Battleship Maine

By Patrick McSherry


Dewey's Flagship, OLYMPIA needs your help!! Click here to learn how you can help!
Mission to Havana ||| Accounts of the Destruction |||  Theories on the Loss

Report of the US Court of Inquiry  ||| McKinley Reports on the loss to Congress

The Funeral ||| How Likely was a Coal Bunker Fire? ||| Salvage and Final Voyage

Crew Roster
Biography of Capt. Charles Sigsbee ||| Biography of Lt. George Blow ||| Biography of Wilfred van Nest Powelson
Biography of Pvt. WIlliam Anthony, U.S.M.C.
Lt. Blow's 1st Feb 16 letter ||| Lt. Blow's 2nd Feb. 16 letter ||| Thomas Troy's Jan. 23 letter
Obituary of Lt. John Blandin ||| John Blandin Writes Home
ChaplainChidwick's Letter of Condolence to the family of John Bennett, U.S.M.C.
Charles Hamilton's Feb. 5 letter ||| Biography of Surgeon Lucien Heneberger ||| Biography of John Bell, Steward
Biography of John Henry "Dick" Turpin ||| Biography of Charles Ehler Johnson (Charles Dorwart), U.S.M.C.
Diver Charles Morgan Describes His Descent into the MAINE's Wreckage
The USS MAINE lives on - in pieces ||| Actual photo of the MAINE exploding! ||| The USS MAINE stamp
The MAINE's  wreckage found! ||| Ring a MAINE memorial bell right here!
The New York Times Reports on the loss of the USS MAINE ||| The view of the next generation
The Biography of Gen William Black, U.S. Corps of Engineers, involved in raising the MAINE
The MAINE monument in Havana, Cuba
The Filming of the PBS Documentary "The Search for the MAINE"
A Comparison of the Loss of the MAINE and the Loss of the World Trade Center
An Alternate theory on the cause of the explosion (sense of humor required)
Click here for the MAINE's profile and deck plan
1/350 Plan and Profile (BIG .pdf file - 800 Kb)

(Courtesy of Jose Pillet - Requires substantial download time and Adobe Acrobat reader)
Click here for a link to Albert Shaw's April, 1898 Review of Reviews article on the loss of the MAINE

Click here for the (state of ) Maine Public Broadcasting Company's page on the Battleship MAINE

GENERAL:

The USS MAINE was one of the first United States battleships to be constructed. The vessel's destruction in the Cuba Harbor of Havana was a catalyst in bringing war between the United States and Spain. The loss of the ship was tremendous shock to the United States since it represented virtually the state of the art of naval shipbuilding in the United States, only recently eclipsed by newer vessels. "Remember the Maine" became the battlelecry of the United States Military Forces in 1898.

BACKGROUND:

The USS MAINE was the second "second-class battleship" constructed for the U.S. Navy. The construction of the vessel was authorized by the U.S. Congress on August 3, 1886. MAINE took nearly nine years to complete. Three years had been spent waiting for her armor plating alone.

The USS MAINE was unique at the time in that she was purely the product of American naval design, and was built at a U.S. Naval Yard. By contrast, her contemporary, the USS TEXAS, was the product of a design competition, based on an English design, and constructed by a naval contractor. In fact, the USS MAINE is the largest vessel to be actually built in a U.S. Navy Yard.

The new battleship MAINE was a showpiece for the United States Navy and was given many ceremonial tasks. For instance, it took part in the 1897 Mardi Gras ceremony in New Orleans, Louisiana along with the USS TEXAS. Between June and December 1897, the vessel could be found cruising off the coast of the United States between Virginia and Connecticut. On December 15, 1897, she got underway, heading south toward Florida and her final destiny.

The USS MAINE arrived in Cuba's Havana harbor on January 24, 1898. Because of propaganda from the U.S. newspapers and the Cuban Insurgents, the situation in Cuba was not fully understood in Washington DC. The U.S. Consul in Havana, Fitzhugh Lee, was also somewhat out of touch with the country in which he was living. In response to a small protest by Spanish officers, not affecting the United States, Washington sent the USS MAINE, under the command of Capt. Charles Sigsbee, to Cuba on a "friendly" visit. At about 9:30 PM on February 15, the MAINE was shattered by two separate explosions and rapidly sank. Two hundred and fifty-two men were killed. Ammunition continued to explode for hours after the blast.

After the disaster, U.S. newspapers were quick to place responsibility for the loss on Spain. In spite of the newspaper propaganda, an official court of inquiry was held by the U.S. Navy to determine the cause of the blasts. The Navy concluded that the ship was sunk by a mine which ignited the forward magazines, but stated that it could not fix responsibility upon any person or persons, including the government or military forces of Spain. Regardless of the reality of the situation, the loss of the USS MAINE had turned American popular opinion strongly in favor of war with Spain. Despite of his efforts to avoid war, President McKinley finally decided to militarily intervene in Cuba to end the ongoing unrest and "liberate" Cuba from Spanish rule. Later studies have indicated the possibility that the USS MAINE sunk as a result of a coal bunker fire adjacent to one of its ammunition magazines, and not a result of a Spanish mine.

