March 4, 1918 the coaling ship USS Cyclops AC-4 sailed from Barbados into history. The story begins on February 7, 1910 at the ship yard of William Cramp when the hull of the Cyclops was launched. The Cyclops was a 19,000 ton collier intended for the use of refueling fleet ships. Since all ships used coal it was imperative that they had a reliable supply of quality coal available anywhere in the world, Cyclops and ships like her filled this need.
At first she was assigned to the Naval Auxiliary Service, but after the U.S. entered the Great War she was commissioned as AC-4. Her civilian captain, George W. Worley, then became Lt. Cmdr. Worley in the Naval Reserve. Worley, from all accounts I have, was to say the least unpopular with the crew. They were not impressed with his manor as a person or his skill as a sailor. During the voyage he even had his executive officer placed in room arrest for the remainder of the trip.
After departing Norfolk, Virginia on January 18, 1918 she arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Jan. 28. Before arriving at Rio the starboard engine failed and the Cyclops had to rely on only one engine for the rest of the voyage, slowing her speed and making maneuvering difficult.
While in Rio there she unloaded her coal and loaded 10,000 tons of manganese ore. The ore is a dense material essential for producing quality steel and, the U.S.A. needed vast quantitys to continue the war effort. Brazil is one of the world's largest suppliers of the ore.
Before departure 73 sailors and Marines came aboard to be returned to the USA, three were prisoners being transported to serve out their jail terms, one was to be hanged on arrival. Also the US Consul General of Rio de Janeiro, Alfred Gottschalk boarded the ship. He claimed to be returning to the U.S. to enlist in the Army, some however, dispute this claim. Gottschalk was of dubious repute at least in the eyes of J. E. Conner, the officer in charge of the ONI office in New York. In a letter to the director of Naval Intelligence he stated "he was an ardent pro-German and I have no doubt he continued to be so while in Brazil". It is obvious that Mr. Conner did not believe Gottschalk was returning to join the armed forces.
After leaving Rio the Cyclops docked at Barbados to top off her coal supply. This stop has been a source of debate for years because it was not scheduled and maybe unnecessary. Worley reported to the Consul General in Barbados and requested 600 tons of coal plus a ton of meat, a ton of flour and 1,000 lbs. of vegetables. The ship, in the opinion of the Brockholt Livingston, the Consul General, should have had adequate provisions to make the return trip to the U.S.A., but he authorized Worley's request, maybe against his better judgment.
Livingston also noted that a large number of telegrams were delivered to the ship while in port and that there were a number of "Germanic" names among the crew. Once again it was noted that the crew did not like this captain. Livingston stated "Master alluded to by others as damned Dutchman apparently disliked by other officers" (Dutchman at that time did not describe someone from Holland but was slang for Deutscheman or German). He also stated that there was reportedly "disturbances" while en route to Barbados and that one man had in fact been executed.
Without delay, no matter what was said about the captain, the Cyclops sailed from Barbados on March 4, 1918. Worley set a southerly course which to this day is not understood since he should have sailed north or northwest. Cyclops was sighted by a British patrol on March 5 and again on the 6th, both times far off course. She was escorted back to the proper shipping lane. After the 6th she was never seen again. This has become one of the great mysteries of the sea. Many have suggested that the ship was the victim of the Bermuda Triangle, but there are any number of other theories.
Some believed that Cyclops was sailed to Germany by Worley and his crew under the direction of Gottschalk or turned over to a German raider for the ore and that the ship and crew were disposed of, this argument seems to be absurd as there would have been no way to unload the oar into the holds of the raider. The latter theory was Conner's opinion. Livingston agreed with this theory and stated "While not having any definite grounds I fear a fate worse than sinking though possibly based on instinctive dislike felt toward the master".
Was the Cyclops part of a conspiracy between Worley and Gottschalk? Was this the reason for the stop in Barbados for extra supplies? And why, if a stop at Barbados was unscheduled, were there telegrams waiting for a ship that was not going to stop there? Conner however laid the blame squarely at the feel of Gottschalk when he said "Gottschalk will later turn up as the central figure in a romance of his own construction, claiming to have been under duress all the time". Clearly both Conner and Livingston believed the Cyclops was in German hands.
The records of the German raiders during the Great War are well documented, none claim to have taken the Cyclops so it does not appear that a raider was the cause of the loss. The only reason the Germans might have to hide the fact for so many years is if a war crime had taken place. If it was not a raider perhaps it was the other menace of the seas, a U-boat. Here again the records have been looked over by historians for decades and again the name Cyclops is not found on any U-boat's tally. The fact that Cyclops does not appear in the records of any raider or U-boat could still have an explaination. If for example the ship was captured and the U.S. service personnel had been executed, Germany might not want to claim holding the Cyclops. An example of this would be the story of the Belgian Prince. It should be noted that Cyclops was not found in Germany after the war and nobody from the ship ever turned up in Germany, this includes Worley and Gottschalk, who, if the ship was deliberately turned over the the Germans, would have been treated as heroes and would not have been executed.
Such are the arguments for what probably did not happen to the Cyclops, so what did happen, there are valid explainations that could have caused the loss of the ship. The cargo itself could have been the cause, if the ore had not been properly loaded it could have caused the ship to either capsize or to break in half and sink. Since the ore was not likely to shift, misloading might be the answer. If she had been loaded heavy in the bow and the stern the stress amisdhips might have caused her to break up, this is unlikely, but it could have happened.
The most likely cause of the loss of Cyclops is the most obvious one, she sank in a storm. With one engine out the ship was not able to cope with heavy seas, it was difficult to manuever
There was a 24 hour radio watch on board but no distress signal was ever picked up, so what ever happened to the Cyclops, happened quickly.
To this day the loss of the Cyclops and the 309 people on board has never been explained. The wreck was never found and no survivors were ever heard from again. If Worley or Gottschalk did surrender the ship they did not survive the war. None of the crew were found in POW camps after the war either. The ship and the men just vanished, forever.
© 2006 Michael W. Pocock
USS Cyclops at San Francisco in 1918.