Wartime Belfast

Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland. The city was an important military and industrial hub and the Luftwaffe attacked during the Second World War.


Northern Ireland

Standing on the banks of the River Lagan, Belfast is the largest city in Northern Ireland. As the second-largest city on the island, Belfast became the capital of Northern Ireland following partition in 1922.

The name Belfast derives from the Irish Béal Feirste, meaning “river mouth at the sandbar”. The sandbar in question refers to a tidal ford formed by the merging of the River Lagan with the River Farset. It was around this sandbar, the original town grew. The River Farset still flows beneath the city though now covered over by modern streets.

Belfast City Hall

Belfast Telegraph Photo: Life continues in Belfast in the months after the devastating Belfast Blitz. Repairs have been carried out to the roof of the City Hall. White paint around the base of lamp posts indicate blackout conditions remain in the city. Copyright Belfast Telegraph.

In the 1800s, the town was a major port and played a key role in the Industrial Revolution. It became the largest producer of linen in the world, earning the nickname ‘Linenopolis’ and city status in 1888. As well as Irish linen, Belfast was an industrial centre for tobacco processing, rope-making, and shipbuilding. When Harland and Wolff shipyard built R.M.S. Titanic, the yard was the largest and most productive in the world.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, these industries made Belfast a valuable city to the Allies but also a vulnerable target to Luftwaffe attacks. These well-documented attacks came in April and May 1941 and are now referred to as the Belfast Blitz.

The city welcomed military personnel from many nations between 1939 and 1945 including British, Australian, New Zealander, Canadian, and Polish. Seamen from all over the world stopped at the busy city docks, and it was here too that over 300,000 American GIs took their first steps onto European soil in wartime.

Places of Interest

The following places will be of interest to anyone wishing to explore more of the area's Second World War heritage.

Map showing North Belfast in the Second World War

North Belfast in the Second World War


Through the Second World War, North Belfast was a working-class area, packed with terraced houses, factories, mills, and suffered during the Belfast Blitz.

Map showing East Belfast in the Second World War

East Belfast in the Second World War


The factories, yards and residential areas of East Belfast suffered heavy damage during the Second World War and Luftwaffe bombs fell in April and May 1941.

Map showing South Belfast in the Second World War

South Belfast in the Second World War


Throughout the Second World War, South Belfast was a more affluent area of the city and many buildings saw use by the British and United States military.

Map showing West Belfast in the Second World War

West Belfast in the Second World War


West Belfast was home to Northern Ireland's only recipient of the Victoria Cross during the Second World War. The area escaped the worst of the Blitz.

Map showing Belfast City Centre in the Second World War

Belfast City Centre in the Second World War


Belfast City Centre came under attack from the Luftwaffe in 1941. During the Belfast Blitz, Bridge Street, High Street, and other streets sustained damage.