Design and construction
In October 1905 the newly appointed Naval Officer Commanding the Commonwealth Naval Forces (the post-Federation amalgamation of the Australian colonial navies), Captain William Creswell, proposed a navy of three large cruiser-destroyers (capable of dealing with commerce raiders), plus 16 smaller destroyers and 15 torpedo boats for local defence.
The first instalment of the ambitious plan was the River-class, bids for which were received from British shipbuilders on 24 July 1907. A consortium of Fairfields and Dennys was chosen as the prime contractors, and the design was drawn by Prof. John H. Biles(GE) of Glasgow University, based on HMS Teviot, Yarrow's variant of the RN River Class.
The destroyers of this class had a displacement of 750 tons. The first three had a length overall of 246 feet (75 m), while the second three were longer at 250 feet 9 inches (76.43 m). They were powered by three oil-burning Yarrow boilers connected to Parsons turbines, which delivered 10,000 shaft horsepower (7,500 kW) to three propeller shafts. Cruising speed was 11.5 knots (21.3 km/h; 13.2 mph), giving the ship a range of 2,690 nautical miles (4,980 km; 3,100 mi), and maximum speed was 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph).
Each ship's company consisted of between 66 and 73 personnel, including five officers. The destroyers' main armament consisted of a single BL 4-inch Mark VIII naval gun, supplemented by three QF 12 pounder 12 cwt naval guns. They were also fitted with three .303-inch machine guns and three single 18-inch torpedo tubes.
The first three ships, Parramatta, Yarra and Warrego, were ordered on 6 February 1909. Another three ships, Huon, Swan, and Torrens, were ordered later. On the advice of the British Admiralty, the ships were named after Australian rivers (one from each state), although the original intention of using rivers with Aboriginal name origins did not carry through to the second batch. Senator George Pearce requested that they instead be named after famous navigators, but was overruled by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin. Huon was originally to be named Derwent, but this was changed before launch to avoid confusion with the British E-class (formerly River-class) destroyer HMS Derwent.
Parramatta and Yarra were the first new ships launched for the Australian navy. After completion, the two vessels were temporarily commissioned into the Royal Navy for the delivery voyage to Australia, although they reverted to the control of the Commonwealth Naval Forces on arrival in Broome. Warrego, however, was built up to launch condition, then disassembled, transported to Australia by ship, and rebuilt at Cockatoo Island Dockyard: the reasoning behind this was to raise the standard of the Australian shipbuilding industry by giving Cockatoo Island hands-on experience in warship construction. The second batch of three warships were all built at Cockatoo Island.
The first three destroyers were operating with the Australian fleet at the start of World War I. The three ships were assigned to the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, and participated in the capture of German New Guinea.
After the conclusion of the campaign, the destroyers were assigned to home waters for a short period, then assigned to Malayan and surrounding waters until late 1916.
During August and September, the second group of River-class destroyers began relieving the ships of the first group from Malayan patrols, with Parramatta, Yarra, and Warrego returning to Australia.
All six ships of the class were disposed of by the 1930's. Three were sold for use as accommodation hulks (two to the NSW Penal Department, the third to Cockatoo Island Dockyard) and later sank. The other three were sunk as target ships. The bow and stern sections of HMAS Parramatta were recovered in 1973 and are preserved as memorials.