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Palm Beach Gardens man flew jets out of Nazi Germany

Our recent column on David Mc-Campbell of Lake Worth, the Navy’s “Ace of Aces,” prompted a call from Gordon Gaster of Jupiter, about his friend Hal Watson.

When Harold E. Watson of Palm Beach Gardens died at 82 on Jan. 5, 1994, his passing went mostly unnoticed in this publication, if not elsewhere.

Such as in the halls of the U.S. Air Force, where all he did was sneak the world’s first fighter jet out of conquered Nazi Germany, out from under the nosy noses of the Soviet Union.

He was born in Connecticut in 1911. In 1933, in a bit of geographical irony, he joined that state’s famed Pratt & Whitney aircraft firm, now an institution in Palm Beach County. He later joined the Army Air Corps, which became the Air Force.

In April 1945, Germany’s surrender was imminent. The Allies feared the Third Reich had given Axis partner Japan secrets about its nascent jet and rocket technology.

Famed Army Gen. Hap Arnold turned to Watson.

In the next five months, “Watson’s Whizzers” went through Germany, Austria, Denmark, Austria and France. It got at least one sample of nearly every German plane, engine and part out of Europe and to Indiana, where parts were torn apart and scrutinized.

That “moved our research and development ahead rapidly four to five years,” Watson said in an October 1983 Palm Beach Post article.

The prime trophy: the Messerschmitt 262. Watson didn’t even have a pilot in Europe who could fly it. He had to set up a school with seven pilots and 10 mechanics who trained under two German pilots.

And he wrangled Willy Messerschmitt himself a trip to America.

In all, Watson’s group ferried 40 German planes, including nine Me-262s along with FW190s and Junker Ju88s. They were planes that didn’t go to Japan — which surrendered weeks later. And they didn’t go to the Russians.

One plane is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Next week: Retirement.

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Harold Watson in 1983.

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg July 15, 2010 at 9:08 am.

4 comments

4 Replies

  1. Ken Walters Jul 15th 2010

    That was a fantastic story! Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Curious Jul 20th 2010

    Just out of curiosity, why is Pratt & Whitney’s presence in Connecticut a “geographical irony”? To this day, Pratt & Whitney maintains facilities in East Hartford, CT and Middletown, CT.

  3. Palm Beach Post Staff Researchers Jul 25th 2010

    Dear Curious,

    The “geographical irony” is that Watson worked for Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut early in his career, and then moved to Palm Beach County — near another Pratt & Whitney plant — later in life.

    Maybe we were reaching a little for that irony.


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