Wheatley, Claude Mervyn.

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Wheatley, Claude Mervy,n born 05-10-1913 in Lewes, East Sussex, England, the youngest son of Ernest Albert Wheatley and Marion Wheatley Kirtlan. His father was the proprietor of the Lewes firm of Browne & Crosskey, drapers and furnishers. Claude had an older brother and sister. He was married to Joan Leal on 08-02-1939. Mervyn Wheatley attended the Temple Grove School in Eastbourne from 1924 until 1927. This was a preparatory school for boys. From 1927 to 1931 he attended the Leys School in Cambridge. This was an independent Boarding School and it was here that Mervyn learned the trade of draper.

In 1936 Mervyn finished his basic training at the A.T.S Hamble. Having started his basic training on 13-07-1936 as Acting Pilot Officer on probation with a Short Service Contract of 4 years. Mervyn carried out general duties at RAF depot Uxbridge awaiting the start of his flying training with No.6 Flying Training School (No. 4 Course) at Netheravon on 19-09-1936. Wheatley was posted with the PDU on 21-02-1940 after flying Fairey Battle a/c with No. 105 squadron nicknamed “Hereford’s own Squadron” and deployment in France as part of the Advance Air Striking Force.

On Good Friday 22-03-1940 F/O Wheatley was tasked for his 3rd reconnaissance flight with the PDU for a photographic reconnaissance. His task: further coverage of the German Ruhr area. He took off from Heston aerodrome at 09:50 hours (local time) to RAF Stradishall for refueling. F/O Wheatley was airborne again at approx. 11:15 hours (local time) to carry out his reconnaissance mission.

Luftwaffe high command was aware of the high flying reconnaissance Spitfires and their superiority in maximum ceiling. Two German pilots, Hauptmann Harald Jung and co piilot Unteroffizier Eduard Koslowski had extreme difficulties in reaching the altitude of F/O Wheatley. High above their heads they could see the condensation trail of Wheatley’s Spitfire.  Hauptmann Jung tells:

At 12:45 hours I had closed the gap at 300 meters and I could definitely identify the aircraft as a Spitfire fighter aircraft. In order to prevent it in escaping to Dutch airspace I opened fire. The enemy aircraft immediately executed evasive actions. I assumed that the pilot was hit with my first burst of machinegun fire because he gave no further effort to get me off his tail.

The enemy had lost approx. 5000 meter in altitude and banked left and right in order to get out of my line of fire but did not succeed because the Bf109 is superior in the turn. I fired again and witnessed the pilot baling out. The pilot was probably hit again because his parachute never deployed. The enemy aircraft didn’t burn and crashed on Dutch territory in the right hand stream of the River Rhine just after its junction.”

It is believed to be the first combat loss of a Spitfire during WW2. Mervyn Wheatley is the first Photographic Reconnaissance pilot to be lost on operations.

Unteroffizier Eduard Koslowski was the wingman of Leutnant Harald Jung on 22-03-1940. Koslowski wasn’t able to reach the altitude of 34.000ft. plus of Mervyn Wheatley and had to stay behind at 9.500m. Koslowski was posted with 9./JG 53 , under command of Major Hans-Jürgen von Cramon-Taubadel, prior joining JG 20  and claimed his first victory on 06-11-1939, a French Mureaux 117 of GAO I./506 near Merzig (Saarland region).After his time with Jagdgeschwader 20 Koslowski was posted with 9./ JG 26 “Schlageter” . He was killed in action flying cover in a Focke Wulf FW190 for German warships in the Channel on 12-02-1942, shot down by Spitfires of No.72 Squadron. Eduard Koslowski had 12 confirmed aerial victories at the time of his death.

Leutnant Harald Jung   was born on 11-08-1917 and was 22 years old at the time of his interception of Mervyn Wheatley. Although unknown it is most likely that Jung started his Luftwaffe career around 1936-’37. Jung’s first known operational posting was with the first Group of Jagdgeschwader 20(I./JG 20) under command of  Hauptmann Hannes Trautloft, on 12-03-1940. This unit was stationed at Luftwaffe airbase Bönninghardt-Süd which was in the Geldern aera. A German town just east of the Dutch German border. A warning order was received on 22-03-1940 from German border patrols at the airbase OPS room. At 11.40 hours (local time) an unknown aircraft had penetrated German airspace. Immediately two Messerschmitt Me 109E fighters of I./JG 20 were scrambled to intercept this unknown aircraft. Pilots: Leutnant. Harald Jung and Uffz Eduard Koslowski. For both pilots it would be their first scramble with enemy contact. Jung’s personal aircraft was grounded due to technical problems and he was assigned Messerschmitt Me109E-1, Wkn 3493, White 2. Koslowski flew an E-4 variant of the Me 109. Harald Jung changing his aircraft is one of the crucial facts why the German pilot was able to reach Mervyn Wheatley’s altitude. The Me 109 he used on the 22nd was an older E-1 type Messerschmitt equipped with 4x 7.92mm machineguns. Koslowski his wingman flew the newer E-4 type which was equipped with 2x 2cm MG FF canons and 2x 7.92mm machineguns and thus his aircraft was heavier. Because of this difference in weapons configuration Jungs aircraft was less heavy and therefore he was able to get within firing distance as where Koslowski had to stay behind at 9.500m. Harald Jung survived the war flying most of his war time career with Jagdgeschwader 51 “Mölders”. Koslowski was later posted to Jagdgeschwader 26 “Schlageter” and was killed in action on 12-02-1942 near Calais. Luftwaffe High Command was aware of the high flying Reconnaissance Spitfires and the difficulty intercepting them and for the intercept of Mervyn Wheatley Jung was awarded the Iron cross 2nd class

Leutnant Harald Jung (I. / JG20) in Messerschmitt Me109 E-1 White 2, W. Nr. 3493. Although Leutnant. Jung survived the war, his planes are not. Me109 E-1 W. No. 3493 was built at the Arado aircraft factory in Warnemünde between June 1939 and March 1940. After serving Jagdgeschwader 20 and 51 with Jagdgruppe Ost in France.  On 16-12-1942, it crashed at Fontenet, France. The pilot, Uffz Fritz Bitter of 2. / JgGr. Ost, was killed in this crash.

Death and buriasl ground of Wheatley, Claude Mervyn.

Later that same day local German authorities received a message from the small German village of Düffelward, just across the River Rhine were on the Dutch side the crash site of the Spitfire was. The body of a RAF pilot was found in a field owned by Gottfried Derksen. The parachute didn’t open due to a hit to the parachute pack. The body of F/O Claude Mervyn Wheatley was recovered by local villagers and brought to the local school building. On 22-03-1940 at 18.30 hours F/O Wheatley was buried with military honors at the local cemetery. A German army priest held the funeral. F/O Wheatley was reinterred to the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery on 25-04-1947 and now rests in grave 3-F-14.

Mervyn Wheatley married Joan Leal on 04-02-1939. Joan was the youngest daughter of George William Leal, a well know business man and politician in the Worthing area. Joan, at the time of Mervyn’s death on 22-03-1940, was serving as an Assistent Section Officer with the WAAF at Tangmere and served as a WAAF throughout WW2.Joan remarried in November 1940 and had 4 childern. After her second husband passed away in 1992 she and her youngest son visited Mervyn’s grave at the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. A lovely touch of this visit is that Joan brought flowers for Mervyn’s grave in the colors of her wedding dress.

Source of this story and photo’s: Spitfire PR IB N3069 – Remembering F/O Mervyn Wheatley




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