Official Report

of the Naval Court of Inquiry into the loss of the

Battleship MAINE (Sampson Board)



The Sampson Board on the MANGROVE
The Sampson Board meets aboard the Lighthouse Tender MANGROVE. At the table from left to right, the men are Capt. French Chadwick, Capt. William Sampson, Lt. Cmdr. William Potter, Ens. Powelson, and Lt. Cmdr. Adolph Marix (judge advocate). Powelson was present to provide testimony based on the findings of the divers working aboard the wreckage of the MAINE
Click here for a Biography of Capt. William Sampson

Click here for a biography of Ensign Wilfred Van Nest Powelson

U.S.S. IOWA, First Rate,
Key West, Fla.,
Monday, March 21, 1898.

After full and mature consideration of all the testimony before it, the court finds as follows:

First - That the United States battleship MAINE arrived in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, on  January 25, 1898, and was taken to buoy 4, in from five and a-half to six fathoms of waterby the regular government pilot. The United States consul-general at Havana had notified  the authorities at that place the previous evening of the intended arrival of the MAINE.

Second - The state of discipline on board the MAINE was excellent, and all orders and regulations in regard to the care and safety of the ship were strictly carried out. All ammunition was stowed in accordance with prescribed instructions, and proper carewastaken whenever ammunition was handled. Nothing was stowed in any one of the magazinesor shellrooms which was not permitted to be stowed there.

The magazines and shellrooms were always locked after having been opened; and after the destruction of the MAINE the keys were found in their proper place in the Captain'scabinet, everything having been reported secure that evening at 8 P. M. The temperatureof the magazines and shellrooms was taken daily and reported. The only magazine whichhad an undue amount of heat was the after ten-inch magazine, and that did not explode at the time the MAINE was destroyed. The torpedo war heads were all stowed in the after partof the ship, under the wardroom, and neither caused nor participated in the destruction ofthe MAINE.

The dry gun cotton primers and detonators were stowed in the cabin aft, and remote from the scene of the explosion. Waste was carefully looked after on board the MAINE to obviate danger. Special orders in regard to this had been given by the commanding officer.Varnishes, dryers, alcohol and other combustibles of this nature were stowed on or above the main deck, and could not have had anything to do with the destruction of the MAINE.The medical stores were stowed aft, under the wardroom, and remotefrom the scene of the explosion. No dangerous stores of any kind were stowed below in any of the other staterooms.

The coal bunkers were inspected daily. Of those bunkers adjacent to the forward magazines and shellrooms, four were empty, namely, B3, B4, B5, B6. A 15 had been in use that day, and A16 was full of New River coal. This coal had been carefully inspected before receiving on board. The bunker in which it had been stowed was accessible on three sides at all times, and the fourth side at this time, on account of bunkers B4 and B6 being empty. This bunker, A16, had been inspected that day by the engineer officer on duty. The fire-alarms in the bunkers were in working order, and there had never been a case of spontaneous combustion of coal on board the MAINE.

The two after boilers of the ship were in use at the time of the disaster, but for auxiliary purposes only, with a comparatively low pressure of steam, and being tended by a reliable watch. These boilers could not have caused the explosion of the ship. The four forward boilers have since been found by the divers and are in fair condition.

The finding of the court of inquiry was reached after twenty-three days of continuous labor, on the 21st of March instant, and having been approved on the 22d by the commander-in-chief of the United States naval force on the North Atlantic station was transmitted to the Executive.

On the night of the destruction of the MAINE everything had been reported secure for the night at 8 P.M. by reliable persons, through the proper authorities, to the commandingofficer. At the time the MAINE was destroyed the ship was quiet, and therefore leastliable to accident caused by movements from those on board.

Third - The destruction of the MAINE occurred at 9:40 P.M. on February 15, 1898, in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, she being at the time moored to the same buoy to which she hadbeen taken upon her arrival. There were two explosion of a distinctly different character, with a very short but distinct interval between them, and the forward part of the ship was lifted to a marked degree at the time of the first explosion. The first explosion was more inthe nature of a report, like that of a gun, while the second explosion was more open,prolonged and of greater volume. The second explosion was, in the opinion of the court, caused by the partial explosion of two or more of the forward magazines of the MAINE.

Fourth - The evidence bearing upon this, being principally obtained from divers, did not enable the court to form a definite conclusion as to the condition of the wreck, althoughitwas established that the after part of the ship was practically intact and sank in that condition a very few minutes after the destruction of the forward part. The following facts in regard to the forward part of the ship are, however, established by the testimony:

That portion of the port side of the protective deck which extends from about frame 30 to about frame 41 was blown up aft and over to port. The main deck, from about frame 30 to about frame 41, was blown up aft and slightly over to starboard, folding the frame forward part of the middle superstructure over and on top of the after part.

This was, in the opinion of the court, caused by the partial explosion of two or more of the forward magazines of the MAINE.

Fifth - At frame 17 the outer shell of the ship, from a point eleven and one half feet from the middle line of the ship and six feet above the keel when in its normal position, has been forced up so as to be now about four feet above the surface of the water; therefore, about thirty-four feet above where it would be had the ship been uninjured. The outside bottomplating is bent into a reversed V shape, the after wing of which, about fifteen feet broad and thirty-two feet in length (from frame 17 to frame 25), is doubled back upon itselfagainst the continuation of the same plating extending forward.

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. This break is now about six feet below the surface of the water, and about thirty feet above its normal position.

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.

Frames 17, 18, and 19

Above and to the right of the small boat, plating at frames 17, 18 and 19 protrudes above the water surface.

Sixth - The court finds that the loss of the MAINE on the occasion named was not in any respect due to fault or negligence on the part of any of the officers or members of the crew of said vessel.

Seventh - 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.

Eighth - The court has been unable to obtain evidence fixing the responsibility for the destruction of the MAINE upon any person or persons.

W. T. SAMPSON, Captain U.S.N.,
President.

A. MARIX, Lieut.-Commander U.S.N.,
Judge Advocate.

The court, having finished the inquiry it was ordered to make, adjourned at 11 A.M. to await the action of the convening authority.

W. T. SAMPSON, Captain U.S.N.,
President.

A. MARIX, Lieut.-Commander U.S.N.
Judge Advocate.

U.S. Flagship NEW YORK,
March 22, 1898
Off Key West, Fla.

The proceedings and findings of the court of inquiry in the above case are approved.

M. SICARD,
Rear-Admiral, Commander-in-chief of the United Naval Force on the North Atlantic Station.



Bibliography:

American Navy, The. (Chicago: Geo. M. Hill Company, 1898.) (image).

Green, Nathan C., The War with Spain. (Baltimore: International News and Book Co., 1898).


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