79 years ago the most important Allied coordinated effort of WWII took place. These watches kept soldiers on time.
On Tuesday June 6th, 1944 the largest seaborne invasion in history occurred. Nearly 160,000 allied troops managed to change the course of WWII by storming the beaches of Normandy and setting off the liberation of France from the Nazis, and later, a victory. The invasion began at 6:30am, when soldiers started storming five beaches–Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword, Juno. Approximately 11,000 aircraft and 7,000 watercraft supported the invasion. Shortly before the landing, under the cover of darkness, Paratroopers, including commandos from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), were inserted into strategic spots inland in order to weaken the German defense network and provide a strategic advantage to the soldiers arriving by amphibious craft.
Operation Overlord, June 6, 1944
Today marks the 79th anniversary of the day this incredible effort took place. Roughly 73,000 Allied soldiers were lost over the course of the invasion.
“D-Day” as its known, typically refers to these Normandy landings, but in the larger military context, it refers to the exact time a combat action takes place. D-Day and H-Hour refer to the day an hour a coordinated effort is initiated. “D-Day”, in the case of the Normandy Invasion, was actually set for June 5th, but General Eisenhower made the choice to delay the attack due to rough seas and inclement weather.
General Eisenhower reportedly wore a Heuer Chronograph, as identified by @niccoloy (Government Archives)
In war, time matters. A massive concerted effort between Allied nations meant every single soldier had to be on time and operating in unison. The tool that helped orchestrate an invasion that shifted the outcome of the war? The humble wristwatch. In the 1940s, watches were hardly considered as the luxury accessories they are today. Soldiers wore watches that were issued to them as a part of the set of tools needed to do a very important job.
Photo Credit: Vertex Watches
History buffs, WWII enthusiasts, and even re-enactors pay incredible attention to details surrounding WWII, but somehow one of the most important pieces of kit–the watch–is often overlooked. At W.O.E. we care about nothing but details, so today, on the anniversary of D-Day, we’ll take a look at some of the watches that were on the wrists of soldiers, sailors, and airmen that were involved in the invasion.
The A-11 (produced by Bulova, Elgin, Waltham and others)
Personal collection of former CIA Officer and W.O.E. contributor, J.R. Seeger.
Commonly referred to as “the watch that won the war”, the A-11 was the most ubiquitous service watch during WWII. It’s a specification, rather than an actual watch, and that meant that various companies could produce watches to this spec and in turn, the government would purchase these watches and distribute them to service personnel. For its time, the specification set was exacting, the watch needed a black dial with white numerical indices, a manual-winding, hacking movement with center seconds, 10 minute markers, an hour and minute hand. The case came in at a compact 32 millimeters. The watches saw service with the Brits as well as the Americans.
The Army Ordnance Watch
Army Time Piece (ATP) watch of the UK forces and the US Army Ordnance (ORD) on original OSS manual (Seeger’s personal collection)
While the A-11 was rated for aviation operations (and specific maritime operations), the “ORD” watches were general-purpose watches issued to US soldiers en masse. The specification outlined in the TM 9-1575 War Department Technical Manual for Wrist Watches, Pocket Watches, Stop Watches allows for some variation in design, so Waltham, Hamilton, Bulova and Elgin all put their own twist on these watches meant to be mass produced for soldiers. These watches are distinguished by their white dials and “Ord Dept” engravings on the caseback.
The “Dirty Dozen” MoD Watches
The Dirty Dozen - all twelve W.W.W. watches (Credit: A Collected Man)
Most popular among collectors is a series of 12 watches produced by the likes of Buren, Cyma, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor, and Vertex. On all of these British-issued watches you’ll find W.W.W. (Watch, Wrist, Waterproof) and a broadarrow insignia engraved in the back. It’s unknown how many of each were produced because it’s believed that only WC, JLC, and Omega recorded their production at 6,000, 10,000, and 25,000 respectively. The Dirty Dozen were general service watches, and that meant they saw service with various service roles across all functions of the military. While these pieces were not delivered until after D-Day at the conclusion of the war, they are a product of this conflict.
IWC Dirty Dozen piece with original box (Credit: A Collected Man)
We tend to romanticize the equipment used by service members carrying out brave efforts that changed the course of world history. Watches are certainly among the kind of things we tend to prescribe a certain importance to–and that’s not to be ignored, timekeeping is absolutely vital especially when it comes to a massive coordination such as Operation Overlord. But watches only supported the mission as a piece of gear with an assigned function. They were, and always will be, tools to get the job done. Today we honor and remember the valiant efforts of Allied service members 79 years ago to this day, and the actions taken by them that resulted in a free world that flourishes.
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