Novelist Charles McCain in London Researching A WW Two Royal Navy Novel

I have been remiss in updating my blog because I have been in London for a week and will be here for another week researching what I hope will be a trilogy of novels about a Royal Navy officer. Curiously for this time of year, it’s much warmer in London than in DC. Right now at 8:48 pm London time and 3:48 pm EST it is 65 degrees (F) in London and 57 degrees (F) in Washington, DC.

During the day walking around in the sun it has been over 72 degrees. All I have is my wool blazer so I sort of drip with sweat as I walk around. And have I been doing some walking!

Thursday I walked 5.5 miles and today I walked 4.6 miles. Now my right calf muscle is killing  me and has been for a few days so I will probably stay prone and read most of tomorrow then take a walk in Hyde Park later in the day. I love looking at statutes of long-forgotten heroes of the British Empire.





World War Two cruiser HMS Belfast now permanently moored in the Thames as part of the Imperial War Museum. London Bridge is in the background. (Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)


I had a private tour of HMS Belfast today which was supposed to last an hour. Fortunately, based on what I had told them I wanted to see, the guide gave me a two hour tour. Very thoughtful and I was most appreciative. A private tour is somewhat expensive to say the least and they told me that it is rare for an individual to book a tour just for himself.


I brought the guy a copy of my first novel. I have found that serves as a good introduction and gives me immediate credibility. Fortunately, one can still check-out my novel from the London public library. (As I have mentioned to every single person I have talked to and since I will talk to a fence post I have talked to a lot of people–even on the tube)

At my request the guide took me to the location of the “tiller flat” although we didn’t actually go in it. We went through both the aft boiler room and aft engine room and he explained all the workings in great detail. It is impossible to imagine the terror of working in the engine room or the boiler room of a man o’ war in World War Two.

The engine rooms and boiler rooms (one fore the other aft) had a decibel level of 160 or higher when the ship was at full speed. In the case of the HMS Belfast full speed was 32 knots. The men stuffed either beeswax or cotton in their ears to deaden the sound and had to bellow over the noise almost mouth to ear to communicate something.

Once ship had gone to action stations, almost every hatch in the ship was locked from above so if you were below the water line in the engine/boiler rooms and a torpedo hit and water flooded in, then you drowned unless the sailors above were ordered to open the hatches. If the officers thought water would come shooting up and begin to flood the rest of the ship they would not permit the hatches to be opened.

Another terrifying fact the guide told me was superheated steam cannot be seen like lower temperature steam such as that coming out of a boiler in a building.

If the ship was hit by a number of shells then the steam pipes in the engine rooms and boiler rooms might develop a dozen or more leaks which you could not see. If you ran through a jet of super heated steam if would take your skin off to the bone or scald you horribly depending on what part of you was exposed. If the super heated steam hit you in the face it took your face off including skin and muscles and usually killed you.





Looking forward at the two forward main battery turrets. These “gun houses” as the turrets were known, required 25 men inside to operate them. I could barely fit in the gunhouse by myself. How they fit 25 men into the turret I have no idea.

(photo by Charles McCain)




Looking aft with London bridge in the background. The guns in the foreground are an anti-aircraft guns installed during the complete reconstruction of the ship in the early 1950s. HMS Belfast operated off the coast of North and South Korea during the Korean War and used her main and secondary batteries to pound Communist positions.

(Photo by Charles McCain)





Standing on the quarterdeck on the stern of the ship, strictly reserved for officers when the ship was in commission, and looking aft toward London Bridge. A very cool visage.

(Photo by Charles McCain)

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: