Lesson #8: A Passage to Oblivion—The Disappearance of the U.S.S. Cyclops (1918)
Only God and the Sea know where the great ship has gone ... Woodrow Wilson
“I approached Captain Worley, sir, about the mess. The fish we had for dinner had
not even been cleaned and smelled bad. Captain Worley was lying on his bed. He got
up and put on his trousers. ‘The whole God-damned lot of yous are only a lot of God-damned
sons of bitches,’ he said. 1I told him I resented being called by a name which no
man born of a woman could stand. Captain Worley insisted he had never called me nor
any man aboard—ever—a son of a bitch. Quartermaster Langren then asked for an apology.”
“What did he do then?”
“He then called me a son of a bitch and confined me for two days.”
Well, this was the gist of only one sailor’s testimony before the Board of Inquiry
at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in August 1917. Some 50 seaman aboard the U.S.S. Cyclops
signed a petition against their captain, George W. Worley, accusing him of being
foul mouthed, drunk and unfit for command. This petition was started by one man,
hospital apprentice Howard, who then circulated it amongst the crew.
In this petition, the crew accused Worley of being so drunk that he fell in and out
of doorways and staggered about the deck. They also accused him of chasing ensign
J.J. Cain around the deck with a pistol in his hand. The crew also reported that
odd happenings occurred on board during their recent stay off France, re-coaling
the fleet: an unauthorized signal lamp had been strung up to the foremast and connected
to a cord. (The light could easily be used for night signaling, in order to give
away the position of the fleet to the Germans.) One day the life boat falls were
found cut, and on another day the gun scope lenses were found put in backwards. These
were all acts that questioned the loyalty of some unknown hand aboard. Publicly,
however, none of the crew openly accused their master of being disloyal, although
the biggest rumor aboard was that he was very pro-German.
These were no light charges to bring. Worley had a good reputation with the Naval
Auxiliary, reflected by the fact he commanded a key vessel vital to the refueling
of the American fleet. The Cyclops was a huge 522-foot collier, only a few years
old, with a displacement of 12,000 tons. Lt. Commander Worley had also been a seaman
most of his life, and when war seemed imminent with Germany he was automatically
enlisted with command rank into the Navy. The Naval Auxiliary was full of such captains—merchant
skippers who were placed into command positions as the need arose. Sometimes their
manner wasn’t the usual officer and gentleman of cadet school training ... but a
commanding officer was a commanding officer, with the Navy’s trust.
Worley faced these charges with his typical humor and gruff egotism. To him Burt
J. Asper, the ship’s surgeon, was to blame. It was he who had instigated Howard to
stir up trouble and write that petition. During the hearings, the superior bear-like
Worley stared with rustled aplomb at the two, both of whom always sat together in
Why had Asper done this? ... Because, according to Worley, he had dressed Asper down
in front of the officers.
Sex, sex, sex, is all that Asper talked about.
The subject of women seemed to be on his brain all the time as he would continue
to talk to all the men and officers on the ship in this manner until some of the
officers on the ship were unable to stand it any longer, Worley testified.
The fallout happened when Worley decided to take his meal down in the Officers’ Mess.
This subject appeared to be the whole conversation at the table. Worley testified
that he told then—especially Asper— that this must be stopped and immediately I issued
a written order to that effect.
It was after this that Asper and Howard were seen together in the doctors room or
the afterbitt conspiring. Dr. Asper and Howard are the sponsors of the whole matter.
Now, as to Worley’s drunkenness: he reminded them that he contracted beri-beri long
ago, and in the warm summer months it acted up on him. “I desire to state that this
bottle contained medicine that I have used for many years and I most emphatically
deny that it contained ardent spirits.” The many remedies he takes, like Iodine of
Potash or Peruna of Sasparilla, taste so bad he must mix a jigger of liquor with
it. If he does not take his medicine quickly, he loses his balance from the beri-beri
attack. “On leaving port I always provide myself with a bottle of Port or Sherry,
which is taken only for medicinal purposes.”
There, that’s why he reeked of liquor most of the time!
George Worley was cleared of the charges against him ... but it seems he was cleared
with some reserve. He grumbled to his neighbor that the Navy had treated him badly
over this. He told his wife that perhaps he would retire after this next voyage.
He felt like he would be buried at sea.
