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CPR / My Neighbour to the West
Image by bill barber
From my set entitled “Our Home, Streetsville”
In my collection entitled “Places”
In my photostream
I’ve always lived close to railway lines. When I was growing up in Orangeville, Ontario, I lived near the main station. Both the Canadian National Railway (CNR) and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) passed through town. When my sister and I moved to a fifty acre farm in Dixie, Ontario (near Toronto) in 1960, the CPR bisected our land.
For the twenty-two years Karen and I have lived at our current address in Streetsville, Ontario, the CPR has been our neighbour across the back fence. People ask us, “Don’t the trains bother you?” We answer that we don’t even hear them.
We sit on the deck and view a lot of interesting stuff go by. One day I watched a trainload of tanks pass. Didn’t know Canada had so many tanks. We also see intriguing graffiti on the sides of tankers and boxcars. And there are cars from all over the U.S. and Canada.
This is the first shot of the trains I have taken from the deck, but there will be more. It’s best to take such pictures after the leaves have dropped, since it’s hard to see the trains through the summer foliage.
Reproduced from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR; AAR reporting marks CP, CPAA, CPI), known as CP Rail between 1968 and 1996, is a Canadian Class I railway operated by Canadian Pacific Railway Limited. Its rail network stretches from Vancouver to Montreal, and also serves major cities in the United States such as Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York City. Its headquarters are in Calgary, Alberta.
The railway was originally built between eastern Canada and British Columbia between 1881 and 1885 (connecting with Ottawa Valley and Georgian Bay area lines built earlier), fulfilling a promise extended to British Columbia when it entered Confederation in 1871. It was Canada’s first transcontinental railway. Now primarily a freight railway, the CPR was for decades the only practical means of long distance passenger transport in most regions of Canada, and was instrumental in the settlement and development of Western Canada. The CP company became one of the largest and most powerful in Canada, a position it held as late as 1975. Its primary passenger services were eliminated in 1986 after being assumed by VIA Rail Canada in 1978. A beaver was chosen as the railway’s logo because it is one of the national symbols of Canada and represents the hardworking character of the company. The object of both praise and condemnation for over 120 years, the CPR remains an indisputable icon of Canadian nationalism.
The Canadian Pacific Railway is a public company with over 15,000 employees and market capitalization of 7 billion USD in 2008.
Canada’s very existence depended on the successful completion of the major civil engineering project, the creation of a transcontinental railway. Creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway was a task originally undertaken for a combination of reasons by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. British Columbia had insisted upon a transport link to the east as a condition for joining the Confederation of Canada (initially requesting a wagon road). The government however, proposed to build a railway linking the Pacific province to the eastern provinces within ten years of July 20, 1871. Macdonald also saw it as essential to the creation of a unified Canadian nation that would stretch across the continent. Moreover, manufacturing interests in Quebec and Ontario desired access to sources of raw materials and markets in Canada’s west.
The first obstacle to its construction was economic. The logical route went through the American Midwest and the city of Chicago, Illinois. In addition to the obvious difficulty of building a railroad through the Canadian Rockies, an entirely Canadian route would require crossing 1,600 km (1,000 miles) of rugged terrain of the barren Canadian Shield and muskeg of Northern Ontario. To ensure this routing, the government offered huge incentives including vast grants of land in Western Canada.
In 1872, Sir John A. Macdonald and other high-ranking politicians, swayed by bribes in the so-called Pacific Scandal, granted federal contracts to Hugh Allan’s "Canada Pacific Railway Company" (which was unrelated to the current company) and to the Inter-Ocean Railway Company. Because of this scandal, the Conservative party was removed from office in 1873. The new Liberal prime minister, Alexander Mackenzie, began construction of segments of the railway as a public enterprise under the supervision of the Department of Public Works. The Thunder Bay branch linking Lake Superior to Winnipeg was commenced in 1875. Progress was discouragingly slow because of the lack of public money. With Sir John A. Macdonald’s return to power on October 16, 1878, a more aggressive construction policy was adopted. Macdonald confirmed that Port Moody would be the terminus of the transcontinental railway, and announced that the railway would follow the Fraser and Thompson rivers between Port Moody and Kamloops. In 1879, the federal government floated bonds in London and called for tenders to construct the 206 km (128 mile) section of the railway from Yale, British Columbia to Savona’s Ferry on Kamloops Lake. The contract was awarded to Andrew Onderdonk, whose men started work on May 15, 1880. After the completion of that section, Onderdonk received contracts to build between Yale and Port Moody, and between Savona’s Ferry and Eagle Pass.
On October 21, 1880, a new syndicate, unrelated to Hugh Allan’s, signed a contract with the Macdonald government. They agreed to build the railway in exchange for ,000,000 (approximately 5,000,000 in modern Canadian dollars) in credit from the Canadian government and a grant of 25,000,000 acres (100,000 km²) of land. The government transferred to the new company those sections of the railway it had constructed under government ownership. The government also defrayed surveying costs and exempted the railway from property taxes for 20 years. The Montreal-based syndicate officially comprised five men: George Stephen, James J. Hill, Duncan McIntyre, Richard B. Angus, and John Stewart Kennedy. Donald A. Smith and Norman Kittson were unofficial silent partners with a significant financial interest. On February 15, 1881, legislation confirming the contract received royal assent, and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company was formally incorporated the next day.
The CPR started its westward expansion from Bonfield, Ontario (previously called Callander Station) where the first spike was driven into a sunken railway tie. Bonfield, Ontario was inducted into Canadian Railway Hall of Fame in 2002 as the CPR First Spike location. That was the point where the Canada Central Railway extension ended. The CCR was owned by Duncan McIntyre who amalgamated it with the CPR and became one of the handful of officers of the newly formed CPR. The CCR started in Brockville and extended to Pembroke. It then followed a westward route along the Ottawa River passing through places like Cobden, Deux-Rivières, and eventually to Mattawa at the confluence of the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers. It then proceeded cross-country towards its final destination Bonfield (previously called Callander Station).
Duncan McIntyre and his contractor James Worthington piloted the CCR expansion. Worthington continued on as the construction superintendent for the CPR past Bonfield. He remained with the CPR for about a year until he left the company. McIntyre was uncle to John Ferguson who staked out future North Bay after getting assurance from his uncle and Worthington that it would be the divisional and a location of some importance.
It was assumed that the railway would travel through the rich "Fertile Belt" of the North Saskatchewan River valley and cross the Rocky Mountains via the Yellowhead Pass, a route suggested by Sir Sandford Fleming based on a decade of work. However, the CPR quickly discarded this plan in favour of a more southerly route across the arid Palliser’s Triangle in Saskatchewan and through Kicking Horse Pass over the Field Hill. This route was more direct and closer to the American border, making it easier for the CPR to keep American railways from encroaching on the Canadian market. However, this route also had several disadvantages.
