Tuesday, August 01, 2023

U.S. NAVY SEALs Rolex Submariner Heritage

The Complete History Of
The Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER
Rolex's Conquest Of The Ocean


Rolex Submariner Heritage

As you know, if you are a regular reader of Jake's Rolex World, I am still working on Chapter 19 of my series titled, The Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER: Rolex's Conquest Of The Ocean. That being said, I was preparing to write Chapter 20 of that story, so I thought I would give you a preview.  This is a story about the history of the U.S. NAVY SEALs wearing and depending upon Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER models, as well as Tudor Submariner models for their mission critical timing. 

This story represents another fascinating chapter in the history of Rolex's conquest of the Ocean, and over the course of the next year or so, I will be completing some major updates to this story. In the meantime, let's take a look at the current state of the U.S. NAVY SEALs, and then we will explore how they evolved to present. The photo below shows a U.S. NAVY SEAL TEAM piloting a SDV1 Submersible, which is officially referred to as a SEAL Delivery Vehicle, and commonly referred to by its nickname of: 'The Ghost'. 

These stealth SDV (SEAL Delivery System) submersibles are launched from large Attack class Submarines such as the nuclear powered USS Philadelphia, and allow SEALs to travel under the ocean in a stealth, covert manner that accommodates up to 6 combat-equipped SEALs

These small submersibles are used for top-secret surveillance missions, harbor attacks, small-scale direct action, and are capable of transporting demolition explosives that can be attached to the hull of a ship.

The SDV 'Ghost' is made primarily from fiberglass, and other non-ferrous materials to eliminate its magnetic and acoustic signature, which allow it to stay underwater while avoiding detection. If the SDV1 looks familiar, it is because it is the direct descendent of the Italian SLC, that Panerai equipped divers piloted during World War II, as depicted in the illustrations below.

The Royal Italian Navy SLC pilots wore Rolex made Panerai watches, which were the first true dive watches ever made, and they predated even the Rolex Submariner. The original Panerai watches made from 1935 to 1955 were top secret tools, and were never seen by or offered to sale to the public. Ironically, I first saw and learned about Panerai watches from my brother who is a NAVY SEAL. I remember we were hanging out in New York in June of 2001, and I was wearing my stainless steel Rolex Daytona, and he was wearing his Paneria. I had never seen a Panerai before, and I asked him about it. He told me Panerai watches were the original dive watch the Italian Royal Navy Frogmen wore back in the 1930s and 1940s, and they were made for the Royal Italian Navy by Rolex. The photo below shows a Rolex made Panerai Dive watch [Reference 3646] that was made in 1944.

The Rolex made 3646 with the "California Dial" was the father of the Rolex Submariner, and was only made in a 47MM size.

The photo below shows an old-school U.S. NAVY UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) combat swimmer during a diving exercise as he prepares to attach a demolition charge to a large capital ship during a training exercise. If he were actually doing this instead of training in the daytime, he would be attaching the bomb at nighttime in the dark to avoid detection. UDT were the precursor to the U.S. NAVY SEALs. For UDT divers and SEALs their watch is an invaluable tool, as they use it to measure time when they dive so they can measure distance in the dark.

The two really cool photos below are of Taiwanese Frogman taken during the Second Taiwan Straits Crisis in 1958 and notice both of them are rocking Rolex Submariner tool watches. The 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis was also referred to as "The Second Taiwan Strait Crisis", and U.S. Secretary of State Christian Herter (1959–1961) was said to have later referred to the antagonism as: "the first serious nuclear crisis".

This event was part of an altercation between the Republic of China (ROC), A.K.A. Taiwan, formerly know as Formosa, prior to 1945 and The People's Republic of China (PRC) A.K.A. Mainland China. During this conflict the PRC shelled Kinmen (Quemoy) and Matsui Islands located on the East Coast of Mainland China—part of the Taiwan Straits) as part of a mission to try to take control of Taiwan from the Chinese Nationalist Party, which was also known as the Kuomintang (KMT). 

