Share this Post
What is it about military watches that inspires such passion?
Is it the deep history and brutal conflict these little machines have endured? Or maybe it’s the incredible amount of human ingenuity that goes into making such a durable and reliable tool?
Whatever it is, our love for military time-pieces run deep, and to understand modern tool watches it’s important to look closely at the pioneering references that have informed the style, function, and history of the watches we wear everyday.
In this article we’ll explore some of the most iconic military wrist-watches of World War II, how they were used, and their inspiration for modern day watches, looking at important military pieces on both sides of the Allied and Axis forces.
WW2 Military Watch Visual Reference Guide
A handy three-page visual reference guide containing photos of dials and movements for 16 popular and collectible vintage WW2 watches from the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan.
The American A-11
|Size:||32mm – 36mm|
|Date Produced:||1940 – 1949|
|Forces Supplied:||USAAF, Royal Canadian Air Force, The Royal Airforce, Soviet Air Force|
|Manufacturers:||Elgin, Bulova, Waltham, Hamilton|
|Buy Online:||Find Authentic Originals on Ebay|
The A-11 Military Spec was one of the most commonly issued watches types supplied to Allied forces during WWII. The A-11 is not a particular model per-se, but instead a production standard that was implemented by the major American watch manufacturers during the period in several different variations.
Those companies were called Elgin, Bulova, and Waltham, and millions of their timepieces were issues to Allied Air Force and Army personnel during the start of the war. These watches were not only highly valued personal items for soldiers, pilots, sailors, engineers, and officers, but quickly become crucial equipment to complete mission critical tasks.
Needing to survive rough conditions on the battlefield, the A-11 military spec required these pieces to be produced to rigorous standards: dust and waterproof casing, extreme temperature resistance, and a robust movements with accuracy requirements of +/- 30 seconds per day and a 30 – 56 hour power reserve. Military watches produced today are still held to this same high standard of production.
The American A-11 is widely referenced as the “watch that won the war”, enabling Allied forces to systematically drive back the German troops in Europe both in the air and on the ground with precision and accuracy.
For collectors, these types of watches are fairly common, and decent examples can typically be acquired online for around $500 to $1000 dollars. Just be weary of purchasing watches based on photographs only, many of these watches have had parts replaced on the field and may not be completely original.
The German B-Uhr
|Size:||47mm – 55mm|
|Date Produced:||1941 – 1946|
|Forces Supplied:||The German Luftwaffe|
|Manufacturers:||Laco, Stowa, IWC, ALS, Wempe||Buy Online:||Find Authentic Originals on Ebay
The B-Uhr (short for Beobachtungsuhr, or Observer) is another iconic military watch style that was supplied to German Luftwaffe during World War II.
Like the American-made A-11, the B-Uhr was manufactured by several cooperating German and Swiss companies, namely: IWC, ALS, Wempe, Lacher & Co (Laco), and Walter Storz (Stowa).
Available in two primary configurations (A and B), the B-dial features a shorter hour hand aligned with the inner circle of the dial and a unique triangular marker at 12. The B-Uhr was an essential tool for Luftwaffe navigators, and it’s functional design provides a historical reference for many modern pilot watches.
Regulated to the highest of chronometer standards, B-Uhr watches were precisely synchronized using radio signals from the German Naval Observatory. These tools had to be deadly accurate in order to successfully intercept targets on the field.
At 55mm, these were huge watches, but they served a purpose. Along with an extended double-riveted leather strap, the B-Uhr was designed to be worn over flight jackets, and it’s massive size provided the navigator with unambiguous legibility.
Additionally, mechanical movements were housed in anti-magnetic iron cages to prevent electrical interference from flight equipment and the oversized onion-shaped crowns allowed smooth operation while wearing flight gloves.
Although complicit in unimaginable human suffering, the B-Uhr design is one of the most important tool watch designs in watch history. If you can’t find an original vintage version of this watch, modern reproductions are plentiful, with some modern B-Uhrs still being produced by the companies who produced the originals (namely, Stowa and Laco).
