Secret history of formerly Portsmouth-based warship to be revealed

HMS Belfast, now docked in the River Thames
HMS Belfast, now docked in the River Thames
Two members of the Portsmouth and Medway Clearance Diving Team at HMS Vernon with the 250lb German bomb which was dredged up at Albert Johnson Quay. On the left LS(D) M O'Learey with some of the high explosive content of the bomb and AB C Carr with the fuse

THIS WEEK IN 1981: Dredger brings up unexploded bomb

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HIDDEN stories and rare documents revealing life serving aboard HMS Belfast are being shared to mark the 80th anniversary of the historic warship’s launch.

The insights are being shared ahead of the 80th anniversary weekend on March 17-18, when visitors to the Imperial War Museum in London have a chance to meet surviving veterans from HMS Belfast, explore the ship and take part in free nautical-themed activities.

HMS Belfast was a regular sight in Portsmouth’s naval base, first arriving in August 1939 ahead of its commissioning, and replenishing ammunition in the city throughout the Second World War.

Portsmouth was also her final stop before sailing to London and being kitted out as a museum.

The oldest surviving Second World War veteran of HMS Belfast, John Harrison, has described the dangers of serving at sea, facing German magnetic mines and treacherous Arctic conditions.

The 104-year-old, who served as an ordinance artificer on HMS Belfast in the Second World War, described the dangerous conditions in the Arctic, including narrowly avoiding being swept overboard while trying to get to his gun turret.

‘I came to these big waves coming over, and I dashed to my turret, grabbed the turret door,’ he said.

‘Another one came over, my legs went up with the water, and my hand was actually frozen onto the turret handle, otherwise I’d have gone over the side with it.

‘I had to massage my hand when the wave’s gone to get my hand off it, open the turret door and get in. That was a scary moment.’