Secret French Marine Nationale files about “Panerai” watches

In my last article it became evident that for Giuseppe Panerai the famous cushion-shaped diver watches which are commonly referred to as “Panerai” watches, were indeed Rolex watches. The 1955 service invoice for Ferdinando Pacciolla’s 3646 published in the article made this very clear.

171124-orologeria-svizzera-receipt-02.

Si consegna in data odierna al Sig. Selleri l’orologio Rolex, lasciato al suo tempo. La spesa inerente all’oggetto in parola e di lire 25.000

Translation: Delivered today to Mr. Selleri is the Rolex watch, left at its time. The expense related to the object in question is 25,000 lire

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Panerai enthusiasts around the globe were shocked to the core. In Panerai boutiques and official Panerai publications they were always told the original Panerai company was the creator of those watches.

Read more: Rolex Panerai 3646 service invoice from 1955

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Several weeks have passed since this groundbreaking revelation and none of the major watch blogs reported on this matter. To me, this comes as no surprise as the mainstream watch media depends to a big extent on Richemont ads. Exposing the truth about the modern Panerai brand would most certainly lead to the cancellation of all ads from the huge Richemont watch empire.

Today I have the pleasure to present newly discovered secret documents that come directly from the French Navy.

Pierre-Jean Manfréo, who goes by the handle of @the_rolexrialist on Instagram, had the opportunity to visit the archives of the French Navy and what he discovered is nothing short of amazing. Among other things, he also found confidential files referring to Italian frogman equipment, including so-called “Panerai” watches.

In November 1952, a French Marine Nationale frogman took part in a joint French-Italian exercise with code name “Long Step”. In the files, Lieutenant de Vaisseau Breitner described every piece of equipment used by the Italians, namely breathing apparatus, mask, diving suit, shoes, swim fins, waterproof bag, compass, watch, flashlights and food rations.

The following picture shows the title page of the report.

190629-secret-file-1953-marine-nationale-about-italian-frogmen-01.

Objet: Renseignements obtenus par le LV. BREITNER sur les Nageurs de Combat Italiens

Je vous fais parvenir ci-joint, à titre d’information , quelques renseignements obtenues en Novembre dernier par le L.V. BREITNER au course de l’exercice “LONG STEP” auprés du Commandant du GRUPPO INCURSORI.

Translation: Subject: Information obtained by Lieutenant Breitner about the Italian Combat Divers

I send you herewith, for your information, some intel obtained last November by Lieutenant Breitner during the “LONG STEP” exercise with the Commander of GRUPPO INCURSORI.

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It is important to note that after WW2, Italy was forced to sign the Paris Peace Treaty which imposed heavy restrictions on all Italian armed forces. Besides reducing the naval forces to a minimum, the treaty also strictly prohibited the development of assault crafts like Maiales or explosive boats. The Italians, however, continued to develop their skills in semi clandestine units under the pretext of demining major Italian ports.

Eventually, the restrictions were lifted in Dec. 1951 in order to implement Italy as a full fledged member of NATO against the Warsaw Pact. In 1952, Italy officially started to rebuild their underwater special units.

Operation “Long Step” mentioned in the Marine Nationale files was probably a NATO exercise in order to check on the state of the Italian units.

Page 1 of the report describes the breathing apparatus and other pieces of equipment. According to the report, the Italians didn’t show any breathing apparatuses.

190629-secret-file-1953-marine-nationale-about-italian-frogmen-02.

1. Appareil respiratoire
Aucun ne fut montré. Vraisemblablement toujours le PIRELLI. Les Italiens regrettent de ne pas pouvoir disposer d’hélium pour certaines recherches. Ils considérent l’appareil anglais (genre DAVIS) comme extrémement dangereux (?) Ils admirent le détendeur COUSTEAU GAGAN [SIC] mais ne semblent pas avoir envisagé de lui trouver une adaption aux appareils à à [SIC] oxygéne pur.

