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Introduction To The USS Maine History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The USS Maine (ACR-1) was a US naval warship of the 19th century named after the Maine State. The 6,682-ton vessel was initially referred to as the Armored Cruiser. The design and subsequent construction of the warship was approved by the US Congress in 1886. The vessel was then commissioned and made available to the US Navy in 1895). In January, 1898, this warship got dispatched to Havana to defend American interests during the Cuban revolution against the then government of Spain.

The primary objective of this paper is to discuss the sinking of the USS Maine ship and highlight some of the theories suggested to explain the possible causes of its destruction. The essay shall also touch briefly on the American victory at Manila Bay and briefly discuss some of the effects brought about by the sinking of the USS Maine and the subsequent war on the navy and the United States perception on global expansion.

The Sinking of the USS Maine

The USS Maine is said to have sank in February 1898, following the explosion of its forward gun-powder magazines. Approximately 75 percent of its crew i.e. 260 men on board, lost their lives during the explosion. Only eighty nine crew members survived, with eighteen of them being US navy officers. The Americans highly suspected the Spanish for causing the explosion and subsequent sinking of the USS Maine. This precipitated a war between the two countries as a show of retaliation against the action. Minimal consideration was given to the probability that the explosion could have resulted from an internal fault within the vessel. To date, the exact causes of the explosion have not yet been unearthed, due to the conflicting findings of the investigations conducted in 1898, 1912 and 1970. The 1970 investigation however linked the explosion to internal causes resulting from spontaneous combustion within the coal chambers.

Causes of Sinking

Following a series of investigations into the possible causes of the explosion, several hypotheses have been formulated in an attempt to unearth the causes. One theory put across by the investigations suggested the possibility of a mine explosion underneath the warship causing serious explosions of the gun powder magazines. The other theories suggest that possibility of spontaneous combustion within the coal chambers resulting into a fierce fire that allegedly ignited the magazines.

The External Mine Theory

In as much as all investigations conducted unanimously established that the USS Maine exploded due to the detonation of its gunpowder magazines, the causes of this explosion have been debated ever since without conclusive findings. However, some forms of evidence link the overall destruction of the USS Maine to an external mine explosion. Findings of the divers who were investigating the causes of the explosion also linked it to an external source based on the nature of damage caused to the vessel i.e. the bottom plates had carved inward as opposed to the outward carving expected if the explosion had resulted from an internal source.

Most Americans made the assumption that the Spanish squadron had initially planted a mine as a possible way of preventing the then ongoing efforts by the United States to take over Cuba. This perception acted as a loophole to initiate the Spanish-American battle as previously wished for by most Americans. The big rhetoric concerning the alleged detonation of the mine still remains, with most Americans linking the explosion to either an accidental detonation, an act by insurgents, or through an insubordinate Spaniard or even by the Spanish squadrons under orders from the Spanish capital.

Other findings from the investigations suggested that the mine could have been planted to defend the bay and accidentally drifted toward the USS Maine. Suggestions also indicate that the mine could have been placed by Cuban insurgents with a sole aim of diverting the Cuba’s attention by triggering a battle between Spain and the United States.

Critics have however disputed this theory since there were no dead fish observed at the harbor following the explosion. Opponents claim that the fish could have died following a mine explosion in their natural ecosystem due to the pollution resulting from the detonation. Secondly, no witnesses reported observing a jet of water under high pressure being thrown up during the explosion. This is a common phenomenon in scenarios involving underwater explosions. A study by contemporaneous experts also linked the inward curvature of the bottom plates to up thrust resistive forces that acted on the sinking vessel, ruling out the possibility of an internal explosion. Based on these and other arguments, many questions still remain unanswered concerning the possibility of a mine explosion.

Spontaneous Combustion within the Coal Chambers

The destruction of the USS Maine could be linked to the spontaneous combustion of coal within the bunkers, causing a fierce fire that resulted in the detonation of the gunpowder magazines. The USS Maine had been designed and constructed in such a way that the coal chambers and the gunpowder magazines shared a common un-lagged steel wall. To further support this evidence, several naval ships during the American-Spanish battle sustained varying levels of damage resulting from the ignition of bituminous coal within their bunkers. It was quite difficult to detect such fires because they could go on for several hours and at negligible temperatures, insufficient to activate the alarm instrumentations on board.

