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a good friend was letting this one go and I couldn't resist; there is something about the Elgin canteen I really love. Had the chance to take a few photos recently and thought they may be of interest. Though the crystal has three sizeable chips I doubt I'll replace it due to the fact it still has the original lead solder.
The discovery of this watch "in the wild" and finding it with an Elgin 539 has me questioning just what the original movements were in these watches. The 647 has long been considered the correct "original" movement and it has also been thought that the 539 was a Navy service replacement movement. This example is the fourth Elgin canteen I've found in the wild this year (two from original Navy service member owners) and all have had the 539. It seems strange to me that such a significant portion (more than half that I've seen on this forum in nearly 8yrs) have been found with the 539.
That said I'm still on the look out for an Elgin 12hr hacking 647 movement (actually I'm looking for several !) - any leads greatly appreciated.
Hope this is of interest and kind regards from N.M.
I forgot to mention that I have a review posted to my small webpage, found here:
ADDENDUM / ERRATA - This weekend I corresponded with a fellow MWRine who has been tracking Elgin canteen dive watches for a number of years (with the help of other collectors). His records indicate that out of over 100 watches less than a dozen have been found with the 539 - obviously the 4 I've found and the few mentioned above are a statistical anomaly. To be found back to back led me to believe the portion was larger than it really is - my apologies for "muddying the waters" with my conclusion about these movements.
Very many thanks to the MWRine who contacted me - much appreciate the help and information !
Hope this is of interest - and please let me know if anyone comes across an Elgin 647; I'm happy to pay TOP-DOLLAR.
All the very best from N.M.
P.S. seems I can carry on an entire thread all by my lonesome !
|IHC Life Member
Just to let you know I read & enjoyed your post, I would like to have one of those watches but at this point in time I don't.
So other than admiring it I didn't have any useful information to post.
Not at all lonesome William,
your post raised again some questions I have been wondering for sometimes...
There is quite some dedicated articles in the Withney and in the National Archives and Mil Specs still I havent been able to understand the contractual and logistic differences between Canteen watches marked UDT and USN.
Neither I managed to understand whether the 539 was installed originally at factory or it was a replacement to fix the watch because the frequent leaking problems destroyed the original mvmt.
Actually if I am not wrong the 539 is not hacking therefore it is unluckly that a watch as such did not have that feature.
Probably the correct mvmt would have been the 539S, naturally together with the 647....
But beside all speculations I think that the correct answers are only within the Elgin archives....
Therefore untill further proper informations are found nobody could really affirm that the only confirmed configuration would be the one with the 647 on-board.
Incidentally I have one just like yours and despite I have a 647 in stock I never thought to do the replacement...
|IHC Life Member
Thanks, William....you have stirred some memories.... I haven't seen one like the one you showed, in over 40 years....
Thanks very much for the kind replies everyone ! I hope that my PS was taken in the humorous way it was intended :-) To be honest I added it due to my two additional replies - seemed I was getting carried away with a discussion with myself.
The BUSHIPS / USN markings are still a mystery to me as well. Even when found with what we can consider the correct 647 movement there isn't any discernible patter (going from the 647 movement serial numbers for example). I'd be interested to learn more as things are discovered. I can say I've never seen the addition of "UDT-X" (x being a team number) to a USN example, while I have seen at least four examples of the BUSHIPS with the additional UDT-team markings (obviously added post factory and of a different font and technique than the BUSHIP markings). I'll add that such a tiny example porition is hardly worth basing conclusions off of though !
From the new information I've recieved in regard to the 647 being original and the 539 being a replacement - I trust %110 the source. I also think the subject pool of 100 examples is ample to at least draw a theory from. Unless something totally earth shattering comes to light I'll consider the 647 correct. I would add that the 539s I have do indeed hack - and would at least meet the specification in that regard. They do, however, date to a period many years before the specifications - in some cases half a decade or more.
Thanks so much for your info Enzo; I think you hit the high points I've tried to make in a much more concise manner ! If you would be at all interested in selling a 647 (or two) I'd be very, very grateful and more than willing to pay top dollar (via paypal or any other method you may prefer).
Thanks again to you all - it's a pleaure to be part of your community and I hope I can make contributions !
Best regards from N.M.
Enzo - I neglected to include an email address should you have any interest in possibly selling a 647 movement. Please feel free to contact me at:
billy (AT) mwrforum (DOT) net
milwatch (AT) cnetco (DOT) com
Many thanks again !
Best regards from N.M.
Billy and Friends,
this thread forced me to look better into the whole matter to try to understand the story of the Canteen watch.
Here the issue is: Is the Elgin 539 in accordance with the watch? Or is the 647 the proper mvmt?
