HMS Belfast marks D-Day 70

The skyscrapers of London echoed to the sound of gunfire as a Normandy veteran marked 70 years since the signal was given to launch the invasion of Europe.

The veteran in this case was wartime cruiser HMS Belfast, now part of the Imperial War Museum – but seven decades ago part of the Royal Navy’s bombardment force off the French coast, attacking German guns and reinforcements as the Allied troops established a foothold on the five beaches.

In an event organised by Tim Lewin, son of Lord Lewin – who served in HMS Belfast and was Chief of the Defence Staff during the Falklands Conflict – and Alexander Smolko, maker of the film Allies, wartime veterans gathered on the warship, which lies near Tower Bridge, to celebrate the departure of “the greatest invasion fleet in history”

I was swinging stretchers – more like pallets – on board from smaller boats with the first casualties from the beaches

D-Day Veteran Ted Cordery, an LS Torpedoman on HMS Belfast in 1944

The ship is perhaps more commonly associated with the Arctic Convoys – and that link helped place the Normandy Landings in a wider context for the gathered guests, which included Lord West, former First Sea Lord, and representatives from wartime Allied nations.

Had the Allies not managed to defeat the U-boat threat in the Atlantic, and push essential war supplies through the icy seas to Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, then the Red Army’s ability to pin down and ultimately smash German forces on the Eastern front would have meant a much stronger opponent in Western Europe – and D-Day may have ended very differently.

Among those on board to hear the cruiser’s main guns startle tourists and workers in the capital were Arctic Convoy veterans, including Ted Cordery, an LS Torpedoman in June 1944.

Ted, who also served in Belfast in the Arctic, was working on the upper decks on D-Day, and one of his tasks was operating a crane.

“I was swinging stretchers – more like pallets – on board from smaller boats with the first casualties from the beaches, as we had a large sick bay,” said Ted, aged 91.

“I have never seen such injuries. Limbs missing, faces blown off – most of them had no chance of surviving.”