HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast

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HMS Belfast is a Royal Navy light cruiser ship that played a role in both World War II and the Korean War. It is now open to the public in London under the remit of the Imperial War Museum.

HMS Belfast history

Launched in March 1938, HMS Belfast was commissioned by the Royal Navy in 1939, not long before the outbreak of World War II.

World War II
During the war, HMS Belfast took part in the blockade on Germany, patrolling northern waters from the Scapa Flow naval base in Orkney. Having managed to intercept SS Cap Norte – a German liner – in 1939, HMS Belfast was then severely damaged by a mine later that same year.

For almost three years, HMS Belfast would not sail as part of the fleet again, yet during this time the ship was overhauled and massively upgraded. In fact, when she returned to the action in 1943, HMS Belfast was one of the Navy’s most formidable vessels and certainly its largest. As such, she was designated the flagship of the Tenth Cruiser Squadron, which protected Arctic convoys travelling to the Soviet Union.

Some of the most important successes of HMS Belfast include its contribution to the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst during the Battle of the North Cape in December 1943, its assistance in disabling the German’s last heavy surface unit, Tirpitz, in 1944 and its part in ‘Operation ‘Neptune’, the naval element of the Normandy Landings of D-Day, also in 1944.

End of World War Two
At the end of and after the Second World War, HMS Belfast carried out several roles in the Far East, including helping to evacuate prisoners from internment camps and taking part in peace keeping missions.

Korean War And After
HMS Belfast’s next wartime role would occur in the 1950s, during the Korean War, where she was one of the first ships to go into action to support American and South Korean Troops. This gruelling undertaking would end on 27 September 1952, after which HMS Belfast was involved in a few peacetime missions before finally being taken to London in 1971.

HMS Belfast today

Today HMS Belfast is a museum dedicated to telling the ship’s fascinating history and the wider history of Britain’s 20th century conflicts. Situated on the Thames, visitors can experience what it may have been like for soldiers aboard the HMS Belfast over 9 decks of history, climbing the very same ladders and hatches used throughout its long career.

A number of exhibitions feature throughout, including ‘Feeding the Crew’, ‘Life on Board’, and ‘Serving the Seas’, that detail various aspects of a soldier’s life aboard the ship.

Getting to HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast is situated on the Thames between London and Tower Bridge and can be accessed via the Southbank side. The nearest train station is London Bridge, 0.5 miles away, where both trains and tubes run, while the nearest bus stops are Abbots Lane and Hay’s Galleria, where the 47, 343, and 381 services stop.

HMS Belfast And The Battle Of North Cape

The Battle of North Cape began when the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst and five destroyers left their base in Altenfjord, northern Norway on Christmas Day 1943, to intercept two Arctic Convoys, transporting essential supplies to the Soviet Union, as they rounded the North Cape of Norway.

Arrival of HMS Duke of York

Arrival of HMS Duke of York

The tempting target was actually the bait in a trap, as British Intelligence was intercepting German signals. Within hours the Admiralty had informed Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, that Scharnhorst was at sea. Admiral Sir Robert Burnett in HMS Belfast, with the cruisers Norfolk and Sheffield, was to protect the convoys, while Fraser, in the powerful battleship Duke of York, with the cruiser Jamaica and four destroyers, steamed to cut off Scharnhorst from her base.

At 7.30am on 26 December, the German destroyers were ordered home. First contact with the Allied ships took place just before 9am, when HMS Belfast detected Scharnhorst by radar, just 30 miles away. HMS Norfolk engaged and hit the battlecruiser, disabling Scharnhorst's main fire control radar and leaving the German battlecruiser almost blind. It turned north and away, still trying to circle Burnett's force and reach the convoy.

Admiral Burnett had to decide whether to follow Scharnhorst or stay with the convoy. He chose to stay and when Scharnhorst returned, the 10th Cruiser Squadron was in its path again. All three cruisers opened fire, Scharnhorst was hit again and Norfolk was badly damaged. The German ship turned south for Norway, with Burnett shadowing by radar. With Norfolk disabled and Sheffield suffering from engine problems, at one point Belfast was pursuing Scharnhorst alone. Terrifying though this might have been, the battle was going in the Allies' favour.

HMS Belfast (C35)

Authored By: JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Edited: 12/05/2018 | Content © | The following text is exclusive to this site.

Due to Germany rearming in the 1930's Britain began to increase ships in her steel fortress. HMS Belfast and her sister ship Edinburgh were the Town class cruisers commissioned before the start of World War II. The Town Class ships were constructed less than 10,000 tons due to the guidelines of the Washington Naval Treaty which limited the size and number of ships built after WWI. Belfast's main armament was 12 x 6 inch guns mounted 6 forward and 6 aft that with a broad side could send 12 x 112 lb armor piercing shells 14 miles towards the target. With a speed of 32 kph and 4 inch armor she was a tiger ready to go in harm's way.

