The HMS Cobra disaster

fred henderson
6th September 2005, 23:27
While Charles Parsons was negotiating with the Admiralty for the construction of the turbine powered destroyer that became HMS Viper (Please see my thread on HMS Viper), Armstrong’s were also negotiating with Parsons for a set of turbines and boilers for a stock destroyer they intended to build at Elswick. The Armstrong’s contract was signed by Parsons in February 1898, a month before the Admiralty contract.
In July 1899, when the Armstrong’s destroyer, Ship 674, was almost completed, she was run into by a collier and the damage took seven months to repair. In December 1899, Armstrong’s offered the vessel to the Admiralty. She was inspected by the Admiralty Assistant Constructor and found to be structurally below RN standards, but after prolonged negotiations the destroyer was purchased for £63,500, which was £10,000 more than the Viper. She was named HMS Cobra.
Some of the Admiralty Board members were very unhappy. Prince Louis of Battenberg minuted “As the case now stands, Their Lordships possess a destroyer of unprecedented speed which however she apparently will never be able to realise as the necessary personnel cannot be accommodated.” After lengthy debate the accommodation was increased to 77, which provided about two thirds of the stokers needed to operate the ship.
In June 1900, Cobra made 34.89 knots on trials after which, her accommodation was modified to meet Admiralty requirements and she was finally accepted in September 1901.
On the afternoon of 17th September 1901 HMS Cobra sailed from the Tyne bound for Portsmouth, where her armament was to be fitted. On board were senior engineers from the Admiralty, the builders and Parsons. Very heavy weather was met soon after passing Flamborough Head and the rolling became so bad that it was almost impossible to work the stokeholds. Numbers 1 and 2 boilers began to prime when their feed pipe broke, fires were drawn and speed reduced to 10 knots.
At about 7 am of 18th September the mate of the Outer Dowsing Light Vessel saw a destroyer coming from the north, plunging heavily, the wind being from the N.N.W force 6. Soon afterwards he saw steam blowing off from No 3 funnel and then issuing from all parts of the hull. To his dismay the vessel settled amidships and sank stern first leaving about 30 ft out of the water continuing for a while to the south. The destroyer had broken into two. Only 12 men got away in the dinghy and were picked up 12 hours later.
After the disaster the Admiralty tested one of its destroyers in a Portsmouth dry-dock supported on only two cradles, firstly 26 ft apart in the centre of the ship, then at the ends of the hull and no serious or permanent damage was inflicted. The Committee of Enquiry decided that Cobra had been inadequately designed and constructed. Cobra is the only RN destroyer ever to be lost by foundering through stress in heavy weather.
The loss of his highly trained men was a crippling blow to Parsons, while he was left with only the Turbinia to continue experimental work. The loss of both Viper and Cobra prevented the Admiralty undertaking its planned comparative trials between turbine and reciprocating powered destroyers


patrick mahoney
20th February 2006, 19:35
hi I am seeking some information on the above name can anyone help.

Jeff Egan
20th February 2006, 19:37
Ther is a great book on the life of this Ship Called the Billy Roffian by david Cordingly. What do you want to know it covers the whole life of the ship from Plans to Breaker yard.

20th February 2006, 20:00
hi I am seeking some information on the above name can anyone help.
don't know if this is of any help. one of the bellerophon's crew is buried at cromarty.
lawrence o'connor
ss 109315
h.m.s. bellerophone
died june 7. 1914
aged 25.
there are many more naval graves there,including some of the natal men. i have photographs if required.
ian jack

20th February 2006, 21:57
Which Bellerophon?
The last Bellerophon was the collective name for the Reserve Fleet, Portsmouth in the 1960's and 70's, possibly earlier. Although it comprised lots of different ships, all the members of the Reserve Fleet wore the Bellerophon cap tally.
The Blake class cruiser HMS TIGER was renamed from Bellerophon before being launched.
The last ship to bear the name BELLEROPHON was the battleship built by Portsmouth Dockyard in 1907 and scrapped in Germany in 1922.