One consequence was that the CPR would need to find a route through the Selkirk Mountains, as at the time it was not known whether a route even existed. The job of finding a pass was assigned to a surveyor named Major Albert Bowman Rogers. The CPR promised him a cheque for ,000 and that the pass would be named in his honour. Rogers became obsessed with finding the pass that would immortalize his name. He found the pass on May 29, 1881, and true to its word, the CPR named the pass "Rogers Pass" and gave him the cheque. This however, he at first refused to cash, preferring to frame it, and saying he did not do it for the money. He later agreed to cash it with the promise of an engraved watch.
Another obstacle was that the proposed route crossed land controlled by the Blackfoot First Nation. This difficulty was overcome when a missionary priest, Albert Lacombe, persuaded the Blackfoot chief Crowfoot that construction of the railway was inevitable.
In return for his assent, Crowfoot was famously rewarded with a lifetime pass to ride the CPR. A more lasting consequence of the choice of route was that, unlike the one proposed by Fleming, the land surrounding the railway often proved too arid for successful agriculture. The CPR may have placed too much reliance on a report from naturalist John Macoun, who had crossed the prairies at a time of very high rainfall and had reported that the area was fertile.
The greatest disadvantage of the route was in Kicking Horse Pass. In the first 6 km (3.7 miles) west of the 1,625 metre (5,330 ft) high summit, the Kicking Horse River drops 350 metres (1,150 ft). The steep drop would force the cash-strapped CPR to build a 7 km (4.5 mile) long stretch of track with a very steep 4.5% gradient once it reached the pass in 1884. This was over four times the maximum gradient recommended for railways of this era, and even modern railways rarely exceed a 2% gradient. However, this route was far more direct than one through the Yellowhead Pass, and saved hours for both passengers and freight. This section of track was the CPR’s Big Hill. Safety switches were installed at several points, the speed limit for descending trains was set at 10 km per hour (6 mph), and special locomotives were ordered. Despite these measures, several serious runaways still occurred. CPR officials insisted that this was a temporary expediency, but this state of affairs would last for 25 years until the completion of the Spiral Tunnels in the early 20th century.
In 1881 construction progressed at a pace too slow for the railway’s officials, who in 1882 hired the renowned railway executive William Cornelius Van Horne, to oversee construction with the inducement of a generous salary and the intriguing challenge of handling such a difficult railway project. Van Horne stated that he would have 800 km (500 miles) of main line built in 1882. Floods delayed the start of the construction season, but over 672 km (417 miles) of main line, as well as various sidings and branch lines, were built that year. The Thunder Bay branch (west from Fort William) was completed in June 1882 by the Department of Railways and Canals and turned over to the company in May 1883, permitting all-Canadian lake and rail traffic from eastern Canada to Winnipeg for the first time in Canada’s history. By the end of 1883, the railway had reached the Rocky Mountains, just eight km (5 miles) east of Kicking Horse Pass. The construction seasons of 1884 and 1885 would be spent in the mountains of British Columbia and on the north shore of Lake Superior.
Many thousands of navvies worked on the railway. Many were European immigrants. In British Columbia, the CPR hired workers from China, nicknamed coolies. A navvy received between and .50 per day, but had to pay for his own food, clothing, transportation to the job site, mail, and medical care. After two and a half months of back-breaking labour, they could net as little as . Chinese navvies in British Columbia made only between .75 and .25 a day, not including expenses, leaving barely anything to send home. They did the most dangerous construction jobs, such as working with explosives. The families of the Chinese who were killed received no compensation, or even notification of loss of life. Many of the men who survived did not have enough money to return to their families in China. Many spent years in lonely, sad and often poor conditions. Yet the Chinese were hard working and played a key role in building the western stretch of the railway; even some boys as young as 12 years old served as tea-boys.
By 1883, railway construction was progressing rapidly, but the CPR was in danger of running out of funds. In response, on January 31, 1884, the government passed the Railway Relief Bill, providing a further ,500,000 in loans to the CPR. The bill received royal assent on March 6, 1884.
In March 1885, the North-West Rebellion broke out in the District of Saskatchewan. Van Horne, in Ottawa at the time, suggested to the government that the CPR could transport troops to Qu’Appelle, Assiniboia, in eleven days. Some sections of track were incomplete or had not been used before, but the trip to Winnipeg was made in nine days and the rebellion was quickly put down. Perhaps because the government was grateful for this service, they subsequently re-organized the CPR’s debt and provided a further ,000,000 loan. This money was desperately needed by the CPR. On November 7, 1885 the Last Spike was driven at Craigellachie, British Columbia, making good on the original promise. Four days earlier, the last spike of the Lake Superior section was driven in just west of Jackfish, Ontario. While the railway was completed four years after the original 1881 deadline, it was completed more than five years ahead of the new date of 1891 that Macdonald gave in 1881.
The successful construction of such a massive project, although troubled by delays and scandal, was considered an impressive feat of engineering and political will for a country with such a small population, limited capital, and difficult terrain. It was by far the longest railway ever constructed at the time. It had taken 12,000 men, 5,000 horses, and 300 dog-sled teams to build the railway.
Meanwhile, in Eastern Canada, the CPR had created a network of lines reaching from Quebec City to St. Thomas, Ontario by 1885, and had launched a fleet of Great Lakes ships to link its terminals. The CPR had effected purchases and long-term leases of several railways through an associated railway company, the Ontario and Quebec Railway (O&Q). The O&Q built a line between Perth, Ontario, and Toronto (completed on May 5, 1884) to connect these acquisitions. The CPR obtained a 999-year lease on the O&Q on January 4, 1884. Later, in 1895, it acquired a minority interest in the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway, giving it a link to New York and the northeast US.
So many cost-cutting shortcuts were taken in constructing the railway that regular transcontinental service could not start for another seven months while work was done to improve the railway’s condition. However, had these shortcuts not been taken, it is conceivable that the CPR might have had to default financially, leaving the railway unfinished. The first transcontinental passenger train departed from Montreal’s Dalhousie Station, located at Berri Street and Notre Dame Street on June 28, 1886 at 8:00 p.m. and arrived at Port Moody on July 4, 1886 at noon. This train consisted of two baggage cars, a mail car, one second-class coach, two immigrant sleepers, two first-class coaches, two sleeping cars, and a diner.
By that time, however, the CPR had decided to move its western terminus from Port Moody to Gastown, which was renamed "Vancouver" later that year. The first official train destined for Vancouver arrived on May 23, 1887, although the line had already been in use for three months. The CPR quickly became profitable, and all loans from the Federal government were repaid years ahead of time.
In 1888, a branch line was opened between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie where the CPR connected with the American railway system and its own steamships. That same year, work was started on a line from London, Ontario to the American border at Windsor, Ontario. That line opened on June 12, 1890.
The CPR also leased the New Brunswick Railway for 999 years and built the International Railway of Maine, connecting Montreal with Saint John, New Brunswick in 1889. The connection with Saint John on the Atlantic coast made the CPR the first truly transcontinental railway company and permitted trans-Atlantic cargo and passenger services to continue year-round when sea ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence closed the port of Montreal during the winter months.
