As befits an island nation, Britain has a long and proud maritime heritage. A visit to the H.M.S. Belfast on the River Thames lets you explore some of the more recent chapters of that naval history.
Docked in the Thames between Tower Bridge and London Bridge, the Belfast represents Britain’s largest surviving ship from World War II.
She also served 404 days on active patrol during the Korean War. The ship operates as part of London’s Imperial War Museum.
The Belfast is a cruiser of the Southampton class. (A class of “light” cruisers designed to comply with the London Naval Treaty of 1930.) No doubt responding to the winds of war, the Admiralty ordered its construction along with its sister ship, the H.M.S. Edinburgh, in 1936. Commissioned into the Royal Navy in early August 1939, the Belfast was battle ready when Britain declared war in September of that year.
Its wartime exploits include capturing the German liner SS Cap Norte, protecting convoys making the extremely dangerous Murmansk run to bring supplies to Russia, and helping to sink the battle cruiser Scharnhorst. The Belfast played an important role in “Operation Neptune,” the code name for the Royal Navy’s operations during the D-Day invasion. The ship supported the assaults made by British and Canadian troops on Gold and Juno beaches on that fateful day.
The Belfast did not escape the war unscathed—she was badly damaged in November 1939 when a magnetic mine was detonated as she left the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Structure, hull, and machinery damage were so great that the ship was out of service for almost three years.
Exploring the ship’s nine decks gives you some idea of what life was like onboard when a 950-man crew lived and fought on the Belfast before she was retired in 1965.
Should you be lucky enough to visit when a naval re-enactment takes place, you will be amazed at the coordination and timing required of sailors when in battle mode. Life-and-death tasks such as loading and firing the ship’s guns become almost balletic operations. Special family activities take place during the last weekend of every month. If you have younger children, these activities can provide great photo opportunities and supply lasting memories. Pre-booking for these family activities is not required.
HMS Belfast Ship Specifications
Maximum speed: 32 knots (36 miles / 58 km per hour)
Standard displacement: 11,553 tons
Overall length: 613 feet 6 inches (187metres)
Beam: 69 feet (21metres)
Draught: 19 feet 9 inches (6.1metres)
Armament (1959): Twelve (4×3) 6-inch; eight (4×2) 4-inch HA/LA; twelve (6×2) Bofors AA
Propulsive machinery: Four Admiralty 3-drum boilers; four steam powered Parsons single reduction geared turbines driving four shafts at 80,000 shaft horsepower.
by Katie Calvert