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Military Watches and Clocks of the German Forces

by Konrad Knirim (Germany) 'NAWCC Bulletin' Dec. 1996

Editor's Note: This is a revised version of the first of a three-part article which first appeared in the newsletter for Chapter #143, the Society of Military Horologists.

The Time of the German Emperors, World War I and the Weimar Republik

Before 1918, there were outstanding timepieces which the German Navy used for navigation purposes. To that category belong ship chronometers of Hamburg (Brocking, Ruediger Nieberg), Altona (Kessels), Luebeck (Carl Stein), Bremerhaven (W.G. Ehrlich), Nienburg (J. May) and Berlin (F.L. Loebner) and certainly of Glashuette (DUS, Lange) in Saxony, to mention a few. For the Bureau of Ships, the Deutsche Seewarte of the Kaiserliche Marine, there were established reference clocks like the regulator clock by Strasser and Rohde, Paul Stuebner and, of course, Lange & Soehne of Glashuette.

The Imperial Navy
In 1880 the German Imperial Navy ordered wristwatches by Girard-Perregaux of La Chaux de Fonds in Switzerland. There were pocket navigation watches, with 'M' (for Marine and the crown) and the four-digit navy registration number were engraved on the back of the silver case. I have seen some of this kind by Assmann, Lange & Soehne, and IWC.

The name Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy) was introduced with the political aim of enlarging the German Navy, an effort begun by Kaiser Wilhelm in 1878 as a part of the challenge to Great Britain. A curiosity in some respects is the little torpedo-boat chronometer by Lange & Soehne of Glashuette, gimbeled in a mahogany box for the Austrian Kriegsmarine. Sixty chronometers were made, of which 20 were offered for sale to the public.

I have in my private collection a very nice ships wall clock of A. Schuchmann Wilhelmshaven with the same design of the black enameled brass case like the later clocks of the Kriegsmarine of the Third Reich. The movement is by Gustav Becker of Silesia. This clock is signed on the dial with the insignia of the Emperor's Navy, the crown over the 'M' and numbered.

The first Military Aircrafts and Airships
The first military airplanes had cockpit watches, which were like pocket watches, which hung on the instrument panel with the winding knob downward and the second hand at the 12. They were marked 'Eigentum der Fliegertruppen', which means 'property of the flying troops' and 'P.u.W.' with a propeller with wings on the back of the case. There is a story about the iron cases for watches: At the time of WWI, the German war industry needed gold and silver for military production purposes, so there was a campaign to exchange gold cases for iron cases. These were sometimes signed 'Gold gab ich fuer Eisen', which means, in a double sense, 'I gave gold for iron, i.e., weapons'. The aircraft watches had nickel or iron cases and are often not in good condition today. They were sold by the watch reseller W. Kreis in Berlin, as was indicated on the enameled dial. W. Kreis later became the owner of the famous manufacturer of regulators, Strasser and Rohde of Glashuette.

Imperial Army
I don't know if the army ordered watches officially. I did not find any markings and engravings, but I saw unofficial pocket watches with military engravings such as 'Dem besten Entfernungsschaetzer', which means: For the best distance guesser, or 'Wir Deutschen fuerchten Gott und sonst nichts auf der Welt' meaning: 'We Germans are afraid of God and nothing else of the World', or 'Weihnachten 1916 im Felde' translating to: 'Christmas 1916 in the battle fields'. Some have a picture of the Emperor Wilhelm II. There there were wristwatches for the German troops, such as the so-called 'Schuetzengraben Uhren' with a shield over the glass, can be seen in advertisements of watch manufacturers. For instance, there were brands like 'Mars' (the Roman god of war), or fantasy names like 'Bellum', the Latin word for war.

