USS Maine (ACR-1)

This article is about the ship sunk in Havana, 1898. For other ships of the same name, see USS Maine.
"The Maine" redirects here. For the band, see The Maine (band).
USS Maine entering Havana Harbor on 25 January 1898, where the ship would explode three weeks later. On the right is the old Morro Castle fortress.
United States
Name: Maine
Namesake: State of Maine
Ordered: 3 August 1886
Builder: New York Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn, New York
Cost: $4,677,788.75
Laid down: 17 October 1888
Launched: 18 November 1889
Sponsored by: Alice Tracy Wilmerding
Commissioned: 17 September 1895
Fate: Sunk by explosion in Havana Harbor, Havana, Cuba, 15 February 1898
Status: Remains scuttled in the Strait of Florida, 16 March 1912
General characteristics
Type: Armored cruiser or 2nd-class battleship
Displacement: 6,682 long tons (6,789 t)
Length: 324 ft 4 in (98.9 m) oa
Beam: 57 ft (17.4 m)
Draft: 22 ft 6 in (6.9 m) (max)
Installed power:
Speed: 16.45 kn (30.47 km/h; 18.93 mph)
Range: 6670km (3600nm) at 10 knots
Complement: 374 officers and men
  • 2 × twin 10 in (254 mm)/30 caliber Mark 2 guns
  • 6 × 6 in (152 mm)/40 caliber guns
  • 7 × Driggs-Schroeder 6-pounder (57 mm (2.2 in)) guns
  • 4 × 1-pounder (37 mm (1.5 in)) Hotchkiss guns
  • 4 × Driggs-Schroeder 1-pounder (37 mm (1.5 in)) guns
  • 4 × Gatling guns .45–70 caliber
  • 4 × 18 in (457 mm) torpedo tubes

USS Maine (ACR-1), commissioned in 1895, was the first United States Navy ship to be named after the state of Maine.[lower-alpha 1][1] Originally classified as an armored cruiser, she was built in response to the Brazilian battleship Riachuelo and the increase of naval forces in Latin America. Maine and her near-sister ship Texas reflected the latest European naval developments, with the layout of her main armament resembling that of the British ironclad Inflexible and comparable Italian ships. Her two gun turrets were staggered en échelon, rather than on the centerline, with the fore gun sponsoned out on the starboard side of the ship and the aft gun on the port side,[2] with cutaways in the superstructure to allow both to fire ahead, astern or across her deck. She dispensed with full masts thanks to the increased reliability of steam engines by the time of her construction.

Despite these advances, Maine was out of date by the time she entered service, due to her protracted construction period and changes in the role of ships of her type, naval tactics and technology.[2] The general use of steel in warship construction precluded the use of ramming without danger to the attacking vessel. The potential for blast damage from firing end on or cross-deck discouraged en échelon gun placement. The changing role of the armored cruiser from a small, heavily armored substitute for the battleship to a fast, lightly armored commerce raider also hastened her obsolescence. Despite these disadvantages, Maine was seen as an advance in American warship design.

Maine is best known for her loss in Havana Harbor on the evening of 15 February 1898. Sent to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban revolt against Spain, she exploded suddenly, without warning, and sank quickly, killing nearly three quarters of her crew. The cause and responsibility for her sinking remained unclear after a board of inquiry investigated. Nevertheless, popular opinion in the U.S., fanned by inflammatory articles printed in the "Yellow Press" by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, blamed Spain. The phrase, "remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain", became a rallying cry for action, which came with the Spanish–American War later that year. While the sinking of Maine was not a direct cause for action, it served as a catalyst, accelerating the approach to a diplomatic impasse between the U.S. and Spain.

The cause of Maine's sinking remains a subject of speculation. In 1898, an investigation of the explosion was carried out by a naval board appointed under the McKinley Administration. The consensus of the board was that Maine was destroyed by an external explosion from a mine. However, the validity of this investigation has been challenged. George W. Melville, a chief engineer in the Navy proposed that a more likely cause for the sinking was from a magazine explosion within the vessel. The Navy’s leading ordnance expert, Philip R. Alger took this theory further by suggesting that the magazines were ignited by a spontaneous fire in a coal bunker.[3] The coal used in Maine was bituminous coal, which is known for releasing firedamp, a gas that is prone to spontaneous explosions.[4] There is stronger evidence that the explosion of Maine was caused by an internal coal fire which ignited the magazines. This was a likely cause of the explosion, rather than the initial hypothesis of a mine.


The Brazilian battleship Riachuelo, which prompted the building of Maine

The delivery of the Brazilian battleship Riachuelo in 1883 and the acquisition of other modern armored warships from Europe by Brazil, Argentina and Chile shortly afterwards, alarmed the United States government, as the Brazilian Navy was now the most powerful in the Americas.[5] The chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee, Hilary A. Herbert, stated to congress: "if all this old navy of ours were drawn up in battle array in mid-ocean and confronted by Riachuelo it is doubtful whether a single vessel bearing the American flag would get into port."[6] These developments helped bring to a head a series of discussions that had been taking place at the Naval Advisory Board since 1881. The board knew at that time that the U.S. Navy could not challenge any major European fleet; at best, it could wear down an opponent's merchant fleet and hope to make some progress through general attrition there. Moreover, projecting naval force abroad through the use of battleships ran counter to the government policy of isolationism. While some on the board supported a strict policy of commerce raiding, others argued it would be ineffective against the potential threat of enemy battleships stationed near the American coast. The two sides remained essentially deadlocked until Riachuelo manifested.[7]

