Very few veterans are left to give their first-hand accounts of June 6th, 1944, but acquiring this watch some years ago provided ample motivation for research and I'd like to share the story with you.
With HS2 engraved on the back and a Broad Arrow symbol on the enamel dial, watch 9409 is quickly identified as a Royal Navy navigation chronometer. Inside resides what may be the prettiest version of V&C's classic Chronometre Royal movement, resplendent in Geneva stripes and rhodium plating. Timekeeping standards were quite onerous for these watches; under 1 second per 24 hours.
The Royal Maritime Museum at Greenwich still holds records of chronometer watches and provided me with a copy of 9409s ledger. The watch was purchased by HM Government in 1943 but remained in storage until 1945, so clearly it wasn't a participant on D-Day. However, the ships and establishments where it saw service subsequently were very active on that fateful day.
CSO Saltcoats remained a mystery for several months, baffling even Royal Navy veterans. However, the trail eventually led to the super-secret "Y Service" of British General Communications Headquarters. CSO's or Composite Signals Organizations were listening posts tasked with intercepting German communications and sending them on to Station X, Bletchley Park, for decryption. Saltcoats was strategically located on the Scottish coast for monitoring North Sea traffic.
9409s next assignment was also a puzzle but easier solved thanks to an essay by Horance Macaulay on the few Fighter Direction Tenders, or FDTs, upon which the success of D-Day depended. Converted from LST landing craft, these top-secret radar vessels were parked off shore for the invasion, to detect enemy aircraft and direct their interception by allied planes.
Ironically, the FDT's radar systems were developed from captured German equipment. The concept of radar vessels was first used by the Allies during the landings on Sicily, which proved so successful that four ships were constructed for Normandy. FDT 217 carried a compliment of 100 Navy and 176 Air Force personnel. She was stationed off the beaches of Sword, Juno and Gold on D-Day and remained for seventeen days before withdrawing. 217 was undergoing a refit for the anticipated invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs ended that war.
Leading Air Craftsman Smith serving on FDT 217 on D-Day recorded these observations years later:
"At 3:45 the action station alarms went and everyone went to their stations. Flares were dropping in several places making it light as day. A terrific barrage was put up by the seaborne batteries. Tracer bullets in the thousands shot out. Rockets went up making an unearthly screech and burst in the air like the sound of a thousand giant fireworks. The rockets when they burst looked like red hot snakes wriggling about.
For miles the air was alive, the noise was deafening, but even so we could hear through this pandemonium the steady throb of aircraft engines as they passed overhead. Shell splinters and shrapnel was falling all around the ship and hitting the sides like hailstones. And then crash! crash! two shells dropped somewhere not too close but quite near enough. The ship gave a shudder from stem to stern and then was steady again."
9409s last active service was aboard the Destroyer Escort HMS Southdown. With a compliment of 146 officers and men, these small fast ships were intended for anti-submarine duties and general protection of the Allied convoys crossing the Atlantic. Southdown earned battle honours in the North Sea and Normandy.
Chronometer watch 9409 was placed in storage in 1946 and surplussed in 1961, when it entered the collectors market and eventually my cabinet. I feel privileged to be able to share its story on this very special day.