By 1896, competition with the Great Northern Railway for traffic in southern British Columbia forced the CPR to construct a second line across the province, south of the original line. Van Horne, now president of the CPR, asked for government aid, and the government agreed to provide around .6 million to construct a railway from Lethbridge, Alberta through Crowsnest Pass to the south shore of Kootenay Lake, in exchange for the CPR agreeing to reduce freight rates in perpetuity for key commodities shipped in Western Canada. The controversial Crowsnest Pass Agreement effectively locked the eastbound rate on grain products and westbound rates on certain "settlers’ effects" at the 1897 level. Although temporarily suspended during World War I, it was not until 1983 that the "Crow Rate" was permanently replaced by the Western Grain Transportation Act which allowed for the gradual increase of grain shipping prices. The Crowsnest Pass line opened on June 18, 1899.
Practically speaking, the CPR had built a railway that operated mostly in the wilderness. The usefulness of the Prairies was questionable in the minds of many. The thinking prevailed that the Prairies had great potential. Under the initial contract with the Canadian Government to build the railway, the CPR was granted 25,000,000 acres (100,000 km²). Proving already to be a very resourceful organization, Canadian Pacific began an intense campaign to bring immigrants to Canada.
Canadian Pacific agents operated in many overseas locations. Immigrants were often sold a package that included passage on a CP ship, travel on a CP train, and land sold by the CP railway. Land was priced at .50 an acre and up. Immigrants paid very little for a seven-day journey to the West. They rode in Colonist cars that had sleeping facilities and a small kitchen at one end of the car. Children were not allowed off the train, lest they wander off and be left behind. The directors of the CPR knew that not only were they creating a nation, but also a long-term source of revenue for their company.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, the CPR continued to build more lines. In 1908 the CPR opened a line connecting Toronto with Sudbury. Previously, westbound traffic originating in southern Ontario took a circuitous route through eastern Ontario.
Several operational improvements were also made to the railway in western Canada. In 1909 the CPR completed two significant engineering accomplishments. The most significant was the replacement of the Big Hill, which had become a major bottleneck in the CPR’s main line, with the Spiral Tunnels, reducing the grade to 2.2% from 4.5%. The Spiral Tunnels opened in August. On November 3, 1909, the Lethbridge Viaduct over the Oldman River valley at Lethbridge, Alberta was opened. It is 1,624 metres (5,327 ft) long and, at its maximum, 96 metres (314 ft) high, making it the longest railway bridge in Canada. In 1916 the CPR replaced its line through Rogers Pass, which was prone to avalanches, with the Connaught Tunnel, an eight km (5 mile) long tunnel under Mount Macdonald that was, at the time of its opening, the longest railway tunnel in the Western Hemisphere.
The CPR acquired several smaller railways via long-term leases in 1912. On January 3, 1912, the CPR acquired the Dominion Atlantic Railway, a railway that ran in western Nova Scotia. This acquisition gave the CPR a connection to Halifax, a significant port on the Atlantic Ocean. The Dominion Atlantic was isolated from the rest of the CPR network and used the CNR to facilitate interchange; the DAR also operated ferry services across the Bay of Fundy for passengers and cargo (but not rail cars) from the port of Digby, Nova Scotia to the CPR at Saint John, New Brunswick. DAR steamships also provided connections for passengers and cargo between Yarmouth, Boston and New York.
On July 1, 1912, the CPR acquired the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway, a railway on Vancouver Island that connected to the CPR using a railcar ferry. The CPR also acquired the Quebec Central Railway on December 14, 1912.
During the late 19th century, the railway undertook an ambitious program of hotel construction, building the Château Frontenac in Quebec City, the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, the Banff Springs Hotel, and several other major Canadian landmarks. By then, the CPR had competition from three other transcontinental lines, all of them money-losers. In 1919, these lines were consolidated, along with the track of the old Intercolonial Railway and its spurs, into the government-owned Canadian National Railways.
When World War I broke out in 1914, the CPR devoted resources to the war effort, and managed to stay profitable while its competitors struggled to remain solvent. After the war, the Federal government created Canadian National Railways (CNR, later CN) out of several bankrupt railways that fell into government hands during and after the war. CNR would become the main competitor to the CPR in Canada.
The Great Depression, which lasted from 1929 until 1939, hit many companies heavily. While the CPR was affected, it was not affected to the extent of its rival CNR because it, unlike the CNR, was debt-free. The CPR scaled back on some of its passenger and freight services, and stopped issuing dividends to its shareholders after 1932.
One highlight of the 1930s, both for the railway and for Canada, was the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Canada in 1939, the first time that the reigning monarch had visited the country. The CPR and the CNR shared the honours of pulling the royal train across the country, with the CPR undertaking the westbound journey from Quebec City to Vancouver.
Later that year, World War II began. As it had done in World War I, the CPR devoted much of its resources to the war effort. It retooled its Angus Shops in Montreal to produce Valentine tanks, and transported troops and resources across the country. As well, 22 of the CPR’s ships went to warfare, 12 of which were sunk.
After World War II, the transportation industry in Canada changed. Where railways had previously provided almost universal freight and passenger services, cars, trucks, and airplanes started to take traffic away from railways. This naturally helped the CPR’s air and trucking operations, and the railway’s freight operations continued to thrive hauling resource traffic and bulk commodities. However, passenger trains quickly became unprofitable.
During the 1950s, the railway introduced new innovations in passenger service, and in 1955 introduced The Canadian, a new luxury transcontinental train. However, starting in the 1960s the company started to pull out of passenger services, ending services on many of its branch lines. It also discontinued its transcontinental train The Dominion in 1966, and in 1970 unsuccessfully applied to discontinue The Canadian. For the next eight years, it continued to apply to discontinue the service, and service on The Canadian declined markedly. On October 29, 1978, CP Rail transferred its passenger services to VIA Rail, a new federal Crown corporation that is responsible for managing all intercity passenger service formerly handled by both CP Rail and CN. VIA eventually took almost all of its passenger trains, including The Canadian, off CP’s lines.
In 1968, as part of a corporate re-organization, each of the CPR’s major operations, including its rail operations, were organized as separate subsidiaries. The name of the railway was changed to CP Rail, and the parent company changed its name to Canadian Pacific Limited in 1971. Its express, telecommunications, hotel and real estate holdings were spun off, and ownership of all of the companies transferred to Canadian Pacific Investments. The company discarded its beaver logo, adopting the new Multimark logo that could be used for each of its operations.
In 1984 CP Rail commenced construction of the Mount Macdonald Tunnel to augment the Connaught Tunnel under the Selkirk Mountains. The first revenue train passed through the tunnel in 1988. At 14.7 km (9 miles), it is the longest tunnel in the Americas.
