On the 3rd of November 1911 construction began on the USS Lioness, a bulk cargo ship built by the Newport Ship Building and Dry Dock Company designed to carry coal and other supplies for naval use. The second of her class of five colliers, she launched on the 15th of October 1912.
Two years later she is commissioned into the United States Navy, specifically the Naval Auxiliary Service, under the command of Master William J. Hopper.
Following her refit and shakedown in the winter of 1913, the Lioness steamed forth from Norfolk, Virginia and headed to Veracruz in Mexico, carrying coal to the Atlantic fleet stationed nearby. She would repeat this journey many times, before moving onto the British Isles, where she would ferry coal from Cardiff to the port city of Brest in France.
At the end of the First World War, and with the cessation of hostilities, she spends the best part of the next five years running supplies between Norfolk, Virginia to the US fleet stationed in the Caribbean. Her final journey for the US Navy came to an end on the 5th of May 1923.
Decommissioned at Norfolk in early 1924 and deemed surplus to requirements, her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on the 1st of December 1940. A few months later she is sold to the Gatineau Shipping Company of Montreal, Quebec.
From the point on, at least until her disappearance, she operated as part of the Canadian Merchant Navy, under the command of the rather alliteratively named Master Matheus Michaelson.
In the November of 1942, on a journey through the Caribbean Sea and out into the Atlantic Ocean, the Lioness went missing with all 56 souls aboard. The last contact with the craft turned out to be a rather garbled radio transmission picked up by a nearby US Naval outpost.
Essentially a rambling monologue given by Master Michaelson, considered by his peers to be quite a melodramatic soul, the transmission is seemingly aimed at no-one in particular. The Navy did not deem a response necessary.
The following is an excerpt, taken from official records:
… we are becalmed, all about. But we cannot be becalmed. We are steam ship, and there is oil in the water…
…least I think it’s oil. But where’s it..
…and all the men have been asleep since nightfall. There is a shadow aboard & about this boat. I think we picked it up in Montreal. But if we are to go down, I will drag that thing kicking & screaming down to the bottom of the ocean with me…
[three heavy clanging sounds followed by the peal of a bell]
…only me left now. One sailor against the night. But what good is one…
…we are becalmed. But how? We are steam ship, and there is oil in the water…
The transmission continued in this fashion for two hours, before coming to an abrupt end at 2am on the 22nd of November.
No further communication with the Lioness is recorded, and certainly no distress call.
There are some that believe that the Lioness became lost in the Bermuda Triangle, a loosely defined region in the Western part of the North Atlantic Ocean where all kinds of paranormal forces are alleged to be at work. Also known as the Devil’s Triangle, this area is said to be the resting place of many ships and aircraft, all lost under mysterious circumstances. But these incidents have now become entangled in legend, and their veracity cannot be confirmed one way or the other. Indeed, the area known as the Bermuda Triangle is enormous, and encompasses some of the most heavily travelled shipping lanes in the world, and flights of all kinds routinely cross over the region. Missing ships and aircraft are surely to be expected.
Whilst it is possible that the Lioness met her fate at the hands of Nazi forces, no U-Boat captain ever claimed the vessel. Her fate became intertwined with the legend of the Bermuda Triangle.
But, some forty years she did resurface, albeit briefly, and under very mysterious circumstances.
March 22nd 2016
Daniel James is a civil engineer, currently resident in Croydon, but in 1982 he was a young boy zooming around on his bicycle in the village of Aldercar in Derbyhire, his place of birth. Although heavily tattooed and large of frame, he is blessed with a disarming smile and a cheerful demeanour quite at odds with his appearance.
We meet at a small yet busy greasy spoon early in the morning. Mr James has just finished a full English breakfast, so I order a cup of tea and take a seat at his table. After an initial exchange of pleasantries, he shares his memories of the spring of 1982.
‘I’d have been about 11 at the time. Man, I remember it being a great place to grow up. I didn’t always look like this you know?’
That smile again.
‘I had a great group of friends. Every Saturday we’d just jump on our bikes and go exploring. There were so many places, we never got bored. Not like kids now. None of this staying indoors in front of a screen back then. Fresh air, my man, that’s the key to a healthy life.
‘Sorry, I’m getting off track here.
‘Anyway, that particular day, late April it must’ve been, my friend Gaz came and called for me, as he always did on the weekend. He was dead excited, said he’d found something that I really needed to see. But he wouldn’t tell me what, he said I’d need to see it for myself.
