“A Ship to Remember” Michael Blow

Finished this book, which is about the Spanish-American War of 1898. The war was made virtually inevitable by the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbor. The sinking followed a time of increasing tension due to the popular support of the Cuban insurgents rebelling against Spain.

The US commission at the time ascribed the explosion to a mine. The Spanish commission, at the time considered to be a desultory investigation, named it an accident due to crew negligence.  The main point in favor of a mine was the raising of the keel 31 feet above its normal position.

The war followed and the book describes the war and the two naval victories that capped it off – Manila Bay in the Philippines and off Santiago Harbor which destroyed much of the Spanish fleet. The fight over war aims afterward is also discussed.

The final chapter is a followup on the Maine, as it was eventually raised and studied, then finally sunk off Cuba in 1911. It also looks at subsequent theories about the explosion. One interesting piece was the theory that the upward buckle of the keel was not due to the explosion being under it, but due to the two sinking parts of the ship pinching together. Even the official investigation in 1911 bought into this somewhat, even though they found additional evidence for mine explosion in a different place further back. Presumably this mine caused the magazines to erupt in a secondary explosion.  A more modern investigation came to the opposite conclusion, but did not try to explain the evidence found in 1911.  In all, I agree with the author that there is no clear-cut decision to be made. The accident backers can’t explain why the several layers of fail-safes all failed and no testimony was found to confirm a fire. The mine backers have the problem that the main suspects, the Spanish, did not want war to break out.

The book is an interesting look at the last decade of the 19th and the first decade of the 20th.


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