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HMS Belfast masts from Russia with Love
HMS Belfast will today (Tuesday 19 October, 2010) unveil a major restoration project, designed to restore the ship to her former glory. The newly re-built replacement masts will be revealed, in the presence of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and former Arctic Convoy veterans. The vessel is one of the few surviving Royal Navy ships that served in the Arctic convoys, helping to keep Russia supplied and able to fight Hitler’s armies during the Second World War.
The restoration project, which began in April 2009, has taken over 18 months to complete. All of the work has been done for free by a team of over 20 men and women from the JSC Shipbuilding plant, Severnaya Verf, in St Petersburg - as a tribute to the brave British and other Allied sailors who risked their lives on the convoys in the Second World War efforts.
This project is dedicated to the enduring memory of all those Russian and Allied men and women, civilian and military, who served in the epic campaign to maintain the Arctic supply route against attack by submarines, aircraft, surface raiders and the greatest enemy of all, the sea. HMS Belfast, now a branch of the Imperial War Museum is the last witness to this heroic struggle to preserve the civilised World.
The ship’s Director Phil Reed said: 'HMS Belfast may have been a British Royal Navy ship, but she is also part of Russia’s history and this new co-operation between us and our Russian friends echoes the co-operation experienced all those years ago - she is a veteran of the Arctic Convoys of the Second World War, and today one of the only remaining surviving ships of this time. Our new masts will stand as a reminder of that partnership to the 250,000 visitors who come every year to the heart of the City of London. Now with more and more visitors coming to London from Russia, HMS Belfast should be on their ‘must see’ list.'
Four years ago a review of the condition of the mainmast revealed it was in poor order and a simultaneous offer came from Russia to help replace both masts. Lloyds Register trainees, based in London, used the ship’s original plans (in Imperial measures) to produce comparative metric drawings for the shipyard, based in Russia, and the masts were re-built.
A specialist team was flown in from Russia to carry out the installation of the new masts and has been living and working onboard HMS Belfast since the beginning of September to complete the job. Andy Curran from HMS Belfast and Marine engineers Houlder project managed the installation and a few changes have been made to the masts since they had undergone modifications.
The unveiling ceremony is being attended by both British veterans of the Arctic Convoys and a Russian veterans delegation, who flew in from Archangelsk.
The work involved:
A number of Russian businesses, including OPK (Joint Industrial Corporation), SCF Sovcomflot, Severstal UK and the London-based businessman Len Blavatnik, have supported the restoration project for HMS Belfast. Lloyd’s Register has also helped support the project with technical expertise.
Described by Winston Churchill as ‘the worst journey in the world’ the Arctic Convoys of the Second World War saw HMS Belfast and ships of both the Merchant and Royal Navies make perilous journeys in sub zero temperatures to ensure vital supplies reached Russian shores. Four million tons of supplies, including over 5,000 tanks and 7,000 aircraft for use by Soviet forces fighting against the Nazi armies on the Eastern Front were carried to North Russia, through temperatures as low as minus 30°C.
Tim Lewin, the project creator and son of Arctic Convoy veteran said: 'The idea of approaching the Russians to help with the restoration of the masts came to me during a meeting I had with the director of HMS Belfast back in 2005; at the time the Russian economy was booming, I was working in Russia on economic development and at the same time was looking for a suitable project to commemorate my late father. He began his career in the summer of 1939, the newest officer in the Navy aboard the newest ship, HMS Belfast. Forty-three years later he ended his career as Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin, Chief of the Defence Staff and a member of the War Cabinet at the time of the Falklands project, the highest ranking officer ever to have served in Belfast. Between 1942 and 1944 he served in the destroyer Ashanti frequently as escort to Belfast on Russian convoy duties, he completed twelve with Ashanti being awarded the "Red Banner" for her frequency of appearances in Murmansk.
The idea of asking Russia to celebrate this era of mutual dependence by restoring the masts of HMS Belfast, the "last witness" to this seminal era seemed deeply fitting. The plan was to use Russian steel, worked by Russian engineers, in a Russian shipyard to reflect the symbolism of the project; and this is exactly what has happened; from the singular idea we have forged a huge team working across borders to realise what for me is a private memory of my father but in reality is dedicated to the enduring memory of all those Russian and Allied men and women, civil and military, who served in the epic campaign to maintain the Arctic supply route against attack by submarines, aircraft and surface raiders and the greatest enemy of all. The sea.'
On 26 December 1943 a battle raged at sea in the darkness of an Arctic winter. By the end of the day nearly 2,000 sailors had died and one of Nazi Germany’s finest and most dangerous battle-cruisers - the 32,000-ton Scharnhorst - had been sunk in what became known as the Battle of North Cape. On that day in 1943 HMS Belfast was part of a group of Royal Navy ships that pursued the Scharnhorst which, had it survived, would have threatened the convoys and ultimately might have changed the course of what Russians call ‘The Great Patriotic War.’ HMS Belfast tracked her with her radar and along with the rest of the fleet cornered Scharnhorst and witnessed her last moments before picking up 37 survivors.
HMS Belfast, a branch of the Imperial War Museum was launched in 1938 and served with distinction in both the Second World War and the Korean War. She is now the only surviving example of the great fleets of big gun armoured warships built for the Royal Navy in the first half of the twentieth century. HMS Belfast is moored on the River Thames, with an idyllic location between London Bridge and Tower Bridge.
Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum is the museum of everyone’s story: the history of modern conflict told through the stories of those who were there. It is an educational and historical institution responsible for archives, collections and sites of outstanding national importance.
The Museum’s five branches are Imperial War Museum London, with six floors of exhibitions and displays; Churchill War Rooms, housed in Churchill’s secret headquarters below Whitehall; the Second World War cruiser HMS Belfast; Imperial War Museum Duxford, a world renowned aviation museum and former Second World War airfield; and Imperial War Museum North, housed in a spectacular award-winning building designed by Daniel Libeskind.