Historic Nazi Rolex sells for more than £50k after bidding frenzy

A rare and historic Second World War diver’s watch seized from a German commando by a British soldier has sold at auction for more than £50,000.

The Rolex Panerai Military Diver’s watch with authentic documents that sold for £52,000 at auction
The Rolex Panerai Military Diver’s watch with authentic documents that sold for £52,000 at auction

The Rolex Panerai Military Diver’s watch was estimated to fetch between £30,000 and £40,000 but ended up selling sold on Tuesday for a total, including fees, of £52,316.

Offers came flying in from three telephone bidders at Fellows auction house in Birmingham and there were gasps within the saleroom as the bids soared.

The Rolex Panerai Military Diver’s watch

This model of Panerai watch was initially intended for the Italian Decima MAS – an Italian commando frogman unit – until they were taken by the Germans.

The German Kampfschwimmer – combat swimmer – who owned the watch is known to have received special training in Italy and wore an Italian-made specialised rubber dive suit.

The watch came into the possession of British soldier Sgt George H Rowson during an attempt by German forces to destroy the Nijmegen Bridge in the Netherlands in September 1944.

According to a first-hand account of the incident, by Mr Rowson, who acquired the watch at 6.30am on September 29, 1944, German Kampfschwimmers fixed explosive charges underwater to the main supports of the bridge at Nijmegen.

Once the German soldiers had completed their mission, they exited the river thinking they were back within their own lines.

At this point, they were captured by a section of British soldiers which included Mr Rowson.

Sgt George H Rowson seized the watch from a German frogman commando in 1944

The charges they had placed were defused and so Nijmegen Bridge remained undamaged.

The Panerai was sold with a a hand-written account of the event by Mr Rowson, a section of the rubber diving suit worn by the German soldier, and photocopies of important documents related to Mr Rowson.

It was later passed down to his son, who lives in Nuneaton, and has remained in their family ever since.

Mr Rowson’s hand-written account of the incident said: “German frogmen towed the charges down the Rhine to Nijmegen 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.”

The Nijmegen Bridge, Netherlands, which the original owner of the watch was trying to blow up

The watch also has a hand-carved inscription on the reverse detailing Mr Rowson’s full name, rank and the year the piece was acquired in 1944.

Laura Bishop, watch manager at Fellows Auctioneers in Augusta Street, Birmingham, said: “It is amazing to have a piece of history sell here at Fellows Auctioneers.

“We are delighted to have been able to sell it for the local family.”

Alexandra Whittaker, a spokesperson for Fellows Auctioneers, added: “Fellows is becoming known for our monthly specialist watch sales and we are happy to have started our first sale of the year with such a prestigious piece as our star lot.

“I’m excited to see for what our February Watch Sale will brings.”

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