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Swiss watch supply during WW2.......

5007 Views 6 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Flightpath

I have often wondered how Swiss watches were supplied to the allies during WW2.
Omega & Longines just to name two supplied many watches to the RAF, but how was this done when Switzerland was surrounded by axis countries?
There couldn't have been so many in stock in th UK before the war........ so what is the answer?:think:

Any information appreciated!


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Hi -

Basically, the Swiss and the Swedes in WW2 were neutrals that supplied to anyone buying. Trade for both countries was not a problem as long as they used their own national flag carriers or transshipped to a neutral third country.

Hence many watch movements went by Swiss airplanes to Portugal or Spain for further transport.

The rules of war (aka Geneva Conventions) are quite clear on the role of neutral shipping. Such a ship may be stopped and searched for war materials, and if it defends itself in may be sunk. Of course, the ocean is a large place, and Swedish shipping, for instance, was rarely stopped except on the high seas, so that the Swedish sale of iron ore to the Germans was largely without interdiction.

Watch movements were generally so small that they could be easily transported by air.

Watches were generally not considered to be war-critical supplies as well: while it was important to have good watches, there were enough options open. It's all a question of priorities: generally speaking, military action was taken against military targets, and inspection of neutral shipping was fairly rare (but did happen).

Commerce did not cease with the war. It was just made much more difficult.

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Thanks for the info John, have a great Christmas!
I believe some watches reached Britain in diplomatic bags.
Technically, from July 1940 to August 1944 Vichy France was considered neutral. Therefore, by land from Switzerland - Vichy France - Spain and/or Portugal to where ever.

Although, from 11 November 1942 onwards, with Germany occupation of the southern parts of France the movement of goods through Vichy France may have been hampered.
Rolex sold thousands to watches to Allied POWs


A Captive Market
Swiss watch sales were badly hit by the war, especially after Germany invaded unoccupied Vichy France in November 1942, and neutral Switzerland found itself completely encircled by Axis powers. Watch companies were cut off from their best customers, the British and Americans.
Rolex, however, discovered that there were plenty of British and Americans right on Switzerland's doorstep - literally a captive market - in German prisoner-of-war camps. Stalag Luft III, for example, housed up to 10,000 Allied airmen, shot down in operations over occupied Europe. Thousands more Allied officers were interned in the various Oflag (officer's POW camps) scattered throughout the German Reich.

Clive Nutting (at right) with his "Brothers in Arm" in Stalag Luft III

This was evidently a booming market, judging from Rolex's confirmation of an order for one of its more expensive watches received from prisoner No. 738 in Stalag Luft III, Sagan, Germany (now part of Poland). Hans Wilsdorf, founding director of Rolex who took personal charge of sales to POWs, warned Clive Nutting of "an unavoidable delay in the execution of your order." The delay was due, not to wartime restrictions, "but to a large number of orders in hand for officers."

Rolex's Incredible Offer
The large number of orders is explained by the incredible offer Rolex was making to POWs. Underlined in Wilsdorf's letter to Nutting are the words, "…but you must not even think of settlement during the war." The news that Rolex was offering watches on a buy-now- pay-whenever" basis must have spread through the camps like wildfire. More than 3,000 Rolex watches were reportedly ordered by British officers in the Oflag VII B POW camp in Bavaria alone.
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Great story snorkeler!

The Timezone artical is very interesting, I wonder how many paid for their watches after the war!
Hans Wilsdorf (as the story shows) must have been pretty sure that the allies were going to win the war!
I would have thought that the germans/guards would have confiscated the watches or or taken them before the prisoners ever saw them!


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