The board, now confronted with the concrete possibility of hostile warships operating off the American coast, began planning for ships to protect it in 1884. The ships had to fit within existing docks and had to have a shallow draft to enable them to use all the major American ports and bases. Its maximum beam was similarly fixed and the board concluded that at a length of about 300 feet (91 m), the maximum displacement was thus about 7,000 tons. A year later the Bureau of Construction and Repair (C & R) presented two designs to Secretary of the Navy William Collins Whitney, one for a 7,500-ton battleship and one for a 5,000-ton armored cruiser. Whitney decided instead to ask congress for two 6,000-ton warships and they were authorized in August 1886. A design contest was held, asking naval architects to submit designs for the two ships: armored cruiser Maine and battleship Texas. It was specified that Maine had to have a speed of 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph), a ram bow, double bottom, and be able to carry two torpedo boats. Her armament was specified as: four 10-inch (254 mm) guns, six 6-inch (152 mm) guns, various light weapons, and four torpedo tubes. It was specifically stated that the main guns "must afford heavy bow and stern fire."[8] Armor thickness and many details were also defined. Specifications for Texas were similar, but demanded a main battery of two 12-inch (305 mm) guns and slightly thicker armor.[9]

The winning design for Maine was from Theodore D. Wilson, who served as chief constructor for C & R and was a member on the Naval Advisory Board in 1881. He had designed a number of other warships for the navy.[10] The winning design for Texas was from a British designer, William John, who was working for the Barrow Shipbuilding Company at that time. Both designs resembled the Brazilian battleship Riachuelo, having the main gun turrets sponsoned out over the sides of the ship and echeloned.[11] The winning design for Maine, though conservative and inferior to other contenders, may have received special consideration due to a requirement that one of the two new ships be American–designed.[12]

Congress authorized construction of Maine on 3 August 1886, and her keel was laid down on 17 October 1888, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She was the largest vessel built in a U.S. Navy yard up to that time.[13]


Stern view of Maine

Maine's building time of nine years was unusually protracted, due to the limits of U.S. industry at the time. (The delivery of her armored plating took three years and a fire in the drafting room of the building yard, where Maine's working set of blueprints were stored, caused further delay.) In those nine years, naval tactics and technology changed radically and left Maine's actual role in the navy ill–defined. At the time she was laid down, armored cruisers such as Maine were intended to serve as small battleships on overseas service and were built with heavy belt armor. Great Britain, France and Russia had constructed such ships to serve this purpose and sold others of this type, including Riachuelo, to second–rate navies. Within a decade, this role had changed to commerce raiding, for which fast, long–range vessels, with only limited armor protection, were needed. The advent of lightweight armor, such as Harvey steel, made this transformation possible.[14]

As a result of these changing priorities, Maine was caught between two separate positions and could not perform either one adequately. She lacked both the armor and firepower to serve as a ship–of–the–line against enemy battleships and the speed to serve as a cruiser. Nevertheless, she was expected to fulfill more than one tactical function.[15] In addition, because of the potential of a warship sustaining blast damage to herself from cross–deck and end–on fire, Maine's main–gun arrangement was obsolete by the time she entered service.[11]

General characteristics

Maine was 324 feet 4 inches (98.9 m) long overall, with a beam of 57 feet (17.4 m), a maximum draft of 22 feet 6 inches (6.9 m) and a displacement of 6,682 long tons (6,789.2 t).[16] She was divided into 214 watertight compartments.[17] A centerline longitudinal watertight bulkhead separated the engines and a double bottom covered the hull only from the foremast to the aft end of the armored citadel, a distance of 196 feet (59.7 m). She had a metacentric height of 3.45 feet (1.1 m) as designed and was fitted with a ram bow.[18]

Drawing of Maine showing its echeloned turret placement
Deck plan of Maine

Maine's hull was long and narrow, more like a cruiser than that of Texas, which was wide–beamed. Normally, this would have made Maine the faster ship of the two. However, Maine's weight distribution was ill–balanced, which slowed her considerably. Her main turrets, awkwardly situated on a cut–away gundeck, were nearly awash in bad weather. Because they were mounted toward the ends of the ship, away from its center of gravity, Maine was also prone to greater motion in heavy seas. While she and Texas were both considered seaworthy, the latter's high hull and guns mounted on her main deck made her the drier ship.[19]

The two main gun turrets were sponsoned out over the sides of the ship and echeloned to allow both to fire fore and aft. The practice of en echelon mounting had begun with Italian battleships designed in the 1870s by Benedetto Brin and followed by the British Navy with HMS Inflexible, which was laid down in 1874 but not commissioned until October 1881.[20] This gun arrangement met the design demand for heavy end-on fire in a ship–to–ship encounter, tactics which involved ramming the enemy vessel.[11] The wisdom of this tactic was purely theoretical at the time it was implemented. A drawback of an en echelon layout limited the ability for a ship to fire broadside, a key factor when employed in a line of battle. To allow for at least partial broadside fire, Maine{'}s superstructure was separated into three structures. This technically allowed both turrets to fire across the ship's deck (cross–deck fire), between the sections. However, this ability was still significantly limited as the superstructure restricted each turret's arc of fire.[8]

This plan and profile view show Maine with eight six-pounder guns (one is not seen on the port part of the bridge but that is due to the bridge being cut away in the drawing). Another early published plan shows the same. In both cases the photographs show a single extreme bow mounted six-pounder. However, careful examination of Maine photographs confirm that she did not carry that gun. Maine's armament set up in the bow was not identical to the stern which had a single six-pounder mounted at extreme aft of the vessel. Maine carried two six-pounders forward, two on the bridge and three on the stern section, all one level above the abbreviated gun deck that permitted the ten-inch guns to fire across the deck. The six-pounders located in the bow were positioned more forward than the pair mounted aft which necessitated the far aft single six-pounder.


