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The HMS Belfast

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published November 9th 2010
Unless you're a serving British serviceman or woman it's unlikely you'll have ever set foot on a ship of her majesty's fleet, unless you've ventured on board The Belfast. For she's sitting there in the Thames, no longer repelling boarders, but instead welcoming them onto her nine decks, which are part museum but mostly still just warship.

The HMS Belfast is a Royal Navy light cruiser launched in 1938. Since her launch and her current incarnation as a great big piece of floating British naval history, she saw a lot of action. She was one of the most powerful cruisers in the British navy during the early part of the second world war, and spent many months escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union during Germany's blockade, Assisted in the destruction of the Scharnhorst and supported the D-Day Landings by providing firepower to cover the soldiers arriving on the beaches. After the close of WW2, she served in Korea before being decommissioned in 1963, and being sailed up the Thames and opened as a museum in 1971.

There's a lot to be interested in on board a battleship, from the living quarters complete with the chapel, sick bay, laundry, mess halls and bunk rooms now home to uniformed dummies, to the bridge and the working parts of the ship below the waterline, including the engine room, boiler room and communications hub. On the deck of the ship you can also get up close to her weaponry some of her guns are kept in working order for ceremonial use (they're pointed at a set of services on the way out of London travelling north.

But the museum element of the Belfast means that as well as just wandering around and looking, visitors are also treated to aural histories of sailors who lived and worked on her, loads and brilliant action shots of her and her comrades at work and plenty of written explanations of all the moving parts you can see and will want, very much, to touch. The entry fee includes an audio guide, which will inform you in an even more atmospheric and entertaining way.

A breeze round the Belfast isn't a whole day's enterprise, but it will take you back in time for a couple of hours and leave you wondering if you really shouldn't be escaping for a life at sea.
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Why? The easiest way to get yourself onto a battleship
Where: Morgan's Ln Camberwell, Greater London SE1 2, nearest station London Bridge
Cost: Adult 12.95 (Price will increase Jan 2011)
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