HMS Belfast took her place on the southern bank of the River Thames in 1971 and has since established herself as a London landmark. But she is not only just a huge name in London’s long list of world leading museums. She has also played a starring role in some iconic cultural moments of the last few decades.  

Only Fools and Horses (and veteran warships)

As HMS Belfast now sits on the most north point of South East London, where else can we start but Only Fools and Horses? The show might be best known for Del Boy, Rodney and Uncle Albert, but did you know that HMS Belfast makes an appearance too? 

In He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Uncle, Uncle Albert runs away from Mandela House. Del Boy and Rodney form an ad hoc search party, and head to HMS Belfast as part of their mission to find their man. Albert served in the Royal Navy, famously part of the crew on seven ships that were either bombed or torpedoed (including two in peacetime). HMS Belfast famously hit a mine in 1940, putting her war efforts on hold. Could she have been one of the many ships on which Albert served?  

BBC's Outnumbered

“Dad, I’m going to blow up that big building over there.”

“Well, lots of bankers work there so no one will mind. Hang on, are you allowed up there?”

“Erm, no, I don’t think I am.”

“Well, get down then, come on.”

“What does HMS Belfast have to do with World War Two?”

“Well, it’s a large fighting ship of World War Two which has been turned into a museum about World War Two.”

“So, it’s all about World War Two?”

“Well, virtually all, yeah.”

“Well, which bits aren’t?”

“Well, there’s just a tiny bit about what happened to the ship after the end of the war.”

“I don’t want to see that.”

“Okay, fine.”

“Because I want to win the prize on best projects on World War Two.”

“Well, what is the prize?”

“It’s a trip on HMS Belfast.”

“But we’re on…”

“Mum, I need a wee now.” 

“Ben, come down off that mast.”

Del Boy and Rodney aren’t the only comedy legends to see HMS Belfast. In series three of Outnumbered the Brockman family head on board HMS Belfast. 

In the episode The Family Outing, we see them explore the Fo’sicle and take a trip up to the Captain’s Chair, which are still unmissable parts of any tour of the ship today.  Hugh Dennis proves (as his character Pete, we’re sure) that a tour round the ship is just as exciting for adults as it is for kids when re-enacting a mayday operation.  

Don't Tell the Bride

“The guests are arriving but there’s no Registrar.”

“Have you got a contact for Macy, your Registrar? Only I’m aware she’s now about 15 minutes late. To work out where she is.”

“You got the number for the Registrar? I’m gonna go and phone her, she’s late. You haven’t got it have you?”

“If the Registrar doesn’t make it soon there’s not going to be a wedding. But the bride is already at Westminster Pier. Rhianna’s going to make her entrance by motor launch.”

“You’re just at London Bridge now? Okay fantastic, okay, sure.”

“Is that Tower Bridge? I don’t know, there’s too many bridges, I’m so confused.” 

“The Registrar is three minutes away but so is Rhianna.”

“She’s late but she’s coming now. As long as she makes it before Rhianna does.”

[Music]

“I can’t see if that’s them or not. That’s not coming this way is it?”

“Oh no, you’re not getting married on HMS Victory. Oh no, wait, what’s the boat called?”

[Screaming]

[Music]

“Don’t cry, don’t cry. This is insane. I thought we were just gonna go to a Registry Office or something. We’re on HMS Belfast. 

[Applause]

[Music]

“I wanna go and get married.”

“The Registrar has made it on time.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, can I ask you all to stand for the entrance of the bride. “

“So, how’s the unusual venue going down with the guests?”

“I must admit, it was a huge surprise. I know Rhianna’s always thought nautical but this is taking it to the full on extreme.”

“Krispy Kremes, oh my god, oh my god. That’s the most amazing wedding cake I’ve ever seen. It looks like a mound.”

[Laughter]

“Let me show you.”

“Flower decorations are amazing, they’re gorgeous. Did you do all that?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Look at all this stuff in the back, look at this.”

