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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.
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.
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).'
Builder Vickers-Armstrong,High Walker Yard, The Tyne
Laid Down 9th June 1936
Launched 8th June 1937
Commissioned 14th June 1938
Displacement 1,959 tons, (2,519 fully laoded)
Length 364 feet 8 inches
Beam 36 feet 6 inches
Draught 13 feet 0 inches
Armament 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
Engines 3 Admiralty 3-Drum Boilers & 300 lb/sq.in, all with 2 shaft, Parsons, geared turbines
Shaft Horsepower 44,430 (Trials)
Maximum Speed 36.2 knots (Trials)
SG388. Various web sites inc HMS Cossack Asscn.