The NATO Strap during WWII


Introduction


An earlier article introduced the WWI era sources of DNA for the NATO strap, as part of the evolution of the military watch.  Another such grandfather strap is shown above. Watches were even more of a critical requirement for military manoeuvres and marine and aircraft navigation in WWII than in WWI and were issued much more commonly, according to military purpose.

At the end of WWI the term wrist watch was in common use, but the wrist watch, particularly in America was not commonly used by men, even by returning service men.

It was only in the late 1920's that wrist watches gained popularity in America. By the time of WWII, watches with lugs and spring bars were common, but pocket watches were not discarded, and were still carried by men.

With the Tommy and the Doughboy and his privately supplied wristlet removed from the inhumane conditions of trench warfare, and the advent of specification, provisioning and servicing of watches by the military, there was little need for watch strap innovation in WWII.   In the hard times between WWI and WWII the width between lugs on wrist watches widened, spring bars filled the gap, and open ended two piece straps became common, so leather straps often prevailed on wrist watches.   The US military watch specifications led to the more widespread use of canvas or cotton straps than in Europe.

Nevertheless, just as the Victory strap was developed in WWI, other NATO predecessors appeared in WWII.

WWII watches and their straps 

The wide variety of straps used on wristlets and wrist watches in WWI was in part due to the unforeseen need for military personnel to provide their own watches.  In the interval between WWI and WWII, the watch became standard issued military equipment, and defence departments issued specifications to procure watches.

Thus the strap was a consequence of the watch which was specified and issued.

The GSTP Watch

(Spec : GENERAL SERVICE TRADE PATTERN)

The British Army GS pocket watch of WWI was replaced with the GS Mk II in July 1929. Despite the common use of wristlets in WWI to convert pocket watches to wrist watches to free up both hands for the task at hand, the provision of pocket watches to military personnel continued, often when accurate timing was necessary.  GS Mk I watches did not exist as a designation, so only GS Mk II watches post 1929 are so engraved, as illustrated below.  There is no known specification for GS Mk II watches, but they specifically had a 15 jewelled movement, a black dial, and came on a leather thong.

GS MkIIGS MKII

As the approach of WWII was anticipated the GSTP (General Service Trade Pattern) pocket watch was obtained for the British Army. The GSTP was essentially a commercially available pocket watch with the pheon and GSTP or GS/TP together with an issue number engraved on the back.

GSTP and GS/TP watches are generally branded Damas, Cyma, Enicar, Helvetia, Jaeger le Coultre, Buren, Montilier, Revue and Tissot.   They often have white dials due to their civilian provenance.

Buren GS/TP

The drawbacks associated with pocket watches sometimes led to soldering on of wire lugs to GSTP watches and fitting Kitchener type wrist straps as happened in WWI as shown below.

Waltham ww11

Image courtesy goldsmithworks.com

The position of the soldered lugs above allowed the crown to be easily accessed.

The ATP Watch

(Spec : Watches, Wristlet, A.T.P)

Leading into WWII the Army Trade Pattern (ATP) watch was issued to soldiers and was supplied to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) by 17 Swiss suppliers.

Most had the following characteristics:

15 jewelled movement with a round waterproof case in stainless steel or nickel chrome, silvered dial with luminous spots and broad lumed baton hands and a subsidiary seconds register.   They all had fixed bars between lugs, as shown on the ATP Enicar below.

Enicar ATP

The watches were supplied to the MoD without straps.  They were then fitted by the MoD with open ended leather straps with folded metal clips as seen on this Grana ATP below.

The engraving on the case back was the pheon, together with A.T.P. and an issue number.

ATP watch

Below is an ATP watch on a WWII period AF0210 canvas strap.  It recently sold on ebay with a probable strap value of about $200.  The date of the introduction of the AF0210 strap is unknown, but it is probably about 1945.

