There have been six warships of the Royal Navy to bear the proud name ‘Cossack’ since 1806, this is the association for those who served onboard either of the Royal Navy Destroyers: HMS Cossack (L03 or D57).
This page presents a summary of the history of these ships. A more detailed history can be obtained from the association by request.
There have been six ships with the name of COSSACK in the Royal Navy. Only the briefest of details is available of the first four but what is known is given below. The fifth made the name famous with her exploits in the Second World War and can therefore be chronicled in more detail. No definitive history of the sixth and last Cossack appears to have been written and the details given within have been gathered from members of the Cossack Association.
The First, a sixth rate of 22 guns and 545 tons, was launched in December, 1806 at South Shields. Her service included a part in the destruction of the forts at Santander in 1808, and she was dismantled in June, 1816, following the end of the French wars.
During the period 1806 to 1816 she was commanded by nine captains. These were:
Captain George Digby
January 1807 to 1810
Captain Thomas Garth
November 1810 to April 1811
Captain Thomas Searle
April 1811 to February 1812
Captain William King
February 1812 to February 1813
Captain Francis Stanfell
February 1813 to March 1814
Captain Edward Sibly
March 1814 to July 1814
Captain James Wemyss
July 1814 to August 1814
Captain Robert Rodney
August 1814 to August 1815
Captain Lord Algenon Percy
August 1815 to 1816
HMS COSSACK – No 2
The Second was a steam corvette of 250 h.p., 1925 tons and 20 guns. She was laid down at Northfleet Yard on the Thames(commonly known as Pitcher’s Yard),for the Russians, and named the VITYAS,but was seized by the owner of the yard, William Pitcher, on the outbreak of the Crimean War in April, 1854, and renamed HMS COSSACK. She was launched on the 15 May 1854. Commissioned for Particular service in August 1854, she took part in the operations in the Baltic during her first overseas tour of duty, including the bombardment of Sveaborg.
Her subsequent commissions and ports when in home waters were:-
June 1855, The Baltic
June 1861, Cape of Good Hope Statn.
January 1856, Devonport
September 1862, Sheerness
April 1856, Particular Service
June 1863, Mediterranean Statn
July 1856, North America & West Indies Statn.
April 1867, Sheerness
September 1857, paid off at Sheerness
December 1868, East Indies Statn.
June 1859, North America & West Indies Statn.
September 1871, Australia Statn
March 1861, Portsmouth
September 1873, Chatham
19 May 1875, sold to Castle’s Yard at Charlton, for breaking
From 1854 to 1871 her Captains were:
Captain Edward Gennys Fanshaw
19 August 1854 to 1855
Captain James Horsford Cockburn
21 August 1855
Captain Richard Moorman
16 June 1859
Captain G. Cockburn
9 January 1861
Captain William Rae Rolland
19 May 1863
Captain Richard Dunning White
26 May 1865
Captain John Edward Parish
9 December 1868
Captain Robert Gordon Douglas
12 August 1871
Click here: to read the HANGO story off line, plus the connection between the HMS COSSACK and the West Australian town of COSSACK.
HMS COSSACK – No 3
The Third was a third class cruiser built at Clydebank and launched in June, 1886. She saw much service in East Africa, including the Vitu expedition in 1890 and was sold in April, 1905.
Archer Class Torpedo Cruiser
3 June 1886
1 January 1889
14 feet 6 inches
8 x 6″ guns
8 x 3pdrs
2 Machine guns
3 x 14″ Torpedo tubes
Twin screw horizontal compound direct-acting engines (2 cyl)
Extracts from ‘Encyclopedia of Ships’, RN Museum Ship Information Service and ‘Ships of the Royal Navy’
She was commanded by:
Commander J.M. McQuahe
24 October 1890
Commander Montagu G. Cartwright
November 1902 to March 1903
HMS COSSACK – No 4
The Fourth was a torpedo-boat destroyer of the original “Tribal” flotilla, was of 885 tons and carried five 12-pounders. She was launched at Cammel Lairds shipyard at Birkenhead in February, 1907 and served throughout the 1914-18 war on the Dover patrol. She was sold for scrapping in December, 1919. During the period 1918 to 1919 she was commanded by Commander Nicholson Ralph Kerr, CBE, RN
The Fifth H.M.S. COSSACK was a Tribal Class destroyer and was commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1938 on completion of her building at Vickers Armstrong on the Tyne. The Tribal class were the most up-to-date destroyers in the navy at that time and had been named after various tribes throughout the world. H.M.S. COSSACK was, of course, named after the Cossack tribe from the steppes of Russia. Other RN ships in the class were AFRIDI, BEDOUIN, ESKIMO, GURKHA, MASHONA, MAORI, MOHAWK, NUBIAN, SIKH, TARTAR and ZULU but COSSACK was to become the most famous of them all with her expoits during the Second World War, particularly under the command of Captain Vian.
East Coast and Norwegian convoy escort duties became her first principal wartime tasks, and it was during one of these to Bergen that a collision occurred with the SS BORTHWICK and, sadly, 5 of her ship’s company were killed.
Click here: to read the story off line.
In addition to these more routine convoy duties, including the very onerous ones to Russia and for the relief of Malta, COSSACK took part in the second battle of Norway. There were two incidents, both of which were chronicled in the newspapers of the time, which brought fame to both Captain Vian and the ship.
HMS COSSACK – No 5
Pennant Number – LO3
Vickers-Armstrong,High Walker Yard, The Tyne
9th June 1936
8th June 1937
14th June 1938
1,959 tons, (2,519 fully laoded)
364 feet 8 inches
36 feet 6 inches
13 feet 0 inches
8 x 4.7″ Guns in twin turrets
1 x 4 Two Pdrs
8 x 0.5″ Machine Guns ( 2 x 4)
1 x 4 Torpedo tubes (21″ Mk IX Torpedoes)
2 Depth Charge Throwers
1 Depth Charge Rail
3 Admiralty 3-Drum Boilers & 300 lb/sq.in, all with 2 shaft, Parsons, geared turbines
36.2 knots (Trials)
NOTE: There were a further 11 more Tribals. The Royal Canadian Navy had ATHABASKAN, HURON, HAIDA and IROQUOIS built by Vickers-Armstrong in the UK. The ATHABASKAN was sunk and when the Canadians built 4 more in Halifax one was named ATHABASKAN II. The others were CAYUGA, MICMAC and NOOTKA. The Royal Australian Navy built 4 of their own, ARUNTA, WARRAMUNGA and BATAAN. Of these 27 destroyers only the HAIDA remains alongside the wall in TORONTO, where she is looked after in her old age by some very dedicated people.
THE ALTMARK INCIDENT
THE ALTMARK INCIDENT (L03)
The following eye witness account of the scene at the Admiralty in London as the drama concerning the COSSACK and the ALTMARK unfolded, was related by Rear-Admiral R K Dickson, DSO, in ‘The Ditty Box’ in March , 1946. It shows Winston Churchill at his best in a tense and complicated situation, his determined attitude and his signals triggering the action.
‘The fleet auxiliary ALTMARK was slipping down the Norwegian coast on her way to Germany. She was inside territorial waters, but we’d every reason to believe that she was carrying 400 British merchant seamen battened under hatches – victims of the pocket battleship GRAF SPEE in the South Atlantic. Our destroyers were at sea, and the man on the spot was Captain Philip Vian, in the COSSACK. He had the situation well in hand, till suddenly the ALTMARK entered Jossing Fjord with the British destroyers glaring at her on one side and the Norwegian men-of-war on the other. It was apparent to the Admiralty that a situation had arisen which no naval officer could be expected to handle. It needed the immediate intervention of a Minister, ready to take responsibility, because the landslide of the nations of Europe had not yet begun, and the significance of Norwegian neutrality could only be fully appreciated in London.
At 5 o’clock the First Lord Mr (Winston)Churchill, came down to the War Room, and he dictated a signal to Vian to the effect that he was to get those prisoners off at all costs. “Get that ciphered up,” he said, “and be quick about it! I’ve told the Secretary of State that those orders are going at quarter to six unless we hear to the contrary”. He walked up and down chewing his cigar, and we all waited.
At 5.20 he suddenly turned to me (I was the Duty Captain on watch that afternoon), and he said, “I can’t wait. Get me Lord Halifax”. I got him the Foreign Secretary in a few moments, and he sat down with the telephone in the little green armchair which used to stand alongside the duty captain’s desk. He talked to the Foreign Secretary for about a minute. Then he rang for the Duty Signals Officer and he said, “Add this to the signal, ‘Suggest to the Norwegian destroyers that honour is served by submitting to superior force.’ Now get that off at once!” he said, and he lounged off upstairs to carry on with his papers. But at the door of the War Room he stopped, and he said to all of us, “That was big of Halifax”.
