The first Maine, a second-class armored battleship, was laid down at the New York Navy Yard 17 October 1888; launched 18 November 1889; sponsored by Miss Alice Tracy Wllinerding, granddaughter of Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Tracy; and commissioned 17 September 1895, Capt. Arent S. Crowninshield in command. She weighed 6682-tons.
Maine departed the New York Navy Yard 5 November 1895 for Newport, R.I., via Gardiner's Bay, N.Y., to fit out 16 to 23 November, and then proceeded on the 25th to Portland, Me. , to visit her namesake. The battlewagon then put to sea on the 29th on trials and inspection, being as signed to the North Atlantic Squadron 16 December, and sailing via Newport to Tompkinsvllle, N.Y., arriving 23 December. The ship sailed the next day for Fort Monroe, Va., arriving on Christmas Day. She operated out of that place and Newport News through June 1896 and then on the 4th sailed for Key West on a 2-month training cruise, returning to Norfolk 3 August. Maine continued extensive east coast operations until late 1897. Then the ship prepared for a voyage to Havana, Cuba, to show the flag and to protect American citizens in event of violence in the Spanish struggle with the revolutionary forces in Cuba.
On 11 December Maine stood out of Hampton Roads bound for Key West, arriving on the 15th. She was joined there by shlps of the North Atlantic Squadron on maneu vers, then left Key West 24 January 1898 for Havana.
Arriving 25 January, Maine anchored in the center of the port, remained on vigilant watch, allowed no liberty, and took extra precautions against sabotage. Shortly after 2140, 15 February, the battleship was torn apart by a tremendous explosion that shattered the entire forward part of the ship. Out of 350 officers and men on board that night (4 officers were ashore), 252 were dead or missing. Eight more were to die in Havana hospitals during the next few days. The survivors of the disaster were taken on board Ward Line steamer City of Washington and Spanish cruiser Alfonso XII. The Spanish officials at Havana showed every attention to the survivors of the disaster and great respect for those killed. The Court of Inquiry convened in March was unable to obtain evidence associating the destruction of the battleship with any person or persons. The destruction of Maine did not cause the U.S. to declare war on Spain, but it served as a catalyst, accelerating the approach to a diplomatic impasse. In addition, the sinking and deaths of U.S. sailors rallied American opinion more strongly behind armed intervention. The United States declared war on Spain 21 April.
On 5 August 1910, Congress authorized the raising of Maine and directed Army engineers to supervise the work. A second board of inquiry appointed to inspect the wreck after it was raised reported that injuries to the ship's bottom were caused by an external explosion of low magnitude that set off the forward magazine, completing destruction of the ship. It has never been determined who placed the explosive.
Technical experts at the time of both investigations disagreed with the findings, believing that spontaneous combustion of coal in the bunker adjacent to the reserve six-inch magazine was the most likely cause of the explosion on board the ship. In 1976, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover published his book, How the Battleship Maine Was Destroyed. The admiral became interested in the disaster and wondered if the application of modern scientific knowledge could determine the cause. He called on two experts on explosions and their effects on ship hulls.
Using documentation gathered from the two official inquiries, as well as information on the construction and ammunition of Maine, the experts concluded that the damage caused to the ship was inconsistent with the external explosion of a mine. The most likely cause, they speculated, was spontaneous combustion of coal in the bunker next to the magazine.
Some historians have disputed the findings in Rickover's book, maintaining that failure to detect spontaneous combustion in the coal bunker was highly unlikely. Yet evidence of a mine remains thin and such theories are based primarily on conjecture. Despite the best efforts of experts and historians in investigating this complex and technical subject, a definitive explanation for the destruction of Maine remains one of the continuing enigmas of American history.
Maine's hulk was finally floated 2 February 1912 and towed out to sea where it was sunk in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico with appropriate ceremony and military honors 16 March.
USS Maine (BB-10)
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|