ATP on AF0210

By 1954 there were records of issue of Watches, Wristlet, A.T.P. under brand names Buren, Cortebert, Cyma, Ebel, Enicar, Eterna, FHF, Grana, Lemania, Limi, Moeris, Montillier, Omega, Reconvillier, Record, Rotary, Timor, and Unitas.

While there is some debate about the above manufacturer list, the purpose of the article is that when A.T.P. watches were issued they had fixed bars, and pigskin or fabric straps.

6B/159

(Spec : RAF Pilots Watch)

The RAF also purchased pilots watches from 1940 onward, and engraved its own part number 6B/159 at this time.  Open ended leather straps were also fitted prior to issue. This watch was known as the Mk. VIIA.  Early watches had a Weems rotating bezel, but later models dispensed with this.    Below is a Weems bezel 6B/159 from 1940 on VB Hygienique NATO type strap.

Weems 6b/159 hygieniqueWeems 6b/159

Some 6B/139 watches were renumbered and reissued as 6B/234 in 1942.

6B/234
Smiths 6B/159
Image courtesy MWR forum user  : Revo
The Science Museum in London has an unworn Smiths center-seconds 6B/159 from 1942 on display, as shown above.   It has a stitched on pigskin strap.  The watch was donated to the Science Museum by Smiths in 1948.

In 1956 any 6B/159 watches still in service were recased, and had black or white dials fitted.   Using RAF part numbers, the 6B/159 was issued on a 6B/169 leather strap, or a fabric strap 6B/321.

6B/159

One of the most famous users of an ATP (not a 6B/159) was Sir Douglas Bader.   His Timor Watch Company ATP 68012 was sold at Sotheby's in 1999 together with his dog tag stamped 26151 RAF Bader D.R.S.  It had the original open ended leather straps.

 

ATP Sir Douglas Bader

Image courtesy : Watches of Knightsbridge

Group Captain and Squadron Leader Sir Douglas Bader was an iconic RAF fighter ace and during the WWII was credited with numerous aerial victories despite being a double leg amputee.  

 

6b/159

The above manual from July 1966 indicates the 1956 Omega white dial 6B/159 was issued on a 6B/169 strap sewn to the watch.

The B-1 Watch

(Spec : Watch, Wrist, Seven-jewel)

The Elgin Pershing wire lug watch of WWI continued as a seven jewel military issue into WWII.   It had been covered by specification 55-1A of 7 October, 1926, a revision of specification 55-1 of 26 July 1923.  

Below is a collection of WWII Pershings with wire lugs on a variety of reproduction straps..

WW2 Pershings

Image courtesy MWR user : Scott Mccoy

On 13 September 1940 the U.S. Army released specification number 55-1B : Watch, Wrist, Seven-jewel, for a watch designated as the B-1.   This specification superseded specification number 55-1A Watch, Wrist, Seven-jewel of 7 October 1926.  

The Army specified a manual wound movement of no less than seven jewels, a dial with luminescent hands and markers, a sub seconds register, a stainless steel case, olive drab strap, and a 90-day warranty.

The watches were to be accurate within +/- 30 seconds per day and to be “reasonably shock resistant and waterproof.”

Bulova, Elgin, Hamilton and Waltham produced the B-1 watch.

The watches are engraved ORD DEPT for Ordinance Department, USA, followed by a code representing the number of jewels, and a serial number. They are generally known as ORD DEPT watches, and many were produced, and suffered in the field during use.

The Cal. 987a Hamilton sub second watch is shown below.    It came with a black (Navy or BuShips, to a slightly different specification) or white dial (Army), and is signed Hamilton in black on the dial.

The olive drab straps are NOS. 

987 hamiltonhamilton 987a ord dept

 

 

Below is an Elgin sub seconds watch, on an NOS pull through strap.  This strap could be fitted to one springbar, or used as a pull through.

ElginMilitary issue straps were olive drab green or tan cloth. Waltham models originally came with two part straps. Elgin models often had a one part strap with an Elgin marked buckle, see below.  