The signal was made a few minutes later and so the COSSACK went into the fjord. That story was the start of Vian’s great career at sea in this war, but I’ve always thought of it also as a personal triumph for the man who became Prime Minister three months later, when Mr Alexander relieved him as First Lord (of the Admiralty).’
*Click on the small image to view full size picture.*
Photograph taken by RAF Coastal Command aircraft showing the Altmark hiding in Jossingfjord when the search to find her was at its height.
Taken from “Coastal Command” HMSO 1942
Photograph of the acclaimed painting by Norman Wilkinson of HMS Cossack going alongside Altmark. The painting was hung in the National Maritime Museum for some years and is still there, although not necessarily on display. It is now understood that a second version of the painting was commissioned by J. Harvey & Sons with the intention that it should be presented to the Cossack. With Cossack having been sunk the painting was presented to the Wardroom of the Royal Navy barracks, Portsmouth (then HMS VICTORY, now HMS NELSON). Cossack was a Portsmouth manned ship and it was also her home port. At some point the painting went into the RN Trophy Store and was later on loan to the RNR HQ at Liverpool. With its close connections with the Merchant Navy and many of those rescued from the Altmark this was a very suitable place for its display. When a purpose-built building for the RN Board & Serch School was opened in 1997 in HMS CAMBRIDGE, the gunnery school at Wembury Point, Plymouth it was named the “Cossack Building”. The Captain, HMS CAMBRIDGE was able to get the painting transferred there. In 2003 HMS CAMBRIDGE closed and its functions were moved to HMS RALEIGH and a new Cossack Building erected. However, the painting was not transferred but was returned to the Trophy Store and then was re-hung in the Wardroom of HMS NELSON where it currently remains.
Jossingfjord with the double-sided notice erected by the Germans. Subsequently this was ‘liberated’ by the British Airborne forces. One side was presented to Admiral Vian, the other retained by them.
Detail of the notice shown above, which was on display at the Airborne Forces Museum at Aldershot, Hampshire, England until it closed in 2010 after the transfer of the Parachute Regiment to another part of the UK. With other artifacts from the museum, the board was transferred to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. However, it is not on permanent display there but may form part of a rotational display at some stage. But see below!
The side of the board which was presented to Admiral Vian was bequethed in his estate to his daughter Mrs. Susan Keate. In 2009 she expressed a wish tht the HMS Cossack Association should have the board and some other memorabilia. However, with nowhere to display or store such items, the Association suggested that they should be given to the RN Museum at Portsmouth where they will get a wider audience. At our reunion in April 2010 Admiral Vian’s daughters, Mrs. Susan Keate and Mrs. Polly Thellusson, handed over the items to Dr. Dominic Tweddle, seen here accepting it for the RN Museum. The board is not currently on display there but will be as soon as the new extensions to the museum are completed.
Der Reichmaster Terboven alongside the above notice 18th June 1942.
Courtesy of Norway’s Resistance Museum, Oslo.
Civilians viewing the spot where Altmark grounded and was boarded by HMS Cossack.
Photo from Bunderesarchiv, Koblenz, courtesy of Dreyer Bok, Stavangar.
The monument erected by the Norwegians in the late’50s, showing the memorial plaque
Close up of the memorial plaque on the above monument.
Translation -“Here took place the fight between the British destroyer Cossack and the German support ship Altmark on February 16th 1940”.
Click here: to read the full story off line.
A list of the merchant seaman rescued from the Altmark can be accessed
by clicking on this button:
AWARDS FOR THE ALTMARK INCIDENT
Companionship of the Bath
Captain P. L. Vian
Companionship of the Distinguished Service Order
Lieutenant Commander B.T.Turner
Distinguished Service Cross
Paymaster Sub-Lieutenant G.Craven, RNVR
Mr J. F. Smith, Gunner, HMS AURORA
Lieutenant Commander H.C.D. Maclean
Distinguished Service Medal
Petty Officer Atkins
Petty Officer Barnes
Able Seaman P.J. Beach
Able Seaman J. Harper
Able Seaman A.W. Marshall
Able Seaman S. D. Bennett, HMS AURORA
Signalman D.P.S. Davies, HMS AFRIDI
Stoker First Class N.L. Pratt, HMS AURORA
Mention in Despatches
Petty Officer R. Asciak
Petty Officer Cook (O) D. Spiteri
Petty Officer Steward C. Sammut
Additionally: Lieutenant Commander G.A.Gore-Ormsby and Paymaster Lieutenant E.F. Burkitt were recommended to the Royal Humane Society for Gallantry in trying to save the life of a drowning German sailor.