Each 6 inch gun turret was manned by 26 men. Under each 175 ton turret was a barbet that went down 7 decks connecting the powder magazine and shell magazine. A moving vertical hoist belt carried the cordite powder charges and high explosive shells from the bottom of the ship to each of the 12 x 6 inch guns. As on HMS Victory each cannon had a gun crew, Belfast 6 inch guns required a 7 man crew to fire the weapon. The crew practiced over and over until the entire loading sequence would take only 8 seconds. Each man had a job:

1. The shell on the hoist to the loading tray 2. Open the breech 3. Swing the shell to the breech and ram home into the breech 4. Cordite powder charge off the hoist out of the case into the breech, ram home 5. Close the breech and set the fuse 6. Elevate the gun to firing position 7. Fire!

At the start of the war she was assigned to the 18th Cruiser Squadron whose assignment was to impress a naval blockade on Germany. On November 21, 1939 Belfast left the estuary or firth of Scotland's River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea between Fife to the north locally called the Firth of Forth. As she entered the North Sea she hit a magnetic mine laid by the German submarine U-21. No one was killed but 21 sailors were injured breaking the keel and damaging to the hull to such an extent the repairs took three years at the Devonport repair dock.

The damage was so severe the Admiralty considered scrapping her but Churchill interceded. During the hull refit technological improvements were added above the water line, the beam was increased which improved her stability. The latest radar was also added and it was connected to the fire control system, this upgrade made her one of the most advanced cruisers in the war. This refit had increased her tonnage to 11,533 standard tons making her Britain's heaviest cruiser. With the upgrades it made the Belfast the choice of the 10 Squadron Commander Rear-Admiral Robert Burnett to make her the flagship.

10 Squadron was assigned to Aortic convoy duty from the United Kingdom and the United States to the northern ports of the Soviet Union, Archangel and Murmansk. There were 78 convoys between August 1941 and May 1945. About 1400 merchant ships delivered vital supplies to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program. During the war 85 merchant vessels and 16 Royal Navy warships were sunk. The Germans lost a number of vessels including one battle cruiser, three destroyers and at least 30 U boats and a large number of aircraft. The Northern Atlantic is a force onto itself and cared not which navy the ship was from. The winter ice would build up on the ships and had to be chopped away or the buildup could affect the weight stability of the ship. At times a German U boat would run parallel to an allied ship because the seas were too high to make an attack. First and foremost was the need for self preservation. The major concern to 10 Squadron was the Battlecruiser Scharnhorst stationed in Norway. She would come out with a screen of destroyers and attack convoys with her long range 28 cm 11 inch guns that could destroy an entire convoy by herself.

The Admiralty having the German Naval code devised a plan to lure Scharnhorst into a trap, Force I was the three cruisers HMS Belfast, HMS Norfolk and HMS Sheffield which would sail and shadow the convoy. Force II would be the British battleship HMS Duke of York and her screen, the cruiser HMS Jamaica, and the S class destroyers HMS Savage, Scorpion, Saumarez, Sword and HNoMS Stord of the Royal Norwegian Navy. If Scharnhorst and her destroyers took the bait and attacked the convoy, Force I would attack and hold while Force II moved in for the kill. Operation Ostfront was the German Kriegsmarine operation to intercept the Russian bound Arctic convoy JW 55B. The convoy, sighted three days before by a Luftwaffe aircraft, consisted of nineteen cargo vessels, escorted by the destroyers HMS Onslow, HMS Onslaught, HMS Orwell, HMS Scourge, HMS Impulsive, HMCS Haida, HMCS Huron, and HMCS Iroquois, and the minesweeper HMS Gleaner. Force I had not been sighted. Also as part of the Admiralty plan to draw out Scharnhorst in the area was convoy RA 55A, returning to the United Kingdom from Russia. RA 55A consisted of 22 cargo ships, escorted by the destroyers HMS Musketeer, Opportune, Virago, Matchless, Milne, Meteor and Ashanti, HMCS Athabascan, and the minesweeper HMS Seagull.

On December 25th, 1943 Scharnhorst, with her Narvik-class destroyer screen consisting of the Z29, Z30, Z33, Z34, and Z38, sailed from Norway's Alta Fjord to attack the merging two convoys. Unknown to the Germans was the presence of Force I & II. Not factored in the trap was that Duke of York was 4 kph slower than Scharnhorst and when speed matters this was to play a role. With poor weather Admiral Bey had detached his destroyers from Scharnhorst trying to pick up the convoys. Before dawn on December 26th, HMS Belfast's radar picked up the Scharnhorst and her screen at a range of 35,000 yards. She went to action stations and notified the balance of the cruisers in Force I and kept the Duke of York informed.

At 13,000 yards Scharnhorst now alone had not picked up Force I and Belfast and the other cruisers opened fire, the Battle of North Cape began. Scharnhorst surprised opened up with salvos against Belfast and Force I with no hits however Scharnhorst was hit twice with a lucky shot knocking out her radar tower and control. The weather had worsened with a raging snow storm which left Scharnhorst blind with the encroaching Force I led by the Belfast radar. Scharnhorst had to revert to the age old "fire at the muzzle flashes" and guess the range. Norfolk still used the older powder where Belfast and Sheffield were using a flash less cordite leaving Norfolk as the primary target. Scharnhorst felt she had been attacked by a battleship turned and fled towards Norway. The plan was working as Duke of York and her screen closed while Scharnhorst steamed at flank speed south. Sheffield and Norfolk dropped back with operational problems while Belfast pressed on with her radar looking for the battle cruiser. Scharnhorst was still unaware of the Duke of York, Force II forged ahead picking up the German and maneuvered to bring her 10 x 14 inch guns to bear. Belfast arrived and lit up Scharnhorst with a star shell at less than 12,000 yards, Duke of York had Scharnhorst in her sights fired a broadside hitting Scharnhorst with at least two 14 inch shells. Scharnhorst turned north but was engaged by the cruisers Norfolk and Belfast, and so turned east at a high speed of 31 knots. Duke of York turned for the chase but started to drop back due to a small but important 4 kph disadvantage in speed. Duke of York new the German would escape so at extreme range she scored a hit that damaged the number one boiler room forcing the battle cruiser to reduce speed. The British destroyers caught up and pressed torpedo attacks against Scharnhorst. The destroyers scored three torpedo hits but the battle cruiser still maintained a speed of 22 knots. Belfast was firing from the north while Duke of York and the cruiser Jamaica fired from the south raining shells down on Scharnhorst while her speed continued to slow. The British destroyers closed and fired 19 torpedoes with many hits. Scharnhorst finally capsized and sank at 19:45 hours on December 26th, while her propellers still turned. The ship's crew was 1,968 and the Admiralty sent a message to "take a small sample" so only 36 men were pulled from the water and saved by British ships.

HMS Belfast had shown that radar was the way of the future and fought in the last great gun battle in naval history. She continued to serve and took part in the D Day landings on 6/06/44 as a gun platform firing some say the opening salvoes on Gold and Juno beaches. For the next five weeks she fired thousands of rounds at German positions in her 14 mile range. Her last round in WW2 was fired on 7/08/44 in the battle of Caen. She returned to Devonport England for a needed refit, she had worn out her guns. After needed repairs she sailed for Malaya to support expending the Japanese from the island but did not fire a shot due to the Japanese surrender. She returned to Britain for a major refit.

Belfast served in the Korean War while supporting United Nations land forces by naval bombardment. In July 1952 she was hit by a Communist battery, killing one and wounding four. She was stationed on the west coast using her 6 inch guns against the North Korean forces. Belfast was modernized between January 1956 and May 1959 with new AA guns, new NBC Warfare Bridge that resembled the new Tiger cruisers. Between 1959-62 the ship operated in the Far East on exercises and "showed the British flag" and returned to Belfast for the last time on August 24, 1963. She remained in dock and was transferred to become a museum ship on March 1, 1978.

HMS Belfast (35)

Photo courtesy of Paul Johnson Collection

This is a listing of people associated with this ship.
We also have a detailed page on the British Light cruiser HMS Belfast (35).

Aboard HMS Belfast (35) when hit on 21 Nov 1939

You can click on any of the names for possible additional information

NameAgeRankServed on
Collins, Reginald, RN Torpedo OfficerHMS Belfast (35)
Dicken, Frederick Maxwell, RN Leading SeamanHMS Belfast (35)
Scott, George Arthur, RN CaptainHMS Belfast (35)
Stanton, Henry, RN32Painter 2nd ClassHMS Belfast (35)

Served on indicates the ships we have listed for the person, some were stationed on multiple ships hit by U-boats.

People missing from this listing? Or perhaps additional information?
If you wish to add a crewmember to the listing we would need most of this information: ship name, nationality, name, dob, place of birth, service (merchant marine, . ), rank or job on board. We have place for a photo as well if provided. You can e-mail us the information here.

Armament [ edit | edit source ]

Belfast’s main armament consists of twelve 6inch naval guns, in four triple turrets. The original proposal included sixteen 6inch guns, in quadruple turrets, but an effective quadruple turret proved impossible to manufacture, and triple turrets were substituted.

Her secondary armament consisted of twelve 4inch naval guns, in six double mounts. She was also armed with sixteen QF 2-pounder Anti-Aircraft guns, eight Vickers .50 Machine Guns, and six 21inch torpedo tubes. In 1945 Belfast’s Anti-Aircraft armament was improved with the addition of five Bofors 40mm guns.

In 1956 the decision was made to modernize Belfast. Four 4inch naval guns were removed to make room for modern weapon systems. Her Anti-Aircraft armament was standardized in the form of six Bofors 40mm guns in four double mounts. Her torpedo armament was removed and key parts of the ship were protected against Nuclear, Biological and Chemical attack.

