The UK’s contribution to freeing Libya

Weapons tech­ni­cians sweat­ing their way through 14-hour shifts, often in 40-degree heat, toiled round the clock to keep the air­craft work­ing and loaded up with the right bul­lets and bombs for each mission. 

Because the Typhoon is so ver­sa­tile, the way that it need­ed to be con­fig­ured would vary depend­ing on what task it had to do. Sergeant Dar­ren Bum­by, who worked on it, said: 

“A full four-bomb refit would take an hour to an hour-and-a-half and anoth­er twen­ty min­utes to make sure the weapons were talk­ing to the aircraft.” 

Although the crews would receive day-to-day updates about how the air­craft should be con­fig­ured, the require­ment could change up to two hours before take-off: 

“But that was OK. It was good for our morale and great for our esteem for the squadron to see what we can do, at our full poten­tial,” said Sergeant Bumby. 

Keep­ing every­one fed at the UK’s main oper­at­ing base in Gioia del Colle, Italy, ini­tial­ly fell to 3 Mobile Cater­ing Squadron. 

War­rant Offi­cer Willie Dixon helped oper­ate the 500-man tent­ed kitchens: 

“The first meal was cot­tage pie. It went down real­ly well. We were pro­vid­ing 24-hour mess­ing for 650 peo­ple,” he said. “We did the laun­dry too, the first time we had on operations.” 

Oceans of heli­copters

Five Apache heli­copters of 656 Squadron, 4 Reg­i­ment Army Air Corps (AAC), along with 90 sol­diers embarked on HMS Ocean, con­duct­ed mis­sions from the Roy­al Navy’s biggest warship. 

Major Mick Neville, Offi­cer Com­mand­ing 4 Reg­i­ment AAC, said: 

“In Afghanistan we are used in a reac­tionary way, giv­ing sup­port to guys on the ground, so it was nice to be involved in delib­er­ate tar­get­ed operations.” 

The Apache teams fired off 99 Hell­fire mis­siles and 4,800 can­non rounds, hit­ting more than 100 tar­gets in 22 missions: 

“That’s demand­ing fly­ing,” said Major Neville. “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 Neville added that all of the Apache’s £50m capa­bil­i­ty was put to the test. And it proved to be worth it. 

After every sor­tie, post-mis­sion recon­nais­sance proved their efforts had direct­ly affect­ed the front line, some­times push­ing it back five kilo­me­tres in a sin­gle night. Cap­tain Matt Sand­bach said: 

“Peo­ple even found the sound of us com­ing men­ac­ing. Any­one who shot at us soon learned that we could avoid and reply with­in seconds.” 

Work­ing along­side the Apach­es were the Roy­al Navy Sea King heli­copter crews who helped to refresh the Army pilots’ skills fly­ing off and return­ing to war­ships and pro­vid­ed them with eye-in-the-sky surveillance. 

Lieu­tenant Com­man­der Col­in McGan­ni­ty said: 

“We fly high­er than the Apach­es so we could tell them where it was safe to route in with­out being detect­ed. It was a sim­i­lar job to the sur­veil­lance we do in Afghanistan, point­ing oth­er assets at poten­tial tar­gets and bring­ing back data for the intel­li­gence guys.” 

 The Air Power Component of Op ELLAMY [Picture: via MOD]
The Air Pow­er Com­po­nent of Op ELLAMY [Pic­ture: via MOD]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Oper­at­ing from HMS Ocean, the two Roy­al Navy Sea Kings notched up 99 oper­a­tional mis­sions, and thanks to the engi­neer­ing team they had a ser­vice­abil­i­ty of 96 per cent: 

“After Afghanistan it was nice to get back to some mar­itime fly­ing,” said Lieu­tenant Com­man­der McGan­ni­ty, a sen­ti­ment observ­er Lieu­tenant Cheryl Gilbert­son agreed with: “I liked work­ing from a ship, it’s what I joined the Navy to do.” 

There was a great team spir­it aboard Ocean, Lieu­tenant Gilbert­son said, and she paid trib­ute to the Army pilots fly­ing the attack helicopters: 

“We would find the tar­gets for them and check the comms, but you would­n’t want to take any­thing away from them fly­ing the com­bat missions. 

“They had a mas­sive job to do, so we were hap­py to help in any way we could. We were all fly­ing those mis­sions really.” 

Roy­al Navy pow­er

Six­teen ves­sels of the fleet, both sur­face and sub­ma­rine as well as Navy heli­copters, helped main­tain the no-fly zone and choke off the sup­ply of arms to pro-Gaddafi forces from the sea. 

HM Ships Liv­er­pool, Cum­ber­land, Iron Duke and Suther­land gained and held con­trol of Libyan waters and bom­bard­ed mil­i­tary check­points and rock­et bat­ter­ies ashore. 

HMS Liverpool’s ship’s com­pa­ny spent more than 80 hours at action sta­tions across 28 sep­a­rate occasions. 

Dur­ing her stint the Type 42 destroy­er was fired on and returned fire 10 times and launched 211 rounds of high explo­sive shells, light­ing up tar­gets for NATO air­craft to destroy. 

Lead­ing Stew­ard Andrew Barnes recalls: 

“The first time we went to action sta­tions was quite dis­con­cert­ing for some of the lads, but after a while it became sec­ond nature. You rely on your train­ing and just get on with your job.” 

HMS Liv­er­pool also dis­tin­guished her­self in the air with her fight­er con­trollers direct­ing air­craft and tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for the entire bat­tle­space man­age­ment area on no less than 13 occasions. 

Mean­while Navy sub­ma­rine HMS Tri­umph under­took 80 days of patrols and demon­strat­ed the pre­ci­sion effect of her Tom­a­hawk cruise missiles. 

As part of their mis­sion to enforce the UN arms embar­go, the Navy frigates while patrolling the Libyan coast board­ed and inspect­ed 123 mer­chant ves­sels, as well as under­tak­ing sur­veil­lance operations. 

Key to the main­te­nance of sea suprema­cy were the war­ships’ Lynx heli­copters. Fly­ing at night and using their own radar, so that the ships could main­tain radar silence, the air­craft iden­ti­fied ships and small boats and attacked them when called on to do so. 

Mine­hunters HM Ships Brock­les­by and Ban­gor also played their part in find­ing and destroy­ing mines which had been laid, often from small rigid inflat­a­bles, and threat­ened the flow of human­i­tar­i­an supplies: 

“You could hear the shells land­ing in Mis­ura­ta and the NATO air­craft fly­ing over­head — but it was a great feel­ing to know we had made a mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tion,” said Brocklesby’s Able Sea­man Phillip Perkins. 

All the UK assets were sup­port­ed by Roy­al Fleet Aux­il­iary ves­sel Fort Ros­alie, which pro­vid­ed vital stores and fuel. HMS Liv­er­pool alone con­duct­ed 40 replen­ish­ment at sea operations. 

Wel­com­ing HMS Liv­er­pool home in Portsmouth, Defence Sec­re­tary Philip Ham­mond said: 

“We are grate­ful to you and proud of you. You have demon­strat­ed the pow­er of the Roy­al Navy.” 

This arti­cle is tak­en from the Decem­ber 2011/January 2012 edi­tion of Defence Focus — the mag­a­zine for every­one in Defence. 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

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