Orders for his next voyage came quickly. Very little of the crew were changed. Burt
Asper remained on board, and so did the timid ensign Cain. However, the Navy may
have thought that some of the peculiar events described, such as the lamp strung
out on the mast, the tampered lenses, etc., warranted the Cyclops should remain out
of the war zone. The Cyclops was to prepare for sea by early January, but she was
to remain in the Americas. She was to steam to Rio de Janeiro to refuel the fleet
there and pick up a very valuable cargo in return—manganese ore, vital in the production
Worley was seen firmly walking aboard the gangplank of his ship, austere and isolated
in demeanor, poking his walking stick along the way. The impression he gave one officer
was that of ... a gruff, eccentric salt of the old school, given to carrying a cane,
but possessing few other cultural attainments.
It is little surprising Worley seemed this way, considering what his crew had just
brought against him after the last voyage ... though it pretty much described him
how he really was. This same officer, Conrad A. Nervig, also described him as: “a
very indifferent seaman and a poor, overly cautious navigator. Unfriendly and taciturn,
he was generally disliked by both his officers and men.
Apparently he made no effort to change on this voyage. On January 8, 1918, the Cyclops
set sail from an ice covered Norfolk Navy Yard loaded to her plimsol line with coal.
On leaving Norfolk she narrowly averted a collision with the USS Survey, outward
bound for the Mediterranean for patrol and anti submarine duty.
By night fall they had cleared the Virginia Capes, and headed southward, breasting
the heavy winter seas with a speed and ease amazing for such a heavily loaded vessel.
But by the fifth day out things began to happen. Worley blew his temper at Harvey
Forbes, the Exec, and had him confined to quarters. Under arrest, no less, for disagreeing
over some trivial matter. Then he directed his anger at the timid ensign Cain. However,
in this instance Worley’s nemesis, Burt Asper, anticipated him and ordered Cain,
apparently in perfect health, to the infirmary in order to spare him any of Worley’s
unreasonable anger. There he staid for the rest of the voyage, according to Nervig.
It was from this incident that Conrad Nervig was to get to know Worley much better
than any other of the crew or officers. Nervig recalled that Mr. Cain’s duty had
been the mid-watch, the very lonely hours of the night and early morning. He now
had to take over these duties. It was during this time that Worley came up from his
cabin below the bridge and paid him the first of many visits. They were now in the
tropics; the nights were balmy and calm. I was somewhat startled to see him coming
up the starboard ladder dressed in long woolen underwear, a derby hat, and a cane.
Nervig was worried about what he might have done wrong; yet Worley was affable and
quite indifferent to Nervig’s crisp military salute “Good morning, Captain.” This
was, in fact, a social call.
For some 2 hours Worley and Nervig leaned on the forward bridge railing while he
regaled Nervig with stories of his home and numerous incidents of his long life at
sea. He had a fund of tales, mostly humorous. “These nocturnal visits became a regular
routine, and I rather enjoyed them. His uniform, if it could be so called, never
varied from what he had worn on that first occasion. I have often wondered to what
I owed these visits—his fondness for me or his sleeplessness.”
Six days of this saw them finally off the coast of Brazil. It was at night. The navigator
and Worley now got into a disagreement over their course, the navigator insisting
they overshot Bahia, their first stopover. Worley smugly over ruled him. But after
hours of continued steaming without sighting land, he finally relented; and, on the
20th of January, they entered Bahia harbor from the south, having indeed overshot
the harbor by 48 miles!
Finally, on the 28th, the Cyclops arrived at her destination of Rio, where she would
remain for a couple of weeks unloading her coal, then loading her new cargo of manganese
During the entire voyage Nervig had not been able to figure out his eccentric captain.
His kindness to him in the wee hours of the morning contrasted sharply with how he
treated the crew during the day. He recalled “That he liked me, I was sure, for when
in Rio de Janeiro I received orders detaching me from the Cyclops, he sought to have
those orders revoked. Fortunately, for me, he was unsuccessful.”
So ends Nervig’s tour of duty. He was transferred to the USS Glacier. However, he
recalled that while in Rio, incidents were still occurring around the Cyclops. A
man was working overboard in a launch by the propellers. Worley turned over the engines.
The launch and man were drawn into the propellers and the man killed. This negligence
I feel can be laid squarely at the feet of the commanding officer who, by his irrational
methods of command, had thoroughly demoralized and disorganized the officers and
men of the Cyclops.
Worley continued to curse his men. Within ear shot of the vessel perhaps passersby
could hear “You clumsy son of a bitch!” echo out from her busy decks.