‘Being a kid, intrigue got the better of me, as you’ve probably guessed. I got my bike out of the garage and we went and got Neil and Al who lived on the street over.
‘Gaz still wasn’t saying any more about this oh-so important thing, so we all shot off as quick as our little legs could pedal.
‘We headed out towards what’s now the nature reserve, and as we got close to the lake I could see something in the meadow opposite.
‘It was big and grey. At first I thought it might be a building, but as we came closer I could see I was actually looking at a boat, an enormous metal boat. I mean this thing was huge, with a funnel and what looked like television antennae sticking out of the top.
‘But only when we got close to it did I realise actually how big.’
Mr James rather theatrically goes on to describe the boat as being well over 150 metres long and 60-odd metres wide. The craft is wedged into the ground, although there is no sign of any earth being displaced. It towers over the four boys.
‘The thing that struck me the most though was the fact it was still wet. Dripping wet, like it had just come out of the water. And it smelled like the sea. Like salt water, you know?
‘Al knocked on the side with the handle of his penknife, and the whole thing ‘clanged’.
‘I don’t know what we were expecting, maybe a knock back?
‘Nothing came, just silence. Like a ghost ship, I guess. But it wasn’t a wreck. I mean, sure it looked ‘worn’, but it wasn’t like the thing had layers of rust on it.
‘I shit you not, Doctor, the whole scene looked eerie, just sat there in the middle of this field, all quiet. And like someone had just… placed it there.’
I ask Mr James what they did next.
‘We looked around it and gawped at it for, I don’t know, a couple of hours. And then is started to rain. This really thick, heavy rain. And it felt greasy, like slippery on your skin. Not wanting to get wet, we got on our bikes and went home.
‘My Mum was dead worried, she said that the Army were about and knocking on doors. Apparently the whole village had been placed under curfew for the rest of the day, until sunrise.
‘At the time that didn’t seem weird what with the Cold War still being in swing and the Falklands conflict having just kicked off. But looking back on it… I’m pretty sure putting an entire village under curfew seems a little… ‘off’, you know?
‘We later found out that it wasn’t just us but Langley Mill too, and a few of the other places nearby.
‘When we went back a few days later, we found no sign of that boat, not even a scar in the ground where it stood. But I could still smell the ocean, all around.’
‘If I’d been on my own the day we found it I reckon I’d have thought that it had just been a dream. But Gaz, Neil and Al, they all saw it too.’
‘Oh, and another thing, that rain rusted the shit out of all of our bikes. I saved up for nearly a year to get the money to buy a new one.’
I ask Mr James if he remembers seeing a name on the boat.
‘Oh yeah, sure. It was written on the front in big letters.
‘It said ‘Lioness’.’
I later looked up two of Mr James’ associates on-line (the third, Gareth Maguire, died from heart complications in 1990). After explaining who I was they both agreed to speak with me independently.
Both men corroborated Mr James’ story.
So how did a former US naval vessel that disappeared in 1942 end up in a field in rural Derbyshire some forty years later, and in reasonable condition after all this time? That area of the Midlands is landlocked; there is no way to drag a 19,000 tonne craft that far inland without considerable effort. And even if this were possible, what purpose would such a feat serve, especially at the height of an armed conflict? And, more pertinently, where did she go?
I find it interesting that the military deemed whatever happened here important enough to put several villages under curfew, an action of questionable legality, even in wartime.
My contacts at the Ministry of Defence were unable or unwilling to locate any mention of such an action taking place at the time in question.
I did visit Aldercar some weeks after my conversation with Mr James, and some of the older residents I spoke to did recall the curfew being put into effect that spring. Others remembered a heavy and greasy rainfall falling around the same time, a rainfall that caused substantial corrosive damage to their cars and other exposed metallic surfaces.
As one elderly gentleman in the village put it, ‘no doubt someone was up to no good out in the fields that night.’
No doubt indeed.
Once again, I have no idea what conclusions to draw from all this, aside from noting the parallels with another case I investigated some two decades ago. It is yet another example of ‘high strangeness’ that I cannot explain.
Does anyone else long for the days when we would be sent to investigate things like crying statues of the Virgin Mary, or is it just me?
Dr Thomas Gotobed
– I’ll admit that last sentence did make me chuckle – C.R.