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Cossack file photo [4803]


CountryUnited Kingdom
Ship ClassTribal-class Destroyer
BuilderVickers-Armstrong, High Walker Yard, Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, Britain
Laid Down9 Jun 1936
Launched8 Jun 1937
Commissioned14 Jun 1938
Sunk23 Oct 1941
Displacement1,959 tons standard; 2,519 tons full
Length377 feet
Beam36 feet
Draft13 feet
MachineryParsons geared turbines driven by three Admiralty (300-lb/sq in) 3 drum boiles; 2 shafts
Power Output44,430 shaft horsepower
Speed36 knots
Armament4x2x4.7in guns, 1x4x2pdr guns, 2x4x0.5in machine guns, 1x4x21in torpedo tubes, 1 depth charge rail, 2 depth charge throwers


ww2dbaseWithout question, HMS Cossack was the most famous Destroyer of the Second World War. The story of HMS Cossack could easily have come out of the pages of 'Boys Own'. Joining the Mediterranean Fleet in July 1938, one of the Cossack's first voyages was to rescue the British Consul from the besieged city of Barcelona, Spain. The elderly gentleman unfortunately broke his leg as he boarded Cossack's cutter, requiring a rapid diversion to get him to hospital at Marseilles, France.

ww2dbaseBy the outbreak of war, Cossack was back in the United Kingdom with the 4th Destroyer Flotilla based at Rosyth, Scotland. During the Phony War she was mostly employed in escorting coastal convoys, but soon was heavily involved in mine-laying duties and intercepting German Iron ore ships in the Skaggerat. On the 15th February 1940, Captain Philip Vian received information that the 13,580 ton German supply vessel Altmark had been sighted off Trondheim, Norway. It was further reported that the Altmark was carrying 300 British prisoners (captured by the Admiral Graf Spee during her rampage across the South Atlantic in 1939). On the next day the Altmark was sighted by Arethusa, Intrepid and Ivanhoe. A warning shot fired across her bows only resulted in the German vessel turning into the neutral Norwegian J√łssingfjord, with the RN warships being hindered from following by the Norwegian torpedo boats Trygg and Kjell and their patrol boat Firern.

ww2dbaseCossack arrived at dusk. Captain Vian conferred with the Norwegians who assured him that the Altmark had been searched with no prisoners or contraband found. Unconvinced, Vian signaled to the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, who replied that if an offer to help the Norwegians to escort the German vessel to Bergen for another search was refused, then the Altmark should be boarded by force. At 2200 hrs, having received no satisfactory response from the Norwegians, Vian took Cossack into the fjord. A boarding party of three officers, led by Lieut.-Commander Bradwell Talbot Turner, and thirty ratings leapt across and after a brisk action, in which four German were killed and five wounded, the Altmark was secured with 299 of her captives successfully released.

ww2dbaseOn the 13th April 1940, Cossack took part in the heroic 2nd battle of Narvik, but suffered serious damage in this engagement and ran aground. She did not get underway again until the following dawn, making a slow return to Portsmouth, arriving there on the 30th April. During the repairs X turret was replaced by twin 4 in AA guns; the Norwegian campaign having revealed the vulnerability of British Destroyers to air attack.

ww2dbaseBy the 15th June Cossack was back in the war again, with some dockyard repair men still on board, on a very important mission. She had to escort the cruiser Emerald which was transporting £130 million of gold and securities across the Atlantic Ocean. Bad weather however soon caused the little Destroyers of 4DF to turn back to Scapa leaving the faster Emerald to make the voyage unsupported. On the way back they were relentlessly attacked by German bombers. For much of the rest of the year the 4DF were routinely involved in searching for German convoys off Norway, U-boats off Ireland, and capital ships off Iceland.

ww2dbaseOn the 26th of May 1941, the Cossack leading the 4DF was ordered to join with the Home Fleet battleships searching for the Bismarck. The Fleet's own Destroyers were running short of fuel and needed to be relieved as a matter of urgent priority. That night the HMS Piorum sighted the Bismarck and at 2200 hrs Vian ordered his Destroyer flotilla into the attsck. Despite being seriously outgunned Cossack managed to launch three torpedoes from 6,000 yards at 0140 hrs. Two hits on the mighty German battleship being recorded. The other Destroyers made similar attacks and kept the Bismarck engaged until the Royal Navy battleships arrived at dawn to finally finish off the job.

ww2dbaseCossack and her sisters next joined Force H at Gibraltar seeing much activity on defending convoys to Malta from U-boat and E-boat attack, as well as escorting the capital ships Ark Royal, Nelson and Renown.

ww2dbaseSadly on the 23rd Octiober 1941, HMS Cossack received a hit from a torpedo fired by the U-boat U-563. This killed Captain Berthon and 158 officers and men, with another 29 injured. Remarkably Cossack did not sink immediately and soon the fires went out. Seeing that Cossack was still very buoyant, she was reboarded , the engine started and, going astern, tried to make the long voyage back to Gibraltar. For a night and a day they kept the Cossack moving, but ultimately all was in vain, and the gallant little Cossack finally slipped beneath the waves on the following day.

Collins-Jane's Warships of World War II
Jane's Fighting ships of World War II
Martin H. Brice, The Tribals
The War at Sea

Last Major Revision: Sep 2007

Cossack Operational Timeline

14 Jun 1938 HMS Cossack (L03) was commissioned into service with Captain D. De Pass in command.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Commenter identity confirmed Hobilar says:
12 Sep 2007 07:42:30 AM

The Pennant number of LO3 as shown in the heading picture indicates that this photograph was taken between May 1938 to December 1938
2. Roman says:
25 Dec 2010 06:07:27 PM

Can you change: "That night the HMS Piorum sighted the Bismarck" for more historical: "That night the ORP Piorun (in polish: Lightning) sighted the Bismarck"?

3. Jack says:
31 Jan 2011 07:29:26 AM

Great article! I might have spotted an error though:

"She had to escort the cruiser Emerald which was transporting £130 billion of gold and securities across the Atlantic Ocean."

Surely 130 Billion can't be right? Should this be £130 million?
4. Commenter identity confirmed C. Peter Chen says:
31 Jan 2011 09:40:28 AM

Jack, thank you very much for bringing this to our attention. We have done the additional research and confirmed your suspicion, and the article has now been corrected.

Hope to see you back at WW2DB regularly!
5. Bob Stagner says:
10 May 2011 10:01:12 PM

Cossack picked up the Bismarck's Ships Cat, renamed him "Sam." He survived the Cossacks sinking to be picked up by the Ark Royal and when she was sunk was finally allowed to retire to the Old Sailors Home in Birmingham where he quietly passed into endless fields of catnip in 1959 (I believe.) By this time he was known as "Unsinkable Sam."
6. Jayne Hughes says:
23 Jun 2012 01:01:16 PM

My grandad served on Cossack my brother is named after the captain Philip Vian who my grandad reckoned was abit if a pirate! Lol, when she was sunk my nans wedding presents went down with the ship. I have a large print of her on my wall which is abit faded but loved.
7. Jim Thomson says:
17 Dec 2012 05:22:53 AM

I am trying to trace any picture's,information, on my uncle, Peter Alex Thomson. who served onboard the Cossack and sadly passed over the bar with her.
I myself spent 26 years in the andrew. So anything on thomo would be very nice
Yours aye
Jim Thomson (ex chief ops missile)1973-1999
8. Mike Cavender says:
2 Apr 2013 03:36:02 AM

I'm looking to find anything about my dad, James Dennis Cavender, I think he was a cook aboard HMS Cossack.I've some photos of the ship and him on board, but I can't find them at home. So if any one can help me please contact me. Thanks.
9. Simon Bolland says:
15 Jul 2013 03:10:33 PM

Hi there
I'm trying to find out my late grandfathers Harry Jowett's service records.
I knew he was on HMS Cossack and HMS Newfoundland
I have his medals and one of his medals had this service number on it JX 140443 H Jowett HMS Newfoundland.
but I am having no joy finding anything out about him.
can anyone help
kind regards
10. Tony Brown says:
17 Jul 2013 05:19:23 AM

Hi Mike if you do find your photo would it be possiable to email me your photos as my father was also on the Cossack as a cook don't know the date he joined but he was one of the survivors number P/JX274224 any info would be great. I do have a copy of all the dates of actions the Cossack went through. Regards Tony
11. david higgins says:
6 Nov 2013 09:41:44 AM

hi my uncle was on board the cosack when it was torpedoed, cwo delara stoker ist class era mess man and was kia,have is service papers signed by capt vian, medals letters from the the captains wife the admiralty and the chaplain, his diary, bible and a few other bits and bobs, one thing im pretty sure about that none of the torpedoes fired by the cossack hit the bismark regards dave
12. Sérgio Rezendes says:
27 Jun 2014 04:22:42 AM

Hello. I'm from the Azores and I'm making a PhD about the II WW on the islands. During the research I found Reginald Thomas Gradin Wallace e Henry Springall buried in Ponta Delgada. I would like to know more about them. How can I contact the family?

Best Regards

Sérgio Rezendes
13. debbie thomson says:
7 Oct 2014 12:19:44 PM

Hi Jim, i think your uncle was my late grandfather! Can you confirm you've got this email and we can talk some more. We have one photo!

kind regards

Debbie thomson
14. patricia says:
27 Aug 2016 01:11:49 PM

there is information about the sailors buried in Ponta Delgada in uboat,net and then look for the family on familysearch.org.
15. Anonymous says:
9 Jan 2017 12:23:18 PM

Hi there my friends grandad died on the cossack he has a photo of him
16. Anonymous says:
6 Apr 2019 10:10:07 PM

I believe my grandfather served on cossack in may 1941 his name was William trevor colwell but can't find his name on listing i believe he was on board when torpedoed in malta and badly injured. Could you please confirm if this is correct.
17. Tom lambert says:
15 Apr 2019 10:54:49 PM

My fathers uncle served and perished on Hms cossack,stoker 1st class george duncan from Dalkieth,im trying to find out if he was on the boarding party against the german tanker,thank you
18. mandy ansell says:
6 Jul 2019 03:54:24 PM

My uncle Douglas Webb had a picture of the Cossack in his effects when he died in 2000, I know he was a stoker and that his ship was torpedoed during the war, he never spoke about it so I wondered if he was on board and that's why he kept a photo of it, thank you for any help.
19. Anonymous says:
19 Nov 2019 03:51:15 PM

My great uncle died on Cossack, coder John Hargreaves. Do we know if the bodies of those who died went down with the ship
20. david ashley says:
9 Mar 2020 10:24:45 AM

I beleave my grandfather was on hms Cossack during ww2 his name was james Oakley is there a crew list I can look at ?
21. James Vorster says:
20 Jan 2021 02:16:32 AM

I have a great grand father who was aboard the Cossack, the day it sank. He was Acting Yeoman of Signals, Alfred Edmund Jones. He had served through WWI as well, died aboard the Cossack.
22. bob finnigan says:
28 Aug 2021 12:20:45 PM

Robert O'Hara, my uncle and the man I was named after, was a cook/baker on HMS Cossack and was killed when she was torpedoed in the Med. Any info would be appreciated, including a crew list. Thank you.
23. Anonymous says:
8 Sep 2021 03:10:02 PM

List of Crew on board Cossack when she sank
24. JEFF COWIE says:
15 Mar 2022 12:44:03 PM

Hi, This is a very long shot because of elapsed time. However, I must try.
My father was HUGH COWIE ( bn 07/04/1911 ), he resided in Portsmouth ( where I was born ). He was involved in the sinking of the Bismarck - I have a blow by blow diary on what occurred during the sinking. I do not know on what ship he served - as he never wanted to talk about it, however we did have a model of HMS Cossack on our fireplace. My father was an engineer, and I suspect he worked down below. He also stated he shook hands with Louis Mountbatten when he visited his ship.
If anyone remembers HUGH, or can supply any information whatsoever about my father, I would be eternally grateful.
His wife ( my mother ) was VIOLET MORLEY ( Bn. c. 1911 - 1964 ). My brother was PETER COWIE ( Bn. 1946 - 2020 ), he was also Royal Navy.

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Event(s) Participated:
» Altmark Incident
» Invasion of Denmark and Norway
» Battle of Denmark Strait

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