News

Big-gun Belfast is back as cruiser prepares to re-open to the public
13 April 2012

Britain’s last ‘big-gun’ warship will open its gangway once more to the public next month after six months out of action.

HMS Belfast, which has been moored on the Thames in London as a museum ship since 1971, has been closed since part of the gangway linking the ship with the south bank collapsed into the river in November.

HMS Somerset berthed outboard of HMS Belfast in 2006. Picture: LA(Phot) Shaun Barlow

THE Navy’s last link with the days of the big gun, wartime cruiser HMS Belfast, will once again buzz with the sound of tourists from next month.

The museum ship, which has served as a memorial to veterans of World War 2 and the Korean War for the past 41 years, re-opens to the public on May 18.

Belfast, which is moored on the Thames in the shadow of Tower Bridge, has been closed since November when a sizeable part of the walkway linking her ticket booth and shop with the quarterdeck collapsed and fell into the river.

To mark the re-opening, the Imperial War Museum, which is her guardian, plans a two-day jamboree on May 26-27 when veterans of Belfast’s 24-year active service will be on hand to describe life aboard and some of the Town-class cruiser’s deeds.

HMS Belfast was knocked out of action for three years in the opening months of WW2 after striking a German mine. When she returned to the front line she escorted Arctic convoys to the USSR, took part in the last duel of battleships when the Scharnhorst was sunk off the North Cape in December 1943, pummelled the German defences in Normandy during the liberation of France in 1944 and was due to support the final battles with Japan – but Tokyo surrendered before she arrived in the Far East.

Belfast pummels German defences in Normandy in June 1944 during the liberation of France. Picture: Imperial War Museum A24325

Post-war she spent more than one year on patrol off Korea during the bitter civil war and after refits and revamps and further service, mainly in the Far East, she paid off in 1963.

After several years as floating accommodation in Fareham Creek, the decision was taken to turn her into a museum ship on the Thames – the first Royal Navy warship to be preserved for the nation since HMS Victory.

Nearly eight million people have visited her since she was turned into a visitor attraction and her current director Phil Reed says her re-opening after the enforced closure deserves marking.

Crowds watch as HMS Belfast is towed into Portsmouth in 1999 for work on her hull

“London hasn’t been the same in the six months that the iconic HMS Belfast has been closed,” he said.

“Her re-opening in May has been a long time coming and is a cause for great celebration. And that is what we plan to do – celebrate, with all manner of exciting, fun and engaging activities and attractions on board.”

As well as Belfast veterans, the jamboree weekend will also feature a barbecue and festive music.

More details on the ship, opening times and her history can be found at www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast