HMS Belfast – Happy birthday ‘Tiddley B’!



Image: Launching Ceremony: HMS BELFAST with her tugs prior to being moved to the fitting out yard, 17 March 1938. IWM Catalogue number MH 24911.

HMS Belfast (until named officially, known as ‘Yard No. 1000’) was launched from Harland and Wolff’s Slipway No. 12 in the Musgrave Yard. The date and her construction number had been reserved for what was seen as a very important day –  for the Royal Navy, Harland and Wolff and the city of Belfast.

HMS Belfast was only the second warship built at the shipyard since the end of the First World War and the launch date and yard number reflected the importance and pride the company had in the construction of what was at the time of her completion the most cruiser in the Royal Navy.

Anne Chamberlain, wife of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain performed the naming ceremony in front of a crowd estimated at 20,000.

After the ship had settled in the water all eyes turned to a 14 year-old riveter’s catcher – who had worked on the vessel’s construction – as he presented her with a bouquet.

Besides the dignitaries present –  the Prime Minister, The Governor of Northern Ireland, Duke Abercorn, Viscount Craig and the members of the Ulster Cabinet – were a party from the Dublin branch of the Royal Naval ex-Comrades’ Association, who had marched to the yard with their banner.

Together they watched the white hull (specially painted to show off her lines) slip into the water and the tugs move her to be fitted-out.


John Harrison, now 104 years old. john served on HMS Belfast’s very first commission in 1939. A former Ordinance Artificer, his action station was ‘A’ turret from where a ceremonial salute of the turrets main armament was fired to mark the ship’s 80th anniversary. Image © R Maddox 2018,


Today is the 80th anniversary of the Harland and Wolffe’ yard number 1000 first touching water. Today is the 80th anniversary of HMS Belfast being born.

Yesterday at a press day, the ship was reunited with 50 veterans and their families who served on her through her career, together with representatives from the Royal and Commonwealth navies. the city of Belfast and Harland and Wolffe where  (as I’ve touched on above) men from the city designed and built a weapon of war that has lasted to become place of memory and reflection as well as learning.and happiness for all who set foot on her Quarter deck.

In the days ahead the birthday celebrations will end.

And the ship will revert to doing what she has done since Trafalgar Day 1971, playing her part as IWM’s largest exhibit and also one of the five (three in London) sites in the IWM family. 

But for those who were privileged – a word I do not use lightly – to sit and talk to 104 year old veteran John Harrison and the other veterans it  is day that will be remembered for a long time to come.

You can learn more about John and HMS Belfast by clicking the links below.

More information:


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