The Belfast, now preserved in London as a floating museum, was laid down on 10 December 1936 at Harland and Wolff shipyard under 1937 Estimates as one of Southampton class cruisers. Launched by Mrs Neville Chamberlain, wife of Prime Minister, on 17 March 1938 she was commissioned on 5 August 1939. By the end of August Belfast joined the cruisers Aurora, Sheffield and Edinburgh in 18th Cruiser Squadron Home Fleet. Upon outbreak of the war the 18th CS joined the Northern Patrol and on 9 October 1939 Belfast captured off Faroes the German liner Cap Norte -the largest enemy merchant ship intercepted to date. Om 10 November 1939 the Belfast was transferred to 2nd Cruiser Squadron. When proceedding out of Firth of Forth on 21 November for exercises she was heavily damaged by two mines laid on 4 November by the German submarine U21. Casualties were light and after temporary repairs in Rosyth she was towed to Devonport. After first inspections it was decided to break her up, but on the second thought she was to be given an extensive refit which lasted more than two years. The progress was hampered by occasional cannibalisation of the ship when spare parts were needed for ships in better condition, but when completed the Belfast proved to be one of most powerful cruisers in Royal Navy, fitted with latest equipment. Additional "bulges" amidships increased her standard displacement to 11,500 tons and improved her stability.
After the work-up Belfast took part in Arctic operations covering the JW.53 convoy since 19 February until 2 March 1943 and again between 15 and 28 August. In the meantime she participated in the Northern Patrol.
During 5 and 6 October 1943 Belfast took part in an offensive sweep of Home Fleet off Norwegian Bodo together with battleship Duke of York, American aircraft carrier Ranger and cruisers, including American Tuscaloosa. Afterwards again she covered convoys to Russia since 30 October and on the latter occasion she took part in Battle of North Cape on 26 December, when the last operational German capital ship - the Scharnhorst - was sunk by British forces while attempting to attack the JW.55 convoys. In March Belfast covered the ships carrying out operation "Tungsten" when Fleet Air Arm successfully attacked German battleship Tirpitz and immoblized her when 15 bombs found their target on 3 April; the Tirpitz was sunk by RAF in November 1944. In June 1944 Belfast was the flagship of Force E which gave fire support to British troops on "Gold" and "Juno" beaches during a landing in Normandy. She was there until 8 July and that operation proved her last action against German forces. In July 1944 she began a major refit before joining the forces in Far East. She was thoroughly modernized with her anti-aircraft armament and radar outfit vastly improved. Living quarters were modified for tropical conditions and she was fitted for RAS (replenishment at sea) operations, which by then became a standard in US Navy operating in vast distances of the Pacific.
Upon completion of refit in April 1945 she was sent to Malta and then to Australia. There her AA armament was further augmented and on 9 September 1945 Belfast arrived off Chinese coast. However the was over and the cruiser was employed as a ferry carrying former POWs between Shanghai and Hongkong. Afterwards - since mid 1946 - she was cruising in Far East showing the flag until her return to Portsmouth to pay off into Reserve on 15 October 1947.
When another refit was completed in October 1948 Belfast was again sent to Far East, where Chinese civil war was raging. She was there during the Amethyst incident, when the latter was shelled by communist artillery, though she was not actively involved in the crisis.
Since June 1950 Belfast supported UN troops during Korean War. In July 1952 she was hit by a Communist battery, killing one man and wounding four. By September 1952 she fired over 8000 rounds from her 6 inch guns. She returned to Chatham to pay off on 4 November 1952 to await further fate.
In January 1956 Belfast was again taken into shipyard for a major modernization and when recommissioned on 12 May 1959 she became a flagship of the Far East Station. Again she was busy showing the flag and participating in exercises or official occasions until returning home. She sailed there in March 1962 across the Pacific, visting San Francisco and British Columbia. Then she made a transit of the Panama Canal and arrived in Plymouth on 17 June 1962. While in home watrs she took part in exercises and several courtesy visits.
In August 1963 she paid off into reserve in Devonport. Since 1966 until 1970 she was used as a harbour accomodation ship of the Reserve Ships' Division at Portsmouth and in 1971 she was moved to Fareham Creek awaiting disposal.
Meanwhile a group of devoted people has been working since 1968 to preserve a 6-inch gun turret for the Imperial War Museum and that idea developed into another one - preserving a complete warship. Belfast was chosen as her condition was excellent and in July 1971 the Government agreed to hand her over to The HMS Belfast Trust. On 21 October 1971 the veteran cruiser was moored at her permanent berth in the Pool of London.
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