Take a tour of the HMS Belfast (pictures)

The HMS Belfast served Great Britain for two decades. Nowadays it's a tourist attraction in central London. We took a tour.

Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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In the Pool of London

The HMS Belfast served her country for 24 years, including firing on the beaches before the D-Day invasion, helping sink the German battleship Tirpitz, and more. It's now a museum ship. For the full story, check out: Take a tour of the HMS Belfast.

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The walk across the gangplank from the South Bank of the river Thames gives you a good sense of the size. It’s a light cruiser, so it’s a lot smaller than other WWII vessels you can tour.

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Ship's bell

One of the first things you see when you board the Belfast is the solid silver ship's bell.

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Looking aft

Down the length of the ship, Tower Bridge downriver.

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Once enemies, now friends

The ship docked alongside the Belfast on one of my tour days was the German cruise ship Berlin. If that’s not a sign of time and the world moving on, I don’t know what is.

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Load them guns

Inside the front turret. The shells are lifted from far below (which we’ll see later).

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Anchor's aweigh

A serious anchor.

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Starboard amidships

Like most museum ships, many passageways are filled with other exhibits. Here, a replica of one of the torpedoes the Belfast carried.

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Clean clothes

The laundry room from the 1950s refit. Before then the crew washed their laundry in buckets.

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Yep, that’s a cat. These soulless killing machines were kept on board to do what they did best: kill things. Specifically, mice.

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There was an art exhibit called "The Tourists" going on when I was there. It was some kind of take on Mardi Gras. It was freaky.

From this room music was piped through the ship.

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Ships need to be able to repair themselves, to an extent, while on tour. Here you can see the shipwright’s room.

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Sick bay

Recovery cots dead ahead, operating room to the right.

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Root canal

Can’t escape the need for a dentist at sea.

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There is something so cool, and sort of menacing, about exposed and massive switches like these.

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The quite sizeable galley. It continues back farther about three rooms this size.

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Soup, anyone? Soup, everyone.

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Hot cross buns

Fancy a biscuit? Yep, it’s a bakery.

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Transmitting station

The mechanical computers here calculated where to aim the guns.

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Forward steering position

Different from what you'd expect, the main steering wheel is actually inside the ship. No windows.

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Gyro compass

This gyro compass always points north, to aid navigation in high seas.

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Hot water

This washroom is close to the engine room, so hot water didn't have to get piped around the ship (much).

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Pipes, tubes and ducts

The forward engine room. On the right is one of the huge fans to feed the boilers.

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Engine room floor

A rare open space in the engine room. The boilers are on the right.

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Imagine, there were many men who knew where every one of these pipes went and what it carried.

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Not hot, right now

Pre-heated fuel oil got atomized here, to get sent through those tiny holes...

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...to the furnace to make steam. The steam was used for a variety of things, including turning generators for electric power.

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Lucky 7

Up to seven of the "oil fuel registers" were used on each boiler.

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Full speed ahead


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Three separate controls: one for ahead, one for astern and one for efficient cruising.

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I saw this awesomeness on the far side of the engine room. Any guesses?

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Reduction gear

This is one of the huge reduction gears connected to the propeller shaft.

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Not exactly an LCD

These gorgeous analog dials gave the engineers everything they needed to keep the engines running.

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I thought they did a great job stocking the canteen with cans and goods that would have been found while the ship was in service.

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Yo, ho, ho

A still. No joke, British sailors got rations of grog.

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Hammock Town

There were few crew quarters on the Belfast. Sailors instead had hammocks stretched above areas that had other uses.

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Sleep where you eat

Not a lot of daily variety.

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Deep inside the ship is the armory.

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Up elevator

Ignore the creepy sailor mannequin. The shells would be loaded into elevators and raised into the turrets.

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VHF and UHF equipment room

The gear here, along with antennas outside, allowed the Belfast to communicate with other vessels, the shore and so on.

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Not bad for some

The officers got far better accommodations, with little things like "beds" and "a window."

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Radar would have been cutting-edge naval technology in the Second World War, but of course the Belfast saw service afterwards and was kept up to date.

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The bleeps, the sweeps and the creeps

I didn't detect any enemy aircraft. I might have been reading it wrong.

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High tech

Here an incredibly lifelike mannequin worked to figure out what caused a blue screen of death. I guess Win98 was terrible in the '60s too.

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Compass platform

The bridge (or compass platform, as it was called), was exposed prior to the 1950s refit.

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The view upriver

Rumor has it the guns are fixed on a gas station on the M25, the motorway that rings London.

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Boat deck

A variety of small boats were stored here, along with a Supermarine Walrus.

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From the Tower

If you're headed to the Tower of London, or Tower Bridge, you can't miss the Belfast, and if you're a fan of WWII ships, you shouldn't.

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