HMS Belfast is a cruiser, a type of warship that played a crucial part in Britain’s 20th century history. She was launched in 1938, fighting in the Second World War on many fronts, and serving as part of the UN operation in Korea, and in the Middle East, before being brought back to the UK and turned into the tourist attraction she is today.
At the start of the Second World War, HMS Belfast was part of the fleet operating out of Scarpa Flow, trying to block Germany’s ports. She was then attacked by a submarine, and spent several years being overhauled before being put back into service, as an escort for convoys of merchant ships heading for the beleagued Soviet Union. The ship took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy. After the end of the war in Europe, the ship was sent to the Far East, where it later took part in the Korean War. During her active lifetime she sailed nearly half a million miles.
Today the ship is berthed just off Tooley Street, on the south side of the river near Tower Bridge. The tour of the boat takes you round the quarter-deck, with a wooden board showing the battles the ship fought in, and the gun placements, which show the ship’s formidable fire-power. I found the engine rooms very interesting – I took my brother here one Easter holiday, and he also found the vast, steam-powered systems fascinating. The tour explains how the ship was powered, and how the whole thing worked. You can also see the bridge, the officers’ and enlisted men’s living areas, and the eating rooms – and see what a crowded environment it was to live in!
The tour is very good, and the whole ship is set out with interesting maps, living objects, and navigational displays to show you how it worked. Little boys sick of churches and art galleries will love this place – and so will their parents!
Adults’ tickets are £5.40, children come in free, and OAPs and students pay £4. The nearest tube stops are Tower Hill (District and Circle lines) and London Bridge (Northern line). The ship’s open 10am to 6pm in summer, and closes an hour earlier in the winter.