Author Archive

“Il cavallo di Troia” – the secret SLC base

by on Nov.25, 2021, under Allgemein

IMG_3568_600x600Enemy ships in the harbour of Gibraltar have been in the sight of the Royal Italian Navy since September 1940. After several attacks by “Gamma” frogmen and SLC units, ideas to build a secret base of the Decima MAS were realized in the second half of the year 1942. Convoy ships for the United States were beginning to arrive in quantity. The numbers of potential targets at anchor in the Bay of Algeciras were growing almost daily.

Earlier in 1942, a base for the Decima MAS “Gamma” frogmen was established in the Villa Carmela near La Linea from where several missions were carried out against British merchant ships (see page 126-131 / chapter II.I). During the months of shaping Villa Carmela into an advanced base, the idea for a bigger and much more effective operation had taken form in the mind of Licio Visintini, one of the SLC pilots of the mission B.G.4 in September 1941 (see page 374-381 / chapter II.III) which was carried out from the submarine Scirè.

IMG_3570_600x600Before the new base was ready for action, each attack at Gibraltar had required a long submarine voyage, air and land transportation of the attack-teams, the shipping of supplies and weapons, arrangements for rendezvous, an approach by submarine, and finally the task of smuggling the survivors back to Italy thru neutral Spanish territory.

Licio Visintini’s idea became real with turning the anchored ship Olterra inside the pier of Algeciras into a secret base for SLC missions. Visintini and further technical specialists replaced the original crew of the Olterra. An assembly workshop for the SLC devices (which arrived in sections, declared as spare parts for the damaged ship) was established in the hull. A portside cabin of the Olterra became the observation post with an excellent view of Gibraltar harbour. Finally, a folding door on the port side bow (see coffee table shot of page 386-387 /chapter II.III) became the exit door for the SLC units below waterline to reach their targets – and to return back into the hull of the Olterra. After months of intensive work in total secrecy, the inconspicious ship Olterra was turned into a Trojan Horse“il cavallo di Troia” – and six men were ready for action with their SLC devices.

IMG_3565_600x600The Olterra was starting point of the following SLC missions against enemy ships in the bay of Algeciras / Gibraltar harbour: B.G.5 (7/8 December 1942), B.G.6 (7/8 May 1943) and  B.G.7 (3/4 August 1943). Our book “The References” 1930’s-1940’s features two Ref. 3646 watches which were used during these missions.

The Ref. 3646 / Type A “Radiomir Panerai” watch of Ernesto Notari is featured in chapter II.I (page 58-91 / see coffee table shot on the left) – more on this watch and its history can be found here. The Ref. 3646 / Type C “Radiomir Panerai” watch of Licio Visintini is featured in chapter II.III (page 350-367) – more on this watch and the history behind can be found here. The new “The References” books can be ordered only in our bookstore.

Enjoy reading!
[Ralf Ehlers & Volker Wiegmann]

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Farewell, Manfred Lau

by on Nov.22, 2021, under Allgemein


Sad news reached us last weekend from Saxony. Manfred Lau, born 1925, who told us about his experiences in the last months of the Second World War, has recently passed away at the age of 96. His personal story became Chapter VI in our book “History2” and will remain as one of the few stories from surviving “Kampfschwimmer” veterans, which we were able to publish ten years ago. We have been in contact with Mr. Lau since 2003 and have always been amazed by the many details of his training on the island of Le Vignole in the Lagoon of Venice, which he shared with us after more than 60 years passed. May he rest in peace!

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Ref. 3646 / Type E @ Webb’s

by on Nov.02, 2021, under Allgemein

The Ref. 3646 / Type E will be auctioned on 21 November 2021 at Webb’s Fine Jewels, Watches & Luxury Accessories. You can read more about this watch here or go directly to the auctioneer’s website (Lot 423).

Features of the watch:
Reference: 3646 / Type E
Dial: “California Dial”
Case number: 2609XX
Movement: Rolex Cal. 618 / Type 1 mod.

[Photo with kind permission / courtesy of www.webbs.co.nz]

Interesting read can be found in our book “History2” on page 628-629, too.

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30 October 1940 – today in history…

by on Oct.30, 2021, under Allgemein

1940. The first mission against the Port of Gibraltar (B.G.1) was aborted when it became clear that the British fleet had already left for Operation “Menace”. The transport submersible Scirè under the command of Junio Valerio Borghese was still 50 nautical miles off Gibraltar. Disappointed, the SLC teams returned to their secret base at Bocca di Serchio, where they intensively discussed the feasibility of this type of attack. This happened at the same time when „Operazione G.A.2“ was about to end with the sinking of the transport submersible Gondar.

R_SMG_Scire_Crest_600x600Initial, decisive proof of the feasibility and the successful, secret penetration of enemy ports was achieved by Comandante Borghese and his men in mission B.G.2. Again, three SLCs were dispatched: Teseo Tesei with Alcide Pedretti, Luigi Durand de la Penne with Emilio Bianchi and Gino Birindelli with Damos Paccagnini.