“I know, it actually opens, look.”

“It’s like modern but nautical. You look up and you’ve got this crazy feeling, I love it. Oh, it’s so industrial and weird, I love it. Oh it’s so cute, it’s like a little ship’s cabin.”

“Like the 1940s.”

“Yeah, it’s like The Shining.”

“Talking of horror movies, what will she make of those mannequins? Turns out she’s a fan.”

[Applause]

[Music]

However, some will be most excited to see HMS Belfast appear as a wedding location in the nail biting, teeth grinding climax of Don’t Tell the Bride. The quarterdeck was in fact the venue for a particularly stressful wait for an unpunctual registrar, who unwittingly raced a bride taking a speedboat down to the ship from Westminster pier. Although, unsurprisingly, the ‘will she hate it’ factor of Don’t Tell the Bride was lost – who doesn’t love a visit to HMS Belfast?!   

HMS Belfast has also been the backdrop to some particularly memorable music videos and performances over the years. 

Children of the 1980’s might have forgotten about Kelly Marie’s It Feels Like I’m in Love but once you hear the opening bars, and see the dance routine in all its majesty, there’s nothing you can do to get it out your head. The fo’sicle provides an exceptional backdrop to some particular memorable moves in the introduction - you’ll never be able to hear the bells ring on board in the same way again.  

Depeche Mode

"People are people, so why should it be?
You and I should get along so awfully
People are people, so why should it be?
You and I should get along so awfully
So, we're different colors and we're different creeds
And different people have different needs
It's obvious you hate me, though, I've done nothing wrong
I've never even met you, so, what could I have done?
I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
People are people, so why should it be?
You and I should get along so awfully
People are people, so why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully
Help me understand
(Help me understand) help me understand
And now you're punching, and you're kicking, and you're shouting at me
I'm relying on your common decency
So far, it hasn't surfaced, but I'm sure it exists
It just takes a while to travel from your head to your fist (head to your fist)
I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
People are people, so why should it be?
You and I should get along so awfully
People are people, so why should it be?
You and I should get along so awfully
I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man."

In the same decade, Basildon’s finest electronic superstars, Depeche Mode, used HMS Belfast as the backdrop to their anthem People are People, and eagle eyed MTV viewers will have seen Dave Gahan stroll through the engine rooms, 15ft below deck. 

We’ve also welcomed musicians on board to perform live. Over the decades we have had hip hop royalty when Eminem performed Toy Soldiers as part of a Top of the Pops special, while Madness made the trip down the Northern Line from Camden to perform to a select audience from the quarterdeck.  

The name's Bond...

Daniel Craig: "How did I feel when I got the part? I felt great, I felt numb really, I don't think it has really sunk in, it's going to take some time for it to sink in. I felt that I needed....what I wanted to do was get on with it and make the best film that we can."

"No I don't think it has, I really don't think it has hit yet, I mean even driving down the Thames with the Royal Marines going at 60 miles per hour was fairly unreal."

(Interviewer: "Who would be your ideal Bond girl?") Daniel Craig: "You are going to have to ask them about that, I'm not going to get in to that really. I don't want to get in to that, they will decide and they are going to choose the best Bond girl. It's a brilliant part for an actress so that's what we want".

Q: "Would it be possible to say 'I'm Bond, James Bond' to the camera? " Daniel Craig: "No, not in a million years".

But it wasn’t just the small screen that was lit up by HMS Belfast. You can see HMS Belfast in a brief-but-we-like-to-think-crucial role during Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. While the Order accompany Harry through London on his trip to Grimmauld Place, they swoop down to the Thames and pass HMS Belfast on their way. 

And Hollywood has come calling more than once! In 2005, Daniel Craig was announced as Bond. What could be more authentically 007 than boarding a speedboat at HMS Belfast as he was unveiled to the world as the latest actor to play the world’s most famous secret service agent? 

