HMS Belfast (C35) in London

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HMS Belfast is a museum ship, originally a Royal Navy light cruiser, permanently moored in London on the River Thames and operated by the Imperial War Museum.

Construction of Belfast, the first Royal Navy ship to be named after the capital city of Northern Ireland and one of ten Town-class cruisers, began in December 1936. She was launched on St Patrick's Day, 17 March 1938. Commissioned in early August 1939 shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Belfast was initially part of the British naval blockade against Germany. In November 1939 Belfast struck a German mine and spent more than two years undergoing extensive repairs. Returning to action in November 1942 with improved firepower, radar equipment and armour, Belfast was the largest and arguably most powerful cruiser in the Royal Navy at the time. Belfast 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 and underwent an extensive modernisation between 1956 and 1959. A number of further overseas commissions followed before Belfast entered reserve in 1963.

In 1967, efforts were initiated to avert Belfast expected scrapping and preserve her as a museum ship. A joint committee of the Imperial War Museum, the National Maritime Museum and the Ministry of Defence was established, and reported in June 1968 that preservation was practical. In 1971 the government decided against preservation, prompting the formation of the private HMS Belfast Trust to campaign for her preservation. The efforts of the Trust were successful, and the government transferred the ship to the Trust in July 1971. Brought to London, she was moored on the River Thames near Tower Bridge in the Pool of London. Opened to the public in October 1971, Belfast became a branch of the Imperial War Museum in 1978. A popular tourist attraction, Belfast receives around a quarter of a million visitors per year. As a branch of a national museum and part of the National Historic Fleet, Core Collection, Belfast is supported by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, by admissions income, and by the museum's commercial activities.

Design

Belfast is a cruiser of the second Town class. The Town class had originated in 1933 as the Admiralty's response to the Imperial Japanese Navy's , an 11,200-ton cruiser mounting fifteen 6-inch guns with a top speed exceeding 35 knots. The Admiralty's requirement called for a 9,000 ton cruiser, sufficiently armoured to withstand a direct hit from an 8-inch shell, capable of 32 knots and mounting twelve 6-inch guns. Seaplanes carried aboard would enable shipping lanes to be patrolled over a wide area, and the class was also to be capable of its own anti-aircraft defence. Under the Director of Naval Construction the new design evolved during 1933. The lead ship of the new class, the 9,100-ton HMS Southampton, and her sister HMS Newcastle, were ordered under the 1933 estimates. By 1935, however, the Admiralty was keen to improve the firepower of these cruisers to match the firepower of the Japanese Mogami- and American Brooklyn-class cruisers; both were armed with fifteen 6-inch guns. In May 1936 the Admiralty decided to fit triple turrets, whose improved design would permit an increase in deck armour. This modified design became the 10,000-ton Edinburgh subclass, named after Belfast's sister ship HMS Edinburgh. She was launched on Saint Patrick's Day, 17 March 1938, by Anne Chamberlain, the wife of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. She was propelled by four three-drum oil-fired Admiralty water-tube boilers, turning Parsons geared steam turbines, driving four propeller shafts. She was capable of 32.5 kn and carried 2400 LT of fuel oil.

Belfast's main armament comprised twelve Mk XXIII 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.

Second World War

1939–1942: Commissioning, prize capture, mining, and repairs

Belfast sailed for Portsmouth on 3 August 1939, and was commissioned on 5 August 1939, less than a month before the outbreak of the Second World War. Her first captain was Captain G A Scott with a crew of 761, and her first assignment was to the Home Fleet's 2nd Cruiser Squadron. On 14 August Belfast took part in her first exercise, Operation Hipper, in which she played the role of a German commerce raider attempting to escape into the Atlantic. By navigating the hazardous Pentland Firth, Belfast successfully evaded the Home Fleet.

On 31 August 1939 Belfast was transferred to the 18th Cruiser Squadron. Germany invaded Poland the following day, and Britain and France declared war on 3 September. Based at Scapa Flow in the Orkney islands, 18th Cruiser Squadron was part of the British effort to impose a naval blockade on Germany. On 1 October 1939 Belfast left Scapa Flow for a patrol in the North Sea, and on 9 October intercepted a German liner, the 13,615-ton Cap Norte, 50 mi north-west of the Faroe Islands. Disguised as a neutral Swedish vessel, the SS Ancona, Cap Norte was attempting to return to Germany from Brazil; her passengers included German reservists. Two other vessels were captured that day, and all were steamed back to Scapa by prize crews from Belfast.