During the 1980s, the Soo Line, in which CP Rail still owned a controlling interest, underwent several changes. It acquired the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railway in 1982. Then on February 21, 1985, the Soo Line obtained a controlling interest in the Milwaukee Road, merging it into its system on January 1, 1986. Also in 1980 Canadian Pacific bought out the controlling interests of the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway (TH&B) from Conrail and molded it into the Canadian Pacific System, dissolving the TH&B’s name from the books in 1985. In 1987 most of CPR’s trackage in the Great Lakes region, including much of the original Soo Line, were spun off into a new railway, the Wisconsin Central, which was subsequently purchased by CN.
Influenced by the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement of 1989 which liberalized trade between the two nations, the CPR’s expansion continued during the early 1990s: CP Rail gained full control of the Soo Line in 1990, and bought the Delaware and Hudson Railway in 1991. These two acquisitions gave CP Rail routes to the major American cities of Chicago (via the Soo Line) and New York City (via the D&H).
During the next few years CP Rail downsized its route, and several Canadian branch lines were either sold to short lines or abandoned. This included all of its lines east of Montreal, with the routes operating across Maine and New Brunswick to the port of Saint John (operating as the Canadian Atlantic Railway) being sold or abandoned, severing CPR’s transcontinental status (in Canada); the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the late 1950s, coupled with subsidized icebreaking services, made Saint John surplus to CPR’s requirements. During the 1990s, both CP Rail and CN attempted unsuccessfully to buy out the eastern assets of the other, so as to permit further rationalization. As well, it closed divisional and regional offices, drastically reduced white collar staff, and consolidated its Canadian traffic control system in Calgary, Alberta.
Finally, in 1996, reflecting the increased importance of western traffic to the railway, CP Rail moved its head office to Calgary from Montreal and changed its name back to Canadian Pacific Railway. A new subsidiary company, the St. Lawrence and Hudson Railway, was created to operate its money-losing lines in eastern North America, covering Quebec, Southern and Eastern Ontario, trackage rights to Chicago, Illinois, as well as the Delaware and Hudson Railway in the U.S. Northeast. However, the new subsidiary, threatened with being sold off and free to innovate, quickly spun off losing track to short lines, instituted scheduled freight service, and produced an unexpected turn-around in profitability. After only four years, CPR revised its opinion and the StL&H formally re-amalgamated with its parent on January 1, 2001.
In 2001, the CPR’s parent company, Canadian Pacific Limited, spun off its five subsidiaries, including the CPR, into independent companies. Canadian Pacific Railway formally (but, not legally) shortened its name to Canadian Pacific in early 2007, dropping the word "railway" in order to reflect more operational flexibility. Shortly after the name revision, Canadian Pacific announced that it had committed to becoming a major sponsor and logistics provider to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.
On September 4, 2007, CPR announced it was acquiring the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad from its present owners, London-based Electra Private Equity. The transaction is an "end-to-end" consolidation, and will give CPR access to U.S. shippers of agricultural products, ethanol, and coal. CPR has stated its intention to use this purchase to gain access to the rich coal fields of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. The purchase price is US.48 billion, and future payments of over US.0 billion contingent on commencement of construction on the smaller railroad’s Powder River extension and specified volumes of coal shipments from the Powder River basin. The transaction was subject to approval of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB), which was expected to take a year. On October 4, 2007, CPR announced it has completed the financial transactions required for the acquisition, placing the DM&E and IC&E in a voting trust with Richard Hamlin appointed as the trustee. CPR planned to integrate the railroads’ operations once the STB approves the acquisition. The merger was completed as of October 31, 2008.
PhotoShop Elements 5: crop, multiply, posterization, ink outlines, sandstone texture
HMS Belfast Night HDR
Image by k.kazantzoglou Life is full of surprises!!! 🙂
HMS Belfast is a museum ship, originally a Royal Navy light cruiser, permanently moored in London on the River Thames and operated by the Imperial War Museum.
Construction of Belfast, the first Royal Navy ship to be named after the capital city of Northern Ireland and one of ten Town-class cruisers, began in December 1936. She was launched on St Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1938. Commissioned in early August 1939 shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Belfast was initially part of the British naval blockade against Germany. In November 1939 Belfast struck a German mine and spent more than two years undergoing extensive repairs. Returning to action in November 1942 with improved firepower, radar equipment and armour, Belfast was the largest and arguably most powerful cruiser in the Royal Navy at the time. Belfast saw action escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union during 1943, and in December 1943 played an important role in the Battle of North Cape, assisting in the destruction of the German warship Scharnhorst. In June 1944 Belfast took part in Operation Overlord supporting the Normandy landings. In June 1945 Belfast was redeployed to the Far East to join the British Pacific Fleet, arriving shortly before the end of the Second World War. Belfast saw further combat action in 1950–52 during the Korean War and underwent an extensive modernisation between 1956 and 1959. A number of further overseas commissions followed before Belfast entered reserve in 1963.
In 1967, efforts were initiated to avert Belfast’s expected scrapping and preserve her as a museum ship. A joint committee of the Imperial War Museum, the National Maritime Museum and the Ministry of Defence was established, and reported in June 1968 that preservation was practical. In 1971 the government decided against preservation, prompting the formation of the private HMS Belfast Trust to campaign for her preservation. The efforts of the Trust were successful, and the government transferred the ship to the Trust in July 1971. Brought to London, she was moored on the River Thames near Tower Bridge in the Pool of London. Opened to the public in October 1971, Belfast became a branch of the Imperial War Museum in 1978. A popular tourist attraction, Belfast receives around a quarter of a million visitors per year. As a branch of a national museum and part of the National Historic Fleet, Core Collection, Belfast is supported by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, by admissions income, and by the museum’s commercial activities.
Belfast is a cruiser of the second Town class. The Town class had originated in 1933 as the Admiralty’s response to the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Mogami-class cruiser, an 11,200-ton cruiser mounting fifteen 6-inch guns with a top speed exceeding 35 knots. The Admiralty’s requirement called for a 9,000 ton cruiser, sufficiently armoured to withstand a direct hit from an 8-inch shell, capable of 32 knots and mounting twelve 6-inch guns. Seaplanes carried aboard would enable shipping lanes to be patrolled over a wide area, and the class was also to be capable of its own anti-aircraft defence. Under the Director of Naval Construction the new design evolved during 1933. The lead ship of the new class, the 9,100-ton HMS Southampton, and her sister HMS Newcastle, were ordered under the 1933 estimates. Three more cruisers were built to this design, with a further three ships built to a slightly larger 9,400-ton design in 1935–36. By 1935, however, the Admiralty was keen to improve the firepower of these cruisers to match the firepower of the Japanese Mogami- and American Brooklyn-class cruisers; both were armed with fifteen 6-inch guns. The Admiralty rejected a design featuring five triple turrets as impractical, while an alternative design fitting four quadruple turrets was rejected as an effective quadruple turret could not be developed. In May 1936 the Admiralty decided to fit triple turrets, whose improved design would permit an increase in deck armour. This modified design became the 10,000-ton Edinburgh subclass, named after Belfast’s sister ship HMS Edinburgh. Belfast was ordered from Harland and Wolff on 21 September 1936, and her keel laid on 10 December 1936. Her expected cost was £2,141,514; of which the guns cost £75,000 and the aircraft (two Supermarine Walruses) £66,500. She was launched on Saint Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1938, by Anne Chamberlain, the wife of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. From March to August 1939 Belfast was fitted out and underwent sea trials.
