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RFC Aircraft Watches - Mark V Letter Codes "Click" to Login or Register 
posted
To give this more visibility, I thought I would start a topic on it. I asked a question in the RAF Timepieces topic about what the letter/number combination codes on the faces of Royal Flying Corps cockpit watches mean. Perhaps someone will come along with a full explanation at some point, but in the meantime I thought I might start a collaborative research effort here to see if we might test the theory that the letters are manufacturer codes. If everyone who has one or more RFC Mark V cockpit watches would post here what is the letter/number combination on the dial and what is the maker on the movement, maybe we can come up with a pattern of makers and letter combinations.

To get things started I have searched the web and found several that belong to other people (such as the one Greg posted) or that are up for auction on Ebay at the moment, and I have one of my own to start with:

All of the following are 30 hour, non-luminous Mark V watches:

BD 3823 Invicta
BL 1097 Unknown maker
CB 2181 Zenith
BH 403 Record
BE 6540 Unknown maker
 
Posts: 854 | Location: Baltimore, Maryland USA | Registered: September 20, 2004
Picture of Ben Roberts
posted
Great idea Jim
The Mark V I have is CC 798. Maker unknown.
I will look around for some others.
 
Posts: 34 | Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada | Registered: October 04, 2003
posted
I have
CB 3959 Zenith
BK 6009 Electa
 
Posts: 27 | Location: Warrington, in the United Kingdom | Registered: December 08, 2002
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posted
Good idea, Jim. A few more:

B.G. No. 1481 Octava (8 Day)

B.D. 3033 Invicta (30 hr)

C.B. 5660 Zenith (30 hr)

B.K. 6065 Electa (30 hr)
 
Posts: 1859 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
Picture of Ben Roberts
posted
Am just in the process of acquiring another one - should get it from the UK in a couple of weeks. It is CB 4181 Zenith.
It's beginning to look as if your idea is paying off already Jim.
We may already have the codes for Zenith, Invicta and Electa. lets see if we can find a few more.
 
Posts: 34 | Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada | Registered: October 04, 2003
posted
Thanks guys, lets keep it going. Hopefully more people will add to the list and over time as we see more on the web or other places we can add to this thread. It might take some time, but hopefully we can keep the data base building and with time we will also start to get an idea on the relative numbers of different makers. The unknown makers will be tough to figure out, but who knows - we may get lucky and find a few marked ones.

So far the Zenith code of CB looks pretty likely. I would like to wait to see a couple more examples of Invictas and Electas to be comfortable in saying their codes are BD and BK respectively since we have only two of each now and it is possible that movements might have been switched or new dials replaced on a few of these over the years when they were worked on. I think we are also starting to see another pattern where all of the letter codes are starting with either a B or C as the first letter. I think that there might be some meaning to these first letters. I am also starting to see that the numbers all seem to be either 3 or 4 digits. Assuming this three or four digit pattern holds and if they are indeed a kind of serial or control number, that would mean that each maker would only have been able to make 899 watches (100 through 999). Or if we find a one or two digit number on one of these, that would still only make the total 999 watches which seems an unlikely small number to me. The reason I say this is the British are recorded as building 58,144 aircraft during WW I and assuming they needed at least one watch per aircraft I'm not sure how the need could be met with only a dozen to so makers each building less than 1000 watches. It is an interesting puzzle to play with and I appreciate your participating in helping to try to see how far we can get in figuring it out.
 
Posts: 854 | Location: Baltimore, Maryland USA | Registered: September 20, 2004
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posted
CB 4181 = Zenith MK V

BD 3828 = Invicta MK V

In response to my post on www.broadarrow.net someone noted that he had also been told that the letter/number codes on the dial of the MK V identified the manufacturer of the watch. While no official RFC document has come up, we appear to be on the right track.

It's possible that some of the no-name MK V's may have a maker's name or mark on the pillar plate under the dial.

