HMS Daring made a triumphant return home to Portsmouth yesterday as previously unknown details emerged of her major role in air strikes over Afghanistan.
Sailors serving in the first of the Royal Navy’s Type 45 destroyers told of their pride of working with the US Navy to conduct dozens of strike sorties in the warzone this year.
On her maiden operational deployment, the new £1bn warship flexed her muscles in the Gulf by teaming up with American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea for 141 missions.
As the air command and control centre, Daring’s operations rooms guided American jets into Taliban heartlands to attack the enemy and support troops on the ground.
In the same period, she tracked and handled the movements of more than 500 other military aircraft.
‘Working with the Americans was unbelievable,’ said Able Seaman Leon Evans, 28, who is an air warfare specialist in the ship.
He added: ‘The size of the aircraft carriers and the weapons they have is just incredible.
‘I was speaking to the pilots, checking them in and out while they were doing live missions.
‘It was the live sorties in to Afghanistan that we were there for and that’s my job, so that was an amazing thing to be a part of.’
Around 1,000 relatives packed the jetty at Portsmouth Naval Base to welcome their loved ones home after seven months away at sea.
It was the biggest turn out for a naval homecoming for many years.
A big cheer went up as the 8,000-tonne ship sailed around the corner with her 190 sailors lining the decks in their best uniforms.
A flypast from an historic Sea Fury plane was the icing on the cake for what was a proud moment for the navy.
Reflecting on a job well done, Daring’s Captain Guy Robinson said: ‘Working with the US carrier group was a highlight for me.
‘Many of the aircraft that fly over Afghanistan are launched from the sea or based from the Middle East and go over Afghanistan.
‘All those have to be managed and we played a key role in checking those aircraft in and out and making sure the route was safe for their sorties.
‘It was an important mission which showed off the full capability of this incredible ship.’
It was a deployment of firsts for Daring, which is the first of six Type 45 destroyers built for the navy and based in Portsmouth.
Since sailing in January, her ship’s company have paved the way for future Type 45 operations.
Last month, Daring handed over her Gulf patrol duties to sister ship HMS Diamond, the third Type 45.
Capt Robinson said: ‘She will continue to build on our work.
‘We’ve got Diamond east of Suez and HMS Dauntless is in the Falklands, so these ships are getting around now a long way from home.’
HMS Daring’s seven-month deployment East of Suez was about more than helping the Americans launch air attacks in Afghanistan.
Keen to show off Britain’s new £1bn warship, the UK government sent the destroyer to 12 different countries to reinforce the nation’s diplomatic and trade ties with allies in the region.
In total, Daring’s whirlwind tour saw the ship sail almost 35,000 nautical miles, spending 139 days at sea since she departed from Portsmouth in January.
As part of the Combined Maritime Task Forces, she worked with partner nations on patrols to deter piracy, drug and people smuggling.
She represented the UK diplomatically in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, before crossing the Indian Ocean to call in at Mumbai, India.
Captain Guy Robinson said: ‘Every navy is keen to see a brand new ship.
‘There’s been a huge amount of interest from navies around the world which we’ve been working with over the last few months.’