When completed, Belfast had an overall length of 613 feet 6 inches (187.0 m), a beam of 63 feet 4 inches (19.3 m) and a draught of 17 feet 3 inches (5.3 m). Her standard displacement during her sea trials was 10,420 long tons (10,590 t). She was propelled by four three-drum oil-fired Admiralty water-tube boilers, turning Parsons geared steam turbines, driving four propeller shafts. She was capable of 32.5 knots (60.2 km/h; 37.4 mph) and carried 2,400 long tons (2,400 t) of fuel oil. This gave her a maximum range of 8,664 nautical miles (16,046 km; 9,970 mi) at 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph).
Belfast’s main armament comprised twelve Mk XXIII six-inch guns in four triple turrets. With a rate of fire of up to eight rounds per gun per minute, her main battery was capable of a maximum rate of fire of 96 rounds per minute. Her secondary armament comprised twelve 4-inch guns in six twin turrets. Her initial close-range anti-aircraft armament was sixteen 2-pounder "pom-pom" guns in two eight-barrel mountings, and two quadruple Vickers .50 machine guns. She also mounted six Mk IV 21-inch torpedo tubes in two triple mounts, and fifteen Mk VII depth charges.
Belfast was protected by a 4.5-inch (110 mm) main armour belt, with deck armour of 3 inches (76 mm) over her magazines, and 2 inches (51 mm) over her machinery spaces. Her six-inch turrets were protected by up to 4 inches (100 mm) of armour.
Belfast’s aviation capability was provided by two catapult-launched Supermarine Walrus amphibious biplanes. These could be launched from a D1H catapult mounted aft of the forward superstructure, and recovered from the water by two cranes mounted on either side of the forward funnel. The aircraft, operated by the Fleet Air Arm’s HMS Belfast Flight of 700 Naval Air Squadron, were stowed in two hangars in the forward superstructure.
1939–1942: Commissioning, prize capture, mining, and repairs
Belfast sailed for Portsmouth on 3 August 1939, and was commissioned on 5 August 1939, less than a month before the outbreak of the Second World War. Her first captain was Captain G A Scott with a crew of 761, and her first assignment was to the Home Fleet’s 2nd Cruiser Squadron. On 14 August Belfast took part in her first exercise, Operation Hipper, in which she played the role of a German commerce raider attempting to escape into the Atlantic. By navigating the hazardous Pentland Firth, Belfast successfully evaded the Home Fleet.
On 31 August 1939 Belfast was transferred to the 18th Cruiser Squadron. Germany invaded Poland the following day, and Britain and France declared war on 3 September. Based at Scapa Flow in the Orkney islands, 18th Cruiser Squadron was part of the British effort to impose a naval blockade on Germany. On 1 October 1939 Belfast left Scapa Flow for a patrol in the North Sea, and on 9 October intercepted a German liner, the 13,615-ton Cap Norte, 50 miles (80 km) north-west of the Faroe Islands. Disguised as a neutral Swedish vessel, the SS Ancona, Cap Norte was attempting to return to Germany from Brazil; her passengers included German reservists. Two other vessels were captured that day, and all were steamed back to Scapa by prize crews from Belfast. Under the Admiralty’s prize rules, Belfast’s crew later received prize money.
On 10 November Belfast was taken off the northern patrol and reassigned to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron. This squadron was to form an independent striking force based at Rosyth. On 21 November, Belfast was to take part in the force’s first sortie, a gunnery exercise. At 10:58 a.m. she struck a magnetic mine while leaving the Firth of Forth. The mine broke Belfast’s keel, wrecked one of her engine and boiler rooms and injured twenty-one of her crew. The tugboat Krooman, towing gunnery targets for the exercise, released her targets and instead towed Belfast to Rosyth for initial repairs.
Initial assessments of Belfast’s damage showed that, while the mine had done little physical damage to the outer hull, causing only a small hole directly below one of the boiler rooms, the shock of the explosion had caused severe warping, breaking machinery, deforming the decks and causing the keel to hog (bend upwards) by three inches. On 4 January 1940 Belfast was decommissioned to Care and Maintenance status, becoming the responsibility of Rosyth Dockyard, and her crew dispersed to other vessels. By 28 June she had been repaired sufficiently to sail to Devonport, arriving on 30 June.
During her repairs, work was carried out to straighten, reconstruct and strengthen her hull. Her armoured belt was also extended and thickened. Her armament was updated with newer 2-pounder "pom-pom" mountings, and her anti-aircraft armament improved with eighteen 20 mm Oerlikon guns in five twin and eight single mountings, replacing two quadruple 0.5-inch Vickers guns. Belfast also received new fire control radars for her main, secondary and anti-aircraft guns. Her November 1942 radar fit included one Type 284 set and four Type 283 sets to direct the main armament, three Type 285 sets for the secondary guns, and two Type 285 sets for the 2-pounder anti-aircraft guns. She also received a Type 273 general surface warning radar, Type 251 and 252 sets for identification friend or foe (IFF) purposes, and a Type 281 and Type 242 for air warning. Her 1942 electronics suite also included a Type 270 echosounder. Due to her increased topweight, a bulge was introduced into her hull amidships to improve stability and provide extra longitudinal strength. Belfast was recommissioned at Devonport on 3 November 1942, under the command of Captain Frederick Parham. Her beam had increased to 69 ft (21 m) and her draught to 19 ft (5.8 m) forward and 20 ft 2 in (6.15 m) aft. Her displacement had risen to 11,550 tons, making her the largest and arguably most powerful cruiser in the Royal Navy.
1942–1943: Recommissioning, Arctic convoys and Battle of North Cape
Main articles: Arctic convoys of World War II and Battle of North Cape
On her return to the Home Fleet Belfast was made flagship of the 10th Cruiser Squadron, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Robert Burnett, who had previously commanded the Home Fleet’s destroyer flotillas. The squadron was responsible for the hazardous task of escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union, operating from Scapa Flow and bases in Iceland. Her radar suite reduced Belfast’s need for aerial surveillance, and her aircraft were disembarked in June 1943. Belfast spent 1943 engaged on convoy escort and blockade patrol duties, and on 5–6 October formed part of the covering force during Operation Leader, an airstrike against German shipping in northern Norway near Bodø by the aircraft carrier USS Ranger.
Drawing of Scharnhorst as she appeared in December 1943.
