HMS Liverpool has clocked up nearly 150 days off Libya as she prepares to complete her crucial six-month stint in support of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector.
The veteran Portsmouth destroyer, which has played a key role in protecting the people of Libya and helping to topple the Gaddafi regime, will soon be relieved by HMS York.
Liverpool's Lynx returns to 'mother' after a successful sortie in the Gulf of Sirte. Pictures: LA(Phots) Caroline Davies and Abbie Gadd, FRPU East
VETERAN destroyer HMS Liverpool will complete her 150th day on patrol off Libya on Monday – as she prepares to finish her crucial mission.
After six months in the Gulf of Sirte – with only a few short breaks to pick up stores and supplies, some key maintenance and a bit of a breather for the 240-strong ship’s company – the Portsmouth-based warship is gearing up to handover Operation Unified Protector duties.
The destroyer – nicknamed the Crazy Red Chicken in homage to the Liver bird on the ship’s badge – has played an important role in protecting the people of Misrata against pro-Gaddafi forces trying to sally along the coast, controlled NATO jets for hundreds of hours as they conducted missions over Libya and the Gulf of Sirte, supported Apache gunship strikes and fired more than 200 rounds from her main gun.
Although most of the fighting in Libya is now over – with the exception of the town of Sirte, birthplace of the country’s former dictator and his last stronghold – the mission off the North Africa goes on, with Liverpool’s younger sister HMS York about to replace D92.
“It has been a long deployment but the ship’s company have risen to every challenge put in front of them,’ said the destroyer’s Commanding Officer Cdr Colin Williams.
“We’ve seen a huge amount of change since we arrived. To be part of it has been a huge privilege.”
The destroyer was originally earmarked to carry out her traditional function of air defence for a task group – in the form of the Cougar deployment headed by HMS Albion.
Instead she was ordered to leave Portsmouth at the end of March and take her place in the international naval force mustered off Libya to support UN resolutions and enforce an arms embargo and no-fly zone to protect the country’s citizens.
Liverpool's operations team monitors the situation in the Gulf of Sirte
Since then she has spent 81 hours at Action Stations, been fired at ten times – and opened fire on 12 occasions, launching 111 high-explosive and 98 star shells from her main 4.5in gun.
All that gunfire has meant six resupplies of ammunition at sea, plus a further 29 replenishments at sea to top up on fuel, stores and food.
The destroyer’s fighter controllers have taken charge of 14 different types of Allied aircraft over Libya and the Med, directing their actions for 360 hours.
Liverpool's flight deck team await instructions from the Lynx aircrew
And Liverpool’s own air power, her 815 Naval Air Squadron Lynx, has notched up 230 hours conducting maritime security operations in support of the NATO mission.
As for the ship herself, she’s spent three out of every four days at sea since leaving the Solent, adding more than 43,000 miles to her ‘odometer’ in the process.
Statistics only tell a tiny part of the Liverpool-Libya story, however
“As one town after another fell under the advance of the rebels, the view from the sea of the fall of Tripoli is something the crew will never forget,” said Lt Ebony Dalton, one of Liverpool’s officers of the watch.
“Instead of artillery and rocket fire, fireworks lit up the capital’s skyline and jubilant cheers were heard via the radio.”
There was more jubilation a few days later when the ship escorted the new flagship of National Transitional Council forces, the Al Hani, into the capital.
Cdr Williams said a Libyan vessel recently contacted the warship and said thank you to the crew for helping overthrow Col Gaddafi.
He added: “That was hugely satisfying. To know what we’ve been doing is appreciated by the Libyan people makes a huge difference because we can show the guys and girls on the ship what we have achieved and what we have been a part of.”
HMS Liverpool on patrol off Libya
Although the ship’s relief is imminent, Cdr Williams said he hoped to see the NTC take Sirte.
“That will be a big moment for the ship – to say we were here from the beginning and have since handed the baton on to HMS York and her crew to continue the good work which we have started.”
With that handover looming, thoughts on the ship are beginning to turn to home (had Liverpool stuck to her original Cougar mission, she would have been back in Portsmouth in August).
“We can’t wait to get back and see our families,” said Cdr Williams. “I’m hoping we get a tremendous welcome and I’m sure we will.
“Stopping and talking to people around the ship, it’s the number one topic of conversation – which friends and family are going to be there; what they’re going to do the first night they’re back; what meal they are going to have. There’s a lot of excitement and expectation.”