Helvetia 'US Army ORD No OH' Watches
Towards the end of or immediately post war it appears the US Army in Europe purchased a quantity of watches directly from a number of Swiss watch manufacturers
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Over the years a number of military style Helvetia watches have appeared that have ‘U.S. ARMY. ORD. No. OH.’ followed by a serial number engraved into the case back.
Below is a typical example of a centre second Helvetia OH watch:
There are two main questions around these watches, were they issued or were they perhaps sold via the PX or similar? And do they date from the end of the war or are they post war? These questions arise because the ‘OH’ designation does not appear in the 1945 edition of the ‘United States War Department Technical Manual TM9-1575’ this only having designations up to ‘OG’.
I have recorded details of around 40 Helvetia OH marked watches. About half of these also have German Army DH markings in addition to the US Army ones, most with the last variation of DH marking but some with the second to last variation.
The Helvetia serial numbers assigned to the OH marked watches run for a span of about 7000, apart from the earlier type DH watches which are outliers and have serial numbers about 30,000 (approx. 6 months) earlier than the rest.
This spread of 7000 watches is made up of US Army OH marked watches, German Army DH marked watches, watches with both markings and some 'military style' watches but with no official military markings at all. The Helvetia serial numbers are randomly distributed among all these types; this would imply that the different types of watches were made at roughly the same time. From various dating evidence I have relating to Helvetia serial numbers I would put this as during 1944.
Looking specifically at the OH marked watches. The OH numbers range from 95xxx to 99xxx, a range of about 5000. I’ve also seen Felca watches with OH No. 92xxx and 94xxx and Universal Geneve with 93xxx.
There appear to be two groups of Helvetia OH marked watches.
The first ranges from OH 95xxx to 98xxx. These are a mixture of mainly white dialled centre or sub second watches with a couple of black dials and also the earlier type DH watches.
The second group is the 99xxx numbered watches. These are all additionally marked with the last type German Army DH numbering and all, apart from one random white dial, are standard DH type black dial, sub second watches.
So what conclusions can we draw from the above?
Well, all these watches were made during the war. The German Army DH watches are obviously not post war and the serial numbers of the DH only, OH only, and double marked are intermingled. I understand that DH watches were not delivered after 1944, I’m not sure what evidence there is for this but from my own research I would place the Helvetia serial numbers at late 1944 at the latest.
There is a possibility that these watches were manufactured at this time but were not delivered and sat around for months in 1945. They were then sold to the US Army when they placed an order after the war. I think this is unlikely, evidence seems to suggest that the Swiss were having trouble finding enough raw materials to produce the watches they had orders for, not that they had watches lying around trying to find someone to buy them.
There is also a theory that the DH/OH double marked watches were captured stock taken from the Germans at the end of the war and re-issued to the US Army. The fact that the Helvetia serial numbers are mingled between the different types and the OH numbers of the DH/OH watches seem to follow directly on from the OH only marked ones doesn’t support this.
From the evidence available it seems possible that an order was placed and partially fulfilled with what Helvetia could supply, including a few DH marked watches of the earlier type. They then ran into difficulties but had a supply of ready for delivery DH watches and made these available to the US Army. At this period of the war perhaps the Germans weren’t able to take delivery or Helvetia decided they’d rather sell them to the allies. I think that the mix of watch types and serial numbers makes much more sense if they came from the manufacturers rather than some being purchased and some captured and reissued.
While looking into these watches I came upon a couple of other bits of evidence for when OH watches in general were delivered.
The first is this extract from a Felca advert from the last months of the war showing a US Army Exchange Order for watches dated Feb 1945, the watch pictured in the advert is exactly the same as OH marked Felcas I’ve seen. This doesn’t mean that the OH marked Felcas are definitely tied to this order, however I think there is a good possibility especially as the advert states ’30,000 American Soldiers are getting this watch’ and there don’t seem to be thousands of other military marked Felcas about . It is interesting that the place of exchange is described as the Swiss border showing that the US was taking delivery directly from the manufacturers in Europe.
The second is an OH marked Universal Geneve watch that was sold with the original receipt which, according to the advert, stated:
‘13-5-46 Martin H. Murray, T/3 MD 42126869, for Watch, wrist, 1 ea, Universal #NO-OH-93064 for the amount of $14.00, Sale of Surplus Property Foreign acct. Area Clearing acct.# 21x6200.’
Unfortunately the receipt isn’t pictured but if correct a watch being sold as surplus in May 1946 must be a few months old at least, this also seems to be evidence for OH watches being military property and not private purchase PX items.
Taken together I believe this is all quite persuasive of OH watches being ordered directly from the Swiss manufacturers for issue by the US Army towards the end of the war rather than post war purchases or captured German Army stocks. The fact that these were Swiss watches purchased in Europe could explain why they are not mentioned in the War Dept Technical Manual as this appears to be a document used to help service US manufactured watches.