This entry in Pen & Sword’s series of books based on the original builders plans of warships looks at HMS Cossack, perhaps the most famous member of the Second World War Tribal class of destroyers. As with every entry in this series, the book is built around the large scale ‘as-fitting’ plans produced when HMS Cossack was being completed, and which show the ship in incredible detail.
The book starts with a look at the design history of the Tribal Class destroyers, which were significantly larger and more heavily armed than the standard British destroyers of the 1930s. This is followed by a look at Cossack’s own service record, which including the famous rescue of British prisoners illegally being held on the German supply ship Altmark in neutral Norwegian waters, and her controversial loss. We then move onto the plans themselves, which include some from the design process, before moving onto the ship as she was built. As always it’s the fine details shown in these plans that provide a great deal of the fascination here – including the neat row of toilet cubicles arranged along the side of the hull, the Rum store (and separate officer’s wine store), right down to the layout of the furniture in most of the rooms!
Although the majority of the plans do come from the Cossack, and she is the only member of the class whose entire service career is detailed, the book actually had plenty of detail about the wider Tribal class. This includes some examples of plans of other members of the class, normally chosen either because that ship was laid out differently or because they were higher quality than the equivilents for the Cossack (or showed more detail).
I hadn’t realised just how many British destroyers were lost during the Second World War. I’m currently writing a series of articles on British destroyers of the First World War, where loses in combat were fairly rare. Of the twelve ships in the First World War era Tribal class only two were total losses, with another two so badly damaged that the remaining parts were combined into a single ship. The Beagle class lost three, all to accidents. The twenty strong Acorn class lost two to torpedoes and one in a ship wreck, and the same level of losses is seen in later classes. In contrast twelve of the sixteen Second World War Tribals were lost, and a similar rate of loses can be found in most destroyer classes of the early war period – of the twenty four ships in the G, H & I classes seventeen were lost, ten of the fourteen C & D class, and so on!
One notable difference beween this book and the similar books on larger ships is that there are many more specialised plans here. This must at least in part because the deck plans and cross sections that are the bulk of some of the other books won’t have filled enough space – the largest plans for some of the battleships were an impressive twelve feet long, and provided more than enough detail to fill an entire book. That simply isn’t the case for a much smaller destroyer, so there is space for many more plans showing individual aspects of these ships, including the water supply system, fuel pipes, ventilation arrangements and some very detailed plans of the engine rooms.
One of the interesting aspects of their design process is that when they were first being considered, these ships were so much larger and more powerfully armed than other British destroyers of the period that a great deal of effort went into picking a type name. Destroyer was felt to be misleading as they were too large, but most alternatives had some other flaw (I was amused by the argument that calling them Scout Destroyers might have annoyed the French, who had a class of large scouts). All of this effort was wasted, as by 1940 the standard destroyer had almost caught up with them, and the larger L & M classes were actually heavier! This rather mirrors the story of the original Tribal class, which were built as the ‘high’ end of a mix of larger and smaller destroyers, but that were soon followed by larger ships.
This is another engrossing book in this series, once again providing a fascinating insight into what was hidden behind the metal walls of these famous warships.
HMS Cossack: Enlarged Profile and Sections, as fitted 1938
HMS Cossack: Enlarged Decks, as fitted 1938
Author: John Roberts