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Lost at Sea Without a Trace:
The Mystery of the USS Cyclops, Final Part
By Nancy E. Sheppard

USSCy3 imageWhen the Proteus-class collier, U.S.S. Cyclops disappeared en route to Baltimore, Maryland after stopping in the Bermuda to refuel in March 1918, no one knew quite what to think. A hefty and zealous investigation was underway with the aid of navies from multiple nations but not a trace… not a life jacket or even oil slick, was ever found of the large vessel. The last anyone heard from Cyclops was a simple message in the days following the start of the last leg of the voyage, saying: "Weather’s fair, All Well.”

Conspiracy theories were often on the tongue of the suspicious public. Their deeply unlikable captain, LCDR George W. Worley, a German by birth, was immediately put under scrutiny. Many suggested that the captain defected with the ship to his birth country and somehow committed treason against the United States during this time of war. Worley’s wife and the U.S. Navy fervently denied such accusations, with Mrs. Worley pointing out that her husband loved the United States and would never do anything to hurt or abandon her nor their daughter.

Another theory was that German U-Boats haunting the coastal route of the ship torpedoed the ship and it sunk. But that theory was defunct after the war when German records proved that there weren’t any German vessels within the vicinity during that time period. German records also proved that no American collier was ever brought to them.

The most likely theory is that the ship was caught in a violent storm that raged around the Virginia Capes during the approximate time period in which the ship went missing. The storm could have overtaken the ship and it sank or the manganese ore the ship carried caused an explosion in the hull, taking the ship and her 309 passengers to the deepest part of the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

In June 1918, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt officially declared every soul on board Cyclops presumed lost at sea. To this day, no sight or sign of the Cyclops has ever been found. It was the single greatest loss of life unrelated to combat experienced by the U.S. Navy. The fifteen Marylanders who were lost on Cyclops had their names etched with their World War I brethren on the War Memorial located in Annapolis. While France has a small plaque to honor Cyclops' dead, there is no single monument that exists in the United States to honor the loss of life in the line of duty. Families of the lost have pushed over the years to keep their loved ones’ memories alive and, at various points, politicians have suggested establishing a memorial in Baltimore (though Cyclops was stationed out of Norfolk).

The ship has served as a mystery in the deep for divers, maritime explorers, and historians while her story has inspired works of fiction like Paul Gallico’s novel, The Poseidon Adventure. But it is a mystery that still remains.

President Woodrow Wilson summed it up best when he stated, "Only God and the sea know what happened to the great ship.”

 





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