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HMS Cossack (F 03)

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Navy: The Royal Navy
Type: Destroyer
Class: Tribal
Penant: F 03
Built by: Vickers Armstrong (Newcastle-on-Tyne, U.K.): Vickers Armstrong (Barrow-in-Furness, U.K.)
Ordered:
Laid down: 9 Mar, 1936
Launched: 8 Jun, 1937
Commissioned: 7 Jun, 1938
Lost: 24 Oct, 1941

History: Pennant numbers:
L 03 May 1938 - December 1938
F 03 January 1939 - Autumn 1940
G 03 Autumn 1940 - October 1941.
HMS Cossack, the most famous of the British Tribals, had an embarrassing debut at Portsmouth England on 12th June 1938, when she dented her brand new bow coming alongside the jetty.

In September, Cossack accompanied HMS Afridi on a visit to Istanbul, Turkey. The trip was cut short by the crisis in Munich Germany. The two new Tribals remained in company for the rest of the year and right through 1939. Cossack, being the leader of the 8th Division, also accompanied HMS Maori, HMS Zulu and HMS Nubian on various exercises.

The outbreak of war found Cossacks division at Alexandria, Egypt. By the next day, they were patrolling off Crete and then went on to Malta. There, the destroyer picked up her first convoy. Cossack was engaged on more convoy escort duty until 7th/8th November. That night, she collided with one of the ships under her charge. Four men were killed in Cossack and Zulu had to send across a party to free one of the casualties trapped in plating, which had been curled back by the impact. Cossack was sent for repairs to Leith, England thus missing further action.

In January 1940, HMS Afridi went in for repairs so Captain Vian, her commander, exchanged ships with Commander Sherbrooke. Cossack was now leader of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla (4th DF). On 15th February, Captain Vian received reports that the 13,580 ton German supply tanker Altmark had been sighted off Trondheim, Norway. Her guns had been removed and she was posing as a merchant ship to assure free passage between the Norwegian offshore islands and the mainland. No one had a clear idea of what Altmark looked like. At last, on 16th February, HMS Arethusa, HMS Intrepid and HMS Ivanhoe intercepted Altmark. The German ship received a shot across her bow in an effort to force her out of Norwegian territorial waters. Quickly, the Altmark slipped away and found shelter in a narrow inlet in Jossingfiord. Due to Norways neutrality and for diplomatic reasons, a British ship could not board a German vessel while in Norwegian waters. Through negotiations with the Norwegians, Captain Vian was permitted to approach the tanker and land a boarding party. If nothing illicit were found, the tanker would be allowed free passage. At 2312hours, Cossack approached the German ship. A boarding party consisting of three officers and thirty men was ready to move on a moments notice. While coming alongside, the big tanker tried to crash her heavy stern into the destroyers thin plates. Expert seamanship saved the Tribal from serious damage. Before Altmark was seized, four Germans were killed and five wounded. When the boarding party searched the ship, they discovered and rescued 299 captives in the hold of the ship. When the destroyer arrived in the UK, the British press learned of the rescue and Cossack was instantly elevated to fame in the headlines of the worlds newspapers. Cossacks stem plating had to be repaired as a result of bumping into Altmark but it was a small price to pay for the saving of human lives. After this incident, Captain Vian returned to Afridi and the destroyers reverted to their North Sea patrol and convoy rescue duties.

During the Second Battle of Narvik on 13th April 1940, Cossack ran aground and sustained serious damage. Repairs at Skelfiord, Norway took several days, On 29th April, she arrived safely at Portsmouth, destored, then went on to Southampton for major repairs and a refit at Thornycrofts Yard.

On 15 June 1940, the repairs were completed and Captain Vian assumed command of Cossack again. The destroyer became the permanent leader of the 4th DF from this point on. She spent the month of August at Scapa Flow waiting for action then moved to Rosyth, England. There, Captain Vian exercised the 4th D.F. in case the invasion of Britain materialized. More action occurred on the 13th/14th October when Cossack lead HMS Ashanti, HMS Sikh and HMS Maori to attack a German convoy off Norway. A shell hole in Cossack was the only damage to the British ships in what was a very successful operation.

Cossack began 1941 with a refit in Thornycrofts Yard. It lasted from 7th January to 20th February and focused on repairing damaged floating dock and weather damage sustained at Scapa Flow. Cossacks bottom, corrugated by high speed in rough weather was straightened out and the ammunition hatches made watertight again. Most novel though, was the installation of the 286M radar antenna on the foremast. On 21st May, Cossack and other ships of the 4th D.F. and Home Fleet set sail to search for the German battleship Bismarck. After losing her hunters in the North Atlantic, Bismarck was eventually tracked down and sunk. For a while, the 4th D.F. was attached to the Home Fleet but they soon returned to Western Approaches duties.

At the beginning of July, the ships were sent to Plymouth to defend British coastal convoys against raids by German destroyers and E-boats based in Brittany, France. More rapid firepower was needed against the fast moving E-boats so HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh and HMS Zulu had single 2 pounder guns mounted on each side of the bridge. On 14th July, HMS Cossack, HMS Maori and HMS Sikh arrived in Gibraltar to take part in Operation Substance, the reinforcement of Maltas garrison which was expected to repel an anticipated German airborne assault.

In October 1941, HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, R.N. DSO and Bar, DSC) left Gibraltar escorting a slow, UK bound convoy. On the night of the 23rd, she was at the rear of the convoy when a torpedo from U-563 hit forward of the bridge killing Captain Berthon and 158 of his officers and men. A further 29 were injured. Ammunition had exploded; No.1 boiler room was flooding and the survivors abandoned ship using Carley floats. The other escorts picked them up but Cossack did not sink and her fire went out. Part of Cossacks focsle had been blown away thus making the remainder of the hull more buoyant. Believing that there was a chance that their ship might be saved, the Cossacks reboarded the destroyer. No 1 Boiler Room bulkhead was shored and the other boilers were flashed up. They managed to get the engines running astern but Cossack could not make much speed and it was a long way back to Gibraltar. The crew continued with their struggle to save the Tribal. A tug was in transit from Gibraltar but the weather worsened and the Cossacks were taken off for the night. The once proud destroyer slipped beneath the surface the next day.

Hit by U-boat
Sunk on 24 Oct, 1941 by U-563 (Bargsten).

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