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D-Day 6 June 1944
D-Day 6 June 1944

Ever since the disastrous raid upon Dieppe in 1942, when the assaulting troops had been cut down by well-protected German gun positions, Allied amphibious operations had been supported by heavy naval bombardments.

D-Day 1944
D-Day 1944
Now, for D-Day, the biggest landing of all, the bombardment force comprised 5 battleships, 2 monitors, 20 cruisers and 65 destroyers. But this was only part of the total force of 2,700 seagoing vessels and 1,900 smaller craft which were deployed in support of Operation 'Neptune', the naval side of the Normandy landings.

This huge armada was divided into two naval task forces and five assault forces, one for each of the main landing beaches. Each of the assault forces was in turn supported by its own naval bombardment force. As flagship of bombardment Force E, HMS Belfast was part of the Eastern Naval Task Force, with responsibility for supporting the British and Canadian assaults on 'Gold' and 'Juno' beaches and, at 5.30 am on 6 June 1944, was one of the very first ships to open fire on German positions in Normandy.

HMS Belfast's 4-inch guns in action - D-Day
HMS Belfast's 4-inch guns in action at night off the Normandy beach-head, 27 June 1944 (IWM neg A24325)

Over the course of the next five weeks she was almost continuously in action, firing thousands of rounds from her main 6-inch and secondary 4-inch batteries in support of Allied troops fighting their way inland against skilful and determined German opposition. Her last shoot took place in company with the battleship HMS Rodney and the monitor HMS Roberts on 8 July, during the course of heavy fighting for the city of Caen.

Two days later, the battle lines having moved beyond the range of her 6-inch guns, HMS Belfast set sail for Plymouth Devonport and a well-earned refit, prior to being despatched to the Far East. She had fired her guns in anger for the last time in European waters.