On This Day

17 March

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1938 HMS Belfast - Yard No. 1000


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The 10,173-ton ‘Town’ class light cruiser HMS Belfast (Yard No. 1000) was launched from Slipway No. 12 in the Musgrave Yard on St. Patrick’s day for the Admiralty.

The christening ceremony was performed by Anne Chamberlain, wife of the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. After the launch a 14 year old riveter’s catcher was for a moment the centre of interest to the estimated 20,000 cheering spectators when he presented a large bouquet of flowers to Mrs Chamberlin. The riveter’s boy had been employed on the construction of the cruiser. The spectators included the Northern Ireland Governor, the Duke Abercorn, the Prime Minister, Viscount Craigavon and members of the Ulster Cabinet. Among the crowd was a contingent of the Dublin branch of the Royal Naval ex-Comrades' Association, who marched to the yard with their banner flying.

Belfast*, when completed, was the most powerful cruiser in the Royal Navy and only the second warship built by Harland & Wolff at Belfast since the end of the First World War and had cost almost £2.2m to build; her launching date and the yard number ‘1000’ specially reserved to mark this important occasion. Belfast’s hull was painted white for the launch in order to show off her lines to best effect.

Her oil-burning engines produced 30,000 horse-power and gave her a speed of 32½ knots, equivalent to almost 37½ miles per hour. At 579 feet long, she displaced just over 10,000 tons. Her original armament consisted of anti-aircraft artillery greater than that fitted in any other cruiser in the world. Her main armament consisted of twelve 6 inch guns, twelve 4 inch H.A. guns, four sets of multi-barrelled pom-pom guns and six torpedo tubes. Three seaplanes were also carried.

Frederick Rebbeck, Chairman and Managing Director of Harland & Wolff, speaking at the luncheon following the launch, referred to the fact that there were fewer merchant ships in the country than there were on the eve of the Great War in 1914. He said, their Mercantile Marine should be their first and perhaps their last, line of defence in a great emergency and suggested the establishment of a Ministry of Marine to see that the country had sufficient ships to carry necessary foodstuffs to feed its people.

Click here to discover HMS Belfast's role in the Normandy landings during World War II

Watch a fascinating documentary about HMS Belfast's illustrious career:

*With HMS Edinburgh, still building on the Tyne by Swan Hunter, the two cruisers in service were among the fastest and most powerful vessels of their type in the Royal Navy.

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1925 St. Patrick’s Day by White Star Line


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Many thousands of Irish Americans returned home to Ireland in time for St. Patrick’s Day by White Star Line vessels. One favorite vessel was Baltic (Yard No. 352), nicknamed ‘Ireland’s link with America’ for many years she was scheduled to leave New York in order to reach Cobh (Queenstown) in good time for the celebrations.

In the case of Baltic’s sailing from New York on 7 March 1925 almost all 1st and 2nd Class passenger accommodation was taken up by Irish Americans, many of whom had previously emigrated to the US in White Star vessels traveling 3rd Class.

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1949 Vestfoss


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The 8,250-ton oil tanker Vestfoss (Yard No. 1381) was launched today for A/S Thor Thoresen. 

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1961 George Peacock


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The 18,863-ton oil tanker George Peacock (Yard No. 1626) was launched today for the Pacific Steam Navigation Co. Ltd., Liverpool. The vessel was named after her first commander.