The Pima Air and Space museum recently completed the restoration of a A-20 Havoc “Big Nig”.
The history of the aircraft from “Pacific Wrecks”
Pilot 2nd Lt. Thomas Reading (survived)
Gunner S/Sgt Burke L. Cock (survived) Brownsville, PA
Force LandedMay 3, 1944
Built by Douglas. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as A-20G-25-DO Havoc serial number 43-9436. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 3rd Bombardment Group (3rd BG), 89th Bombardment Squadron (89th BS). Assigned to pilot 1st Lt. James L. Folse with crew chief R. J. Campbell. Nicknamed “Big Nig” with the nose art of a Damon Runyon inspired character on the left side of the nose painted by SSgt Tony Benson.
On May 3, 1944 took off from Nadzab Airfield piloted by 2nd Lt. Tom Reading (flying his 10th mission) with gunner S/Sgt Burke L. Cock on a strike mission against Wewak. Over the target, this aircraft was hit by ground fire that caused an oil leak and a broken crank shaft. Returning, this A-20 force landed into a fresh water swamp in the interior of New Guinea. Both of the crew survived unhurt.
Fate of the Crew
Afterwards, both crew members were rescued by a Stinson L-5 Sentinel from the 25th Liaison Squadron and returned to duty. Afterwards, Folse named his next aircraft A-20G “Big Nig II” and the his third aircraft A-20G “Big Nig III” 43-21315.
“Thomas Reading’s cracked up A-20, 15 miles behind Jap lines. It has landed in kunai grass with several feet of water underneath. Tom and his gunner spent 23 days in this hole.”
Until 1984, this A-20 remained in situ submerged in the Bumbura Swamp near Chugabaru with only the tip of the tail visible above the surface.
During 1985, Michael Claringbould convinced the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) that this A-20 was another complete A-20G Havoc worth salvaging. On November 20, 1985, RAAF No. 12 Squadron conducted a search using his co-ordinates and located the aircraft.
In October 1994, a team from the RAAF salvaged the A-20 using air bags to raise the aircraft to the surface of the swamp. When the nose was exposed, the nose art and nickname were still clearly visible. Inside the cockpit, 2nd Lt. Thomas Reading’s flight goggles and thermos still half full of coffee were found. Afterwards, a Mi-26 Helicopter lifted the aircraft and transported it to Madang Airport. Later, shipped to Australia.
In late 2004, the RAAF decided not to store this fuselage any longer and traded it to Murry Griffiths / Precision Aerospace. During September 2004 transported on a trailer from RAAF Museum at Point Cook to Precision Aerospace at Wangaretta Airport.
During late 2004 to 2006, displayed at Precision Aerospace / Pacific Fighters Museum with the nose art covered in plastic. While in storage, external restoration was performed including repainting the fuselage and the original markings of A-20G “Big Nig” 43-9436.
In 2009, “Big Nig” was reportedly to be traded to the RAF Museum at Hendon in exchange for a reserve collection Spitfire. In the middle of 2010, restoration work began at Precision Aerospace with the aircraft scheduled to be exported to the United Kingdom by 2011. The deal was never completed or withdrawn and and the A-20 remained at Precision Aerospace / Precision Airmotive.
During late 2018, shipped to the United States and trucked to the Pima Air & Space Museum arriving in early September 2018 to the Pima Air & Space Museum. The fuselage center section showing some restoration and painted is on display at the museum.
After the recovery, Several artifacts recovered from “Big Nig” were put on display at RAAF Amberly Museum, including the severed return oil line with shrapnel damage that caused the force landing, the pilot’s flight goggles and thermos found in the cockpit. Later, these items were put on display at RAAF Museum at Point Cook.