The Japanese Seikosha “Kamikaze” Watch
|Date Produced:||1940 – 1945|
|Forces Supplied:||Japanese Air Force|
As part of the Axis forces, the Japanese played an important role in the resistance during WWII, culminating in the horrific destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the American-dropped atomic bombs in 1945.
Prior to the Japanese surrender in 1945, the Japanese Navy was famously known for using “Kamikazes” – suicidal pilots who crashed directly into U.S. battleships – a last ditch effort to slow down the powerful U.S. Navy advance.
This rare watch, the Seikosha “Kamikaze”, was on the wrist of these imperial pilots as they made their last descent.
The name of this watch may sound familiar, and that’s because Seikosha was a branch of the popular watch company Seiko that has produced watches and clocks for military and civilians since the 19th century.
Like the German B-Uhr, the oversized case and crown were designed to be worn over flight equipment and operated with thick leather gloves. This Japanese pilot watch does have a unique feature though: a turntable bezel, allowing for marking of elapsed time during missions.
Because of the nature of how these pieces were used, finding one in decent condition is rare. Not many were made and most of them were destroyed. Some museum quality pieces that were salvaged from wreckages do exist, but can fetch upwards of $20k at auction.
The British W.W.W.
|Size:||32 – 37 mm|
|Date Produced:||1940 – 1949|
|Forces Supplied:||The British Royal Airforce, The British Army|
|Manufacturers:||Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jeager-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor and Vertex|
|Buy Online:||Find Authentic Originals on Ebay|
Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939 after the famous Blitzkrieg invasion of Poland devastated Polish forces.
Needing a massive supply of wrist watches for it’s embarking armies, the United Kingdom developed a production standard called “W.W.W.” (Wrist. Watch. Waterproof).
With British watchmakers focused on building naval and aviation instruments, the British Ministry of Defense turned to neutral Swiss watchmakers to fulfill the massive need. In response to this request, a group of 12 companies collectively known as the “Dirty Dozen” all rallied to produce an implementation of the spec: Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jeager-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor and Vertex.
The specs may seem familiar by now: Waterproof, luminous hands, and chronometer grade movements, durable timepieces that can standup to the rigor of military life. Much like the A-11 and the B-Uhr, these were no-nonsense watches built for a very specific purposes and every soldier had one.
Unfortunately for collectors, many of these watches were destroyed in the early 70’s for fear of radioactive Radium-226, an element found in the luminescent material on the dials of these watches.
Hundreds of thousands of these watches were produced, but the Grana is by far the most elusive piece. With only 1000 actually produced, it’s often the missing link for those completionists looking to obtain all 12.
The Glashütte Chronograph
|Date Produced:||1940 – 1949|
|Forces Supplied:||The German Luftwaffe|
|Manufacturers:||Tutima Glashutte, Hanhart|
An often overlooked watch developed secretly in collaboration between the German government and Hanhart/Tutima, this Flyback Chronograph is one of the most historically important chronographs in all military history.
Used in aerial combat during the war, the German pilots were the only military combatants to have actual chronograph timing capabilities on their wrist, and the Flyback mechanism was an important technical achievement (and the first of it’s kind).
This piece has some serious tool watch specs: Antimagnetic and waterproof case, shatterproof domed acrylic crystal, rotating bezel, radioactive lume, and the famous Flyback chronograph mechanism, which allows you to reset the chronograph while its running.
After the war was over and Glashutte lay in ruin, Russian troops dismantled the manufacture and moved all equipment and parts to Moscow as part of reparations. Russian versions of this watch using the same Calibre 59 can be found from this post-war period, and can be highly collectible as well.
