Over a century later, the whereabouts of the collier USS Cyclops remains unknown and might never be known… forever lost at sea.

“Weather Fair, All Well.”

That was the last known message radioed by one of the biggest ships of the US Navy, the USS Cyclops (AC-4), amid the ongoing World War I.

USS Cyclops, the second of the four ships of her class built by William Cramps & Sons of Philadelphia, was launched on May 7, 1910, and was commissioned months later to serve as a coal transport to other active Navy ships in European waters, off the Atlantic seaboard, and in the Caribbean as a unit of the Naval Auxiliary Force. By the time America joined the chaos of WWI, the large steaming vessel was designated to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service to fuel British warships in the South Atlantic, as well as mobilize troops into the front.

Her Last Known Whereabouts

The nearly 550 feet long Proteus-class collier was on her final mission to transport 9,960 tons of coals from her home port in Norfolk, Virginia, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and returning with a new cargo: an 11,000-ton of manganese ore used for steelmaking, and was loaded to the brim.

After loading up the dense material—which took two weeks to complete—Cyclops left Brazil on February 15, with more than 300 souls on board, en route to an unplanned stop in Barbados to resupply before finally steaming home to Baltimore. The collier was expected to arrive in Maryland roughly four weeks later, but she never came.

USS Cyclops (AC-4) circa 1911, anchored in the Hudson River, NY (Image source: US Naval History and Heritage Command)

Besides its last known message, the USS Cyclops just… vanished. Lost somewhere in the infamous Bermuda Triangle without a trace. Not even an SOS was neither heard nor sent to nearby ships. No debris or any signs of wreckage, nothing.

Speculations and Theories

Over a hundred years later, the Navy’s greatest noncombatant loss of life remains unsolved, with the fate of dozens of sailors and crew still unknown.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of the ship and her crew spurred tons of speculations. Some wondered whether the collier had been targeted by the German U-boats, while others blamed it on a freak sea storm prevalent in the region where it was last spotted. On the other hand, some former passengers and crew of Cyclops pointed their fingers at Lieutenant George W. Worley, the problematic commanding officer of the ship. Worley was described as a drunk officer who was inept at steering a large vessel, let alone leading an entire demoralized crew. In fact, prior to the ship’s disappearance, there were reports regarding a minor uprising on board against the unruly captain that was immediately dispersed before it got out of hand.

Fifty-one years later, Conrad A. Nervig, who was transferred off the ship in Rio, recounted his experience on the Cyclops in a 1969 article for the US Naval Institute Proceedings. He wrote about the problematic collier and her equally concerning crew, describing the captain as a “gruff, eccentric salt of the old school, given to carrying a cane, but possessing few other cultural attainments. He was a very indifferent seaman and a poor, overly cautious navigator. Unfriendly and taciturn, he was generally disliked by both his officers and men.”

Worley’s “irrational methods of command” created a “thoroughly demoralized and disorganized” crew, which may have led to the reported mutiny on board.

While none of these explains what happened to the collier, it suggests that the unrest on board could have been the or among the catalysts that led to her mysterious disappearance.

There’s also another speculation about the possible sinking due to the heavy load the Cyclops was transporting. But then again, no wreckage could prove this.

bermuda triangle
(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Other sensationalized theories include giant sea monsters and unidentified species that may have been lurking within the infamous Bermuda Triangle (aka “The Devil’s Triangle“), where dozens of other ships and aircraft had mysteriously disappeared and possibly abducted, attacked, or simply seized the Cyclops from existing… like some crazy plot in a sci-fi fiction where a supernatural portal just appeared in the ocean and sucked the ship and its crew off the face of the Earth.

Navy officials later said in a statement that the vanishing of the Cyclops was “one of the most baffling mysteries in the annals of the Navy” and that “all attempts to locate her have proved unsuccessful.”

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Navy History 1913
Collier USS Cyclops (AC-4) circa 1913 (Image source: US Naval History and Heritage Command)

Even today, with all the technological advancements at its disposal and other sea explorers who wanted to solve the unsolved enigma of the 20th century, it couldn’t find any evidence that could prove that the USS Cyclops once existed.

Will the world be able to uncover her whereabouts remains a question left floating in the air. Whether it sunk due to overloading, mismanagement, downed by U-boats or a strong freaky storm—or perhaps fell victim to the Devil’s Triangle… whichever it may be, may the Cyclops be someday found for the sake of the 300 plus souls peace, as well as their families.

What do you think happened to the USS Cyclops? Do you have your own theory? Share it with us in the comments below! Or you might be interested in reading A Passage to Oblivion: The Last Voyage of the USS Cyclops by Gian Quasar. Check it out here!