Ship's history

The most significant surviving Royal Navy ship of the Second World War, HMS Belfast is not just a branch of the Imperial War Museum in itself, but the largest single item in its collection. It’s fair to say that this Second World War-era light cruiser has more than earned her prestigious mooring on the Thames between the London and Tower bridges, and not just because of her undeniable beauty.

The ship’s first few months of service were turbulent: no sooner was it commissioned when war broke out and the cruiser was forced to undergo a baptism by fire: only three months into the war, she was damaged by a German mine and was forced into the drydock for nearly 3 years.

After her refit in 1942, she would spend over a year shepherding convoys in the frigid waters of the Arctic and bear witness to two of the most significant events of the war, taking active part in the sinking of battleship Scharnhorst and in the shore bombardments during the invasion of Normandy.

Serving in East Asia for almost 20 years after the war until her decommissioning, Belfast was saved from a sad fate at the scrapyards when a private Trust campaigned for her preservation as the museum ship and London landmark that we know today.

Belfast. 17 March 1938
HMS Belfast launched HMS Belfast launched
After just over a year of work at the Harland and Wolff shipbuilders’ yard no. 1000 in Belfast, the hull of the eponymous Royal Navy cruiser touches water for the first time on St. Patrick’s Day amid great fanfare.
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Portsmouth. 5 August 1939
Commissioning Commissioning
With the shadow of war looming menacingly on the horizon, HMS Belfast is commissioned, signifying the beginning of the warship’s active naval duty.
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Scapa Flow. September-November 1939
Naval blockade of Germany Naval blockade of Germany
Days before Britain’s declaration of war, Belfast is assigned to the 18th Cruiser Squadron, strategically stationed at Scapa Flow. Being the perfect base from which to intercept incoming German shipping and outgoing commerce raiders, the cruiser sets out on a number of sorties and patrols into the North Sea.
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Firth of Forth. 21 November 1939
Mine detonation Mine detonation
Shortly after leaving her moorings at Rosyth to take part in gunnery exercises in open water, Belfast makes contact with a magnetic mine laid a few weeks prior by German submarine U-21. The resulting blast significantly warps the ship’s hull and the shockwave causes dozens of casualties among the ship’s crew, although only one fatality – Painter 2nd Class Henry Stanton. The reeling cruiser is towed back to port for repairs.
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Devonport. 7 November 1942
Post-refit recommissioning Post-refit recommissioning
After assessment of the damage caused by the mine, the Admiralty decides to not just repair but strengthen HMS Belfast with structural adjustments to her hull, as well as update her loadout with more advanced fire control radar equipment, sonar, and anti-aircraft armament. Almost 3 years after being taken out of action, Belfast is back on the prowl.
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Arctic Ocean. January 1943-April 1944
Convoy escort Convoy escort
Now one of the most powerful surface ships in the Royal Navy, Belfast is sent back North — this time at the head of the 10th Cruiser Squadron— to reinforce the vulnerable supply flotillas operating in the Arctic sea with the purpose of delivering vital materiel to the Soviet Union in its hour of need.
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Barents Sea. 26 December 1943
Battle of the North Cape Battle of the North Cape
In the icy grip of the polar night, HMS Belfast, at the head of an escort group together with cruisers Sheffield and Norfolk detach to intercept the approaching German battleship Scharnhorst in the middle of a snow squall. After trading some initial shells, Belfast’s new radar equipment plays a crucial role in shadowing the fleeing capital ship, allowing the Home Fleet’s battleship HMS Duke of York and her escort to accurately intercept and destroy the enemy vessel.
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Normandy. 6 June 1944
D-Day and beyond D-Day and beyond
With the last of Germany’s major surface ships all but eliminated, Belfast is freed up from escort duties to take part in Operation Overlord: the Allied invasion of France. As flagship of Bombardment Force E, she leads the suppressive bombardment of Gold and Juno Beaches, in support of British and Canadian troops. She goes on to spend 33 days supporting the ground offensive in France, firing off more than 5,000 shells between her 6-inch and 4-inch guns.
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Sydney. 17 August 1945
The Pacific and the end of the war The Pacific and the end of the war
With the naval war in Europe won, Belfast is refitted for service in the British Pacific Fleet in preparation for the seemingly inevitable invasion of the Japanese home islands. However, by the time she arrives at her base in Sydney in August 1945, the Japanese surrender is just over a week away.
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Korea. June 1950-September 1952
Korean War Bombardment campaigns Korean War Bombardment campaigns
After the war, Belfast remains serving in East Asia for the rest of the 1940s, so when the Korean War breaks out in 1950, she is near at hand. Operating out of Japan, she conducts a number of coastal bombardments until September 1952, when she sails back to Britain and enters the reserve.
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Devonport. 1955-1959
Final modernization Final modernization
In 1956 she returns to the site of her first refit at Devonport for a new modernization to catch up with the developing Cold War naval doctrine. On completion in 1959 she recommissioned for and once again deployed to the Pacific. In 1962, she returns to Britain and shortly thereafter is placed in reserve and subsequently decommissioned in 1963.
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London. 21 October 1971
Preservation as a museum ship Preservation as a museum ship
Following the failure of a proposal by the Imperial War Museum to save the now mostly abandoned cruiser from the shipbreakers, the Belfast Trust is created by former servicemen, including the last Captain of HMS Belfast in active service, Admiral Morgan-Giles MP, and other private interests to further campaign for the preservation of one of the last remaining Royal Navy major surface combatants of World War II. The Trust successfully gains control of the ship, which is then towed to London where she still proudly stands today and opened to the public as a museum.
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History of creation

Belfast was part of the Edinburgh subclass of the Town-class cruisers, designed to match the new Japanese Mogami-class light cruisers. They surpassed earlier Towns in terms of weaponry and having a more rational armour layout.

Belfast was part of the Edinburgh subclass of the Town-class cruisers, designed to match the new Japanese Mogami-class light cruisers. They surpassed earlier Towns in terms of weaponry and having a more rational armour layout. However, Belfast wasn't able to match the number of Mogami's main guns. The British tried to make up for this by developing new systems for her main battery. She was equipped with triple turrets with one original feature: the middle gun was set slightly back to prevent the powder gases from changing the trajectory of the shells when firing a full salvo.

The cruiser was very well armed, and her extensive artillery constituted a solid percentage of her total displacement.

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Main characteristics

In World of Warships, HMS Belfast exists as two separate Premium ships representing the ships two main historical configurations during World War II: at Tier VII, she appears as she did when she was first commissioned in 1939, and at Tier VIII, she is available in her post-1942 refit. In general, her main in-game features are:

Twelve 6 in guns with a decent fire rate and salvo weight. Unlike other British light cruisers in the game, Belfast has access to High Explosive shells, which can be devastating against enemy destroyers.

Access to the Smoke Generator, Hydroacoustic Search, and Surveillance Radar consumables simultaneously make her one of the most versatile ships of her type in the game.

A staple of British cruisers, she can accelerate at a very fast rate to avoid incoming shells and torpedoes.

Belfast’s high firing arcs and relatively thin armor scheme — together with her ample consumable loadout — make her favour being cautious and using the cover of islands whenever possible.

Video

Watch our Naval Legends documentary below to get the full historical perspective on HMS Belfast.