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The American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) arrived in France in 1917 with shortages of equipment. Aircraft, machine guns, helmets, gas masks, and so forth had to be obtained over there until such things could be ordered and shipped from home. The same is true of timepieces.
The Signal Corps of the U.S. Army was given the job of acquiring the first wristwatches issued to U.S. combat forces.
Why the Signal Corps? While I have no clear answer, the Signals appear to have been one of the more technically oriented arms of the Army at that time.
As previously noted on this board, the first aircraft used by the U.S. Army started out within a special branch of the Signal Corps., the A.S.S.C. Because the Signal Corps was responsible for training pilots, there is speculation that these wristwatches were issued to the first U.S. Army combat pilots, as well as other Signal Corps personnel.
Here are two examples of A.E.F. Signal Corps wristwatches, circa 1917-1918. To the left is a Zenith, on the right a Tissot. Note that Zenith wristwatches had swinging wire lugs as apposed to the fixed wire lugs of the Tissot. Further, Zenith Signal Corps wristwatches should be in cases with the Zenith logo inside the back cover. With any luck, we may get a few images of Signal Corps wristwatches from other contracts, such as Omega, Moser, and others.
Thanks Greg, those are very nice! Do you know whether any of these ever had markings on the case backs, other than the privately done engravings and personalizations that you sometimes see on WW I watch backs? Also, do you know whether there is there a standard number of jewels in these or were they variable?
So far, all of the Swiss Signal Corps watches I have seen have had 15 jewel movements. These are higher quality than the average commercial Swiss wire-lugs of the WWI era.
As originally issued, the case backs had no military markings. Though I have not seen any yet, it is entirely possible that if any of these watches remained in inventory after WWI they may have been marked at time of repair to conform to whatever regulations were in effect at that time.
For example, in TM 9-1574 of 1945, it states that watches manufactured prior to 12 November 1940 were to be marked at time of repair with type code identificaiton letters, if not previously marked. Per these 1945 regulations, the above Tissot and Zenith watches would have been subject to being stamped "OZ" (+ a serial number). "OZ" was the Army Ordnance code for a 15-17 jewel wristwatch of pre-1940 make. Other codes are listed for pocket and wrist watches depending upon jewel count.
I read your post with interest,
than I rised myself a question whether this Zenith is in the right case and then the case should have the Zenith logo,
your comments are welcome,
The case does not look like any of the other Zenith military cases I have seen. However, it looks like it is about the same age as the movement.
These watches often went through hard use, it's possible a different case was needed at time of repair and so this period case was used to replace a damages original.
Hallo again Greg,
your comment was very useful, tnks.
How many watch manufacturers were involved in Signal Corps and who at the time?
All cases were of the type of yr post or they also were round-square?
The hair spring regulators were finetuning ones or regular and did the watches have to meet stringent specs,
and then ,, did i make too many questions?
I have it on good authority that in WWI the following companies sold watches to the Signal Corps: Zenith, Omega, Cyma, Tavannes, Ulysee Nardin,Tissot, Rode, and Moser.
The only one with a patent regulator for the hairspring that I'm aware of is the Zenith.
I don't think any of the cases were other than round.
The specifications of the U.S. Army in 1917 are unknown at this time. However, all of the wristwatches that I have seen so far had 15 jewels.
I read your message and the informations you provided are were esaustive, thanks!
They will be my fundaments in watching the Signal Corps watches in the future.
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