Elgin buckles

Some NOS straps are still available.  Original straps are shown below on all watches, both (ORD DEPT) and A-11, although not on the original watch as issued.

ww2 straps

Image courtesy MWR forum user  : river rat
The strap with contrasting stitching came from a Hamilton repair kit.

The B-Uhr watch

(Spec : Beobachtungsuhr)

The B-Uhr watch was issued progressively from 1940.  The specification for these watches was defined by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) or Imperial Air Ministry.

The German term Beobachtungsuhr, shortened to B-uhr means an observation or navigation watch.

These B-Uhr watches were made for the German Luftwaffe by 5 manufacturers :

A. Lange & Sohne
Laco (Lacher & Co)
Stowa (Walter Storz)
Wempe (Chronometerwerke Hamburg)
IWC

 

B-Uhr

The B-Uhr specification drawing is shown above, with the long leather looped strap to be worn over flying suits.

All B-Uhr watches had the following features :

A case diameter of 55 mm
Engraved on the back with FL 23883 (FL = flight, 23 = navigation)
Large crowns in order to be used with gloves
Hacking movement (the second hand stops when pulling out the crown to allow precise time setting)
Breguet balance spring
Regulated and tested as chronometers
A long leather looped strap (to be worn on the sleeve of a flight jacket).
 

Laco B-uhr

Above is a Laco B-Uhr watch.  The bars were fixed between lugs, and the straps were riveted into place with 2 rivets per lug.   

These straps were not unique to the B-Uhr, and below is a 1930's Minerva bomb timer on a similar strap.

Minerva bomb timer

 

Due to the popularity of these watches, many homage watches have appeared, and replica long, and shorter more practical straps are available with rivets for replacement.

The A-11 Watch and derivatives

(Specs : WATCH, NAVIGATION, TYPE A-11 (HACK) (USA) and, WATCH WRIST, Mk.VIII, NAVIGATOR's (UK))

The type A-11 was standardised by the United States Army Air Forces in May 1940. It was a navigation ‘hack’ wristwatch with a minimum of fifteen jewels and a sweep second hand.  Early 1941 type A-11 watches had white dials, while the later (1942 onwards) more common type A-11 had black dials. Type A-11 wristwatches were manufactured in accordance with military specification 94-27834, published in 1940.

It developed an enviable record in WWII.  This was the watch that kept the US Army Air Forces as well as the US Navy and Marine Corps flying, and - to a lesser extent - the RAF (under the 6B/234 designation), the RAAF, the RCAF and even the Soviet Air Force.

For the RAF 6B/234 designation, Ministry of Supply Specification No. G.633 stated :

"Wristlet

A strong leather strap furnished with a substantial buckle shall be securely sewn on to each Mk. VIII watch."   

The A-11 military specification watches were provided by three of the largest watchmaking companies in the United States at the time: Waltham Watch Company, Bulova, and Elgin National Watch Company.

Clause E14 of the specification 94-27834 stated : 

"The watch shall be of the wrist strap type. Provisions shall be made whereby the wrist straps are easily removed from the watch for replacement. The straps shall be of the sewed type and shall be made of leather or any approved waterproof material."

Essentially the type A-11 was to be provided with springbars, but a pull through strap would also meet Clause E14.    The lug width was 16mm.

The images of the watches below are taken from the Maintenance Manual, TM9-1575.

Top to bottom the watches are Waltham, Bulova, and Elgin.

walthamelgin strap

The watches had either 2 part straps, or a one piece strap with sewn on pockets for spring-bars as on the Elgin above, part number (F36-) 7198840.  

The image below is from the Waltham A-11 manual, and shows a two part webbing strap with metal keepers and 9 metal eyelets.

Waltham A11

The case back of the A-11 watches featured quite detailed specification, a growing trend in military coding and identification.   

