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HMS Belfast was launched in 1938 and saw service in World War II. Its distinguished history includes the sinking of German battle cruiser Scharnhorst, and a vital role in the Normandy landings.
HMS Belfast has a maximum speed of 32 knots, a crew of 750-850, and is armed with twelve 6-inch guns (4x3), eight 4-inch HA/LA (4x2) and twelve Bofors AA (6x2).
It is 613 feet long, and remained the Royal Navy’s largest-ever cruiser until it was decommissioned in 1963. It now serves as a floating museum.
HMS Belfast began production on the 21st September 1936, and was launched on 17th March 1938. It began active service one month before World War II – 5th August 1939, under the command of Captain G A Scott.
The ship’s most famous engagement came in the winter of 1943 – at the so-called Battle of the North Cape. The German High Command was coming under increasing pressure to blow a lid on the arctic convoys, and sent the battle cruiser Scharnhorst to cut off supplies. She set sail for the northern tip of Norway on Christmas Day 1943.
Unbeknownst to the Germans, the British has been cracking their codes for months – and sent plenty of ships to head her off. The HMS Belfast was joined by two more cruisers – the Norfolk and Sheffield – whilst the battle cruisers HMS Duke of York and HMS Jamaica blocked her off from the south.
By Boxing Day 1943 the Scharnhorst had been hit by two of Norfolk’s massive 8-inch shells, and turned around with HMS Belfast in hot pursuit. The Duke of York pounded her again, and Belfast gave the parting blow. She sank beneath the waves, and was never seen again. Of the 1,963 men aboard, only 36 lived to tell the tale.
When the war ended in 1945 the boat was posted to China, and then to Korea to help the American war. She returned home in September 1952 for peace patrols and training exercises.
In August 1963 she was brought home for the final time and settled into a birth by Tower Bridge.
A self-guided tour of the museum starts off on the deck, where there are plenty of library-like displays detailing the history of the British Navy. But the real joy comes from walking through the cramped corridors that line the ship from bow to bow.
There are nine decks in all, and they have all been kept in period detail. You can explore the gun turrets, boiler room, bridge and sick bays, as well as the quarters of the officers and crew. Budding sailors can even aim the guns! Waxwork models act out the battle scenes, and sound effects and photographs all add to the atmosphere.
The horror of war is vividly brought home with a stroll through the operating theatre, containing signatures of 26 of the 36 survivors from the German battle cruiser.
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