Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sinking of the USS Maine

The United States Navy has always maintained a presence around the world and the Caribbean islands are in particular of interest for both law enforcement reasons and for keeping the peace. Cuba was always one of the islands that came with issues and the modern day shows that this has never abated.

But in 1898 the battleship Maine found itself here during the Cuban War of Independence, a fight against the Spanish to take the island for the Cuban people once and for all. The USA was deployed on the side of Cuba to render whatever assistance was deemed necessary following accusations of brutality against the civilians.

The capital city, Havana, was home to a large harbour and it was here that the Maine was at anchor on the night of 15th February 1898 with her crew sleeping soundly. Suddenly a massive explosion ripped into the night air and caused the forward end of the ship to tear apart. The aft section sank slowly into the harbour and rested on the bed of the harbour.

266 people died that night with only 89 survivors. The fallout from this disaster resulted in all suspicion falling on the Spanish. Investigations concluded that it was a magazine explosion caused by a torpedo or a mine and heated tensions between Spain and the USA led to the Spanish-America War just two months after the sinking with the cry Remember the Maine!

Although the war was over by August the Maine was still wrapped in controversy as nobody could decide the cause of the sinking. Whether it was accidental detonation of her own explosives or an act of aggression by a foreign power, the mystery cause of the sinking of the Maine has never truly been solved.

The wreck of the Maine was eventually raised from Havana harbour in 1912 and following the removal of bodies she was towed out to sea and scuttled. Her wreck was rediscovered in 2000 further away than where it was said to have gone down and explored by ROV.

Today the bodies of 229 of the Maine’s crew are at rest in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the mast of the ship, recovered from the wreck, towering above them (below). Another 19 are buried at Key West Cemetery under a statue of a sailor holding an oar (above and left).

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