A Killing Eve cameo

Bond is not the only undercover agent that has had HMS Belfast in their sights. Most recently the ship made her appearance the final episode of Killing Eve’s season three. What better way to end an award winning BBC drama, than a scene on Tower Bridge overlooking the ship in all her glory? 

Political envoy

interviewer: "can we get a ringing of the bell?"

Jeremy Hunt: "yes sure" [bell rings] "ooh me goodness me are you alright? There we are, had a terrible moment there. Health and safety. Are you OK? yes okay now there we are, disaster averted, thank you. You got a bit more TV there than you were expecting! Got the chime in the middle, there we are."

HMS Belfast spent her post war years as a symbol of Britain’s new soft diplomacy, serving as a political envoy as she travelled across the globe. After she berthed on the Thames, she became the venue of visits from politicians, ambassadors and dignitaries from around the work.  

One of her most famous political moments of recent years was when she hosted celebrations for London’s Olympic Games in 2012, during which a bell ringing mishap from then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was watched thousands of times.  

World of Warships

Voice over: "They were designed to be the best. They met enemies face to face, endured tragedies and enjoyed victories. They went down in history due to the bravery of their crews. They are the ships that deserve to be called 'Naval Legends'.

In this episode Cruiser Belfast, the keeper of the Royal Navy's grandeur. In the beginning of the 1930s, the British Admiralty learned that Japan had begun construction on the new Mogami-class light cruisers, which surpassed the British ships of the same type In London, it was perceived as a challenge, and required an appropriate response. However, to create a worthy adversary for Mogami, the British had to approach the limits imposed by international treaties."

Yuriy Kruchkov, historical consultant: "Mogami is quite a successful attempt from the Japanese to cerate something of their own; they managed to do it. However, the cruiser Mogami encouraged other naval powers to break the provisions of the Washington Naval Treaty."

Voice over: "In 1934, British shipyards started the construction of light cruisers, later named the Town-class, because all the ships were named after British towns. The further improvement of the project led to the appearance of the two most advanced ships in the class, Belfast and Edinburgh. In comparison with other Towns, they had better armament and a more rational armour layout. By many parameters, the British cruisers were on par with foreign ships of the same type, despite the fact they were inferior to their main rival, Mogami, in the number of primary armament guns; 12 against 15. The British tried to even the score be developing new artillery systems for main batteries."

Yuriy Kruchkov: "They tired to install a four-gun turrets on Belfast and Edinburgh. But the early trials showed that it became very tight. What does this mean? The turret was overcrowded, making the ammunition handling and firing too inconvenient. That's why they gave up on the idea very quickly."

Voice over: "As a result, engineers settled for triple turrets that had a distinctive feature: to prevent the powder gases from affecting the shell's trajectory when all barrels fired simultaneously, the middle gun was moved backwards a little. The Belfast's firepower was reinforced with six coaxial dual-purpose artillery mounts, with a calibre of 4 inches. In general, the cruiser was well armed and her bountiful artillery made up a good part of her displacement. Cruiser Belfast was commissioned on the eve of war, on August 3rd, 1939. But four months later she had to return to dock."    
    
Yuriy Kruchkov: "With the outbreak of World War Two, Great Britain faced two parallel tasks. One of them was habitual and the British were prepared for it. The second task was uncharacteristic and unusual. Let's start with the latter. It was the underwater war. The British weren't ready for it at all."

Voice over: "German U-boats were causing lots of trouble, but the British were able to sink them. However, the Royal Navy ships faced another enemy - mines. Belfast fell prey to the most dangerous of them, a new German bottom mine."

Stan Kitchener, tour guide: "In 1939, when a mine exploded underneath this engine room, it pushed everything up to such an extend that they had to rebuild almost the entire ship."

Yuriy Kruchkov: "When Belfast hit the mine, she not only received a hole in the hull, but she also had her keel broken, and that's a place that is almost impossible to repair. It's a miracle that she remained afloat and it's a miracle that she could return  to her base for repairs."  

