This weekend, HMS Belfast, the famous ship which has inhabited the Thames since 1971 as a museum, will celebrate the 75th anniversary of her launch. The Royal Navy cruiser was launched on 17th March 1938 at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland. British Pathé has footage of the occasion in its archive, which can be viewed here. The launch can be found mid-way through the clip, which begins as an item about Mrs Chamberlain opening a new airport (though due to the fact that some footage has gone missing, the clip doesn’t feature Mrs Chamberlain at all!)
As well as the launch, there are some additional films in which HMS Belfast makes an appearance. The most substantial is an item about Royal Navy cadets taking the ship to Gibraltar. The 1963 newsreel, “Cadets Try Sea Life“, features some nice shots of HMS Belfast and the cadets lined up on her deck for her departure from Portsmouth.
There are two other films of note: “Tanganyika Independent“, about the celebrations for the independence of Tanganyika (later Tanzania) in 1961, shows HMS Belfast lit up at night in the harbour. “Royal Navy Ships“, filmed some time in the 1940s, shows some crew members messing around with an HMS Belfast lifebuoy.
There are also four items from the 1970s which show HMS Belfast on the Thames. You can find the films in this collection. British Pathé stopped releasing newsreels in February 1970 (see our History of British Pathé), and so much of the material in the archive from that decade is silent, unedited, and never released. This HMS Belfast footage is a good example, but the films are an enjoyable watch due to some beautiful aerial views of London and the River Thames.
HMS Belfast saw action in the Second World War, beginning with the arctic convoys. She also took part in the Battle of North Cape and the Normandy landings. Later, she was used in the Korean War. In the 1970s she became a museum ship and has been visited by scores of tourists and history-lovers ever since. It’s worth a visit if you’ve never been.
View British Pathé’s HMS Belfast collection here.
View additional HMS Belfast stills on our Pinterest page.