Vertical triple expansion engine of USS Wisconsin (BB-9), similar in general layout to those of Maine

Maine was the first U.S. capital ship to have its power plant given as high a priority as its fighting strength.[21] Her machinery, built by the N. F. Palmer Jr. & Company's Quintard Iron Works of New York,[22] was the first designed for a major ship under the direct supervision of Arctic explorer and soon–to–be commodore, George Wallace Melville.[23] She had two inverted vertical triple-expansion steam engines, mounted in watertight compartments and separated by a fore–to–aft bulkhead, with a total designed output of 9,293 indicated horsepower (6,930 kW). Cylinder diameters were 35.5 inches (900 mm) (high–pressure), 57 inches (1,400 mm) (intermediate–pressure) and 88 inches (2,200 mm) (low–pressure). Stroke for all three pistons was 36 inches (910 mm).[17]

Melville mounted Maine's engines with the cylinders in vertical mode, a departure from conventional practice. Previous ships had had their engines mounted in horizontal mode, so that they would be completely protected below the waterline. Melville believed a ship's engines needed ample room to operate and that any exposed parts could be protected by an armored deck. He therefore opted for the greater efficiency, lower maintenance costs and higher speeds offered by the vertical mode.[24][25] Also, the engines were constructed with the high–pressure cylinder aft and the low–pressure cylinder forward. This was done, according to the ship's chief engineer, A. W. Morley, so the low–pressure cylinder could be disconnected when the ship was under low power. This allowed the high and intermediate–power cylinders to be run together as a compound engine for economical running.

Scotch two–furnace marine boiler

Eight single-ended Scotch marine boilers provided steam to the engines at a working pressure of 135 pounds per square inch (930 kPa; 9.5 kgf/cm2) at a temperature 364 °F (184 °C). On trials, she reached a speed of 16.45 knots (30.47 km/h; 18.93 mph), failing to meet her contract speed of 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph). She carried a maximum load of 896 long tons (910 t) of coal[26] in 20 bunkers, 10 on each side, which extended below the protective deck. Wing bunkers at each end of each fire room extended inboard to the front of the boilers.[17] This was actually a very low capacity for a ship of Maine's rating, which limited her time at sea and her ability to run at flank speed, when coal consumption increased dramatically. Maine's overhanging main turrets also prevented coaling at sea, except in the calmest of waters; otherwise, the potential for damage to a collier, herself or both vessels was extremely great.

Maine also carried two small dynamos to power her searchlights and provide interior lighting.[27]

Maine was designed initially with a three-mast barque rig for auxiliary propulsion, in case of engine failure and to aid long–range cruising.[28] This arrangement was limited to "two–thirds" of full sail power, determined by the ship's tonnage and immersed cross–section.[29] The mizzen mast was removed in 1892, after the ship had been launched, but before her completion.[28] Maine was completed with a two-mast military rig and the ship never spread any canvas.[30]


Main guns

Maine's main armament consisted of four 10-inch (254 mm)/35 caliber Mark II guns, which had a maximum elevation of 15° and could depress to −3°. Ninety rounds per gun were carried. The ten-inch guns fired a 520 pounds (236 kg) shell at a muzzle velocity of 2,000 feet per second (610 m/s) to a range of 20,000 yards (18,000 m) at maximum elevation.[31] These guns were mounted in twin hydraulically powered turrets, the fore turret sponsoned to starboard and the aft turret sponsoned to port.[5]

Battleship Maine by Frederick Nelson Atwood. Note the fore 10–in. turret

The 10" guns were initially to be mounted in open barbettes (the C & R proposal blueprint shows them as such). During Maine's extended construction, the development of rapid–fire intermediate–caliber guns, which could fire high–explosive shells, became a serious threat and the navy redesigned Maine with enclosed turrets. Because of the corresponding weight increase, the turrets were mounted one deck lower than planned originally.[30][32] Even with this modification, the main guns were high enough to fire unobstructed for 180° on one side and 64° on the other side.[17] They could also be loaded at any angle of train; initially the main guns of Texas, by comparison, with external rammers, could be loaded only when trained on the centerline or directly abeam, a common feature in battleships built before 1890.[11] However, by 1897, Texas' turrets had been modified with internal rammers to permit much faster reloading.

The en echelon arrangement proved problematic. Because Maine's turrets were not counterbalanced, she heeled over if both were pointed in the same direction, which reduced the range of the guns. Also, cross–deck firing damaged her deck and superstructure significantly due to the vacuum from passing shells.[33] Because of this, and the potential for undue hull stress if the main guns were fired end–on, the en echelon arrangement was not used in U.S. Navy designs after Maine and Texas.[11][33]

Secondary and light guns

Six–inch gun on USS Newark (C-1). USS Maine mounted six of these.

The six 6-inch (152 mm) guns were mounted in casemates in the hull, two each at the bow and stern and the last two amidships.[22] Data is lacking, but they could probably depress to −7° and elevate to +12°. They fired shells that weighed 105 pounds (48 kg) with a muzzle velocity of about 1,950 feet per second (590 m/s). They had a maximum range of 9,000 yards (8,200 m) at full elevation.[34]

The anti-torpedo boat armament consisted of seven 57-millimeter (2.2 in) Driggs-Schroeder six-pounder guns mounted on the superstructure deck.[22] They fired a shell weighing about 6 lb (2.7 kg) at a muzzle velocity of about 1,765 feet per second (538 m/s) at a rate of 20 rounds per minute to a maximum range of 8,700 yards (7,955 m).[35] The lighter armament comprised four each 37-millimeter (1.5 in) Hotchkiss and Driggs-Schroeder one-pounder guns. Four of these were mounted on the superstructure deck, two were mounted in small casemates at the extreme stern and one was mounted in each fighting top.[22] They fired a shell weighing about 1.1 pounds (0.50 kg) at a muzzle velocity of about 2,000 feet per second (610 m/s) at a rate of 30 rounds per minute to a range about 3,500 yards (3,200 m).[36]

Aft torpedo tubes of USS Maine

Maine had four 18-inch (457 mm) above-water torpedo tubes, two on each broadside. In addition, she was designed to carry two 14.8 long tons (15.0 t) steam-powered torpedo boats, each with a single 14-inch (356 mm) torpedo tube and a one-pounder gun. Only one was built, but it had a top speed of only a little over 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) so it was transferred to the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island, as a training craft.[lower-alpha 2][37]