This scrimmage was regarded as a test to explore the United States resolve and defense capabilities of Taiwanese territory. A fierce naval battle ensued near Dongding Island as the Taiwanese ROC Navy defeated an attempted amphibious landing by the Mainland Chinese PRC Navy.

In the photo below taken in 1961 we see a U.S. Navy UDT Combat diver rocking a Rolex "No Crown" GMT-Master.

Rolex Submariner
Formal Introduction in 1954

Rolex began experimenting with Submariner prototypes in early 1953, and formally launched the Rolex Submariner at Basel World Fair in Switzerland in 1954. The Rolex Submariner magazine ad seen below was published in 1955.

The photo below shows the U.S. Navy DEA-SEA Diving School graduates in 1959. Many of these men would go on to be Underwater Demolition Team Divers, which were the precursor to the NAVY SEALs.

NAVY SEALs today operate in all kinds of different theaters and environments, as we see in the photo of the SEALs below wearing arctic camouflage.

NAVY SEALs are all world-class marksmen, in order to be excellent snipers and assassins.

I come from a U.S. Naval family, as my father served in the NAVY during World War II, and I have a brother who is a NAVY SEAL, so I know a thing or two about Navy history, from family members sharing insight and stories with me over the years. I also have a great uncle who was a famous U.S. Navy Attorney, who during World War II was the legal officer to the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe. He was appointed Inspector General Of All Naval Courts, and was the Aid de camp to Admiral Halsey. He also wrote the Japanese surrender document during the end of World War II, and was a Captain and Judge Advocate in the U.S. Navy.

U.S. NAVY SEALs are the best trained and most elite Special Forces in the world. U.S President John F. Kennedy is pictured below on April 14, 1962 with SEAL TEAM 2 members in Norfolk, Virginia. JFK directed U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara to establish, the United States NAVY SEALs.

Navy SEAL is the acronym for Sea, Air and Land Teams. While the NAVY SEALs were formally launched during President Kennedy's administration, the framework for their network was established during the Eisenhower administration presidency. After the United States won World War II, it cut its military to a small fraction of it size. When the Korean War began in June of 1950, after North Korea invaded South Korea, it caught the United Nations and the United States off guard. 

The North Korean communist attack caused the U.S. to quickly rebuild its military, and more than double its size from 1.5 Million soldiers to over 3 Million. It is also an interesting fact at the time of the Korean conflict, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur wanted to use nuclear bombs in the ware effort against North Korea and China, but was obviously not allowed to. After the Korean War ended in 1953, President Eisenhower decided to reinvent America's military. 

This new U.S. Military was more state-of-theart and included for the first time, all kinds of high-tec equipment. An example of this new technology would be the USS Nautilus Submarine which is pictured below as she is navigating above the waterline in front of New York City in 1954. The USS Nautilus Submarine was the very first Nuclear-Powered Submarine, and shared the name of Captain Nemo's fictional "Nautilus" Submarine in Jules Verne's, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Since the Nautilus Submarine was propelled by nuclear power, she was able to travel to locations far beyond the limits of any other submarine. She was also able to stay submerged much longer than all the other diesel-electric submarines.

President Eisenhower realized the future of warfare would be fought with new higher technology, as well as warriors that were highly trained in specialty methods of combat. The U.S. Army had its own Special Forces known as Green Berets, and the Marines had Force Reconnaissance Units. The Navy had Special Forces known as Underwater Demolition Teams. President Eisenhower laid the groundwork for the Navy to increase the scope of its UDT warriors skillsets, and increase their abilities. President Kennedy ushered in a new era of NAVY warriors know as NAVY SEALs, which would be so well trained, they would to on to become the most elite special forces in history. Let's not forget about the U.S. Air Force Pilots either. In the late 1950s and and 1960s the were all part of the Right Stuff, and even Chuck Yeager, who was the first man to break the speed of sound barrier in 1947, was wearing a Rolex Submariner [Big Crown: Reference 6538] as seen in the photo below from 1956.

President Kennedy addressed Congress on May 25, 1961 and said, and formally addressed the issue of forming the Navy SEALs when he said:

“I am directing the Secretary of Defense to expand rapidly and substantially, in cooperation with our Allies, the orientation of existing forces for the conduct of non-nuclear war, paramilitary operations, and sub-limited or unconventional wars. In addition, our special forces and unconventional warfare units will be increased and reoriented. Throughout the services new emphasis must be placed on the special skills and languages which are required to work with local populations.”

