Swan Lies Rusting In River

Sun Herald

Sunday October 14, 2001


WHEN she rolled down the slipway at Sydney's Cockatoo Island in 1915, she was the pride of a new nation.

Only the second warship to be built from scratch by the new Australian Commonwealth, the HMAS Swan attracted hundreds of onlookers to her gala launch.

The 76m torpedo destroyer went on to serve in the Adriatic Sea during World War I on anti-submarine operations with British ships.

Now, nearly 70 years after she sank in inglorious circumstances during a storm, chart makers have logged her exact position on the muddy floor of the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney.

Navy hydrographers working in the region came across the Swan while double-checking old charts last month.

The mostly intact vessel is lying in 13m of water close to Wobby Beach.

Historical accounts refer to the loss of the decommissioned Swan in the area and existing charts show a sunken vessel about 60m from the wreck found by the Navy team.

But the new survey has provided clear sonar images of the ship and logged its exact position.

Naval historian Joe Straczec said the Swan was one of five destroyers built in Australia in the early part of the century for use in World War I.

It was constructed at Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour and initially served in South-East Asia from bases in Malaya (now Malaysia) and Singapore.

In 1917 it travelled with sister ships HMAS Huon and HMAS Torrens for the Mediterranean and took part in escort and submarine-pursuit duties.

But Mr Straczec said that after its glorious early career the Swan ended its days playing a more humble role.

``By the end of the war [the Swan and other torpedo destroyers] were fairly tired mechanically and were starting to show their age," Mr Straczec said.

``There had been a rapid advance in technology during the war years."

The Swan was decommissioned in 1928 after being stripped of guns and fittings.

The NSW government briefly considered using it and a sister ship, the HMAS Parramatta, to house felons working on construction projects in the Hawkesbury area but it was ultimately sold to private industry and used to haul blue metal on the Hawkesbury.

It is believed the ship was being towed to be broken down for scrap in 1934 when it broke away during a storm and then sank.

Mr Straczec said raising and restoring the wreck was probably not viable because of extensive corrosion of its steel body.

The chart makers who re-found the Swan told the Navy News newsletter the wreck was not suitable for diving.

Lieutenant-Commander Mike Pounder said it was sitting in a channel where the current runs at four knots. Visibility is as low as 3cm.


Launched: December 11, 1915.

Length: 76.2m.

Weight: 700 tons.

Top speed: 28 knots.

Company: 66 crew.

Armaments: One four-inch gun, three 12-pound guns and three 18-inch torpedo tubes.

Range: 3,860km at a speed of 15 knots per hour.

© 2001 Sun Herald

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