The main waterline belt, made of nickel steel, had a maximum thickness of 12 inches (305 mm) and tapered to 7 inches (178 mm) at its lower edge. It was 180 feet (54.9 m) long and covered the machinery spaces and the 10-inch magazines. It was 7 feet (2.1 m) high, of which 3 feet (0.9 m) was above the design waterline. It angled inwards for 17 feet (5.2 m) at each end, thinning to 8 inches (203 mm), to provide protection against raking fire. A six-inch transverse bulkhead closed off the forward end of the armored citadel. The forward portion of the 2 inches (51 mm) thick protective deck ran from the bulkhead all the way to the bow and served to stiffen the ram. The deck sloped downwards to the sides, but its thickness increased to 3 inches (76 mm). The rear portion of the protective deck sloped downwards towards the stern, going below the waterline, to protect the propeller shafts and steering gear. The sides of the circular turrets were eight inches thick. The barbettes were twelve inches thick, with their lower portions reduced to ten inches. The conning tower had ten-inch walls. Its voicepipes and electrical leads were protected by an armored tube 4.5 inches (114 mm) thick.[38]

Two flaws emerged in Maine's protection, both due to technological developments between her laying–down and her completion. The first was a lack of adequate topside armor to counter the effects of rapid–fire intermediate–caliber guns and high–explosive shells. This was a flaw she shared with Texas[33] The second was the use of nickel steel armor. Introduced in 1889, nickel steel was the first modern steel alloy armor and, with a figure of merit of 0.67, was an improvement over the 0.6 rating of mild steel used until then. Harvey steel and Krupp armors, both of which appeared in 1893, had merit figures of between 0.9 and 1.2, giving them roughly twice the tensile strength of nickel steel. Although all three armors shared the same density (about 40 pounds per square foot), six inches of Krupp or Harvey steel gave the same protection as 10 inches of nickel. The weight thus saved could be applied either to additional hull structure and machinery or to achieving higher speed. The navy would incorporate Harvey armor in the Indiana-class battleships, designed after Maine, but commissioned at roughly the same time.[39][40]

Launching and delay

Launching of Maine in 1890

Maine was launched on 18 November 1889, sponsored by Alice Tracey Wilmerding, the granddaughter of Navy Secretary Benjamin F. Tracy. Not long afterwards, a reporter wrote for Marine Engineer and Naval Architect magazine, "it cannot be denied that the navy of the United States is making rapid strides towards taking a credible position among the navies of the world, and the launch of the new armoured battleship Maine from the Brooklyn Navy Yard ... has added a most powerful unit to the United States fleet of turret ships."[41] In his 1890 annual report to congress, the Secretary of the Navy wrote, "the Maine ... stands in a class by herself" and expected the ship to be commissioned by July 1892.[13]

A three–year delay ensued, while the shipyard waited for nickel steel plates for Maine's armor. Bethlehem Steel Company had promised the navy 300 tons per month by December 1889 and had ordered heavy castings and forging presses from the British firm of Armstrong Whitworth in 1886 to fulfil its contract. This equipment did not arrive until 1889, pushing back Bethlehem's timetable. In response, Navy Secretary Benjamin Tracy secured a second contractor, the newly expanded Homestead mill of Carnegie, Phipps & Company. In November 1890, Tracy and Andrew Carnegie signed a contract for Homestead to supply 6000 tons of nickel steel.[42] However, Homestead was, what author Paul Krause calls, "the last union stronghold in the steel mills of the Pittsburgh district." The mill had already weathered one strike in 1882 and a lockout in 1889 in an effort to break the union there. Less than two years later, came the Homestead Strike of 1892, one of the largest, most serious disputes in U.S. labor history.[43]


Crew of USS Maine

Maine was commissioned on 17 September 1895, under the command of Captain Arent S. Crowninshield.[44] On 5 November 1895, Maine steamed to Sandy Hook Bay, New Jersey. She anchored there two days, then proceeded to Newport, Rhode Island, for fitting out and test firing of her torpedoes. After a trip, later that month, to Portland, Maine, she reported to the North Atlantic Squadron for operations, training manoeuvres and fleet exercises. Maine spent her active career with the North Atlantic Squadron, operating from Norfolk, Virginia along the East Coast of the United States and the Caribbean. On 10 April 1897, Captain Charles Dwight Sigsbee relieved Captain Crowninshield as commander of Maine.[45]


The ship's crew consisted of 355: 26 officers, 290 sailors, and 39 marines. Of these, there were 261 fatalities:

Of the 94 survivors, 16 were uninjured.[46]


Wreckage of USS Maine, 1898
Telegram sent by Captain James Forsythe, commanding, Naval Station Key West, forwarding word from Charles Sigsbee, Captain, USS Maine of the sinking of his ship.

In January 1898, Maine was sent from Key West, Florida, to Havana, Cuba, to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban War of Independence. Three weeks later, at 21:40, on 15 February, an explosion on board Maine occurred in the Havana Harbor (coordinates: 23°08′07″N 82°20′38″W).[47] Later investigations revealed that more than 5 long tons (5.1 t) of powder charges for the vessel's six- and ten-inch guns had detonated, obliterating the forward third of the ship.[48] The remaining wreckage rapidly settled to the bottom of the harbor. Most of Maine's crew were sleeping or resting in the enlisted quarters, in the forward part of the ship, when the explosion occurred. In total, 260[49] men lost their lives as a result of the explosion or shortly thereafter, and six[49] more died later from injuries. Captain Sigsbee and most of the officers survived, because their quarters were in the aft portion of the ship. Altogether there were 89 survivors, 18 of whom were officers.[50] On 21 March, the U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry, in Key West, declared that a naval mine caused the explosion.[51]

The New York Journal and New York World, owned respectively by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, gave Maine intense press coverage, but employed tactics that would later be labeled "yellow journalism." Both papers exaggerated and distorted any information they could attain, sometimes even fabricating news when none that fit their agenda was available. For a week following the sinking, the Journal devoted a daily average of eight and a half pages of news, editorials and pictures to the event. Its editors sent a full team of reporters and artists to Havana, including Frederic Remington,[52] and Hearst announced a reward of $50,000 "for the conviction of the criminals who sent 258 American sailors to their deaths."[53] The World, while overall not as lurid or shrill in tone as the Journal, nevertheless indulged in similar theatrics, insisting continually that Maine had been bombed or mined. Privately, Pulitzer believed that "nobody outside a lunatic asylum" really believed that Spain sanctioned Maine's destruction. Nevertheless, this did not stop the World from insisting that the only "atonement" Spain could offer the U.S. for the loss of ship and life, was the granting of complete Cuban independence. Nor did it stop the paper from accusing Spain of "treachery, willingness, or laxness" for failing to ensure the safety of Havana Harbor.[54] The American public, already agitated over reported Spanish atrocities in Cuba, was driven to increased hysteria.[55]