The Cyclops was now under another Naval inquiry. This time regarding her starboard
high pressure engine, which had blown its cylinder. In Worley’s typical manner he
assured the Navy it would be repaired, and then laid the blame on another— on Lt.
When her vital cargo was nearly loaded, another type of cargo was ordered aboard.
These were 73 sailors and marines from the South Seas Fleet who were returning home.
Three of their shipmates were escorted aboard in chains. They were: Barney De Voe,
Moss Whiteside, and James Coker. They had been found guilty of charges ranging from
murder to perjury surrounding their beating to death one Oscar Stewart. De Voe was
on his way to serve out his 50-99 year sentence, Whiteside for 15 years, and Coker
was to be hanged.
Just before they sailed, one more passenger was brought on board, a man who by appearance
was so distinguished he was seemingly at the opposite end of the spectrum of these
three above. He was Alfred Louis Moreau Gottschalk, none other than the U.S. Consul
General at Rio. He was returning home in order to enlist in the army and fight in
the war ... so he said.
The ship was now fully loaded to her plimsol line. All passengers aboard, Worley
received orders and was cleared to leave Rio for Bahia on the 16th of February, now
homeward bound north. All told, there were 309 persons aboard her when she left.
On the 20th of February the Cyclops entered Bahia. In Worley’s usual style of navigating,
she entered from the north, not the south, as he must have overshot the harbor again.
While she sat at anchor, Conrad Nervig gazed upon the little launch approaching from
her across the bay. (The Glacier hat set sail for Bahia 2 days before the Cyclops.)
In the launch was paymaster Ensign C.J. Page, his best friend aboard the Cyclops,
who was coming on official business. When Page finished, Nervig, being officer of
the deck, escorted him to the gangway. “On leaving he grasped my hand in both of
his, and said very solemnly, ‘Well, good-bye, old man, and God bless you.’ I was
deeply impressed with his finality, which was truly prophetic in its implication.”
Two days later Cyclops departed for Baltimore, Maryland, with no scheduled stops
However, on March 3, 1918, Worley sent a surprising message: Arrived Barbados, West
Indies, 1730 [5.30 P.M.] for bunker coal. Arrive Baltimore, Md, 12013 [March 13,].
Notify Office Director Naval Auxiliaries, Comdr. Train (Atl), 07004. CYCLOPS.
According to procedure in such matters Worley went straight to the U.S. Consul there,
in this case Brockholst Livingston, to state his business and secure whatever aid
he could from the chief US representative. This gives us the last known facts about
the Cyclops. One, the meeting did not go well, but Livingston authorized Worley to
receive all the supplies he said he needed. Two, the atmosphere around the Cyclops
was truly unsettling; the crew grumbled about their skipper while the port busily
went about meeting his demands. Three, the mood was so bad British officers would
not even pay the ship the customary visits.
The next day, March 4, 1918, the Cyclops raised anchor and left as unceremoniously
as she came. Supposedly, her last message after clearing port was Weather Fair. All
Nothing was ever heard from her again.
When she failed to make Baltimore on the 13th, a search was begun of her entire track
from Barbados. Every Naval ship in the vicinity from Cuba to Puerto Rico searched
for massive debris, presupposing a German sub torpedoed her. But the Navy pondered
over why no SOS had been received in such an instance. Since it was war time, however,
they had made no announcement that the Cyclops was late, but had held back information
until sure something had truly gone wrong.
On April 15, one month after she failed to make port, the papers were finally given
the story she was overdue. On this same date a secret circular was telegraphed to
respective consulates along her voyage, requesting every bit of information known.
How many theories can be drawn from this? Mutiny? Treason? Betrayal? Sabotage? Espionage?
What about the illegal execution? Who could it have been and why? Worley certainly
hated Asper and, apparently, Cain. Disturbances? Over what—a planned execution? A
banana court at sea is hardly Navy regulations. Could Asper have caused the disturbances
over Worley’s leadership? Knowing Worley’s Bligh-type of personality, could it have
been mutiny? On the other hand, could it have been the crew attempting to stop Worley
from betraying the ship to the Germans? Was the executed person the leader of the
disturbances whatever may have been the motivation?
