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HMS Belfast Masts from Russia with Love

19 October 2010
Embargoed 00:01 Tuesday 19 October, 2010

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:

  • Removing all the fittings from both masts and restoring them individually
  • Cutting down the old masts in sections
  • Fitting the completed masts in position
  • Replacing all of the fittings
  • Removal of scaffolding

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.

Frosty Facts:

  • 100 Allied merchant ships were lost totalling 604,837 tons. 87 lost in convoy, remainder were sailing independently or were in Russian ports.
  • Loss rate for ships was 7.5% making the Arctic route the most dangerous convoy route of the Second World War.
  • 1,944 Royal Navy and 829 Merchant Navy seamen died.
  • Deliveries include: 5,000+ tanks; 7,000+ aircraft; 743 million projectiles; nearly 5,000 antitank guns; 2,000 telephones; and 4,000+ radios

Notes to Editors
For further information and images contact:
Nicola Osmond-Evans, 020 7416 5316,

Nearest Tube:
HMS Belfast is moored on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge.
Tube: London Bridge or Tower Hill

Opening Times:
1 March - 31 October, 10.00am - 6.00pm - (last admission 5.15pm)
1 November - 28 February, 10.00am - 5.00pm (last admission 4.15pm)

Admission prices:
Adults £12.95
Children (under 16) free - must be accompanied by an adult
Discounted rates available for senior citizens, concessions, students, groups, carers.

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 national museum of the experiences of people who have lived, fought and died in conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth since 1914.

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.

  • The Russian veterans delegation, was flown from Archangelsk with support from Russo-British Petropavlovsk Group and Russian VTB Capital.
  • Russian Standard Vodka is proud to be a long-time supporter of the HMS Belfast restoration project. Russian Standard Vodka is the global leader in authentic Russian premium vodka. The Russian Standard vodka portfolio dominates the premium segment in Russia and is exported to more than 75 export markets across Europe, the U.S. and Asia. Roustam Tariko, the founder of Russian Standard, introduced Russian Standard Original in 1998 as the first authentic Russian premium vodka. Russian Standard vodkas are made with only the finest Russian ingredients, conforming to the formula for vodka established in 1894 by famed Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev for Russia’s Czars. Russian Standard’s businesses also include Russian Standard Bank, the country’s largest private consumer finance bank and the pioneer of Russia’s consumer lending industry. The bank issues 40 percent of credit cards in Russia and 20 percent of point‐of‐sale loans, as well as American Express Cards in Russia. Russian Standard Insurance is among the country’s leading credit life insurance companies.
  • SCF Sovcomflot is one of Russia's largest infrastructure companies. Its fleet comprises 148 vessels of 10.7 million tonnes (dwt) in total. Its current shipbuilding portfolio includes 11 ships of an aggregate deadweight of 0.85 million tonnes (dwt);
    * The average age of vessel in the tanker fleet is approximately seven years (the world average vessel age being 12 years);
    * SCF Group is a world leader in the product carrier segment; it is second largest in the Aframax and fourth largest in the Suezmax segments;
    * The company owns the largest ice-class fleet, being No.1 in the Arctic shuttle tanker and ice-class LNG tanker segments;
    * The Group provides its customers with hydrocarbon transportation services; crude oil trans-shipment using floating oil storage vessels; services for the development of effective logistics for energy resource transportation, and specialised vessels for servicing offshore drilling and extraction platforms;
    * The company is the winner of the prestigious 'Seatrade Global Performer 2010' Award in recognition of its pioneering work with Arctic icebreaking tanker operations in harsh weather and ice conditions.
    * In 2010, SCF Group won a prestigious Lloyd’s List Global Award, for 'Company of the Year'.