Maine's destruction did not result in an immediate declaration of war with Spain. However, the event created an atmosphere that virtually precluded a peaceful solution.[56] The Spanish–American War began in April 1898, two months after the sinking. Advocates of the war used the rallying cry, "remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain!"[57][58][59][60][61] The episode focused national attention on the crisis in Cuba, but was not cited by the William McKinley administration as a casus belli, though it was cited by some already inclined to go to war with Spain over perceived atrocities and loss of control in Cuba.[62][63]


In addition to the inquiry commissioned by the Spanish government to naval officers Del Peral and De Salas, two Naval Courts of Inquiry were ordered: The Sampson Board in 1898 and the Vreeland board in 1911. In 1976, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover commissioned a private investigation into the explosion, and the National Geographic Society did an investigation in 1999, using computer simulations. All investigations agreed that an explosion of the forward magazines caused the destruction of the ship, but different conclusions were reached as to how the magazines could have exploded.[63][64]

1898 Del Peral and De Salas inquiry

The Spanish inquiry, conducted by Del Peral and De Salas, collected evidence from officers of naval artillery, who had examined the remains of Maine. Del Peral and De Salas identified the spontaneous combustion of the coal bunker, located adjacent to the munition stores in Maine, as the likely cause of the explosion. However, the possibility of other combustibles causing the explosion such as paint or drier products was not discounted. Additional observations included that:

The conclusions of the report were not reported at that time by the American press.[65]

1898 Sampson Board's Court of Inquiry

1898 Sampson Board.

In order to find the cause of the explosion, a naval inquiry was ordered by the United States shortly after the incident, headed by Captain William T. Sampson. Ramón Blanco y Erenas, Spanish governor of Cuba, had proposed instead a joint Spanish-American investigation of the sinking.[66] Captain Sigsbee had written that "many Spanish officers, including representatives of General Blanco, now with us to express sympathy."[67] In a cable, the Spanish minister of colonies, Segismundo Moret, had advised Blanco "to gather every fact you can, to prove the Maine catastrophe cannot be attributed to us."[68]

According to Dana Wegner, who worked with U.S. Admiral Hyman G. Rickover on his 1974 investigation of the sinking, the Secretary of the Navy had the option of selecting a board of inquiry personally. Instead, he fell back on protocol and assigned the commander–in–chief of the North Atlantic Squadron to do so. The commander produced a list of junior line officers for the board. The fact that the officer proposed to be court president was junior to the captain of Maine, Wegner writes, "would indicate either ignorance of navy regulations or that, in the beginning, the board did not intend to examine the possibility that the ship was lost by accident and the negligence of her captain." Eventually, navy regulations prevailed in leadership of the board; Captain Sampson being senior to Captain Sigsbee.[69]

The board arrived on 21 February and took testimony from survivors, witnesses and divers (who were sent down to investigate the wreck). The Sampson Board produced its findings in two parts: the proceedings, which consisted mainly of testimonies, and the findings, which were the facts, as determined by the court. Between the proceedings and the findings, there was, what Wegner calls, "a broad gap", where the court "left no record of the reasoning that carried it from the often–inconsistent witnesses to [its] conclusion." Another inconsistency, according to Wegner, was that of only one technical witness, Commander George Converse, from the Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island. Captain Sampson read Commander Converse a hypothetical situation of a coal bunker fire igniting the reserve six–inch ammunition, with a resulting explosion sinking the ship. He then asked Commander Converse about the feasibility of such a scenario. Commander Converse "simply stated, without elaboration, that he could not realize such an event happening."[70]

The board concluded that Maine had been blown up by a mine, which, in turn, caused the explosion of her forward magazines. They reached this conclusion, based on the fact that the majority of witnesses stated that they had heard two explosions and that that part of the keel was bent inwards.[63] The official report from the board, which was presented to the Navy Department in Washington, D.C. on 21 March, specifically stated the following:

At frame 18 the vertical keel is broken in two and the flat keel is bent at an angle similar to the angle formed by the outside bottom plating. [...] In the opinion of the court, this effect could have been produced only by the explosion of a mine situated under the bottom of the ship at about frame 18, and somewhat on the port side of the ship." (part of the court's 5th finding)

"In the opinion of the court, the Maine was destroyed by the explosion of a submarine mine, which caused the partial explosion of two or more of her forward magazines." (the court's 7th finding) and

"The court has been unable to obtain evidence fixing the responsibility for the destruction of the Maine upon any person or persons." (the court's 8th finding).[51]

1911 Vreeland Board's Court of Inquiry

In 1910, the decision was made to do a second Court of Inquiry. The reasons for this were the recovery of the bodies of the victims, so they could be buried in the United States and also a desire for a more thorough investigation. The fact that the Cuban government wanted the wreck removed from Havana Harbor might also have played a role: it at least offered the opportunity to examine the wreck in greater detail than had been possible in 1898, while simultaneously obliging the Cubans. Wegner suggests that the fact that this inquiry could be held without the pending risk of war, which had been the case in 1898, lent it the potential for greater objectivity than had been possible previously. Moreover, since several of the members of the 1910 board would be certified engineers, they would be better qualified to evaluate their findings than the line officers of the 1898 board had been.[71]

Beginning in December 1910, a cofferdam was built around the wreck and water was pumped out, exposing the wreck by late 1911. Between 20 November and 2 December 1911, a court of inquiry headed by Rear Admiral Charles E. Vreeland inspected the wreck. They concluded that an external explosion had triggered the explosion of the magazines. However, this explosion was farther aft and lower powered than concluded by the Sampson Board. The Vreeland Board also found that the bending of frame 18 was caused by the explosion of the magazines, not by the external explosion.[63] After the investigation, the newly located dead were buried in Arlington National Cemetery and the hollow, intact portion of the hull of Maine was refloated and ceremoniously scuttled at sea on 16 March 1912.[72]

