A long standing tradition
Ian Proctor: “We're currently on the Admirals Bridge of HMS Belfast here in the Pool of London. From here, the Admiral would have controlled the actions of the entire fleet in which HMS Belfast was sailing, while above us the Captain's Bridge would be where the captain controlled the actions of the ship itself. The Royal Navy is an institution build on many traditions and the launching of a ship with a bottle of alcohol is a long standing one going on for many centuries.
The ribbon would have been attached to the champagne bottle, which was swung against the side and broken as the ship was launched and christened on Saint Patrick's Day, 17th of March 1938. The ship was launched by Anne Chamberlain, the wife of the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. The ship is the largest and the most important vessel to be launched at Harland and Wolfe in the City of Belfast and as a result, she was always known as yard Project #1000 and that number was reserved for her. It wasn't until she was launched that she then became Belfast and at her Commission HMS Belfast.
In 1963, after a long and distinguished service, HMS Belfast was paid off, placed into reserve and used as an accommodation ship in Portsmouth Harbour. As late as May 1971, the government and the Navy were intent on scrapping HMS Belfast, but a committee and a trust was formed, The HMS Belfast Trust by Morrison, Morgan, Morgan Giles, a former commanding officer of HMS Belfast with the intent of preserving the vessel for the nation.
In July 1971, they succeeded, and the government passed over ownership of the vessel to the trust who brought it to London and moored it to the Pool of London, where it is now. Realising it was a very expensive business to preserve the worship of this size, the trust entered into an agreement with the Imperial War Museum and ownership was passed to the museum in 1978.”
HMS Belfast was launched on St Patrick's Day, 17 March 1938 by Anne Chamberlain – the wife of then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain – and spent 25 years in active service before it was brought to London by IWM and opened to the public on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1971.
HMS BELFAST, 14 October 1971
HMS BELFAST takes up her moorings in the specially dredged berth in the Pool of London, 14 October 1971.
IWM had been investigating the possibility of preserving a Second World War cruiser from as early as 1967, which led to the formation of a trust headed up by one of HMS Belfast’s former captains, Rear-Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles. This trust eventually succeeded in salvaging HMS Belfast from the scrapyard, safeguarding her for future generations, and today HMS Belfast is the last remaining vessel of its type.
Built by Harland & Wolff in 1936, HMS Belfast was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 5 August 1939 after fitting out and builder's trial. In 24 years of active service it would go on to play key roles in battles and peace-keeping duties around the world. Designed for offensive manoeuvres as well as the protection of trade, HMS Belfast was immediately called into service to help impose a maritime blockade on Germany. After only two months at sea, it was hit by a magnetic mine whilst on patrol. Though there were few casualties, the damage to its hull was so severe that HMS Belfast would not return to active service for another three years.
When it re-joined the fleet in 1942, HMS Belfast was still the largest and most powerful cruiser in the Royal Navy. More importantly, it was also equipped with the most advanced radar systems. This allowed HMS Belfast to play a crucial role in protecting arctic convoys the Allies sent to Russia, which would became their main supply route once they entered the Second World War. HMS Belfast was also involved in the Battle of North Cape, notable for the sinking of German battle cruiser Scharnhorst and the loss of all but 36 of her 1,963 crew.
HMS Belfast continued to protect arctic convoys to Russia until 1944, when it was called upon to support the D-Day landings and even fired one of the first shots on 6 June 1944.
HMS Belfast spent five weeks helping to land more than 132,000 ground troops on the beaches of Normandy as part of Operation Neptune, the seaborne invasion of northern France. Allied navies bombarded German coastal defences before and during the landings and continued to provide artillery support after D-Day as troops moved further inland as nearly 7,000 vessels took part in the invasion.
After the Second World War, HMS Belfast played an active role in the Korean War working with Allied Forces to support the retreating American and South Korean troops from 1950-1952. Its final years were spent performing peace-keeping duties until HMS Belfast was retired from service in 1963.