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.