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Scuttling of HMAS TORRENS I

The Royal Australian Navy's River class torpedo boat destroyer HMAS TORRENS I was laid down at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney in 1913 and commissioned on 3 July 1916. The destroyer immediately went into World War I service with the British Far East Patrol operating around the Malayan Archipelago until 1917 when she joined the Australian Destroyer Flotilla bound for the Mediterranean. Based at Brindisi, the Flotilla patrolled the Strait of Otranto preventing submarines passing into the Mediterranean. After a major refit TORRENS joined the 5th British Destroyer Flotilla in Adriatic patrols; this was followed by operations through the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmora and into the Black Sea.

TORRENS returned to Sydney in May 1919 undertaking routine duties including acting as escort to HMS RENOWN (1920 visit of HRH Prince of Wales). TORRENS was paid off into Reserve in 1920 and used as a training ship in Westernport, Port Adelaide and Sydney.

HMAS TORRENS was towed off Sydney Heads on 24 November 1930 and sunk as a target during Fleet Gunnery Practice. A correspondent for the 'Sydney Morning Herald' reported on witnessing the sinking of the 'war veteran' from HMAS ANZAC. The vessel had been stripped and towed out to its place of burial by the tug HEROIC, who had, six years previously, also participated in towing Australia's first naval flagship HMAS AUSTRALIA I to Sydney Heads for scuttling. The County class cruiser HMAS CANBERRA and the sea-plane carrier HMAS ALBATROSS then fired at the vessel:

'The tiny destroyer which had many times signalled a suspicious non-belligerent with a shot across the bows, and had run the gauntlet of a thousand shells during that celebrated night attack on the Austrian fleet in the Adriatic in 1918, was again the object of death-dealing projectiles ... Five salvoes from the Canberra's eight-inch guns wounded her sorely, but she still rose to the heavy swell. Shell after shell from the Albatross found its mark, but still she floated.'
['THE TORRENS SUNK BY GUNFIRE', Sydney Morning Herald, 25 November 1930]

Captain Holbrook on board CANBERRA fired first with eight 8-inch shells. According to the report:

'H.M.A.S. Albatross, the seaplane-carrier, which a naval officer who had better be nameless, has described as eminently suited to the work of chasing Chinese pirates, next took up the engagement. Four out of every five shots from her three 4.7-inch guns found their mark on the Torrens. The Rear-Admiral described the gunnery as brilliant. That brilliance was again displayed after lunch, when the Albatross gave the coup de grace with high explosives.'
['THE TORRENS SUNK BY GUNFIRE', Sydney Morning Herald, 25 November 1930]

Eventually, TORRENS succumbed to the heavy artillery fire and heeled over. Fearing TORRENS would become a 'waterlogged derelict', Rear-Admiral E R G R Evans, on board ANZAC, ordered a demolition party from CANBERRA out to the ailing vessel to ensure its sinking with a charge of gelignite. Timed charges were laid and the men from CANBERRA then rowed quickly away. A huge explosion followed and TORRENS finally gave way and sank.

The report also gave a detailed description of the work of the demolition party on board TORRENS:

'And if nothing else showed that the Australian Navy was prepared for war, that fact was amply demonstrated by the discipline. The demolition party which boarded the Torrens, for example, were not in an enviable position. Their boat was lowered from the Canberra into a heavy swell, against which the rowers could make little headway. They rowed, however, with a will, and reached their objective in spite of difficulties. The party boarded at once, and went leisurely about their preparations for blowing the hulk up, although every moment the Torrens sank visibly lower. Before the work was concluded the submersion suddenly began in earnest, but the men would not leave until the fuses had been set. They studiously ignored a warning siren from the Anzac, and walked casually to the hulk's side. They were equally casual as they took their seats in the boat and pulled away.'
['THE TORRENS SUNK BY GUNFIRE', Sydney Morning Herald, 25 November 1930]

After the sinking, the vessels returned to their base at Garden Island at 5 o'clock in the afternoon.