Voice over: "Over the course of the modernisation, Belfast was equipped with modern radar systems, an upgraded gun fire control system, and became almost a meter wider to increase her stability. The specifications of cruiser Belfast after the modernisation of 1942: length: 613 ft 6 inches, beam: 66 ft 3 inches, draft: 23 ft 4 inches, total displacement: 14,900 tons. The power plant included 4 turbogear Parsons turbines and 4 Admiralty boilers, and produced 80,000 horsepower. The cruiser's maximum speed reached 31 knots after the modernisation. Armor: Main belt: 4.5 inches, decks: from 2 to 3 inches, athwartships bulkheads: 2.5 inches, primary armament turrets were protected by armor from 2 to 4 inches thick. Armament. Primary armament: 12 x 6 inch Mark 23 guns in four turrets.
Long-range anti-aircraft artillery: 12 x Mark 16 cannons in coaxial mounts. Calibre: 4 inches. Small calibre anti-aircraft artillery: 2 Vickers Mark 6A 8-barrel "pom-pom" guns, calibre: 1.6 inches. 4 single-barrel and 5 coaxial Oerlikon mounts. The cruiser carried two triple TR-4 torpedo launchers with a calibre of 21 inches. Three Supermarine Walrus aircraft were on board to carry our reconnaissance and fire adjustment. Cruising range: 12,200 miles (22,900km) at 12 knots.  

During the repairs, the Belfast's damaged power plant was completely replaced. It was the same as on the other Town-class cruisers. The difference was in its location on the ship and the power produced. According to the project, the nominal output of the power plant was 82,500 horsepower, but the calculations showed that the Belfast's machine power should be decreased to 80,000 to work more efficiently."

Stan Kitchener: "These steam turbines are driven by super-heated steam that is generated in the boilers at 390 degrees centigrade and at 20 atmospheres. This produces enough power to drive a ship weighing 14,000 tons through the water at 32 knots, which is about 36 miles an hour of 58 kilometres an hour."

Voice over: "Understanding the threat posed by German U-boats, the British Navy was constantly hunting for them. To oppose enemy submarines, Belfast was equipped with a hydro acoustic system, a load of depth charges and aircraft. Three Walrus seaplanes were able to fight submarines, apart from reconnaissance and fire adjustment tasks. They could carry two normal or anti-submarine depth charges on each of their wing bomb racks."

Nigel Arnall, retired commander Royal Navy: "And it was designed to be catapulted from between the funnels into the air and then go off and do its tasks. Its tasks were primarily reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare, but it was discovered very early on that actually the aircraft was very useful as a search and rescue aircraft. Now, once the aircraft had actually finished its sortie, it had to be recovered back on board the ship. And one of the ways in which you could try and ensure that the water wasn't too rough for it to land on, was for the ship to do an S-manoeuvre, which left a sort of hemisphere of smooth water, onto which the aircraft could land. Once it landed, the aircraft then had to taxi up alongside the ship and then be recovered. Clearly the pilot could not stop the engine until the rear gunner had actually hooked the jib from the crane, or the hook from the crane, onto the aircraft. So if you could imagine he was sitting up on top of here with the crane hook coming down towards him in a very rough sea, waiting to hook it on, with that propeller going round behind him. A very dangerous job. Once it was hooked on, the engine could be switched off and then the aircraft could be craned on board. They wanted to do it as quickly as possible before the slick that they had created had actually dissipated and the water began to get rough again."

Voice over: "A warship is a complex system, where the main function of its elements, even the tiniest one, is a successful accomplishment of the mission. The British, with their rich naval history, managed to find a balance for all these elements in this military vehicle. Every detail on the warship, from a gun to a sailor's mug, was designed for victory." 

