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Outbreak of War 1939
Outbreak of War

On the outbreak of war with Germany in September 1939, HMS Belfast formed part of the 18th Cruiser Squadron operating out the Home Fleet's main base at Scapa Flow in Orkney.

The Cap Norte (IWM neg HU10272)
The Cap Norte (IWM neg HU10272)

Over the course of the next few weeks the ship was constantly on patrol in Northern waters, as part of the Royal Navy's efforts to impose a maritime blockade on Germany.

On 9 October, HMS Belfast successfully intercepted the German liner SS Cap Norte which was trying to return to Germany disguised as a neutral vessel. The liner was boarded and sent under armed guard to a British port. Cap Norte was the largest enemy merchant ship intercepted to date and under Admiralty law Belfast's crew received 'prize money' in the form of a cash gratuity for her capture.


HMS Belfast shortly after her mining in the Firth of Forth. (IWM neg HU 16012)
HMS Belfast shortly after her mining in the Firth of Forth. Members of the ship's company can just be seen getting ready to launch life rafts from the Quarterdeck. (IWM neg HU 16012)

The Germans exacted a swift revenge for HMS Belfast's early success in capturing the Cap Norte when, shortly before 11.00 am on 21 November 1939, whilst leaving the Firth of Forth, she was rocked by the violent detonation of a magnetic mine.

Although casualties were mercifully light, the ship's back was broken and the damage to her hull and machinery caused by the whiplash effect of the explosion was so severe that almost three years were to elapse before she could be made fit for action.