Back in the early 1900’s there was no such thing as a military watch; Militaries around the world did not issue watches to their soldiers. The origin of the military watch is a mystery, but many believe the first military watches were created in the Boer War (1899-1902). Later seen in World War 1, pocket watches converted to wrist watches, metal lugs were attached onto them so that a strap could hold the watch to the wrist.
WW1 really marked the evolution of military watches. The watches were labeled by many companies as “soldier” watches. The most historic of these watches was created by Cartier, it paid homage to the American Tank Corps for their service in World War 1. These watches were labeled as “tank” watches by design it was flat 35mm by 25 mm. (check out some modern digital tactical watches here)
It wasn’t until World War 2 that the US Army would regulate and standardize watches. In 1940, the U.S. army released specification 55-1B, this specification would be the base of all U.S. watches during the Second World War. These consisted of : Model B-1
- Movement of no less than seven jewels
- A dial with luminescent hands and markers
- A stainless steel case
- Olive drab strap
- Manual wound movement Acc
- Accuracy was +/- 30 seconds per day
- Shock and water proof
With the release of B-1 the Army, Army Air Corps, RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force), Marine Corps, and other military sections adopted this as a vital piece of equipment in warfare. However, tighter specifications and special applications were needed, and so, the U.S. Army went to the drawing board and created Spec A-11. The A-11 was more complex than the B-1, it featured:
- 15-jewel movement
- Easier to synchronize with other watches.
- This spec watch was given to pilots and navigators
In 1944, creation of the Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs) were used to clear mines from the beaches during the D-Day invasion, thus the Navy introduced FSX-797, higher tolerances were needed. Increased resistance to dust and moisture were needed and this specification implemented both. These watches were:
- Shock proof
- Water proof
- Dust Proof
- Moisture proof.
Testing consisted of being submerged underwater under pressure.
With the B-1, A-11 and FSX-797, watches began to be specialized to the needs of the corps, and so it lead to creation of pilot, diver/naval, and field operation watches. Today many watches conform and exceed MIL-Spec and many soldiers choose to use their own watches in combat rather than the ones issued to them. The decision relies to the unit they are stationed in.