The Scirè came into position at around 1.30 a.m. on 30 October 1940 in order to allow the SLC teams to disembark from the conning tower of the submersible. The Scirè only remained at the surface for a short time so that the three SLC teams could reach the cylindrical pods on the deck of the submersible. The Scirè then retreated back beneath the surface. Under water, the three teams manoeuvred their SLCs out from the pods and started their attack on the Port of Gibraltar. The three teams experienced problems almost as soon as the attack began. While Tesei and his co-pilot Pedretti had problems with their breathing apparatus, Durand de la Penne and his co-pilot Bianchi experienced problems with their electric engine. Both teams decided to abort the attack and sink their SLCs. However, only De la Penne managed to do this. Tesei’s SLC was washed up on the Spanish coast near La Linea and caused quite a stir among both the Spanish authorities and the British secret service. Both teams swam to the Spanish coast and were able to return safely to Italy with the help of the Italian secret service.

BG2_Gibraltar_600x600The fate of the entire operation now lay in the hands of Gino Birindelli and his co-pilot Damos Paccagnini. Unaware of the fact that their comrades-in-arms had already had to terminate their mission, they launched their attack on the Port of Gibraltar. Although mission B.G.2 was in principle a failure because not one enemy ship was sunk, Birindelli and his co-pilot Paccagnini were able to prove for the first time that a “maiale” was able to enter an enemy port unnoticed.

„Operazione B.G.2“ marked the start of a three year war that took place noiselessly and under water in the Bay of Gibraltar. For Gino Birindelli, however, the mission marked the start of a journey through Allied POW camps that would last many months. Read more on mission B.G.2 and the story of Gino Birindelli in our book “The References” 1950’s-1960’s in chapter VIII.II on page 1014-1043.

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Ref. 3646 / Type D with brass dial @ Dr. Crott

by on Oct.20, 2021, under Allgemein

The brass dialed Ref. 3646 / Type D will be auctioned on 13 November 2021 at Dr. Crott’s 105th auction in Mannheim. You can read more about this watch here or go directly to the auctioneer’s website (Lot 73).

Features of the watch:
Reference: 3646 / Type D
Dial: “Kampfschwimmer”  (painted brass, anonymous)
Case number: 2607XX
Movement: Rolex Cal. 618 / Type 1

We hope that this Ref. 3646 / Type D with brass dial will find a good new home and remains surfaced in the Vintage Panerai collectors world. [Ralf Ehlers & Volker Wiegmann]

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30 September 1940 – today in history…

by on Sep.30, 2021, under Allgemein

R_SMG_Gondar_Crest_600x600The afternoon of 30 September 1940 marks the end of the mission „Operazione G.A.2“. Just five weeks after the sinking of the Iride, the Gondar (photo: historic crest of the submarine, showing SLC containers on its deck) was the second transport submarine of the Mezzi d’Assalto to be sunk.

The submarine Gondar (built in 1937) under the command of Tenente di Vascello Francesco Brunetti was dispatched from La Spezia with Alexandria as her target. On board the Gondar was the officer-in-charge of mission G.A.2, Mario Giorgini, three SLC teams and a reserve team.

When the Gondar reached the target area on 29 September 1940, she received a sobering radio message from reconnaissance: The British fleet had left the Port of Alexandria – so mission G.A.2 was aborted. The Gondar headed now for Tobruk and was already on its return journey when it was discovered by the Australian destroyer, HMAS Stuart. A second destroyer, HMS Diamond and a corvette now tracked the Gondar throughout the night alongside HMAS Stuart.

R_SMG_Gondar_SeaD_600x600After hours of attempting to evade capture, the Gondar gave up in the early hours of 30 September 1940. Commander Brunetti gave the order to dive down and abandon the Gondar, which effectively saved his team and the SLC pilots from going down after being sunk by the mighty enemy. A British Sunderland flying boat bombarded the Gondar while the crew was already in the water – effectively sealing the fate of the second transport submersible for SLCs (see historic photos on the left). For one of the two inventors of the new weapon, Elios Toschi, this second journey was also to be his last. He was taken prisoner by the British alongside the crew of the Gondar and his comrades – “missione fallita”.

The launch of the new weapon appeared to be ill-fated: Two operations (G.A.1 and G.A.2) failed, two valuable transport submersibles had been sunk and four SLC teams and their officers-in-charge had been taken as prisoners of war. It was to take over a year until another attempt could be made to penetrate the Port of Alexandria in December 1941…

Read more about “The birth of a legend – the first Panerai watches (1935-1939)” in chapter I on page 34-39, followed by the timeline of the missions during the Second World War in chapter II.I on page 106-109. Mario Giorgini, officer-in-charge of the mission G.A.2 is also featured in the second volume of “The References” on page 1016-1022. The Gondar is also featured in our book “History1” in chapter IV on page 288-357.