Translation: 1. Breathing apparatus. None was shown. In all likelihood still the Pirelli. The Italians regret not having helium at their disposal for certain researches. They consider the English apparatus (Davis type) as extremely dangerous (?) They admire the Cousteau Gagan regulator but don’t seem to have made up their mind on finding an adaption for pure oxygen apparatuses.

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It is unknown why the breathing apparatuses were not shown. During WW2, the Italians used pure oxygen rebreathers named ARO (ARO = AutoRespiratore a Ossigeno = Oxygen Breathing Apparatus) made by a company of the Pirelli group. A rebreather is a closed-circuit diving apparatus that allows divers to remain undetected since the exhaled gas is recycled, thus avoiding the creation of bubbles in the water. The ARO 49 and later the ARO 50 were based on the famous British Davis rebreather which had primarily been created to escape sunken submarines.

Pure oxygen becomes rapidly toxic at depth and can lead to convulsions and even death. Depths beyond 12 metres are not recommended without special training.

The Italian diver in the image below is wearing an ARO 50. With two bottles of oxygen, the ARO 50 had an autonomy of around 5 hours. This picture was taken after the war in 1946 and shows ex Decima MAS divers during reconstruction works on a bridge over the River Mincio. The man on the far right is wearing a 3646 with what seems to be moisture on the plexi.

190630-pirelli-aro-50-bridge-works-1946.

It appears the French were using Davis rebreathers in the early 1950s. According to information found on the internet, the following picture shows French frogmen wearing Davis rebreathers around the same time the report was written (1953).

190702-french-frogmen-with-davis-rebreathers-1953.

Italian submarine personnell had lost confidence in Davis rebreathers following a number of accidents. This might be the reason why the Italians explicitly addressed this issue.

The Cousteau-Gagnan regulator mentioned in the file was developed by the famous French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau and engineer Emile Gagnan in 1942/43. It worked with regular air which was compressed to around 200 bar. The so-called Aqua-Lung was the first open-circuit, self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA). It became very popular after the war and to this day, it is the most widespread type of diving apparatus for recreational diving worldwide.

The Aqua-Lung type creates lots of bubbles when the the diver exhales the air. It is therefore not suitable for secret military operations.

Diving with compressed air below 50 meters (165 ft) is dangerous due to Nitrogen Narcosis, a dangerous state of mind caused by pressurized nitrogen dissolving into body tissues. This can lead to losing consciousness and ultimately death. Some refer to it as Martini Effect. Basically, the deeper you go, the drunker you get. By slowly surfacing, the effect is reversible. Jacques Cousteau dove to 91 meters (300 ft) once and one of his crew members named Maurice Fargues reached 120 metres (394 ft) but drowned due to the consequences of Nitrogen Narcosis.

The following picture found on Rolexmagazine.com shows Jacques Cousteau with his Aqua-Lung breathing device featuring large compressed air bottles typically worn on the back. During this time, Jacques Cousteau was testing an early Rolex Submariner.

190630-jaques-cousteau-rolex-submariner-aqua-lung.

Page 2 of the report is truly profound as it refers the compass and the watch. Item 7 on the list describes what appears to be a Panerai compass. Item 8 refers to the watch used by the Italians.

190629-secret-file-1953-marine-nationale-about-italian-frogmen-03.

7. Compas (croquis No. 3
C’est, dit le Commandant italien, la plus belle piéce de toute ma collection d’accessoires. La rose est extrémement stable.

Translation: 7. Compass (sketch no. 3): This, says the Italian Commander, is the most beautiful piece of my entire collection of accessories. The rose is very stable.

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The exact type of compass the report refers to is unknown but Lieutenant Breitner drew a sketch from his memory that gives us a little bit of a clue.

190703-secret-file-1953-marine-nationale-about-italian-frogmen-compass-croquis-3.

In 1952/53, G. Panerai e Figlio had not yet introduced their new range of instruments. The described compass was most certainly a compass from the WW2 era similar to the one in the picture below. The floating dial with distinct triangles is indeed very similar.

190703-panerai-compass-1944.