1974 Rickover investigation

Admiral Hyman G. Rickover became intrigued with the disaster and began a private investigation, in 1974. Using information from the two official inquiries, newspapers, personal papers and information on the construction and ammunition of Maine, it was concluded that the explosion was not caused by a mine. Instead, spontaneous combustion of coal in the bunker, next to magazine, was speculated to be the most likely cause. Rickover published a book about this investigation, How the Battleship Maine Was Destroyed, in 1976.[73]

In the 2001 book Theodore Roosevelt, the U.S. Navy and the Spanish–American War, Wegner revisits the Rickover investigation and offers additional details. According to Wegner, Rickover inquired with naval historians, at the Energy Research and Development Agency, about Maine, after reading an article in the Washington Star-News in which its author, John M. Taylor, claimed the U.S. Navy "made little use of its technically trained officers during its investigation of the tragedy." The historians, then working with the admiral on a study of the U.S. Navy's nuclear propulsion program, said they knew no details of Maine's sinking. When Rickover asked whether they could investigate the matter, the historians, now intrigued, agreed. Knowing of Rickover's "insistence on thoroughness," Wegner says, all relevant documents were obtained and studied. These included the ship's plans and weekly reports of the unwatering of Maine, in 1912, by the chief engineer for the project, William Furgueson. These reports included numerous photos, annotated by Furgueson with frame and strake numbers on corresponding parts of the wreckage. Two experts on naval demolitions and ship explosions were brought in. Since the photos showed "no plausible evidence of penetration from the outside," they believed the explosion originated inside the ship.[74]

Wegner suggests that a combination of naval ship design, and a change in the type of coal used to fuel naval ships, might have facilitated the explosion postulated by the Rickover study. Up to the time of Maine's building, he explains, common bulkheads separated coal bunkers from ammunition lockers and American naval ships burned primarily smokeless anthracite coal. With an increase in the number of steel ships, the U.S. Navy switched to bituminous coal, which burned at a hotter temperature than anthracite coal, and allowed ships to steam faster. However, Wegner explains, while anthracite coal is not subject to spontaneous combustion, bituminous coal is considerably more volatile. In fact, bituminous coal is known for releasing the largest amounts of firedamp, a dangerous and explosive mixture of gases. Firedamp is explosive at concentrations between 4% and 16%, with most violence at around 10%. A number of bunker fires had, in fact, been reported aboard U.S. warships before Maine's explosion, in several cases nearly sinking the ships. Wegner also cites a 1997 heat transfer study which concluded that a coal bunker fire, of the type suggested by Rickover, could have taken place and ignited the ship's ammunition.[75]

1998 National Geographic investigation

In 1998, National Geographic magazine commissioned an analysis by Advanced Marine Enterprises (AME). This investigation, done to commemorate the centennial of the sinking of USS Maine, was based on computer modeling, a technique unavailable for previous investigations. The results reached were inconclusive. National Geographic reported that "a fire in the coal bunker could have generated sufficient heat to touch off an explosion in the adjacent magazine [but] on the other hand, computer analysis also shows that even a small, handmade mine could have penetrated the ship's hull and set off explosions within."[76] The AME investigation, however, did note that "the size and location of the soil depression beneath the Maine 'is more readily explained by a mine explosion than by magazine explosions alone'".[64] The team noted that this was not "definitive in proving that a mine was the cause of the sinking" although it did "strengthen the case".[64]

Some experts, including Admiral Rickover's team and several analysts at AME, do not agree with the conclusion.[64] Wegner claims that technical opinion among the Geographic team was divided between its younger members, who focused on computer modeling results, and its older ones, who weighed their inspection of photos of the wreck with their own experience. He adds that the data AME used for its findings were flawed concerning Maine's design and ammunition storage. Wegner was also critical of the fact that participants in the Rickover study were not consulted until AME's analysis was essentially complete, far too late to confirm the veracity of data being used or engage in any other meaningful cooperation.[77]

2002 History Channel Unsolved History investigation

In 2002, the History Channel produced an episode of the Unsolved History documentaries titled "Death of the U.S.S. Maine" that used photographic evidence, naval experts, and archival information to determine the cause of the explosion. Its conclusion was that a coal bunker fire caused the explosion, and it identified a weakness or gap in the bulkhead separating the coal and powder bunkers that allowed the fire to spread from the coal bunker to the powder bunker.

False flag conspiracy theories

It has been suggested by some that the sinking was a false flag operation conducted by the U.S. This is the official view in Cuba. Cuban officials argue that the U.S. may have deliberately sunk the ship to create a pretext for military action against Spain. The wording on the Maine monument in Havana describes Maine's sailors as "victims sacrificed to the imperialist greed in its fervor to seize control of Cuba",[78] which alludes to the theory that U.S. agents deliberately blew up their own ship to create a pretext for declaring war on Spain.[79]

Eliades Acosta, a prominent Cuban historian, head of the Cuban Communist Party's Committee on Culture and former director of the Jose Marti National Library in Havana, offered the standard Cuban interpretation of the sinking of the Maine (that the United States itself probably did it) in an interview to The New York Times. But Acosta adds that "Americans died for the freedom of Cuba, and that should be recognized. But others wanted to annex Cuba, and that should be criticized. If relations with the United States improve, all these things can be re-examined more fairly".[80] This claim has also been made in Russia. Mikhail Khazin, a Russian economist who once ran the cultural section at Komsomolskaya Pravda, speaking in a 2008 Pravda interview of the need in troubled times to change the psychology of society, to unite it, said that "the Americans blew up their own battleship Maine."[81]