On 10 November Belfast was taken off the northern patrol and reassigned to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron. This squadron was to form an independent striking force based at Rosyth. On 21 November, Belfast was to take part in the force's first sortie, a gunnery exercise. At 10:58 a.m. she struck a magnetic mine while leaving the Firth of Forth. The mine broke Belfast's keel, wrecked one of her engine and boiler rooms and injured twenty-one of her crew. The tugboat Krooman, towing gunnery targets for the exercise, released her targets and instead towed Belfast to Rosyth for initial repairs.

Initial assessments of Belfast's damage showed that, while the mine had done little physical damage to the outer hull, causing only a small hole directly below one of the boiler rooms, the shock of the explosion had caused severe warping, breaking machinery, deforming the decks and causing the keel to hog (bend upwards) by three inches. On 4 January 1940 Belfast was decommissioned to Care and Maintenance status, becoming the responsibility of Rosyth Dockyard, and her crew dispersed to other vessels. By 28 June she had been repaired sufficiently to sail to Devonport, arriving on 30 June.

During her repairs, work was carried out to straighten, reconstruct and strengthen her hull. Her armoured belt was also extended and thickened. Her armament was updated with newer 2-pounder "pom-pom" mountings, and her anti-aircraft armament improved with eighteen 20 mm Oerlikon guns in five twin and eight single mountings, replacing two quadruple 0.5-inch Vickers guns. Belfast also received new fire control radars for her main, secondary and anti-aircraft guns. Her November 1942 radar fit included one Type 284 set and four Type 283 sets to direct the main armament, three Type 285 sets for the secondary guns, and two Type 285 sets for the 2-pounder anti-aircraft guns. She also received a Type 273 general surface warning radar, Type 251 and 252 sets for identification friend or foe (IFF) purposes, and a Type 281 and Type 242 for air warning. Her 1942 electronics suite also included a Type 270 echosounder. Her beam had increased to 69 ft and her draught to 19 ft forward and 20 ft aft.

1942–1943: Recommissioning, Arctic convoys and Battle of North Cape

On her return to the Home Fleet Belfast was made flagship of the 10th Cruiser Squadron, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Robert Burnett, who had previously commanded the Home Fleet's destroyer flotillas. The squadron was responsible for the hazardous task of escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union, operating from Scapa Flow and bases in Iceland. Her radar suite reduced Belfast need for aerial surveillance, and her aircraft were disembarked in June 1943.

On 26 December 1943, Belfast participated in the Battle of North Cape. This battle involved two strong Royal Navy formations; the first, Force One, comprised the cruisers HMS Norfolk, HMS Sheffield and Belfast (the 10th Cruiser Squadron) with three destroyers, and the second, Force Two, comprised the battleship HMS Duke of York and the cruiser HMS Jamaica with four destroyers. On 25 December 1943, Christmas Day, the German Navy's Scharnhorst left port in northern Norway to attack Convoy JW55B, which was bound for Russia. The next day Force One encountered Scharnhorst, prevented her from attacking the convoy, and forced her to turn for home after being damaged by the British cruisers. As Scharnhorst did so, she was intercepted by Force Two and sunk by the combined formations. Belfast played an important role in the battle; as flagship of the 10th Cruiser Squadron she was among the first to encounter Scharnhorst, and coordinated the squadron's defence of the convoy. After Scharnhorst turned away from the convoy, Admiral Burnett in Belfast shadowed her by radar from outside visual range, enabling her interception by Duke of York.

1944: Tirpitz and D-Day

After North Cape, Belfast refuelled at Kola Inlet before sailing for the United Kingdom, arriving at Scapa to replenish her fuel, ammunition and stores on New Year's Day 1944. Belfast sailed to Rosyth on 10 January, where her crew received a period of leave. February 1944 saw Belfast resume her Arctic convoy duties, and on 30 March 1944 Belfast sailed with the covering force of Operation Tungsten, a large carrier-launched Fleet Air Arm airstrike against the German battleship Tirpitz. Belfast underwent minor repairs at Rosyth from 23 April to 8 May, while her crew received a period of leave. On 8 May Belfast returned to Scapa and carried the King during his pre-invasion visit to the Home Fleet.