Bulova wwII

Above is an A-11 Bulova with an open ended sewn pigskin strap, and fold over metal tabs.

6B/234^b/234

The RAF 6B/234 case markings as shown above are much less detailed than the Type A-11 above.  Also shown are the metal fold over tabs on the pigskin open ended strap.

An unissued Elgin A-11 is shown below on a one piece cotton strap.

Elgin a-11 unissuedelgin a-11

Image courtesy WatchUSeek user : rambo4hire

An unissued A-11 Waltham, still in the delivery box, also on a one piece cotton strap with sewn on spring-bar pockets.

Waltham A-11

Image courtesy : Horologium

 

Bulova a-11

bulova a-11

Above are mint Bulova A-11 watches.  Top on an original NOS strap, and below on a replacement NOS pull through olive drab strap.

Watch bands were a separate item of issue for replacement. Typically a one piece olive drab cotton band, "Strap, Wrist Watch" Stock No. F36-7198840, was used to replace the band issued with the watch.

The US Navy and Marine Corps had a similar specification to the military specification 94-27834B.   This was specification Bureau of Aeronautics 88-W-800.  Watches were essentially Type A-11 watches, except 88-W-800 required a luminous handset and dial. These watches used the 987s movement and had R88-W-800 on the case back. 

The specification also required that the strap be constructed so that the watch could be supported with only one link pin (springbar) in place.    This may have arisen from earlier experience with two part straps on springbars in active service.

The Navy also had sub second watches and the US Marine Corps also had watches made and issued to this specification.

Below is a Hamilton 987s, sweep second hand, issued to the US Marine Corps, and a contemporary 1943 advertisement.  The strap is continuous with sewn on eyelets for the springbars, and this strap allows for one springbar to be lost, and the strap still retaining the watch.

Hamilton 987s

 

 

Hamilton ww2

Image courtesy vintagewatchforums.com user  :  TSTAPES23

Above is the complete set of watches made in WWII by Hamilton based on the 987a movement and its derivatives, with a variety of NOS straps.   The BUSHIPS or canteen watch is 5th from the left.

The Navy watches are black dialled except for the watch lying horizontally which is a 980 "Bomb Timer" for the Fairchild Gun Camera.

 

Hamilton military advert

Image courtesy MWR forum user  : bobbee

The war time advertisement by Hamilton above shows the Hack Watch on a one piece strap, but the other issues Fire Control, Navigation and Service on two piece straps.

The W.W.W. Watch

(Spec. Watches, Wristlet, Waterproof)

From 1945 the British War Office Specification No. R.S./Prov/4373A "Watches, Wristlet, Waterproof" (W.W.W.) for Service wristwatches, replaced the Army Trade Pattern (ATP) specification wristwatch.  These remained on issue until about 1985.

This was the first watch specification designed for military use, rather than the military using watches being adapted from an available civilian design.  The W.W.W. watch had a black dial, subsidiary seconds and luminous paint for the numerals and hands.  It also had fixed bars.  It was not shockproof.

The NATO strap is a consequence of this fixed bar military standard, a product of the evolution of the pass through strap.   These watches were originally issued with either pigskin or canvas straps.

WWW IWC 

IWC was one of 12 suppliers of W.W.W watches to the MOD in UK.  

About 150,000 W.W.W watches were delivered to the British military by all 12 manufacturers delivered from May 1945 until December 1945, including some 6,000 IWC watches.  

Unlike the more collectable post war Mk. XI’s, these watches were produced for the Army and not for the RAF, and many refer to them as Mk. X’s. They were 35mm without the crown and had 18mm lugs. They were equipped with the 83 calibre IWC movement.

Interestingly, watches to this standard arrived towards the end of the war, and were mostly "decommissioned" and sold to the public.

The W.W.W watches were issued with an open end pig skin strap with flexible metal strips to attach the strap to the fixed lug bars or leather pull through straps. Alternatively, and more rarely, they were equipped with the AF 2010 pull through canvas straps as shown below on a IWC.  (Ref 1).