In the photo above and below we see JFK chatting with some of the Navy 
SEALs from SEAL Team 2, which was located at the Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek. Today it is known as the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek: Fort Story, located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. SEAL Team 1 was founded and based in Coronado, California, which is near San Diego.

In the photo below, notice the Submarine located behind JFK is named The U.S.S. Thomas A. Edison. Thomas Edison was a great inspiration to Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf, so much so he even made a Edison Rolex Model.

Kennedy himself was a Naval Officer during World War II, as was my father, who knew JFK. Growing up I always heard lots of fascinating stories about my father and great uncle's Naval experience. I first learned about the U.S. Navy using Rolex Submariner tool watches from legendary NAVY Test Pilot, NASA Astronaut & SEALAB Aquanaut, Scott Carpenter who is pictured below with President Kennedy in the White House in Washington D.C.

"The Rolex Submariner & Rolex SEA-DWELLER have a cachet that is unmatched by any other watch. The Rolex brand is the most highly respected in my book. The Rolex Submariner was the preferred diving watch for U.S. NAVY SEALAB Divers." –Scott Carpenter

The 1963 Rolex Skin Diver Handbook below contains the U.S. Navy Standard Decompression Table for diving on compressed Air, while featuring the Rolex Submariner.

The photo below shows a U.S. Navy SEALAB Aquanaut wearing his Rolex Submariner or SEA-DWELLER, as he trains with an actual Navy SEAL.

Rolex was very proud of the fact the U.S. Navy SEALs and SEALAB Aquanauts wore Submariner and SEA-DWELLER watch models, as the vintage 1967 Rolex Submariner attests to, which shows the face of a decorated U.S. Navy Submarine Captain, and refers to the Skate, the Shark or the Nautilus, which are all U.S. Navy Nuclear Powered Submarines. The ad reads, "Your looking at the Rolex Submariner. For years, its been standard gear for submariners, frogmen and all who make their living on the seas." Also, notice the Rolex's advertised retail price for a Rolex Submariner was $210.

The next photo seen below shows a U.S. NAVY SEAL named Richard 'Rick' Hetzell in 1974 wearing his Rolex Submariner, as he works with a trained Navy Seal. Rolex Submariner watches were the choice and standard issue for NAVY SEALs from their inception in 1962 up until 1983, when they switched over to Casio G-Shock watches.

Navy SEAL's specialize more than anything in amphibious operations which include underwater demolition, as well as other aquatic operations. The U.S. Navy SEALs represent the U.S. Navy's principal special force, and they are a part of the NSWC (Naval Special Warfare Command). The SEAL program is also considered the maritime component of USSOCOM (The United States Special Operations Command).

Since Navy SEALs specialize in underwater operations, which includes ocean and fresh-water, they are typically perceived as the best trained, most effective, amphibious units in the world, yet the are often deployed on all kinds of other special missions which include hostage rescue, special reconnaissance operations, foreign internal defense, as well as direct action. Each NAVY SEAL also has to be a top notch sniper, as they are also trained to be world-class marksmen and assassins. 

In this next photo, we see U.S. NAVY SEALs, Harry Humphries and Fran Scollise in Vietnam wearing their Navy issued Rolex Submariner watches.

In this next Rolex Submariner magazine from 1968 we see the experimental Deepstar Research Submarine that could be piloted down to 4000 feet.

In this next image from 1968 we see highly decorated NAVY SEAL Lieutenant Philip L. Martin from SEAL Team 1, who is from Maui in Hawaii wearing a Tudor Submariner. He is on a Seek and Destroy Operation in one of the Mekong Delta Jungle Swamps, and his face is camouflaged with colored grease paint.

The image below shows another Vietnam ERA NAVY SEAL camouflauged with grease paint wearing a Rolex Submariner as he navigates his converted 'Mike" boat down the Mekong Delta.

