SAILORS have returned home just in time for Christmas as HMS Defender arrived back in Portsmouth today.
The Type 45 destroyer has spent six months at sea on high-intensity operations in the Gulf.
As revealed on portsmouth.co.uk earlier this year, the ship spent part of her deployment supporting a US-led carrier task group which was conducting air strikes in the fight against Isil in Iraq.
Hundreds of friends and family welcomed the ship back home this morning, joined by the Portsmouth Military Wives Choir and the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth.
Commander Phil Nash, the ship’s commanding officer, said: ‘The homecoming is a day for my ship’s company to be extremely proud of their achievements and the delivery of a hugely successful maiden operational deployment.
‘Some have been with Defender from build and have seen the ship grow from an engineering project to become one of the world’s most capable air defenders deployed on operations.
‘Today is a special day and one to recognise the support of our families and friends who play an enormous part in everything we do.
‘Without them these continued successes would not have been possible.’
At other times, the Type 45 destroyer’s maiden deployment included maritime security and counter piracy patrols in the Gulf and operations in the Mediterranean, but the main focus was direct support to US aircraft carriers USS George H W Bush and USS Carl Vinson in the northern Gulf while strike sorties were flown against Isil targets.
During the deployment the ship visited the majority of the Gulf States including Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain.
Defender also hosted a particularly successful Staff College Sea days with the Qatari Advance Staff Course, strengthening the bonds between the two countries and demonstrating the impressive capabilities of the Type 45 destroyer.
Defender has clocked up more than 35,000 nautical miles since leaving the UK in June.
The ship’s company of HMS Defender missed Christmas with their families last year after being called up to track a Russian naval task group which passed near the coast of the UK.
They left Portsmouth on December 19 and did not return until January 9.
Leading Writer Rhian Killpatrick said: ‘Having spent last Christmas at sea and over six months deployed in the Gulf we are all hugely looking forward to returning home to our loved ones.
‘The ship has achieved an incredible amount during the last 12 months and playing a part in this maiden deployment has been an exciting time.
‘I can’t wait to be reunited with my husband and daughter.’
Defender will now take some well-earned leave, before a maintenance period in the New Year.