Best regards,
Greg
 
Posts: 1859 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
posted
Here are 3 more, but one of them is a monkey wrench to the perfect pattern so far:

BK 1952 Electa
BD 4436 Doxa
CB 1643 Zenith

This BK makes our 3rd Electa so far which strenghthens the BK = Electa theory, but the Doxa with BD 4436 runs counter to the other BD watches we have so far that are Invictas. The BD 4436 I found is mentioned on Konrad Knirims website so it is not likely a misprint - perhaps his is a redial or a switched movement since it runs counter to the other three examples we have found so far from Invicta - or perhaps Invicta was buying some extra movements from Doxa to mount in their cases to help fill their contracts with the Air Ministry? This last thought came to me as I was looking at a WW I French aircraft clock that I have that uses a Doxa movement that is original to a Favre-Bulle case/dial.
 
Posts: 854 | Location: Baltimore, Maryland USA | Registered: September 20, 2004
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posted
Invicta appears to have made their own 30 hour movement. Those I have repaired have had various unique characteristics which I have only seen in Invicta watches. However, the fact of in-house movement work does not rule out an outside purchase to quickly fill a military contract.

BTW, did you notice if the movement/ dial is marked 30 hour or was it 8 Day?

Best regards,
Greg
 
Posts: 1859 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
posted
Hi Greg. The reference I found was text only, but he indicated it is a 30-hour, non-luminous Mark V. Go to this website and scoll down about 80 percent of the way to his section titled: Watches, 30-hour, Non-Luminous, Mark V

http://www.knirim.homepage.t-online.de/taylor.htm
 
Posts: 854 | Location: Baltimore, Maryland USA | Registered: September 20, 2004
Picture of Ben Roberts
posted
Jim
Regarding the quantity of MK V Watches required during WWI.
The Brits. may have produced 58,144 aircraft during that war, but the assumption that they would heve needed a watch for each of those aircraft is not valid. First of all, I believe that the idea that the watches were assigned to aircraft is incorrect. I think they were very much more likely to have been issued to the pilot, and he was personally responsible for it. This was certainly true in WWII.
During WWI, the watch could be housed in a wooden or metal watch holder on the instrument panel while flying (from which it could be easily removed) OR it could be worn in a leather holder on the pilots wrist - known as a Wristlet. Either of these methods tend to support the theory that the watch was assigned to the pilot - not the aircraft.
There is also a story that seems to support this in that it is said that when a pilot crashed an aircraft in WWI - if he survived - he had to return the watch or be subject to a Court of Enquiry.
However if we do support the assignment to an aircraft theory, I am sure the aircraft was not equipped with a watch at the factory (If they had, I am certain that no watch would have been found on the aircraft when it finally reached its ultimate destination in France.) I think the watch would have been provided only when the aircraft went into operational service, and at any one time there was only so many aircraft in service - certainly never 58,144. Also one has to include a goodly number of training and other non-operational aircraft in that total, many of which had to make do without a watch.
I think that perhaps a dozen manufacturers producing some 1000 watches each would have probably met requirements if matched against the number of operational pilots at any one time.
 
Posts: 34 | Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada | Registered: October 04, 2003
posted
You make some very good points, Ben. On the other hand, even with the threat of courts martial for not retrieving the watch from a downed aircraft, there must have been a fair amount of lost watches from aircraft that burned, landed behind German lines, or were otherwise too damaged from a crash. I understand that in training accidents alone over 8,000 British pilots lost their lives. I don't know if they would have had watches in training machines, but perhaps at least some did since they would need to be trained in how to use them in their flying.

These numbers may have been enough, but then I get to wondering why larger makers such as Zenith or Omega would have been limited to supplying just 899 or 999 watches.
 
Posts: 854 | Location: Baltimore, Maryland USA | Registered: September 20, 2004
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posted
Thank you for the link, Jim.

Konrad has reproduced an article by A. Taylorson, which is an excellent work based largely upon the official List of Changes of British military equipment.

