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HMS Belfast Helicopter Conversion

uk 75

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A number of books mention that HMS BELFAST was considered for conversion to carry helicopters and landing craft but the idea was soon dropped. Anyone know more?
 

JohnR

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Off topic but related, I was told by someone that worked on her in the mid 60's that the SS Oriana (1959) was built with conversion to an aircraft carrier in mind. I personally could never see it given the size of her superstructure and the work involved in converting her. I would be grateful to hear if anyone has heard anything relating to this.

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CNH

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Belfast? Landing craft? How?
 

starviking

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Regarding cruisers with an amphibous tasking, Grove's Vanguard to Trident mentions that the Tiger-class cruiser helicopter conversions were initially intended for an assault role. It's the only reference I've come across on that, but given how one of the Tigers was used in supressing a mutiny in Borneo, and had to requisition lighters to put its marines ashore, it makes some kind of sense.

Belfast could have been part of the studies for the role.

As for landing craft, I don't think they would need to be particularly large ones: the cruisers had marine detatchments of around 40-60, IIRC, I can't see that getting much larger.
 

uk 75

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Post Suez and with the Malaysian confrontation with Indonesia the RN were keen to have big ships equipped to carry
helos and light landing craft.
The main solution was to convert the Bulwark and Albion, but for smaller contingencies, cruisers were seen as a useful
fast way of getting Royal marines to a trouble spot. The gunnery support helped as well.
However, the poor reliability of helicopters and the availability of commando ships meant that ASW role more important.
It would be interesting to know when the first sketches were done for helicopter conversions for cruisers.
Early artwork for the Tiger conversions is more basic than what eventually emerged.
 

Pirate Pete

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I'm pretty sure that there is reference in British Cruisers (Raven & Roberts) regarding alternatives for the conversion for HMS Swiftsure. Seem to recall three options, the last, if I recall correctly, was in effect 'a small commando carrier' type.
 

Volkodav

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Very interesting and I imagine not that difficult to have done, replace some of the ships boats (that in turn had replaced the aircraft facilities) with a couple of LCVP, LCI (or even SR.N5 for the late 60s). Helicopter facilities more like those of BAP Aguirre than those on Tiger shouldn't have been too hard, altogether a comparatively simple and perfectly logical modification based on experience in the Indonesian Confrontation. Would love to see what the designers were thinking, how they would execute it and how far they will be allowed to go with the modifications.

The only serious upgrades I had heard of for Belfast was the replacement of the 6" triples with Mk26 twins as used on the Tigers, but no Mk6 3" as the magazine arrangements were not suitable for mounts requiring deck penetration. The landing craft and helicopter speculation are quite different but very sensible, they actually remind me of the immediate post WWI concepts for large cruisers for Far East operations that were intended to carry MTBs and as many aircraft as they could.
 

Pirate Pete

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UK 75 -
Can I ask what the sources of the proposed Belfast Helicopter Conversion are?
To date, the only references to modernising Belfast post-war I have come across are plans to modernise to 'near Tiger standards, but without the twin 3-inch guns due to magazine layouts, indeed, in Eric Grove's 'Vanguard to Trident', there is an illustration of one version of Belfast after modernisation with vertical funnels and lattice masts, but with her original main armament.

The following is from Raven & Roberts 'British Cruisers of WW2', and it may be a confusion of the modernisation proposals here that have resulted in comments about Belfast and helicopters:

"Of the proposed modernisations, only Belfast was taken in hand. She was completed without the planned for Mk XXVI mountings.

The tale of Swiftsure was particularly sad. She was taken in hand at Chatham in February 1957, with a planned completion date in December 1959. The estimated cost of modernisation at the time was £3,400,000. Escalating costs of labour and materials coupled with delays in work forced a complete halt when the ship was partially finished in August 1959. With £1,000,000 already having been spent to no avail, in November 1960 she was considered for conversion to a guided-missile cruiser, with a single-ended configuration. Again, lack of money and her age conspired to defeat the idea. However, the Admiralty were still determined to find some use for this, one of their youngest cruisers (if one excludes the Tigers) and schemes for conversion to a helicopter carrier were seriously studied.

Scheme I was for a full conversion with full-length flight-deck, able to carry 9-12 helicopters and two LCAs.

Scheme II was a smaller conversion, able to take only 8 helicopters and two LCAs.

Scheme III was a single-ended conversion, retaining one forward 6in turret, and able to carry 8 helicopters.

Scheme I would have involved removal of all armament, superstructure, masts, etc., to enable a full flight-deck to be fitted. Cost was estimated at £7,000,000. Once again, lack of money meant the almost immediate dropping of these schemes".


Mind you - and I know this is going 'off topic', with the proposals for Swiftsure, it does give an interesting glimpse into the realms of 'what-if" for the later Tiger class conversions.......
 

uk 75

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PF

This is the book I was browsing in Foyles. There was only a brief reference which I have summarised.

The previous reference is either in Wettern, Decline of British Seapower or a misreading of one of the Friedman books. So the Lavery book got me thinking there might be more.

I am getting so vague that I may have got the book wrong, but the cover looks right. I was in something of a hurray and forgot to note it.
 

JFC Fuller

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The various cruiser modernisation schemes of the 1950s are rather muddled. Not least because when modernisation schemes were first conceived the RN was using notional volume, weight and power requirements for the automatic 3" and 6" guns. As the mountings were finalised it seems to have become apparent that only the 64ft beam later Swiftsure class (including Superb) could take both mounting types.

Things get further complicated by changes made to various schemes due to rising costs (as a consequence of growing complexity) with the modernisation plans. We did have an excellent thread over at the now defunct Never Were Warships forum debating the weirdness around the Swiftsure modernisation.

