18 November 2014: Today marks the anniversary of the launching of America's first "true" battleship, USS Maine. Yes, that Maine! The one that blew up mysteriously in Havana Harbor in February 1898. The one credited with the start of the Spanish American War. We'll talk more about the demise of the ship - the first one to be named for the state of Maine - in February, as appropriate. But first, a word or two on the great ship, a so-called "2nd class" battleship.
Her launch was a "big deal" - a major capital ship that would show the world American might where ever she sailed. And while she was launched in 1889, she was not commissioned for several years, 1895. Her sponsor ("godmother") was Alice Tracy Wilmerding, granddaughter of the Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Tracy.
The ship, at her launching, was touted as the cutting edge of modern naval warships, but by the time she was completed and commissioned, she was out of date, not as fast as she was designed to be, and had too narrow a beam to handle bad weather safely. It had been anticipated that she would be commissioned within two years of her launch, but delays in procuring the nickel steel armor plate cost the Brooklyn Navy Yard another two years and the ship was not commissioned until 1895.
She was armed with sponson mounted gun turrets on each side, the superstructure cut away to allow her to fire both forward and aft, as well as across her deck. She did not have full masts as the reliability of steam engines had greatly increased by then. She was not strongly enough built to allow her to ram an enemy ship without sustaining serious damage herself. Ramming had been a tactic which began to appear in regular use with the advent of iron-clad warships (Monitor vs. CSS Virgina (Merrimac)). But in spite of these short comings, Maine was still considered a major advance in American warship design.
She was sent to Cuba to ease tensions there and protect American interests in the struggle between Spain and Cuba (Cuban revolt against Spain) and, while anchored in Havana Harbor, mysteriously exploded in the dark hours of 15 February 1898. As I said, we'll have more on that in February.
"Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!" Rallying cry following the demise of the ship.