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The HMS Belfast
The HMS Belfast is a museum, located on a ship (also named Belfast) that is moored in the River Thames. Originally a war ship used in World War II, the Korean War, and various other navy maneuvers, the HMS Belfast was later converted into a museum to preserve a piece of maritime history.
The Belfast was originally built in December 1936, with her maiden voyage on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1938. The ship served as one of 10 town-class cruisers, a type of ship built to combat the Imperial Japanese Navy's Mogami cruiser, as well as rival the power of the American's Brooklyn-class cruisers.
The Belfast spent its first few years as part of the British naval blockade before Germany, when it hit a magnetic German mine while leaving the Firth of Forth in November of 1939. By the time the navy ship had returned to action in November 1942, World War II was under way. The repairs also outfitted the Belfast with modern equipment, better weaponry, and other upgrades such as radar and armour.
In June 1945, the Belfast sailed to the Far East to the aid of the British Pacific Fleet. After World War II ended, the Belfast saw momentary peace before joining the action in the Korean War as part of the United Nation's naval fleet from 1950 to 1952.
From 1956 to 1959, the Belfast was upgraded and modernised further before entering reserve in 1963. It was in 1967 that the process of preserving the Belfast as a museum, rather than scrap the ship for parts, began. However, in 1971, the government moved against preserving the ship, and the private trust, called the HMS Belfast Trust, was set up to establish independent funding for the museum.
Further campaigning proved successful and in July 1971, the government gave the trustees the ship. Supervised by a joint committee consisting of the Imperial War Museum, the National Maritime Museum, and the Ministry of Defence, the museum opened on Trafalgar Day, October 21 1971, officially becoming a member of the Imperial War Museum in 1978.
The museum remains a popular tourist spot, with approximately 250,000 visitors each year, located conveniently on the River Thames near the London Bridge. The HMS Belfast Museum is also part of the National Historic Fleet.
The early years of the museum still saw parts of the ship being flushed out for preservation, so the public only had limited access to the ship, such as parts of the upper deck and forward structure. By 1974, for example, the Admiral's bridge area, forward boiler, and engine rooms were fully restored. Over the years, the ship was refurbished to give it a more historic feel, as older equipment was returned, or elements of war were laid to rest in this museum.
In 1982, the HMS Belfast museum was dry-docked for restoration and preservation, at Tilbury. She was dry-docked again in June 1999 at Portsmouth, where the hull was cleaned and repainted in a camouflage colour she had previously worn from November 1942 to July 1944.
Since 2011, the public may now visit nine decks on the ship, getting a walk-through detailing life aboard the ship and serving at sea.
School and youth groups have spent the night on board since 2002, to get an extended sense of what life was like on the Belfast. Museum visitors may also look at the mechanics behind the ship by visiting the engine and boiler rooms, or learn more about the military areas, such as the command area, operations room, and Admiral's bridge. However, the museum is currently closed to the public, following an accident in November 2011. Two workers were injured after a section of the gangway fell through during renovation. The museum is expected to open again in the spring of 2012.