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Omega 'Spitfire'?

18321 Views 23 Replies 12 Participants Last post by  M4tt
Reading the '53 omega post I was interested to discover Omega's 'On Her Majesty's service' page on their website:

OMEGA Watches: On Her Majesty's Service

Which is an entertaining spin on Omega's involvement with the UK armed and security forces both real and imaginary.

However, there was one paragraph that caused me to raise an eyebrow in a manner Roger Moore would have been proud of.

Omega said:
Watches created exclusively for British military personnel are nothing new for OMEGA. As far back as World War I, it supplied the Royal Flying Corps with its pilots' 'cockpit' watches (there was a special holder on the dashboard to mount them). These were in use up to the late thirties, until clocks were introduced into aircraft. They were followed by the so-called 'Spitfire' wristwatches (actually issued to pilots and navigators of many aircraft types) during WW2. The later Royal Air Force (RAF) model of 1953 features an oversized crown so it can be used while wearing flight gloves, and is one of the most highly prized of all collectable OMEGAS.
Now, the paragraph is followed by a picture of an Omega CK2292, otherwise known as a 6b/159. As a matter of historical fact, these were the first Omega wristwatches that were offered to the RAF and so I assume that the sentence in bold refers to them. So far so good. My problem is that I have never ever heard of any Omega being referred to as 'The Spitfire' and I certainly have never heard of this one being called 'The Spitfire'. Given that I own three of them and take obsessive research of such things to a level that many would regard as geeky, I'm pretty certain that I'd have noticed if a watch I like was called 'The Spitfire', not least because another mild area of interest of mine is aircraft and well, you know...

So I smell a rat. I may be wrong, but I rather suspect that someone at Omega is trying to make a connection that in reality is more than a little tenuous. First, as far as I know, no one calls the CK2292 anything apart from The 6b/159 and occasionally 'The Royal Air Force Watch' as this is how the Omega Vintage Database refers to it. Googling 'Omega Spitfire' demonstrates that while a few people are trying to connect the two in pursuit of a sale, no one is calling the watch by that name.

Now I could be wrong, and if there are people calling the CK2292 'The Spitfire' then I guess they'd be here at one point or another and can put me right, but unless that happens, I suspect that this is an ad agency fantasy that's trying to pimp the humble CK2292 by making a connection with the fighter boys and the Battle of Britain.

These watches have never had the glamour of the of the later watches like the 6b/542 for the simple reason that, at 33mm and with a snap back, they don't really appeal to modern sensibilities. When this is combined with confusion about the two colour schemes, HS8 versions and the recasing of many of them in Dennison Aquatite cases in 1956, the 6b/159 is a bit of a minefield. Obviously Omega have decided to pull hard on their military connection, but I'm not sure that making stuff up is the way forward.

The CK 2292 was a tender to fulfil the 6b/159 specification and would have just started arriving in 1940. It was designed as a navigator's watch with high accuracy. These would not, at the time, have been automatically issued to Spitfire pilots for the simple reason that the MKII Spitfire was a short range, fine weather, day interceptor equipped with HF radio to allow it to be directed from the ground. Accurate long range 'blind' navigation of day fighters was far from a priority, the pilots were under orders to break off combat at the coast and use a map if lost unless damaged.. The MKII Spitfire was equipped with a standard Smiths eight day clock, which, looking at the MKII from the Battle of Britain Flight, is tucked right out of the way just above the magneto switches on the far left of the panel. Thus, if caught out to sea, or above unbroken cloud in an area with high ground and with a failed radio, a pilot could still navigate by a clock they'd be able to see at a glance rather than a watch that would be under several layers of wool, silk and sheepskin in the MKII's unheated cockpit.

In short, when the 6b/159 specification Omega started arriving, the people pretty well least likely to get them would have been Spitfire pilots. As the war continued, the small contribution from Omega was absolutely dwarfed by the US delivered 6b/234 models from Waltham, Elgin and so on, (which can still, be picked up for absolute peanuts, but are a teeny bit radioactive...) In other words, I'm sure that one or two Spitfire pilots would have flown with the Omega 6b/159, but if Omega really wanted to name the watch after an aircraft that they would have been likely to be used in then they should be called 'The Wellington'. I quite like the idea of a wellington watch...

That's a bit of a blather, but the bottom line is that, afaik, no one calls the CK2292 'The Spitifire' and there is precious little historical reason for doing so. Naughty Omega.

Mind you:

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Just found a spitfire watch Corr Vintage Watches, its either true or Omega research team uses ebay for ref name and you know people on ebay like to big up a watch to ask for more lol
I think they are claiming that the watch was a Spitfire pilot's watch, not that the watch is actually called a 'Spitfire'.

"History is written by the victors"...
and the Marketing Departments.
Oh don't be so cynical, it's a well known fact that the commander of Twelve Group, fighter command, Trafford Leigh-Mallory insisted that all of his pilots wore Rolex Air King watches to commemorate the successful ascent, but tragically unsuccessful descent, of Everest by his brother George Leigh-Mallory, who carried a Rolex Oyster to the summit as part of the top secret R&D process that led to the Explorer. The dispute between Keith Park, AOC commanding Eleven Group, who insisted his Spitfire pilots wore the almost eponymous Omega and Mallory who was equally insistent on them using the Air king led to the so called 'big king' controversy, one of the most contentious events of the Battle of Britain.