Operation Northwoods was a series of proposals prepared by Pentagon officials for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1962, setting out a number of proposed false flag operations that could be blamed on the Cuban Communists in order to rally support against them.[82][83] One of these suggested that a U.S. Navy ship be blown up in Guantanamo Bay deliberately. In an echo of the yellow press headlines of the earlier period, the specific phrase "A 'Remember the Maine' incident" was used.[83][84]

Raising and final sinking

Wreckage of Maine surrounded by a cofferdam, on 16 June 1911

For several years, Maine was left where she sank in Havana Harbor, although it was evident she would have to be removed sometime. Maine took up valuable space and the buildup of silt around her hull threatened to create a shoal. In addition, various patriotic groups wanted mementos of the ship. On 9 May 1910, Congress authorized funds for the removal of Maine, the proper interment in Arlington National Cemetery of the estimated 70 bodies still inside, and the removal and transport of the main mast to Arlington. Congress did not demand a new investigation into the sinking at that time.[85]

USS Maine sinking after being scuttled off the shore of Cuba

The Army Corps of Engineers built a cofferdam around Maine and pumped water out from inside it. By 30 June 1911, Maine's main deck was exposed. The ship forward of frame 41 was entirely destroyed; a twisted mass of steel out of line with the rest of the hull, all that was left of the bow, bore no resemblance to a ship. The rest of the wreck was badly corroded. Army engineers dismantled the damaged superstructure and decks, which were then dumped at sea. About halfway between bow and stern, they built a concrete and wooden bulkhead to seal the after-section, then cut away what was left of the forward portion. Holes were cut in the bottom of the after-section, through which jets of water were pumped, to break the mud seal holding the ship, then plugged, with flood cocks, which would later be used for sinking the ship.[86]

Worthington steam pumps were installed on the Ill-fated Maine. After lying on the bottom of Havana Harbor for fourteen years these pumps were found to be operational, and utilized to raise the ship. (Worthington Pump History, 1840-1940)

On 13 February 1912, the engineers let water back into the interior of the cofferdam. Three days later, the interior of the cofferdam was full and Maine floated. Two days after that, Maine was towed out by the tug Osceola. The bodies of its crew were then removed to the armored cruiser North Carolina for repatriation. On 16 March, Maine was towed four miles from the Cuban coast by Osceola, escorted by North Carolina and the light cruiser Birmingham. Its sea cocks were opened and it sank in 600 fathoms (3,600 ft; 1,100 m) of water to the salutes of Birmingham and North Carolina.[87][88] During the salvage, remains of 66 more were found, of whom only one (an engineering officer) was identified and returned to his home town; the rest were reburied at Arlington Cemetery making a total of 229 buried there.[89]


In 2000, the wreck of Maine was rediscovered by Advanced Digital Communications, a Toronto-based expedition company, in about 3,770 feet (1,150 m) of water roughly 3 miles (4.8 km) northeast of Havana Harbor. The company had been working with Cuban scientists and oceanographers from the University of South Florida College of Marine Science, on testing underwater exploration technology. The ship had been discovered east of where it was believed it had been scuttled; according to the researchers, during the sinking ceremony and the time it took the wreck to founder, currents pushed the Maine east until it came to rest at its present location. Before the team identified the site as Maine, they referred to the location as the "square" due to its unique shape, and at first they did not believe it was the ship, due to its unexpected location. The site was explored with an ROV. According to Dr. Frank Muller-Karger, the hull was not oxidized and the crew could "see all of its structural parts".[90] The expedition was able to identify the ship due to the doors and hatches on the wreck, as well as the anchor chain, the shape of the propellers, and the holes where the bow was cut off. Due to the 1912 raising of the ship, the wreck was completely missing its bow; this tell-tale feature was instrumental in identifying the ship. The team also located a boiler nearby, and a debris field of coal.[90]


Arlington, Annapolis, Havana

In February 1898, the recovered bodies of sailors who died on Maine were interred in the Colon Cemetery, Havana. Some injured sailors were sent to hospitals in Havana and Key West, Florida. Those who died in hospitals were buried in Key West. In December 1899, the bodies in Havana were disinterred and brought back to the United States for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.[91] In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson dedicated the USS Maine Mast Memorial to those who died. The memorial includes the ship's main mast. Roughly 165 were buried at Arlington—although the remains of one sailor were exhumed for his home town. Of the rest, only 62 were known.[89] Nine bodies were never recovered and 19 crewmen, several unidentified, are buried in Key West Cemetery under a statue of a U.S. Sailor holding an oar.[lower-alpha 3]

The explosion-bent fore mast of Maine is located at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.[92][93]

In 1926, the Cuban government erected a memorial to the victims of Maine on the Malecon, near the Hotel Nacional, to commemorate United States assistance in acquiring Cuban independence from Spain. The memorial was damaged by crowds, following the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, and the eagle on top was broken and removed.[94] The Communist government then added its own inscription blaming "imperialist voracity in its eagerness to seize the island of Cuba" for Maine's sinking.[94][95] The monument was cleaned and restored in 2013. However, the eagle's head was retained by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and the body by the city's museum.[96]

USS Maine Monument, New York City

Other memorials

Coordinates: 23°11′53″N 82°21′18″W / 23.198°N 82.355°W / 23.198; -82.355 (USS Maine)[102]

See also

Explanatory notes

  1. Texas was laid down after Maine, but commissioned first.
  2. Sources are contradictory about the size of the torpedoes carried by Maine. Friedman, Battleships and Reilly & Scheina specify eighteen-inch Whitehead torpedoes, but Gardiner, p. 139, and DANFS Maine (ACR-1) say 14-inch.
  3. Besides 1 set of remains removed from Arlington and reburied in 1899 and one set of remains recovered in 1911 and buried in hometown 2 other remains were also buried elsewhere as well. See US Army Quartermaster (1913). US Army Quartermaster Report of 1912. US War Department. p. 511. Retrieved 24 April 2010.


