The HMS Belfast Story
Belfast had an active service life. She was built in her namesake city at the Harland and Wolf shipyard, the same yard that had built the Titanic a quarter century earlier. She ws commissioned less than a month before Britain's entry into World War II. One of her first notable accomplishments was the capture of the German freighter Cap Norte, which was attempting to bring supplies back to Germany.
But Belfast was soon put out of action when she struck a magnetic mine. The explosion severley damaged the ship, requiring three years of repairs. However, the Navy took this opportunity to alter her design and improve the ship so that she emerged as one of the more powerful cruisers in the Royal Navy.
When she returned to sevice Belfast was given the task of escorting the Artic convoys bringing supplies from Britain to the Soviet Union, the so-called Murmansk Run. These supplies were critical to Russia's defense. But it was no easy task to get them there. Not only were the seas treacherous but to get there required going around the top of occupied Norway. The convoys had to make much of the journey within range of German airbases in Norway.
In addition, the Germans had based powerful surface ships in Norway. The German surface navy in World War II was much smaller than that of Britain or the United States. However, it included several very powerful and advanced ships. Consequently, the Artic convoys needed powerful escorts in case one of the German ships should emerge.
One of the most successful German surface ships was the battle cruiser Scharnhorst. Indeed, early in the war, she and her sister ship Gneisenau actually sank a British aircraft carrier. Moreover, I n just a few forays out to sea she had taken a heavy toll of Allied merchant ships.
After the sinking of the battleship Bismark in 1941, Hitler, was very reluctant to allow the remaining German capital ships to go to sea because he feared a loss of prestige if another such ship were to be sunk. However, in December 1943, the need to stop the Artic convoys caused him to grant permission for a raid by the Scharnhorst.
The British caught wind of this raid and laid a trap for the Scharnhorst. Two forces would operate together. The first force would be made up of three cruisers while the second force would be centered upon the battleship Duke of York. The plan was for the cruisers to drive the Scharnhorst into range of the force led by the Duke of York.
A battlecruiser such as the Scharnhorst carried heavy armament like a battleship but not the same amount of armor. As a result, a battlecruiser could outrun a battleship but would likely come out second in a slugging match.
On December 26, 1943, Belfast and the cruisers Sheffield and Norfolk encountered Scharnhorst off the North Cape and a firece gun battle lit up the night sky. The three cruisers by themselves were no match for the German ship. However, Scharnhorst's mission was to sink supply ships and not to risk damage by engaging infrior elements of the Royal Navy so she attempted to break off the engagement.
But one of the cruiser's shells had indeed damaged Scharnhort by destroying her radar. Blinded, Scharnhorst ran straight toward the second British force and soon found herself in a battle with the Duke of York, the three cruisers and a number of British destroyers. Scharnhorst put up a valiant struggle with guns still firing as she sank into the freezing Artic waters.
Six months later, Belfast was part of the greatest armada ever assembled - - the thousands of ships that took part in the D-Day landings. Belfast's primary role here was to use her batteries to destroy Germand shore installantions and to support Allied troops once they were ashore.
Belfast was then fitted out for the Pacific theater. However, she did not arrive until after the atom bombs were dropped on Japan. As a resut, her role was primarily to liberate British covilians who had been held by the Japanese since the beginning of the war.
After the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Belfast resumed the role that she had performed during the D-Day campaign, that of providing fire support for the troops ashore. Belfast fired so many slavos that half way through the war her six inch guns had to be replaced.
Following the armistice that ended the Korean War, Belfast was placed in reserve. Then in 1956, she underwent a modernization program that lasted until 1959 and which included such things as enclosing the bridge and introducing air conditioning.
For a few years, Belfast remained with the fleet, escorting aircraft carriers and acting as a roving ambassador. She was again withdrawn from service in June 1962.
In 1967, during a visit to the rreserve fleet in Portsmouth, a team from the Imperial War Museum ame up with the idea of preserving the ship as a museum. The government, however, refused to back the plan. But a private trust headed by Rear Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles, one of Belfast's former captains, stepped in and raised the money to bring the ship to London as a museum. In October 1971, she opened to the public. Seven years later, the Imperial War Museum took over her operation.
Above: Belfast's main battery of 12 six inch guns is housed in four turrets.
Below: Her secondary battery was originally 12 four inch guns. However, after World War II, two of these turrets, each housing two guns, were removed leaving Belfast with eight four inch guns.
Above: Belfast had several types of anti-aircraft guns during the course of her service life. The final version were Bophers 40 mm guns put on after World War II.
Above: The gunners did not determine where to target the guns. Rather, target information was supplied by the fire control directors.
Below: Inside a fire control director.
Cruise destination - England (London) - Visiting HMS Belfast - page 2