Anchored in the Thames, HMS Belfast was launched not long before the advent of World War II. It saw a great deal of action during the war as a blockade ship, escorting convoys, in battle, and supporting the Normandy invasion. After a long and distinguished career, efforts to save the ship from being scuttled resulted in the Belfast becoming a museum ship. Today it stands a monument not only to its own history, but to the British Navy and all sailors who fought in the war. Without further ado, here are ten interesting facts about this great ship.
Launched as a Light Cruiser in 1938 and officially commissioned in 1939, the ship has a displacement of 11,533 tons, which is the volume of water that would fill the space being occupied by the ship. It has an armament of 12 6-inch guns, 12 4-inch dual-purpose guns, 16 2 lb. AA guns (also known as “Pom-Poms”), 8 Vickers 0.5 machine guns, and 6 21-inch torpedo tubes. It is 613’, 6” long with a beam (width) of 63’, 4”. The Belfast’s top speed is 32 knots (36.82 mph). At any given time during its service, it had a crew compliment of 750-850 sailors.
The Belfast is one of only three ships from the D-Day fleet that haven’t been scrapped and serve as museum ships. The other two are US Navy vessels. The first is the USS Laffey, a Sumner-class Destroyer currently anchored with other museum ships at Patriots Point in Charleston, South Carolina. The other is the USS Texas, a New York-class Battleship that is part of San Jacinto State Park near Houston, Texas.
Blow Away the Serviceway
HMS Belfast’s guns are trained and elevated in such a way that they are aimed at the London Gateway, the last service station on the M1 before you get to London. Of course, the gun are no longer loaded or capable of firing, so you’re pretty safe if you stop there for a toilet break.
Great, Now Where Do We Go?
During the D-Day invasion, the firing of the guns actually managed to crack the toilets onboard ship. The Belfast spent 33 days at Normandy and fired over 5,000 shells. It would be the last time she fired her guns, despite seeing a tour in the Korean War and peacekeeping missions before her retirement in 1968.
Fancy a Pint?
The Facilities at the Belfast include a bar named the Upper Deck located above the entrance to the museum ship. The bar can handle up to 55 patrons and serves a number of drinks and light snacks. It stays open until 11:30 pm and offers great views of the Belfast and other London landmarks.
Last of Her Kind
HMS Belfast is the last remaining light cruiser from the Royal Navy’s WWII fleet. The HMS Belfast Trust was formed in 1971 to lobby for preservation of the ship as a museum. Eventually, the government agreed and handed the ship over to the trust. Six years later, the financials of the trust weren’t in good shape and they merged the the Imperial War Museum, which now manages the Belfast.
The Belfast was once equipped to launch aircraft via catapult and had hangers to store them. Two Supermarine Walrus amphibious planes were part of the ship’s compliment and used to attack submarines. After completing their missions, the planes would land alongside the ship in the water and were recovered by cranes on either side of the ship.
War is Cold
In 1943, the Belfast was serving in the arctic, where it destroyed the German ship Scharnhorst. The Scharnhorst had been assigned to attack a convoy sailing from England to Russia. What the German ship didn’t know, however, was that the convoy was a trap set by the Royal Navy. The Belfast, joined with HMS Norfolk and HMS Sheffield, flanked the Scharnhorst along with HMS Duke of York, HMS Jamaica, and four destroyers. While the German ship attempted to flee, it didn’t get far before a shot hit the boiler room, slowing the Scharnhorst down enough that the fleet was able to catch up and sink her.
You Won a Prize
One of the Belfast’s finest accomplishments was the capture of the German liner SS Cap Norte in 1939. The ship was trying to make its way back to Germany by posing as a neutral vessel. The Belfast boarded the Cap Norte and escorted it to a British port. At the time, it was the largest merchant ship ever captured and the Belfast crew received “prize money” in the form of a cash gratuity.
Can I Get Your Autograph?
The operating theatre of HMS Belfast bears the signatures of 26 of the 36 survivors from the Scharnhorst.