LLoyd "Tommy" Thomas

WWII Fighter Pilot

Lloyd Duncan THOMAS joined the Royal Canadian Air Force on September 6th, 1940 at the recruiting office in Toronto, Ontario.  He was one of the many Americans who came north prior to the American entry into the war on December 8th, 1941.  He began his military life on November 29th, 1940 at the #1 Initial Training School at Toronto where he took his basic training .  At # 1 ITS  he was taught how to wear a uniform, march, and how to shoot a rifle. He was a little older ( at 25 ) than most of his classmates and this maturity was a benefit that would help him throughout his career.  He graduated 4th in his class on January 4th, 1941 and was selected for pilot training. 

Lloyd took  his basic pilots training at the # 9 Elementary Flight Training School at St. Catherine’s, Ontario.  His training there began with ground school where he learned the principals of flight and how to read instruments.  Eventually he went on to primary flight in the tiny Tiger Moth bi-plane.    He graduated 8th in his class on March 21st, 1941 and was rated an average pilot. In the RCAF and the RAF a pilot’s abilities was always “understated.”  So, and average pilot was actually a good pilot. 

 Lloyd was among the best, so he was chosen to be a fighter pilot and therefore was sent to the # 6 Intermediate Service Flight School at Dunnville, Ontario.  Here Lloyd was trained on the Harvard (known in the U.S.A. as the AT-6 Texan) advanced single engine trainer.  He graduated 6th in his class (rated as an above average [or excellent] pilot) on May 16th, 1941.  On that day he was awarded his white pilots wings and was promoted to Pilot Officer.  Lloyd then departed  for England and training on real fighter planes.

 Lloyd arrived in England in early June of 1941 and waited until a spot at an Operational Training Unit (OTU) came open.  On July 21st, 1941 Lloyd arrived at #57 OTU in Wrexham, Wales. It was here that he finally got to fly a real fighter plane, the Spitfire Mk1.   Most of his instructors were recent Battle of Britain veterans who were there not only to instruct the students on how to fly a Spitfire, but also how to survive and win in aerial combat.

After completing his operational training Lloyd was finally posted to an operational fighter squadron, # 132 (City of Bombay) Squadron,  Royal Air Force at Martlesham Heath, England  ( he would fly as an American member of the Royal Canadian Air Force but in Royal Air Force Squadrons for his entire service) .  The recently formed unit was flying the new Spitfire Mk 2.  Upon arrival he was encouraged to start flying immediately, in order to complete as many hours on the Spitfires as possible before the unit had to engage the Luftwaffe.  In October the Squadron saw its first action, crossing the English channel to tangle with Jagdgeschwader 26,  the famous Luftwaffe Fighter Group that was then posted in Northwestern France.   JG26 were flying the Messerschmitt BF-109, the Luftwaffe’s best fighter at the time. 

In late November Lloyd was assigned to join the Middle East / Far East command.  He left on December 2nd, 1941 (five days before the attack on Pearl Harbor) flying to Freetown, Sierra Leone, Africa.  Once there he was assigned to the Far East (some pilots were assigned to go to North Africa instead).  Finally, on February 2nd, 1942 Lloyd arrived at Rangoon, Burma where he joined 17 Squadron, Royal Air Force, flying from Mingaladon Airfield.  His new commanding officer was Squadron Leader C.A.C.“Bunny” Stone, DFC.   The Japanese, fresh from success at Singapore were hitting Rangoon hard and Lloyd arrived right in the middle of it.  The Squadron were flying the Hawker Hurricane Mk 2a.  They were fighting a desperate defensive battle alongside the famous American Volunteer Group (AVG) known as the Flying Tigers, who were flying the P-40 Warhawk.  Unfortunately they were terribly outnumbered.  Although they put up a tremendous fight, they were eventually driven back to India.  (The battle in Burma is chronicled in detail by Lloyd’s Flight Commander M.C. “Bush” Cotton in his book about 17 Sqn, “Hurricanes Over Burma”).

The squadron, suffering heavy casualties and down to only a few planes, was reformed at Calcutta, India in June, 1942.  Here they were restaffed and were issued replacement aircraft ( Hurricane Mk2b).  Lloyd, having been in combat for a year (and by now a Flying Officer)  was posted to Headquarters on August 25th, 1942, to work as a staff officer, and to take a much deserved rest.  On October 12th he was posted to #3 A.A. Flight, then on December 1st he was returned to the duties of a fighter pilot with  #5 Squadron who were flying Curtiss Mohawks from Chittagong on the Arakan front of India.  His commanding officer was Squadron Leader G.J.C. Hogan DFC.  At the time 5 Sqn were involved in air to air combat against the Japanese who were flying from airfields in Burma. On April 21st, 1943 now Flight Lieutenant Lloyd “Tommy” Thomas was posted as a staff officer again to the H.Q. at Ramu, India. 

He returned to 5 Squadron as a flight commander (2nd in command of the Squadron) on January 1st, 1944.  In his absence the squadron had converted to Hurricane 2Cs fitted with wing racks for carrying 250 and 500 pound bombs and had relocated to Sapam airfield in the Imphal Valley.   These Hurri-Bombers were used in the ground attack mode to go after Japanese ground troops, airbases and vehicle columns.  ( 5 Squadron’s exploits are covered in detail in Norman Franks book “The Air Battle of Imphal” ) In March of 1944 The Japanese invaded India thus initiating the largest land battle in the Pacific Theater during World War 2.  The Squadrons in the valley operated under terrible conditions with poor food and airfields covered in mud, while the Japanese were, at times,  less than 200 yards away. 

On April 18th, 1944 at 2:50 p.m.  Lloyd took off in his Hurricane (Serial # LD 580) leading a flight to attack any Japanese troops they could find across  the mountains in Burma.  At 3:50 p.m. Lloyd was leading  the flight as it screamed over the Japanese airfield at Kawlin.  As he dropped down to make his strafing run he was struck by ground fire.  His plane nosed into the ground and exploded into a ball of fire. 

Lloyd was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Gallantry on April 28th, 1944.  He is buried with many of his comrades at the Taukkyan Commonwealth Military Cemetery, Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma)

To e-mail Lloyd's nephew, Ed Leinbach