20th February 2006, 23:40
The third “Bellerophon” was a 15-gun broadside battleship, launched at Chatham in 1865. She was of 7550 tons, 6520 horsepower, and 14-knots speed. Her length, beam, and draught were 300ft, 56ft, and 27ft. At a subsequent date this vessel’s name was changed to “Indus” and she served as a workshop at Devonport.

Hope this helps


Jeff Egan
21st February 2006, 10:42
The Bellerophon I was refering to was the one dating from 1782 to 1836, she is famous for taking part in many sea battles including The Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Trafalgar. Her main claim to fame was that she was the ship that brought Napoleon back to England after his capture.

21st February 2006, 12:07
This is no good to you then Jeff.

HMS Bellerophon
Built Portsmouth Dockyard, laid down December 1906, completed February 1909, cost £1,763,491.
August 1914 1st then 4th Battle Squadron Grand Fleet.
27 August 1914 collided with SS St Clair off the Orkney Islands, no significant damage sustained.
May 1915 refit at Devonport.
Present at the Battle of Jutland 1916. Fired 62 12in rounds and received no damage.
June-September 1917 served as second flagship 4th Battle Squadron whilst HMS Colossus in refit.
November 1921 sold for scrap.


21st February 2006, 12:12
But this may be ......................

Nephew of Admiral George Darby, Henry became Lieutenant on 13 Nov 1776 and Commander in 1781, first coming to prominence in the fireship Infernal against Suffren off the Cape Verde Islands. Promoted to Post Captain in 1783 he quickly gained a reputation as a smart frigate captain. In 1796 he was appointed to command the 74 gun ship Bellerophon, a fifth of whose crew were Irish. The mutinies of 1797 did not affect the ship; her captain being Irish born knew how to handle the quirks of his crew and Admiral Jervis appreciated this and rewarded Darby by sending him with Nelson to the Mediterranean in pursuit of the French fleet, the result of which led to the Battle of the Nile 1 Aug 1798.

The Bellerophon opened fire at 6.45pm., at 7pm she anchored alongside the French flagship L'Orient (120) at 8pm her mizzen-mast was shot away and Capt Darby suffered a severe head wound, and Lieutenant Philip Launder was killed by the fall of the main mast and by 9pm the French flagship was on fire. The Bellerophon cut her cable and drifted away dismasted, and with casualties amounting to near a quarter of the British Fleet. At 10pm the L'Orient blew up, creating such a spectacle that fighting ceased for a number of minutes. By the end of the battle Bellerophon had lost 3 lieutenants, 1 Master's Mate, 32 seamen and 13 marines, Capt. Darby was wounded as well as the Master, Captain of marines, boatswain, and one midshipman. In all 49 killed and 148 wounded. Despite the heavy casualties it had been a most complete victory for the British Fleet and on the 3rd Aug Nelson sent the following letter to the captain of the Bellerophon:-

"My Dear Darby,
I grieve for your heavy loss of brave fellows, but look at our glorious victory. We will give you every assistance as soon as you join us, till then God Bless You.
Ever yours faithfull, Horatio Nelson. We shall both I trust soon get well."

Capt Darby was very disappointed not to be sent home for repairs and was particularly blunt with Admiral St. Vincent whom he accused, at Gibraltar, as having a tongue like a cow's, with a smooth side as well as a rough one. He left the Bellerophon in 1799 and was made Rear Admiral in 1804.
Darby's home was the 14th century Leap Castle on the West Coast of Ireland, five miles north-west of Roscrea. The walls are very thick and honeycombed with many passages. There is a dungeon with entrance only by a trapdoor and when it was cleared out earlier this century three cart loads of bones were removed. The Castle was burnt down during the riots of 1922 and restoration was planned for many years though now it is owned by a Trust.

Henry D'Esterre Darby became Admiral of the Blue in 1819 and was knighted the following year. He died on the 30 Mar 1823 and was buried in Adhancon Churchyard, Offaly, Ireland. His nephew, John Nelson Darby was the founder of the Plymouth Brethren.