The Navy had to follow up every possibility with an investigation. Their task was
to be Herculean, spanning a decade, several continents, and thousands of people;
and to this day there is evidence to suggest almost every theory above. Yet none
could ever be proven, for no trace of the Cyclops has ever been found: not one survivor;
not one shred. Their results, now amassed at the National Archives in Washington,
contain about 1,500 pages of interviews, investigations and testimony. It shows the
vigor with which the Navy pursued an answer. It is on this material the following
The first and foremost theory to confirm or dismiss was betrayal. Livingston’s cable
had let the cat out of the bag. He noted that the crew were openly griping about
their pro-German captain. (The epithet “damned Dutchman,” it should be remembered,
did not mean a Hollander the way we use Dutch today, but was American slang for Deutsch—i.e.
German.) Betrayal was clearly on the Consul’s mind when he noted that many Germanic
names were aboard. But why would Worley be pro-German? This seemed ludicrous.
However, it was no more strange than the curious evidence the Navy had from Livingston.
The fact was Worley requested all this extra stuff, perhaps suggesting a longer sea
voyage than scheduled, like to Germany. Not only did he not need the stuff, as Livingston
discovered, but there is the fact that messages were waiting there, even though it
had been an unscheduled stop. It is this which smacks of premeditated conspiracy...But
why? Why would he do this? Why was a man like Worley called a “damned Dutchman”?
Almost everywhere ONI (Office Naval Intelligence) operatives went, they found out
Worley had indeed been very pro-German. Investigation found out why: Worley had
not been born an American; he was born in Germany, at Sandstadt in Hannover province
in 1862 under the name Johan Frederick Wichmann.
“Oh, you mean Fred Wichmann,” was a common response to ONI operatives in San Francisco.
Worley’s past had been a secret only to the Navy. In 1878, so the data goes, he had
jumped ship at Frisco. In 1898 he adopted the name of Worley, stating it was from
a seaman who had befriended him in his early years. Why he changed it, isn’t stated.
His brothers Herman and Henry had also immigrated. They ran a bar and grocery on
the Barbary Coast, sporting the Wichmann name openly, as did Worley before his name
change. He ran his own liquor store in 1891 at the corners of California and Polk
until he ran it into the ground. Then he tried his hand at a grocery as well, at
Oak and Broderick, while being heavily involved in Captain Wichmann’s Roadhouse,
a saloon near San Francisco’s Cliff House at Ocean Beach. Worley was quite a character,
to be sure.
Sea life, it seems, was more enticing to him. Certainly more profitable than his
land ventures ... especially for illegal cargoes. There could be any number of reasons
why he changed his name, for it was at this time in his life that he became involved
in some shady affairs. He became Mate on a schooner owned by the Austrian Count Rudolf
Festetics de Tolna. In this capacity he was soon making trips to the Philippines,
where, it is said, he smuggled opium into the U.S.
In the next decade Worley held several positions on freighters ranging from Master
to Mate. While captain of a backwater tramp steamer, a bizarre murder was discovered
by a crewman. Upon entering the cabin of the first mate (possibly Worley’s brother-in-law),
he saw the macabre scene of his decapitated body on the bed.
Naturally, there were those who thought Worley was the culprit. However, another
seaman was charged and duly sentenced for the crime. It seems certain that this sailor
was not merely a fall guy for Worley. For those who knew the most about this incident
believed that Worley himself was the object of the sailor’s hatred. The Mate, by
a sad turn of fate, had merely been mistaken for him in the dark. This, it is possible,
is the first inkling we get of his Bligh-type of personality.
As the pall of European war loomed on the horizon old sea dogs like Worley were recruited
into the Naval Auxiliary Reserve Force. It was then that Worley became captain of
the new Cyclops. He seems to have served well enough. There are no disparaging records
on him or the Cyclops antedating the charges made against him while off France in
the summer of 1917. (It should be noted, however, that America had not been at war
until this time.)
Investigations certainly did prove that Worley had a strong German background (he
spoke without an accent). But what did it prove? There was no Cyclops to prove where
she had gone. No survivors, no debris. No German propaganda bragging about the success.
The rumors about the Cyclops being seen at Kiel in Germany could not be proven during
the war. So until the war was over (in November of that year) most people preferred
to believe that Worley was, in fact, a traitor. Newspaper after newspaper implied
as much with story after story about his pro-Germaness. His nephew, Dr. Ewald Angerman,
decried this, saying that Worley was more loyal than anyone. Worley had told him,
“If we sight a U-boat, I’ll make all hell smell like Limburger!”
