HMS Belfast (Imperial War Museum)


The Queen's Walk, London SE1 2JH


020-7940 6300



Opening times:

March–Oct daily 10:00–18:00; Nov–Feb daily 10:00–17:00

How to get there:

Tube: London Bridge

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Partial disabled access. Café and shop

The last surviving big gun World War Two armoured warship in Europe, HMS Belfast was saved from the scrapheap and opened to the public on Trafalgar Day (21st October) 1971. She provides a compelling insight into the nature of war at sea. An ‘Edinburgh’ class large light cruiser, she was designed during the mid-1930s in response to the threat posed by Japanese ‘Mogami’ class cruisers. Built by Harland and Wolff of Belfast, the vessel was launched by Mrs Neville Chamberlain on St Patrick’s Day, 17 March, 1938.

On the outbreak of war in September of the following year, HMS Belfast formed part of the maritime blockade of Germany operating out of the Home Fleet’s main base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. Badly damaged by a magnetic mine, she was completely refitted, eventually rejoining active service in 1943 on Arctic convoy duty. As the flagship of the Tenth Cruiser Squadron, she successfully provided close-range heavy cover for several convoys of the kind that supplied the Soviet Union with some four million tons of supplies during the course of the war, including 5,000 tanks and 7,000 aircraft. In the Battle of North Cape in December 1943, she engaged and contributed to the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst. Only 36 men survived from that ship’s complement of almost 2,000. On 6 June 1944, HMS Belfast was one of the first ships to open fire on German positions in Normandy in support of the D-Day landings, a role that she continued to play until 8 July, amid heavy fighting for the city of Caen.

After 1945, the ship was occupied in peace-keeping duties in the Far East, helping to evacuate survivors of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps and Chinese civilian internment centres. From 1950–52, HMS Belfast spent at least 404 days on active patrol in support of UN forces during the Korean War. In August 1963, after circumnavigating the globe via the Pacific Ocean and Panama Canal, she returned to Portsmouth to be reclassified as a Harbour Accommodation Ship. ‘Reduced to Disposal’ in 1971, she was rescued from the ship-breakers by an independent trust chaired by one of her former captains, Rear-Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles, and opened to visitors ‘not as an exercise in nostalgia, but as an act of faith for the youth of the future’. The ship was purchased for one pound by the Imperial War Museum in 1978.

Appropriately enough, the ship is now anchored to the Thames riverbed at the former ‘breakfast wharf’, where tons of tea were once unloaded into Frederick J. Horniman’s warehouses: it was this type of trade that cruisers were originally designed to protect. Visitors board at the Quarterdeck, the ‘Officer Country’ towards the stern of Royal Naval vessels. The ship has been divided into eight different ‘zones’ in an attempt to facilitate orientation around a confusion of different decks, hatchways, ladders and rooms. Above decks, highlights include scoping Tower Bridge and the Tower of London through the gun direction sights; the 6-inch Mark XXIII Triple Gun Turrets, now trained on Scratchwood Services on the M1; the 40mm Bofors guns; Admiral’s Bridge and Compass Platform, with the Operations Room behind enhanced by sound effects, ‘state boards’ and uniformed mannequins recreating the scene during the Battle of North Cape. Below decks, visitors can explore the ship’s living quarters, mess-decks, galley, chapel, magazine, communications room and—perhaps most impressive of all—the bewildering, claustrophobic array of gleaming pipes, valves and passageways in the boiler and engine rooms (zone eight). Exhibitions in zone five tell the story of HMS Belfast in war and peace, and describe life at sea for officers and men.

  • 0 Comment(s)

Your comment

Notify me when someone adds another comment to this post



Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.


National Maritime Museum
Wimbledon Windmill Museum
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
2 Willow Road (National Trust)
William Morris Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery
Westminster Abbey Museum
Wesley's Chapel
Wellington Arch (English Heritage)
Wallace Collection
Victoria & Albert Museum
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces)
Tate Modern
Tate Britain
Sutton House (National Trust)
Spencer House
Southside House
South London Art Gallery
The Courtauld Institute of Art (Somerset House)
Sir John Soane's Museum
Shakespeare’s Globe
Serpentine Gallery
Science Museum
St Bride’s Crypt Museum
St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum
Saatchi Gallery
Royal Society of Arts
The Royal Mews
Royal London Hospital Museum
The Faraday Museum
Royal Hospital Chelsea
RCM Museum of Music
Royal Academy of Music Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
Red House (National Trust)
Ranger’s House (English Heritage)
Ragged School Museum
The Queen’s Gallery
Prince Henry’s Room
The Photographers’ Gallery
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Osterley Park (National Trust)
Orleans House Gallery
Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret
Natural History Museum
National Portrait Gallery
National Gallery
National Army Museum
Musical Museum
World Rugby Museum
Museum of the Order of St John
Museum No. 1 (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Museum of London
Garden Museum
Museum in Docklands (Museum of London)
The Royal Observatory
The Queen's House
Old Royal Naval College
Marianne North Gallery (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Marble Hill House (English Heritage)
Mall Galleries
Lord’s Tour and MCC Museum
London Transport Museum
London Fire Brigade Museum
London Canal Museum
18 Stafford Terrace – The Sambourne Family Home
Library and Museum of Freemasonry
Leighton House
Kingston Museum
Kew Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
London Museum of Water & Steam
Kenwood House (English Heritage)
Kensington Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Keats House
Jewish Museum
Jewel Tower (English Heritage)
Jerwood Space
Imperial War Museum
ICA Institute of Contemporary Arts
Hunterian Museum
Horniman Museum
HMS Belfast (Imperial War Museum)
Hayward Gallery
Handel House Museum
Hampton Court Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Ham House (National Trust)
Guildhall Art Gallery
Guards Museum
Grant Museum of Zoology & Comparative Anatomy
Geffrye Museum of the Home
Fulham Palace
Freud Museum
Foundling Museum
Forty Hall & Estate
Florence Nightingale Museum
Firepower: The Royal Artillery Museum
Fenton House (National Trust)
Fashion and Textile Museum
Fan Museum
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art
Eltham Palace (English Heritage)
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dr Johnson’s House
Dennis Severs' House
Danson House
Cutty Sark
Contemporary Applied Arts
Chiswick House (English Heritage)
Chelsea Physic Garden
Chartered Insurance Institute Museum
Charles Dickens Museum
Carlyle’s House (National Trust)
Camden Arts Centre
Cabinet War Rooms & Churchill Museum (Imperial War Museum)
Burgh House - The Hampstead Museum
Buckingham Palace
Brunel Engine House
Brunei Gallery SOAS
British Optical Association Museum
The British Museum
The British Library
Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee
Black Cultural Archives
Museum of Childhood (Victoria & Albert Museum)
Bethlem Museum of the Mind
Benjamin Franklin House
Ben Uri Gallery - The London Jewish Museum of Art
Barbican Art Gallery
Banqueting House (Historic Royal Palaces)
Bankside Gallery
Bank of England Museum
All Hallows Undercroft Museum
Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum




Most visited

Hampton Court Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
17751 times viewed
Museum of London
12145 times viewed
Geffrye Museum of the Home
8830 times viewed
Southside House
8040 times viewed
Lord’s Tour and MCC Museum
7967 times viewed
The British Museum
7359 times viewed
The Royal Observatory
7048 times viewed
Sir John Soane's Museum
7042 times viewed
National Gallery
6739 times viewed
Victoria & Albert Museum
6629 times viewed
follow us in feedly