HMS Belfast, the great warship with an incredible history is turning 80 this weekend, March 17th to be exact, and this is definitely an event that is worth celebrating!
This weekend, the ship is hosting an event which is set to be huge for its visitors. As well as opportunities to walk around the ship and experience what it was like to be aboard this wondrous ship, visitors will be offered opportunities to meet with the veterans of the ship who will talk about life on the ship and at sea, and may even share some humorous stories from their time spent in the service. There will also be demonstrations of how messages were sent between ships using lights, radios, codes, and flags, with the chance to learn how to type your own name in Morse Code. And if that wasn’t enough, Sophie Faldo, winner of the 2017 Great British Bake Off has created a spectacular nine-tiered cake (representing the nine decks on the ship) for visitors to enjoy! More information can be found here.
The ship was built to be the largest and most powerful cruiser in the Royal Navy at a great length of 187 metres, a width of 19 metres and was able to travel at approximately 60km/h! As well as this, the ship carried 12 large guns along with torpedoes and depth charges. She truly was a formidable force.
So what elements of history has this great ship contributed to? Here are just a few key moments in the ship’s great life:
Since her launch on March 17th 1938 by Mrs Anne Chamberlain, HMS Belfast has played a significant role in the Second World War, the Korean War, and in escorting the Arctic Convoys to Murmansk between 1942 and 1944.
HMS Belfast supported the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944, firing over 5,000 shells (a bit of an amusing fact, the vibrations created by the gun firings were so powerful that they managed to crack a number of the toilets on board the ship!) including the last shot of the Normandy action. That was the last time she fired her guns in the Second World War. She was credited with getting closer to the shore than any other bombardment ship and is now one of only three surviving ships from the D-Day Landings. The other two are now museum ships located in the United States.
After a well-earned re-fit after the invasion of Normandy, HMS Belfast was despatched to the Far East and arrived just after the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The ship aided with the rescuing and evacuation of the survivors of Japanese prisoners of war and civilian internment camps.
A party was held on the ship for the children in the camps in October 1945. Most of the children on board the ship at that time had never tasted chocolate, and it’s safe to say that not a single piece of chocolate was left at the end of the party. It seems as though a good time was had by all!
In the Korean War, HMS Belfast’s main duties involved shore patrol and bombardment. She became known as the ‘straight-shooting ship’ due to her reputation for the incredible accuracy of her gunnery. After spending 404 days on active service in the war, HMS Belfast returned home in September 1952 and spent her final days conducting peacekeeping duties before her retirement in 1963.
HMS Belfast has been moored on the River Thames near Tower Bridge since 1971 and has been preserved as a museum. The ship became part of the Imperial War Museum in 1978 and continues to attract around 250,000 visitors a year! She is a must-see for any sailing and history enthusiasts. This weekend will most certainly be one to remember!