Even if Worley betrayed the ship to the Germans, how could he have done it all alone?
Livingston’s message had implied help—a number of German names were aboard. However,
it is extremely unlikely they would have sold their lives for one ship, especially
with all their families still in the U.S.
But by a disquieting coincidence, now enters into the picture the Cyclops most distinguished
passenger, Alfred Louis Moreau Gottschalk. Within the diplomatic scene, Gottschalk
had been just as hated as Worley was by his men. He was also discovered to be highly
pro-German as well.
One of his colleagues, J.E. Conner, sent this to the Secret Service in May, 1918:
Conner was certainly good for his word. Investigators found him reliable and honest.
Like Worley, an investigation of Gottschalk now uncovered many surprises.
Not only was Gottschalk’s popularity in Brazil immense, he was especially popular
with the large German colony there; and it is certain Gottschalk handled a lot of
Red Cross affairs for German ships. Could the idea to hand over the ship been Gottschalk’s
to begin with? When the Cyclops arrived, he may have heard rumors about the captain’s
pro-Germaness from the often grumbling crew. He might just have approached and convinced
Worley to assist him in turning over the Cyclops. Would Worley have been inclined
to do this considering how he had been treated by the Navy? But again comes the question,
as in Worley’s case, how could Gottschalk have done it?
Turn over the ship seems unlikely ... but destroy it? In actuality there were more
than enough German spies in Brazil and Argentina that could have assisted. They were
desperate to find a means of encouraging the German colonies there that the war was
not lost for Germany. ONI thought that the destruction of the Cyclops would have
been helpful propaganda toward this end.
In any case, Gottschalk suddenly secured passage on the Cyclops, giving as his excuse,
surprisingly, his wish to suddenly go back to America to enlist. What a contradiction
the two must have made, with their cabins adjoining: the very distinguished Gottschalk
and the crude sea dog Worley! Both of them similar only in the animosity felt for
them by their colleagues... and their strong pro-German stance. Yet since no trace
of the ship was found, as with the Worley angle, the question of sabotage could not
be proved during the war. Investigators waited. While they waited, something provocative
Gottschalk’s connection with the loss of the Cyclops has to be taken seriously for
a number of reasons. His presence aboard prompted one of the most interesting and
perplexing clues about the mystery. A newspaper article in a Rio newspaper announced
a requiem mass for the repose of the soul of Consul Gottschalk who was lost when
the Cyclops was sunk at sea. Harmless enough, it would seem. It was signed by many
of the top level business men in Rio, where, it must be remembered, Gottschalk was
extremely popular. There was one problem with the article: it appeared before the
Cyclops was reported overdue! Nobody but the upper echelons in the Navy knew she
was missing! When these prominent men (those who had attached their names) were approached
they flatly denied any knowledge of it! This article was regarded as a clear tip-off
that a sabotage plot had successfully been carried out—and this article was designed
to announce its success to various German agents in Brazil.
Somewhat supporting this idea, there are peculiar coincidences with Worley and Gottschalk’s
last acts on land. Worley had sold everything before he left Virginia, including
his house; Gottschalk had left a number of personal and sentimental items in Rio
that, by their size, would nevertheless have been easy to pack and take with him.
Does this indicate premeditation? Why did Gottschalk leave these behind if he was
never returning? Did he carry a bomb aboard with him? Had Worley been swayed by the
German community to do it? Was the requiem a message from Gottschalk signaling success?
Had he and Worley then escaped into obscurity ... or Germany?
Again, none of these questions could be answered during the war. But to give you
an idea of how perplexing this mystery was, as soon as the war ended Admiral Robinson
and his party went to Germany to examine documents and interview the German High
Command. No plans were ever uncovered to shed any light on sabotage or betrayal!
The Cyclops had never been in Germany, nor were any of her crew found interned in
a prisoner of war camp (despite newspaper predictions). No agent ever came forward
after the war and bragged (or during the war, for that matter) of their success in
sabotage. No trail of Worley or Gottschalk was ever found to indicate they survived
... Worley never came back to his wife and daughter, nor did Gottschalk ever slip
back into Rio to get his things. They were sent to his sister in New York.
Now that the war was over the mystery of the Cyclops was only growing more fantastic.