Battle Stations! 10 Interesting Facts and Figures about HMS Belfast You Might Not Know

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Anchored in the Thames, HMS Belfast was launched not long before the advent of World War II. It saw a great deal of action during the war as a blockade ship, escorting convoys, in battle, and supporting the Normandy invasion. After a long and distinguished career, efforts to save the ship from being scuttled resulted in the Belfast becoming a museum ship. Today it stands a monument not only to its own history, but to the British Navy and all sailors who fought in the war. Without further ado, here are ten interesting facts about this great ship.

Basic Figures

Launched as a Light Cruiser in 1938 and officially commissioned in 1939, the ship has a displacement of 11,533 tons, which is the volume of water that would fill the space being occupied by the ship. It has an armament of 12 6-inch guns, 12 4-inch dual-purpose guns, 16 2 lb. AA guns (also known as “Pom-Poms”), 8 Vickers 0.5 machine guns, and 6 21-inch torpedo tubes. It is 613’, 6” long with a beam (width) of 63’, 4”. The Belfast’s top speed is 32 knots (36.82 mph). At any given time during its service, it had a crew compliment of 750-850 sailors.

We Three

The Belfast is one of only three ships from the D-Day fleet that haven’t been scrapped and serve as museum ships. The other two are US Navy vessels. The first is the USS Laffey, a Sumner-class Destroyer currently anchored with other museum ships at Patriots Point in Charleston, South Carolina. The other is the USS Texas, a New York-class Battleship that is part of San Jacinto State Park near Houston, Texas.

Blow Away the Serviceway

HMS Belfast’s guns are trained and elevated in such a way that they are aimed at the London Gateway, the last service station on the M1 before you get to London. Of course, the gun are no longer loaded or capable of firing, so you’re pretty safe if you stop there for a toilet break.

Great, Now Where Do We Go?

During the D-Day invasion, the firing of the guns actually managed to crack the toilets onboard ship. The Belfast spent 33 days at Normandy and fired over 5,000 shells. It would be the last time she fired her guns, despite seeing a tour in the Korean War and peacekeeping missions before her retirement in 1968.

Fancy a Pint?

The Facilities at the Belfast include a bar named the Upper Deck located above the entrance to the museum ship. The bar can handle up to 55 patrons and serves a number of drinks and light snacks. It stays open until 11:30 pm and offers great views of the Belfast and other London landmarks.

Last of Her Kind

HMS Belfast is the last remaining light cruiser from the Royal Navy’s WWII fleet. The HMS Belfast Trust was formed in 1971 to lobby for preservation of the ship as a museum. Eventually, the government agreed and handed the ship over to the trust. Six years later, the financials of the trust weren’t in good shape and they merged the the Imperial War Museum, which now manages the Belfast.


The Belfast was once equipped to launch aircraft via catapult and had hangers to store them. Two Supermarine Walrus amphibious planes were part of the ship’s compliment and used to attack submarines. After completing their missions, the planes would land alongside the ship in the water and were recovered by cranes on either side of the ship.

War is Cold

In 1943, the Belfast was serving in the arctic, where it destroyed the German ship Scharnhorst. The Scharnhorst had been assigned to attack a convoy sailing from England to Russia. What the German ship didn’t know, however, was that the convoy was a trap set by the Royal Navy. The Belfast, joined with HMS Norfolk and HMS Sheffield, flanked the Scharnhorst along with HMS Duke of York, HMS Jamaica, and four destroyers. While the German ship attempted to flee, it didn’t get far before a shot hit the boiler room, slowing the Scharnhorst down enough that the fleet was able to catch up and sink her.

You Won a Prize

One of the Belfast’s finest accomplishments was the capture of the German liner SS Cap Norte in 1939. The ship was trying to make its way back to Germany by posing as a neutral vessel. The Belfast boarded the Cap Norte and escorted it to a British port. At the time, it was the largest merchant ship ever captured and the Belfast crew received “prize money” in the form of a cash gratuity.

Can I Get Your Autograph?

The operating theatre of HMS Belfast bears the signatures of 26 of the 36 survivors from the Scharnhorst.

Why Do The Guns Of HMS Belfast Point At A Motorway Service Station?

The guns of Belfast, by Stuart Miller in the Londonist Flickr pool.
It sounds like an urban myth. The forward-facing guns of HMS Belfast are permanently positioned to score a direct hit on the London Gateway service station at Scratchwood.

It is no myth. The target is intentional. If the six-inch guns were loaded with shells, they could deliver an awesome pounding to the M1 cafe and toilet stop. Each shell weighs 112 pounds, similar to a sack of coal, and much more explosive. The forward guns could fire eight rounds per minute, meaning that Scratchwood could be obliterated in seconds.

But why this target in particular? It has nothing to do with the exorbitant price of its cappuccinos.

The imperilled service station sits neatly on the radius of the guns' comfortable range (about 18.5 km at 45º elevation, but the artillery could stretch to 23 km if pushed). A point anywhere within that band might have been chosen for the resting formation of the six forward guns. According to the ship's Chief Yeoman, Kevin Price, Scratchwood was picked on because it was a well-known landmark on the M1 motorway. "We could also hit Cheshunt, or Gidea Park, or fall just shy of Dartford," he tells us. Scratchwood, though, has a certain quotidian monotony that invites comparison with Betjeman's "come friendly bombs" prejudice.

The targeting was decided as long ago as 1971. This was the year HMS Belfast was first moored in the Pool of London to serve as a museum ship, following decades of distinguished service as one of the Royal Navy's most powerful light cruisers. It goes without saying that the Belfast would never have cause to bombard the motorway — but the guns had to point somewhere, and targeting a famously humdrum location could only help with press and popular attention.

Google map showing the approximate range of the forward six-inch guns, including Scratchwood to the top-left.
The other guns on the ship have not been so deliberately targeted, and are often swivelled. The numerous four-inch guns along the vessel's sides would probably hit surrounding buildings, making short work of the More London complex. If they could clear the skyline, they'd have a maximum range of about 18 km. This is precisely the distance to Sutton town centre.

HMS Belfast is operated by Imperial War Museum and is open daily to the public.


In the late 1890s the White Star Line's existing prestige liners Majestic and Teutonic, both launched in 1889, had become outmoded due to rapid advances in marine technology: Their competitors the Cunard Line had introduced the Campania and Lucania in 1893. In 1897, SS Cymric was put into service. She was bigger then the Teutonic and Majestic, but not the largest in the world. Cymric was larger than Campania and Lucania, but not faster. Cymric introduced the luxury over speed. White Star Line used the strategy on the Oceanic. and from 1897 the German Norddeutscher Lloyd began introducing four new Kaiser-class ocean liners which included the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. In order to compete with these ships the White Star Line needed to produce a new flagship which could rival them. [2]

Their new flagship Oceanic was built at Harland and Wolff’s Queen's Island yard at Belfast, as was the tradition with White Star Line ships, and her keel was laid down in 1897. She used the luxury over speed strategy, which first began with the Cymric in 1897. She was named after their first successful liner RMS Oceanic of 1870, and was to be the first ship to exceed Brunel's SS Great Eastern in length, although not in tonnage. At 17,272 gross register tons, the future "Queen of the Ocean" cost one million pounds sterling (equivalent to £113,400,000 in 2019), [3] and required 1,500 shipwrights to complete. Oceanic was not however designed to be the fastest ship afloat or compete for the Blue Riband, as it was the White Star Line's policy to focus on size and comfort rather than speed. Oceanic was designed for a service speed of 21 knots (39 km/h 24 mph). She was powered by two four-cylinder triple expansion engines, which were when constructed the largest of their type in the world, and could produce 28,000 ihp [4] [5] [2]

In order to build the ship a new 500 ton overhead gantry crane had to be constructed at the yard in order to lift the material necessary for the ship's construction. Another innovation was the use of hydraulic riveting machines, which were used for the first time at Harland and Wolff during her construction. [2]

Oceanic's bridge was integrated with her superstructure, giving her a clean fluid look this design feature would be omitted from the next big four White Star ships, Cedric, Celtic, Baltic and Adriatic, with their odd but distinguishable 'island' bridges. "Nothing but the very finest" was Ismay’s policy toward this new venture. [6] The architect Richard Norman Shaw was employed as the consultant for the design of much of the interiors of the ship, which were lavishly decorated in the first-class sections. [2]

Oceanic was built to accommodate 1,710 passengers: 410 First Class, 300 Second Class and 1,000 Third Class, plus 349 crew. [2] In his autobiography Titanic and Other Ships, [7] Charles Lightoller gives an account of what it was like to be an officer on this vessel.

Her passenger accommodations were laid out in a manner similar to that of Teutonic and Majestic, with First Class amidships, Second Class situated at the aft end of the superstructure and Third Class divided at the forward and aft ends of the vessel on four decks Promenade, Upper, Saloon and Main. First Class occupied spaces on all four decks, most of which was dedicated to an array of spacious and comfortable single, two-berth and three-berth cabins. There was a Library on the Promenade Deck and a Smoke Room at the aft end of the Upper Deck, with the most impressive feature being the elegant dome which capped the First Class dining room on the Saloon Deck. [8]

Similar to what was seen aboard Teutonic and Majestic, Second Class accommodations aboard of more modest elegance, but spacious and comfortable. A separate deckhouse at the aft end of the superstructure provided both open and closed promenade decks and housed a library and smoke room which were scaled-down versions of their First Class counterparts. The same scaling-down was seen with the Second Class dining room, which could seat 148, and the array of comfortable two-berth and four-berth cabins.

Third Class, as was customary on all White Star Line vessels on the North Atlantic, strictly segregated at opposite ends of the vessel on the Upper, Saloon and Main decks. On the Upper Deck, entrances were located adjacent to the forward and aft well decks, where most of the lavatories were located. At the very aft end of the deck were the Third Class Smoke Room and General Room, as well as the galley. Single men were berthed in five compartments at the forward end of the vessel (two on the Saloon deck, three on the Main deck), each of which were laid out in a rather novel design of open berths. Because the berthing of Third Class was distributed at either end of the vessel, the forward compartments each had berths for roughly 100 men, whereas conventional open berth dormitories often berthed up to 300 passengers on other ships. This allowed for a more open layout which was far less crowded, complete with long tables and wooden benches where male passengers were served their meals. [9]

In the aft quarters of the ship for Third Class were accommodations for single women, married couples and families located in five compartments (parallel to the forward layout, with two on the Saloon deck and three on the Main deck). As was seen aboard Teutonic and Majestic, as well as the newly-completed Cymric, a limited number of two-berth and four-berth cabins were arraigned, but were strictly reserved for married couples and families with children. The smaller of the two Saloon deck compartments was designated for married couples. On the main deck, a section of another compartment was designated for families with children. Each of the two compartments also had small dining rooms fashioned with fitted tables and swivel chairs similar to that in Second Class. In the remaining three compartments, single women were berthed in 20-berth dormitory-style cabins situated on the outer sides of each compartment. At the center of each compartment, a widened corridor was fashioned as a dining room with long fitted tables and swivel chairs running lengthwise through each compartment. [10] [11]

Proposed sister ship Olympic Edit

As White Star typically ordered ships in pairs, a sister ship for Oceanic to be named Olympic was proposed. However, following the death of the company chairman Thomas Ismay in November 1899, the order was postponed and then cancelled. Instead the company decided to deploy the resources to produce a set of larger liners which would become the "Big Four" class. The name Olympic was later bestowed upon the RMS Olympic of 1910. [5] [2]

Oceanic was launched on 14 January 1899, an event watched by over 50,000 people. She would be the largest and last British liner to be launched in the 19th century. Following her fitting out and sea trials, she left Belfast for Liverpool on the 26 August that year, and when she arrived she was opened to the public and press where she was received with great fanfare. She departed Liverpool on her maiden voyage to New York on 6 September, under the command of Captain John G. Cameron. Thomas Ismay had planned to be on board but was by this stage too unwell. She completed the voyage in 6 days 2 hours and 37 minutes at an average speed of 19.57 knots and arrived at New York to a rapturous welcome. One disappointing feature which soon became apparent in service was the tendency for the ship to experience excessive vibration at full speed, due in part to her long and narrow design. To avoid this problem it was soon found necessary to operate her at a service speed of 19.5 knots (36.1 km/h 22.4 mph), lower than her planned service speed of 21 knots (39 km/h 24 mph). [2]

The early years of Oceanic's career were fairly eventful, as she was well received by the public on both sides of the Atlantic. Between 1900 and 1906, she bested her main rivals, Cunard's speed queens Campania and Lucania, as well as her own running mates for westbound crossings. [12]

In 1900 she was struck by lightning while at dock at Liverpool and lost the top of her mainmast. On 4 August that year while berthed at New York harbour, she was threatened by a serious fire in a cargo hold of the SS Bovic which was docked adjacent to her. Fortunately the fire was brought under control before it could spread to Oceanic. [2]

On 7 August 1901 in a heavy fog, near Tuskar Rock, Ireland, Oceanic was involved in a collision with the small Waterford Steamship Company SS Kincora, sinking the smaller vessel and killing seven. [6] [2]

On 18 November 1904, four days out from New York, Oceanic encountered strong gales, stormy seas and snow, the battering the ship took from the sea stove in two portholes, which allowed a considerable amount of water to enter the ship. [2]

In 1905, 45 of the ship's firemen mutinied in protest at the unpleasant working conditions in the ship's boiler rooms, which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of 33 stokers. [13] [2]

In 1907, White Star set in place plans to establish an express service out of Southampton. Another IMM subsidiary, the American Line, had experienced great success out of this port due to its proximity to London, and it was ultimately decided Oceanic, along with Teutonic, Majestic and the newly completed Adriatic would terminate from this port, making double calls at the French port of Cherbourg and the line's traditional terminal at Queenstown before setting for New York.

In April 1912, during the departure of RMS Titanic from Southampton, Oceanic became involved in the near collision of Titanic with SS New York, when Oceanic was nearby as New York broke from her mooring and nearly collided with Titanic, due to the large wake caused by Titanic′s size and speed. A month later, in mid-May 1912, Oceanic picked up three bodies in one of the lifeboats left floating in the North Atlantic after Titanic sank. [a] After their retrieval from Collapsible A by Oceanic, the bodies were buried at sea. [14]

World War I Edit

Oceanic had been built under a deal with the Admiralty, which made an annual grant toward the maintenance of any ship on the condition that it could be called upon for naval work, during times of war. Such ships were built to particular naval specifications, in the case of Oceanic so that the 4.7 inch guns she was to be given could be quickly mounted. "The greatest liner of her day" was commissioned into Naval service on 8 August 1914 as an armed merchant cruiser. [2]

On 25 August 1914, the newly designated HMS Oceanic departed Southampton on naval service that was to last just two weeks. Oceanic was to patrol the waters from the North Scottish mainland to the Faroes, in particular the area around Shetland. She was empowered to stop shipping at her Captain’s discretion, and to check cargoes and personnel for any potential German connections. For these duties, she carried Royal Marines and Captain William Slayter RN was appointed in command. Her former Merchant Master, Captain Henry Smith, with two years' service, remained in the ship with the rank of Commander RNR. Many of the original crew also continued to serve on Oceanic. In effect therefore Oceanic had two captains, and this would lead to confusion about the chain of command. [2]

Wrecking Edit

Oceanic headed for Scapa Flow in Orkney, Britain’s main naval anchorage, with easy access to the North Sea and the Atlantic. From here she proceeded north to Shetland travelling continuously on a standard zigzag course as a precaution against being targeted by U-boats. This difficult manoeuvring required extremely accurate navigation, especially with such a large vessel. In the event it appears to have been poor navigation, rather than enemy action that was to doom Oceanic. [2]

An inaccurate fix of their position was made on the night of 7 September by navigator Lieutenant David Blair RNR (previously assigned to, then reassigned from, the Titanic). While everyone on the bridge thought they were well to the southwest of the Isle of Foula, they were in fact an estimated thirteen to fourteen miles farther north than they believed and to the east of the island instead of the west. This put them directly on course for a reef, the notorious Shaalds of Foula, which poses a major threat to shipping, coming within a few feet of the surface, and in calm weather giving no warning sign whatsoever. [2]

Captain Slayter had retired after his night watch, unaware of the situation, with orders to steer to Foula. Commander Smith took over the morning watch. Having previously disagreed with his naval superior about navigating a ship as large as Oceanic in the dangerous waters around the Scottish islands, he instructed the navigator to plot a course west, and out to sea, away (so he thought) from hidden dangers like outlying reefs. Unbeknown to Smith, this put the ship onto a course between the island and the reef just south of it. Slayter must have felt the course change, as he reappeared on the bridge to countermand Smith's order and made what turned out to be a hasty and ill-informed judgement, as the ship again changed course directly towards the reef. [2]

The ship ran aground on the Shaalds on the morning of 8 September, approximately 2.5 nautical miles (5 km) east of Foula's southern tip. She was wrecked in a flat calm and clear weather. She was the first Allied passenger ship to be lost in the war. [2]

Rescue Edit

The Aberdeen trawler Glenogil was the first vessel on the scene, and although she attempted to pull off the massive ship, it proved an impossible task, and with the hull already ruptured, Oceanic would not have stayed afloat long in open waters. [15] Other ships in the area were called in to assist in the rescue operation that was to follow. All of the ship's crew transferred to the trawler via the ship's lifeboats and were then ferried to the waiting AMC HMS Alsatian, and HMS Forward. Charles Lightoller, the ship's First Officer (and also the most senior officer to survive the sinking of the Titanic), was the last man off, taking the navigation room's clock as a souvenir.

The 573-ton Admiralty salvage vessel Lyons was dispatched to the scene hurriedly, and in the words of the Laird of Foula, Professor Ian S. Holbourn, writing about the disaster in his book The Isle of Foula:

The launch of the Lyons, a salvage boat which hurried to the scene, was capable of a speed of ten knots, yet was unable to make any headway against the tide although she tried for fifteen minutes. Even then it was not the top of the tide, and the officer in charge reckoned the full tide would be 12 knots, he confessed he would not have believed it had he been told. [16]

Commander Smith is said to have come ashore at the remote island’s tiny pier, and on looking back out to sea toward his stranded ship two miles away, commented that the ship would stay on the reef as a monument and nothing would move it. One of the Foula men, wise to the full power and fury of a Shetland storm, is said to have muttered with a cynicism not unknown in those parts "I‘ll give her two weeks". [16]

Remarkably, following a heavy gale that had persisted throughout the night of 29 September, just two weeks after the incident the islanders discovered the following day that the ship had been entirely swallowed up by the sea, where she remains to this day scattered as she fell apart under the pressure of the seas on the Shaalds.

The disaster was hushed up at the time, since it was felt that it would have been embarrassing to make public how a world-famous liner had run aground in friendly waters in good weather within a fortnight of beginning its service as a naval vessel. The revelation of such gross incompetence at this early stage of the war would have done nothing for national morale.

Courts-martial Edit

Lt. Blair was court-martialled at Devonport in November 1914, when he was found guilty of "stranding or suffering to be stranded" HMS Oceanic, and was ordered to be reprimanded. He offered in his defence that he was exonerated by the evidence given by Captain Slayter and Commander Smith that he was under their supervision, and that the stranding was due to abnormal currents.

A similar charge was made against Commander Smith at a second court-martial the evidence for the prosecution was the same as in the previous case, but witnesses were cross-examined with a view to showing that the position of the accused on Oceanic was not clearly defined by the naval authorities, and that he was understood to be acting solely in an advisory capacity. He was acquitted the following day, as he was found not to have been in command on 8 September.

Captain Slayter was also acquitted.

In 1924, a salvage company which had been engaged on the scuttled German warships at Scapa Flow attempted to salvage what remained of the wreck however they were unsuccessful. In 1973 another attempt was made to salvage parts of the wreck and the propellers for scrap. [17]

HMS Belfast

By the late 2010s, it appeared to have been moored in a permanent location, evidenced by the fact that it appeared on a map of London. At this time, it was located in the River Thames, between the City of London to the north bank, (TV: The Lie of the Land) and the London Borough of Southwark to the south. Ώ] It was located on the stretch of Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. (TV: The Lie of the Land)

A map showing the location of HMS Belfast. (TV: The Lie of the Land)

History of the HMS Belfast

Launched on the eve of the Second World War, the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Belfast played a role in some of the most crucial naval actions of the war. Today, she is permanently docked on the Thames River as a floating museum.

In the aftermath of the First World War, naval combat was dominated by the big-gun battleship. When the Nazis rose to power in Germany and began preparing for a re-match, they began a frantic campaign to rebuild their Navy, turning out a number of large battleships (such as the Bismarck and Tirpitz), smaller “pocket battleships” (like the Graf Spee) and “battle cruisers” (including the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau).

In response, the British expanded and updated their own fleet with a series of new battleships. To protect their capital ships from enemy torpedo boats and aircraft, the Royal Navy also added a number of light cruisers. These were fast lightly-armored ships with batteries of anti-aircraft guns, torpedo tubes, and 12 6-inch guns in four turrets, for anti-ship and shore bombardment actions. One of these light cruisers was HMS Belfast, who entered service in August 1939. Just one month later, Britain and Germany were at war. The Belfast was assigned, along with her sister ship Edinburgh and the light cruisers Sheffield and Aurora, to patrol the British coast searching for Nazi U-boats.

But on November 21, as she as sailing out of Rosyth harbor for another patrol, Belfast hit a magnetic mine that had been laid by a submarine, and suffered extensive damage. The Royal Navy at first considered her un-repairable and were going to scrap her, but because she was so new and Britain needed every available ship, it was decided to fix her. Repairs kept her out of action for the next three years.

It wasn’t until November 1942 that Belfast took to sea again, as protection for supply convoys to Arctic ports in the Soviet Union. The convoys were vital. Both England and Russia were desperate for the supplies which they needed to keep them in the fighting, and the Germans in turn knew that they could win the war if they could cut off the convoys with their submarines and surface raiders.

One of these surface raiders was the battle cruiser Scharnhorst. Hidden in the innumerable Norwegian coastal fjords, the German cruiser could appear suddenly, wreak havoc on a passing convoy with her 11-inch guns, then disappear.

In December 1943, the Scharnhorst left the protection of port. Two supply convoys, one sailing for Russia and the other returning, were due to pass each other off North Cape, and it was a target too tempting to pass up. But unknown to the Germans, the British had broken their naval codes, and the Royal Navy knew that the raider was on her way. As the Scharnhorst approached on December 26, she was intercepted by a group of three light cruisers, with the Belfast as their flagship. In the dark, the British fleet was able to take her completely by surprise, opening fire at a range of just 13,000 yards. After several hits, the German cruiser turned away.

But rather than pursue the Scharnhorst in the dark, the British broke off the engagement. They knew that the Germans would soon be back. And indeed, two hours later, the Scharnhorst re-appeared on their radar screens, and the British cruisers opened fire again. For the next 20 minutes the two sides exchanged shells, until the Scharnhorst broke and ran again. But this time, the Germans ran straight into another British force with the battleship Duke of York. The Nazi battle cruiser was faster, however, and began to pull away–until a lucky shot hit her boiler room and crippled her engines. Caught between the two British fleets, the Scharnhorst was pounded to bits and sunk. There were only 36 survivors. The Battle of North Cape would be the last naval fight between big-gun warships. From then on, air power would be the decisive naval force.

But the Belfast’s war was not over yet. Plans were already being made for the invasion of occupied Europe, and the light cruiser was now assigned to Operation Overlord. The D-Day landings in France depended upon the largest naval force ever assembled to that time. Just before 6am on June 6, 1944, the Belfast joined in the pre-landing bombardment, targeting German guns on Gold and Juno beaches. Over the next 3 days, she would fire some 5,000 shells at ground targets in France. Then, after a short re-fit in England, Belfast was assigned to the Pacific, where she was scheduled to take part in the invasion of Japan. The war ended just as she arrived.

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the Belfast served as an escort and in shore-bombardment duty. After the war, she remained in the Pacific until being pulled from active duty back to England and placed in reserve in 1963.

In 1967, the Belfast was scheduled for scrapping. The Imperial War Museum had been looking into the possibility of preserving a World War Two cruiser as a floating museum, but the British government decided against it. So a private Trust was set up instead, with one of Belfast’s former captains as its head, to raise money and save the ship. The Belfast is now anchored in the Thames River near the Tower of London, where she is visited by around 250,000 tourists each year.