On 26 December 1943, Belfast participated in the Battle of North Cape. This battle involved two strong Royal Navy formations; the first, Force One, comprised the cruisers HMS Norfolk, HMS Sheffield and Belfast (the 10th Cruiser Squadron) with three destroyers, and the second, Force Two, comprised the battleship HMS Duke of York and the cruiser HMS Jamaica with four destroyers. On 25 December 1943, Christmas Day, the German Navy’s Gneisenau-class battleship Scharnhorst left port in northern Norway to attack Convoy JW55B, which was bound for Russia. The next day Force One encountered Scharnhorst, prevented her from attacking the convoy, and forced her to turn for home after being damaged by the British cruisers. As Scharnhorst did so, she was intercepted by Force Two and sunk by the combined formations. Belfast played an important role in the battle; as flagship of the 10th Cruiser Squadron she was among the first to encounter Scharnhorst, and coordinated the squadron’s defence of the convoy. After Scharnhorst turned away from the convoy, Admiral Burnett in Belfast shadowed her by radar from outside visual range, enabling her interception by Duke of York.
1944: Tirpitz and D-Day
After North Cape, Belfast refuelled at Kola Inlet before sailing for the United Kingdom, arriving at Scapa to replenish her fuel, ammunition and stores on New Year’s Day 1944. Belfast sailed to Rosyth on 10 January, where her crew received a period of leave. February 1944 saw Belfast resume her Arctic convoy duties, and on 30 March 1944 Belfast sailed with the covering force of Operation Tungsten, a large carrier-launched Fleet Air Arm airstrike against the German battleship Tirpitz. Moored in Altafjord in northern Norway, Tirpitz was the German Navy’s last surviving capital ship. Forty two Fairey Barracuda dive-bombers from HMS Victorious and Furious made up the strike force, escorted by eighty fighters. Launched on 3 April, the bombers scored fourteen hits, immobilising Tirpitz for two months, with one Barracuda shot down. Belfast underwent minor repairs at Rosyth from 23 April to 8 May, while her crew received a period of leave. On 8 May Belfast returned to Scapa and carried the King during his pre-invasion visit to the Home Fleet.
HMS Belfast’s 4 inch guns bombarding German positions in Normandy at night
For the invasion of Normandy Belfast was made headquarters ship of Bombardment Force E flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton, and was to support landings by British and Canadian forces in the Gold and Juno Beach sectors. On 2 June Belfast left the River Clyde for her bombardment areas. That morning Prime Minister Winston Churchill had announced his intention to go to sea with the fleet and witness the invasion from HMS Belfast. This was opposed by the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the First Sea Lord, Sir Andrew Cunningham. An intervention by the King eventually prevented Churchill from going.
The invasion was to begin on 5 June but bad weather forced a 24-hour delay. At 5:30 a.m. on 6 June Belfast opened fire on a German artillery battery at Ver-sur-Mer, suppressing the guns until the site was overrun by British infantry of 7th Battalion, Green Howards. On 12 June Belfast supported Canadian troops moving inland from Juno Beach and returned to Portsmouth on 16 June to replenish her ammunition. She returned two days later for further bombardments. On the night of 6 July Belfast was threatened at anchor by German motor torpedo boats ("E-boats"). She evaded them by weighing anchor and moving to the concealment of a smokescreen. Belfast fired her last round in anger in European waters on 8 July, in company with the monitor HMS Roberts and the battleship HMS Rodney, as part of Operation Charnwood.[nb 1] On 10 July she sailed for Scapa, the fighting in France having moved beyond the range of her guns. During her five weeks off Normandy Belfast had fired 1,996 rounds from her six-inch guns.
1945: Service in the Far East
On 29 July 1944 Captain Parham handed over command of HMS Belfast to Captain R M Dick, and until April 1945 Belfast underwent a refit to prepare for service against Japan in the Far East which improved her accommodation for tropical conditions, and updated her anti-aircraft armament and fire control in order to counter expected kamikaze attacks by Japanese aircraft. By May 1945 Belfast mounted thirty-six 2-pounder guns in two eight-gun mounts, four quadruple mounts, and four single mounts. She also mounted fourteen 20mm Oerlikons. Her two aftmost 4-inch mountings were removed, and the remainder fitted with Remote Power Control. Her empty hangars were converted to crew accommodation, and her aircraft catapult removed.
Her radar fit now included a Type 277 radar set to replace her Type 273 for surface warning. Her Type 281 air warning set was replaced by a single-antenna Type 281B set, while a Type 293Q was fitted for close-range height-finding and surface warning. A Type 274 set was fitted for main armament fire direction. On 17 June 1945, with the war in Europe at an end, Belfast sailed for the Far East via Gibraltar, Malta, Alexandria, Port Said, Aden, Colombo and Sydney. By the time she arrived in Sydney on 7 August Belfast had been made flagship of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron of the British Pacific Fleet. While in Sydney Belfast underwent another short refit, supplementing her close-range armament with five 40mm Bofors guns. Belfast had been expected to join in Operation Downfall, but this was forestalled by the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945.
Post-war service 1945–50
With the end of the war, Belfast remained in the Far East, conducting a number of cruises to ports in Japan, China and Malaya and sailing for Portsmouth on 20 August 1947. There she paid off into reserve, and underwent a refit during which her turbines were opened for maintenance. She also received two more single Bofors guns, in place of two of her single 2-pounder mountings. She was recommissioned on 22 September 1948 and before returning to the Far East visited her home city of Belfast arriving on 20 October. The following day, 21 October 1948, the ship’s company marked Trafalgar Day with a march through the city. The next day Belfast took charge of a silver ship’s bell, a gift of the people of Belfast. She sailed for Hong Kong on 23 October to join the Royal Navy’s Far East Station, arriving in late December. By 1949, the political situation in China was precarious, with the Chinese Civil War moving towards its conclusion. As flagship of the 5th Cruiser Squadron, Belfast was the Far Eastern Station’s headquarters ship during the April 1949 Amethyst Incident, in which a British sloop, HMS Amethyst was trapped in the Yangtze River by the communist People’s Liberation Army. Belfast remained in Hong Kong during 1949, sailing for Singapore on 18 January 1950. There she underwent a minor refit between January and March 1950 and in June she joined the Far East Fleet’s summer cruise. On 25 June 1950, while Belfast was visiting Hakodate in Japan, North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel, starting the Korean War.
Korean War 1950–52
March 1951: Belfast fires a salvo against enemy troop concentrations on the west coast of Korea
With the outbreak of the Korean War, Belfast became part of the United Nations naval forces. Originally part of the US Navy’s Task Force 77, Belfast was detached in order to operate independently on 5 July 1950. During July and early August Belfast undertook coastal patrols and was based at Sasebo in Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture. From 19 July Belfast supported troops fighting around Yongdok, accompanied by the USS Juneau. That day Belfast fired an accurate 350-round bombardment from her 6-inch guns, and was praised by an American admiral as a "straight-shooting ship".[nb 2] On 6 August she sailed for the UK to pay off and recommission, and arrived back at Sasebo on 31 January 1951.