There seemed no rational solution. The papers touted it as The Greatest Mystery of
Quietly, behind-the-scenes, the Navy continued their methodical investigation of
other possibilities, none of which seemed probable. They dismissed the idea that
her cargo sank her. It had been proposed that the heavy manganese ore shifted in
her holds and capsized her. Manganese was much heavier than coal so the holds, when
fully loaded by weight, still had a great amount of free space in which to allow
the cargo to shift. However, investigations in Rio proved it had been loaded and
In 1920 Lt. Comm. Mahlon S. Tisdale, who had once been an officer on the Cyclops,
wrote in the Naval Institute Proceedings an article: Did the Cyclops Turn Turtle?
He based his theory on his experience during his brief 10 day stint as a communications
officer during war games. He recalled that the forward top tanks (storage) were always
left open. During rough weather he was shocked to find their hatches unsecured for
sea, and even struggled to secure one with one hand while he held on with the other.
Afterward, he rushed straight to the bridge. He told Worley what he had just seen.
But Worley laughed at how serious he took this, and even went further to say they
were always left open as the air was better for the bitumastic.
In light of Worley’s lax attitude on ship safety, Tisdale was sure that the Cyclops
had capsized in rough seas. The ships of her class were known to have an uncomfortable
roll in heavy weather. He recalled that on his voyage, the Cyclops was riding high
because she barely had any cargo, but on her final voyage she was heavily laden.
This could have made the crucial difference. If she rolled enough, water may have
flooded into the top tanks and heeled the ship over all the way.
However, Tisdale’s brief stay on the ship did not qualify him to understand Worley’s
sense of humor, which was very sarcastic to say the least. (In fact off France he
had spread the rumor he had a lion aboard as pet. When this caught the Admiral’s
ear, he was ordered to release it!) With the Cyclops riding high, as in Tisdale’s
voyage, the forward top tanks would have been full of water anyway to maintain ballast.
It was irrelevant whether the hatches were secured or not. Thus Worley’s response
was calculated at scaring Tisdale. The top tanks were always secured when the ship
was fully laden. So much for Tisdale’s frequently touted solution.
The Navy investigated every other possible theory (except the Literary Digest’s,
which suggested the Giant Squid got it). Islands were searched for large numbers
of recently arrived whites presupposing them to be an escaping crew if mutiny had
taken place. Records in Germany proved no mines or submarines were near the area.
Coal dust mixing with manganese was thought potentially to be an explosive hazard,
but it was disproven. There was, in fact, no solution.
Then in 1969, over 40 years after her loss, Conrad A. Nervig wrote in the Naval Institute
Proceedings regarding her last voyage south. A new theory was offered. During heavy
seas, he remembered hearing grating sounds on the ship, where pipes went through
bulkheads. He also recalled the uncomfortable sight of seeing the deck undulating
in these heavy seas as it conformed to the wave troughs a sign of bad contractions.
In other words the ship was showing signs she was ready to split in two. He recalled
he had pointed it out to Worley, who only dismissed it with a superior: Son, she’ll
last as long as we do. Nervig believed she did indeed break in twain, this being
aggravated by her heavier than usual cargo of manganese ore.
Conrad Nervig has been one of the most quotable persons as regards the Cyclops since
his article in 1969. Both he and Tisdale’s theories essentially tried to explain
her greatest mysteries: why no SOS, why no debris. Both have tried to provide us
with a conventional answer to an unconventional mystery; Tisdale sudden capsizing;
Nervig sudden structural failure.
Tisdale’s failure is one of not really knowing the ship or Worley. Nervig’s claim,
however, poses some very peculiar problems. For one, he himself seems highly ignorant
of basic facts. In his article he never mentioned the rumors of pro-Germaness, even
though the crew grumbled about it constantly; it was all over the papers at the time.
He never mentioned Worley’s drinking. And he also never heard of the ship touching
port at Barbados. And this truly is astounding since that was plastered in every
paper for months—even for years when the greatest mystery of the sea was rehashed.
Forgetting these is like forgetting a scorpion in your underwear.
Nervig adds a further touch of mystery.
For the Navy made a full investigation of the Cyclops, her crew, Worley, Gottschalk,
her last voyage, everything. Yet they never expressed a desire to contact Nervig
to get his information. All of what he claims is conspicuous by its absence in all
the documents. No other crewman who had sailed on her testified to the ship being
in a state of near structural failure. And the Navy contacted every person they could;
they investigated crank letters from half-wit authors who claimed to know something.
