A-2o Havoc (light) bombers of the 15th Bomb Squadron (BS), 27th Bomb Group (BG), 12th AF flew out of Youks-les-Bains Airfield, Algeria on Thursday 31 December 1942 on a mission to attack the docking at Sousse, Tunisia and a second run on the railroad marshalling yards in the same city. The 15th had suffered excessive causalities during its short tenure in the war, first in England and then in North Africa. On this day, the bombing sortie resulted in the crash of three A-20s and the loss of their crews. Only one missing air crew report appears to have been filed. The crew of Capt. Clifford Hee’s plane was represented by that one report. The second combat crash was 1st Lt. Dan Holladay’s plane. Aside from Holladay the names of the crew remain unidentified. The third plane was also listed as unidentified and the crew has generally been regarded as missing in action – presumed dead, killed in action on the assumption the plane was one of two that crashed into the sea.
While researching the Holladay and Hee aircraft, it was discovered that one “Casualty Questionnaire Form” had been misfiled and included in the 1944 MACR 8339. The author of the form was S/Sgt. Edward F. Johnson, who not only recorded the last moments of the Hee crew but also gave the names of his A-20 crew. Contrary to more than seventy-five years of assumption, Johnson’s 15th BS Havoc crashed with all four crewmen surviving and subsequently being shipped to prisoner of war camps. In their various camps, the four rode-out the war and were liberated in 1945. The information remains vague at best but enough documentation survived to confirm they were the third A-20 that crashed on 31 December 42. The information that follows is presented here on the third “mystery” crew.
1st Lt. Grim, Raymond Kenneth (O-432057). Born 18 May 1916 in Washington. Son of Elmer Ellsworth and Lattie Dora (Tice) Grim. Attended Olympia High School/WW Miller High School, Class of 1935. Enlisted in the AAC 20 September 1940 at Fort Lewis, WA. Crashed 31 December 1941 in Tunisia and captured by the Germans. Imprisoned at Stalag Luft 3 Sagan-Silesia Bavaria and Nuremberg-Langwasser, Germany. Died 14 September 1985 in Santa Clara, CA.
Grim had two earlier non-combat related accidents, the first in A/C AL-409 an A-20 belonging to 15th BS of Molesworth, England on 20 July 1942. The second was on 26 August in A-20 AL-452.
1st Lt. O.O. Garrett. Position on aircraft, Navigator. Assumed captured with the crew, however, no records of incarceration or death located at this time.
Sgt. Giddens, Paul O (19024126). Born 13 September 1920 in Healdton, OK. Son of Claude Leon and Frances Catherine (Smith) Giddens. Enlisted in the Army 17 February 1941 from San Bernardino, CA . Captured by Germans 31 December 1942 and imprisoned in Stalag Luft 17-B, Braunau, Austria. He was housed in barracks no. 17A. Returned from overseas aboard the SS Sea Porpoise: departed Le Havre, France 1 June and arrived Pier 88, New York, NY. 12 June 1945. Notation for Sea Porpoise “carrying ex-POWs.” Discharged 6 October 1945. Married Virginia Lucille Gierse before the war. Died 1 December 2001 and was buried in Riverside National Cemetery, CA.
S/Sgt. Johnson, Edward Francis (11017342). Born 8 April 1916 in Fitchburg, MA. Son of Charles F. and Florence (Gillis) Johnson. Enlisted in the AAC 22 January 1941. Crashed 31 December 1942 in Tunisia and captured by the Germans. Imprisoned in Stalag Luft 17-B, Braunau, Austria. He was housed in barracks no. 39B. Discharged 6 October 1945. Reenlisted 20 September 1954 through 28 February 1962. Retired as a Master Sergeant. Died 31 May 1994 in Comins, MI.
In the records covering crashes from 1939 through 31 December 1942, only one Boston (Havoc) is listed as downed on 31 December 42. Since there was no key included with this report it is impossible to know which A-20 this was. (See last photo above.)
Modern publications list the three crews as Killed in Action, such as, Giovanni Massimello, Christopher Shores, Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk and Winfried Bock, History of the Mediterranean Air War, 1940–1945: Tunisia and the End in Africa November 1942 – May 1943 (London, UK: Grub Street, 2016), 227. In this comprehensive work, History of the Mediterranean Air War…, the authors show the Holladay plane as shot down in the sea with two KIA (no names given other than the pilot); AL436 operated by Clifford Hee, shot down near Sousse with two unnamed KIA. The mystery plane is listed as downed at sea with three KIA. The numbers are off even to the individual planes. The MACR reflects four airmen in both the Hee and mystery aircrafts. It seems the authors may have made the best guess based on typical crew size of an A-20.
After the heavy losses of December, the 15th BS was inactivated at Médiouna Airfield, Algeria on 1 October 1943. The remaining A-20s and crews were reassigned to the 47th BG.