As mentioned, the watch is also discussed on page 2 of the report. While you continue reading, please keep in mind what the modern Panerai company founded in 1997 by the Richemont finance group claims:

The Panerai watches were indeed made by Panerai but using Rolex movements, and in the beginning at least other parts as well, such as the screw-down winding crown.

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Compare this to the information the French Navy obtained from the Italian Commander.

190629-secret-file-1953-marine-nationale-about-italian-frogmen-rolex

8. Montre
Fabriquée en Suisse par ROLEX. Etanche jusqu’à 30 métres.

Translation: 8. Watch: Made in Switzerland by Rolex. Waterproof up to 30 meters.

As you can see, even the French knew the “Italian” watches were made by Rolex. The other thing that is interesting is the depth rating of the watch. 30 meters is absolutely consistent with what Giuseppe Panerai stated in 1955.

I spoke to Mr. Panerai and he assured me you can work with it up to 30 meters of depth.

Read more: Rolex Panerai 3646 service invoice from 1955

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In the early 1950s, the Italian frogmen were still using their 3646s from the Second World War. After so many years, the radium lume in dial and hands was burned out. The luminosity of radium lasted only 3 to 5 years. To keep the watches in service, Panerai replaced dials and hands.

The following picture shows a perfect example for a watch that remained in service after the war and required an update. With case number 1009421 it is the earliest documented 3646. Rolex delivered the first batch of Ref. 3646 in April 1940. The dial and the hands of this watch were replaced at some point during the 1950s.

190701-rolex-panerai-3646-1009421-ernesto-notari.

Ernesto Notari, the original owner of this watch, belonged to the very first manned torpedo (SLC, Maiale) crews that trained in the secret training facility of Bocca di Serchio. In 1943, Notari took part in B.G. 6 and B.G. 7, the last two missions against the British Naval Base in Gibraltar which were carried out from the secret Decima MAS base on the tanker Olterra. When Italy surrendered to the Allies in Sept. 1943, Notari remained loyal to the King and enrolled with MariAssalto in the South of Italy in order to fight alongside the Allies against the Nazis. After the war, Notari continued his career in the Navy and became commander of the newly formed underwater units.

The picture below shows Ernesto Notari (front with mustache) among other Italian divers of the first hour. Have a closer look at the guy on the bicycle.

190702-ernesto-notari-bocca-di-serchio.

It appears to be the same guy as in the picture from 1946. Even the watch with what appears to be moisture on the plexi looks the same. If my information is correct, his name was Berno Berni and he was a manned torpedo pilot as well.

190703-berno-berni-decima-mas.jpg.

Another watch that remained in service after WW2 is Luigi Durand de la Penne’s 3646 in the picture below. The dial and the hands of this watch were also updated at some point in the 1950s.

190705-rolex-3646-luigi-durand-de-la-penne.

Luigi Durand de la Penne was also a manned torpedo pilot of the first hour. In Dec, 1941, De la Penne was part of a Decima MAS attack that altered the balance of power in the Mediterranean Sea. The mission took place in the heavily secured British Naval Base in Alexandria, Egypt. Once entered the harbour, De la Penne’s second man had to surface due to issues with the rebreather. To make matters worse, the Maiale broke down and De la Penne was forced to drag it through the muddy seafloor towards the target, the mighty battleship HMS Valiant. De la Penne managed to place it under the hull and quickly surfaced after activating the timer. He was discovered by British sentinels and became a prisoner of war. After Sept. 1943, De la Penne was released in order to fight alongside the Allies against the Nazis in occupied Italy.

The picture below shows Durand de la Penne in his diving suit and wearing an ARO 49.

190705-luigi-durand-de-la-penne-rebreather.

Coming back to the depth rating, 30 real meters (100 ft) was more than enough for diving with pure oxygen rebreathers. According to a Pirelli L.S. 901 manual, the safe depth for diving with oxygen was 12 meters (40 ft).

190701-manual-pirelli-ls-901.

