Steamship Sunday – U.S.S. Maine Explodes In Cuba

Steamship Sunday


U.S.S. Maine Explodes In Cuba

On 15 February 1898, a massive explosion of unknown origin sank the battleship USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana harbor, killing 260 of the fewer than 400 American crew members aboard.


One of the first American battleships, the Maine displace 6,682 tons and was built at a cost of more than $2 million. Ostensibly on a friendly visit, Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect the interests of Americans there after a rebellion against Spanish rule broke out in Havana in January.

The first battleship Maine was laid down at the New York Navy Yard 17 October 1888; launched 18 November 1889; sponsored by Miss Alice Tracy Willinerding, granddaughter of Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Tracy; and commissioned 17 September 1895, Capt. Arent S. Crowninshield in command.

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 ships of the North Atlantic Squadron on maneuvers, 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 hrs, 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 general consensus at the time, though never proven, was that Maine was hit by a mine.

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. Subsequent diplomatic failures to resolve the Maine matter, coupled with United States indignation over Spain’s brutal suppression of the Cuban rebellion and continued losses to American investment, led to the U.S. declaration of war against Spain on 21 April 1898.

Within three months, the United States had decisively defeated Spanish forces on land and sea, and in August an armistice halted the fighting. On 12 December 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed between the United States and Spain, officially ending the Spanish-American War and granting the United States its first overseas empire with the ceding of such former Spanish possessions as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.




On 5 August 1910, Congress authorized the raising of Maine

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

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 Maine’s


Displacement: 6,682 tons
Length: 319′
Beam: 57′
Draft: 21’6″
Speed: 17 knots
Complement: 392
Armament: Four 10″; six 6″; seven six-pounders; eight one-pounders; four 14″ torpedo tubes
Class: Maine


Plan views of Maine: Note the placement of the four 10″ guns – two forward in a single turret on the starboard side and two aft in a single turret on the port side. Quite a contrast to the Iowa-class battleships of World War II with their nine 16″ guns, six center-forward in two turrets and three center-aft in one turret. No doubt the placement of the 10″ guns on the Maine was to balance the weight distribution. It would take another generation of battleships before more guns of larger caliber, mounted down the keel line of the ship would occur.


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  1. Have you made a final decision on what caused the explosion?


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