The Bermuda Triangle is an infamous region in the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern seaboard of the United States. The mysterious area marked by the Florida panhandle, Bermuda, and the Greater Antilles has inexplicably swallowed more than 50 ships and 20 airplanes, leaving no trace.
Few people these days remember the ill-fated Navy ship USS Cyclops which vanished in the Bermuda Triangle seas in March 1918. But it was big news in its time because there were no survivors and the wreck was never found.
Weird doings in the Bermuda Triangle had been reported since the mid-1800s. Ships were found abandoned with no crew aboard (or dead bodies) and no sign of mishap. In other cases, vessels were able to transmit a distress signal but had disappeared by the time help arrived. Sometimes, the rescue missions vanished, too.
The Cyclops was massive, measuring 540 feet long (an American football field is 300 feet between goal lines) and 65 feet wide. The collier, as it was called, was built to haul coal. Capable of holding 12,500 tons of coal, the steamer could make 15 knots (17 mph).
The winches aboard the collier could transport 800-pound bags of anthracite (hard natural coal) along cables. Huge clamshell buckets could scoop up two tons of coal at a time.
The Cyclops was launched in May 1910 and one job: to provide fuel for the naval fleet. The hard work on the floating coal mine (as one newspaper described it) was considered high-risk. Cargo holds loaded with petroleum-based fuel caught fire and bucketloads of coal sometimes tumbled to the deck, along with all the other risks mariners face, from weather to equipment failure.
After the Navy sailors fired up the steam engines and debarked from Norfolk, Virginia in 1910, the monster cargo ship proceeded south along the Atlantic Coast to U.S. bases in Cuba, Haiti, and Puerto Rico to carry out its duties.
The United States entered World War I in April 1917 and equipped the Cyclops with 50-caliber guns to defend its mission ferrying doctors and medical supplies from the Johns Hopkins Hospital to Saint-Nazaire in war-torn France.
Months after completing that assignment, the collier took on more than 10,000 tons of manganese ore in Brazil. The crew was inexperienced in handling manganese ore which is more dense and heavier than coal.
The ship left Rio de Janeiro on February 16, 1918, and arrived in Bahia on February 20.
A logbook entry made in Bahia, Jamaica, listed several problems with the collier which was running on only one of her two engines, floating low in the water due to the unusually heavy load, and lifting heavy in the water.
Captain Worley submitted a report to his superiors that the starboard engine had a cracked cylinder and wasn’t operative. The Navy’s reply was to delay repairs until the vessel returned stateside.
Two days later, the Cyclops with 309 crew members debarked for the steelyards of Baltimore with no scheduled stops.
However, the collier did make an unplanned landing in Barbados on March 3. Cpt. Worley paid a call on U.S. consul Brockholst Livingston and the Cyclops took on additional cargo. At this point, officials in Barbados reported the Cyclops was overloaded, evidenced by water was over the Plimsoll line.
On March 4, 1918, having taken on enough supplies for nine days at sea, the Cyclops followed her plotted course through the Bermuda Triangle, destination Baltimore. The Navy ship was never heard from again and vanished with no sign that anything was wrong.
The military began an exhaustive search for the missing coal transport:
“Navy cruisers scoured the trade routes, scouted the beaches, inspected remote bays. Crews radioed the lost ship day after day, but nothing — no reply, no debris, not even an oil slick. Out in the West Indies, the ship had vanished.”
The 309 crew members of the ill-fated Cyclops were presumed lost at sea. The sad news was announced by future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was then beginning his career as Assistant Navy Secretary.
The puzzling case of the lost Cyclops remains the greatest loss of life unrelated to combat in the annals of U.S. naval history.
Theories abounded to explain the unexplainable. The manganese ore had riven the hull or releases toxic gases that overwhelmed the men aboard. Enemy submersible U-boats attacked with torpedoes – but no debris was ever found. Stormy seas could have sunk the Cyclops but none were charted and no distress call was received.
One possibility that made the rounds was that German navy raiders could have seized the ship, kept the crew as hostages, and piloted the valuable vessel across the Big Pond. The big problem with this idea was that the Cyclops didn’t have enough fuel to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Unorthodox explanations were also advanced, including falling space rocks (meteorites), a mutiny or perhaps the Atlantic version of Loch Nessie.
Then, on December 5, 1945, Five Avenger bomber planes took off from the U.S. Navy base in Florida and never returned. The aircraft was code-named Flight-19. After the official final report cited “Reasons Unknown” as the cause of the abrupt mass disappearance of men and machines, Flight-19 became known as the Lost Patrol.
It was then that the Bermuda Triangle became linked to mysterious vanishings on or over the water. This area is also a UFO hotbed.