As for the MK V’s in Taylorson’s article, it is possible that the watch noted has the wrong dial. Further, I would not rule out a typo, given that it is not clear if Taylorson personally examined the MK V watches or relied upon a report from a member of the museum staff. I suppose the only way to be sure would be to visit the Royal Air Force Museum and examine the watches (museum staff willing!)

For now, we shall have to look at BD 4436 as a mystery MK V. In the event that the four digit number is found to be part of a part/supplier code, instead of a serial number, we may find that BD 4436 was supplied to the R.F.C. by Invicta with a Doxa movement. However, this is only speculation at this point.

Best regards,
Greg
 
Posts: 1859 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
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posted
Thank you for the information regarding the number of aircraft, the crashes, and so forth. This was the world these little watches were originally used in. The young pilots of WWI must have had great courage to go up in the air and fight the enemy in aircraft made largely of wood and cloth.

Regarding the number of MK V’s produced. It is not yet clear to me that the four digits after the two letter code are serial numbers. For purposes of research, we may wish to start including the movement serial numbers in our list. In the event the movement does not have a visible serial number, use the number on the inside of the case (if any). The case number will do for the reason that most Swiss watches left the factory in cases with the same number as the watch movement.

However, I recognize a problem with this method, given that a watchmaker may have had more than one contract with the RFC as well as contracts with other civilian and military organizations. Thus, batches of watches may have been produced on other contracts in between the RFC contracts. That being noted, the movement serial number range for a given maker may still give us some insight into the number of MK V watches produced.

Best regards,
Greg
 
Posts: 1859 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
Picture of Ben Roberts
posted
I hope this does not complicate an already complicated issue, but another point we should bear in mind when considering the number of Mk V Watches produced during WWI, is that apparantly the Mk V was only adopted by the RFC in 1916.
Prior to that, their standard aviators watch was the MkIV which was introduced in 1914.
Thus perhaps we are only looking for the total quantity of Mk V's produced from 1916 onward.
Those Mk IV's which were not lost or destroyed continued in RFC service after 1916 and even beyond 1918 when they were transferred into RAF service. This must therefore be considered when we look at any operational requirement.
I have not yet decided how this effects the research, but I feel it must do so.
For example, the MkIVA which I have was made by G.Davenport & Co Ltd (I must assume prior to 1916) and bears the number 3503/C, which possibly brings even more codes and manufacturers names into the equation.
Incidentally, the dial and case back markings indicate that it was transferred to the RAF so it was still operational beyond 1918.
I have also not found out what the A suffix indicates in the Mk IVA. It is an 8-Day watch, but 30-Hour or 8-Day did not change the Mk V's designation.
I would like your views - or am I just introducing a red herring into the discussion ?
 
Posts: 34 | Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada | Registered: October 04, 2003
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posted
I have also been thinking about this, Ben.

Why not expand this into a new thread with a list of MK IV RFC watches? It will not be as long a list as the MK V, but we plan to be here for a long time.



The MK IVA watches, being 8 day models, remind me of an 8 day watch in my little collection. It has a "W /|\ D" mark on the case back and only a serial number on the black dial. I have always wanted to think of it as a pre-1914 aviation timepiece, but I have no information to base this upon other than it looks like a MK IV, but w/o the markings.

Best regards,

Greg
 
Posts: 1859 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
posted
Just found another Zenith Mark V. It fits the pattern with number C.B. 2262.
 
Posts: 854 | Location: Baltimore, Maryland USA | Registered: September 20, 2004
posted
To sum up so far, here is what we have:

B.A. -
B.B. -
B.C. -
B.D. - 3033, 3823, 3828 all marked Invicta,
and 4436 marked Doxa
B.E. - 6540 unknown maker
B.F. -
B.G. - 1481 marked Octava
B.H. - 403 marked Record
B.I. -
B.J. -
B.K. - 1952, 6009, 6065 all marked Electa
B.L. - 1097 unknown maker

C.A. -
C.B. - 1643, 2181, 2262, 3959, 4181, 5660
all marked Zenith
C.C. - 798 unknown maker

I am assuming there are watches for the letter combinations without examples yet. It remains to be seen whether there might be letter combinations after the last ones we have seen so far - in other words whether there might be continuations after B.L. and C.C. It also remains to be seen whether there are any letter combinations starting with the letter A.
 