Stan Kitchener: "When the ship was commissioned in August of 1939, it has a peace-time crew of 761 officers and men. This was not enough to operate all four turrets. So when the war started, the crew numbers went up to 950. They lived here, in what looks like crowded accommodations, but this was a standard format throughout the whole of the Royal Navy, with the hammocks being hung up where they are above the tables. This was a tradition that goes back about 300 years that they ate under where they slept. Obviously the sailors needed feeding and this galley supplied over two thousand meals a day. It's part of the original ship and would provide meals for the sailors; fish, chips, peas, macaroni cheese, jam roly poly, all these would be cooked. Sometimes during World Wat Two, if a mine went off,  it would cause an explosion underwater, which would stun the fish and they would float to the surface. If they could, they would gather the fish up, so that they would have fresh fish instead of the ones from the deep freezers."

Voice over: "Since Nelson's times, the food ration in the British Royal Navy had not been diverse. The food was substantial, but if it remained unchanged for weeks, even a small bar of chocolate or a far of jam would be precious for any sailor. However, the real emporium of wonders on Belfast was a ship kiosk, where the sailors could purchase delicacies and everyday items."

Stan Kitchener: "We are in the NAAFI canteen. The NAAFI is an organisation that was invented or developed in 1921 by a team of volunteers who wanted to help the navy, the army and the air force get things that they couldn't normally get on a ship. So things like beers, sweets, chocolates, medal ribbons, rulers, pencils, postcards, anything that they weren't issued with and as a consequence it developed into an institution and became known among all the members of the British Armed Forces as the NAFFI - the Navy, Army Air Force Institute, which over the years of service on the ship become a great boost to the morale of the sailors." 

Voice over: "There is a saying that perfectly describes military life: "An army marches on its stomach." This rule was implicitly adhered to in the Royal Navy as well." 

Stan Kitchener: "At action stations, if they knew they were going to have a fight, some captains would have the cooks prepare sandwiches, so that they could eat where they were at their action stations. Whether that was by the guns or in the doctor's surgery. The sick bay we have here is from the late 1950s, early 1960s and would be similar to one from the 1940s, during World War Two. The conditions on the ship in the hospitals would be as modern as they could make it,  and the sailors would be better off in here normally than they would be in their own hammocks. In times of war, other parts of the ship, especially the officers' mess, would be cleared of all the furniture, and temporary operating tables like the one you can see behind me, would have been established around the ship."

Voice over: "Luckily, casualties among Belfast's crew were minimal during the war, even after a bottom mine exploded next to her, which could easily sink the ship with all her crew members, only 21 people were injured, and only one of them died later in a hospital. After repairs and modernisation, Belfast became the flagship of the 10th Cruiser Squadron based at Scapa Flow. The main service areas for the ship were the waters off the Norwegian and Barents seas." 

Yuriy Kruchkov: "The two best light cruisers of the British Royal Navy have an interesting history. Belfast comes into commission, hits a mine, and becomes disabled for almost three years. Meanwhile, HMS Edinburgh comes into service and fulfils the duties of both cruisers. She escorts convoys, supports Allied ships, and fights against enemy submarines and aircraft. Unfortunately, Edinburgh was sunk with a valuable cargo of gold. However, Belfast returns from the repair docks and takes up the torch. What hadn't been accomplished by Edinburgh was completed by Belfast. They complemented each other. They were like twin sisters, worthy of each other."

Voice over: "When Belfast came into service, she was assigned the most important task in the Royal Navy, which, by the 20th century, had been already performed for three hundred years. This task was to defend shipping routes and manage potential threats for transport ships. As a true defender of commerce, Belfast escorted arctic convoys in the USSR and supported vessels carrying priceless cargo."

Wally Filby: "I was born in 1940 during the war, and I always, ever since I was a young person, I always wanted to join the Navy. And I read stories about the heroism of the Russian convoys and other things on ships. But I'm not sure what they were thinking about on the convoys. (inaudible) "It was rather rough, it was rather cold, and we survived." They never said much about it. I always thought I want to be , I'm going to join the Navy and I'm going to be brave like they are. So, I did."