As for turning Swiftsure into a commando carrier, that looks like a vague study aimed at utilising a young hull. To my knowledge there was no requirement or need for such a conversion with all the light fleet carriers available at the time. Such a conversion of Belfast may have been briefly thought about somewhere but the ships age would have put a pretty swift end to it.
 

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There is a mention in Friedman's Postwar Naval Revolution of Belfast's reconstruction which as already stated, would have involved fitting vertical funnels and L70 bofors, in addition to what was done historically.

Regards.
 

JFC Fuller

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L70 bofors is entirely plausible for Belfast, the mountings for that weapon would have fitted within (more or less) the same footprint as the L60 mountings though they would have weighed a bit more. The drawing in Vanguard to Trident also shows an MRS3 director (apparently for the 4" guns) and four CRBFs rather than the eight CRBFs she ultimately received.
 

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According to Friedman (British Cruisers Two World Wars and After).
Page 316 has a "footnote" which reads:-

"According to a history of the Escort Cruiser dated 6th September 1961 in the third Tiger Cover, no fewer than three formal proposals had come from the fleet over the past eight months: to convert Belfast to carry helicopters, to convert the Tigers, and to convert the LST Lofted 'as an interim off-shore garage' until the FOST (Flag Officer Sea Training) support ship (Engadine) was completed in six Wessex, with limited maintenance for eight-days".
 

Hood

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Happened to see Brian Lavery's book, 'The Last Big Gun At War and At Sea with HMS Belfast'.
This briefly mentions the helicopter conversion. Basically he indicates the aft turrets were replaced by a 25 sq ft landing pad and space for three Whirlwind helicopters but no other facilities (hangarage) were to be provided. extra accommodation was to be found for the aircrew and extra ground crew.
 

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25sq ft, are you sure? You couldn't park an average family car on that, never mind three Whirlwing Helo's.
 

TomS

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Surely means 25 feet square (25*25).
 

starviking

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Hood said:
Happened to see Brian Lavery's book, 'The Last Big Gun At War and At Sea with HMS Belfast'.
This briefly mentions the helicopter conversion. Basically he indicates the aft turrets were replaced by a 25 sq ft landing pad and space for three Whirlwind helicopters but no other facilities (hangarage) were to be provided. extra accommodation was to be found for the aircrew and extra ground crew.
Sounds strange, having the helicopters always exposed to the elements. Then again, I recall Friedman's British Cruisers mentioning that the Tiger conversions carrying 4 helicopters, but only being able to accommodate 3 in the hangar.
 

Hood

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Yes, sorry I should have been clearer, the helicopter deck was 25 x 25 ft.
Lavery does not say which version of the Whirlwind was planned, there was no troop accommodation so I assume it was the HAS version, I'm assuming maintenance would have been carried out aboard an accompanying carrier. I think this was a brief study rather than a serious proposal.
 

starviking

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Hood said:
Yes, sorry I should have been clearer, the helicopter deck was 25 x 25 ft.
Lavery does not say which version of the Whirlwind was planned, there was no troop accommodation so I assume it was the HAS version, I'm assuming maintenance would have been carried out aboard an accompanying carrier. I think this was a brief study rather than a serious proposal.
If you mean troop accomodation on Belfast, I think all RN Cruisers had Royal Marine detachments. The RN had some trouble getting such detachments ashore during the Brunei Insurrection, so depending on the date of the study, it might have been an attempt to address that issue.
 

JohnR

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starviking said:
Hood said:
Yes, sorry I should have been clearer, the helicopter deck was 25 x 25 ft.
Lavery does not say which version of the Whirlwind was planned, there was no troop accommodation so I assume it was the HAS version, I'm assuming maintenance would have been carried out aboard an accompanying carrier. I think this was a brief study rather than a serious proposal.
If you mean troop accomodation on Belfast, I think all RN Cruisers had Royal Marine detachments. The RN had some trouble getting such detachments ashore during the Brunei Insurrection, so depending on the date of the study, it might have been an attempt to address that issue.
IIRC traditionally the marine detachment carried by RN Cruisers and BB manned the aftermost gun turret.
 

uk 75

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The new edition Warship 2019 book is said to have a detailed article on this subject. If anyone has a copy could they share the info without prejudicing the copyright.
 

Hood

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I have looked at a copy of Warship 2019 but haven't purchased it yet.

I have roughly indicated the layout on the Belfast conversion by modifying a Shipbucket drawing of Belfast as she appeared in 1957.
There large red rectangle represents the 4x LCA in davits located where the 4in mounts were.

 

uk 75

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Hood
Your various works put you up with Eric Grove, who I once ran into in a great little bookshop off St Martins Lane about ten years ago. The shop closed some years ago.
Thanks for this drawing
 

CNH

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Hood
Your various works put you up with Eric Grove, who I once ran into in a great little bookshop off St Martins Lane about ten years ago. The shop closed some years ago.
Thanks for this drawing
Eric Grove is a well known and respected naval historian, but he does have a tendency to fall into rabbit holes.

He had this idea that the second Grapple test, which was Orange Herald, was a bluff to show the world the UK had a fusion weapon. I remember him valiantly trying to defend this thesis in a presentation which included Lorna Arnold and a former Director of AWRE in the audience.
 

Pirate Pete

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I know thread necromancy is frowned upon, but having recently bought a copy of Warship 2019, I read the item, in Warship Notes by David Hobbs, about the proposal to convert HMS Belfast to operate helicopters in an amphibious role. The information is very interesting, and going on costings quoted, was not going to be anywhere near as extensive that that conversion carried out later on Blake and Tiger.
There is a sketch in the article which I have attached, hopefully not contravening and copyright rules as I have tried to reduce it's size... Belfast 2020-06-05 at 19.45.27.png
 
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