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Posted on Jun 11, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

HMS Belfast

Armchair General

The Edinburgh class of Light Cruisers was a subset of the Town class. There were a total of ten ships in the Town class, but as newer ships were constructed to the same basic design, additional weaponry was added which effectively changed the nature of these mighty vessels, hence later ships, although based on the same central design, were referred to as new classes of vessel. To make matters more confusing, the term "Light Cruiser" is meaningless when referring to ships such as HMS Belfast. You will recall that at the top of this article I made mention of the fact that HMS Belfast was the heaviest Cruiser ever fielded by the Royal Navy. The terminology of "Light Cruiser" stems from the London Naval Treaty of 1930 which sought to impose limits on military shipbuilding. The treaty defined a Light Cruiser as being a vessel with guns no larger than 6.1 inches (155 mm calibre) in size. However the treaty did not specify how many such guns a Light Cruiser could mount, and so it was effectively bypassed with ships mounting more such guns. As a result, ships of the Town class became equal in power and armament to so-called Heavy Cruisers.


One of two Edinburgh class vessels and launched in March 1938, HMS Belfast’s early days were marred after she struck a mine in the early days of World War II. This put the ship out of action for three years whilst repairs were undertaken.

As you’ll see from this picture, HMS Belfast is painted in a "dazzle" camouflage scheme. This type of paint scheme was first used during World War I and was designed to make it harder for enemy gunners using visual rangefinders to accurately calculate the speed, distance and heading of a ship in their sights.

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In this first picture, the tower of London rises majestically behind HMS Belfast. In the second, parts of the financial district of London can be seen. You will note that the forward guns are raised, and it is said that they are allegedly aimed at a Motorway service station some twelve miles to the Northwest – whether or not this improves the flavour of the food by the staff has yet to be determined.

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The ship is boarded from aft via a permanent pontoon from the embankment. With the rear deck covered by an awning, one is instantly drawn to the battle honours and plaques adorning the rear of the superstructure.

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The ship’s bell is preserved in all its immaculate shining glory.

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As mentioned at the top of the article, HMS Belfast served during World War II and Korea. Her mighty guns were used to assist with the sinking of the German Battlecruiser Scharnhorst in the Battle of North Cape in December 1943, and six months later she shelled enemy fortifications to assist with the D-Day landings. During the Korean War she was again used for shore bombardment in support of United Nations forces. In July 1952, return fire from Communist positions hit the ship, killing one member of the crew.

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Below decks, areas of the ship are set aside for displays detailing operations during World War II. Here we see two types of uniform as might have been worn by the crew of the period – a standard rating’s uniform, and one as worn by a member of the crew during the icy conditions of an Arctic convoy mission.

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  1. Belfast has been altered a heckuva lot since I was on it. The superstructure has been changed but I can’t find a good photo of the side view to see exactly what has been altered.
    I was a RM telegraphist – using morse code in those days – and my usual post was the “Bridge Wireless Office” just aft of the bridge. My “out of watch” post was the Upper Transmitting Room.

  2. I could be wrong on this but I understood that one of the for’ard gun turrets was a ‘dummy’ so Belfast had only nine 6″ guns and not twelve.

    • Hi Vic,
      I served on HMS Belfast also, from January 1950, all through the Korean war until she was delivered to Devonport for the alterations you mention (some 3yrs & 3months) I do not remember you, but you may remember me because I used to run the Cinema.
      I am sorry to have to tell you, that whoever told you she only had nine 6″ guns and that one turret was a dummy, has given you false information. I have photographs that will disprove that theory.
      Best Regards,
      Tony Gatton.
      ex LEM.

  3. My ‘oppo’ on boardwas “Paddy Eagleson” – Robert Stewart Eagleson – also a RM signals operator.

    The captain during the Korean campaign was Le Messurier.

    • Hi Vic, me again,
      Le Mesurier was Captain of Belfast when I joined her, and he did the first stint in Korea, and left the ship when she returned to Singapore for re-fit. I am fairly sure that he was replaced by Sir Aubrey St Clair Ford, known affectionately as ‘Strawberry’ (now deceased). During the 2nd World War, he was the skipper of the Kimberley, who picked up the survivors of the Kelly (Mountbatten’s famous ship).
      The one person killed on the Belfast you mention, was a Chinese Messman or Laundryman who was killed when an 80mm shell came through the ships starboard side into the Chinese Mess. We were going through between an island and the mainland at the time, and ‘Strawberry’ just turned the ship round and came back through again, giving the cliff face broadsides as we traversed. That night and next day, Kenya and an American rocket ship pounded that cliff face. They never got that gun, he was on railway lines we were told afterwards, and they just used to pop out from this cave, have a go at somebody, and pull back out of sight.

  4. Are you SURE that one person was killed on board Belfast during the Korean campaign? I don’t remember that but certainly HMS Jamaica had one person killed.

  5. My uncle, Leslie Richard Winkett (also known as Les Wynne) recentl passed away. I am the proud recipient of his green beret and campaign medals for Korea, the Canal Zone and Malaya. I would be most grateful to receive memories and photos from these times.

  6. Regarding Tony Gatton`s reply (3.1). During ww2 SIr Aubrey ST Clair Ford was the Captain of H.M.S. Kipling not Kimberley. Next April 2012, we will be holding our annual Kipling reunion at Ringwood. Out of a handful of survivors now,only one attends this reunion. Kipling`s motto was `keep on` and in memory of all those who served aboard her we will.

  7. I don’t know if this will get to anyone but my father served on the Belfast and was on it during the Korean War his name was Fred Shaw (Frederick William) and he told us he was on the guns, he helped in the cinema and he played the drums as entertainment, now if this was all on this ship or not I don’t know. I am trying to find out about my fathers time on the Belfast as well as seeing any photos others might have. We did have some photos of him on board but they have been lost but we still have his discharge certificate which he framed. We had his ashes scattered from the Belfast when he died and I am sure he would have been pleased about that. If anyone could contact me I would be grateful.

  8. I have an original Belfast crest and would like to know its heraldic data..(ex chief bosun RAN)