The USS MAINE rested on the floor of Havana Harbor until 1911. In that year, a cofferdam was built around the wreck. The hull was patched enough to enable it to float. Based on what was found, a second inconclusive court of inquiry was held, one of many to come. The wreck was then towed out of the harbor and sunk in sea. It now lies at a depth of thirty-six hundred feet.

Many momentos of the USS MAINE still exist. The mainmast is in Arlington National Cemetery, just outside of Washinton DC, and her foremast is near the seawall at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. One of her bow anchors is located in Reading, Pennsylvania's City Park at the first block of North 11th Street. Her capstan rests in the Battery in Charleston, South Carolina, and her bow scroll is in Bangor, Maine. Many pieces of the USS MAINE were made into small collectibles such as ashtrays, plaques, models, etc.

ADVANTAGES/DISADVANTAGES:

The USS MAINE was the United States' first armored ship to be authorized and the second to be completed. The USS MAINE and the USS TEXAS represented a great step forward in American naval technology.

One major problem with this type of vessel, and a common problem aboard warships of the time period, was that the coal bunkers were used as additional "armor" to protect the magazines. The bunkers were placed around the perimeter of the ship, and magazines were placed inboard of this extra layer of protection. Spontaneous combustion fires in coal bunkers were a possibility, though, unlike some naval vessel, MAINE had no history of coal bunker fires. A burning coal bunker on the opposite side of a bulkhead from a magazine full of ammunition presented a real and great danger.

Interestingly, when the USS MAINE was finally launched and loaded with supplies, it was found that the bow had a draft three feet greater than the stern. This imbalance was the result of a mistake in the loading plan. Forty-eight tons of ballast had to be installed near the stern to put the ship back on an even keel. The USS MAINE therefore had a greater draft than planned as well as valueless additional weight.

MAINE was caught between two separate roles in the navy and could not actually fulfill either. She did not have the armor nor the firepower to slug it out as a ship-of-the-line as was the intended role of a battleship. She did not have the speed required to serve as cruiser. Cruisers were intended to be commerce raides, and therefore had to have guns large enough to attack anything smaller (which MAINE had) but she did not have the speed to be able to get away from something larger, as was expected of a cruiser. As a result, her intended role in the navy was ill-defined.

Her coal capacity was quite low at 895 tons (significantly lower capacity than either that of a cruiser such as OLYMPIA or a battleship like OREGON) As a result the length of time she could spend at sea was limited, and her ability to run at flank speed, where coal consumption increased dramatically, was limited. MAINE's overhanging turrets did not permit her to be coaled at sea from a collier without risk of damage to both her and the collier except in the smoothest of seas. This compounded her range/coal capacity problem

The greatest problem MAINE faced was her odd turret configuration. The guns were not counterbalanced. If both sets were turned one direction, the ship heeled over that direction, reducing the range. Firing the turret on one side of the ship toward the opposite side of the ship was possible, and intended. This required firing across the deck and through the superstructure. The vacuum created by the passing shell would damage deck and superstructure alike. Also if there was a mistake and the gun was fired prematurely, MAINE could actually shoot itself!


TECHNOTES:


Classification: Second Class Battleship (formerly Armored Cruiser, ACR-1)
Keel Laid: October 11, 1888
Comissioned: September 17, 1895
Rig: Two military masts, planned sails never provided.
Armament: Four 10" guns in two turrets
Six 6" guns
Seven 6-pounders
Eight 1-pounders
Several Colt Machine Guns (for landing parties)
Four 14" surface torpedo tubes
Contractor: Designed by the U.S. Navy Bureau of Construction, and built
at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York.
Length: 319 feet 
Beam: 57 feet
Mean draft: 22 feet
Displacement: 6,682 tons
Complement: Under the command of Captain Charles Sigsbee
Engine type: Twin screw vertical inverted triple expansion engines,
manufactured by Quintard Iron Works, and generating 9,000 hp.
The two propellers were 15 feet in diameter.
Speed: 15 knots
Coal bunker capacity: 896 tons


 Bibliography:

(As a service to our readers, clicking on titles in red will take you to that book on Amazon.com)

Blow, Michael, A Ship to Remember , (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1992).

Clerk of Joint Comittee on Printing, "The Abridgement of Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress", Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899. 4 vols. (all are documents relating to the war).

Harris, Lt. Cmdr. Brayton, "The Age of the Battleship", New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1965.

Jeffers, H. Paul, Colonel Roosevelt: Theodore Roosevelt Goes to War, 1897-1898. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996).

Millis, Walter, The Martial Spirit. (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1931).

Naval History Department, Navy Department, "Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships", Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1959.

Peña, Félix Alfonso (location of the MAINE's bow anchor)

Samuels, Peggy and Harold, Remembering the Maine. (Washington: The Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.


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