U.S.S. Leviathan, Rear Admiral William Woodward Phelps'
14k Solid Gold WWI Waltham Trench Watch
Presented to him when he was Captain of the U.S.S. Leviathan in 1919
by Stan Czubernat
This is an exceptionally beautiful and extremely rare 14k SOLID GOLD piece of American naval history. This WWI Waltham Trench Watch was originally owned by Rear Admiral William Woodward Phelps of the United States Navy. This is the highest ranking US military officer's watch I've ever seen from the WWI era. For his brave service during WWI Phelps was awarded the Navy Cross by President Woodrow Wilson. There is only one medal higher than the Navy Cross and that is the Medal of Honor. William Woodward Phelps was born on November 26, 1868 in Baltimore Maryland. He graduated with the Class of 1889 from the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (JG) in 1898. Promoted to Lieutenant in 1899. Promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1905. Promoted to Commander in 1910. Promoted to Captain in 1918. Promoted to Rear Admiral in 1921. Phelps was assigned to the USS Bancroft during the Spanish - American War. He later served as Executive Officer of the USS Mayflower. He was then assigned to President Teddy Roosevelt's Presidential Yacht, the USS Sequoia. After that he was assigned to the USS Delaware for the Coronation of King George V of England in 1911 for Fleet Review. After completing instruction at the Naval War College in 1916 he took command of the USS Louisiana. Phelps was then given command of the USS Great Northern troopship in 1917. In 1918 he took command of the USS Leviathan troopship. In 1919 he returned to the Naval War College. In 1920 he was made Captain of the USS Arizona (yes, the USS Arizona that now rests in Pearl Harbor). In 1921 he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Naval War College. In 1922 he assumed command of the US Yangtze Patrol Force in Asia. In 1924 he was ordered to duty as a member of the Navy's General Board. In 1926 he took command of the Fleet Base Force. He became Commandant of the Navy Yard in Portsmouth NH in 1928. From 1931 - 1933 he was Commandant of the Naval District and Naval Yard in Brooklyn NY. Rear Admiral Phelps retired from the United States Navy in 1933. He passed away on May 12, 1938 at the age of 68. When Admiral Phelps passed away in 1938 news of his death and distinguished service was published in hundreds of newspapers across the country. He was laid to rest at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis Maryland.
In 1919 when Captain William W. Phelps was awarded the Navy Cross the following citation was given. "The President of the United States of American takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Captain William Woodward Phelps, United States Navy, for distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the USS Leviathan and the USS Great Northern, engaged in the important, exacting and hazardous duty of transporting and escorting troops and supplies to European ports through waters infested with enemy submarines and mines during WWI".
When the United States entered WWI in April of 1917 the US government seized the German ship S.S. Vaterland that was at port in Hoboken New Jersey. The S.S. Vaterland at that time was the largest passenger liner/ship on the planet with a capacity of about 4,000 people, the SS Titanic held about 2,200 passengers. Control of the ship was given to the United States Shipping Board. The S.S. Vaterland was then converted to a troop ship. After the conversion to a troop transport ship she was able to accommodate about 14,000 US military personnel. On September 6, 1917 she was renamed the U.S.S. Leviathan by President Woodrow Wilson himself and assigned to the United States Navy Cruiser and Transport Force. On December 17, 1917 the USS Leviathan made her first trip across the Atlantic carrying US troops to Liverpool England under Captain Joseph Oman. At that time she went into dry dock and was given a camouflage paint job known as British Type Dazzle. She made 14 round trips from the United States to Europe during the war carrying more troops than any other vessel. She brought 119,000 American troops to Europe, that is roughly 10% of all American forces. When she was converted to a troop transport the US Navy installed some deck guns for self defense. Remember this was a transport ship, not a battle ship. She came under German submarine attack at least three times during her trips across the Atlantic, firing her retrofitted deck guns on several occasions to fend off the attacks including the use of depth charges.
From June 26, 1920 thru June 11, 1921 Rear Admiral William Woodward Phelps was
Captain of the Super-Dreadnought Battleship U.S.S. Arizona pictured above before she was sunk at Pearl Harbor.
