The USS Cyclops

The USS Cyclops (Naval History and Heritage Command)

(Tribune News Service) — The telegram was dated April 14, 1918; the time stamped 2:34 a.m.

It was addressed to Henry E. Battle, a prominent physician in Andalusia, Ala. The contents would cause Battle’s wife, Jessie, to go into, as the local newspaper described it, “a state of collapse.” The telegram said: “The Navy Collier Cyclops on which your son, Lee Otis Battle, seaman second class, U.S.N., was a member of the crew is overdue at an Atlantic Port since March thirteenth. … Her disappearance cannot be logically accounted for in any way as no bad weather conditions or activities of enemy raiders have been reported in the vicinity of her route. Search for her is being continued by radio and by vessels…”

Lee Otis Battle’s unknown fate was also editorialized in that same edition of The Andalusia Star, where writers remarked that “the anxiety and uncertainty of it all, with the faint hope that news may yet come that all are safe, and yet with the still more probable likelihood that all went down with the ship, makes the situation all the more trying on the grief-stricken father and mother of this young hero.”

The editorial continued: “We think of Otis as the bright, happy, and companionable boy – a favorite among his associates. We hope that news may yet come that he and all who are on board are still safe. But if what we fear shall prove to be true and it proves to be that Andalusia’s first victim was our own jolly Lee Otis, we feel assured that since we know he met duty like a true American we also know that he met death, if death has come, like a hero.”

The Battles would never learn what happened to their son, nor would the families of the other 292 passengers and crew – including 11 other sailors from Alabama – who were aboard the Cyclops when she disappeared. None was ever seen again, nor was any trace of the ship discovered.

“There has been no more baffling mystery in the annals of the navy,” said Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels in a December 1918 report circulated by the United Press in newspapers nationwide.

The Bermuda Triangle

When the World War I ship vanished sometime after March 4, 1918, the collier was loaded with a cargo of manganese to make munitions for the war effort. She had last stopped in the British West Indies for coal and was headed to Baltimore, Md.

The term “Bermuda Triangle” or “Devil’s Triangle” wouldn’t be popularized until the mid-20th century, but legends about mysterious disappearances in the area had been whispered for decades. When the Triangle – roughly Florida to Bermuda to the Greater Antilles – did become part of sea lore, the Cyclops was quickly listed as one of its victims, along with at least 50 other ships and 20 other planes that had crossed into the “cursed’ airspace or sea lanes.

Adding to the air of mystery was the fact that two of the Cyclops’ sister ships (there were a total of four Proteus Class ships built before WWI) were also lost in the Triangle, although much later. The USS Nereus and USS Proteus both vanished at sea, in 1940 and 1941, respectively, not long after they had been sold to civilian operators. Crews of both ships were lost.

Alabama sailors

Although no bodies or wreckage were found after the Cyclops went missing, one Alabama seaman was laid to rest in a cemetery with a headstone. Austin Mize had celebrated his 18th birthday just weeks before the ship’s last contact on March 4. After the Navy declared all on board the Cyclops dead, Mize’s family erected a headstone at Liberty Presbyterian Cemetery in Odenville, Ala.

The inscription reads:

Forman Austin Mize

Feb. 13, 1900

Lost On U.S.S. Cyclops

March 1918

Gone But Not Forgotten


In addition to Lee Battle and Austin Mize, the sailors from Alabama on board the Cyclops were, according to the Birmingham Age-Herald:

Hamilton Thompson Beggs, electrician, Birmingham; Ala.

Bascomb Newton Branson, coxswain, Whistler, Ala.;

Earl LeBaron Carroll, seaman, Oak Grove, Ala.;

John Clarence Dempsey, seaman, Dothan, Ala.;

Willie Thomas Gardner, seaman, Spring Hill, Ala.;

Thomas Jackson McKinley, seaman, Evergreen, Ala.;

George Mason McNeal, fireman, Birmingham, Ala.;

Joseph Freeman Mitchell, seaman, Pratt City, Ala.;

William Thomas Wise, fireman, Glenmore, Ala.;

Francis Olney Strong, fireman, Ashland, Ala.

So what might have caused the loss of the Cyclops? Theories that involve the Bermuda Triangle include:

A supernatural element: The area is cursed and causes ships and planes to crash/sink/vanish.

The geophysical element: Mariners do not account for the agonic line, the place at which there is no need to compensate for magnetic compass variation as they approach the Bermuda Triangle, which can result in navigational error.

The environmental element: Rogue waves, once called tidal waves, are more likely to occur in the area of the Triangle because storms can converge from multiple directions. The waves, which can reach 100 feet high, are thought to be “powerful enough to destroy all evidence of a ship or an airplane,” according to

Outside of the Bermuda Triangle, theories include issues with the ship, or possible wartime sabotage.

Some experts believe that the load of manganese was more than the ship’s capacity and could have caused the ship to overturn. In addition, the ship’s lieutenant commander, George W. Worley, had reported before leaving Bahia that a cylinder had cracked on the starboard engine.

Also, a severe storm was reported on March 10, but it is uncertain if that contributed to the disappearance of the Cyclops. German officials at the time denied making contact with the Cyclops.

The United Press article in 1918 reported: “Probably not until the sea gives up its secrets will the fate of the Cyclops be known.” Once the Navy declared all aboard lost, the date of death assigned for those on board was June 14, 1918.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC.


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