  1. Reilly & Scheina, p. 35.
  2. 1 2 Toppan, Andrew (6 October 2001). "World Battleships List: US Predreadnought Battleships". Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  3. "" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-05-19. External link in |title= (help)
  4. "Bituminous coal". 6 May 2015.
  5. 1 2 Miller, p. 158.
  6. Reilly & Scheina, p. 21.
  7. Friedman, Battleships, pp. 17, 20.
  8. 1 2 Reilly & Scheina, p. 24.
  9. Friedman, Battleships, pp. 20–21.
  10. "Theodore Delevan Wilson," Encyclopedia Americana.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 Friedman, Battleships, p. 21.
  12. Cowan & Sumrall, p. 19.
  13. 1 2 United States Navy (1890). "Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" (PDF). Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  14. Friedman, Battleships, pp. 17, 20–21, 23.
  15. Love, p. 357.
  16. Reilly & Scheina, p. 32.
  17. 1 2 3 4 Morley.
  18. Reilly & Scheina, pp. 28, 33.
  19. Cowan & Sumrall, p. 134.
  20. Parkinson, p. 125, 127.
  21. Putnam, p. 266.
  22. 1 2 3 4 Reilly & Scheina, p. 26.
  23. Putnam, pp. 266, 271.
  24. Putnam, p. 271.
  25. Brandt, Walther Immanuel (1920). "Steel and the new Navy, 1882–1895". University of Wisconsin: 72. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
  26. Reilly & Scheina, pp. 32–33.
  27. Reilly & Scheina, p. 28.
  28. 1 2 Paine, p. 100.
  29. Friedman, Battleships, p. 20.
  30. 1 2 "Battleship USS Maine (1895–1898)". 11 September 1905. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
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  38. Reilly & Scheina, pp. 26–28.
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  43. Krause, p. 209–10.
  44. DANFS Maine (ACR-1).
  45. Pater, p. 91.
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  47. United States Army Corps of Engineers, p. Plate 1.
  48. Crawford, Hayes & Sessions 1998.
  49. 1 2
  50. NHHC Survivors of USS Maine.
  51. 1 2 "Official Report of the Naval Court of Inquiry into the loss of the Battleship MAINE (Sampson Board)". 22 March 1898. Retrieved 22 January 2008.
  52. Musicant, pp. 143–44.
  53. Wisan, pp. 390–1. As quoted in Musicant, p. 144.
  54. Musicant, p. 144.
  55. Musicant, p. 152.
  56. Musicant, pp. 151–2.
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  62. Reilly & Scheina, p. 30.
  63. 1 2 3 4 McMorrow, Edward P. "What Destroyed the USS MAINE – An opinion". Retrieved 7 April 2010.
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  65. Hugh Thomas, Memoria del 98 (1997 edition), chapter 7 ("La explosión del Maine"), p. 104 (Spanish)
  66. O'Toole, p. 128.
  67. O'Toole, p. 11.
  68. O'Toole, p. 125.
  69. Wegner, pp. 11–12.
  70. Wegner, p. 12.
  71. Wegner, p. 13.
  72. Maine (2nd Class Battleship), NavSource Online: Battleship Photo Archive
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  74. Wegner, pp. 8–10.
  75. Wegner, p. 11.
  76. Allen, Thomas B. (February 1998). "Remember The Maine?". National Geographic 193 (2): 107.
  77. Wegner, pp. 14–15.
  78. Remembering the Maine, CNN, 15 February 1998
  79. Conner Gorry and David Stanley, "Cuba travel guide", ISBN 978-1-74059-120-1, 3rd edition, 2004, p. 82
  80. Rohter, Larry (14 February 1998). "Remember the Maine? Cubans See an American Plot Continuing to This Day". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  81. Mikhail Khazin, "In 3 years, most of our oligarchs will go bankrupt", an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, 29 October 2008 (Russian)
  82. Ruppe, David (1 May 2001). "U.S. Military Wanted to Provoke War With Cuba". ABC News.
  83. 1 2 Weiner, Tim (19 November 1997). "Declassified Papers Show Anti-Castro Ideas Proposed to Kennedy". The New York Times (New York City: NYTC). ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 16 February 2014. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
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  85. Rickover, p. 79.
  86. Rickover, pp. 82, 84.
  87. Allen, Francis J. (1998). "Honoring the Heroes: The Raising of the Wreck of the U.S. Battleship Maine". Warship International (Toldeo, OH: International Naval Record Organization) XXXV (4): 386–405. ISSN 0043-0374.
  88. Rickover, pp. 84, 86.
  89. 1 2 The USS Maine Mast Memorial, Arlington Cemetery website
  90. 1 2 Brecher, Elinor (10 December 2000). "Scientists Stumble Upon Sunken Maine". The Miami Herald. Archived from the original on 10 December 2000. Retrieved 27 June 2013. (subscription required)
  91. McSherry, Patrick. "The First Funeral of the Crew of the Battleship MAINE". Retrieved 28 March 2010.
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  93. "2001 Navy crew media guide" (PDF). p. 11. Retrieved 8 April 2010.
  94. 1 2 Baker, Christopher P., "Moon Cuba", Avalon Travel Publishing; 4th edition (9 October 2006), ISBN 978-1-56691-802-2
  95. The Rough Guide to Cuba ISBN 978-1-84353-811-0 p. 159
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  100. "Maine Relics Are Here". The Evening Post (Charleston, SC). 11 September 1913.
  101. Coughlin, Bill (2012). "U.S.S. Maine Memorial Marker.". Bill Coughlin. Retrieved 25 July 2014.
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Further reading

  • Allen, Thomas B. "Remember the Maine?" National Geographic, Vol. 193, No 2 (February 1998): 92–111.
  • Allen, Thomas B. ed. "What Really Sank the Maine?" Naval History 11 (March/April 1998): 30–39.
  • Blow, Michael. A Ship to Remember: The Maine and the Spanish-American War. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1992. ISBN 978-0-688-09714-1.
  • Foner, Phiip S. The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism 1895–1902. 2 Volumes, New York/London 1972 (very detailed with plenty of sources from US archives).
  • Samuels, Peggy and Harold. Remembering the Maine. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC and London 1995 ISBN 978-1-56098-474-0.
  • Weems, John Edward. The Fate of the Maine College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0-89096-501-6.

External links

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