The Destruction of the Battleship MAINE -

Spanish Accounts


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Naval Ensign Don Guillermo Ferragut y Short's Account
Pilot Julian Garcia Lopez's Account
Auxiliary Pilot, Pascual Ferrer y Juan's Account

General:

On February 15, 1898, the USS MAINE exploded and sank in Havana Harbor. What caused the sinking has been a subject of debate ever since. What is known is that, in the tragedy, 260 American naval personnel were killed or wounded. Here are several first-hand accounts of the sinking as told by Spanish personnel in Havana.

Spanish accounts are not as direct as the American accounts for the simple reason that the Spanish forces were not expecting the explosion and therefore were not watching for it! The accounts are generally of reacting to the sound of the blast, and concern the aid rendered. Some responses are from specific questions from the investigators who asked questions such as if there was any movement of the water (which may indicate a blast prior to the main explosion, whether any dead fish were seen (also indicative of an external explosion)

These accounts are written partially in first person and partially in third person. They are being quoted from the report of the Spanish commission that investigated the cause of explosion. In addition, it would appear that the English translation is lacking in nuance.

The Accounts:

Account of Naval Ensign Don Guillermo Ferragut y Short

Ferragut was a native of Palma, Majorca. At the time of the explosion, he was 22 years old. He was serving on the Spanish transport LEGAZPI. The following is taken his disposition to the Spanish commission that was investigating the loss of the MAINE

 “When asked to state what he knew concerning the case before the court, he said that he was doing guard duty on board of his vessel, which was anchored very near the MAINE, and that being in the officers’ room at about half past 9 o'clock p. m., he heard a great noise, accompanied by a very bright light, which was caused beyond a doubt by a tremendous explosion, and also by the fall of objects on board and by the falling of a great number of glasses, which from the very first led him to suppose that a disaster had occurred on board [the LEGAZPI]. A moment’s reflection, however, was sufficient to convince him that the disaster had not occurred on board of his own vessel. He immediately ran up on deck and got there in time to see the things thrown into the air by the explosion. lt produced a horrible effect upon him to see the  MAINE all on fire, while continual detonations and explosions of minor importance were going on, these latter explosions succeeding the first great one. He quickly ran to rouse the crew and they were already up and came to meet him, all of them without one exception, being desirous to lend their services once. They immediately went in the fishing boat and the fifth boat, being unable to go in the third boat because that was entirely submerged, They got into the boats with extraordinary rapidity; less than five minutes elapsed between the time of the explosion and the time when the last of the boats was there rendering aid. It was afterwards learned that our boats were the first to arrive. We sent our small boat to the side of the Machina in case the captain of that vessel desired to come on board. Being asked whether at the time when the explosion took place, or soon afterwards, he had observed any motion in the water and whether the vessel suffered any shock or shaking up thereby, he said that he had not noticed anything of the kind whatever. Being asked what further measures he took, he said: That with the men who remained with him he cleared the vessel to make ready for a fire because many inflammable objects kept falling on board of the LEGAZPI.

 As soon as these precautions had been taken, he observed that the third boat was sinking because a board had been knocked out of it, whereupon he ordered that every effort should be made to prevent its loss; that the damage was caused by a piece of iron apparently from a platform such as those which are used for getting on board, and that also a large piece fell on the awning, which, owing to the fact that it was seen at once, caused only a few burns and other slight injuries: moreover, many glasses in the skylights were broken. The boats of the vessel lent, according to the statements of the men in charge of them, the following services: The first made fast to the  MAINE aft, took up a wounded man, three of the third boat, and three more from one of the American boats, without allowing it to make fast alongside; in view of the fact that the surgeon of the vessel was on shore, he sent it to the infirmary of the Machina. He made another trip without any result. The fifth, which was the first that left, found on its trip two men in the water, whom it picked up, and on reaching the vessel, another, whom it turned over to the first boat.

