Sailors on board HMS Defender have returned to Portsmouth today after they were deployed before Christmas to track Russian ships near the UK coast.
The Type 45 destroyer began a 700-mile journey from Portsmouth to Scotland on December 19 to meet the Russian task group, as reported in The News at the time.
The Ministry of Defence had refused to comment on the warship’s task, but has today released details.
As the Fleet Ready Escort, HMS Defender was the Royal Navy’s high readiness warship over Christmas and New Year.
The warship sailed through high sea states and storm force winds to ‘welcome’ the group of six vessels, including a 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier, the Royal Navy said.
Due to bad weather, the Russian fleet anchored in the Moray Firth before heading down the east coast of the UK.
Commander Phil Nash, HMS Defender’s commanding officer, said: ‘As a maritime nation the security of the seas around our coastline remain vital to our national interests.
‘This tasking has demonstrated the Royal Navy’s enduring commitment in home waters and readiness to undertake tasking at any time of the year.
‘I am extremely proud of each and every one of my sailors.
‘They have tackled this mission with utter professionalism and dedication to duty, whilst also being separated from their families at short notice over Christmas and new year.’
The Royal Navy today revealed the Russian ships exchanged goodwill messages with HMS Defender on New Year’s Eve as a sign of friendship between the two navies.
Families of those on board yesterday gathered at the Hot Walls in Old Portsmouth to welcome their loved ones home.
HMS Defender’s operations officer, Lieutenant Commander Mark Mason, added: ‘This high readiness tasking demonstrates the Type 45 Destroyer’s flexibility and agility.
‘These highly capable warships are prepared for high end warfighting, but are equally adept at conducting interdiction operations, disaster relief missions and patrolling the nation’s coastline.’
The government minister for international security strategy, Dr Andrew Murrison, said: ‘The UK and Russia enjoy a good relationship, and the deployment of HMS Defender, one of our newest destroyers, as fleet ready escort underlines the Royal Navy’s modern-day utility in UK interests.’
All homecoming pictures by LA(Phot) Ian Simpson