Last Known Activity In early March 1918, while returning from a voyage to Brazil, USS Cyclops (a collier). disappeared with all hands. Her wreck has never been found, and the cause of her loss remains unknown. The ship carrying 306 people including enlisted men and passengers was never heard from again. Although the ship disappeared in March 1918, the designated date of death for every one on board is June 14, 1918.
USS Cyclops (AC-4) was one of four Proteus-class colliers built for the United States Navy several years before World War I. Named for the Cyclops, a primordial race of giants from Greek mythology, she was the second U.S. Naval vessel to bear the name. The loss of the ship and 306 crew and passengers without a trace within the area known as the Bermuda Triangle some time after 4 March 1918 remains the single largest loss of life in U.S. Naval history not directly involving combat. The Naval History & Heritage Command has stated she "probably sank in an unexpected storm
but the cause is unknown
Cyclops was launched on 7 May 1910, by William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and placed in service on 7 November 1910, with Lieutenant Commander George Worley, Master, Naval Auxiliary Service, in command. Operating with the Naval Auxiliary Service, Atlantic Fleet, she voyaged in the Baltic from May–July 1911 to supply Second Division ships. Returning to Norfolk, Virginia, she operated on the east coast from Newport, Rhode Island, to the Caribbean, servicing the fleet. During the troubled conditions in Mexico in 1914–1915, she coaled ships on patrol there and received the thanks of the U.S. State Department for cooperation in evacuating refugees.
With American entry into World War I, Cyclops was commissioned on 1 May 1917, and her skipper, George W. Worley, was promoted to full Commander. She joined a convoy for Saint-Nazaire, France in June 1917, returning to the U.S. in July. Except for a voyage to Halifax, Nova Scotia, she served along the east coast until 9 January 1918, when she was assigned to Naval Overseas Transportation Service. She then sailed to Brazilian waters to fuel British ships in the south Atlantic, receiving the thanks of the State Department and CINCPAC
She put to sea from Rio de Janeiro on 16 February. On 20 February, Cyclops entered Bahia. Two days later, she departed for Baltimore, Maryland, with no stops scheduled, carrying a load of 10,800 long tons (11,000 t) of manganese ore to be used in the manufacture of munitions. The ship was thought to be overloaded when she left Brazil, as her maximum capacity was 8,000 long tons (8,100 t). Before leaving port, Commander Worley had submitted a report that the starboard engine had a cracked cylinder and was not operative. This report was confirmed by a survey board, which recommended, however, that the ship be returned to the U.S. She made an unscheduled stop in Barbados because the water line was over the Plimsoll line, indicating an overloaded condition;
however investigations in Rio proved the ship had been loaded and secured properly. Cyclops then set out for Baltimore on 4 March, and was rumored to have been sighted on 9 March by the molasses tanker Amolco near Virginia, but this was denied by Amolco's captain. Additionally, because Cyclops was not due in Baltimore until 13 March, it is highly unlikely that the ship would have been near Virginia on 9 March, as that location would have placed her only about a day from Baltimore. In any event, Cyclops never made it to Baltimore, and no wreckage of her has ever been found. Reports indicate that on 10 March, the day after the ship was rumored to have been sighted by Amolco, a violent storm swept through the Virginia Capes area. While some suggest that the combination of the overloaded condition, engine trouble, and bad weather may have conspired to sink Cyclops, an extensive naval investigation concluded: "Many theories have been advanced, but none that satisfactorily accounts for her disappearance." This summation was written, however, before two of Cyclops's sister ships, Proteus and Nereus, vanished in the North Atlantic during World War II. Both ships were transporting heavy loads of metallic ore similar to that which was loaded on Cyclops during her fatal voyage. In both cases, it was theorised that their loss was the result of catastrophic structural failure, but a more outlandish theory attributes all three vessels' disappearances to the Bermuda Triangle.
Rear Admiral George van Deurs suggested that the loss of Cyclops could be owing to structural failiure, as her sister ships suffered from issues where the I-beams that ran the length of the ship had eroded owing to the corrosive nature of some of the cargo carried. This was observed definitively on the USS Jason, and is believed to have contributed to the sinking of another similar freighter, the Chuky, which snapped in two in calm seas. Moreover, Cyclops may have hit a storm with 30-40 knot winds. These would have resulted in waves just far enough apart to leave the bow and stern supported on the peaks of successive waves, but with the middle unsupported, resulting in extra strain on the already weakened middle.