The invasion was to begin on 5 June but bad weather forced a 24-hour delay. At 5:30 a.m. on 6 June Belfast opened fire on a German artillery battery at Ver-sur-Mer, suppressing the guns until the site was overrun by British infantry of 7th Battalion, Green Howards. On 12 June Belfast supported Canadian troops moving inland from Juno Beach and returned to Portsmouth on 16 June to replenish her ammunition. She returned two days later for further bombardments. On the night of 6 July Belfast was threatened at anchor by German motor torpedo boats ("E-boats"). She evaded them by weighing anchor and moving to the concealment of a smokescreen.|group=nb On 10 July she sailed for Scapa, the fighting in France having moved beyond the range of her guns. During her five weeks off Normandy Belfast had fired 1,996 rounds from her six-inch guns.

1945: Service in the Far East

On 29 July 1944 Captain Parham handed over command of HMS Belfast to Captain R M Dick, and until April 1945 Belfast underwent a refit to prepare for service against Japan in the Far East which improved her accommodation for tropical conditions, and updated her anti-aircraft armament and fire control in order to counter expected kamikaze attacks by Japanese aircraft. By May 1945 Belfast mounted thirty-six 2-pounder guns in two eight-gun mounts, four quadruple mounts, and four single mounts. She also mounted fourteen 20mm Oerlikons. Her two aftmost 4-inch mountings were removed, and the remainder fitted with Remote Power Control. Her empty hangars were converted to crew accommodation, and her aircraft catapult removed. On 17 June 1945, with the war in Europe at an end, Belfast sailed for the Far East via Gibraltar, Malta, Alexandria, Port Said, Aden, Colombo and Sydney. By the time she arrived in Sydney on 7 August Belfast had been made flagship of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron of the British Pacific Fleet. While in Sydney Belfast underwent another short refit, supplementing her close-range armament with five 40mm Bofors guns. Belfast had been expected to join in Operation Downfall, but this was forestalled by the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945.

Post-war service 1945–50

With the end of the war, Belfast remained in the Far East, conducting a number of cruises to ports in Japan, China and Malaya and sailing for Portsmouth on 20 August 1947. There she paid off into reserve, and underwent a refit during which her turbines were opened for maintenance. She also received two more single Bofors guns, in place of two of her single 2-pounder mountings. On 25 June 1950, while Belfast was visiting Hakodate in Japan, North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel, starting the Korean War.

Korean War 1950–52

With the outbreak of the Korean War, Belfast became part of the United Nations naval forces. Originally part of the US Navy's Task Force 77, Belfast was detached in order to operate independently on 5 July 1950. During July and early August Belfast undertook coastal patrols and was based at Sasebo in Japan's Nagasaki Prefecture. From 19 July Belfast supported troops fighting around Yongdok, accompanied by the USS Juneau. That day Belfast fired an accurate 350-round bombardment from her 6-inch guns, and was praised by an American admiral as a "straight-shooting ship". On 6 August she sailed for the UK to pay off and recommission, and arrived back at Sasebo on 31 January 1951.

Modernisation and final commissions 1955–1963

In reserve, Belfast's future was uncertain: post-war defence cuts made manpower-intensive cruisers excessively costly to operate, and it was not until March 1955 that the decision was taken to modernise Belfast. Work began on 6 January 1956. Changes included replacing her 4-inch guns with more modern weapons, and protecting key parts of the ship against nuclear, biological or chemical attack. This last consideration meant enclosing her bridge, creating a two-tiered, five-sided superstructure which radically altered her appearance. Her crew accommodation was also improved, her tripod masts replaced with lattice masts, and timber decking replaced with steel everywhere except the quarterdeck. Belfast recommissioned at Devonport on 12 May 1959. Her close-range armament was standardised to six twin Bofors gun, and her close-range fire direction similarly standardised to eight close-range blind fire directors fitted with Type 262 radar. Her 1959 radar fit also included Type 274, retained for main armament direction, Type 277Q and 293Q for height-finding and surface warning, Type 960M for air warning, and 974 for surface warning. In order to save weight, her torpedo armament was removed. Martell's obituarist considered this commission a well-judged contrivance which 'did much to restore the confidence and image of the new RNR' which had undergone an acrimonious amalgamation with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1958.

Reserve, decommissioning, and preservation efforts 1963–1971

Belfast returned to Devonport on 24 August 1963 and paid off into reserve. From May 1966 to 1970 she was an accommodation ship, moored in Fareham Creek, for the Reserve Division at Portsmouth.

