On 6 June 1944, HMS Belfast lead the opening bombardment of Operation Overlord - the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France. Discover 8 things you didn't know about the role HMS Belfast played in the largest naval, air and land operation in history.

HMS Belfast on the Thames. © IWM

1. One of Only Three Surviving Bombardment Vessels from D-Day

HMS Belfast is one of only three remaining vessels from the bombardment fleet which supported the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. The other vessels are the destroyer USS Laffey, part of the historic ships grouped at Patriots Point, South Carolina, and the dreadnought battleship USS Texas at San Jacinto, Texas.


2. HMS Belfast was the flagship of bombardment Force E

HMS BELFAST leaving Scapa Flow for the Normandy beaches, June 1944.
HMS Belfast leaving Scapa Flow for the Normandy beaches, June 1944. © IWM (A 25665)

On 6 June 1944, HMS Belfast was the flagship of Bombardment Force E, supporting troops landing at Gold and Juno beaches. Her first target was the German gun battery at La Marefontaine. As a result of HMS Belfast’s bombardment, the battery played no meaningful role in the defence of the beaches.

The entry in HMS Belfast's log from the morning of 6 June 1944.
The entry in HMS Belfast's log from the morning of 6 June 1944. © IWM Docs

3. She wasn’t quite the first ship to open fire on 6 June

Though many of HMS Belfast’s veterans believe their ship was the first to open fire on 6 June, this wasn't the case. Lieutenant Peter Brooke Smith, who was serving on board HMS Belfast, recorded in his diary that another cruiser to the west fired first at 0523. The entry in HMS Belfast’s log (pictured here) records that she opened fire three minutes later at 0527, 'with full broadside to port.' 

One of the toilets on board HMS Belfast.
One of the toilets on board HMS Belfast. © IWM

4. Her guns cracked the crew's toilets

The vibration of HMS Belfast’s guns firing during D-Day ended up cracking the crew’s toilets.

The sick bay on board HMS Belfast.
The sick bay on board HMS Belfast. © IWM

5. Casualties were treated on board

HMS Belfast was one of the larger warships in the fleet, with a fully equipped sick bay, a surgeon commander and two surgeon lieutenants. At 1300 on 6 June, casualties began to arrive on board.

The entry in HMS Belfast's log from the morning of 25 June 1944.
© IWM Docs

6. The crew helped clear the beaches

On 25 June, during one of the quiet periods when fighting had largely moved out of range of HMS Belfast’s guns, some of the unoccupied members of the crew were chosen to form working parties to go ashore and help clear the beaches. The entry in the ship's log (pictured here) for 1100 states: 'Beaching working party ashore'. However, some members of the crew, such as Seaman David Jones, were not convinced of the need for these duties: 'There was a Beachmaster there. He was a lieutenant commander, I think - "do this, do that, push this, shove that" - we didn’t know what we were achieving really, we just did what we were told.'

The shell room on board HMS Belfast

7. She spent 33 days in Normandy and fired over 5,000 shells

In total, HMS Belfast spent 33 days in support of the landings and fired over 4,000 6-inch and 1,000 4-inch shells.


8. The Normandy campaign was the last time she fired her guns in the Second World War

HMS BELFAST at anchor off the Normandy beachhead, firing A and B turrets.
HMS Belfast at anchor off the Normandy beachhead, firing A and B turrets. © IWM (IWM FLM 4015)

The invasion of Normandy was the last time HMS Belfast fired her guns during the Second World War. In July, she set sail for Plymouth Devonport and a well-earned refit, before being despatched to the Far East.

Visit HMS Belfast today. 

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