During 1951 Belfast mounted a number of coastal patrols and bombarded a variety of targets. On 1 June she arrived at Singapore for refitting, arriving back on patrol on 31 August. In September 1951 Belfast provided anti-aircraft cover for a salvage operation to recover a crashed enemy MiG-15 jet fighter. She conducted further bombardments and patrols before receiving a month’s leave from operations, returning to action on 23 December.
In 1952 Belfast continued her coastal patrol duties. On 29 July 1952 Belfast was hit by enemy fire while engaging an artillery battery on Wolsa-ri island. A 75 mm shell struck a forward compartment, killing a British sailor of Chinese origin in his hammock and wounding four other Chinese ratings. This was the only time Belfast was hit by enemy fire during her Korean service. On 27 September 1952 Belfast was relieved by two other Town-class cruisers, HMS Birmingham and HMS Newcastle. She had steamed over 80,000 miles (130,000 km) in the combat zone and fired more than 8,000 rounds from her 6-inch guns during the Korean War. She paid off in Chatham on 4 November 1952 and entered reserve at Devonport on 1 December.
Modernisation and final commissions 1955–1963
After modernisation; showing the enclosed bridge, lattice mast and twin Bofors mountings
In reserve, Belfast’s future was uncertain: post-war defence cuts made manpower-intensive cruisers excessively costly to operate, and it was not until March 1955 that the decision was taken to modernise Belfast. Work began on 6 January 1956. Changes included replacing her 4-inch guns with more modern weapons, and protecting key parts of the ship against nuclear, biological or chemical attack. This last consideration meant enclosing her bridge, creating a two-tiered, five-sided superstructure which radically altered her appearance. Her crew accommodation was also improved, her tripod masts replaced with lattice masts, and timber decking replaced with steel everywhere except the quarterdeck. Belfast recommissioned at Devonport on 12 May 1959. Her close-range armament was standardised to six twin Bofors gun, and her close-range fire direction similarly standardised to eight close-range blind fire directors fitted with Type 262 radar. Her 1959 radar fit also included Type 274, retained for main armament direction, Type 277Q and 293Q for height-finding and surface warning, Type 960M for air warning, and 974 for surface warning. In order to save weight, her torpedo armament was removed.
Belfast arrived in Singapore on 16 December 1959, and spent most of 1960 at sea on exercise, calling at ports in Hong Kong, Borneo, India, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Australia, the Philippines and Japan. On 31 January 1961 Belfast recommissioned, under the command of Captain Morgan Morgan-Giles. On her final foreign commission Belfast joined a number of exercises in the Far East, and in December 1961 she provided the British guard of honour at Tanganyika’s independence ceremony in Dar-es-Salaam.
The ship left Singapore on 26 March 1962 for the UK, sailing east via Guam and Pearl Harbor, San Francisco, Seattle, British Columbia, Panama and Trinidad. She arrived at Portsmouth on 19 June 1962. Recommissioned in July, she made a final visit to Belfast from 23–29 November, before paying off into reserve on 25 February 1963. In July 1963 Belfast was recommissioned for the last time, with a crew of the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) and a number of Sea Cadets flying the flag of the Admiral Commanding Reserves, Rear Admiral Hugh Martell. Belfast sailed for Gibraltar in company with sixteen RNR minesweepers for a two-week exercise in the Mediterranean on 10 August. Martell’s obituarist considered this commission a well-judged contrivance which ‘did much to restore the confidence and image of the new RNR’ which had undergone an acrimonious amalgamation with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1958.
Reserve, decommissioning, and preservation efforts 1963–1971
Belfast returned to Devonport on 24 August 1963 and paid off into reserve. From May 1966 to 1970 she was an accommodation ship, moored in Fareham Creek, for the Reserve Division at Portsmouth. While HMS Belfast lay at Fareham Creek the Imperial War Museum, Britain’s national museum of twentieth century conflict, became interested in preserving a 6-inch turret. The turret would represent a number of classes of cruiser (then disappearing from service) and would complement the museum’s pair of British 15-inch naval guns. On 14 April 1967 museum staff visited HMS Gambia, a Crown Colony-class cruiser also moored in Fareham Creek at the time. Following the visit the possibility was raised of preserving an entire ship. Gambia had already severely deteriorated, so attention turned to the possibility of saving Belfast. A joint committee was established by the Imperial War Museum, the National Maritime Museum and the Ministry of Defence, which reported in June 1968 that the scheme was practical and economic. However, in early 1971 the government’s Paymaster General decided against preservation. On 4 May 1971 Belfast was ‘reduced to disposal’ to await scrapping.
HMS Belfast Trust 1971–1977
HMS Belfast as museum ship
The bow of a large blue warship, moored on a river, with a bridge in the background.
HMS Belfast berthed in the Pool of London; Tower Bridge and City Hall can be seen behind.
Location Morgan’s Lane, Tooley Street, London
Visitor figures 240,769 (2010)
Director Phil Reed
Public transit access London Bridge station
Tower Hill station
Imperial War Museum network
Churchill War Rooms · HMS Belfast · Imperial War Museum Duxford · Imperial War Museum North
Following the government’s refusal, a private trust was formed to campaign for the ship’s preservation. The HMS Belfast Trust was established; its chairman was Rear-Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles, captain of Belfast from January 1961 to July 1962. As Member of Parliament (MP) for Winchester, Morgan-Giles addressed the House of Commons on 8 March 1971. He described Belfast as being in "a really wonderful state of preservation" and that saving her for the nation represented a "case of grasping the last opportunity". Among the MPs who spoke in support of Morgan-Giles was Gordon Bagier, MP for Sunderland South, who served as a Royal Marine gunner aboard Belfast and was present at both the sinking of the Scharnhorst and the Normandy landings. Speaking for the government, the Under-secretary for the Navy, Peter Michael Kirk, said that Belfast was "one of the most historic ships which the Navy has had in the last 20 years", but that he could not prevent the stripping of the ship’s removable equipment, as this was already too far advanced to be halted. He did, however, agree to postpone any decision on Belfast’s scrapping to allow the Trust to put together a formal proposal.
Following the Trust’s efforts, the government agreed to hand over Belfast to the Trustees in July 1971, with Vice Admiral Sir Donald Gibson as her first director. At a press conference in August the Trust announced "Operation Seahorse",[nb 3] the plan to bring Belfast to London. She was towed from Portsmouth to London via Tilbury, where she was fitted out as a museum. She was opened to the public on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1971. The date was significant, as Belfast was the first naval vessel to be saved for the nation since HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar. Though no longer part of the Royal Navy, HMS Belfast was granted a special dispensation to allow her to continue to fly the White Ensign.