Following the Trust's efforts, the government agreed to hand over Belfast to the Trustees in July 1971, with Vice Admiral Sir Donald Gibson as her first director. At a press conference in August the Trust announced "Operation Seahorse", the plan to bring Belfast to London. She was towed from Portsmouth to London via Tilbury, where she was fitted out as a museum. She was opened to the public on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1971. The date was significant, as Belfast was the first naval vessel to be saved for the nation since HMS Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar. Though no longer part of the Royal Navy, HMS Belfast was granted a special dispensation to allow her to continue to fly the White Ensign.

Now a museum, the ship's opening was well received: in 1972 the HMS Belfast Trust won the British Tourist Authority's "Come to Britain" trophy.{{#tag:ref|The Society operates the amateur radio callsign GB2RN from the ship's Wireless Office. and became the Imperial War Museum's third branch, Duxford aerodrome having been acquired in 1976. In October 1998, the HMS Belfast Association was formed to reunite former members of the ship’s company. The Imperial War Museum's Sound Archive also seeks to record oral history interviews with former crewmen. The production of the masts, to replace corroded originals, had been supported by a number of Russian businesses at a reported cost of £500,000. The restoration of the masts involved removing the fittings from both masts, allowing them to be individually restored. The old masts were then cut down in sections, the new masts erected, and the original fittings replaced. On 19 October 2010, the new masts were dedicated at a ceremony attended by HMS Belfast veterans, by Prince Philip and officials from the Russian embassy and government.

Interpretation

When Belfast was first opened to the public, visitors were limited to the upper decks and forward superstructure.<ref name=wingatepostscript/> As of 2011, nine decks are open to the public. Access to the ship is via a walkway which connects the quarterdeck with the pedestrianised footpath on the south bank of the River Thames. The Imperial War Museum's guidebook to HMS Belfast divides the ship into three broad sections. The first of these, 'Life on board the ship', focuses on the experience of serving at sea. Restored compartments, some populated with dressed figures, illustrate the crew's living conditions and the ship's various facilities such as the sick bay, galley, laundry, chapel, mess decks and NAAFI. Since 2002 school and youth groups have been able to stay onboard Belfast overnight, sleeping in bunks on a restored 1950s mess deck.<ref name=wingatepostscript/> The second section, 'The inner workings', below the waterline and protected by the ship's armoured belt, contains core mechanical, electrical and communication systems. As well as the engine and boiler rooms, other compartments include the transmitting station (housing the ship's Admiralty Fire Control Table, a mechanical computer), the forward steering position and one of Belfast's six-inch shell rooms and magazines. The third section, 'Action stations', includes the upper deck and forward superstructure with the ship's armament, fire control, and command facilities. Areas open to the public include the operations room, Admiral's bridge and gun direction platform. During 2011 two of these areas were reinterpreted. The operations room was restored to its appearance during Exercise Pony Express, a large British-Australian-American joint exercise held off North Borneo in 1961. The reinterpretation included an interactive audio-visual plotting table. In July 2011 the interior of Y Turret, the aftmost 6-inch turret, was redisplayed using audio-visual and atmospheric effects, seeking to evoke the experience of a gunner at the Battle of North Cape. To emphasise the range of the ship's armament, the forward six-inch guns of A and B Turrets are aimed at the London Gateway service area on the M1 motorway, some 12½ miles away on the outskirts of London. A 4-inch gun mount and a shell hoist are kept in working order and used during blank-firing demonstrations by the Wavy Navy re-enactment group. In addition to the various areas of the ship open to visitors, some compartments have been fitted out as dedicated exhibition space. Permanent exhibitions include 'HMS Belfast in War and Peace' and 'Life at Sea'.<ref name=wingatepostscript/> The cost of admission to HMS Belfast includes a multilingual audio guide, and the museum also hosts an online virtual tour.

HMS Belfast is also the headquarters of the City of London Sea Cadet Corps, and her prestigious central London location means she frequently has other vessels berth alongside; in October 2007 Belfast hosted the naming ceremony of the lighthouse tender THV Galatea with the Queen and Prince Philip in attendance.

2011 Accident

On 29 November 2011 two workmen were slightly injured after the section of the gangway connected to the ship collapsed while it was undergoing renovation works.

Notes

References

Bibliography

External links



Source en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Belfast_(C35)