Learn about the famous Royal Naval Vessel the HMS Belfast

The HMS Belfast is a light cruiser of the Town class constructed for the Royal Navy. She is presently permanently docked on the River Thames in London as a museum ship administered by the Imperial War Museum.

A concerned British Admiralty realized in the early 1930s that the Imperial Japanese Navy had begun building of the new Mogami-class light cruisers, which were higher in specifications to their Royal Navy counterparts.

Construction of the Town-class light cruisers began in British shipyards in 1934. Later developments of this project resulted in the production of the class’s two most advanced ships, Belfast and Edinburgh. Belfast put into service on August 3, 1939, just before the onset of World War Two.

HMS Belfast Construction

Belfast, the very first ship in the Royal Navy to be called after Northern Ireland’s capital city and one of ten Town-class cruisers, started construction in December 1936. On St. Patrick’s Day 1938, she was launched. 

Design

Belfast had an overall length of 613 feet 6 inches, a beam of 63 feet 4 inches, and a draught of 17 feet 3 inches when completed. During her sea trials, her standard displacement was 10,420 long tons. Four three-drum oil-fired Admiralty water-tube boilers powered four propeller shafts via Parsons geared steam turbines.

She could go at 32.5 knots and held 2,400 long tons of fuel oil. At 13 knots, it allowed her a maximum distance of 8,664 nautical miles.

Military weapons, equipment and armour

HMS Belfast's 4-inch guns bombarding German positions in Normandy at night

Belfast’s primary weaponry consisted of twelve Mk XXIII 6-inch guns mounted in four triple turrets and controlled by an Admiralty Fire Control Table. Her main battery could fire up to eight rounds per gun per minute, for a total maximum rate of fire of 96 shots per minute.

The secondary weaponry consisted of twelve 4-inch cannons mounted aboard six twin mounts. Belfast was covered with a 4.5-inch main armour belt, 3 inches of deck armour over her magazines, and 2 inches of deck armour over her machinery compartments.

HMS Belfast Repairs

Belfast was hit by a German mine in November 1939. The ship was able to keep afloat and was quickly hauled back to base.  It was discovered that the cruiser’s hull had sustained significant damage. The keel had been bent and driven in, half of the frames had been damaged, and the turbines had been ripped from their foundations. 

The ship underwent a three-year major overhaul with the goal of both mending and upgrading the structure to better resist similar shockwaves. Belfast was considerably updated while undergoing repairs, with hull and armour layouts reworked, AA weapons strengthened, and radar stations installed.

In November 1942, the rebuilt cruiser re-entered duty. She defended Arctic convoys, participated in the Battle of the North Cape, in which the German battleship Scharnhorst was lost, and provided fire support for the Normandy landings in June 1944.

HMS Belfast during World War II

Belfast at anchor in Sydney Harbour, August 1945

Belfast departed for the Far East on June 17th, 1945, having undergone an upgrade to her radar and anti-aircraft weapons, as well as being prepared for action in tropical circumstances, following the German surrender in May 1945. HMS Belfast docked in Sydney in early August, barely in time for World War II to end.

Belfast had already completed the journey and would spend the rest of the 1940s in East Asia. As a result, when the Korean War broke out in 1950, she was nearby to assist the United Nations soldiers. She operated out of Japan and carried out a series of coastal bombardments until the end of 1952, when she went back to the United Kingdom to enter the reserve.

HMS Belfast Recommissioning 

Belfast was recommissioned on 3 November 1942 at Devonport under the leadership of Captain Frederick Parham. When Belfast rejoined the Home Fleet, she was appointed flagship of the 10th Cruiser Squadron and flew the flag of Rear-Admiral Robert Burnett, who’d already recently commanded the Home Fleet’s destroyer flotillas.

The squadron was in charge of guarding Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union from Scapa Flow and bases in Iceland. Belfast’s requirement for aerial observation was decreased by her radar suite, and her planes were disembarked in June 1943.

Facts/Trivia about the HMS Belfast

  • One of just three D-Day bombardment vessels that survived- HMS Belfast is one of the three intact ships from the assault force that aided the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. 
  • Her weapons shattered the crew’s restrooms- The impact of the HMS Belfast’s weapons firing on D-Day cracked the crew’s lavatories.
  • HMS Belfast is a World War II battleship- The ship is now docked near Tower Bridge on the River Thames in London as part of the Imperial War Museum.
  • The ship was 187 meters long, 19 meters wide, and could cruise at 60 kilometers per hour- She was armed with about a dozen heavy guns, as well as torpedoes and depth charges.
  • The Normandy campaign was the final time she deployed her guns in WWII– The last time HMS Belfast fired her guns during WWII was during the Normandy invasion. In July, she sailed to Plymouth Devonport for a well-deserved refit before heading to the Far East.
  • She was in Normandy for 33 days and fired almost 5,000 munitions- HMS Belfast supported the landings for 33 days, firing roughly 4,000 6-inch and 1,000 4-inch shells.
  • On board, casualties were treated– HMS Belfast was one of the fleet’s larger warships, with a properly equipped sick bay, a surgeon captain, and two surgeon lieutenants. Casualties started arriving on board at 1300 on June 6.
  • Navy’s most powerful cruiser- She sank the German battleship Scharnhorst in the frigid Arctic after intercepting a German battleship masquerading as a neutral ship.

Wrapping it up

The HMS Belfast is the epitome of a superb battleship. It was once a powerful battleship before, but now it is already a museum ship located on The Queen’s Walk, London. There are different things to do at the museum especially if you are with your family. 

This museum ship is super rich in history. When you visit there, you can immerse yourself into the past as you can see and experience the ship personally. Get the chance to see exhibitions and displays around the museum ship, you can also sit on the captain’s chair and experience to steer the ship and with its nine decks you can climb up and explore the different areas of it.