February 15, 1898 The battleship USS Maine and its 345 crew had been sent to Cuba’s Havana harbour to defend US interests.
The people of the Caribbean island has been fighting for their independence from Spanish rule for decades and their neighbours in the USA felt they had an increasing interest.
The Maine entered the harbour on January 25 1898 in which was officially called a ‘courtesy visit’ and was welcomed by the Spanish authorities.
Two weeks later, on February 15 at 21.40 pm, a huge explosion blew off the bow of the USS Maine and it quickly sank with a death toll of 266 sailors.
The newspapers published by the Hearst and Pulitzer groups blamed the Spanish in what has become a classical example of sensational press and war propaganda.
The incident triggered the Spanish-American War which started a few months later.
Conspiracy theories abounded and some claimed the American themselves had sunk the battleship as a ‘casus belli’ — an excuse to start the war.
Spain lost Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in the war which meant the end of an empire that had existed since the 16th century.
To this day Spaniards still say “Más se perdió en Cuba” — meaning we lost more in Cuba — when they want to say it could be worse.
Also on February 15: Britain’s King George VI buried (1952); The Soviet Union officially announces withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan (1989); Protests against the Iraq War, the largest pro-peace demonstration in history (2003)
Born on February 15: French carmaker Louis Renault (1877), American cartoonists Art Spiegelman (1948) and Matt Groening (1954), Spanish cyclist Oscar Freire (1976)