This theory on the other hand has been disputed from several quarters based on the fact that the ship was inspected several times by qualified personnel, for safety certification on the fateful day. Secondly, the probability of the spontaneous self-ignition of the coal was almost zero based on the fact that this possibility decreases with time i.e. the older the coal, the less the chances of self ignition. Finally, the low-volatile coal onboard had been exposed to air for about two months and was never known to exhibit the self ignition property.

The American victory at Manila Bay

This battle took place on May 1, 1898, in the course of the Spanish-American War. The American Squadron under the command of one Dewey George engaged the Spanish Squadron in a fierce battle before eventually winning the battle. This victory in Philippines, Manila Bay was the first major achievement during the war. During this period the Spanish squadron had inferior warships equipped with obsolete weapons compared to those of their American counterparts.

They only relied on seven unarmored naval vessels for the battle. The US navy at this time had a wide range of protected cruisers, largely made of modern This state of affairs coupled with an undermanned Spanish fleet in Manila minimized their chances of winning the battle. The Spanish sailors at this stage were also inexperienced, with little or no naval and/or gunnery training. Their inexperience was based on the fact that the sailors had stayed idle for over one year, without major war engagements (Koenig, 1975).

Further attempts by Spanish squadrons to attack the Americans proved futile. Even with several successful hit-and-run attacks by the Spanish squadrons, no American naval officer is believed to have succumbed to them. Several Spanish casualties were reported in the course of the battle. As a sign of victory in the Spanish-American war, the US naval squadron under the commandership of Dewey successfully completed the total destruction and demolition of the Spanish batteries and fleet and took over the protection of most Spanish hospitals.

This was partly attributed to the marine forces that had landed at Cavite in May 1898. The resistance encountered at the forts at this time was relatively weak. This weakness made the US Marines to use only a fraction of its guns and other associated weapons on the Cavite munitions store, detonating its gunpowder magazines and ending the gunfire from the Spanish squadron.

The American victory at Manila bay was also attributed to the unwary condition of the Spanish naval officers and the timing of the war. This made the Spanish to restrict their movements to the swallow waters so as to enable his team to swim over whenever the circumstances required them to escape from the looming attacks. The mines planted by the Spanish at the mouth of Manila Bay could not limit the entrance by the American warships since the channels were too wide. This factor also worked to the disadvantage of the Spaniards during the attacks, making the American squadrons to carry the day.

Impact on the navy and the U.S. philosophy of global expansion

The sinking of the USS Maine had several impacts on the US Navy and the federal government with most international observers and analysts linking it to a false conspiracy of the highest order. Most of these critics argued that the Americans allegedly blew up their warship in order to accomplish self interests, specifically to find a basis for their military attacks against Spain.

These military actions were aimed at ensuring that the United States retains it control over Cuba, which was then under threat by the Spanish. Some of the international critics supporting the flag conspiracy theory include Khazin Mikhail (2008) – a Russian economist, Williamson Richardson (2009) – the then bishop of St. Pius X Society, and Cuban Acosta Eliades (New York Times, 1998) among others.

Based on these allegations, the United States philosophy of global expansion has been tainted a bad image by most international observers. It is argued that Americans can go great lengths, even where the lives of its citizens, or the country’s sovereignty is at stake. All these steps taken by the Americans are usually aimed at ensuring the United States retains its image as a global superpower and also maintains its dominance over the developing Third World Countries.

The sinking of the USS Maine together with the Spanish-American war to some extent had a positive impact on the US Navy. The victory at Manila Bay was used as a sign to show the level of preparedness by the Americans for any naval bodies, in terms of their fully trained and experienced marine forces, their sophisticated weapons and other military equipment and the mode of managing their naval operations during wars. This made them to earn respect from the countries which were involved directly or indirectly in the war. Other than Spain, the other nations indirectly involved include China (Hong Kong Bay), Cuba (through Havana Bay) and Philippines (the battle ground at Manila Bay).


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