Destroyer Cobra

Disastrous Fate Of The Destroyer Cobra

By James Donahue

When Charles Algernon Parsons was promoting his new steam turbine ship engine at the end of the Nineteenth Century, he sold the idea of placing the engine in two new destroyers for the British Royal Navy. They were to be the Destroyers Cobra and Viper.

Both ships were launched in 1899 and both proved to be high performance vessels that reached unheard of speeds of 34.5 knots during sea trials.

Using an experimental ship, the Turbinia, Parsons demonstrated the great performance of his new engine. He claimed it offered increased speed, increased carrying power of the ship, reduced the cost of operating, was lighter weight than conventional steam engines, cut the cost of general maintenance and even allowed for smaller and lighter screw propellers.

The British Admiralty was interested, and decided to try the engine in the two destroyers before putting it in larger fleet ships. And they were highly pleased with the performance.

Both destroyers, however, were ill-fated. The Viper hit the rocks off Alderney in the Channel Islands and broke in two. The crew escaped that disaster, but the ship and its fine new engine was lost. A month later the Cobra also broke in two during its delivery voyage on the North Sea.

The Cobra seemed to fall apart at sea on September 19, 1901. It took 44 Navy officers and men to the bottom with it. Of these, 23 were staff from Parsons manufacturing firm who were traveling aboard the ship. Twelve sailors, including the chief engineer, survived.

A board of inquiry absolved the surviving officers of all blame for the disaster. The board found that "Cobra did not touch the ground or come in contact with any obstruction, nor was her loss due to any error in navigation, but was due to structural weakness of the ship."

The finding was contested by the shipbuilders who sited other vessels of similar size and design still at sea and experiencing successful years of service.

The superstitious admiralty never used snake names for another ship after that disastrous season.

The Cobra was 223 feet in length and armed with one 12 pound gun, five six pound guns and two torpedo tubes.


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