Overview of vintage military watches from each country

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Characteristics of military watches from each country

Military watches used during World War II

Why are military watches so appealing to so many people?

- Because you can feel the history of war that this watch has endured?

- Because you can sense the ingenuity that went into improving the durability and reliability of the watch?

A deep appreciation for military watches can give you a deeper understanding of the form, function and history of the modern wristwatches we wear every day.

In this article, we'll look at some of the most iconic military watches from WWII, the history of their use, and their influence on modern watches from both the Allied and Axis perspectives.

American made military watches

American made A-11
Dimensions: 32mm to 36mm
Year of manufacture: 1940-1949
Employed by: United States Army Air Forces, Royal Canadian Air Force, Soviet Air Force
Manufacturers: Elgin, Bulova, Waltham, Hamilton

U.S. Army training in Maryland during World War II

The Military Spec A-11 was one of the most widely used watches supplied to the Allied forces during World War II.

The A-11 itself is not a specific model name, but rather a manufacturing standard produced over a period of time by major American watch manufacturers.

Millions of watches manufactured by companies such as Elgin, Bulova and Waltham were supplied to the Allied air forces and armies at the outbreak of war.

Vintage Bulova A11 Military Watch

For soldiers, pilots, sailors, engineers and officers, the watch became not only a valuable possession but also an indispensable piece of equipment in the conduct of military operations.

Dustproof and waterproof housing, compatibility with a wide range of environmental temperatures, precision with an error rate of ±30 seconds per day, a power reserve of 30 to 56 hours, and a robust movement that makes all of this possible...

Military Spec A-11 sets rigorous standards for these watches to withstand the harsh conditions of the battlefield.

Military watches produced today are also made to this same high manufacturing standard.

The A-11 is known as "the watch that won the war" because of its contribution to the Allied forces' organized defeat of the German army through precise and accurate operations.

For collectors, these types of watches are widely available, with typical online prices ranging from about $1,000 to $2,800.

Modern homage products (reprints)

Longines Heritage 1928

Bulova 96B229

Victorinox Infantry Mechanical

Elgin A11 Joseph Bogue

Made in America Elgin A11

WWII Military Hamilton 2987 18J USMC Navy Aviator Hack Watch

Bulova A11 Movement

Marines in World War II

American soldiers marching onto Omaha Beach

American soldiers receiving ration supplies at Camp Final

African-American fighter pilots of World War II

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German military watches

German made B-Uhr
Dimensions: 47mm - 55mm
Year of manufacture: 1941-1946
Military Employment: German Air Force
Manufacturers: Laco, Stowa, IWC, ALS, Wempe

German Air Force fighter FW 190A-3 in June 1942

B-Uhr (short for Beobachtungsuhr)
The Observer Watch (meaning "observer watch") is another classic military watch, supplied to the German Air Force during World War II.

Like the American-made A-11, the B-Uhr was produced by German and Swiss subcontractors including IWC, ALS, Wempe, Lacher & Co. (Laco), and Walter Storz (Storwa).

Available in two configurations, A and B, the B dial is characterised by short hour hands lined up along its inner edge and a distinctive triangle at the 12 o'clock position.

The B-Uhr was an essential item for German Air Force navigators, and its functional design is still used in many pilot watches today.

German made vintage B-UHR Observer watch with B dial

The watch above has a B dial.

The B-Uhr was built to the highest chronometric standards and was precisely synchronized to radio signals from the German Naval Observatory to ensure precise attack on targets on the battlefield.

The B-Uhr was designed to be worn on a double-riveted leather strap over a flight jacket, and its dial was intentionally designed to be large at 55mm to improve visibility for the navigator.

Other features include an anti-magnetic steel housing that protects against electrical interference from flight equipment, and an oversized onion-shaped crown that can be operated even while wearing flight gloves.

Although it contributed to an inhumane act, the B-Uhr design is one of the most important in the history of watches.

While it's difficult to find a vintage version of this watch that was in use at the time, there are many modern reproductions produced, including originals from brands like Stowa and Laco.

