On the 21st March 1917 the armed merchantman S.S. Maine set sail from London's East India Docks bound for Philadelphia carrying a cargo consisting of chalk, horsehair, goatskins and fenugreek seeds to run the gauntlet of the marauding U-boat packs in the Atlantic.

She never made it out of the English Channel. On the squally, misty morning of the 23rd March 1917, under the command of Captain 'Bill' Johnston and with his First Officer on the bridge, lookouts stationed on the forecastle head and the poop, and the 12cm gun on the stern manned she was steaming on an evasive zig-zag course at about ten knots approximately thirteen miles South of Berry Head. The poor weather perhaps masked the wake of the periscope of the following U boat. Oberleutnant-zur-see Ralph Wenninger on the U-boat UC17 had spotted the Maine shortly after dawn and was shadowing her. He attacked and at 8:05am the Maine was struck on the port side level with her No.2 hold by a single torpedo.

The damage was extensive; the explosion blew the hatches off No.2 and No.3 holds, smashed the port gig and wrecked her bridge, knocking the captain off his feet. Though serious, the damage was not immediately crippling and Captain Johnston, after sending a distress call, was able to set a course for land under the vessel’s own steam. The crew must have been terrified that the U-boat would return but for some reason the U-boat didn't prosecute his attack. He was either very confident of the kill or lost contact with the Maine in continuing squally weather. Later, as the incoming water soaked her cargo of chalk and quenched her boilers, Captain Johnston ordered the lifeboats swung down and prepared to abandon ship.

Written by : Derek M. F. Cockbill

On the 21st March, 1917, the S.S. Maine, a 3600 ton cargo vessel sailed for London's East India dock bound for Philadelphia with a crew of 43 under her master Capt. W. Johnston, carrying a cargo consisting mainly of horsehair, goatskins and seeds.

At 8 a.m. On the 23rd March, a damp and misty morning she was steaming at about ten knots on a zigzag course approximately thirteen miles South of Berry head. As was usual in wartime lookouts were posted on the fo'c'sle and up with the master and 1st officer keeping a sharp lookout from the bridge when, without warning the ship was hit by a torpedo on the port side in number 2 hold which blew off number 2 and 3 hatches, smashed the port gig and partially wrecked the bridge.

Part I, the discovery....

On the 21st March, 1917, the S.S. Maine, a 3600 ton cargo vessel sailed for London's East India dock bound for Philadelphia with a crew of 43 under her master Capt. W. Johnston, carrying a cargo consisting mainly of horsehair, goatskins and seeds.

At 8 a.m. On the 23rd March, a damp and misty morning she was steaming at about ten knots on a zigzag course approximately thirteen miles South of Berry head. As was usual in wartime lookouts were posted on the fo'c'sle and up with the master and 1st officer keeping a sharp lookout from the bridge when, without warning the ship was hit by a torpedo on the port side in number 2 hold which blew off number 2 and 3 hatches, smashed the port gig and partially wrecked the bridge.

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