Permanently moored in London near Tower Bridge on the south side of the River Thames is HMS Belfast, a Royal Navy light cruiser. In 1967 a campaign began to avert Belfast’s expected scrapping and preserve her as a museum ship. She was first opened to the public in October 1971 and is now operated by the Imperial War Museum. She has become a popular tourist attraction.
The construction of HMS Belfast began in December 1936. Being one of a class of ten cruisers, the ship was launched on St Patrick’s Day 17th March 1938 and named after the capital city of Northern Ireland. The completed vessel had an overall length of 187m, a beam of 19.3m and a draught of 5.3m. Her standard displacement during her sea trials was 10,420 tons. She was propelled by steam turbines, driving four propeller shafts and was capable of 32.5 knots. Carrying 2,400 tons of fuel oil she had a maximum range of 9,970 miles at 13 knots.
HMS Belfast’s main armament consisted of twelve six-inch guns in four triple turrets. With a rate of fire of up to eight rounds per gun per minute, her main battery was capable of a maximum rate of fire of 96 rounds per minute. Her secondary armament consisted of twelve 4-inch guns in six twin mounts. Her initial close-range anti-aircraft armament was sixteen 2-pounder guns in two eight-barrel mountings, and two quadruple Vickers machine guns. She was also equipped with six 21-inch torpedo tubes in two triple mounts, and fifteen depth charges. The ship’s main armour was 4.5 inches (110 mm) thick in places. HMS Belfast was also equipped with two catapult-launched amphibious biplanes.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Belfast was initially part of the British naval blockade against Germany. She then saw action escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union during 1943, and in December 1943 played an important role in the Battle of North Cape, assisting in the destruction of the German warship Scharnhorst. In June 1944 Belfast took part in Operation Overlord supporting the Normandy landings. In June 1945 Belfast was redeployed to the Far East to join the British Pacific Fleet, arriving shortly before the end of the Second World War. Belfast saw further combat action in 1950–52 during the Korean War.
For further information go to www.iwm.org.uk/hms-belfast.
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