The famous ace, Douglas Bader, argued that the allegedly superior timekeeping of the Air King allowed his pilots to rapidly form up into larger formations, the so called 'big kings' named after the watch that he, and his commander, believed made assembling such complex formations possible. Park, on the other hand, insisted on the flexibility of using single squadrons. Whether this strategy was forced on him because of the reliability of his watches or a tactical choice has been a moot point for over seventy years. Likewise, the assertion that the Air King had a tendency to run slow, causing the Big Kings to tend to intercept aircraft after they had bombed rather than before has been hotly denied by the secret Rolex service department at White Waltham.

Whatever the truth, the fact is that, shortly after the successful defence of British airspace that led directly to the cancellation of Operation Sealion, the proposed invasion of Britain, the C in C of Fighter command and architect of the victory was retired and shunted abroad, while Park, the commander who bore the brunt of the battle, was moved to a training command.

While this looked like a victory for Rolex, they rapidly realised that the market was about to be flooded with cheap American fakes and abruptly changed their marketing strategy; Bader, their most successful advocate, was parachuted into Germany (under a cover story of being shot down) to set up a successful chain of Rolex concessions in prisoner of war camps. The rest, they say, is history.

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Good to hear from you Matt.

I just wanted to share a video that is sort of related in that it involves long distance, reconnaissance spitfire.

SPITFIRE 944 - YouTube

hope you find it interesting.
That's a marvelous film. I really enjoyed it. Thank you!

I don't know if you ever saw this:

Wreck diving with a PRS14

There's quite a lot of interesting stuff spread throughout the thread, so keep scrolling.
Thanks, I'm glad you like it. Joking apart, I think that the treatment of the two officers who, more than any other won the Battle of Britain, was dreadful. Ironically, it meant the Keith Park ended up being AOC Malta and effectively fought a very similar battle to keep Malta both free and in a position to interdict shipping for the North Africa campaigns. If Malta had been lost or neutralised, then Egypt and Palestine probably would have fallen and that would have opened up a whole new dimension to WWII.
My God, even as I was reading it, I wasn't sure if my leg was being pulled. I'm still not certain now.
Welcome back, M4tt!
What do you mean 'leg being pulled?' you only have to Google it to see it is all true. Obviously, the covert and highly secret battle between Rolex and Omega was rather ineffectively camouflaged by British Intelligence in much the same way as they pretended that eating carrots was the secret of British night fighter pilots' success. In fact, it was the combination of the superior lume of Omega watches, that allowed them to navigate accurately without lights at night, and onboard radar to home in on a target once in the right place. Even today, people believe carrots help you see in the dark and that Omega lume is rubbish.

Look at the facts: in nineteen forty, Douglas Bader was a very junior commander, while he had been in the RAF from the late twenties, without promotion, he was pensioned off in 1933 after losing his legs while ignoring regulations and performing aerobatics with no safety margin. He rejoined the RAF in October 1939, by April of 1940 was put in charge of a squadron and by August of 1940, while still only a flight lieutenant, he was routinely given tactical control of as many as five squadrons. In short, in under a year Bader went from a civilian ex pilot officer to the responsibilities usually afforded to a wing commander.

For an ordinary pilot, this meteoric rise would be unthinkable, but for a Rolex ambassador, tasked with turning Leigh-Mallory's obsession with Rolex into a military and commercial success it makes perfect sense. Bader was catapulted into the middle of this controversy as Rolex's representative with the task of showing that the Air King was the watch the Air Ministry needed. I will not get into the details of the apparent over claiming by the so called Big King and infamous sales meeting at the Air Ministry, but the subtle hand of the Rolex publicity department is clear throughout.

In these days of satnav and GPS, it is easy to forget how important navigation was and the critical role that chronometers had served in the British military since Harrison perfected the Ship's chronometer. Unfortunately, then as now, both Omega and Rolex chronometers were prohibitively expensive, and the purchase of so many watches by the RAF and by individual pilots, left both the pilots and the Government heavily in debt, a fact wryly commented upon by Churchill when summing up the battle: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few". It still defies belief that Rolex and Omega, working together, have managed to completely change the public perception of this statement and duck Churchill's clear accusation of profiteering.

I'm disappointed in you Tino!
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It's nice to see someone knows a bit about the history of Omega. Mind you, I have always suspected that the failings in the 'Dynamic' were a deliberate policy on the part of Omega. For example, have you ever noticed the absolute commitment to nuclear disarmament hidden in plain sight on the dial of the Speedmaster range?

It's so blatant, I don't know how they expected to get away with it!

(for the younger generation)
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Well, as we have discussed in the past, you are the expert on the 'Bond' documentaries, so you already knew really.
Thanks very much.

I have dived a few since then, including the wreck of one of the very few submarine aircraft carriers. Sadly the conditions on that were marginal in terms of both current and visibility. If you want something really amazing, dig up JoeK's dive on a u boat. That had sharks and everything.
By coincidence, it appears that Douglas Bader's watch is actually for sale on Ebay with provenance:


It's a Timor ATP rather than an Omega 6b/159 (or a Rolex) As Bader was only actually flying from October '39 to August '41 (when he was shot down) this gives a useful clue as to the sorts of watches fighter pilots were actually wearing at the time.

More to the point, the fact that ATP timepieces were rapidly replaced by WWW and other watches shows that this was the watch that Bader wore before being shot down in '41.

I'm also delighted to note that I have a Timor ATP! (somewhere)
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