HMS Highflyer Postcard

Not all the Royal Navy’s warships in the Great War were cutting edge, modern vessels. The RN also had a large number of older ships, the workhorses of the fleet. In many ways their war would be more interesting than the modern ships in the fleet as they were far more expendable and so commanding officers were prepared to use them more aggressively than newer ships which were husbanded more carefully. Amongst these older warships was HMS Highflyer, a protected cruiser that dated from 1898 and the subject of today’s postcard:

This old ship displaced 5,650 tons and was armed with eleven six pounder single guns, these were arranged with two guns on the quarter deck, a single gun on the fo’c’stle and the rest arranged port and starboard amidships down the length of the vessel:

In terms of power, the ship relied upon two four cylinder triple expansion engines, powered by eighteen Belleville boilers. This gives rise to the ships distinctive row of funnels and multiple ventilators running the length of the midships:

As the text on the postcard alludes to, the ship was to have an eventful war. In August 1914 she was allocated to the 9th Cruiser Squadron, under Rear Admiral John de Robeck, on the Finisterre station. She left Plymouth on 4 August, in the company of the admiral on HMS Vindictive. The Dutch ocean liner Tubantia, was returning from South America when the war began with £500,000 in gold destined for banks in London, a large portion of which was intended for the German Bank of London. She was also carrying about 150 German reservists in steerage and a cargo of grain destined for Germany. She was stopped and boarded by an officer and crewmen from Highflyer, and escorted into port at Plymouth.

She was then transferred to the Cape Verde station, to support Rear Admiral Archibald Stoddart’s 5th Cruiser Squadron in the hunt for the German armed merchant cruiser SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. She had been sighted at Río de Oro, a Spanish anchorage on the Saharan coast. On 26 August Highflyer found the German ship taking on coal from three colliers. Highflyer’s captain demanded that the Germans surrender. The captain of Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse claimed the protection of neutral waters, but as he was breaking that neutrality himself by staying for more than a week, his claim was denied. Fighting broke out at 15:10, and lasted until 16:45, when the crew of Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse abandoned ship and escaped to the shore. The German ship was sunk, with the British losing one man killed (Richard James Lobb) and five injured in the engagement. In mid-1916 the Prize Court awarded the crew of Highflyer £2,680 for the sinking of the German ship.

On 15 October Highflyer briefly became the flagship of the Cape Verde station, when Stoddard was ordered to Pernambuco, Brazil. Later in the same month she was ordered to accompany the transport ships carrying the Cape garrison back to Britain and then searched the Atlantic coast of North Africa for the German light cruiser SMS Karlsruhe. After the Battle of Coronel in November, Highflyer came back under the control of Admiral de Robeck, as part of a squadron formed to guard West Africa against Admiral Maximilian von Spee. This squadron, consisting of the cruisers HMS Warrior, HMS Black Prince, HMS Donegal and Highflyer was in place off Sierra Leone from 12 November, but was soon dispersed after the battle of the Falklands in December. Highflyer then took part in the search for the commerce raider Kronprinz Wilhelm, coming close to catching her in January 1915. She remained on the West Africa station until she was transferred to the North America and West Indies Squadron in 1917.

Highflyer returned to the East Indies Station in 1918 and was paid off at Bombay in March 1919. She was recommissioned in July as the station flagship and served until she was paid off in early 1921 and sold for scrap there on 10 June.

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