 After an explosion, which was one of those that followed, an officer of the ship from the  MAINE, speaking Spanish, ordered them not to remain fastened alongside. The CHINCHORRO (fishing boat) took up 7 men, one of whom was very seriously wounded, and took them on board; they were supplied with clothing and were sent to the Machina to have their wounds treated. All the boats, moreover, went around the vessel several times for the purpose of exploration and then they all retired; ours did the same. A boat of the  MAINE afterwards came alongside with 4 sailors in it, who were supplied with clothing by the Spanish seamen, who gave them their own, and who also gave them brandy, and sent them to the Machina in one of the ship's boats, the boat of the MAINE remaining on board.”


The account of Pilot Julian Garcia Lopez:

Julian Garcia Lopez was the pilot that brought the MAINE into Havana harbor. His statement are important in that some claimed, without evidence, that the pilot deliberately placed the MAINE over a mine. In this very brief statement, given to the Spanish Commission on the loss of the MAINE, he gives some idea as to how the MAINE came to be at the location where it eventually sunk.

Being asked if he had entered the battle ship MAINE in the port, and if he had, to tell what he knew in regard to the matter, he said that on the 20th of last January he was on duty and it fell to him to receive an American man-of war; but that, as it was not expected, he did not know what vessel it was; that it passed into port, and, according to the general instructions for all ships of war, after showing on the map to the Maine's captain the buoy of section No. 4, which was vacant, and receiving his approval, the pilot fastened the vessel there between the German man-of-war which was in port and the ALFONSO XII, in 36 feet of water, the ship drawing 22, as he was informed. Being asked if he had anything more to add or declare, he said no, since he considered of no importance the inquiries made by the commander as to whether the boat was expected, to which he answered no; whether he considered himself capable of bringing the vessel in, to which he answered yes: and whether they would be well received, to which he answered yes, since Havana was a cultured town, and they need not fear anything if they behaved themselves."


The Account of Auxiliary Pilot, Pascual Ferrer y Juan:

Pascual Ferrer y Juan was another pilot who had brought the steamer CITY OF WASHINGTON into the harbor and had moored her near the MAINE.

"Asked if he belonged to the corporation of Pilots of the Port of Havana, he said no, but he is an auxiliary and coast pilot. Asked if it was he that brought in the American steamer CITY OF WASHINGTON on the night of the fifteenth of February, and, if so, at what o’clock did he do it, he said that, as auxiliary and substitute, it was his turn to admit the steamer CITY OF WASHINGTON, about eight o'clock entering it into port and leaving it fastened to the buoy on the port side of the Maine about nine o'clock. Asked if he noticed anything irregular on the Maine, he said no, that the MAINE was lighted with electricity, and music of accordions and peoples’ voices were heard.

Asked to state what he may know about the explosion, he said that after anchoring the WASHINGTON a Cuban young lady, who spoke English and who was a passenger, went to the cabin (cámara), where she began to play the piano, and shortly after half past nine o'clock, while listening to her, he heard on the Maine a noise as of many rockets, but nothing came outside; that on looking he saw a light towards the bow and simultaneously a noise like two cannon reports; likewise inside, followed by a tremendous noise and by the flight through the air, in a most vivid fire, of the foremast, the deck, and a thousand things; that then he retired, as did all those who were outside, to shelter themselves from the shower of things that were falling upon the steamer, and when they looked again at the MAINE they saw her on fire, the bow submerged; that this was seen at the time of the great explosion, and they heard the cries of the victims.

Asked what did his vessel do on seeing this, he said that it was ordered to lower the boats to give help in the disaster, and while lowering the first there arrived a felucca and longboat from the MAINE with captains (Jefes), officers, and seamen; and after the commander of the MAINE, who was in uniform and without his cap, had spoken with the captain, the latter came to declarer and asked if he could change his anchorage, as he did not like being there, to which the deponent replied there was no objection, loosening the chain and anchoring in front of the first post of the wharf of San Jose. Asked if after the explosion he saw dead fish or knows if there had been any, he said no. Asked if at the moment of the explosion or some instants after there was felt any violent motion in the water, he said no."




Bibliography:

Report of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Relative to Cuban Affairs.  (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1898) 575-576, 582, 610.



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