This is the worst US Navy casualty in terms of deaths
not caused by war.
The ship was a very large (for the time) US Navy collier
commissioned in 1917.
Her full load displacement was 19,360 long tons.
MSI thinks her lightweight was about 5,500 tons
although this might be a bit low.
Her deadweight was somewhere around 12,000 tons.
From the photos, she appears to have been a six hold ship.
She was a twin screw, single rudder ship.
She had carried coal to Brazil,
where she loaded 10,800 tons of managanese ore for Baltimore
plus she had 1,500 tons of coal for her bunkers.
She was supposed to go straight to Baltimore.
But she made an unscheduled stop at Barbados
for an additional 600 tons of coal.
According to some sources, she was over-loaded.
At a minimum, she was heavily loaded.
Manganese ore is 2.1 times as denser as coal,
and the crew had little experience with such a cargo.
It would be easy to overload and easier to distribute
the cargo in a manner that resulted in higher stresses
than when loaded evenly with coal.
(One source claims that Worley had confined
the Chief Mate to his cabin,
and the manganese ore loading was supervised by a less experienced officer.)
On arriving Baltimore, March 3, Worley sent a message
Arrived Barbados, West Indies 1730 for bunker coal.
Arrive Baltimore march 13.
With both engines, Cyclops had a speed of 15 knots.
It is about 1800 miles from Barbados to Baltimore
which meant Worley expected to make about 9 knots.
With submarines possible, the only likely explanation
was that the starboard engine had still not been repaired.
USS Cyclops was last sighted on 9 March
by the molasses tanker Amalco near Virginia.
On 10 March a storm swept through the area.
She never arrived; there was no distress signal.
Since there was still a war going on
the Navy assumed she had been lost to a submarine.
Despite the heavy loss of life,
there was little immediate investigation.
On April 17th, the Barbados US Consul Brockholst Livingston
sent a telegram to the Secretary of State
Master Cyclops stated that required six hundred tons
coal having sufficient on board to reach Bermuda.
Engines very poor condition.
Not sufficient funds and therefore requested payment by me.
I have ascertained he took here ton fresh meat,
ton flour, thousand pounds vegetables,
paying therefore 775 dollars.
From different sources gather the following:
he had plenty of coal, alledged inferior,
took coal to mix, probably had more than fifteen hundred tons.
Master alluded to by others as damned dutchman,
apparently disliked by other officers.
Rumored disturbances en route hither,
men confined and one executed;
also had some prisoners from the fleet in Braziliamn waters,
one life sentence.
[One of the prisoners was being taken back to the US
to be executed, which may be the source of this rumor.]
US Consul-General Gottschalk passenger,
231 crew exclusive of officers and passengers.
Have names of the crew but not all the officers and passengers.
Many Germanic names appear.
Number telegraphic or wireless messages
addressed to master or in care of ship
were delivered atthis port.
I have to suggest scrutiny here.
While not having any definite grounds,
I fear fate worse than sinking
though possibly based on instinctive dislike
felt towards master.
Worley turned out to have a very checkered past.
He was born in Germany in 1862 as Johan Wichmann.
In 1878, he jumped ship in San Francisco.
He ran a bar, a liquor store, a grocery.
Apparently none of them were very successful.
In 1898 he changed his name to George Worley.
He went back to sea.
Some say he smuggled opium from the Philippines.
On one trip his first mate (also his brother in law)
was murdered, some say Worley was the intended target.
As war loomed Worley was recuited into the
Naval Auxilary Reserve Force and given command of the Cyclops.
All sources seem to agree he was a highly disliked martinet,
and a very poor navigator.
The last minute passenger Consul-General Gottshalk
was well-know to have German sympathies,
but had resigned to go back to the states
and enlist or so he claimed.
When all this came out, the media went crazy
with the theory that Worley and Gottshalk
had either intended to sail the ship to Germany
or sink her.
But after the war the US Navy could find nothing
in the German records about the Cyclops.
There were no submarines in the western Atlantic at the time.
No claim by any agent of a plan for sabotage or the like.
It is obvious that Worley and Gottshalk
could not take the ship to Germany.
They had no control of the make-up of the crew
and apparently no friends in the crew as well.
But the question of why Worley stopped
for more coal remains unanswered.
They could conceivably sink the ship
if they were willing to commit suicide.
But there is nothing in Worley's background
that suggests he was willing to die for the Fatherland
or for anything else for that matter.
Moreover, sinking a ship this size with 304 other people
on board is not that easy.
The idea that Gottschalk, about whom we know almost nothing,
could do it by himself, is next to preposterous.
Still is sudden decision to enlist is puzzling.
One source claims an ad appeared in a Brazilian
paper announcing a requiem high mass for Gottschalk
before it was public knowledge that the ship had sunk.
This was taken to be a signal from Gottschalk to Germany
that he had succeeded.
But Brazil had a large German colony,
and there are far better ways of sending this message.
In 1920, a former officer Mahlon Tisdale
proposed the cargo shifted.
This was based on a ten day stint on board
as a communications officer
with the ship in ballast.
He had found the ballast tank lids open,
and Worley had told him this was normal practice.
His theory was the cargo had shifted enough
to submerge the ballast tank lids,
which then flooded.
Other point out that, while it was normal
practice to leave the lids open in ballast
since the tanks were full of seawater anyway,
the normal practice would have been to secure
them when the ship was loaded.
In 1969, Conrad Nervig wrote a paper
in the Naval Institute proceedings
claiming he heard grating sounds in the structure,
and that he could early see the hull flexing in the waves.
His view was the loss was a structural failure.
Some sources doubt that Nervig was even on the ship
on her southern trip, and that many details
in Nervig's story are not supported by other sources.
And it is true that the Cyclops was nearly new
and all three of her sister ships survived until World War II.
Structural standards were far higher than they are now.
it is undisputed that the ship was very heavily loaded.
More importantly, she was loaded with a high density cargo.
The bulk density of manganese ore is about 1.75
or 2.1 times that of an average bituminous coal.
In those days, little attention was paid to the distribution
of the cargo other than to maintain near zero trim.
It would be very easy to distribute this cargo
in a manner that resulted in high local shear forces,
while coal had to be distibuted quite evenly
in order to get the ship down to marks.
Moreover, if a hold did flood,
whether due to a hull failure or a hatch cover failure,
there would be a lot more floodable volume in that hold.
The Cape Hatteras area generates very steep waves in a storm.
The ship was operating with only one screw,
which would severely limit the ship's maneuverabiulity
espeically in storm.
Worley was at best an indifferent seaman.
The ship sank so quickly,
she could not get off a distress signal.
CTX's view is that the most likely source
was a hull or hatch cover failure.
However, Tisdale's cargo shift theory cannot
be completely discounted.
Manganese ore has a lower angle of repose than coal
and with a bad enough roll will shift.
While the shift itself would
probably not capsize the ship,
it would certainly increase the
probability of flooding via damaged hatch covers.
We really need to know a lot more about the ship
and her loading pattern to say anything more.