What Is HMS Belfast?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Cartwright
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HMS Belfast is a World War II era light cruiser permanently anchored in London, England and operated as a public museum. Built in the 1930s, the ship served the British Navy until 1963. The ship was opened to the public in 1971 and has been part of the Imperial War Museum since 1978; a total of nine decks can be explored by visitors, and there are many interactive displays. HMS Belfast is the last WW II battle cruiser in existence.

The nine open decks of the ship allow visitors to see operational spaces, as well as living and recreation quarters and storage. Visitors move on the same narrow stairways as the sailors manning the ship did, and a self-guided tour is available to explain the equipment and areas on display. An interactive Gun Turret Experience gives visitors a glimpse of what those on the ship experienced during service in the Second World War, while The Operations Room Experience allows those viewing the exhibit to try commanding a fleet of ships near Borneo. At the gift store visitors will find books, memorabilia and models.


HMS Belfast was built in the Belfast, Ireland ship yards. The hull was laid by Harland & Wolff builders in 1936 and the ship was finished and launched in the spring of 1938. After performance checks and repair of initial problems, the ship was commissioned by the navy in August of 1939. The ship initially saw action in WWII as part of an effort to close the ports of northwestern Europe to Germany after hostilities broke out; a collision with a floating mine caused enough damage to need almost two years of repairs. After returning to service HMS Belfast played a crucial role in protecting the supplies convoys through the Arctic ocean that took goods to the Soviet Union in the latter part of the war.

D-Day was another theatre where the ship saw action. The HMS Belfast took part in the bombardment of the French coast before and during the landing of ground troops; this operation took five weeks for the ship. During the Korean War, the Royal Navy used HMS Belfast on active duty from 1950 to 1952, while the ship's last years of duty were in various peacekeeping operations. HMS Belfast was retired by the Royal Navy in 1963. In the late 1960s a trust was formed to pursue purchase of the ship for a museum, after which the ship was anchored in the Thames River and opened to the public.


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