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A Ref. 3646 / Type E with brass dial

by on Sep.12, 2021, under Allgemein

Introducing another Ref. 3646 / Type E watch which surfaced in Germany – this specimen appeared with painted brass dial.

Noteworthy is the well preserved original strap and “Bottle Opener” buckle, wich most of today’s surfacing watches don’t have anymore.

The “Kampfschwimmer” watch with anonymous painted brass dial has an unpolished case with a matching flat bezel. The onion shaped winding crown (“BREVET +” Type 11) can be screwed down onto the collar of the 47 mm cushion shaped case with soldered lugs.

Features of the watch:
Reference: 3646 / Type E
Dial: “Kampfschwimmer” (painted brass, anonymous)
Case number: 2608XX
Movement: Rolex Cal. 618 / Type 1 mod.

Inside the watch is a Rolex Cal. 618 / Type 1 mod. movement with typical decorations and engravings on the bridges (17 RUBIS / FAB. SUISSE). The blued steel hands appear untouched with original luminous material. The inner caseback is decorated with half polish. An overview of different decorative polish on the inside of the caseback (Type A – Type G) can be found on page 486 in our book “The References” 1930’s-1940’s.

Find more info on straps and buckles here. More info on Ref. 3646 watches without Rolex hallmarks can be found here. More info on Ref. 3646 watches with brass dials can be found here.

Here we added another unknown watch into our database – yet another piece of the puzzle surfaced. Thanks to the collector who shared the photos and information with us!

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A Ref. 3646 / Type E watch surfaced in New Zealand

by on Sep.07, 2021, under Allgemein

Webb’s auction house from Auckland / New Zealand contacted us recently, providing information and photos of a yet unknown Ref. 3646 / Type E with “California Dial”. The watch appears with the matching flat bezel and both lead seals above and below the 47 mm cushion shaped case. The outer caseback is not engraved and the inner caseback is missing the Rolex hallmark and reference number, which is a typical feature of Ref. 3646 / Type E watches. The onion shaped winding crown (“BREVET +” Type 11) can be screwed down onto the collar of the 47 mm cushion shaped case with soldered lugs.

The “Error-Proof Radium Dial” by Rolex, with its railroad track minute markers and “SWISS MADE” signature at six o’clock, features half arabic and half roman numbers with luminous material applied from above.

Since 2016, five new watches of the number group Ref. 3646 / Type E surfaced, two of them expanded the number group from 260856 – 261097 (as of 1.1.2016) to 260850 – 260111. We have 31 Ref. 3646 / Type E watches recorded as of today, including this specimen from New Zealand.

Features of the watch:
Reference: 3646 / Type E
Dial: “California Dial”
Case number: 2609XX
Movement: Rolex Cal. 618 / Type 1 mod.

You can read more about Ref. 3646 watches with dissappeared Rolex hallmarks here.

[Photos with kind permission / courtesy of www.webbs.co.nz]

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Ref. 3646 / Type D with brass dial @ Dr. Crott

by on Aug.26, 2021, under Watch Point

We recently added another unknown watch into our database – yet another piece of the puzzle surfaced, which marks the Ref. 3646 / Type D #104 in our records. The “Kampfschwimmer” watch with anonymous painted brass dial appears with an unpolished case with a matching flat bezel. The original winding crown has been replaced.

Watches of the Reference 3646 / Type D are featured in our book “The References” 1930’s-1940’s in chapter II.IV (page 398-531) including a historic photo of a “Kampfschwimmer” wearing a 3646 with brass dial on page 475. Brass dialed Ref. 3646 / Type D are featured on page 468-493. In this part of the book, an overview of different decorative polish on the inside of the caseback (Type A – Type G) can be found on page 486.

The caseback of the watch is not engraved. However, a handwritten note from the son of the “Kampfschwimmer” explains that his father completed his training in Bad Tölz at Lehrkommando 702. You can read more about the training site Bad Tölz and the Lehrkommando 702 in our book “History2” on page 660-662 and 789-795.

The watch will be up for auction on November 13, 2021 at Dr. Crott’s 105th auction in Mannheim.

The inner caseback bears the typical Rolex SA hallmark, reference and case number known for 3646 / Type D watches. Inside the watch is a Rolex Cal. 618 / Type 1 movement with typical decorations and engravings on the bridges (ROLEX 17 RUBIS / FAB. SUISSE).

Features of the watch:
Reference: 3646 / Type D
Dial: “Kampfschwimmer”  (painted brass, anonymous)
Case number: 2607XX
Movement: Rolex Cal. 618 / Type 1

We hope that this Ref. 3646 / Type D with brass dial will find a good new home and remains surfaced in the Vintage Panerai collectors world. [Ralf Ehlers & Volker Wiegmann]

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New entry in our database: a brass dialed 3646 / Type D

by on Aug.26, 2021, under Allgemein

We recently added another yet unknown watch into our records: a “Kampfschwimmer” watch with anonymous, painted brass dial. Today it marks watch #104 which is matching the criteria for our database classification of the Ref. 3646 / Type D.

You can read more about the watch and its details here.

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