Obituary: Lt Cmd Peter Cobby; diver whose lasting legacy is the world-renowned Underwater Centre
Born: 16 April, 1929, in Brighton. Died: 2 February, 2012, aged 82
Lieutenant Commander Peter Cobby took part in several hazardous missions after the Second World War when he served with mine clearing divisions of the Royal Navy and was twice commended for his bravery in defusing German mines. He also established the renowned Underwater Centre at Fort William, which instructs divers and provides degrees.
The school is now recognised internationally not only for its facilities, but also its the rigorous teaching methods and focus on safety. Cobby was a much respected by other divers as a gallant man and for his pioneering work in broadening the base of professional diving.
Peter John Clement Cobby attended Brighton Intermediate School and joined the Royal Navy as a boy seaman in 1945, and served on the navy’s last battleship, Vanguard. He proved to be a natural seaman with inspiring leadership qualities and in 1949 was a leading seaman in a minesweeping trawler in the Mediterranean. He served as the chief boatswain’s mate and in 1951 Cobby qualified as a diver.
His first mission was to serve with the Mediterranean Fleet Clearance Diving Team, which was entrusted with the dangerous mission to clear ports and beaches of bombs left over from the hostilities of the war.
In the late Fifties, Cobby served as senior diver on the mine- hunter HMS Brenchley, which was attached to the 51st Minesweeping Squadron and had been formed in 1951. It was originally based at HMS Lochinvar at Port Edgar on the Firth of Forth.
In January 1957, Cobby was called from the classroom where he was studying to become an officer and sent to West India Dock in the heart of the London docks. A huge German mine containing 1,570 kilos of explosive had been found in the mud and was considered to be highly dangerous.
He immediately ordered that the entire area be evacuated and Cobby and his colleagues from HMS Brenchley proceeded to display much professional dexterity and cool heads. They worked by touch and feel in the pitch dark and unlit water in rotation and made repeated dives on the mine to dismantle it.
They had to treat the bomb as though it had multiple fuses – they did not know whether it was likely to blow up at any moment. Cobby was awarded BEMs for their skill and bravery.
There was a similar incident in December 1969 when an unexploded mine was discovered in Portland Harbour, lying in 35ft of water. The mine contained several devices, which ensured it was impossible to be made safe and after cleaning the mine, the team carefully cut it open. There was only a small blast: on this occasion Cobby received a commendation.
In the Seventies, Cobby was on loan to the US navy and spent a record-breaking 21 days in a pressurised bathysphere at a simulated depth of 1,000ft. For good measure, he also helped to salvage a US marine corps aircraft that had crashed off the coast of North Carolina.
Among his other diving achievements was raising a crashed Aer Lingus plane from the seabed, writing the procedures for rendering safe Polaris missiles and locating an experimental torpedo in Loch Long.
Cobby then moved to Scotland and established the Underwater Centre at Fort William. It had been operating since 1972 and opened in 1974 and is now recognised as the world’s leading commercial diver training centre. Cobby set up the school with a keen eye to both its commercial and industrial uses, as well as those required by the military. The school soon became of importance after it opened for the training of specialist divers on the North Sea oil rigs.
Cobby headed the £4 million school and initiated, with much forward planning and insight, an advanced programme using the most up-to-date technology.
He said at the time: “What the school at Fort William tries to do is to set standards for licensed divers. And the time has come to deglamorise diving. With excellent deepwater access and purpose-built facilities, the centre is the ideal location for training commercial divers.”
In 1978, Cobby joined Fathomline, a North Sea design company that bid to design and build a hi-tech oil rig. The firm won the contract and Cobby was put in charge of the overall building of the £70m project in Finland for Shell.
His work as a mine disposal officer marked Cobby out as a diligent operator in a dangerous environment. His lasting legacy could be the school at Fort William, which has expanded considerably.
Cobby married Peggy Griffith in 1950. She predeceased him and he is survived by their two daughters and two sons.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: East
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east