A Panerai acquired from a captured German frogman with remarkable provenance sells at auction.
A Panerai 3646 acquired from a captured German frogman just days after Operation Market Garden has sold for £41,000 at Fellows. The Second World War Panerai 3646 was acquired from one of six German Kampfschwimmer frogmen captured by British soldier Sgt George H Rowson after an attempt to destroy Nijmegen Bridge in Holland in September 1944.
Rowson also claimed a shred of the diver’s wetsuit which was part of the lot, along with a treasure trove of provenance including his military service record, photographs, the original leather strap and pin buckle, a letter from his commanding officer and Rowson’s handwritten account of the action that led to him coming into possession of the watch.
The 47mm watch, serial number 1010292, features a hand engraving on the caseback with Rowson’s name, rank and the year the watch was acquired. It was put up for sale by Sgt Rowson’s son.
Sgt Rowson’s account gives a fascinating glimpse of a period of Panerai’s history that is the subject of much discussion. Rowson reveals that the six thwarted German frogmen emerged from the River Waal, each with a watch on one wrist and a compass on the other.
The Type C Ref. 3546 was part of a batch intended for the Italian Decima MAS but which were taken by the Germans. The Type C was the last 3646 to bear Panerai’s branding as the company was later seized by the Germans. Rolex, which made the watches for Panerai, also later anonymised the cases and movements it used.
Despite the watch’s Rolex movement not running, the hammer went down at £41,000, just north of Fellow’s estimate of £30,000-£40,000.
The account of Sgt. George H Rowson: “This was part of the rubber suit worn by the 6 German Frogmen who tried to blow up Nijmegen Bridge Sept 1944. They towed the charges down the Rhine [the Waal is a distributary of the Rhine] to the bridge and fixed them underwater to the main supports.
“Unfortunately for them they came out of the river too soon thinking they were back in their own lines again. I was the Sergeant along with my section who captured them and took them prisoner. They were wearing these rubber suits and also each had a watch on one wrist and a compass on the other.
“These men had special training in Italy and the suits were made in Italy. The charges they had placed were defused and so Nijmegen Bridge remained undamaged. This happened at 06:30 on Sept 29th 1944.”
This article was first published on Salon QP
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