Modern reproductions: Hanhart Pioneer, Tutima Grand Flieger Classic Chronograph 6402
Today, military time-pieces have made quite a comeback. What was once only desired by hardcore military collectors can now be found at JCrew and purchased from “luxury” watch brands (for a premium, of course). As fans and collectors of tool watches, looking at historic military timepieces begins to connect the dots of the modern tool watch landscape.
Luckily, we can enjoy these watches today without risking our life and limb, while appreciating those that did for us.
Hi, I was wondering if there were other watches you left out or a more complete guide somewhere? What watches were the Russians or other European forces issued?
I did a bit of research there and couldn’t find much about Russian issued watches during WW2. My understanding is that there weren’t many, and they actually used some watches produced by Elgin, Hamilton, and other Swiss/American companies. Maybe somebody out there has some more information they could share with us…
The sale of Dueber-Hampden to Russia is well documented so, briefly, after the factory was moved and set up in the Soviet Union, watches began being produced. WWII watches were mostly “Kirovskies” having been made in the First Moscow Watch Factory (Kirov). Other factories contributed to the effort, but the name stuck.
I have dozens of the variants.
Go fishing through watchuseek.com or check out Phil’s amazing collection and photos at http://www.netgrafik.ch/russiantimes.htm
David, awesome info. This is exactly what I was looking for.
During the early days of the war,before the U.S. entered. There was scrap metal drives for the Soviet (red army)Lend lease, etc. There was also a drive to collect American watches for Russian gun crews. VERY VERY RARE.. I Have a Waltham that made the trip to Russia then back. It has a dedication on it for the Commander from his troops.. it’s a prized posession.
In mother Russia u tell the watch time
You might want to take a look at this one:
I have an identical one, which my dad obtained in Vienna after the war.
No idea what this sentence is supposed to mean. What do you mean when you say “the Japanese played an important role in the resistance during WWII”.
“As part of the Axis forces, the Japanese played an important role in the resistance during WWII, culminating in the horrific destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the American-dropped atomic bombs in 1945.”
I am looking to purchase a watch for my son for graduation. He is a history buff and studies history and german. I was thinking a WWll watch era watch -German . Not sure on what I’m supposed to be looking for in purchasing a watch so I thought maybe you could help me. Thank you
Hi Joy — are you trying to get an authentic vintage watch? Those can be quite expensive. I would suggest a modern German Flieger from Laco, Stowa, or Steinhart. Email me at mike@60clicks if you need more guidance.
Hello, I have received my fathers naval flight watch, registration cards, dog tags and the watch he wore when flying. The watch still works. Do you know who I could contact or who might be interested in this vintage WWII “stuff”?
Hi Polly – if you’re looking to sell the watch, you could certainly find buyers on eBay. You could also post a private listing on one of the many online watch communities (like Watchuseek). If you’re looking for information, there are many WW2 watch enthusiasts at MWR (military watch resource)
Let us know where you post!
Those sound like items that next deserve a good home.
Very confused. Where is the italian Panerai Radiomir Frogmen watch?
RAF – Pilots had also exellent Swiss made logarithmic chronograph Pontiac, and I have it — № 378561, 1940 year. Work, exact.
Please tell me anything about the Vollmond watch from ww2.
Thanking you in advance,
Hey Gloria, unfortunately I’m not familiar with that watch. Maybe a reader here can chime in.
I’m looking for info on the Honor brand watch. My grandfather was a Navy Pilot in the pacific. I found his watch in a trunk with various other items ( dress blues, flight manuals, tags, and papers that identify various target ships) the watch I can’t seem to find any info on.
Is this a watch with a black sub second dial? These were sold through AAFES during WW2 and were a sub brand of Helios. The movements were generally ETA 900. I am looking at one as I write which has a GAO ladder/bamboo type military strap. I am more of a Croton buff but Honors are far rarer!
I would really love to talk to you about those watches.
Any chance we can connect?
i have a longines www watch sometimes called the greenlander bought in 70s for 15 pounds in second hand shop found in a box of old watches just had serviced runs for 2 days with wind what are they worth now .