As I said before there are quite some source of informations, some easy obtainable and some with some difficulty.
So lets use the ones ready available.
The excellent Whitney has a dedicated chapter to USN BuShip watches.
By going through the chapter it says that in 1942 the Navy had a group of swimmers trained for special operations called NCDU. That can also be found here attached, still less accurate than the book which a well renamed UDT specialist I personally know had collaborate with.
The UDT still had to be formed then.
It was fully formed years later as an evolution of the NCDU.
At the beginning the NCDU were mostly surface/low level swimmers as they did not have and use rebreathers therefore the ''technicality'' of the watch was less demanding.
The first watch to be issued had to comply with a Navy spec 18W8 as temporary spec in 1943. (cfr. Whitney)
If I am not wrong (because I do not have the book with me now that I am writing this) is was made official and definitive year or years later.
That temporary spec gave birth to the Elgin Canteen which was then the first amphibious watch in use with Navy by spec.
But at that time the 647 was not yet in existence as you can read by the good document available in a section of this Forum, which I attach.
The 647 only came many years later and exactly for 1950 and only made for two years for a total 47000 pieces.
The 539 instead lasted ten years from 1940 to 1950 with a total of 460000 pieces, ten times more.
Therefore for pure dating reasons it cant be forced the concept that the Canteen watches MUST have the 647 on board.
Infact for the period that goes from 43' (when the Navy spec was issued) to 1950 it seems correct to find the 539 on board and with the USN engravings.
I would rather say that the Canteen watches that bear the USN marking PRESUMABLY are the ones issued before the formation of UDT and for that interim period.
The UDT markings then testify the subsequent period and that until they dropped the Canteen type watches it is likely they used somewhere in time the 647 and that naturally across the 50'.
Therefore I strongly suggest you not to alter the nature of your watch until this theory has been verified and in particular by interpreting the case serial numbers which may help dating the watches better.
Ps In my first post I confused the 539 which is Hacking with the Hamilton 987 which had the two versions Hacking (987S) and and Non-Hacking (987), sorry, I was distracted when I wrote the post.
Enzo you mite be right I used the serial number from the 647 movement from military timepieces serial no F16155 it was made in 1950 first run they only made them for 2 years so this movement was not used in the WW2 one's here info from the elgin data base.
I might be wrong but by being the first run does that mean the first year this model was made.
that is interesting, I should check mine too...anyhow as I said that is a temptative theory and it should be throughly checked, lets see any other comment it might be added...
Billy, the only thing that bother me about the hacking 539 being a replacement in the Canteen is that the 539 movement is not shock protected and the hacking 647 is shock protected. Why would a Canteen diver with a shock protected caliber 647 be replaced with a non-shock protected 539? Seems like a step back
another piece of information this time related to the Hamilton Canteen watch.
By the useful Hamilton grade table available in the Forum section it looks evident that the 987S which was installed in the Hamilton Canteen was made from 1941 to 1948 in several dozens of thousands.
Therefore in accordance with these data we should find the Hamilton Canteen engraved with both markings USN and UDT and both with the 987S.
to answer a few of the questions you bring up - the Specifications for this watch date to Jan. 15, 1947. They supercede the previous Specs which the Hamilton was built to; for example the Hamilton's case was chrome plated and the new Specs required stainless steel. The Hamilton Specs were released on Dec. 1, 1944 (prior to this I have no knowledge of a dedicated "watertight" watch for issuance.
In regard to what movement requirements were to be met by the 18W8 (SHIPS) specs, the following is to be found:
Whether or not the 539 meets theser requirements I'll leave that to those more knowledgeable about watch movements and the 539 / 647 in particluar.
The fact that the Specs were released in '47 and the Elgin using the 647 (not produced till 1950 according to members here) isn't too surprising. Many military watch specifications have been released and not had watches built to meet those specs for several years. The MIL-W-22176 (SHIPS) is a good example and which we have ample documention to draw such conclusions. This Spec was released in 1961 and it wasn't until 1964 that Tornek sold his first batch of TR-900 dive watches (meeting this spec - the only to meet this spec).
The Hamilton canteen was built to the older spec and therefore I don't think any real evidence can be gained by making direct comparisons between the two watches (other than the Elgin was built to the spec that superseded the old).
I have read your reply throughly, tnks.
The abstract of the spec you posted is from spec 18W8(Ships) issued on Jan 15, 1947 indeed but it replaces spec 18W8(Int) issued in Dec 1, 1944.
Despite there could have been a lag for the application of spec 18W8(Int) I doubt it would take 6 years to make the first Elgin Canteen watch and equipped with the 647.