WWW pigskin straps

WWW pigskin straps

Images courtesy MWR forum user : Isologue

IWC W.W.W. on AF0210

IWC W.W.W. on AF 0210 strap.

AF 0210 strap dated 1945

The AF0210 strap is dated 1945.  Image courtesy MWR forum user : baldhead

The AF0210 strap is a two ply strap, folded over at the tail end, and sewn all around. Hence the tail end is square,   There are no prepositioned lug holes.

Image courtesy : Konrad Krinim

The full list of W.W.W. suppliers is provided above.  The suppliers were Swiss as UK manufacturers did not have the capacity to produce the watches, and the watches were allocated a UK Stores number and for some a (retrospective) NATO Stock Number (NSN) as listed above.   These watches are known as the "Dirty Dozen" by military enthusiasts (Enicar did not produce any) and are covered extensively elsewhere.

The grail of W.W.W. watch collectors is to have a good to excellent example of each of the "Dirty Dozen".

The Dirty Dozen

The  "Dirty Dozen" on pigskin leather straps.

 

IWC WWW
Omega 1953 watch left, on canvas NATO strap.  Right, IWC WWW watch, NATO dial, canvas AF0210 strap.  Image MWR forum user : T.O.W.S. UK
The IWC watch, and some other W.W.W. watches were kept in production until well after WWII.  A later NATO version of the IWC watch is shown above on the right.   After NATO was formed, the designation of several of the continuing W.W.W watches was specified in DEF STAN 66-4 (PART4).   The IWC watch by then was given an interim Nato Stock Number, NSN W10/VB10028-9999-99-445-5890.   These first and last numerals W10/445-5890 can be seen on the dial on the right above, beneath the pheon and tritium markings.   The final NSN for all the W.W.W. specification watches as a category was NSN 6645-99-523-8390.

BuShips Canteen Watch

(Spec : Watches , Wrist, Watertight)

During WWII the British Navy commissioned about 50 special watches for their divers to wear.   These were specially cased made by Albert Thomas Oliver with Longines Cal 268N movements, and an Omega 30T2SC.  They had a screw-on cap that prevented the winding crown area from water penetration, and had wire lugs.  This meant that they used hand stitched pigskin straps.   They were issued with Hydrographic Survey markings, HS with the pheon, as shown below.

Longines Hydrographic Survey

Omega ww2 diver

Images courtesy MWR forum user : James Dowling

When the US Navy needed divers watches approaching D-day, specification 18W8(INT) of 1 December 1944 covered the production of a Hamilton diver's watch which had a similar design concept, and also had a screw-on cap that prevented the winding crown area from water penetration.   These BuShips watches were thus nicknamed "Canteen" watches.

The  US Navy Bureau of Ships (BuShips) was established 20 June 1940, and was responsible for shipping, shipyards, maintenance and salvage.  Hamilton USN BuShips canteen watches had a 987s movement were issued to members of the Naval Combat Demolition Unit (NCDU) underwater demolition teams (UDT), who were responsible for clearing harbours and obstructions during the war.  

The above specification was replaced by Specification 18W8(SHIPS) on 15 January 1947.

Hamilton BUSHIPS

The straps were either two piece, or one piece, moulded nylon.  The strap above reads "USN" and  "Ranger-Tennere ".

BuShips canteen

The one piece strap is Part Number 7646909, and has a chevron marked tail. The outside of the one piece strap strap reads :  Ordnance Dept USA, Part No 7646909.

F0367646909 strap

This strap is similar to the one piece cotton strap with sewn on spring bar holders used for the A-11, and was later incorporated into MIL-S-3035 of 8 September 1949.

By the end of WWII pigskin or cotton and canvas straps were in widespread use, the latter perhaps more in the tropical conditions of the Pacific theatre, apart from the moulded nylon strap above, and some metal straps discussed below.

