The USS Cyclops was a collier of the United States Navy, commissioned in 1910, and played a pivotal role in naval logistics by transporting coal to fuel the fleet’s steam-powered ships.

Its disappearance in March 1918, while en route from Barbados to Baltimore with 306 crew and passengers aboard and no distress signal, remains one of the largest unsolved mysteries in maritime history.

Theories about its fate range from structural failure due to overloading with manganese ore, to speculative connections with the Bermuda Triangle, though no conclusive evidence has ever been found to explain its vanishing.


The USS Cyclops

The USS Cyclops represented a significant achievement in naval engineering and design at the beginning of the 20th century. Constructed by William Cramp & Sons, a prominent American shipbuilding company based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the vessel was launched in 1910 as part of the United States Navy’s efforts to modernize and expand its logistics and support capabilities. The design of the Cyclops was tailored to meet the specific needs of the Navy’s then predominantly coal-powered fleet.

USS Cyclops pictured in the Hudson River, 1911.

With a length of over 540 feet and a beam (width) of 65 feet, the Cyclops was among the largest auxiliary ships of its time. Its size was not just for show; the vessel boasted a significant cargo capacity, designed to carry over 12,000 tons of coal in its holds. This immense carrying capacity was crucial for its role as a collier, allowing it to support the operations of numerous ships before needing to resupply itself.

Operational History

The Cyclops’ role expanded beyond mere logistics as it was drawn into significant military and diplomatic events. One of the early highlights of its service was its participation in the U.S. efforts related to the laying of the transatlantic communications cable.

Read More The Gokstad Ship – The Largest Preserved Viking Ship in Norway

This operation was critical for improving long-distance communication between North America and Europe, enhancing diplomatic and military coordination during a period marked by growing international tensions and the onset of World War I.

Another pivotal moment in the Cyclops’ operational history was its involvement in the United States’ occupation of Veracruz in 1914. This intervention was part of the U.S. response to the Tampico Affair and was aimed at asserting American influence in Mexico during a time of political instability.

The Disappearance of the USS Cyclops

The disappearance of the USS Cyclops in March 1918 stands as one of the most profound mysteries in maritime history, especially intriguing given its timing during the tumultuous period of World War I. The ship set off from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, towards Baltimore, Maryland, with a brief stopover in Barbados for supplies, marking the last confirmed location where the Cyclops was seen before vanishing without a trace.

On its final voyage, the USS Cyclops carried a significant cargo of manganese ore, a material crucial for steel-making, which was in high demand during the war effort. The choice of such a dense and heavy cargo, differing from its usual coal hauls, has led some to speculate about the ship’s stability and structural integrity.

Read More USS Kentucky – The Battleship That Never Was

After departing from Barbados on March 4, 1918, the Cyclops was expected to traverse the Atlantic, a journey fraught with the perils of German U-boats and unpredictable weather, to reach its destination in Baltimore. However, the ship, along with its 306 crew and passengers, disappeared without sending any distress signals, leaving no evidence of its fate.

The U.S. Navy and other organizations launched extensive searches for the Cyclops, scouring potential paths and examining scenarios ranging from enemy action to natural disasters. The lack of wreckage, bodies, or any form of debris has compounded the mystery, with investigations unable to determine a definitive cause for the disappearance.

Naval and independent inquiries have considered various hypotheses, including catastrophic structural failure possibly related to the heavy ore load, which might have compromised the ship’s buoyancy and structural integrity.

Theories and Investigations

A leading theory postulates that the Cyclops succumbed to structural failure, possibly exacerbated by the heavy load of manganese ore it was carrying. The ship, originally designed for coal transport, may have been ill-suited to carry such dense cargo, potentially compromising its stability and buoyancy.

Read More A US Destroyer Fired a Torpedo at the USS Iowa While the President was on Board

Experts have speculated that the ore could have shifted during a storm, causing the vessel to list and eventually sink. This theory is supported by the fact that the Cyclops underwent repairs for a cracked cylinder prior to its final voyage, suggesting that the ship may have already been experiencing structural issues.

Some theories also suggest that the Captain and crew were German sympathisers.

Another rational theory considers the role of severe weather conditions, such as sudden storms or rogue waves, which are known to occur in the Atlantic. These natural phenomena could have overwhelmed the Cyclops, especially if the ship was already compromised by its cargo load or structural weaknesses.

The context of World War I has led to speculation about possible enemy action, including the theory that a German U-boat might have sunk the Cyclops. However, historical records do not support this hypothesis, as there were no reported German submarine activities in the area at the time of the disappearance that could be linked to the Cyclops.

Read More Temper, Temper – That Time the USS Wisconsin Wasn’t Messing Around

The Cyclops’ disappearance in the vicinity of the Bermuda Triangle has fueled speculative theories that link its fate to the region’s lore, which is reputed for the unexplained loss of ships and aircraft. While appealing to the imagination, these theories often lack empirical evidence and are not widely accepted by the scientific community.

The U.S. Navy and other organizations have conducted several investigations into the disappearance of the Cyclops, but none have yielded definitive conclusions. The Navy’s official position suggests that the ship likely succumbed to a catastrophic event that left no survivors or wreckage.

Despite extensive searches, no physical evidence of the ship’s wreckage has been found, leaving the circumstances of its loss a matter of conjecture.