History of HMS Belfast unveiled

The HMS Belfast company cheers as HM King George VI leaves the ship
The HMS Belfast company cheers as HM King George VI leaves the ship

A new book has been launched detailing the complete history of the most significant surviving Second World War Royal Navy warship – HMS Belfast.

‘Firing on Fortress Europe - HMS Belfast at D-Day’ is published by the Imperial War Museum (IWM), and uses first-hand accounts of the crew of HMS Belfast to bring to life the leading role the ship played at D-Day – the largest invasion operation in history.

HMS Belfast was launched on St Patrick’s Day in 1938 from the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. The book draws on IWM’s rich collection of oral testimonies, diaries and memoirs, along with over 150 images to tell the personal stories of the men who served on board. Belfast fired one of the opening shots at D-Day and spent five weeks bombarding targets in support of troops ashore in Normandy.

Beginning on June 6, 1944, D-Day saw a massive military force set out from the UK towards France to overthrow the Nazi empire, breaking through their defences and going all the way to Hitler’s bunker in Berlin.

Ahead of the operation, Lieutenant-Commander Charles Simpson, HMS Belfast, said: “It was going to be a day that was going to remain in history. One knew there were perils to be met under conditions we had never before had thought about.”

The vessel and her crew played a critical role in D-Day and many of the key events leading up to and during the battle.

Highlights of the book include the visit of HM King George VI before leaving British waters and the exact moment the ship opened fire at the Normandy beaches. Meticulous records capture their experiences throughout the battle, including narrowly avoiding explosions and falling debris from downed aircraft; rescuing and treating the wounded; capturing prisoners; and going ashore to clear the beaches.

Author Nick Hewitt says: “HMS Belfast is the most significant surviving Royal Navy ship from the D-Day fleet. While the ship could be considered a ‘silent witness’, her former crew are certainly not, and it has been a privilege to tell their stories in Firing on Fortress Europe.”

Nick Hewitt worked as a historian for Imperial War Museums, before joining the National Museum of the Royal Navy in 2010. He has contributed to numerous publications and written two previous books Coastal Convoys and The Kaiser’s Pirates.

HMS Belfast is currently moored on the River Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge and is open to the public for visiting.

* To order copies contact the Imperial War Museum Duxford via iwmshop@iwm.org.uk or +44 (0) 207 091 3119.