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History - 6 June 1944: the watch landings

History 6 June 1944: the watch landings

75 years ago they landed on the Normandy beaches and set Europe back on the road to victory. Today, WorldTempus celebrates the watches that played a part in the D-Day Landings of 6 June 1944.

Barely one generation separates the troops who fought in the First World War, the first who might have worn watches, from their brothers in arms who left their blood on the beaches of Normandy. Not quite one generation: that was all it took for the wristwatch to become commonplace, largely supplanting pocket watches. But it was not enough to achieve any significant progress in terms of precision, water-resistance or reliability. Technically speaking, the watches of 1944 were no longer the same as those of 1918, but nor were they very different. 

For Operation Neptune (the Normandy landings) and Operation Overlord (the Battle of Normandy as a whole), precision was paramount. A huge coordination effort was required to manage the several thousand ships crossing the Channel, the American and British air raids of the night before, the preparatory bombing raids and the D-Day landings themselves. 

Military precision

There is no doubt that the ability to synchronise these activities was vitally important. But synchronisation would have had very little to do with the men and their wristwatches; it was all down to the commanding officers, whose ships and planes were equipped with onboard chronometers. This is the field where Ulysse Nardin reigned supreme for almost 70 years. The US Navy began using Ulysse Nardin chronometers in 1919, and relied upon them again in 1944, when they were installed on board ships such as the USS Fayette (onboard chronometer #8508). Ulysse Nardin was also present in the first submarines; timepieces such as the Marine Torpilleur Military are a direct contemporary echo.

6 juin 1944 : le débarquement horloger

© Ulysse Nardin

An unusual “siderometer” signed by Breguet

Although Breguet stayed largely under the radar in the 1940s (the Type XX dates from 1954), the watchmaker nevertheless created a very unusual “siderometer”. This timekeeping instrument intended for planes and ships was able to display Greenwich sidereal time in degrees, minutes and seconds. It was used aboard high-speed aircraft when making their preparatory calculations to determine a given point in space.

6 juin 1944 : le débarquement horloger

Sidéromètre de Breguet © Breguet

From Tokyo to Rome with Eberhard

Eberhard & Co. was also involved in the war effort, notably with a unique chronograph known as the “Sistema Magini” after the pilot who used the timepiece. The sole example was sold for 56,000 euros seven years ago. This split-seconds chronograph with a 24-hour scale was probably intended for long-haul flights between distant theatres of war – in this instance, a Rome-Tokyo flight in 1942. As a 1943 archive document from Eberhard attests, the Italian navy subsequently placed an order for 10 regular chronographs and 10 split-seconds models with the inscription “modèle Magini” on the dial. However, the end of the war put an end to this adventure and the chronographs were never made, further enhancing the value of this unique model.

6 juin 1944 : le débarquement horloger

© Eberhard & Co.

Also in Italy, Panerai had already begun equipping army combat divers with the 1943 Mare Nostrum, designed for the Italian Royal Navy. This piece has since been reissued, while models such as the Radiomir 1940 3 Days Automatic Titanio (PAM00619) celebrates Panerai’s technical mastery of combat diving watches.

6 juin 1944 : le débarquement horloger

© Panerai

On the wrists of soldiers

Back on dry land, Breitling and Longines had already found their place on men’s wrists. Longines began equipping the US Army in 1935. There’s little doubt that some of these three-handed timepieces would have made landfall during Operation Neptune.

6 juin 1944 : le débarquement horloger

© Longines

At the same time, Alpina, which had already gained a reputation for its sturdy timepieces (water-resistant, shock-resistant and anti-magnetic), also earned its spurs during the Normandy Landings. In the 1940s, Alpina focused on pilots’ watches. That is why the brand has recently prioritised the reissue of its Alpina 130 Pilot Chrono, the contemporary iteration of these timepieces. Finally, Heuer produced many chronographs for military use throughout the 1940s. As we can see in this charming advertisement from 1941, officers are synchronising their watches inscribed with the legend “Ed. Heuer & Co. – Bienne”.

6 juin 1944 : le débarquement horloger

© Alpina

Commemorations

There are relatively few commemorative series celebrating the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Graham has two special editions, the Chronofighter Vintage D-Day and the Chronofighter Vintage Overlord, both appropriately limited to 75 pieces each. In France, the distinctly French brand Lip is offering a specially engraved limited series, based on the existing “Général de Gaulle” range – naturellement!

6 juin 1944 : le débarquement horloger

Chronofighter Vintage D-Day © Graham

6 juin 1944 : le débarquement horloger

Chronofighter Vintage Overlord © Graham

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