Modern homage products (reprints)

Stowa Fliegel Classic 40 Baumster B EUR 781.51

Khaki King Pilot USD 399.99

Laco Gregelyu Type B

Steinhardt Nav-B Vintage USD 560.00

Modernity Laco B-Uhr

German Vintage Stiril A Dial

Vintage German B-Uhr Observer Watch

Modern Steinhardt B-Uhr Fliegel 47mm

SS soldier putting on a B-Uhr and compass over his flight jacket

German Dornier Do 17Z light bombers flying over France

SS soldier Hans Tragalski

German armored tanks crossing the Aisne River

Japanese military watch

Made in Japan by Seikosha
"Kamikaze" Watches
Dimensions: 48.5mm
Year of manufacture: 1940-1945
Military Employment: Imperial Japanese Air Force
Manufacturer: Seikosha (SEIKO)

Japanese kamikaze pilots preparing for final takeoff

As part of the Axis powers in World War II, Japan played a key role in the resistance until American forces dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Prior to their surrender in 1945, the Japanese Navy was known for using "kamikaze" tactics, direct suicide attacks on American battleships.

Seikosha's rare "Kamikaze" watch was worn by an Imperial pilot on his final flight.

Seikosha Kamikaze Pilot Watch

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the name Seikosha.

Seikosha was a branch of Seiko that manufactured watches for the military and civilian use in the 19th century.

Like the German-made B-Uhr, it had an oversized case and crown designed to be worn over flight equipment and operated with thick leather gloves.

This Japanese-made pilot's watch also featured a turntable bezel that allowed the pilot to check the elapsed time during a mission.

Due to the nature of their use, they are rarely found in decent condition.

Production was low and most of it was destroyed.

A few exhibit-quality pieces have been recovered from the wreckage of the aircraft, but these rarely appear on the market.

Seikosha Naval Aviator Watch Olive NATO Belt

Seikosha Naval Aviator Watch Brown Leather Strap

Ueno, Hayashi, Okagami, Ooi, Yoshitake


British military watches

Made in England WWW
Dimensions: 32mm to 37mm
Year of manufacture: 1940-1949
Employed by: Royal Air Force, British Army
Manufacturers: Buren, Cima, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor, Vertex

British soldiers and Sherman tanks

Following the invasion of Poland known as the Blitzkrieg, Britain declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939.

As the war began, Britain needed to produce a large number of watches for its military, so they developed a production standard called "WWW" (Wrist. Watch. Waterproof).

In order to allow British watchmakers to focus on the production of naval and aviation equipment, the British Ministry of Defence commissioned a large-scale production order from a neutral Swiss watchmaker.

Twelve companies responded to the call to implement this specification: collectively known as the "Dirty Dozen": Büren, Cima, Eterna, Grana, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lemania, Longines, IWC, Omega, Record, Timor and Vertex.

The British-made WWW watch, the most sought-after after the war, was the Longines W.W.W. Pilot's Watch.

Waterproofing, luminous hands, chronometer-level movement, durability for use in a military environment...all of these are familiar specifications by now.

Like the A-11 and B-Uhr, this purpose-built, rugged watch was issued to every soldier.

Unfortunately for collectors, many of these watches were destroyed in the early '70s due to the danger of the dial's luminescent material containing radioactive radium-226.

Of the hundreds of thousands of these watches produced, the Grana is by far the rarest.

Only 1,000 were actually produced, making this a challenge for collectors looking to complete their collection of all 12 varieties.

For more information about the history of the Dirty Dozen and the watch itself, please see this article .

Jaeger-LeCoultre W.W.W. Watch

Longines W.W.W. Watch Greenlander

OMEGA W.W.W. Watch

Lemania W.W.W. Watch

British soldiers with 3-inch mortar

Bristol Blenheim Mk.2 bomber

Buren W.W.W. Watch

British Caribbean Air Forces during World War II

The Glashütte Chronograph

Glashütte Chronograph
Dimensions: 39mm
Year of manufacture: 1940-1949
Military Employment: German Air Force
Manufacturer: Tutima Glashütte, Hanhart
Glashütte Tutima Flieger Chronograph

Urofa Caliber 59 (Flyback Chronograph)

Developed in secret with the German government and Hanhart Tutima, this often overlooked flyback chronograph is one of the most important chronographs in military history.

German pilots were the only combatants to wear chronographs in aerial combat.

The chronograph on his wrist was equipped with a world-first flyback mechanism, a major technological advancement.

This tool watch houses many important features, including an anti-magnetic and waterproof housing, a domed, shatter-resistant acrylic crystal, a rotating bezel, radioactive luminescence, and a famous flyback chronograph mechanism that can be reset while it is running.

After the war, the Russians dismantled the Glashütte manufacturing plant and moved the production machinery and parts to Moscow as part of their reparations.

Russian-made watches using caliber 59 from that time are also coveted by collectors.
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Looking at historical military watches from a fan or collector's perspective can help you see the background that led to modern tool watches.

Thanks to those who once fought to protect us, we can enjoy this watch today without risking life and limb.