On 1 June 1918, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Cyclops to be officially lost and all hands deceased. A complete list of the crew and passengers lost in the incident is available from the Department of the Navy's Naval Historical Center.One of the seamen lost aboard Cyclops was African American mess attendant Lewis H. Hardwick, the father of Herbert Lewis Hardwick, "The Cocoa Kid", an Afro Puerto Rican welterweight boxer who was a top contender in the 1930s and '40s who won the world colored welterweight and world colored middleweight championships.
Investigations by the Office of Naval Intelligence revealed that Captain Worley was born Johan Frederick Wichmann in Sandstedt, Hanover, Germany in 1862, and that he had entered America by jumping ship in San Francisco in 1878. By 1898, he had changed his name to Worley (after a seaman friend), and owned and operated a saloon in San Francisco's Barbary Coast. He also got help from brothers whom he had convinced to emigrate. During this time he had qualified for the position of ship's master, and had commanded several civilian merchant ships, picking up and delivering cargo (both legal and illegal; some accounts say opium) from the Far East to San Francisco. Unfortunately, the crews of these ships reported that Worley suffered from a personality allegedly akin to that of HMS Bounty's captain William Bligh; the crew often being brutalized by Worley for trivial things.
Naval investigators discovered information from former crew members about Worley's habits. He would berate and curse officers and men for minor offenses, sometimes getting violent; at one point, he had allegedly chased an ensign about the ship with a pistol. Saner times would find him making his rounds about the ship dressed in long underwear and a derby hat.Worley sometimes would have an inexperienced officer in charge of loading cargo on the ship while the more experienced man was confined to quarters. In Rio de Janeiro, one such man was assigned to oversee the loading of manganese ore, something a collier was not used to carrying, and in this instance the ship was overloaded, which may have contributed to her sinking. The most serious accusation against Worley was that he was pro-German in wartime and may have colluded with the enemy; indeed, his closest friends and associates were either German or Americans of German descent. "Many Germanic names appear," Livingston stated, speculating that the ship had many German sympathizers on board. One of the passengers on the final voyage was Alfred Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the consul-general in Rio de Janeiro, who was as roundly hated for his pro-German sympathies as was Worley. Livingston stated he believed Gottschalk may have been directly involved in collaborating with Worley on handing the ship over to the Germans. After World War I, German records were checked to ascertain the fate of Cyclops, whether by Worley's hand or by submarine attack. Nothing was found.
Near the time the search for Cyclops was called off, a telegram was received by the State Department from Charles Ludlow Livingston, the U.S. consul on Barbados:
Secretary of State
17,, 2 April p.m.
Department's 15th. Confidential. Master CYCLOPS stated that required six hundred tons coal having sufficient on board to reach Bermuda. Engines very poor condition. Not sufficient funds and therefore requested payment by me. Unusually reticent. I have ascertained he took here ton fresh meat, ton flour, thousand pounds vegetables, paying therefore 775 dollars. From different sources gather the following: he had plenty of coal, alleged inferior, took coal to mix, probably had more than fifteen hundred tons. Master alluded to by others as damned Dutchman, apparently disliked by other officers. Rumored disturbances en route hither, men confined and one executed; also had some prisoners from the fleet in Brazilian waters, one life sentence. United States Consul-General Gottschalk passenger, 231 crew exclusive of officers and passengers. Have names of crew but not of all the officers and passengers. Many Germanic names appear. Number telegraphic or wireless messages addressed to master or in care of ship were delivered at this port. All telegrams for Barbadoes on file head office St. Thomas. I have to suggest scrutiny there. While not having any definite grounds I fear fate worse than sinking though possibly based on instinctive dislike felt towards master.
Some reports attribute the telegram to Brockholst Livingston, but he was actually the 13-year-old son of the Consul.
USS Cyclops was last heard from on 4 March 1918. The date of death for the 21 officers and 285 enlisted men, serving on Cyclops, was designated as 14 June 1918.
USS Cyclops: Crew and Passengers Who Died on the Final Voyage