Book Review-‘Firing on Fortress Europe: HMS ‘Belfast’ at D-Day’ by N. Hewitt

By David Bowen, published November 2020


‘That straight-shooting ship’ was how an American admiral described HMS Belfast. This book describes her contribution to Operation Overlord in 1944. A cruiser of 11,500 tons with 12 6-inch and 12 4-inch guns, she provided heavy bombardment in support of the landings from the very start of D-day and remained on station just off the Normandy beaches for 33 days, firing 5,000 shells in the process. Throughout she remained in the thick of the action and in considerable danger. Her crew were not only active participants, but also close observers of the action unfolding on the beaches and beyond. This is as much their story as the story of the ship, and while the events of D-day are well-known and oft-told, here they are seen from a fresh viewpoint. To do so the author has mined the rich seam of the Imperial War Museum’s archive of photographs, war artist paintings and drawings, official documents, and personal memoirs, but most notably tape recordings of interviews with twenty of the ship’s crew. The reader thus shares with them the monstrous clamour within a gun turret, the lonely incarceration in a magazine, the blind superhuman exertions in the engine room, the snatched visions from a vantage point, the constant chatter of signals, the bombs, the injuries, death, fear, bewilderment; indeed, the very terror and elation of it all…

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Filed under: English Channel | WW2
Subjects include: Battles & Tactics | Manpower & Life at Sea | Weapons

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