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.

HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast's St Patrick's Day Launch

HMS BELFAST takes up her moorings in the specially dredged berth in the Pool of London, 14 October 1971.

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.

Designed for the protection of trade and offensive action, it 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 the ship was out of action for three years.

HMS Belfast, Second World War, War at Sea

HMS Belfast and the Arctic Convoys

HMS Belfast

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

On rejoining the home fleet in 1942, the ship 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 its 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.

Second World War, HMS Belfast, War at Sea

HMS Belfast And The Battle Of North Cape

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

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 remained protecting the arctic convoys until 1944 when it 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. Its final years were spent performing peace-keeping duties until it was retired from service in 1963.

Second World War, HMS Belfast, D-Day

8 Things you Didn't Know about HMS Belfast and D-Day

Photo of HMS Belfast's forward guns with the bridge in the background

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.

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, it is the last remaining vessel of its type – one of the largest and most powerful light cruisers ever built.

Find out more and visit

A volunteer conservator dismantles a 4” gun.

Warship Conservation

HMS Belfast joined the Imperial War Museums collection in 1978, becoming a museum and also the largest item in our collection. As both a historical object and museum its needs are unique and it requires constant conservation work.

HMS Belfast with Tower Bridge behind with a bright blue sky. Imperial War Museums venue hire.

Venue Hire HMS Belfast

Steeped in history and naval charm, HMS Belfast promises an event your guests will never forget.

HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast

Step on board this iconic London landmark. Navigate your way around the rooms of this floating city, climbing up and down ladders to visit all nine decks.