Steve, that is a great find. I can’t give you an official appraisal, but I have seen this model go consistently for $2k – $3k on the secondary market.
I am writing a feature for the UK magazine Armourer and Classic arms and militaria about RFC and RAF navigator’s watches. Would it be possible for me to use some of your excellent pictures with appropriate acknowledgements?
I would like to know more about a Langer Swiss made watch. Could this be an authentic from WW11 era.
The A-11 standard of accuracy seems a low one for mil-spec purposes, especially if it remains current today. My 1970s mid-price mechanical watch provided typical accuracy of 1 minute per month — the normal standard of its price range and 15-fold better than 1 minute per two days. The A-11 accuracy spec., and the base-metal case, may indicate that, in some matters of manufacture, and considering the wartime imperative to save materials and concentrate on larger matters, the watches using it were designed to be useful to the soldier but, as well, economical and easy to produce and not too disappointing to lose if damaged in battle. Some years ago I read of a naval flier in W.W. 2 who wore a Mido, so, perhaps, the service personnel were given some options — either officially or unofficially — as to timepieces they could use.
Mike I find it incomplete that you posted a pic of just the Bulova A-11 . Not really a guide.
This may be a bit late, but check out the Laco Dortmund.
It is a scaled down version of the the original Luftwaffe model, but 45 mm wide. In my oppinion the closest you get to the original, while still being practical for everyday use.
I bought one, and it is the coolest watch I’ve ever had.
Totally old school, but still it won a design prize in 2015. Not bad for a 1941 design.
Great atricle but this od wrong
– “Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939 after the famous Blitzkrieg invasion of Poland devastated Polish forces.” NOT “after” but it was 3rd September 1939. Invasion of Poland wasnt Blitzkrieg strategy. German used convetional strategy with artillery and infantry. Poland fighting only ONE week less than allied forces in 1940.
What about Soviet watches? I know that they had stolen watches from German soldiers but really they havent own watches?!
Did I miss the Waltham infantry watch?( Ord dept. 9 jewels) early war. Or was it just NOT COVERED?
I’m having trouble finding out info about a WW2 watch in my possession. It’s marked as 17 jewels, shockproof, antimagnetic and water resistant. It has the US Army Ord stamp on the back. It is Swiss made and has the name of “Lee” as the brand or make. It has a sweep second hand.
I’ve not been able to get beyond it’s likely out of the Ogival company in Suisse. It’s nothing spectacular but does keep great time.
Mike I have a watch that appears to be a Glashütte Chronograph. Would you look at a few pics and offer your opinion on the watch?
Sure, Doug. You can email me directly at email@example.com or use the contact form on the about page.
help need to info on a bulova type a-11 spec # 94-27834
I have a eterna www p4666 3112994 dirty dozen military wristwatch working nicely any info ? Thanx
Hello. I have a Longines military watch from the Second World War. The number 244 on the watch case matches the number on the back of the watch. Unfortunately, the W.W.W Letters are missing on the back lid. and the number of the military unit. Do not you please why? Everything is original. Did not these watch produce for civilian purposes? Thank you for the answer. Rác Pavel.
I also had a watch of the Czech Army and some of it was in the back with the inscription “Property of Military Administration” (Majetek vojenské správy) and some inscription was not. I do not know why.
I have a Wyler that my father wore in the Battle of the Bulge. It runs very fast, and needs repair, including a new mainspring. If I get it repaired, will that reduce it’s value? Maybe I don’t care, since a watch that doesn’t keep time is not a watch, but I am curious.
Kurt, repairing things like the mainspring shouldn’t affect the value of the watch. Most buyers are looking for a running example, so fixing it will actually increase its value. The only thing that may affect the value negatively would be over-polishing the case or replacing the dial/handsets with inauthentic parts. It depends on the buyer though, some people prefer a lot of “patina”, so even if you replaced the crystal it might just appeal to a different kind of buyer.
