HMS Liverpool: Proving the value of naval forces

Welcome home HMS Liverpool after an all-action deployment off Libya

Firing the 4.5
4/5 Engage! Firing at targets in Libya (All photos: Crown Copyright 2011)

Today HMS Liverpool returns to her home port of Portsmouth after 207 days away serving off the coast of Libya. Since leaving the UK on March 29, she has had one of the most intense few months experienced by any RN vessel since the Gulf Wars and has made a significant contribution to the liberation of Libya. In statistical terms her achievements include:  207 days away from home, 77% of that time at sea, action stations on 29 occasions (for a total of 81 hours) 12 engagements firing, 211 high explosive and starshell rounds, fired-upon by Gadaffi”s forces 10 times,  360 hours providing fighter control for allied aircraft, 10 boardings of suspicious merchant vessels, 241 hours flown by her Lynx helicopter and performed 36 Replenishments at Sea.

A job well done

Congratulations must go to her ships company who have had to deal not only with the usual pressures of being away from home for a long time, but with the stress of being under fire and frequently at action stations or at high states of alert for long periods. HMS Liverpool was hurriedly commissioned in 1982 (just too late to see action in the Falklands War) and such an old ship requires considerable effort by her engineers to keep her going and in top fighting trim.

Operations_roomWorking 6 hours on, 6 hours off  –
concentration needed in the operations room.

Liverpool arrived off Benghazi just as it was being taken over by the anti-Gaddafi rebels. In August, she patrolled off  Tripoli as the rebels took power and was present off  Sirte for the final stages of the campaign where pro-Gaddafi forces made a last stand. Her primary role was to maintain a maritime blockade of Libya to ensure Gadaffi could not be supplied by sea and but as an air-defence destroyer, her radar and training made her an ideal fighter-direction vessel helping control and direct NATO aircraft enforcing the no-fly zone and bombing enemy positions. Enforcement of a blockade at sea is one of the oldest arts of war practised by the Royal Navy and with the rebels besieging the cities, this further added to the pressure of Gadaffi. She also assisted two humanitarian ships bringing in aid to Misrata and provided water for 250 refugees escaping on an overcrowded boat.

Flexible and cost-effective

HMS Liverpool’s exploits have clearly demonstrated the versatility and power of naval forces. Apart from brief port visits for re-supply and rest, a warship is self-contained and with RFA support, can sustain operations for weeks and months. Unlike airborne assets which can only be on the scene for a few hours or in even minutes, warships provided a round the clock deterrent to Gadaffi. It’s hard to calculate the exact costs to the taxpayer of the Libya operation but it is safe to say additional costs for the Royal Navy’s participation are a fraction of that for the RAF. (The main additional expense for the RN is replacement of  expensive Tomahawk missiles fired from HMS Turbulent & Triumph). The naval participation in the Libya operation has involved 16 vessels at various times and stretched the RN to its limits. (When Admiral Stanhope warned David Cameron of this fact he was quickly told to shut up) 3 of the vessels involved (HMS Cumberland, HMS Liverpool and HMS Turbulent) will have been decommissioned by next year. It is fortunate the campaign concluded when it did, otherwise other RN commitments (such as Fleet Ready Escort) would have been abandoned.

HMS Liverpool was able to move along the Libyan coast as events unfolded as the major centres of population in Libya are coastal. (Maritime forces can usually have a very direct effect on events in land as 80% of the world’s population live in coastal areas). It’s ironic in the missile age that it is the pretty basic 4.5″ guns of RN surface ships that have been in action most frequently in recent times and naval gunfire support remains a simple and effective tool. Whether it’s gunnery, enforcing a blockade, boarding operations, air traffic control, maritime surveillance, working with other NATO ships and aircraft , providing humanitarian support or just being a visible deterrent it was all in a day’s work for this fine old ship.