Above is an original 1919 copy of the book "History of the U.S.S. Leviathan" that was originally owned by
Captain Eugene E. McDonald who served as the ship's religious Chaplin. It is packed full of incredible information about the
U.S.S. Leviathan, photos of the men, stories of encounters with German submarines and information from the ship's log. There are many newspaper clippings dealing with the Leviathan and a couple pictures of Captain McDonald that accompany the watch. The book was written by 18 members of the ship's History Committee from 1917 - 1919. Hard bound, 219 pages.
In September of 1918 Captain Henry Bryan had completed 7 round trips across the Atlantic as commander of the USS Leviathan. He was relieved by Captain William Woodward Phelps on September 29, 1918 who would make 5 round trips across the Atlantic. During this time the ship had a major outbreak of the Spanish Flu. 2,000 military personnel got sick and unfortunately about 90 passed away. On November 11, 1918 the Armistice was signed that ended the bloody fighting of the Great War. At this point the U.S.S. Leviathan started reversing the troop flow and our soldiers started coming back to the United States. On March 15, 1919 a special delegation of United States government officials boarded the U.S.S. Leviathan at the docks in New York City headed to Brest France. Their mission had to do with the Curtis NC-4 Seaplane. They were traveling to Plymouth Harbor England to meet the plane after it's historic flight across the Atlantic. Among the dignitaries was the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and his wife Addie Daniels. Also in this delegation were Rear Admiral Robert Griffin with the Bureau of Steam Engineering, Rear Admiral David Taylor with the Bureau of Construction & Repair and Rear Admiral Ralph Earle with the Bureau of Ordnance among several other high ranking officials. The date of March 15, 1919 is very important to the story of this 14k solid gold Waltham Trench Watch. This high end Waltham was presented to Captain William Woodward Phelps by somebody from this high ranking delegation that came onboard the U.S.S. Leviathan. March 15, 1919 would be the last time the U.S.S. Leviathan left the United States with Captain William W. Phelps at the helm. The case back of the watch has been inscribed "W.W.P. from J.A.T.". Captain William Woodward Phelps' initials are "W.W.P". I believe that "J.A.T." is an acronym for the group that came onboard, or a military acronym. I do not believe that it's a person's initials. The sailing date of this voyage from New York City to Breast France was March 15, 1919. The side of the watch case is inscribed "U.S.S. Leviathan March 15, 1919". Captain William Phelps' wife and children lived in Brooklyn New York in 1919. I find it highly unlikely that they chose a 14k solid gold watch case made by the Brooklyn Watch Case Company by coincidence, this was intentional in my opinion. Solid gold BWCCo cases are very hard to come by, not many were made. This was an incredibly expensive watch back in 1919, probably costing around $100.00 USD. The average wage in the United States back in 1919 was only about $1,200.00 - $1,500.00 per year so few could afford this high end 14k solid gold Waltham Trench Watch. I have included a picture of Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, his wife Addie Daniels, Secretary Daniels' Private Secretary John May, Captain William W. Phelps, Rear Admiral Griffin, Rear Admiral Taylor and Rear Admiral Earle that was taken on the deck of the U.S.S. Leviathan on March 15, 1919. I will include several newspaper articles about Rear Admiral Phelps along with many pictures of the U.S.S Leviathan and of the special delegation that came aboard on March 15, 1919. I will also include the original copy of "History of the U.S.S. Leviathan Cruiser & Transport Forces" published in 1919 that was originally owned by Captain Eugene McDonald, the ship's Chaplin. The book was written by the U.S.S. Leviathan's History Committee from 1917 - 1919 by members of the ship's crew. The book is incredibly detailed with many pictures and packed with tales of her transatlantic wartime service. Many famous people were on board the U.S.S. Leviathan including Academy Award winning actor Humphrey Bogart who served as a Boatswains Mate 3rd Class until the war ended. On September 8, 1919 General John J. Pershing, Commander of the Armies, victoriously returned to the United States aboard the U.S.S. Leviathan after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that officially ended WWI.
