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[Photo] USS Massachusetts
Photo courtesy of Underwater Archaeological Preserves, Florida Division of Historical Resources
An example of a pre-Dreadnought battleship, the USS Massachusetts is one of the Nation’s oldest battleships. Commissioned in 1896, the Massachusetts, along with the USS Indiana and the USS Oregon, were members of the “Indiana” class of warships and the first ships constructed for the new “Steel” Navy. These heavily-armored, heavy caliber battleships were transitional models obsolete 20 years later as they contained a significant design flaw; “Indiana” warships were built without bilge keels that prevent the vessels from rolling from side to side. As a result, the Massachusetts was extremely unstable, even in calm seas, and if both 13-inch gun tubes were trained abeam at the same time, the ship would heel over, forcing one side underwater while the other side emerged from the waves.

[photo] USS Massachusetts
Photo courtesy of
Underwater Archaeological Preserves, Florida Division of Historical Resources

The Massachusetts did not see much action but it did participate in the Spanish-American War, firing on the Spanish warship Cristobal Colon and helping to sink the cruiser Reina Mercedes. The ship was decommissioned in 1906 but returned to a reduced commission status in 1910 as a practice vessel for midshipmen. During World War I, the Massachusetts was employed as a gunnery practice ship. In 1919, it was decommissioned for the last time and renamed Coast Battleship No. 2. In 1921, the vessel was sunk in a training exercise by guns at Fort Pickens. Since it was still partially visible from the surface, Navy pilots used the Massachusetts for target practice during World War II. The Massachusetts is 350 feet long and 70 feet wide at the amidships and two of the battleship’s 13-inch cannon rise out of the water. Even though the hull was stripped for scrap metal during the 1940s, the wreck is in relatively good condition for being submerged for 80 years and has reached a state of equilibrium with the environment. In fact, the Massachusetts was completely undamaged by the violent hurricanes of the summer of 1995.

The wreck of the USS Massachusetts--BB-2 is located 1.5 nautical miles south-southwest of Pensacola Pass. It lies in 26-30 ft. of water within the Fort Pickens State Aquatic Preserve, administered by the Florida Department of Natural Resources. There are special diving instructions at this wreck site regarding anchoring and diving equipment and a prohibition against penetrating the hull. The shipwreck is located within a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve, and a laminated underwater guide is available from local dive shops. The preserve is open to the public year round, free of charge.

Florida's Shipwrecks: 300 Years of Maritime History features a Teaching with Historic Places online lesson plan, The Spanish Treasure Fleets of 1715 and 1733: Disasters Strike at Sea. This lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service's Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

[graphic] Florida Shipwrecks' Essays

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