21st February 2006, 12:19
This may help even more ....................

HMS Bellerophon was built in Frindsbury, near Rochester in Kent, and launched in 1786 so that by the battle of Trafalgar she was almost twenty years old. She was the epitome of the standard warship carrying large guns on two decks, and had a distinguished fighting career even before she joined Nelson’s fleet off the coast of Spain in 1805.

From 1792 - 94 Bellerophon was part of Lord flowe’s fleet serving in the Channel and the Western Approaches, and was engaged in the pursuit of the French Fleet that led up to the battle of the Glorious First of June, as well as the battle itself She was badly damaged aloft and suffered 34 casualties, but forced the French L’Eole ( 74 guns ) out of action, and shared in the escort of the French prizes into Spithead on the 10th June.

Four years later the Bellerophon was part of Nelson’s fleet which pursued Napoleon’s army and fleet across the Mediterranean to Egypt, engaging and defeating the fleet at the battle of the Nile. Under the captaincy of Henry Derby Bellerophon took on a greatly superior enemy ship, the three decker L’Oreont carrying 120 guns, and for an hour fought her bravely before being forced to break away. She had lost both mizen and main masts, a third of her crew were casualties and fifteen of her guns had been put out of action. With almost 200 dead and wounded Derby cut the anchor cable and tried to set sail in the foremast, but that too went over the side and she drifted away. Fires started on the L’Orient later grew out of control as other British ships took up the fight, and L’Orient later blew up.

At Trafalgar Bellerophon was fifth in the column led by Admiral Collingwood, between the Tonnant and the Achille. Captain Cooke headed his ship for the Spanish Bahama (74 guns), one of the four Spanish ships present which had been built at Havana, Cuba. However when he eventually broke into the enemy line it was astern of the Spanish Montanes (74 guns), discharging two broadsides as he steadily sailed through. The Bellerophon was then engaged by the French L’Aigle (74 guns) so that for a time she was fighting on both sides. L’Aigle had embarked troops to enlarge her crew, and they poured in a heavy fire from the deck and mast tops, as well as tossing grenades and fire brands on to the deck of Bellerophon. Captain Cooke was killed by musket fire and on assuming command, the First Lieutenant ordered men below to save casualties, while also directing the resistance to L’Aigle’s attempt to board. This was beaten off and L’Aigle moved away, but Bellerophon had suffered severely since she had also been fired on by other ships. Almost a quarter of the crew were casualties and she was severely damaged in the rigging, although she was still able to take the Spanish Monarca before the close of the battle.

After repairs in England, Bellerophon rejoined the fleet and served in the blockade of France, and on campaigns in the Baltic. In 1815 she had the distinction of receiving the surrender of Napoleon and transporting him to England before he was exiled to St Helena. She was hulked in 1816 after this final service, first at Sheerness and later at Plymouth, where she was broken up in 1836.

Her First Lieutenant Cumby was promoted Captain in 1806, and played an active role in the rest of the war before retiring to Heighington, Co. Durham.


Sister Eleff
15th March 2014, 13:51
... The Committee of Enquiry decided that Cobra had been inadequately designed and constructed. Cobra is the only RN destroyer ever to be lost by foundering through stress in heavy weather.
The loss of his highly trained men was a crippling blow to Parsons, while he was left with only the Turbinia to continue experimental work. The loss of both Viper and Cobra prevented the Admiralty undertaking its planned comparative trials between turbine and reciprocating powered destroyers


I have posted a photo of HMS Cobra in my galley

After the loss of Viper and Cobra "The Admiralty never again named a surface ship after a snake" (Quoted from: 'Turbinia, The story of Charles Parsons and his Ocean Greyhound' By Ken Smith, 1996)

15th March 2014, 19:10
Not quite true there was the Algerine class minesweeper Rattlesnake. Perhaps Ken Smith wanted to invent an urban myth.