On March 15, 1919 a special delegation of United States government officials boarded the U.S.S. Leviathan at the docks in New York City headed to Brest France. Among the dignitaries was the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and his wife Addie Daniels. Also in this delegation were Rear Admiral Robert Griffin with the Bureau of Steam Engineering, Rear Admiral David Taylor with the Bureau of Construction & Repair and Rear Admiral Ralph Earle with the Bureau of Ordnance among several other high ranking officials. The date of March 15, 1919 is very important to the story of this 14k solid gold Waltham Trench Watch. It is very obvious that this high end watch was presented to Captain William Woodward Phelps by somebody from this high ranking delegation that came onboard the U.S.S. Leviathan. March 15, 1919 would be the last time the U.S.S. Leviathan left the United States with Captain William W. Phelps at the helm. The case back of the watch has been inscribed "W.W.P. from J.A.T.". Captain William Woodward Phelps' initials are "W.W.P". The sailing date of this voyage from New York City to Breast France was March 15, 1919. The side of the watch case is inscribed "U.S.S. Leviathan March 15, 1919".
This is a very rare 1918 WWI Waltham Trench Watch, housed in a 14k solid gold case made by the Brooklyn Watch Case Company, (a division of Fahys) that features a high end 15 jewel movement, correct style crown, a re-lumed BOLD Arabic enamel military dial with factory drilled dial lume dots, a set of blue steel skeleton hands with a very wide 22mm lug width. The case alone weighs in at 16.5 grams of 14k solid gold which is just over a half ounce of 14k gold. This absolutely remarkable piece of American craftsmanship is in superb cosmetic condition. Our Great Grandfather's knew how to make things that would last for generations! The incredibly beautiful movement was just completely taken apart and serviced on 2-1-2022, a brand new mainspring has also been installed. It's now in superb running condition and keeping excellent time. This watch has been tested on a professional timegraph 5000 Machine for accuracy so rest assured! Take another look at picture number three again, this movement is clean as a whistle and stunningly beautiful! I'm sure that you have noticed by now that this is not your ordinary trench watch case by a long shot! This is a 14k SOLID GOLD trench watch case that was manufactured by the Brooklyn Watch Case Company, a division of the Fahys Watch Case Company, circa 1918. The inside of the case back is stamped "Warranted to Assay 14k, BWCCo". The bezel and case back both snap crisply together, just as they should. The 14k case has NOT been polished, looks fantastic in it's original untouched condition. This watch is simply incredible! The enamel dial on this WWI Waltham Trench Watch is among the most desirable they ever made, the BOLD Arabic military dial! The dial features a white face, BOLD Arabic numerals, outer minute markers, the correct blue steel skeleton hands for this dial and is signed "WALTHAM" near the center. This dial has a little something extra, factory drilled hour marker lume dots at the numerals. The lume dots and the skeleton hands have been re-lumed using safe modern dark brown material for that very desirable vintage look. This historic and iconic WWI Waltham Trench Watch has been fitted with a vintage black leather strap that absolutely makes the watch! Take a look at picture number two again, this watch looks absolutely stunning on the wrist! The strap will fit a wrist up to about 8 inches. It will have a bit of wear on it because I seriously could not resist wearing this one for a few days, can you blame me? Here are the movement details: 1910 Waltham, 15 jewels, big size 0s version, serial number 17970694, grade 165, model 1907. They just don't make them like this anymore! The 14k SOLID GOLD case measures 39mm lug tip to lug tip, 32.6mm without the correct factory crown with a nice and wide 22mm lug width. I replaced the bad plastic crystal with a proper antique glass crystal. It was seated using UV cement and a UV curing machine. I also installed a new inner sleeve in the crown tube, it now has a nice firm pop, just as it should. This watch is ready to be worn and shown off, it will surely get noticed! I put a lot of time and effort into this incredibly important 14k WWI Waltham Trench Watch, I'm sure that you will appreciate the quality and quantity of work that has been done. Solid old World craftsmanship at its finest! You would be seriously hard pressed to find a finer example of this 1918 WWI Waltham Trench Watch that features a superb 14k SOLID GOLD Brooklyn Watch Case Company case, a BOLD Arabic enamel military dial with lume dots, correct blue steel skeleton hands, re-lumed, high end 15 jewel movement, the correct factory crown with a black vintage leather strap! This one sets the bar!
Rear Admiral William Woodward Phelps,
thank you for your 48 years of devoted, honorable and courageous United States Navy service.