The Disappearance of the USS Cyclops (AC-4)

The Disappearance of the USS Cyclops (AC-4)


USS Cyclops was a massive carrier ship that supplied fuel to the American fleet during World War-I.  The 522-foot Cyclops displaced 12,000 tons of water.  On January 8, 1918, the ship sailed from snow-covered Norfolk towards Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, under the command of Lt. Commander Worley.  The ship was relatively new and in good shape.  The purpose of this voyage was to unload coal in Rio and load Manganese ore, used mainly for making steel.

On January 28, the ship reached Rio and would remain docked there for two weeks.  While it was in port, a large amount of coal was offloaded and then just over 10,000 tons of Manganese ore was loaded into the ship, making it heavy and full.

Surprisingly, on the day of its departure, some 73 local sailors were asked to board the ship.  And more surprisingly, the American Consulate General of Rio, Gottschalk, also boarded the ship.  When asked why he mentioned that he wanted to enlist in the US Army to serve the nation during the war.

The USS Cyclops set sail again on February 16th with 306 persons on board and a huge load of cargo.  It was homebound for Baltimore, Maryland, with one quick stop in Bahia, Brazil.  Now here was another odd turn to the story.  After the ship left Bahia on March 3rd, it should have made a beeline straight towards Baltimore, but the captain took it instead to Barbados in West Indies.  He said that they needed more fuel and supplies.  The US Consul General in Barbados did not feel it necessary to load more coal and supplies, but the captain insisted, and it was finally done.

On March 4th, The USS Cyclops set sail again and was scheduled to reach Baltimore on March 13th.  But it was never heard of again.  When the ship did not reach Baltimore as scheduled, a massive search was initiated soon along with her whole course.

Every naval ship from Cuba to Puerto Rico searched for any possible debris anticipating that it might have fallen prey to German Submarines.  However, there was no trace of Cyclops.

So, what happened to USS Cyclops? 

There are many theories, but none of these could be proven with real facts and evidence.  Even after the Navy issued a 15,000-page report probing the USS Cyclops mystery, most explanations were just speculations.  Until now this disappearance has remained as one of the greatest mysteries of the ocean, and strangely the ship was right in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle when the incident had supposedly taken place.

Here are some explanations that come close to what may actually have happened to the USS Cyclops:

  • Captain Worley was hated by most of his fellow staff and officers.  They always accused him to be a pro-German.  It was found out later that Captain Worley was German-born and had a different name earlier.  It is not known what caused him to change his name. Also, Gottschalk, the US Consulate General of Rio, who surprisingly boarded the ship along with 73 other local sailors, was also very popular among the German community in Brazil.
  • To top it all, lot more coal and fuel were loaded from Barbados when it was not officially planned or even required.  So, was it a case of Sabotage?  Why was there no SOS call made by the captain? Since the United States with Germany had already broken out by then, did the captain and Gottschalk connived together and sunk the ship or perhaps destroyed it?  Or maybe the ship was taken all the way to Germany?
  • Here is another theory.  One of the Navy Officers, LTJG Nervig, was onboard the Cyclops until Rio. He wrote a report that he often found the deck of the ship swaying when large waves struck the ship.  The ship was already showing signs of weakening and starting to split up.  So, there may have been a structural failure that sunk the ship.
  • Another report says that on its sail from Rio, Cyclops was overloaded with Manganese plus fuel and many persons aboard.  The load was more than the ship was designed to handle.  A heavy mid-oceanic storm had hit the ship causing it to capsize and sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Was the ship blasted by a German underwater mine or torpedoed by a German Sub?  The US Navy claims that such possibility does not exist if the ship had been on its right course.  However, had the ship been off its track by a large margin, there was a high possibility of that to happen and the ship would have perished.

Here is the official Navy Department explanation of the USS Cyclops:

Here is a clipping from the Des Moines Register on April 15th, 1918:



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *