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The Mystery of the USS Cyclops
(Part 2)
By Nancy E. Sheppard

USCy2 imageWhen USS Cyclops, a Proteus class collier, left Norfolk in January 1918, no one could have predicted what would occur over the next few months. Under the command of LCDR George Worley, a German immigrant who was detested by his crew, the ship was en route to Brazil to refuel British ships just off the coast. Before returning to the U.S., Cyclops was to take on civilian passengers and take on 10,800 tons of manganese ore, which was to be used by the U.S. for manufacturing steel and munitions. After the voyage, LCDR Worley was set to take an extended leave of absence from service and move his family from the Tidewater to California.

Tensions ran high when Cyclops delivered 9,960 tons of coal to the British ships sailing off the coast of South America. Worley’s crew all but mutinied against their commanding officer, claiming him to be an incompetent drunk who garnered loyalty to his German roots rather than his adopted country. The U.S. Navy backed Worley, claiming him to be true in his patriotism to the United States and that he was perfectly capable of commanding the vessel on the final stretch to the port in Baltimore, Maryland.

In March 1918, Cyclops pulled into Barbados for an unscheduled stop. Worley was concerned because the waterline was over the Plimsoll mark, indicating that the ship was overweight. In addition, Worley had continuously documented challenges faced by the structural integrity of the collier. He reported that one of the ship’s engines was inoperable due to a cracked cylinder. Even so, on March 4, 1918, Cyclops left Barbados to make the 18,000 nautical mile trek to the port in Baltimore. The ship maintained radio silence in the event that enemy submarines were in their path. On March 9, a molasses tanker, Amalco, reported seeing Cyclops off the Virginia Capes but did not engage in communication with the ship. The ship sent a short report back to shore, stating, "Weather fair. All Well.”

But when Cyclops did not arrive in Baltimore by March 20, concern grew. There was no contact or sight of the ship since March 9. Ships from allied navies joined the U.S. Navy in search for the missing collier, her cargo, and, most alarming, her crew. But no debris or even an oil slick was ever found of the ship.

For the stunning conclusion of this story, read next week’s Yorktown Crier- Poquoson Post!


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