One of the most enduring and mysterious maritime incidents of modern history is the disappearance of the large American transport and collier ship U.S.S Cyclops that occurred on 5 March 1918.
This vessel, weighing in at close to 20,000 tonnes was carrying 306 passengers and crew, together with a large cargo of manganese ore that was to be used in the manufacture of munitions. Cyclops was travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Baltimore but never made it, disappearing without trace somewhere north of the West Indies, in an area that today is known as the Bermuda triangle.
An extensive search failed to find any trace of the vessel and on 1st June it was declared officially lost, together with the passengers and crew aboard at the time. This unknown disaster remains the single largest loss of life in US Naval history in what was believed to have been a non-combat situation.
Many theories were advanced to explain the loss – some more credible than others.
- A breakup of the vessel in bad weather.
- Enemy action from the Germans – perhaps sunk by a submarine or surface raider.
- A shifting of the manganese ore inside the holds producing a vessel overturn.
- Some type of irrational action by the captain, George W. Worley, who was a known eccentric.
Worley’s past behaviour had been very strange, including violent and threatening behaviour towards his crew and occasional patrolling of the ship dressed only “in long underwear and a derby hat”. It was even suggested that Worley, who had been born in Germany as Johan Frederick Wichmann, could have turned the vessel over to Germany sometime during the voyage.
In more recent times there was also speculation of the involvement of supernatural forces associated with the Bermuda Triangle, although this explanation was not regraded seriously in official circles.
Image: USS Cyclops on the Hudson River in 1911, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.