HMS Belfast

Explore Wartime Life at Sea on HMS Belfast

Permanently docked on the River Thames in central London, the iconic HMS Belfast provides a unique and fascinating insight into life on a World War II warship, complete with interactive tasks for you to undertake.

Highlights

  • Sit in the Captain’s chair and take the helm as you look out over HMS Belfast.
  • Descend into the engine rooms and get a feel for how life was for those who worked there.
  • Engage in an interactive, simulated battle in the Gun Turret Experience.

What to See and Do

The Flag Deck

By heading up to the flag deck you not only get good views over the ship below, including the guns, you are treated to great 360 degree views of central London. Also called the observation deck this is where you can imagine keeping a look out across the waters around you, spotting enemy ships in the vicinity. Signal projectors can be found on this deck, used to communicate with other ships.

Captain’s Deck

Sit in the Captain’s chair and feel the responsibility on his shoulders as you take the helm and relay the instructions to steer this Royal Navy cruiser and its 950 strong crew. Packed full of navigational instruments, gauge displays and phones this was the decision making hub of the ship.

How the Crew Lived

HMS Belfast has nine levels to explore, all offering up a fascinating insight into how the men who served on board the ship lived their daily lives. Visitors can look into many various rooms, including the wireless room, the mess decks, the chapel, the laundry room, the sick bay, the dentist’s room and the bakery. Each level and each room offers an authentic look at life on a warship during those perilous years.

Engine and Boiler Rooms

As you delve deeper into the ship you will come to the boiler and engine rooms, 15 feet below sea level. Experience the conditions and the noise endured by those who kept the HMS Belfast moving, as well as those who kept this essential area maintained and operational. Screens and audio narrations explain how the boat was powered as you go round.

Gun Turret Experience

HMS Belfast provides interactive experiences to give you a notion of how the ship was run and how it felt under certain situations. One of these is provided by the Gun Turret Experience. 

Using a combination of imagery, lighting, sounds, movement and smoke effects you can get a glimpse of how it was for a gun crew during battle. It is an immersive display aimed at helping people better feel, as well as understand, what the crew of the HMS Belfast would have gone through.

Serving the Seas

The interactive Serving the Seas exhibition on board HMS Belfast allows you to explore the ship’s eighty year history. Here you can delve further into areas which interest you using the display screens. You also have the chance to listen to the stories of those who lived and worked on HMS Belfast, to whom the ship was home while they served.

Did you know: (5 interesting facts!)

  1. HMS Belfast is the last surviving British vessel to be part of the bombardment fleet during the D-Day landings at Normandy. The only other two survivors are both American vessels.
  1. HMS Belfast spent 33 days off the coast of Normandy, firing over 5,000 shells. The vibration of the guns was strong enough to crack the ship toilets.
  1. Up until 1943 the ship had two Walrus planes on board which were launched from the deck using a catapult system.
  1. Due to its size and fully equipped sick bay, overlooked by a surgeon commander, HMS Belfast was employed to treat casualties during the D-Day landings.
  1. The warship was airbrushed out of a poster promoting the 2012 London Olympics for which the games organising committee apologised, calling it a production mistake.

History

  • 1936 – Built at the shipyard of Harland and Wolff in Belfast.
  • 1938 – Launched by Anne Chamberlain, the wife of the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.
  • November 1939 – Struck by a magnetic mine and put out of action for three years.
  • 1942 – Back in service, HMS Belfast is part of the Arctic Convoys helping supplies reach Russia.
  • 1943 – Battle of North Cape where HMS Belfast is instrumental in sinking the Scharnhorst.
  • June 1944 – Supports the D-Day landings.
  • 1950 -52 – Played an active part in Korean War.
  • 1963 – Active career ended and retired from service. 
  • October 1971 – Opened to visitors after being saved from scrap yard thanks to a trust fund set up by Rear Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles.
  • 1978 – Becomes a part of the Imperial War Museum.

Facilities and Accessibility

Modifications have been made to make the ship wheelchair accessible in some areas, including the main deck and quarterdeck, although the nature of the vessel means other areas are not accessible in a wheelchair. There is a wheelchair lift up to the tour starting point on the quarterdeck from the gangway. 

The main deck has accessible toilets and baby changing facilities. Registered assistance dogs are welcome but some areas of the ship will be difficult to access. Free hand-held audio guides are available.

There are plenty of opportunities to replenish yourself on your visit and enjoy the views across London. Both The Cafe and The River Cottage Deli provide a variety of food choices while the Botanical Bar offers wines, beers, cocktails and soft drinks in a setting which allows great views across the river Thames. 

Drop by the shop before you leave HMS Belfast to pick up a souvenir or a gift for someone to mark your visit. From books, posters, gift items, clothing and model planes there is a wide selection of items to choose from.