Panerai 3646 Kampfschwimmer Type D Wristwatch c.1943
These extremely rare and historically important timepieces were issued to German Kampfschwimmer (combat swimmers) during WW2.
The first watches of their kind were produced by the Florence-based watchmaker, Panerai, for the Italian frogmen of the Decima Flottigla MAS (10th Assault Vehicle Flotilla), which was part of the Regina Marina (Italian Royal Navy). The Decima MAS had been engaged in active duties since Italy entered the war in 1940 and had experienced some notable successes during the Battle of the Mediterranean, with numerous sabotage operations and manned torpedo attacks against Allied shipping.
By 1943, the tide of war was turning against Germany and they began to lose the initiative following their defeat against the Russians at Stalingrad, which marked the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.
Around the time of Italy’s capitulation in 1943, Germany began to establish and train its own underwater sabotage units, using much of the know-how and techniques they had learned from their former Italian allies. The main purpose of the German combat swimmers was to slow down the Allied advance and impending invasion of Germany.
To supply its new Kampfschwimmer force, the Germans made an order for some new Ref. 3646 watches from Panerai. Consequently, 720 watches were produced in 1943, the case numbers of which range from 260400 – 261120.
The case number of the watch for sale is 2604xx, which makes it one of the earliest Ref. 3646 Type D examples to have been produced. The serial number of the Rolex 618 Type 1b calibre movement which powers the watch is 7519xxx, which falls in the correct range for an early Type D example.
In contrast to the earlier watches issued to the Italian Decima MAS, those produced for the German Kampfschwimmer units featured anonymous dials. It is thought the main reason for this is due to Panerai’s founder, Giuseppe Panerai, not wanting to be associated with the Nazi war effort. Furthermore, it is believed he was made to produce the watches under considerable duress from the Germans and without payment.
The Panerai 3646 Kampfschwimmer for sale was originally sold by Sotheby’s in 2013 and is thought to have belonged to the consignor’s father, who was a Royal Marine stationed at Kiel Naval Base in Germany at the end of WW2.
The sale was highlighted by Ralf Ehlers and Volker Weigman on their website, Vintage Panerai, a link to which is as follows: https://vintagepanerai.com/2013/11/06/kampfschwimmer-sothebys-important-watches/