The Reichswehr and Reichsmarine of the Weimar Republik 1919 to 1933

I do know of some military watches of the 'Hundred Thousand Man Army' of the Weimar Republic after WWI, which was the only army allowed by the 'Versailles Treaty'. There are pocket watches and artillery chronographs with the eagle and M on the back. This eagle is different from the Imperial and the later of the Nazis but similar to that of the Federal Republic today. In the 1920s and 30s there were a plentiful number of pilot's wristwatches, mostly with chromed or nickel cases, with broad clips for the strap and screwed or angled back. I know some items with unknown or fantasy brands, but most were known Swiss manufacturers like Omega, Longines, Zenith, Titus, Helvetia. There was such a wristwatch of IWC in steel (Cal. 83) but also pieces with the IWC movement of ladies pocket watches.

For the Reichswehr even any airplane was allowed, so there were official motorless trainings and secret activities in Sweden and the Soviet Union. In the later 1930s, the Air Force gave watches like these to the pilots (e.g., Zenith). In the same design there were even wrist chronographs by Breitling (Cal. Venus 711 AL) and Heuer (Cal. Valjoux 22).

The Third Reich and the Wehrmacht of the National-Socialist Regime

Consequently and in a broad sense, watches and clocks for military purposes were specified and ordered by the Wehrmacht of the Nazi government:

The best overview on the watches and clocks of the Kriegsmarine is given in the "Dienstanweisung," or instruction manual Nr. 2456, of January 1945.


1) Chronometric instruments
a. Sea Chronometer
b. Navigation Chronometer
c. Navigation Watches l.Class
d. NavigationWatches 2. Class
2) Short Time Meters
e. Stop Watches
f. Stop Watches
g. Artillery Investigation
Watches with Stop Hand
3) Special Time Pieces for the Navy
h. Submarine Hunting Watches
i. Inspection Watches
4) Watches and Clocks for
General Purpose
k. Big Ships Wall Clocks
1. Small Ships Wall Clocks
m. Wristwatches for the general Service
(The special timepieces for the torpedo test centers are not mentioned here.)

This list is of great value for the collector who wishes to complete his or her collection. I think it is astonishing the number of timepieces of each kind which were budgeted for every type of ship. Many of the watches and clocks came from the little town of Glashuette in the mountainous area of the Erzgebirge near Dresden in Saxony. This is the home of the famous pocket watch and chronometer firm of Lange & Soehne, as well as other firms like Assmann. I have seen a navigation pocket watch by Assmann with the eagle of the Kriegsmarine.

The German Bureau of Ships in Hamburg tested chronometers in Gesundbrunnen near Glashuette, far away from the coast. Many timepieces for the Navy were manufactured on the coast, e.g., the best known is "Chronometerwerke Hamburg," later owned by Wempe. In some cases they used movements by Glashuette, like those of the "eGmbH," a.s.o. Later, during World War II, chronometer production was contracted to the "Einheits-Chronometer" and built as well by Wempe and by Lange & Soehne. As they could not produce a sufficient number of chronometer movements, they reconstructed the pocket watch caliber 48 in a gimbeled chronometer box, the well-known Lange-B-Chronometer.

Beside German-made items, there were many of Swiss origin, made like the very nice chronometer by Ulysse Nardin, or the navigation watches of IWC, Ulysse Nardin and Vacheron & Constantin. As well, there were German manufacturers, especially in the Black Forest, completing navigation watches with Swiss movements, such as Stowa (cal. Unitas). Lacher & Co. took the movement of Durowe (Deutsche Uhren-Rohwerke of Pforzheim) and Alpina had Minerva chronograph movements.

The Navy used some special watches for particular purposes, such as locating submarines with water bombs. The stopwatch used for this purpose has special scales to measure sea miles and depth of water.

For normal use, there were more simple wrist and pocket watches of German and Swiss origin, (Alpina, Berg, Zentra, Cortebert, Solvil...) marked "KM" on the dial. The Navy artillery used pocket chronographs with the "KM" for "Kriegsmarine" on the dial (Hanhart).