Posts: 854 | Location: Baltimore, Maryland USA | Registered: September 20, 2004
Picture of Ben Roberts
posted
Jim
In Z.M. Wesolowski's book "Military Timepieces"on Page 29, there is a reproduction of an advertisement for the Smith 8-Day Aviation watch. The ad is not dated, and as I read it, the Watch advertised could be either a Mark IVA or a MkV.
However the interesting part is that the Type numbers listed are in the two letter
3/4 digit format we have been looking at for the Mark V.
In this case the letters are AA 684 (Non-luminous and AA 685 (Luminous)
Could this possibly be an addition to the list of manufacturers?
Ben Roberts
Ottawa
Canada
 
Posts: 34 | Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada | Registered: October 04, 2003
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posted
Hi Ben,

With this add you are on to something. It would appear that the letters most likely refer to the maker and that the last two numbers refer to the type of dial.

The Smith & Son Limited add would appear to be a post-World War I add, given that it says that, thousands "were supplied to the British Government during the war..". Also, Smith & Son appear to be looking for private sales, given that the watch was being offered, "supplied with either black or white dials..".

Now all we need is a Broad Arrow marked Smith & Son MK V to see what sort of codes are on the dial.

Thank you for your observations Ben.

Best regards,
Greg
 
Posts: 1859 | Location: East Lansing, Michigan USA | Registered: November 24, 2002
posted
It's possible, but I am a bit hesitant to fully agree yet since that copy of the old Smith advertisement in Wesolowski seems to be a post-war ad aimed at private purchasers and looking at the dial with a magnifying glass I do not see the kind of military markings on the dial that all of the real crowsfoot marked Mark V watches seem to have. Still, I think we should start with a working hypothesis that Smith's may have A.A. letter markings until we find a good military example or two to confirm or shoot down the theory.

I am less convinced that the last one, two or three numbers distinguish the type of dial (luminous vs. non-luminous) since the examples we have so far of military marked Mark V's do not seem to fall into such a pattern. It is possible that Smith's arked them that way, but then I would wonder why wouldn't the RFC/RAF have required the other makers to do the same?

This is all great food for thought as we work together to try to figure this out - thanks to everyone for pitching in and please keep the ideas and data flowing!
 
Posts: 854 | Location: Baltimore, Maryland USA | Registered: September 20, 2004
posted
I found another. On Ebay there is an auction for a Luminous, 30 Hour, Mark V marked with a B.B. letter code with the movement marked Omega but unfortunately it is only a movement and dial that was at some later point in time installed in an incorrect, non-military, gold plated case. Perhaps at some point after it found its way into private hands the original case became damaged or maybe the owner just wanted to make it look fancier.

Anyway, here is the updated summary with this watch filling in the formerly blank B.B. space, and which adds an A.A. placeholder notation with a question mark for Smith & Son until we see an actual Mark V from this maker:

As of October 22, 2004, here is what we have:

A.A. ? Smith and Son ?

B.A. -
B.B. - 4282 (30 hour movement and luminous dial in incorrect non-military case) marked Omega
B.C. -
B.D. - 3033, 3823, 3828 all marked Invicta,
and 4436 marked Doxa
B.E. - 6540 unknown maker
B.F. -
B.G. - 1481 marked Octava
B.H. - 403 marked Record
B.I. -
B.J. -
B.K. - 1952, 6009, 6065 all marked Electa
B.L. - 1097 unknown maker

C.A. -
C.B. - 1643, 2181, 2262, 3959, 4181, 5660
all marked Zenith
C.C. - 798 unknown maker
 
Posts: 854 | Location: Baltimore, Maryland USA | Registered: September 20, 2004
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