HMS Highflyer

HMS Highflyer was the nameship of the Highflyer class of second class cruisers. During the First World War she sank the German commerce raider Kaiser Wilhelm de Grosse, and in 1917 escorted the first transatlantic convoy from Canada. In the year before the start of the war, she had been serving as the training ship for Special Entry Cadets, but in August 1914 she was allocated to the 9th Cruise Squadron, under Admiral de Robeck, on the Finisterre station. She left Plymouth on 4 August, in the company of the admiral on HMS Vindictive. They then captured the line Tubantia, which was carrying German reservists and gold. Highflyer escorted her to Britain, before returning to her station.

Bow of HMS Highflyer
Bow of HMS Highflyer

She was soon transferred south, to support Admiral Stoddart’s 5th Cruiser Squadron on the Cape Verde station in the hunt for the German commerce raider Kaiser Wilhelm de Grosse. She had been sighted at Rio de Oro, a Spanish anchorage on the Saharan coast. The Highflyer was sent to find her, and on 26 August found the German ship taking on coal from three colliers. Captain Buller demanded her surrender. The captain of the Kaiser Wilhelm de Grosse claimed the protection of neutral waters, but as he was blatantly breaking that neutrality himself by taking on coal and supplies for more than a week, his claim was denied. Fighting broke out at 3.10pm, and lasted until 4.45pm, when the crew of the Kaiser Wilhelm de Grosse abandoned ship and escaped to the shore. 

Side view of HMS Highflyer
Side view of HMS Highflyer

On 15 October the Highflyer briefly became the flagship of the Cape Verde station, when Admiral Stoddard was ordered to Pernambuco. Later in the same month she was ordered to accompany the transport ships carrying the Cape garrison back to Britain. Towards the end of the month she was ordered to search the Atlantic coast of North Africa for the cruiser Karlsruhe.

After the battle of Coronel the Highflyer came back under the control of Admiral de Robeck, as part of a squadron formed to guard West Africa against Admiral von Spee. This squadron, containing HMSs Warrior, Black Prince, Donegal and Highflyer was in place off Sierra Leone from 12 November, but was soon dispersed after the battle of the Falklands. The Highflyer then took part in the search for the commerce raider Kronprinz Wilhhelm, coming close to catching her in January 1915. She remained on the West Africa station until 1917, making up part of the Cape Verde division.

In 1917 she was transferred to the West Indies and North America Squadron. This was the period of unrestrained submarine warfare, and it was eventually decided to operate a convoy system in the North Atlantic. On 10 July 1917 HMS Highflyer provided the escort for convoy HS 1, the first convoy to sail from Canada to Britain.

On 6 December 1917 the Highflyer was at Halifax when the munitions ship Mont Blanc blew up, in what has been estimated to be the largest explosion before the nuclear age. Before the explosion the Highflyer had sent her whaler to help the stricken merchant ship, and all but one of her six crew were killed in the explosion. The Highflyer then helped in the relief operation.

At the end of the war the Highflyer served on the East Indies Station, with a short spell as flagship, before being paid off in 1921.



Top Speed


Armour – deck

1.5in – 3in

 - conning tower


 - gunshields


 - engine hatches





Eleven 6in quick firing guns
Nine 12pdr quick firing guns
Six 3pdr quick firing guns
Two 18in submerged torpedo tubes

Crew complement



27 October 1898


7 December 1899


Captain Buller
Captain Garnett

Sold for break up


Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (12 November 2007), HMS Highflyer ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us -  Subscribe in a reader - Join our Google Group - Cookies