Built by Messrs Harland & Wolff in 1936, HMS Belfast was launched by Anne Chamberlain, wife of the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, on St Patrick's Day in 1938. After fitting out and builder's trials, HMS Belfast was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 5 August 1939 under the command of Captain G A Scott DSO RN.
Designed for the protection of trade and offensive action she was immediately called into service patrolling the northern waters in efforts to impose a maritime blockade on Germany. However, disaster struck after only two months at sea when HMS Belfast hit a magnetic mine. There were few casualties but the damage to her hull was so severe she was out of action for three years.
On rejoining the home fleet in 1942 she was still the largest and most powerful cruiser in the Royal Navy and most importantly she was equipped with the most advanced radar systems. HMS Belfast was immediately called into action and played a crucial role in protecting the arctic convoys, Russia’s supply route throughout the war. Most notably in her role during the Battle of North Cape which saw the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst and the loss of all but 36 of her 1,963 crew. HMS Belfast remained protecting the arctic convoys until 1944 when she spent five weeks supporting the D-Day landings and reportedly fired one of the first shots on D-Day itself.
After the Second World War HMS Belfast played an active role in the Korean War from 1950-1952 working with other Allied Forces to support the retreating American and South Korean troops. Her final years were spent performing peace-keeping duties until she was retired from service in 1963.
As early as 1967 the Imperial War Museum had been investigating the possibility of preserving a Second World War cruiser. This led to the formation of a trust, headed up by one of HMS Belfast’s former captains Rear-Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles. After some years the trust was successful and HMS Belfast was brought to London opening to the public on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1971. Today she is the last remaining vessel of her type – one of the largest and most powerful light cruisers ever built.