The first Highflyer? The US privateer, Highflyer, which fought in the second Anglo-US war of 1812 – 1815 was an 8 gun schooner and was captured by HMS Poictiers on 9th January 1813. The schooner was then used by the British, still under her original name. She was recaptured by the Americans in September of the same year, off Nantucket Sound.
HMS Highflyer (2) Launched 11 June 1822. A 2 gun tender built at Woolwich. Nothing very remarkable is known about her and she was sold on 7th August 1833 to Ledger of Rotherhithe for breaking up.
HMS Highflyer (3) Built by Mare of Blackwall, the third Highflyer was launched on 13 August 1851. This ship was a wooden screw frigate and had a displacement of 1153 tons. She had a complement of 240 and saw active service in the Crimea, including a bombardment of Sevastapol. Highflyer was also involved in action on the China station and in June 1859 made an unsuccesful attempt to force a passage up the Pei Ho.She finally ended her days in Portsmouth and was broken up in May 1871
HMS Highflyer (4) Built by Fairfield of Glasgow, she was launched on 4th June 1898 and was a second class cruiser of 5.600 tons. Highflyer’s sister ships were Hermes and Hyacinth. Her amament consisted of 11 x 6″ guns and 9 x 12 pounders. After her boiler and acceptance trials she was sent out to the East Indies as Flagship of the East Indies Fleet in 1900 until 1904. She then served two years in the West Indies as a cadet training ship. From 1906 to 1908 she was back out to the East Indies, but not this time as flagship. She was a reserve ship at Devonport from 1908 to 1910. In 1911 until 1913 HMS Highflyer was once again the East Indies Fleet flagship and in 1914 she joined the 9th Cruiser Squadron at Devonport. On the 2nd August 1914 HMS Highflyer sailed from Plymouth. Two days later the signal was received to commence hostilities with Germany and a day later she captured a German liner, the Trabantia, which was carrying bullion. Trabantia was escorted into Plymouth. At this time thirty British warships were searching for the armed German liner Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, which was attacking British merchant ships. Acting upon intelligence received, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was sighted off the coast of Spanish North Africa and was called upon to surrender. The German ship refused and was attacked and sank. Only 35 of the German ship’s crew survived and were later picked up by the British armed liner Edinburgh Castle. This action was believed to be the first surface action by a British warship during WW1. After the war HMS Highflyer again took up her duties as Flagship of the East Indies Fleet and was finally taken out of service and broken up in Bombay in 1921.
HMS Highflyer (Shore Establishments) The Royal Naval Base at Trincomalee was commissioned on 1 July 1943, as HMS Highflyer and served as the main naval depot and signal base. The RN Base was paid off on 30th September 1958, and HMS Highflyer was re-commissioned at Welisara and Kotugoda on 1st October 1958. The two stations were known collectively as Ceylon West, being the transmitting station at Kotugoda and the wireless receiving station at Welisara. These stations were part of the Royal Navy’s world-wide communication network and had direct links to the Admiralty in London, ionospheric conditions permitting! As well as dealing with naval signal traffic, they also provided a relay station for merchant ships’ signal traffic. HMS Highflyer was finally decommissioned on 1st March 1962 after HMS Mauritius, (another shore station on the island of Mauritius), formally took over the responibility for providing the communication links with the UK.
Acknowledgements The information above was kindly provided by the Royal Naval Museum, HM Dockyard, Portsmouth and by Mr Dennis Betty of Bristol, a Naval enthusiast and historian whose father served in HMS Highflyer during the action with Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. The editor gratefully acknowledges their help in providing this information