EXTRACTS FROM LOCAL NEWSPAPERS
SECOND BATTLE OF NARVIK
One of the battle honours proudly worn by HMS COSSACK was the Second Battle of Narvik. Bill Bartholomew put together a brief history of this action, thanks mainly to the Imperial War Museum, who gave him permission to use a transcript of an audio tape – painstakingly copied by Peter Harrison, of a discussion between ex-Chief Petty Officer A. D. Grant, D.S.M., and the Curator of the Museum. This provided an eye witness account, as Leading Seaman Grant (as he then was), was manning the Torpedo Tubes (his Action Station), on the central part of the upper deck. This gave him a good view of the events as they unfolded, whereas others were so busy concentrating efforts on their own particular job that they were oblivious to anything else. It was he who first met the two young Norwegians and accepted the German flag from them. Before he died David’s daughter, Mrs Anne Smith, managed, through the Norwegian Embassy, to contact Lief Hansen (Torsten had died), and he and David corresponded regularly after that.
David Grant was a Member of our Association. His daughter Anne is an Associate Member of the Association. A copy of a story published in the Anglo Norse Review in 1990 about David Grant, Lief and Torsten can be seen or downloaded by clicking on the button below.
Click here: to read the story off line.
THE SECOND BATTLE OF NARVIK -LO3
*Click on the small pictures to see the larger ones*
Captain R. St. V. Sherbrooke, the Commanding Officer. Later awarded the Victoria Cross when commanding HMS ONSLOW, defending Russian Convoy JW51B on 31/12/42.
Cossack aground but still fighting.
Midshipman Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at the back of the bridge
Aground. View from COSSACK’s Bridge
Damage Port side aft on the Forecastle
Bridge from B Gun Deck
Shell and shrapnel damage
More shell and shrapnel damage
Enemy destroyer after receiving salvo from
COSSACK – Merchant ship on right
Shell and shrapnel holes Port side forward
Shell hole and shrapnel damage B Gun Deck.
Tarpaulin covers hole in Petty Officer’s Mess
Shell hole Port side of B Gun Deck and Petty Officer’s Mess
Close up of shell hole Port side of B Gun Deck
and Petty Officer’s Mess
Splinter damage to the forward funnel
The Port side looking aft
HMS WARSPITE seen through shell hole in COSSACK
HMS FOXHOUND who stood by COSSACK
Skelfjord, Lofoten Islands where COSSACK was repaired and where her dead were committed to the deep
While the COSSACK was in Skelfjord, in the Lofoten Islands being repaired, she was assisted by 8 Norwegians from Kabelvaag. Two of them, Mr Rothli and Mr Lorentzen are still alive and we have been delighted to enrol them as Honorary Members of the Association as a gesture of appreciation for the work they did. Other than the children’s party, there was no acknowledgement of the assistance given to our ships in Skelfjord by the Norwegians. A sad ommission. At least the Association has done something to make two old men happy.
During the battle Lord HAW-HAW (William Joyce the Irishman the Germans used to broadcast English language propaganda), announced that COSSACK had been captured and her crew were all prisoners. Yet another he got wrong!. Joyce was executed for treason after the war.
Click here: to read the story off line.
Another incident concerned the Bismarck. The much feared German battleship had been sighted in the Denmark Strait on 21st May 1941 in an attempt to break out into the Atlantic but when brought to battle it was the British who had come off worst. The loss of our battleship HMS Hood with enormous loss of life and only three survivors was a black day for Britain. Bismarck got away and for several days her whereabouts were unknown. On the 26th, Cossack was escorting a convoy when Captain Vian received orders to leave the convoy and take four other destroyers, the Sikh, Zulu and Maori and the Polish ship Piorun, to relieve other destroyers which were escorting the Home Fleet battleships King George V and Rodney.
Seven hours later a message from an aircraft was intercepted which reported the position of the Bismarck. Without breaking radio silence, Captain Vian decided to head for that position instead of continuing on to join the battleships. In appalling weather and very heavy seas they battled towards the position and ten hours later sighted Bismarck. Throughout the night the destroyers attacked and harried the German battleship despite being heavily out-gunned. It was important that they held her until the British battleships could arrive, which they did at eight o’clock the next morning. Bismarck was sunk and, despite attacks from large formations of German aircraft, the ships safely returned to U.K.