They studiously probed into any crewman with a German name (which Nervig is). They
even investigated a bigamous officer transferred from the Glacier to the Cyclops
named Winkle. They investigated notes in bottles, and even followed up on Tisdale’s
article to see if there was merit to it.
But in all the papers amassed by the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Department
of Justice and their joint operatives, there is no mention of an interview with Nervig
nor his attempt to contact them! Yet it would seem this would be highly desirous.
He claimed to have been an officer aboard, an officer whose transfer Worley tried
to prevent just before the vessel vanished into oblivion. Indeed, this would all
seem very desirous to investigators... But nothing exists. There are records of the
Naval inquiry into the engine failure (with Worley’s own signature), but no objection
on a transfer.
What Nervig claims to have happened on the voyage south cannot be rechecked. For
this reason all his quotes are marked in red to alert the reader they are held in
question. Yet what he claims happened in Rio can be checked. He said that Worley,
in his opinion, was responsible for the death of a crewman over the side. However,
there are no records for this. The Navy doesn’t usually investigate a cylinder on
an engine and gloss over a sailor’s death.
Even more peculiar, there is no proof that Nervig was even aboard the Cyclops on
her voyage south! This is confirmed by solid evidence. Many communiqués went back
and forth, just routine, nothing significant. However, Bureau of Navigation requested
officers’ records in January, when the Cyclops was still sailing south. They list
all officers, ranks, etc. Even where no records were found, they still listed the
names. Familiar names appear: Asper, Cain, Page, Worley, of course, Fingleton, Maguet,
Hodge, Holmes, Forbes, Konstonvich, etc. Their duties are specified and so forth.
However, there is no Nervig. The papers that detail this investigation 1,356 in total
fail to mention any Nervig whatsoever. And the idea that he is somehow omitted by
accident, that somehow he is overlooked in every page, is patently ridiculous.
It is possible, of course, that Nervig was on board the Cyclops on an earlier voyage,
and after 40 years his memory mistook the events he described as happening just before
her final one. If so what he says about the captain and crew adds a true light of
what life was like on the ship. But the idea that Worley walked around in long johns,
a derby hat and cane, is not even remotely attested to by any number of crewman,
either in scuttlebutt at Rio or at Barbados ... and several on the bridge would have
seen him talking to Nervig!
Investigation by the Navy did turn up that Cyclops was seen two days after she left
Barbados. This is not commonly known. A British patrol boat on 2 occasions sighted
her far off course, both on the 5th and 6th of March, and guided her back.
Was this Worley’s poor navigation or his desire to break course and head for Germany?
If one assumes that Worley and Gottschalk did intend to betray her on their own plan,
she might have been torpedoed by a German U-boat far from her course. Investigations
into subs only included her official course. But if Worley was intentionally or accidentally
far off course, he may have perished, ironically, by the hand of those whom he supported
or was even trying to assist.
The Cyclops shall always remain a mystery. One can imagine almost any scenario. Mutiny
could have happened, although unlikely, far off her course when the men realized
what was happening. But, alas, a sub might enter the picture again before they could
alert base. Certainly a mutiny was not successful, for there would have been survivors.
Weather can also be ruled out. The only rough weather were high winds off Cape Hatteras
on the 10th of March, but they dissipated the next day. Cyclops should not have been
around there yet, being due on the 13th. Her engine had been fixed, regardless of
popular rumor, so she was not traveling on one engine but was making normal speed.
Among all the many theories, the phenomenon of the Bermuda Triangle is a relative
latecomer. Like the others, this merely tries to explain the unexplainable. But unlike
them, this theory has with it the litany of many other missing ships and plains that
vanished in like manner: no SOS; no debris; traveling in fair weather. The Cyclops
last known place on this earth was right in the heart of the Triangle before, like
so many others, she went into mystery. If there was treachery aboard, perhaps the
culprits were surprised by the greater mystery of nature than that which hid in the
dark maze of their own hearts.
The official Navy statement has not changed in all these years:
Since her departure [Barbados] there has been no trace of the vessel. The disappearance
of this ship has been one of the most baffling mysteries in the annals of the Navy,
all attempts to locate her having proved unsuccessful. Many theories have been advanced,
but none that satisfactorily accounts for her disappearance. There were no enemy
submarines in the western Atlantic at that time, and in December 1918 every effort
was made to obtain from German sources regarding the disappearance of the vessel.
Information was requested from all attachés in Europe with the result that it is
definite that neither German U-boats or German mines came into the question.