a farmer who gave him food and a bed to rest in during the day. That night Wheler set out again, complete with a leather tunic and a map from his farmer friend who told him that the British forces were near St. Pierre, a few miles to the west. Walking by night and resting at farms during the day. Tommy tried to reach the Allied lines. One night, he came upon several rail cars on the top of small rise, which he managed to disconnect. Tom released the brakes and by getting between them and physically pushing the cars apart, set several of them in motion down the hill, where they eventually derailed themselves on the next curve. Another night, while crawling through some woods, he was startled by a brilliant flash of light and a loud roar. Tom had stumbled on a German V1 (buzz-bomb) launching site, one of the notorious "Noball" targets that were the nemesis of so many Allied aircrews. Realizing what was at stake, he waited until everything was quiet and proceeded to cut every wire, cable and hose he could find, effectively sabotaging that particular facility. Tom hightailed it away from the scene, but once again he had the bad luck to be captured by the enemy a few days later. Fortunately, the Germans had no idea who they had caught.

His captors took Wheler to a farm where a small group of 20 German soldiers was ready to retire eastward. For two days and nights the airman marched with this party, stopping only for meals and short rests. En route, more prisoners of war were picked up until the German soldiers had 25 under escort, at which time the whole party was loaded on a truck. The prisoners were forced to remain standing all night and were forbidden from raising the curtains to let in any air. The atmosphere in the covered vehicle became so stifling that several of the exhausted prisoners fainted. In the morning, the men left the transport and set out marching again with a file of guards on each side. That night, Wheler edged his way into the file of guards and, under cover of darkness, stepped off the side of the road and slipped away unnoticed. Heading across a valley and river, he finally took cover in a barn near St. Etienne l'Allier. The next morning a little French girl discovered his hiding place and told her parents.
Wheler & Kramer
28 Aug '44 - 411 pilots Tom Wheler (left), & Hal Kramer at B.18 airfield, Cristot, after their separate escapes from behind enemy lines
They brought food to Wheler and passed him on to another farm, where he remained until the British forces reached the area on August 26th."


Victories Include :

13 Dec. 1943
28 June 1944

14 July 1944
1/2 Me109
one FW190
one FW190
one FW190
damaged *
damaged **

2 / 0 / 1.5

* 1/4 share of two damaged by
P/O Wheler, F/L Joe McFarlane, F/O R.F.H. Walker & P/O C.H. Steele

** 28 June 1944 ... "On the ground a great tank battle raged around Caen, and in the air, the Luftwaffe threw themselves into the struggle in greater strength than ever before. Thirty-four enemy aircraft were destroyed over Normandy, of which twenty-six fell to the Spitfires of G/C MacBrien's 83 Group sector. In addition to those destroyed, there were a dozen probables and damaged. It was the busiest and the most successful day for the RCAF fighter squadrons since the beginning of the invasion. The Grizzly Bears' share in the day's bag was six destroyed and three damaged, without loss to themselves. F/O Tom Wheler gives a picture of part of the action:
"I was flying Red 4. The squadron was SW of Caen when Huns were reported south of Le Havre by Blue 2. My R/T was partially U/S. The squadron broke port and dove with wide-open throttles, leaving me far behind. I climbed alone to 8000ft above cloud, sighting 15 a/c that turned out to be FW190s and Me 109s. They turned toward me to port still at 6000ft. I dove out of the sun and attacked the last FW 190 on the starboard side of the formation. At 300 to 400 yds I fired a burst from line astern and saw hits on cockpit and wing. The e/a caught fire, flicked over, crashed into the deck and blew up. I turned starboard and fired at another FW 190, range about 100 yds, angle off about 60°, and saw hits on starboard wing. FW 190 broke hard towards me and disappeared into cloud. I took a cine shot of burning wreckage of first FW 190. Returned to base with four gallons of petrol.""      - From "411 City of North York Squadron History"




Thanks to Maureen Wheler for the photos & infos !

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