Stretched over four years, dragged through the trenches of Europe and raked through her skies, World War I left more than just scars on the countryside. It left nations in pieces and families without children.
It also left behind mysteries of war we will never solve. In the whole of WWI, there are more unsolved mysteries than anyone has time to investigate. Most of them come down to who shot who, but there are a few that are more fascinating.
Before we dig into those stories, in case you skipped history class, World War I was the war where Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey took on the Allies.
This was long before the prevalence of cameras. We had them, but they were few. We even have war footage from WWI, but it is grainy and limited.
Every account we have from the big one, was what someone reported. Stories would often conflict or, worse, there was no story at all. Without witnesses, finding the truth about history gets a little messy.
These five are some of the messiest.
The USS Cyclops was a Navy ship, designed for transporting cargo to and from Brazil. On the last voyage of the Cyclops, it left port in February of 1918.
By March, 309 people aboard the ship would disappear somewhere near Barbados, inside the Bermuda Triangle. The last word from the ship was that the captain had reported engine problems.
The Navy advised the captain that he may be too heavy with cargo and that he should return to the U.S. The USS Cyclops was last seen leaving Barbados for the United States.
No wreckage or bodies were ever found. No one heard from the captain again.
Missing Russian Gold
The timing of Word War I was also the end of Russia’s existing monarchy: the Czars of Russia. The country was wrought with internal turmoil as they fought alongside the Allies. (We were friends back then.)
Fearing infighting and theft, the Russians decided to hide the gold reserves of the country. They moved over 70% of their gold to a more interior place in Russia, scattered in hiding places so that nobody could ever find it.
That is exactly what happened. Nobody ever did.
One theory is that an Admiral seized the fortune. Another is that they lost it in secret gold vaults in Siberia. Another that someone hid it in a forest, and yet another is that it sunk in Lake Baikal. In case you’re not familiar, Lake Baikal’s total water volume could swallow all of the Great Lakes.
The Red Baron
For most young people, Red Baron is the name of a bake-at-home pizza. For the people who lived through WWI, he was the flying symbol of the enemy.
People both feared and respected the Baron. He was responsible for 80 air combat kills, an unbeatable number.
It is a tribute to the respect he earned that people buy pizzas named after him. Try selling Hitler pies. See how far that gets you.
Who was it that shot down the Baron April 21st, 1918? Allied troops recovered his body, but who brought him down? Everyone wanted credit for his death, but nobody could prove it.
Was it the squad of Aussie pilots who first claimed the kill, but were later discovered to have engaged another squadron of planes? Was it a shot from the ground?
Canadian Captain Roy Brown took credit for the kill, but historians disagree with that outcome. Brown engaged the Baron too long before the Baron’s plane came down.
So, who then?
During any war, you may not find it surprising that a ship washed ashore, which is what happened to the transport boat, the Zabrina. They found it on the shores of France, pristine, as if someone beached it.
What will surprise you is that the ship was empty of its crew, but showed no signs of a struggle. For all argument’s sake, it seemed abandoned.
The best theories about what may have happened, an attack or surge in the sea, would have left marks on the hull. The boat was spotless, save a few tangled sails.
To this day we have no further information on what happened.
From Hungary, Kiss fought against the Allies. One could argue he was one of the bad guys, but nobody knew, not even his neighbors, was just how bad he was.
Kiss’ reputation amongst his neighbors was that of an intelligent man. He was well-liked in his town of Cintoka. Acting on a rumor that he had suffered the ultimate tragedy of war, Kiss’ landlord started cleaning out the home he left behind. There, in a series of drums Kiss claimed were storing fuel, his landlord found 24 dead bodies.
Prior to the war, Kiss had been luring women with promises of marriage in an ad he put in the paper. He sourced women with money as he was luring them for financial gain. Once he had them in his home, he killed them and preserved them in alcohol in the drums.
Kiss must have heard wind of the discovery, as he slipped away under the cover of war. Stories about his death clashed with stories that authorities arrested him, but nobody ever found the man.
In our modern time of cameras everywhere, it’s hard to believe that anything every happened off-camera.
Today, we’d slow down the video to see who killed the Red Baron. Someone would have security footage of the Cyclops leaving the port. Bela Kiss’s face would be all over social media. He’d never get away with it…or would he?
War is messy, even today. We still manage to create unsolvable mysteries, but that’s a blog for another time…