Vintage Hamilton BuShips canteen diver

Today I bring you another 1940s American military watch. Not an unissued one this time, but nonetheless still an original one, complete with strap, in pretty good condition.

As mentioned previously, whilst the A-11s were produced in large quantities by Elgin, Waltham and Bulova, Hamilton also produced US-issued military watches in much more limited production runs. The Hamilton USN BuShips canteen divers’ watch is an example of this.

So what is a BuShips canteen watch?

‘BuShips’ stands for the United States Navy’s Bureau of Ships, established by Congress on June 20, 1940 through the passing of a law which consolidated the functions of the Bureau of Construction and Repair and the Bureau of Engineering. The new Bureau was headed by a Chief and Deputy-Chief, one selected from the engineering corps (Marine Engineer) and the other from the construction corps (Naval Architect). Rear Admiral Samuel M. ‘Mike’ Robinson was named BuShips’ first Chief, and Rear Admiral Alexander H. Van Keuren BuShips’ first Deputy-Chief.

The United States Navy Bureau of Ships’ responsibilities included supervising the design, construction, conversion, procurement, maintenance, and repair of ships and other craft for the Navy; managing shipyards, repair facilities, laboratories, and shore stations; developing specifications for fuels and lubricants; and conducting salvage operations.

The BuShips was abolished by DOD Order of March 9, 1966 as part of the general overhaul of the Navy’s bureau system of material support, succeeded by the Naval Ship Systems Command, now known as the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).

Hamilton USN BuShips canteen watches were issued to members of the Naval Combat Demolition Units’ (NCDU) underwater demolition teams (UDT), who were responsible for clearing harbours and obstructions. Many of these teams were engaged in clearing harbours and obstructions during war.

With its service number stamped on the case back, the Hamilton canteen has a screw-down watertight outer crown. Canteen watches are unusual in how they protect themselves from water via a thin metal rim fitted on the crystal which is soldered to the case and attached to the ‘canteen’ (named for its resemblance to the design of water canteens) crown cap.

The case measures 31.26mm x 38.8mm and comes with the original issue grey navy strap. The movement is a 987S with hacking, and 17 jewels. The service number is SS 55 XXX H2, which dates it to 1944-1945 (SS43001 – SS61500). The 987S was used between 1941 and 1948.

There is a ‘W’ stamped between the lugs. From the information that I’ve been able to find, this seems to indicate that it is a case made by Keystone case company. The Star and Keystone case companies made the cases for Hamilton, Elgin, and Waltham military watches. I can’t work out what the ‘H2’ designation means, so please leave a comment if you know.

It appears that there were eight variants of the pre-1960 Hamiltons with centre sweep second hand that feature the 987S movement of which two (the non-dive and dive aka ‘canteen’) were made for the USN BuShips. The others were made for the Royal Canadian Air Force (2,000), U.S. Marine Corps (15,888) and U.S. Navy (22,410).

If you look very carefully at the watch (preferably with the aid of a loupe) you can see a very faint stamped ‘Hamilton’ at 6 o’clock.

This old milwatch shows normal wear and patina for a watch of its age and purpose but is in remarkable condition for an issued watch. BuShip canteens don’t come up very often, so if your interest has been piqued, do some research for all the BuShip options and keep your eyes peeled. Also, be sure to remember that it is only a fraction over 31mm in size.

As I’ve noted previously, the world of milwatches is a huge and complicated one. I’ve only scratched the surface for this particular watch, but would commend the Military Watch Resource Forum to you as a good source for further information or if you want to venture into the milwatch world. By modern standards, vintage milwatches are small, so if you are looking to get one to wear, as opposed to collect, it’s probably best that you try and see one ‘in the metal’ first.

Categories: Divers watches, Hamilton, Hands-on, Military watches, Vintage watches etc, Watch Profile, watches

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