Nel corso di esperimenti fisiologici e in parecchi anni di esperienza si e potuto controllare che 12 m. e la profondita sicura d’impiego dell’autorespiratore Pirelli mod. L.S. 901.
L’intossicazione da ossigeno (iperossiemia) si manifesta solo oltre questa profondita per il fatto che l’ossigeno diventa tossico quando oltrepassa la pressione di due atm. assolute.
Non e tuttavia da escludersi che gli individui capaci di sopportare l’ossigeno possano raggiungere dai 20 ai 25 m. di profondita per brevissimo tempo senza pero fare sforzi fisici notevoli.

Translation: In the course of physical experiments and in several years of experience, it could be observed that 12 meters is the safe depth for the use of the Pirelli breathing apparatus L.S. 901.
Oxygen intoxication (hyperoxia) occurs only beyond this depth due to the fact that oxygen becomes toxic when it exceeds a pressure of 2 atm. 
However, it cannot be excluded that individials capable of withstanding oxygen can reach 20 to 25 meters of depth for a very short time and if no notable physical efforts are made.
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Thoughts

Historical documents like the ones found in the Marine Nationale archives are absolutely fascinating as they offer insight into an interesting era in which all major powers started to build their own underwater units following the Italian example. The Italians had made one thing very clear, a small and cost-effective unit consisting of brave and well trained men could cause considerable damage to a large naval force. As a matter of fact, one single Italian attack on the British Naval Base of Alexandria shifted the balance of power in the Mediterranean Sea for several months.

I must admit, I was surprised the French knew about Rolex’s involvement. How could they know without opening the watch? The most logical explanation is, the Italian Navy told them so. As we have learned from the 1955 Orologeria Svizzera service invoice published in my last article, Giuseppe Panerai never hid the fact the watches were Rolex.

The omission of this fact started in 1993, when Officine Panerai SpA introduced the Pre Vendôme line to the public. To give legitimacy to the brand “Panerai”, the management came up with the false narrative the watches had been produced by Panerai but were powered by Rolex movements. In reality, the original Panerai company was never a watch manufacturer nor did they claim so.

The Rolex Ref. 2533/3646 was the very first professional diving tool watch, long before Rolex introduced famous tool watches like the Submariner or the GMT to the public. The glory for this incredible achievement belongs to Rolex.

Thank you for your interest.

Special thanks to Pierre-Jean Manfréo aka @the_rolexrialist (please follow him on Instagram) and the Service Historique de La Défense – Marine Nationale.
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The Panerai Time Machine

The Rolex 2533/3646 started everything for Panerai. The infographic below shows all vintage Panerai watches in their historical context. Please click the graphic to download the highres version.

170613-panerai-timeline.

This timeline is available as a high quality print in two sizes:

  • 120 x 68 cm (47 x 26 inch): EUR 85.00 (plus shipping)
  • 150 x 85 cm (59 x 33 inch): EUR 120.00 (plus shipping)

Printed with HD Inkjet on heavy synthetic paper and laminated.

Limited edition: 50 pieces, numbered and signed by Maria Teresa Panerai in Giuseppe Panerai’s very own laboratory at the historical site of the Villino Panerai (Panerai Villa) in Florence: Sold out

More information: The history of Panerai watches at a glance

 

 

 

5 comments

  • Impressive piece of research! Very well done. Always interesting to compare marketing claims from official websites / brand brochures with historical documents.

    Like

  • Very informative and excellent research.. I always look forward to your informative and unbiased articles. You should start getting the skeletons out of the closets of other brands too. All the very best.

    Like

  • I like your articles very much, but they bring more questions. For instance: why did Rolex never reacted against these claims of the Richemont guys?
    Rolex could easily bring down their mistakes (or better lies) in the marketing campagnes of Panerai. I suppose that Rolex had multiple opportunities to do so in public. Did I missed something, because it seems that it is very quiet in that corner.

    Like

  • I’m still not clear about one thing, are you stating that the entire watch was manufactured by Rolex including the case, crystal, crown, dial? I read nothing that refutes Panerai claims that the movements were Rolex but the rest Panerai. Please clarify. Thanks!

    Like

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