Watches for Combat Divers
A delight for the collector are the wristwatches for the combat swimmers, the 'KampfschwimmerUhren'. As late as 1944, when the battleship Tirpitz was damaged by British minisubmarines, the Kriegsmarine founded the K-Verband, the command for small combat equipment for the Navy, e.g., for combat swimmers and manned torpedos. The command was located in Heiligenhafen at the Baltic sea.

The German intelligence service (Abwehr im Reichs-Sicherheits-Hauptamt) had close connections to the Italian services of the Reggia Marina since 1942. By this connection, the German combat group got equipment such as the Rolex Kampf-Schwimmer-watches, mostly unmarked, but engraved by the men themselves. German combat swimmers were active in the last days of the war, in rivers like the Rhine, destroying bridges occupied by the Allied Forces. An example is the bridge of Nymwegen. These activities were very secret with no official declaration.

Reichs-Luftwaffe 'Imperial Air Force'
The Imperial Air Ministry (RLM) was founded by Hermann Goering who was in control of it. In this way it was not influenced by the more conservative war ministry, which was not loyal to the Nazi leaders, but whose Generals held with the Prussian tradition of loyalty to the state and not to a person. The air ministry demanded the development of aircraft clocks partly with chronograph functions, big pilot navigation wristwatches (55mm diameter) with pocket watch movements and a central second hand, as well as pilot chronographs. The first navigation wristwatches (B-Uhren) experimented with the central second by derivation of pocket chronograh movements (Valjoux 61 or Longines). These were marked 'RLM' with the number on the bottom. These early watches had a push button for the positioning of hands. There were single pieces with grade angle dial (Lange) or even rare examples of Patek Philippe or Vacheron & Constantin. The latter serial types had two different dials: normal hour hands and minute hands, or a small hour dial and a big minute dial. They were classified with 'FL 23883'. The FL stands for flight and the first two digits, 22, for flight control; 23 stands for navigation and 25 for radio surveillance. The equipment number was 127-560B (or A).

The navigation wristwatches from IWC, Lange & Soehne, Wempe, Walter Storz (Stowa) and Lacher & Co (Laco) were and are still horological specialties. They were regulated as navigation chronometers and tested, piece-by-piece, by the chronometer department in Gesundbrunnen near Glashuette. The aircraft navigators wore these watches with long leather straps above the sleeve.

At times, an extraordinary item of this kind of Lange navigation wristwatch will be seen at auctions. The dial is marked with 'W-SS" and the minutes are printed in mirror reverse characters. Herrman Goering is said to have had one of his own.

This may be the place to give some historical background information: Hitler distrusted the conservative officers corps of the Wehrmacht, but he knew that he needed them as professionals for his war plans. He ended the influence of the SA, the organization of about 1 million paramilitary members, by killing their chief officers in 1934. On the other hand, he supported his longtime party comrade Goring in building up the Air Force with a separate ministry, not connected to the traditional military staff.

Similar to the Navy, the Air Force had a manual for the description, the use and the maintenance of their watches and clocks: L.Dv.253 of 1939:


  • Surface chronometer (Boden-Chronometer) are timekeeping "mother" clocks or reference clocks of the several surface organizations.
  • Navigation watches (B-Uhren) are navigation wrist watches for astronomical navigation.
  • Board clocks (Bord-Uhren) show the time of day and the marking of distinct points (e.g., start time). Description: BoUk 1 or II.
  • Blind Flight Clocks (Blindflug-Uhren) are used for precise time to the second. Description: BoUk 2-1 and 3.
  • Watches to transmit the time (Zeituebertragungs-Uhren) are used to transmit the exact time from a mother clock to the instrument clocks of the air crafts.
  • Stopwatches (Stopp-Uhren) are short time meters for the bombing equipment.
  • Foto series watches (ReihenbildUhren) are for the registration and measuring of observation times of films in photo equipment.



