For some reason wars and their artifacts will never stop inspiring us. The conflicts were brutal, the life loss was staggering, the will ran deep, and all the machines played essential roles in victory and loss. Watches from those days still fascinate us. Human ingenuity and what the watches had been put through inspired modern accessories we use and love today. We look back to history for many things, and making durable and precise watches is one of them.
We’ll take a look at some of the most iconic watches from WWII, how they were created and used. We’ll cover the most important timepieces from both sides of the front line.
The American A-11
32mm – 36mm, 1940-1949, supplied to Allied forces, produced by Elgin, Bulova, Waltham, and Hamilton.
This type of watch was the most popular during those years and implemented by most American manufacturers. They were used by every military personnel and served to complete mission critical tasks. The watches had to be tough to survive various war conditions on the fields. The casing was dust and waterproof, it was heat resistant, with robust movements of +/- 30 seconds per day, and at least 30 hour power reserve. Modern military watches are still held to those same high standards.
This watch is credited with helping to win the war as all troops relied heavily on its precisions and durability. The watch can be easily acquired online for $500-$1,000. Be careful when trusting pictures as many of those watches had to be fixed and had some parts replaced.
The German B-Uhr
47mm – 55mm, 1941-1946, supplied to Germans, produced by Laco, Stowa, IWC, ALS, and Wempe.
This timepiece is another great example of an iconic military watch. It was produced by a few German and Swiss companies using prototypes A and B. B version had shorter hour hand and a triangle mark on 12. The watches were great for navigation and were widely used by pilots. They received radio signals and were precisely synchronized to achieve the precision of simultaneously eliminating targets on the ground.
At 55mm the watches were very large, but they were designed to be worn over the bomber jackets with the help of extended double-riveted leather strap. Thanks to the size, it was very easily readable even in the tensest situations.
The mechanical movements were encased in anti-magnetic iron cages to avoid any interference. Onion-shaped crown ensured possible operation with gloves.
While the watch users brought unimaginable pain and suffering, the watch is still lauded for its mechanical functions and ingenuity. There are plenty of modern reproductions and Stowa and Laco are still making modern B-Uhrs.
The Japanese Seikosha “Kamikaze”
48.5mm, 1940-1945, supplied to Japanese Air Force, produced by Seiko
Japanese participated in Axis forces and played vital role in the resistance during WWII. It all ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but before then their suicidal pilots were known as “Kamikazes”, crashing planes into U.S. Navy ships. And those pilots wore those watches.
Just like the B-Uhr, this watch was big and designed to be worn over the sleeve. The crown was easily adjustable and tunable with gloves. The watch had one feature that no other watch had at the time: a turntable bezel for marking elapsed time during missions.
Not many of those watches were produced, and most were lost in suicide missions, so it is hard to find the original “Kamikaze”. There are some museum-quality pieces that were salvaged from crash sites, but they can be upwards of $20k.
The British W.W.W.
32mm-37mm, 1940-1949, supplied to British army and Air Force, produced by Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Longines, IWC, Omega, and others.
Once Britain joined the WWII in 1939, the army needed a huge supply of military watches right away. The W.W.W standard was developed and meant Wrist. Watch. Waterproof.
British watchmakers were focused on making timepieces for navy and air force, so 12 neutral companies, known as the “Dirty Dozen” collaborated and produced the needed specs. The watch had to be waterproof and have luminescent hands and chronometer grade movements. It also had to be tough and indestructible, just like A-11 or B-Uhr.
Most of those watches were destroyed in the 1970s because of radioactive Radium-226, found in the luminescent material.
Hundreds of thousands were produced, but Grana made only about 1,000 and it is now virtually impossible to find.
The Glashutte Chronograph
39mm, 1940-1949, supplied to German military, produced by Tutima Glashutte, Hanhart
This watch was produced in secrecy between German government and Hanhart/Tutima. This Flyback Chronograph is one of the most important mechanisms in WWII. This watch made German pilots the only ones with actual chronograph timing capabilities for the first time.
In addition to innovation, the watch was antimagnetic, waterproof, encased in shatterproof domed acrylic crystal, had a rotating bezel, and radioactive lume.
After Germany’s loss, Russians took over the manufacturer, moved all the operations and parts to Moscow, and produced similar watches post-war. Those remaining Russian timepieces are very highly valuable too.
Today military watches have made a huge comeback and can be bought at local J-Crews and luxury brands. As we said at the beginning, our fascination with war might never end, so the watches will never lose their appeal. The only difference – we can enjoy those watches and various reproductions without risking our life on the field.