London Lantern

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HMS Belfast - A Proud History (continued)

24/05/2003, By David McIntosh

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 15501 votes

From the bridge of the battle-cruiser came the order to change course- their mission was to destroy the convoy not to do battle with the Royal Navy’s warships. Another salvo from the cruisers roared through the night sky as the Scharnhorst vanished in hopes of finding another way to get at the convoy. On Belfast Admiral Burnett could only guess from direction his adversary would next appear.

Shortly after steaming from another direction the Scharnhorst reappeared and standing in her way she again found Belfast and her companions. Salvos were exchanged and again the German battle-cruiser turned tale. Maybe it was best to head back home and trust another night to provide better hunting.

Yet at this very moment steaming from a southwesterly direction, flying from her mast a pennant bearing the Cross of St. George, symbolizing the role of the Royal Navy as the protector of England and that there was a full admiral on board, was the British battleship HMS Duke of York, and the full admiral was no less a personage than the commander of the Home Fleet, Sir Bruce Fraser, who that night had determined that this would be the last night ever that Scharnhorst would sail the oceans near the top of the world. Yet there still remained much distance between Fraser and his quarry and time was growing short. Again Admiral Burnett and his cruisers, including Belfast kept contact with the enemy.

It was now the afternoon of the next day but still little light shown in the sky. Eight miles astern of Scharnhorst the Belfast fired the first of the shots that would soon mean the end for many of the German sailors. A star shell lit the dark sky and there she sat for all to see, Scharnhorst was naked and vulnerable. Then flame erupted from the guns of HMS Duke of York and the first salvo straddled the trapped German ship. The next scored a hit and from then on her fate was sealed, for now from the other direction came destroyers closing in and launching their torpedoes.

The battle continued and Duke of York’s 14 inch guns pummeled the Germans without letup until finally Admiral Fraser’s signal to cease fire went out and another cruiser, HMS Jamaica moved in close and loosed her torpedoes at the Scharnhorst sending her to the bottom of the icy waters. Out of a complement of nearly 2000 only 36 German sailors were pulled from the frozen sea.

The sinking of the Scharnhorst would not mark the end of the Belfast’s role in the battle to make the world safe from tyranny. In March of 1944 she would be part of a force that also included aircraft carriers and battleships and whose mission was to sink the German battleship Tirpitz (sister ship of the Bismarck) and though the mission failed in sinking the German dreadnought, she was so badly damaged that she was unable to put to sea. A few months after that Belfast found herself part of a mighty armada off the coast of France as allied forces prepared to storm the beaches of Normandy and begin the liberation of Europe. She can claim to have been one of the first ships to fire upon German fortifications on D-Day, when she engaged the batteries Ver sur Mer.

At close of hostilities the veteran warship now found herself working to bind and heal the wounds of conflict, helping to evacuate prisoners of war and internees from Japanese prisoner camps in the Far East.

Peace would last only a short time for Belfast, for a new decade brought with it a new war and soon she was in action off the coast of Korea, one of the first ships of the Royal Navy to see action in the Korean War. As fall of 1952 approached she sailed for home no more to fire her guns in anger.

She would be paid off in 1963 and saved from an inglorious, ignominious end, avoiding her trip to the breakers when friends including a former captain worked to have her turned into a national monument to the sacrifices of the many sailors to have crewed her, and fittingly enough it was on Trafalgar Day that she was brought up the Thames River and began her new life as a memorial to the courage of men who fought to maintain freedom.

There is a legend that says when there is crisis and England in peril and her fate hangs in the balance, if you listen carefully you will hear the beat of a drum; it is the sound of a drummer calling for Sir Francis Drake, who long ago in another time defeated the Spanish Armada. And, the legend continues; when the sound of the drum can be heard, stepping forth in place of Sir Francis Drake will appear the Royal Navy, come once again to save the nation. HMS Belfast in her time has heard and heeded the sound of the drum and in the process served well not only her nation but the cause of freedom.

(Note: In referring to ships of the Royal Navy some people will mistakenly say ‘the HMS’ Since HMS is an abbreviation for ‘His or Her Majesty’s Ship,’ it is proper to simply say ‘HMS.’ You wouldn’t say ‘the His/Her Majesty’s Ship...’ Now would you?)

David McIntosh

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Re: HMS Belfast - A Proud History (continued)

By Nigel Burnett 15/01/2009, (Rating: 3 from 12725 votes)

Interesting article, this man was my great uncle,
Nigel Burnett

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