Did IWC make a watch for the Soviet Air Force?
Dear George, no any of my colleagues pilots, nor my grandfather who was a soldier during WWII, never told me about using IWC by our pilots during the war.
I have a Phenix Wasserdicht Stossgesichert, German Military Issue watch I believe issued in the 1940s that my Dad received as a gift from his Grandfather (German). My Dad wore it through two tours in Vietnam (USMC, 3rd Batallion, 3rd Marines, Purple Heart.) He just passed away in September and I would like to get the watch working. I don’t know the first place to begin. Or what needs to be done? I’m in Houston Texas. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
Hi everyone, I managed to get my hands on a 1941 panerai, and was told that it doesn’t have the logo on it because during the war, nazi officers wore them and panerai didn’t want to tarnish its name. Can anyone give me defails
Ciao, perchè non menzionate gli orologi russi?
This is an amazing over sized Japanese military pilots watch from WWII made by Seikosha now known as Seiko.
Regarding the A-11, the spec for the watch was to remove all company branding, however there are many A-11’s around with the Bulova logo with military markings on the caseback. Do you think these are post war surplus? Does anyone know if Bulova dials were used on the ground?
I\’m trying to find more information about a watch that would have been made between 1935-1945. On the front it says \”Mo Hoffmann\” in cursive and \”bale\” right below that. Then right below where the hands attached on the face it says Shock Absorber and Non Magnetic. On the back it says \”acier inoxydable 32 1\” meaning stainless I think. The face has the roman numerals III, VI, IX, and XII (and no other numbers). The dials appear to have radium. It was purchased/found during WWII in Germany or Russia. Does anyone have any idea the history of this watch?
very nice website
Thank You for the story, dear Mike. It was very interesting. By the way, hands of clocks still used in russian military aircraft (clocks “АЧС-1”) has design similar to hands of some watches, used by allied forces, You are wrighting about. Best wishes!
Have found in Japan a very nice Cyma Antimagnetique Chronograph Broad Arrow for RAF Observer!
Was bring back to a Japanese SNLF Officer stolen to a P.O.W. in 40.
Never seen one like these.
I have a Military WWII style waterproof swiss watch made by Crawford. Inside indicates it was made in france. Might this be a French Military watch? Thanks
Get your watches in India from watch valley which is the best portal for shopping online for first copy watches at lowest price in India
I enjoyed reading this piece. I was wondering if you have undertaken any research on the wrist watches that were issued to Australian soldiers in WW1 and WW2, and reproductions since then?
I own a 1943 RAF Omega. It’s a pilot’s watch. The seller said Spitfire Pilot. I can’t see how this could be known without provenance. Can the AM serial number be used to trace back to the original issue of the watch?
I have a longines inscribed with my grandfather’s name, reference to him being part of evac hospital 1945 Germany, hand is off and crown missing.
I was told most military issue (WW2) where not branded. The reasoning is they didn’t want much value attached to a timepiece by the enemies. I am confused though.
orient-mako-kamasuWith a dedication to traditional watchmaking and an innovative mentality that embraces new technology, design, and complications, Orient has a long and intriguing history.
The first US Army watches used were the 30-second-per-day accurate, 7-jewel 55-1B watch. The MIL-W-46374 specification, which emphasizes accuracy and endurance even in difficult circumstances, applies to the most recent watches that the military issues.
Hello. I have two watches, purchased at auction a number of years ago. I believe they’re from WWII.
If anyone could provide some information, I’d be very grateful. Both watches are NOS with original leather bands – appear to have never been used.
First watch: Vulcain 28-30mm(?) case. Subdial second hand. Offset face and crown (12 is where the 3 would normally be). Stamped on back: “ORD. DEPT U.S.A. OG-72154
Second watch: Elgin 28-30mm(?) case. Subdial second hand. Stamped on back: “ORD DEPT USA 302909