U.S. Army Soldier's Gear: Wrist Compass

Compass, Wrist, Liquid-filled issued to paratroopers in World War II
"Compass, Wrist, Liquid-filled" issued to paratroopers in World War II.

Back of Compass, Wrist, Liquid-filled
Back of "Compass, Wrist, Liquid-filled".

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U.S. Military Wrist Compass

The wrist compass is a small magnetic compass that can be attached to a wristwatch band. Most models can also be used without the band, slipped into a pocket, or added to the same band as a wristwatch. The wrist compass is less bulky and simpler to use than the full-function Lensatic Compass. However, it is also less accurate and reliable.

Compass, Wrist, Liquid-filled

The "Compass, Wrist, Liquid-filled", shown in the top photo on this page, was issued to airborne troops during World War II, one of the compasses used by U.S. forces in that war. The body was made of Bakelite plastic, described as olive drab in color but often faded to a muddy brown. The compass body is about 2 1/4 inches in diameter. The bezel rotates around the clear plastic face plate so you can set an azimuth. A brown leather adjustable band was supplied with the compass, along with instructions, packed in a paper box. The needle point was tipped with phosphorescent paint.

The back of the Compass, Wrist, Liquid-filled is marked "Corps Of Engineers/U.S. Army" along with the manufacturers name and city. During WW II these compasses were manufactured By Superior Magneto Corp. of Long Island City, NY, Taylor of Rochester, NY and perhaps others. The date of manufacture will be imprinted on the side of the compass, typically a month in 1944 or 1945, such as "9-44".

Compass, Wrist, M1949

Compass, Wrist, M1949 from Army Field Manual FM 21-26 Map Reading (March 1956)
Compass, Wrist, M1949 from Army Field Manual FM 21-26 Map Reading (March 1956).

Compass, Wrist, M1949
Compass, Wrist, M1949.

Following World War II the wrist compass was redesigned to use new plastic materials that were less expensive to produce. The compass was issued with a two piece cotton band instead of the leather used in World War II. A hinged plastic cover was introduced that protected the compass face when not in use. The bezel was rotatable to set an azimuth. A blackened metal buckle made the strap adjustable.

Several manufacturers made this compass, including at least Superior Magneto Corp., Waltham, and Fee & Stemwedel. The watch will be marked with U.S., the manufacturers name, and a date month and year, typically between 1951 and 1953. The watch on the left is marked:

Model 1949
Manufactured By
Superior Magneto Corp.
L.I. City N.Y.

The date is very faint and hard to see.

Compass, Wrist (Waltham)

During the Vietnam War yet another variation of the wrist compass was procured and issued. The one-piece band was made of OD nylon, not cotton or leather as in the older models, with blackened brass buckle. The 1 1/8 inch case was brass, painted olive drab. The letters "W.C.Co." appear on the face of the compass, the initials of Waltham Clock Company, the manufacturer. The compass points and needle are painted with luminous paint for night visibility. The case is filled with air, not liquid, and it was not waterproof. This model was ordered from Waltham in 1968 and a few thousand of these were issued late in the war. They were not satisfactory for use in the wet, damp Vietnam climate. See Chapter 10 of "Jungle Snafus...and Remedies" for more information on this compass.

Compass, Wrist (Waltham)
Compass, Wrist (Waltham). Photo: Courtesy of Steve Harris, JungleSnafus.com and KnowledgePublications.com.

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