    Within the category of aircraft clocks, there were two types of board clocks: 1) 8-day movement, turning bezel, and 2) the blindflight clocks-chronographs for short-time measuring (second and 15- or 30-minute dial). Both types had the 4-hole screw mounting plate. But there were as well 3-hole, bayonet and screw-in mounts for the instrument panel. The 8-day clocks were mostly for bombing or long distance planes or transportation planes like the JU 52, JU 88 or HE 111. The chronographs were used in hunters like the ME 109/110.

    The well-known wrist chronographs of 'Tutima Glashuette' and the 'Hanhart' are not mentioned, though they were officially constructed and ordered for the pilots of hunters and especially the 'Stuka', which meant air-surface combat fighters. I never found an example with an 'Fl'. But I saw a picture of one with the Navy eagle. This chronograph had the flyback function, which means that the chronograph could be readjusted to zero in operation, and was, for a long time, the standard of the Bundesluftwaffe and the French Air Force.

    I become enthusiastic each time I see a Tutima chronograph with its construction of the movement (Breguet coil). There are early pieces with gold-plated movements; later, these were silvered and shock resistant. From Hanhart of Schwenningen in the Black Forest, there are different types of chronographs: one or two push buttons each, with and without turnmg bezel. The movement with one button is the same as in the pocket chronograph of the Naval artillery. The cases are nickeled brass. The steel cases came later in the 1950s. I found two examples in Eastern Germany, which were used first by the Air Force, later by the Kasernierte Volks-Polizei of the ministry of internal affairs (Mdl) of the Soviet Occupied Zone and later by the NVA of the GDR. Those pieces are very rare because they were destroyed after extensive use. I got them from an officer of the NVA who used them himself in the observation stand.

    The manufacturers of the timepieces for the Air Force, such as navigation wristwatches, chronographs, instrument clocks and message-center clocks were situated in Glashuette (Lange, Tutima) and in the Black Forest (Hanhart, Kienzle, Junghans, Laco, Stowa), as well as in Switzerland. The German producers had factories and suppliers in other parts of the country and even in occupied Bohemia.

    Lange & Soehne could not deliver the necessary amount of watches that were needed, so they brought the raw movements and cases to other watchmakers for mounting and regulating: Huber in Munich, Felsing in Berlin, Schiron in Stuttgart, Schaetzle und Tschudin in Pforzheim or Wempe in Hamburg. Wempe and Storz did buy movements for their navigation wrist and pocket watches in Switzerland (Thommen and Unitas).

    After the war, the Black Forest was part of the French Occupation Zone, so Hanhart in Schwenningen continued to produce the chronographs under the brand Vixa for the French forces.

    Deutsches Heer (The German Army)
    The German Army had special pocket and wristwatches for their officers and special functions. These were manufactured according to given specifications by many German and Swiss producers and retailers (Titus, Aipina, Mulco, Silvana, Minerva, Record, Arsa, Bueren, Zenith, Longines a.s.o.). The pocket as well as the wristwatch had screwed backs and were shock resistant. The dial was black with a small second hand with radium digits and hands. The back was marked "D.H." (Deutsches Heer), with the case number. The watches were partly deployed and written into the soldier's book, and also sold to army staff.

    The Army and Navy artillery used pocket chronographs and stopwatches for measuring the distance of enemy cannons by measuring the time between the 'lightening', the light from the firing (velocity of light) and the 'thunder' (velocity of sound). In addition to these watches, the Army used message center clocks (Stationsuhren) from the manufacturer Kienzle. These clocks were mounted in wooden cases. I have two Army-type items in good condition in unpainted wood, used, as the seller told me, in the '0KW' (the main military headquarters), and the other in the Army Officers School in Dresden. During the war, the wooden case was painted in the general grey army colors.

    The information above is a good representation of my experiences when I was looking for items through newspaper ads, especially from Eastern Germany. I was privileged to go to the homes of some older citizens and hear their personal stories of the war years. I am happy that these people trusted me to talk to them and to show me their war-time clocks and watches.

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