The UK’s contribution to freeing Libya

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.

 HMS Ocean with helicopters on deck including the USAF HH-60, Lynx Mk7, Sea Kings from 857 Naval Air Squadron, and Apaches from 656 Squadron Army Air Corps [Picture: LA(Phot) Guy Pool, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
HMS Ocean with heli­copters on deck includ­ing the USAF HH-60, Lynx Mk7, Sea Kings from 857 Naval Air Squadron, and Apach­es from 656 Squadron Army Air Corps [Pic­ture: LA(Phot) Guy Pool, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

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