At its peak the UK had around 4,000 personnel, 37 aircraft and four ships committed to the operation to support Libyan civilians under threat from Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. Ian Carr reports.
NATO’s Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR officially ended in October 2011, since when most of the UK Service personnel who played their part in helping the Libyan people oust Gaddafi’s regime have returned to embraces from their families and plaudits from the politicians.
At RAF Waddington, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, welcomed home the servicemen and women who were the UK’s air component.
Mr Clegg praised them, saying that they had played a vital role in the mission:
“There can be no doubt that without your efforts thousands would have been killed. Because of you, the guardians of freedom, the Libyan people have hope for their future.
“I am here to pay tribute to you. My thanks, the nation’s thanks and the thanks of the people of Libya go with you.”
At its peak the UK had around 4,000 personnel, 37 aircraft and four ships committed to the operation. The UK flew more than 3,000 sorties and more than 2,100 of these were strike sorties, hitting around 640 targets.
From the sky
As part of that, RAF Tornados and Typhoons notched up a hit rate in excess of 90 per cent with their Brimstone precision guided missiles.
The RAF Typhoon attracted many plaudits for its performance, first enforcing the no-fly zone then moving smoothly into a ground attack role. Squadron Leader Sid Sidney, in charge of the Typhoon ground crew, said:
“The threat was real. Gaddafi had good air defences that had to be dealt with. But with the Typhoons and Tornados working together, people soon got the idea that it wasn’t a great idea to take us on.”
Operation ELLAMY, the name for the UK mission to enforce the United Nations resolution to protect Libyan citizens, showcased the UK’s military capability and the professionalism of all Service personnel working together.
For example, to complete the 3,000-mile (4,800km) round trips from the UK, Tornado GR4s needed to be refuelled three or four times in mid-air by TriStars and VC10s.
Thanks to surveillance air crews flying thousands of hours in Sentinels, E-3D Sentry aircraft and Nimrods, up-to-the-minute information was provided for mission planning and to make sure that ground attacks struck key targets with clinical precision.
The logistics for the operation were on a major scale. C-17s and C-130 Hercules established a daily airbridge between the UK and Italy to get supplies and people to where they needed to be. On one occasion that even included delivering 40 tons of currency to Benghazi:
“It filled the aircraft,” said Flight Lieutenant Chris Powell.
Keeping the aircraft safe and looking after associated equipment and personnel was the job of the RAF Police. Sergeant Mark Robson said:
“Some of the VIPs we had to look after included the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. We also had to repatriate two journalists who had been killed.”
“The threat from Gaddafi’s air defence systems was significant and professional. In places, Gaddafi’s troops were very well equipped and trained and well-motivated. It was very kinetic and professionally challenging.”
Major Mick Neville