Voice over: "The rich history of sea battles and high qualification of British sailors were key factors for the great performance of the Royal Navy. The British always acted in a reasonable way, following thorough and elaborate plans. The opportunity to display their courage and bravery was a great reward for British sailors." 

Yuriy Kruchkov: "The main task in the army or navy was fulfilling your mission. No matter how many enemies you destroy, sink, or knock out, you must fulfil your mission. If German ships go peacefully by, nobody will attack them. But if they threaten the convoy, the British, despite the tremendous superiority of the Germans, attacked their heavy warships. They did what they had to. The Germans were astonished and forced to retreat. And the British didn't think themselves heroes; they were just doing their duty. A classic example of warring parties carrying out a mission was a sea battle that took place at North Cape in December 1943. The German battleship Scharnhorst, accompanied by five destroyers, was tasked with destroying a convoy. That was her mission. The convoy support ships, including cruiser Belfast, were assigned a mission to defend the convoy at any cost. The British attack the enemy. They didn't pause; they didn't think about how to show their courage or perform heroic acts, they fulfilled their duty. Of course, they knew that this German heavy ship would destroy them, but they had a mission: defend the convoy. And they attacked the enemy and fought."

Voice over: "For eight hours, Belfast and two other cruisers were chasing and attacking Scharnhorst, which was superior in terms of armament and armour, until the main sea fleet with HMS Duke of York came to their aid. The battle at North Cape and the war for the entire Atlantic Ocean was won by the British. The confrontation between Great Britain and Germany during World War Two was severe. However, the United Kingdom was the victor, despite the high price they had to pay. The memories of those sailors who endured the ordeal of the northern convoys are still honoured on Belfast today."     
Stan Kitchener: "The chapel on the ship was put here in the late 50s and 60s and is still in use. The icon of Admiral Ushakov behind me is the connection between Russia and this ship during World War Two and the Arctic Convoys. Families who have veterans from the Navy that have died have their ashes scattered sometimes from the back of the ship and they are allowed in the chapel, so they can sit in peace and remember their loved ones."  

Wally Filby: "Well, I joined Belfast just after it came back from its world cruise. When it came back in 1962 it was going to be put into reserve, but they gave it a reprieve and put it as a flagship of the Home Fleet."

Voice over: "By the early 1970s, Belfast was the only remaining British cruiser that participated in World War Two. She was going to be sent to the ship breaking yard, like her fellow ships. However, thanks to the efforts of British veterans and those who were concerned about naval history, cruiser Belfast was saved and left as a memorial to the courage and bravery of British sailors. Today, she holds pride of place at Tower Bridge, in the heart of London."

Wally Filby: "I've had a very enjoyable life, and I still am. I'm still serving this ship as secretary of the Association. I don't think anybody can ask more than being able to do and achieve what a person wants to do and that's what I'm still doing."

               

Recently, the video game World of Warships included HMS Belfast on her roster of fighters. However, it soon became apparent that she was simply too strong! Statistics showed that it was over performing in competitive on-line battle modes – in short she was too much and taken off as an option to purchase on the game.

Discover HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast
IWM
HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast and the Arctic Convoys

For 18 months, HMS Belfast and her crew endured punishing conditions supporting the vital Arctic Convoys delivering supplies to the Soviet Union. 

Blindfolded , in merchant seaman rescue kit, being landed on their way to internment.
© IWM (A 21203)
Second World War

HMS Belfast And The Battle Of North Cape

The Battle of North Cape began when the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst and five destroyers left their base in Altenfjord, northern Norway on Christmas Day 1943.

HMS Belfast

D-Day Remembered: Ted Cordery, HMS Belfast

Ted Cordery served on board the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Belfast from 1943-1944 as a Leading Seaman Torpedoman. It was a period in which the ship and her crew would take part in some of their most intense and dangerous operations including the Arctic Convoys and the Battle of North Cape.