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Belfast back with a bang as WW2 legend emerges from pandemic

HMS Belfast at her berth on the Thames next to Tower Bridge
20 May 2021
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You can now book your place to join HMS Belfast – as Britain’s last ‘big gun’ warship reawakens from enforced ‘slumber’ on the Thames.

The wartime/post-war cruiser – veteran of the Arctic Convoys, Normandy landings, Pacific and Korean conflicts – has not welcomed a single visitor since the first lockdown in March last year.

She’s earmarked to open her gangway on the south bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge on July 8 – 16 months since the last tourists came aboard.

Rather than simply ‘mothball’ the ship until the pandemic passed, custodians from the Imperial War Museum, who look after her on behalf of the nation, have used the hiatus to ‘refit’ both the ship and the riverside facilities.

Beyond the conservation of repainting and smartening up the hull, repairing the deck and maintaining the 4in guns after 83 years’ exposure to the elements, the Belfast team have revamped 2 Deck with particular emphasis on the Korean War.

Although Belfast is famous for her role off the North Cape – sinking Hitler’s ‘lucky’ battle-cruiser Scharnhorst – supporting the D-Day landings and enduring escorting convoys to Murmansk, it’s her post-war role off the Korean peninsula in focus through the work of her sick bay.

Surgeon Lieutenant Robert Anthony Rowan and his team saved many lives off Korea, though sadly not Lau Sau, a Leading Steward from Hong Kong and the only member of Belfast’s crew ever to be killed onboard - fatally wounded by a North Korean shell.

Visitors will also learn about the challenges faced by the crew as they made Belfast a home away from home during the conflict, courtesy of the NAAFI providing home comforts such as nutty and cigarettes.

And the Regulating Office highlights some of the first impressions of sailors and Royal Marines coming aboard.

HMS Belfast is so much more than a museum, she is a historic site, a witness to the world during the most challenging times of the 20th Century, and a veteran in her own right.

Diane Lees, Director General, Imperial War Museum

“HMS Belfast is so much more than a museum, she is a historic site, a witness to the world during the most challenging times of the 20th Century, and a veteran in her own right,” said Diane Lees, Director General of the IWM.

“Over the past year and a half we have gone to great lengths to ensure the necessary conservation and restoration works have taken place in order to preserve this veteran of war, as well as enhanced the onboard visitor experience and exhibition spaces to bring the history of this Royal Navy warship to life.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Belfast’s arrival in London as a floating museum (she opened on Trafalgar Day).

Those looking for a unique, intimate introduction to the ship can also book a private tour for up to 6 guests, led by an HMS Belfast expert who will delve into the stories of the conflicts and crew. Further events and experiences will also be announced in due course.

As with visits to museums under the Royal Navy’s umbrella (HMS Victory, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Submarine Museum, Fleet Air Museum etc), visitors must book tickets in advance to tour Belfast via iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast

Members of the IWM can book from May 20; the general public can book from May 27.

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