ON 4 MAY 1942

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On 4 May 1942, Lt. Ralph K. Watts of the 8th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron took off from the Stock Route airfield in Townsville for an altitude test in his F-4 Lightning. He crash landed his aircraft near Townsville when both engines stopped after an oil line busted in his right engine. The crash may have been in the Toonpan area.

On this same day, another pilot, Captain Conolly, went missing on a mission from Garbutt to Rabaul.


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Lt. Ralph K. Watts


I received a letter from Colonel Ralph K. Watts (Ret.) of Oregon, USA on 25 June 2001. Lt. Ralph Watts. The following are some diary entries from Ralph's diary:-

4 May 1942
"Well I had a big day. I took my P-38 up for an altitude test. I made it up to 32,120 feet without proper functioning supercharger. It was sure cold (-28 degrees C.) I started down. An oil line on my right motor must have broken as my oil pressure dropped and the temperature went up. I thought I could make it to our airfield. At 4,000 feet the engines quit. The props went dead. I elected to make a forced landing rather than bail out. I picked the best looking spot in the area to land on. The closer I got the view was most discouraging. Ant hills came into view. I made a good landing. However I hit an ant hill with the nose wheel and it snapped off. The aircraft ended up on its nose. Thank God I was not hurt. There was considerable damage to the plane."

Tuesday May 5, 1942
"Well I got my plane out of the tullies today. It is a wash-out from the cockpit to the front end. We hope to get the materials and get her flying eventually. Well yesterday was bad day. Capt. Conolly is 24 hour overdue. He was sent to Rabaul and never returned. There are three possibilities. (1) The Japs got him. (2) He made a forced landing on land or sea. (3) He bailed out and landed on land or sea. We are hopeing for the best but it looks doubtful. He may be our first combat death."

Lt. Watts indicated in his diary that he was not hurt. I spoke to Ralph on 7 June 2001 and it was in this conversation that he indicated that he had later discovered that he had received a minor fracture of one of his verterbrae as a result of this crash. Lt. Watts was involved in another minor forced landing in a salt pan in Townsville about 4 days later.


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Lt. Ralph K. Watts in his F-4 Lightning


Lt. Ralph Watts was later transferred to the 435th Bomb Squadron of the 19th Bomb Group stationed in Townsville. The 435th Bomb Squadron had modified two B-17 Flying Fortresses into Photo Reconnaissance aircraft. Ralph indicated that the B-17's were far superior to the F-4 Lightnings as Photo Recon aircraft. He flew combat as a co-pilot in B-17's in the 435th Bomb Squadron and later went on to become an aircraft combat commander. Many years later, Colonel Ralph Watts retired from the Air Force as a Command Pilot. He had flown F-104 Starfighters at twice the speed of sound.


Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?


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 Peter Dunn 2015


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This page first produced 25 June 2001

This page last updated 02 February 2020