The exploration of World War II watches continues. After discussing the Dirty Dozen and various field and pilot watches used during the conflict, it’s time to take a look at the Type A-11: a watch made solely by American watchmakers and distributed mostly to American soldiers. As you may remember, the Dirty Dozen were made by twelve brands (mostly located in Switzerland) for the British Ministry of Defense, and were worn primarily by soldiers from European countries. Though, as you might also remember, these watches came out at the end of 1945: after the war had ended. Conversely, the Type A-11 was worn during the war, and as such, is often referred to as the “Watch that Won the War.” Let’s learn about it.
Historical Context for the Type A-11
What is referred to as the Type A-11 was made starting in 1942 by three American watchmakers—Elgin, Waltham, and Bulova—following U.S. Government-issued specifications. Although the aforementioned American brands were already making watches for the military, the Government determined that a more robust, more accurate wristwatch was necessary for the United States’ entry into the war. If you are like me, and enjoy watching period war movies and miniseries, then you have probably spotted the Type A-11 many times in HBO’s 10-part series Band of Brothers: the series that prompted me to write about the Type A-11. Just like the Dirty Dozen had a unique look, the Type A-11 did too, though in a different way which we will discuss later. Source: www.secondhandhorology.com
Specifications of the Type A-11
From what I could tell, Elgin, Waltham, and Bulova made tens of thousands Type A-11’s for the infantry and paratroopers. Of all the World War II-era military watches I’ve discussed thus far, the Type A-11 is the one that looks the simplest of all, though it was built to be remarkably solid and reliable. This is due to the fact that mil-spec brands had to put more emphasis on mechanics than looks, requiring a manual-wound and hackable movement (to time precise military operations), a central seconds hand, and a shock-proof acrylic crystal. Because they were manufactured during the war, cases were made of chromium-plated brass (chrome plating increases brass' impact and corrosion resistance) or silver, because steel was required to make weapons and vehicles.
Because of their requisite reliability, the movements powering the Type A-11 were high grade and, with good service, can still kick today with relatively solid accuracy. To be as robust as possible, these movements used 16 jewels to reduce wear and tear on the main gears caused by perpetual friction, and were built to withstand extreme use. The Elgins were powered by the caliber 539, the Waltham’s by a 6.0 Premier movement, and the Bulova’s by the caliber 10AK CHS. Some of these movements, it seems, were also used in World War II watches made and used by the British and Russians under different names. As far as dimensions go, most Type A-11’s had a diameter of 32mm, a lug-to-lug of 39mm, and a lug width of 16mm (with drilled lugs). They were also paired with one-piece or two-piece olive drab canvas straps.
Superlative Legibility of the Type A-11
In addition to being extremely robust and well-made, the Type A-11 were also very legible. Their design oscillates between that of pilot and field watches, showcasing Alpha-style hands, a full stack of sans-serif Arabic numerals, and a fully-graduated minute track with 10-minute intervals highlighted by Arabic numerals. The models issued to the Air Force were fully lumed while those issued to paratroopers and infantry were not necessarily so. If I’m correct, the lumed versions were indeed fully lumed: all the markers and hands were painted with luminescent material to ensure superlative legality in all lighting conditions. Personally, I feel that the understated design of the Type A-11 is its best attribute, making them highly purpose-driven.
By now, you probably know that I’ve developed quite a passion for military watches, especially those created during or directly following World War II. This is due to the fact that they were designed with a functionality-first approach – almost too sober and incredibly simplistic – and that underneath the hood sat high-grade, well-made, and robust calibers that guaranteed reliability in real-life situations. We could compare the Type A-11 to the first Apple computers: simplistic on the outside, extremely complex on the inside.
Military watches developed since have preserved this simplicity, but none have ever matched that of the World War II era designs. This is why many Swiss brands have been re-issuing old references from their military catalogs, each time going further and further back, which is why, for example, Longines recently recreated the Heritage Marine Nationale. Just like most modern music genres come from jazz, the design precepts of many watches that have seen the light of day since the 1940s owe it to the Type A-11, A.T.P., and Dirty Dozen developed during World War II.Featured image: www.analogshift.com