HMS Belfast is a battle cruiser that served in the Royal Navy from 1939 until 1963. Today it’s moored on the Thames and is part of the Imperial War Museum.
It was built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast in 1936, and launched on St Patrick’s Day 1938, just in time for the Second World War. It served protecting convoys in the Arctic and was involved in the Battle of North Cape which saw the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst, and the D Day landings. After the War it played an active role in the Korean War from 1950-1952. After being decommissioned from the Royal Navy, the ship was brought to London, opening to the public on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1971.
On the morning of our last day in London, while the women went off to Wimbledon for a tour of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, the male members of the family went for a look around the Belfast.
The tour took us all over the ship – on the main deck, inside the gun turrets, down into the Boiler and Engine Rooms deep inside the bowels of the ship, the living quarters, the Operations Room and the Bridge. All in all we were on board for about two hours.
The front gun turrets, each with three six inch guns.
Inside one of the gun turrets
where it would have been incredibly, crowded, noisy, and full of smoke and other contaminants during action.
Ordinary seamen would have to string up their hammocks wherever they could find a space
But the officers had more comfortable, if not entirely spacious, accommodation.
The communications room
The Operations room
The Magazine – I wouldn’t have liked to have been inside here if the ship got hit
The Sick Bay
Measuring out the grog rations!
There was asbestos everywhere (perfectly safe so long as it isn’t disturbed)
The tour was well organised with a clear route to follow which took us all over the ship and an audioguide, which included snippets of interviews with former naval ratings, was provided inclusive in the entry fee. It gave an impression of what life would have been like on board a warship. Not the most pleasant of experiences. Living conditions were cramped and the work was extremely dangerous, to put it mildly. I don’t expect it’s that much different in the modern navy.