The next image below shows legendary diver, Joe Macinnis diving the Polar Ice Cap at the geographic North Pole.

Cliff Hollenbeck
Special Warfare Group Photojournalist

I recently interviewed Cliff Hollenbeck who is pictured below wearing his trusted Rolex Submariner. Cliff had an amazing U.S. NAVY career that lasted 6 years, from 1963 to 1969. He spent his first three years as a photojournalist with the Special Warfare Groups, and did a 3 year tour in Vietnam.

Cliff shared a fascinating antidote with me that I want to share with you. He told me he has been wearing Rolex Submariner models since the early 1960s, when he was first issued one from the Navy. He said, "I love my Rolex Submariner. It's so sturdy and it always keeps perfect time, but to me, more than anything its a tool. I have really always thought of it as a tool." I asked Cliff to expand on this idea. He continued, "To my way of thinking, my Submariner is a real tool that I depend upon. As a matter of fact, when I bought my last one about twenty years ago, I wrote it off as a business expense, and I ended up getting audited by the IRS. They told me I couldn't write off a watch as a business expense. I told them my Rolex was a tool watch, that I depended upon and trust for diving and needed in order to take photos under water, as well as in other challenging places, and I need it to keep precise timing, so they let me write it off. My Submariner has been abused like crazy, and still looks brand new." Cliff also told me he believes in being punctual, and his Rolex keeps him keep perfect time. He said, "My Navy training taught me, if I am 5 minutes early, I am late."

Cliff went on to become an international photographer, film producer, and composer. He is a distinguished author, that has written books on the U.S. Navy SEALs  including To Be A U.S. NAVY SEAL. Cliff is just preparing to publish a new book on the Navy SEALs  and we plan to do a podcast in the future on the book. Cliff took the photo below in 1965 of Theodore Roosevelt IV who was an early NAVY SEAL.

Cliff took the next photo seen below in 1967 of SEAL Master Chief Richard Ray in 1967, standing in front of the Coronado Underwater Demolition Teams Display and he is wearing his NAVY issued Rolex Submariner. Cliff pointed out it was very common for SEALs to wear their Rolex Submariner on a Rubber or Nylon strap, and that it was very common for them to receive their Rolex watches on a strap, without a Rolex bracelet. They typically wore their Submariner on a strap, to make it easy to put over their wetsuit cuff. The NAVY SEAsS have a huge training facility located in Coronado, California, which I had a chance to visit when my brother graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training, which is typically referred to in its acronym for as BUD/S.

In the photo above, on the right side, you can see and early version of the NAVY SEAL SDV. 

The U.S. NAVY SEALs no longer issue Rolex Submariner or SEA-DWELERS as standard issue, but there are still many active duty SEALs that still wear and depend upon them, as seen in the photo of the SEAL in the photo below.

FA-18 Hornet Fighter Pilot
Rolex GMT-Master

Since we are on the subject of the U.S. Navy, and modern Rolex, I thought it would be cool to share this story with you. What's the coolest job in the world? Perhaps being a U.S. Navy FA-18 Fighter Pilot. As we see in the photo below, the FA-18 pilot is sporting a two-tone Rolex GMT-Master. FA-18s cost $38 Million each, and are amazing flying machines.

The screen shot above that shows the FA-18 pilot wearing a Rolex GMT-Master was taken from the video below.

...Rolex Coolness...

Legendary U.S. Naval Aviator

Leighton W. Smith, Jr.
Four-Star Admiral Ret.

Leighton W. Smith Jr. is a retired four-star admiral who was in the U.S. Navy. He had a distinguished Naval Aviator career and flew over 280 combat missions during Vietnam and has logged over 4,200 flying hours and accumulated over 1000 carrier arrested landings. 

From 1984 to 1985 he as the Commanding Officer on the USS America, and in 1994, he became the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe & Allied Forces Southern Europe. Admiral Smith retired from the U.S. Navy in 1996 and today he serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Naval Analysis. He is also the Chairman of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation.

Leighton Smith is pictured below in 1991 and he is either wearing a Rolex Submariner or SEA-DWELLER.

Special thanks to Jose and Nick Gould for their contribution to this story...