Instead I believe possible that the first Elgin Canteen had the 539 before the 647 was implemented for the following reasons:
The full text of 18W8(Ships) is very explicit is some details that make the difference with what we phisically observe on the watch you posted (same as mine).
At point E-3c and E-6b there are mandatory requirements that the markings MUST be :
either on the dial and on the back.
(The full text is available on the Whitney)
Additionally Whitney clearly states (pag 582) that he conducted a research together with UDT Museum Officials in Fort Pierce, Florida and he writes in the text that Elgin and Hamilton were issued to NCDU personnell.
All the above confirms that Elgin Canteen were issued to service long before 1950 as NCDU is co-age of spec 18W8(Int) and not years later.
The mandatory markings USN BUSHIPS of spec 18w8(Ships) are not present on the early version ( just simply marked USN xxxx) of the Elgin Canteen but they are indeed present on later model equipped with 647 mvmt.
Also I am not sure I have ever seen a Canteen made of any other material than steel so the material cant make the difference.
Therefore regardless of the mvmt specifications listed in the spec 18W8(Ships) it is still the dating factor, as explained in the other post, that make possible the presence of the 539 mvmt in the Elgin Canteen.
What makes you believe this is from an "early version" and not a later version meeting some amendment to the specification which we simply don't have the publication for ? Those markings remain a mystery I don't think can be pegged "an early verion" without further evidence.
I also find it hard to believe that Elgin would build their watch with a steel case (which would meet the '47, not the '44) when Hamilton was making chrome plated cases.
If the 539 were a correct movement one would think their movement serial nubmers would follow some logical order - from the few I've encountered they seem to be all over the place in regard to dates. With over 100 watches tracked it seems, to me at least, we'd find many more with the 539 if it were an original movement.
Just my .02 - I honestly think many details of these watches will continue to be questioned till other documents are discovered (or better evidence is collected).
Are there any specifications or records or such that say this variety of watch was issued only to divers? I would think it would have been a popular design not only for Naval personnel who were divers or swimmers of some kind, but also for many Naval personnel who were assigned to ships - especially smaller ones where you could get pretty wet splashing about in foul weather and where a non-water resistant watch would quickly rust or corrode from the salt water and spray. Also, I seem to see this more often than I would expect if they were used only by the small number of divers that were in the ranks.
good you come by as you hit a good point.
I do not think the watch was intended just for Swimmers of NCDU but its origin goes behond that restricted number of operators.
As we know often the originators of watch' specs within the US Armed Forces were the Corps of Engineers (CoE).
I would assume that also in this case the origin is that one....
Also the large number of watches issued doesnt fit with the relative small number of NCDU operators.
The answer probably lies in the attached articles about Seabees....
In that it is evident that in the origin of Seabees the CoE playied a major role, that the men in play were many and the missions required special equipments.
In the Seabees article, which is published within the Navy official site, it is also said that the NCDU ( and the UDT thereafter) originated within the Seabees and Naval Construction Battalion (NCB)
According to the above all looks much sound in understanding the origin of the Canteen.
I do not think that things have no explanation, it is only matter of willing to know and understand, either I do not think things happen casually, all has an explanation....naturally on some issue it is easy to use Postulates just to have a point were to start from....
In saying ''previous spec'' i postulate that the 18W8(Int) may not have had a requirement for that type of stamping ''USN BUSHIPS'' and I agree with you , probably without fundaments, because we dont have that spec handy.
But it must also be said that the Services do not go backwords and when they set a requirement they will hardly go back to the previous....infact all subsequent specs issued by the USN all call for ''USN Buships'' and never USNxxxx again...
So just because there is an explanation to everything....I wish we could close the loop and determine the story of the 539 vs 647, as I am now more than sure that it was initially issued with the 539.
I am a bit too far from Navy Archives so I must leave that to a goodwill person to find the 18W8(Int), on my part I will investigate my sources and let you know my findings,
Here is the source:
entering the above 539 mvmt s/n into the Forum' Elgin database the date given back somehow fits with historical artifacts above...
while quite some had been discussed here about Elgin mvmts nothing at all had been said about Watch Star Case Company of Ludington who made such a nice case for the Elgin Canteen.
They had been in business since 1905 and they seem to have produced stainless steel cases already in 1936....as the article says.
No case database is avlbl on line though....
A bit about this renamed case manufacturer also famous for their military production can be read in the attached link of the period
and a pic of the factory
FYI we at
are collecting data ref to the ELGIN Canteen for a database intended for public use, if you have such a watch you are kindly asked to participate...
Database will be also attached to IHC185 Elgin Section. (Lindell pls adv how)
our group has progressed in completing the research on the Elgin Canteens and a database has been created...we are going to post the file on IHC185, Lindell/Greg pls advice were to post it...
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