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HMS Belfast
Emblem of British Naval Muscle (1936-1971)

The magestic HMS Belfast, a cruiser, is preserved today as a symbol of Britain’s illustrious naval heritage. A cruiser is a powerful warship designed for the protection of trade, for offensive action, and as a powerful support for amphibious operations. Built by Harland and Wolff Shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, the HMS Belfast served an important role throughout World War II especially at the Battle of North Cape (December 1943) and the Landings at Normandy (D-Day, June 1944).

Explosion and Back Break

Following the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the HMS Belfast joined the 18th Cruiser Squadron at Scapa Flow, Orkney. On October 9, she successfully stymied the SS Cap Norte as she attempted to return to Germany disguised as a neutral vessel. SS Cap Norte, the largest enemy merchant ship ever captured, was apprehended to a British port under armed guard.

Seeking revenge for that capture, Germans located the HMS Belfast as she left the Firth of Forth. Germans used mine warfare -- a means of exploding gun powder underwater through magnetic or acoustic influence types -- to devastate the Belfast. While the crew suffered few casualties, the explosion had broken her back and damaged the hull due especially to the explosion's whiplash effect. The ship was detained for nearly three years as repairs were made in preparation for further duty.

Battle at North Cape
Captain F.R. Parham (December 26, 1943)

Upon her reunion with the Home Fleet in November 1942, the HMS Belfast became equipped with thoroughly modern radar and fire control systems and an upgraded standard displacement of 11,500. These upgrades easily propelled her to the forefront of Britian's Atlantic naval war.

Causes. British and American ships delivered critical supplies to the Allies along a passageway in the North Sea known as the Arctic convoy route. The Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, Grand Admiral Doenitz, had been pressured by his superiors to disrupt this supply chain. He ordered the deployment (Christmas Day, 1943) of an immensely powerful battle-cruiser, the Scharnhorst to destroy British merchant ships (especially JW 55B and RA55A).

Organization. Allied cryptographers had been cracking German signals prior to the deployment of the Scharnhorst without Axis intelligence detection. To prevent the destructive potential of the German cruiser, Admiral Fraser disposed overwhelming naval force: the HMS Norfork and Sheffield, for the purpose of screening the convoys and locking in the Scharnhorst; the HMS Duke Of York and the HMS Jamaica, battleships to deploy torpedo warfare; and the HMS Belfast.

Attack. When the Scharnhorst entered the HMS Norfolk's field of vision, she was immediately struck by Norfolk's eight-inch shells at a range of 13,500 yards (12,500 meters). After these serious salvoes destroyed her forward radar installation, the HMS Belfast and the Sheffield drove her in the direction of the HMS Duke Of York's punishing, fourteen-inch guns (range: 12,000 yd or 11,111 meters).

Fortunately Illuminating the German ship with starshell, the HMS Duke Of York and the HMS Jamaica opened fire as she made off to the east at the short margin of four knots of speed over the Duke of York. Unfortunately for the German cruiser, flooding and massive underwater damage resulted in her loss of speed and vulnerability to British artillery. Under intense gun and torpedo fire from the Belfast and the Jamaica, she was sunk (survival rate: 1%).

Notable Duties

  1. D-Day Bombardment. (June 6, 1944) Responsible for supporting the British and Canadian assaults on Gold and Juno beaches; fired first blows on German positions in Normandy; fired thousands of rounds from her 6" and 4" batteries to secure the movements of Allied troops under German opposition.

  2. Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 1945). Helped in the evacuation of emaciated survivors of Japanese prisoner of war and civilian internment camps from China. Involved with peace-keeping duties in the Far East until August 1947.

  3. Korean War (1950-1953). First of many British ships to go into action off Korea; bombarded in support of retreating South Korean troops; arduous 404 days on active patrol (high).

  4. Final Commission (1963). Admiral's flag hauled down for the last time (August 24, 1963) after having steamed nearly 500,000 miles during her duty; Brought to the Thames River, London (Pool Of London) on October 21, 1971 (Trafalgar Day) where she now contains a floating museum.

Specifications

Built Harland and Wolff Shipyard, Belfast, Ireland Keel laid December 10, 1936.
Armament: Twelve (4x3) 6-inch; eight (4x2) 4-inch HA/LA; twelve (6x2) Bofors AA
Beam: 69 feet (21 meters).
Class: Edinburgh (a modified Southampton)
Commissioned into Royal Navy on August 5, 1939.
Draught: 19 ft, 9 in. (6.1 meters)
Launch Date: March 17, 1938 (St. Patrick's Day)
Propulsive Machinery Four Admiralty 3-drum boilers; four steam powered Parsons single reduction geared turbines driving four shafts at 80,000 shaft horsepower
Speed (Maximum): 32 knots (36 miles / 58 kilometers per hour)

Visiting the HMS Belfast

Address:
Morgan's Lane
Tooley Street
London, England SE1 2JH

Telephone: 0207 940 6300
Underground Station: London Bridge or Tower Hill.
Open daily from 10 am - 5 pm (Summer) and 10 am - 6 pm (all other times).
Wheelchair Accessible

Sources
Kemp, Peter. The Oxford Companion to Ships and The Sea. Oxford University Press, ed. 1988 (1976).
HMS Belfast: Its Past and Future. Brochure given at museum, 1999 (visited).

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