This acts as an introduction to an incredibly niche area of military wrist watch collecting, the Aerial camera watch. Watches used within aerial cameras present quite a difficult field for the collector. It requires considerable time to find an original camera and it is even more challenging to locate and identify the timepiece used. The final issue is determining the precise role which the combination served.
As a whole, these watches are not very well known, or extensively written about. This is why it is a good opportunity for Bold Timepieces to write about them whilst we have two examples undergoing repair.
Bold Timepieces example of an unbranded A.M 14.A/1102 with FHF calibre
Before covering the watches specifically, some background is necessary on the nature of the cameras.
Air Force cameras that utilised watches can be divided into several groups:
Group 1 - Forward looking gun cameras (cine cameras) used during combat, for the recording or verification of ‘hits’ in air-to-air dog fights or air-to-ground attacks. This data can then be used for training purposes.
Group 2 - Airborne data recorders for photographing radar or oscilloscope screens.
Group 3 - Vertical or oblique reconnaissance still camera (including mapping cameras) looking downwards or sideways from the cockpit, fuselage, wings, or reconnaissance pod of an aircraft.
The applications might include surveillance or reconnaissance to identify targets for attack, provide information on the size and movement of enemy forces, conditions in surface battle areas, information on weather and terrain, or even the recording of post-strike damage.
The A.M 14.A code refers to a gun/missile camera, which falls under group 1. The specific camera most often used was the F.46 Torpedo Training Camera (and air speed recording cameras).
Royal Navy/Coastal Command F.46 Torpedo Camera, under-wing mounted (crown copyright)
The torpedo camera was a recording camera which was mounted under the wing of an aircraft. It was used to record day and night torpedo attack training and to create torpedo attack records. This was primarily for torpedos or depth charges.
The F.46 image was particularly impressive at the time, as it captured as an ultra-wide panoramic photograph, with only 4 pictures being recorded on standard 120 type roll film, compared with the normal 12 exposures on the film obtained using a commercial medium format camera such as the Hasselblad.
In the period leading up to WW2 some cameras included timepieces. However it was the Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Command who predominantly employed accurate watches. They were largely involved in attacking surface vessels and submarines and the efficiency of these attacks, using depth charges and torpedoes, depended on precise timing and position knowledge of position, for accurate release.
The British Coastal Command ran training centres during WW2, using film of real attacks on German U-Boats was projected onto a screen. The trainees were required to press a ‘dummy’ torpedo release button at the point where they considered it to be the correct moment to register a hit. The exact timing chosen by the student was recorded for subsequent evaluation by the training team. This demonstrates the importance of the timepieces, combined with the cameras. They became vital aids to enable training and assessment. Yet the crucial role was for the pilot in battle. Any given pilot could now review footage from a particular mission and analyse the relative errors or successes with a clear link to timings.
Some Royal Naval aircraft were also fitted with an Air Speed Recording Camera which was wired to give synchronous exposure with the F.46 camera. This opened the door to a new level of analysis, with the aircraft instrument panel also featuring on the film.
Photo taken by an F.46 Camera with a 14A/1102 watch (Top left corner)
The 14A/1102 watch
The watch used with the F.46 was a British watch with the reference 14A/1102. The watch was mounted in a rectangular frame which was attached to the camera. The watches face was displayed on the film with the help of a mirror and a small lens.
The specification permitted timekeeping variation of up to 48 seconds per day, with regulation to normal temperatures, down to -20C. This was due to many attacks taking place in the colder regions of the North Atlantic. Testing was to be carried out with the dial in the horizontal and Vertical position.
Watches used in the cameras F5 and F46 of the Air Ministry for reconnaissance duties, in Dennison casings, store ref 14A/1102
The watches are legible, which was a key factor in the creation of any military watch. The use of a central sweeping second hand was also vital due to the need to assess recordings based on second to second changes.
What is unusual about the watch is its standard design. Most camera timepieces are designed to slot neatly into a specific casing as they were never needed on the wrist. However these watches, despite never being worn on the wrist, they have lugs and usual wristwatch design. This may well be due to the need to lower costs. Using a standardised design which was already in production, or could be produced using a mix of existing parts, was far less difficult than designing a watch specifically for a purpose.
Another example of a Bold Timepieces owned, unbranded A.M 14.A/1102 with FHF calibre
These watches served an important purpose and are relatively rare now, especially due to little being recorded of their usage and existence. Unlike other Air Ministry watches, a Google search will draw a blank when trying to research the 14A/1102. This means that many examples may not have been not respected, leading to scores being lost with the passage of time. This may also mean that there are many examples out there that have not been identified. Perhaps with the help of this article, informed by a very small section Konrads book and the examples we have, these watches may now be recognised and appreciated accordingly.
The focus has been firmly placed on true pilot watches provided by the Air Ministry, leading to prices rising beyond that of many modest collectors wallets. We feel these interesting examples of an aviation watch offer a very wearable and affordable option.
Most of the information in this article comes from the book "Military Timepieces / Militäruhren - 150 Years Watches and Clocks of German Forces" by Konrad Knirim (ISBN 10: 3893552324)