WWII canvas or cotton straps

A variety of original straps are shown below, with the 2 straps with metal eyelets 4th and 7th from the top being reproduction straps, rather than those having sewn eyelets.

WWII canvas straps

Image courtesy MWR user ; river rat

The B-1 watch specification for an olive drab strap, led to the replacement strap which was listed above for the A-11. 

Typically a one piece olive drab cotton band, "Strap, Wrist Watch" Stock No. F36-7198840, was used to replace the band issued with the watch.

The Bulova 2nd from the bottom in the above picture is thought to be on an original one piece strap with sewn on spring-bar pockets.   This is very similar to the Elgin strap shown in Figure 142 of the Maintenance Manual, TM9-1575.

The pull through Brite strap below could also be used.  It had a pocket into which a spring bar could be fitted to help retain the watch.

Guss

Manufacturers such as Brite, Guss and the American Strap company provided a range of canvas or water repellant two piece poplin straps.  

Brite 2 piece

The American Strap Company of New York NOS strap is shown below.

ww2 strap

A NATO type strap numbered 6032 was also sold as a replacement cotton strap.

6032 strap

Image courtesy MWR user : Joe A.

VB Hygienique also supplied bands and by the end of WWII the VB Hygienique canvas band had evolved from a straight canvas strap to a NATO prototype.

 

HygieniqueHygienique

Cretit for top and right images MWR user : Revo

The WWII US Army VB Hygienique band is shown above.   The buckle has a central bar. and can be moved along the strap to change the position of the keeper for the watch.

The VB Hygienique band above drew heavily on the Victor strap, and foreshadowed the NATO strap.

Stainless steel straps

Stainless steel clip straps were developed during WWII. A Berkely lifetime bracelet (left), and a Don Juan clip are shown below.

Berkely stainless wwiiDon Juan

SS WWII

These did not prove popular, but they were easy to improvise and individualise as on this A-11.

SS clip on ww2

Stainless clasp watches also existed.   This reads :  The Captain, GEMEX CO, Chrome Steel, USA Pat. Pending near the buckle.

The Baron was another stainless steel model.

 Gemex the baron

The Sure-Stay was another model which did not remain popular.

Sure stay

Leather straps

Topps produced one piece leather replacement straps which allowed the watch to stay on the wrist if one spring-bar was lost.  But, the cotton straps remained the most popular item.

Topp straps

Conclusion

The British military continued with fixed bar watches in WWII and this led to many open ended pig skin straps.  However, the end of WWII saw two versions of the NATO strap, in cloth, and in canvas.  Pull through cotton, and leather were the other straps of choice for fixed bar watches.

Recommendations

The Starter

The VB Hygienique strap is sometimes available as NOS and currently fetches about $50.   This cloth forerunner to the NATO strap is notable for its adjustable central bar buckle, and cloth keepers.  These are getting to be rare.

 

VB Hygienique

Image courtesy MWR forum user : Revo

The Keeper

The keeper is the AF0210 canvas pull through, which dates from about 1945.  It is seen on W.W.W. watches of this era, below on a Vertex W.W.W.    A recent sale of a watch with an AF0210 strap indicated a strap value of about $200.

Vertex W.W.W. on Af 0210

The Grail

The grail would be a canvas NATO strap of the era.  The exact date of issue is not known.   It is shown in the W.W.W. section above on an Omega, next to an AF0210.   Below is another image.  The strap is essentially an AF0210 with an extra canvas keeper loop attached.  Expect to pay several hundred dollars for a good example of this NATO grandfather.

Omega 53 with NATO canvas strap.

Image MWR forum user : T.O.W.S. UK

References

Ref 1  'On His Majesty's Service 3' - Third part of series on Watch, Wrist, Waterproof (W.W.W.) , Thomas Koenig and Adrian van der Meijden, Horological Journal October 2008.  pp 441-443.

 


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