The Last Big Gun

At War & At Sea with HMS Belfast

Brian Lavery

As she lay in dry dock, devastatingly damaged by one of Hitler's newly deployed magnetic mines after barely two months in service, few could have predicted the illustrious career that lay ahead for the cruiser HMS Belfast.
Date Published :
December 2015
Publisher :
Illustration :
40 color & b/w photographs & diagrams
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781910860014
Pages : 440
Dimensions : 9.2 X 6.1 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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As she lay in dry dock, devastatingly damaged by one of Hitler’s newly deployed magnetic mines after barely two months in service, few could have predicted the illustrious career that lay ahead for the cruiser HMS Belfast. After three years of repairs to her broken keel, engine- and boiler-rooms, and extensive refitting, she would go on to play a critical role in the protection of the Arctic Convoys, would fire one of the opening shots at D-Day and continue supporting the Operation Overlord landings for five weeks.

Her service continued beyond the Second World War both in Korea and in the Far East before she commenced her life as one of the world’s most celebrated preserved visitor ships in the Pool of London. Her crowning glory however came in December 1943 when, equipped with the latest radar technology, she was to play the leading role in the Battle of the North Cape sinking the feared German battlecruiser Scharnhorst, the bête noir of the Royal Navy. In doing so the ship’s crew made a vital contribution to, what was to be, the final big-gun head-to-head action to be fought at sea

In The Last Big Gun Brian Lavery, the foremost historian of the Royal Navy, employs his trademark wide-ranging narrative style and uses the microcosm of the ship to tell the wider story of the naval war at sea and vividly portray the realities for all of life aboard a Second World War battleship. The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs and illustrations and will appeal to all those with an interest in military history and life in the wartime Royal Navy.

About The Author

Brian Lavery is one of Britain’s leading naval historians and a prolific author. A Curator Emeritus at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and a renowned expert on the sailing navy and the Royal Navy, in 2007 he won the prestigious Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award. His naval writing was further honoured in 2008 with the Society of Nautical Research’s Anderson Medal. His recent titles include Ship (2006), Royal Tars (2010), Conquest of the Ocean (2013), In Which They Served (2008), Churchill’s Navy (2006), and the Sunday Times bestseller Empire of the Seas (2010). Brian lives in London.


Prologue: Mined

1 The Birth of a Cruiser
2 Preparing for Sea
3 War with Germany
4 Repair
5 Russian Convoy,
6 The War in the North
7 The Scharnhorst
8 To Normandy
9 To the East
10 Showing the Flag
11 Wars in the East
12 Recovered from the Reserve Fleet



"Another stirring story of WWII that in days gone by would have been handled by someone like author Paul Brickhill. No student of WWII history should pass this one by...  "

- Books Monthly

"an exciting tale"

- Sea Classics, April 2016

"The author’s informative, yet engaging style will grip the reader’s attention … Whether one is interested in the ship itself, life at sea or naval history, this is a brilliant and exhaustive chronicle of Belfast’s varied service."

- Airfix Model World

‘Brian Lavery’s style is, as we have come to expect from his past work, succinct and very readable, even gripping when describing the ship in action. … This is a thoroughly worthwhile volume for those interested both in the ship herself and in war at sea in the mid-20th century.’

- Ships in Scale

‘The Last Big Gun is an impeccably researched, well-written book, which was a particularly great pleasure to read.

- Military History Monthly

‘This fine book well maintains the consistently high standard of these studies. Written to be readily comprehensible by the general reader, it will be of value to the specialist, who will particularly appreciate the comprehensive bibliography and references.’

- Mariner's Mirror

"…thoroughly enjoyable book on HMS Belfast and her career in a Royal Navy …. The combination of ‘human interest’ digressions with the recollections of those who served in the ship, alongside an operational history is compelling. It is a reminder, if any is needed, that what makes a warship effective is the crew. It helps that the ship had an interesting war, and played a significant part in it. While not central to Lavery’s purpose, he also delves briefly into design features of British cruisers of the 1930s, as well as the potential use of the ship in the first fifteen years after the war. This was a time of rapid technological change as well as vast modifications in the potential conduct of war between major powers, creating a great deal of uncertainty about how these challenges would be met. One consequence was the demise of the ‘big gun’ and with that, the day of the cruiser was done. The author has provided an excellent bibliography, which includes both primary and secondary sources. The selection of photographs is an interesting blend of wartime and museum shots. Included on the inside front cover of the book is an ‘exploded’ view of the ship, which is a pleasure to pour over. One wishes it were bigger. I have no difficulty in recommending this book. Indeed, if you are visiting London, you must visit the ship itself."

- The Northern Mariner

“A fascinating story of a well-travelled and hard-worked warship.”

- Work Boat World, May 2016

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