Now a museum, the ship’s opening was well received: in 1972 the HMS Belfast Trust won the British Tourist Authority’s "Come to Britain" trophy. Support for the ship’s restoration was received from individuals, from the Royal Navy, and from commercial businesses; in 1973, for example, the Worshipful Company of Bakers provided dummy bread for display in the ship’s NAAFI and bakery. By 1974 areas including the Admiral’s bridge and forward boiler and engine rooms had been restored and fitted out. That year also saw the refurbishment of the ship’s Operations Room by a team from HMS Vernon, and the return of Belfast’s six twin Bofors mounts, along with their fire directors. By December 1975 Belfast had received 1,500,000 visitors. In 1976 Belfast was reaffiliated with the successors to the British Army’s Royal Ulster Rifles, the Royal Irish Rangers,[nb 4] and in the same year the Royal Naval Amateur Radio Society restored the ship’s Bridge Wireless Office to working order.[nb 5]
Imperial War Museum 1978-present
By 1977 the financial position of the HMS Belfast Trust had become marginal, and the Imperial War Museum sought permission to merge the Trust into the museum. On 19 January 1978 the Secretary of State for Education and Science, Shirley Williams, accepted the proposal stating that HMS Belfast "is a unique demonstration of an important phase of our history and technology". The ship was transferred to the museum on 1 March 1978, and became the Imperial War Museum’s third branch, Duxford aerodrome having been acquired in 1976. In October 1998, the HMS Belfast Association was formed to reunite former members of the ship’s company. The Imperial War Museum’s Sound Archive also seeks to record oral history interviews with former crewmen.
A floating crane was moored alongside HMS Belfast during the installation of her new masts; September 2010.
Since being brought to London Belfast has twice been drydocked as part of the ship’s long-term preservation. In 1982 she was docked at Tilbury, and in June 1999 Belfast was towed to Portsmouth. This was the first time she had been to sea in 28 years and required a Certificate of Seaworthiness from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. While in dock, her entire hull was cleaned, blasted, and repainted, her hull blanking plates inspected and an ultrasonic survey carried out. She is not expected to require further drydocking until 2020. While under tow to Portsmouth she was delayed by bad weather and arrived a day late: it had been intended that she would arrive on 6 June 1999, the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Normandy landings. Following the maintenance work, Belfast was repainted in a camouflage scheme officially known as Admiralty Disruptive Camouflage Type 25, which she had worn from November 1942 to July 1944. This was objected to by some, due to the anachronistic conflict between her camouflage, which reflects the majority of her active Second World War service, and her present configuration, which was the result of Belfast’s extended refit from January 1956 to May 1959. With the establishment of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Advisory Committee on National Historic Ships in 2006, Belfast was listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Core Collection.[nb 6]
On 9 May 2010 a ceremony was held aboard Belfast to mark the 65th anniversary of end of the war in Europe. Veterans of the Arctic convoys were in attendance to receive medals from the Russian Ambassador Yuri Fedotov. During the ceremony it was announced that, as part of the restoration of the ship, two new masts had been manufactured at the Severnaya Verf shipyard near Saint Petersburg. The production of the masts, to replace corroded originals, had been supported by a number of Russian businesses at a reported cost of £500,000.[nb 7] The restoration of the masts involved removing the fittings from both masts, allowing them to be individually restored. The old masts were then cut down in sections, the new masts erected, and the original fittings replaced. On 19 October 2010, the new masts were dedicated at a ceremony attended by HMS Belfast veterans, by Prince Philip and officials from the Russian embassy and government.
Arctic messdeck in a forward compartment
When Belfast was first opened to the public, visitors were limited to the upper decks and forward superstructure. As of 2011, nine decks are open to the public. Access to the ship is via a walkway which connects the quarterdeck with the pedestrianised footpath on the south bank of the River Thames. The Imperial War Museum’s guidebook to HMS Belfast divides the ship into three broad sections. The first of these, ‘Life on board the ship’, focuses on the experience of serving at sea. Restored compartments, some populated with dressed figures, illustrate the crew’s living conditions and the ship’s various facilities such as the sick bay, galley, laundry, chapel, mess decks and NAAFI. Since 2002 school and youth groups have been able to stay onboard Belfast overnight, sleeping in bunks on a restored 1950s mess deck. The second section, ‘The inner workings’, below the waterline and protected by the ship’s armoured belt, contains core mechanical, electrical and communication systems. As well as the engine and boiler rooms, other compartments include the transmitting station (housing the ship’s Admiralty Fire Control Table, a mechanical computer), the forward steering position and one of Belfast’s six-inch shell rooms and magazines. The third section, ‘Action stations’, includes the upper deck and forward superstructure with the ship’s armament, fire control, and command facilities. Areas open to the public include the operations room, Admiral’s bridge and gun direction platform. During 2011 two of these areas were reinterpreted. The operations room was restored to its appearance during Exercise Pony Express, a large British-Australian-American joint exercise held off North Borneo in 1961. The reinterpretation included an interactive audio-visual plotting table. [nb 8] In July 2011 the interior of Y Turret, the aftmost 6-inch turret, was redisplayed using audio-visual and atmospheric effects, seeking to evoke the experience of a gunner at the Battle of North Cape. To emphasise the range of the ship’s armament, the forward six-inch guns of A and B Turrets are aimed at the London Gateway service area on the M1 motorway, some 12½ miles away on the outskirts of London. A 4-inch gun mount and a shell hoist are kept in working order and used during blank-firing demonstrations by the Wavy Navy re-enactment group. In addition to the various areas of the ship open to visitors, some compartments have been fitted out as dedicated exhibition space. Permanent exhibitions include ‘HMS Belfast in War and Peace’ and ‘Life at Sea’. The cost of admission to HMS Belfast includes a multilingual audio guide, and the museum also hosts an online virtual tour.[nb 9]
HMS Belfast is also the headquarters of the City of London Sea Cadet Corps, and her prestigious central London location means she frequently has other vessels berth alongside; in October 2007 Belfast hosted the naming ceremony of the lighthouse tender THV Galatea with the Queen and Prince Philip in attendance.
On 29 November 2011 two workmen suffered minor injuries after the section of the gangway connected to the ship collapsed while it was undergoing renovation works. 
^ A 15-inch gun from HMS Roberts is one of the pair now on display outside Imperial War Museum London
^ The admiral is not identified in Wingate (2004), but may have been Rear Admiral John Higgins, for whom Juneau was flagship.
^ Operation Seahorse was named for the ship’s badge, which shows a seahorse (which also appears on the City of Belfast’s coat of arms) wearing a red gorget over waves.
^ Amalgamated into the Royal Irish Regiment in 1992.
^ The Society operates the amateur radio callsign GB2RN from the ship’s Wireless Office.
^ Belfast is one of three vessels with such listing in London, the other two being the tea clipper Cutty Sark and the coastal steamer SS Robin.
^ The Russian companies included United Industrial Corporation (OPK), SeverStal and Sovcomflot. Assistance was also received from Lloyd’s Register.
^ The reinterpretation was supported by £150,000 from DCMS and the Wolfson Foundation.
^ See hmsbelfasttours.org.uk. The virtual tour includes views of areas not normally accessible to the public, such as the cable locker, ASDIC compartment, 4-inch magazine and the Admiral’s Flat. Access to some of these areas is restricted for safety reasons, and the Flat is occupied by museum offices.