Courtesy of the Bismarck Website
Telegraphist Eric Farmer who wrote a personal story of the action which can be read by clicking on this button:
In October 1941 Cossack was one of the escorts for a convoy from Gibraltar to the U.K. when, on the night of the 21st she was struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat. The explosion just forward of her bridge blew off her bows and about a third of the forward section of the ship killing 159 officers and ratings. Survivors were picked up by two other escorts, the Legion and the Carnation, the latter staying close to the hulk of the ship whilst it remained afloat. Some of the survivors and some men from Carnation, went back aboard the following morning, put the fires out and attempted to get her engines going again. On the 25th a tug arrived from Gibraltar and took Cossack in tow stern first. In worsening weather the salvage party were taken off the following evening and the next morning conditions were so bad that they could not get back aboard. As the weather deteriorated the tow had to be slipped and Cossack sank soon after.
Pictures and further details can be found in ‘GALLERY’. Click here:The HMS Cossack Association – Picture Gallery
HMS COSSACK – No 6
The Sixth HMS COSSACK was completed and commissioned in August 1945 by which time the war in Europe was over and the Japanese had just surrendered. She was still to go to the Far East though and was to become the leader of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla for a while forming part of the occupation forces. In the main though her duties in the Far East were to be those peacetime functions of showing the flag, patrolling trade routes, exercises and training for war and the many other duties which befall a Royal Navy destroyer.
Pennant No D57
Vickers-Armstrong, Newcastle on Tyne
18 Mar 1943
10 May 1944
22 Aug 1945
1730 tons (2550 fully loaded)
362 feet 9 inches
35 feet 8 inches
15 feet 10 inches
4 x 4.5″ Guns
4 single 40 mm Bofors Guns
1 twin 40 mm Bofors Gun
1 x 4 Torpedo Tubes (21″ MkIX Torpedoes)
2 Depth Charge Throwers
2 Depth Charge Rails
15 Officers, 213 Men in Peacetime
15 Officers, 248 Men in Wartime
One incident that took place during her time in the Pacific was the rescue of the passengers of the SS LING YUNG. Click here: to read the full story off line. Pictures of this episode can be found in the Picture Gallery.
THE TRAGEDY OF HMS COSSACK’S SIDE PARTY
All Royal Naval ships based in Hong Kong had a Side Party consisting of a number of Chinese girls. They were contracted, through a contractor ashore, to carry out duties such as being responsible for the disposal of all rubbish and helping to paint the ship’s side – which as I remember seemed to be a fairly frequent occurrence! They were held in high regard and looked on as a valuable part of the ship’s company. It is good to hear of their fortunes after all these years.
Geoff Lilley was my Quartermaster (I his Bosun’s Mate), and we had just come off the Morning Watch at 0800 that morning. I had gone down to my Mess down aft and was having breakfast when the light coming through the porthole dimmed and I heard shouting coming from above. Looking up through the porthole I saw the side of a ship sliding past about three feet away. Looking down I saw broken bits of wood and the two girls in the water. Geoff had stayed on the upper deck and so was fully involved in what occurred. It is this story of the accident that had fatal consequences to the Party that has been written by Geoff.
Click here to read the story off line :
From June 1950 until 1953 Cossack was involved as part of the United Nations force in the Korean War and aquitted herself well. With many changes of her ship’s company taking place over the years, Cossack remained on the Far East Station until the beginning of November 1959 when she left Singapore to return to the U.K. Arriving at Devonport on 9th December 1959 she finally paid off and was eventually scrapped in 1961.
Life aboard a ship of war has never been an easy one, with conditions even in peacetime worse than would now be tolerated for animals in transit. In fact the conditions laid down by the Admiralty for the payment of “hard-lying money” to men in small ships, was that conditions had to be inferior to that in a trawler in normal service in the North Sea. The allowance was paid to those serving in the Cossack. From 1945 until 1954 the normal period that a man would be on the ship was two and a half years. From 1954 it became one year and a half. It is not surprising that during those 14 years which Cossack spent in the Far East many close friendships were made.
The H.M.S. Cossack Association reunions allow those friendships to be renewed each year. For further details, and news of the most recent reunion, click on the crest.
For information on how to join the Association, click here:
Designed by Rob Bartholomew, and maintained by Peter Harrison