Watches Worn By Pilots Of The D-Day Squadron

Watches Worn By Pilots Of The D-Day Squadron

Crossing The Atlantic In A DC-3 To Commemorate The 80th Anniversary Of Operation Overlord 

Watches intended for pilots represent one of the most compelling categories in the arena of tool watches, only matched in enthusiast appeal by watches designed for diving. Pilots are, for lack of a better term, cool. And in the realm of flying, it’s difficult to imagine a cooler undertaking than piloting 1940s aircraft over the Atlantic to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day. This is the mission of the D-Day Squadron, an intrepid group of enthusiasts, crew, and commercial and general aviation pilots tasked with flying vintage Douglas C-47s and DC-3s back to Normandy where they changed the course of history eight decades ago.

dc-3 us air force d-day c-47

As we have often described, pilots have a close relationship with timepieces, and in this Dispatch we’ll take a closer look at the watches these pilots wore while hand-wheeling 80-year-old aircraft across the Atlantic, battling arctic cold with no autopilot and only marginal heating systems. Despite the desperate need for sponsorship dollars to keep these vintage aircraft in operational condition, no watch brand jumped at the opportunity in this case, meaning the watches were a direct result of the preferences, personal choices, and stories of the pilots. As a professional photographer and amateur watch enthusiast, I was honored by the opportunity to ride along and document the journey, the watches, and more importantly, the stories behind them. 

To the readers of W.O.E., it may not come as a surprise that the most common brand on the wrists of these pilots was Breitling. No matter how you slice it, flying 80-plus-year-old radial-engined airplanes across the Atlantic is sketchy—the good kind of sketchy. That said, smartwatches were also a common sight, and many pilots had opted not to wear a watch at all, but we’re not here to talk about them. 

Breitling Emergency

breitling emergency orange d-day pilots 80th anniversary dc-3 c-47 omaha beach

One of the pilots on C-47 Placid Lassie wore an orange-dialed Breitling Emergency with the brand’s Co-Pilot module, essentially a miniature digital watch integrated into the bracelet and capable of tracking UTC and flight time while also providing another chronograph. Pilots love redundancies. Frequently flying older aircraft, the pilot appreciated the utility of the Emergency, knowing that, as long as he could activate the watch’s signal in the event of a crash, his body would be found and returned to his family. His Emergency was one of the first sold in the US, something the pilot was proud of, representing his 20-year connection to Breitling that all started with a B1. 

Hamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer

hamilton khaki pilot pioneer pilots watch d-day c-47 dc-3

The youngest pilot on the crossing was flying with his father, the D-Day Squadron chief pilot. The son wore a newly acquired watch, a Hamilton Khaki Aviation Pilot Pioneer he picked up because he was tired of changing the batteries on his former quartz Timex. After initially deciding against what was for him an expensive mechanical watch, the young pilot ultimately decided to pull the trigger to commemorate a series of events: getting his type rating as a C-47 co-pilot, his first solo flight in a Twin Beach, and of course, the transatlantic crossing side-by-side with his father for D-Day 80.

Omega Speedmaster

omega speedmaster pilots watch nasa moon watch vintage d-day

Another pilot onboard D-Day veteran Placid Lassie was wearing an Omega Speedmaster he plans to give to his son one day. After losing a watch in the gym, he spent an entire year deciding which watch to get as a replacement. When his son was born, he decided it was time for something significant: “I like to buy one nice thing and keep that.” Influenced by the Speedy’s history in rally racing, the watch’s celebrated role in the Apollo missions, and its broader significance in aviation, he selected the Omega Speedmaster, purchasing a brand new example with the goal of adding his own patina over the years before gifting the watch to his son. The veteran pilot said he wears the watch for literally everything he does, including all of his travels, flying airplanes old and new (Douglas C-47s, Boeing 737s, and the North American T-6, a WWII Trainer), swimming in the ocean, sailing, and more. With only one service to date, he said the watch gets excellent marks for reliability. Before parting, he mentioned, “I’d love to have a Rolex, but I don’t know if it is for me.”

Timex Expedition Chronograph 

timex expedition chronograph d-day squadron pilots 80th anniversary

The loadmaster for C-47 Placid Lassie wore a simple Timex Chronograph. He admitted to not knowing too much about watches but picked this one because of its military look and the way the olive-drab color scheme matched the aircraft he helps care for. 

Breitling Aviator 8 Curtiss Warhawk P-40 & Other Assorted Breitling Models 

douglas a-26 invader million airess breitling aviator 8 curtiss

Purchased only three weeks before the crossing, the Douglas A-26 Invader Million Airess was late to the party, bringing with it the highest concentration of interesting watches I experienced during the trip. An owner of many luxury watches, he chose his most meaningful for the flight, a serial number 3 Breitling Aviator 8 Curtiss Warhawk P-40 that was also the first example sold in the United States. The watch commemorated a friend, the late Ollie Crawford who flew Curtiss P-40s during the war. A longtime friend of the brand, Crawford, who passed in 2019, was prominently featured in Breitling marketing over the years. 

breitling emergency colt skyracer aviator 8 curtiss chronograph chronomat

The pilot and owner described himself as a bit of a Breitling fan, even going as far as securing watches for the entire crew to wear for the historic flight including a modern Avenger, a Colt Skyracer, and two iterations of the Emergency. As previously mentioned, the Emergency models take on an even more significant role on a transatlantic flight done the old-school way. 

Vaer C5 Tactical Field Solar 

vaer pvd black tactical field watch solar quartz c5

When asked about his all-black field watch, a Spirit of Douglas co-pilot said he simply wanted a dependable watch requiring no maintenance, eventually selecting an inexpensive solar-charging Vaer C5 for the crossing. After some prying, he also shared the story of his most meaningful watch, a 1975 Omega Speedmaster gifted to him by his grandfather after completing flight training. Remaining the source of great meaning many years later, the old Speedy served as a sign of approval after his grandfather initially criticized his decision to become a pilot. For fear of damaging such a significant family heirloom, he elected not to bring the Speedmaster along for the transatlantic journey. 

Breitling Navitimer 

Breitling Navitimer b01 41mm 2024 pilots chronograph d-day

One of the watches most concretely linked to aviation, it was no surprise to see a Breitling Navitimer on the wrist of one of the pilots of the UK-based C-47 Drag-em-oot. Also the owner of one of the Navitimers that went around the world onboard a DC-3 for a publicity stunt some years back, this is one he typically wears, making it the watch on his wrist for this historic event. 

Praesidus C-47 D-Day 

d-day veterans omaha beach praesidus watches c-47 doors

Another watch story from the trip that is worth telling but unrelated to the aircraft crossing is that of the Praesidus C-47 D-Day, a field watch with a dial made from the doors of a vintage C-47 present on D-Day. The watches were gifted to D-Day veterans present for the 80th-anniversary ceremony. The veterans seemed to appreciate them.

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About the Author: René is an aviation photographer and writer from Germany focusing on vintage aircraft and warbirds. He has followed the W.O.E. blog from the very beginning with a keen interest in tool watches. All photos are credited to @romeolimaphoto

1 comment

I’ve had my Omega Speedy Pro for 28 years…still going strong. Paid $1600 (!) from an AD in 1996.

I don’t swim with it…

Sean Mitchell

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