A WARSHIP today returned home to Portsmouth for the final time - just hours before the Royal Navy’s new Antarctic patrol vessel sails into port for the first time.
HMS Gloucester, which holds a missile-firing record from the first Gulf War, sailed into the naval base ahead of her decommissioning next month.
Later, the ice-breaker MV Polarbjorn, which will be renamed HMS Protector, will also arrive ahead of being accepted into the navy fleet next month.
The 29-year-old Type 42 destroyer HMS Gloucester is being decommissioned next month as the navy’s fleet of ageing Type 42s is being phased out to make way for the new hi-tech Type 45 destroyers.
HMS Gloucester, which has clocked up 787,928 miles during service around the world, will mark its final entry to the naval base in traditional fashion by flying a decommissioning pennant.
It is returning from a farewell visit to its namesake city and from a training exercise involving the US, French and Spanish navies off the south west coast of the UK.
Members of the crew spoke of their sadness that the ship was coming home for a final time.
Warrant Officer Gavin Dunkey of Galemoor Avenue, Gosport, said: ‘It is a sad day. She’s an excellent ship and did everything that was asked of her, but new technology has taken over just as she did when she replaced the county class destroyer.
‘HMS Gloucester is a a unique shop and has always had a fantastic reputation within the naval fleet.
‘It doesn’t matter who joins, they all have the same feelings of emotional attachment to the old girl.’
HMS Gloucester Commander David George: ‘HMS Gloucester is a special ship. The people are very experienced, supportive and loyal, it is desperately sad but it’s time to move on.
‘There’s lots of new technology out there just now which has overtaken us and while that’s sad there’s lots to look forward to.
‘Gloucester has done well but it;s time for her to bow out with grace and dignity.’
Leading weapon engineer Mark Nolan, 21, from Hull, has served on the ship for five years. He said: ‘It is sad because I have a lot of happy memories and met a lot of lads on board HMS Gloucester, but I am moving on to one of the new type 45s., HMS Dragon, so I’m excited about that.
‘It is sad for all of us but I understand why it’s happening.’
HMS Gloucester was built by Vosper Thornycroft in Southampton and was launched on November 2, 1982 by the Duchess of Gloucester.
At 463ft long the ship was the longest vessel built at the shipyard since the Second World War.
Nicknamed the Fighting G, Gloucester’s most notable action came in January 1991 when it was escorting the American battleship USS Missouri close to the Kuwaiti coast during the Gulf War.
As the Missouri came under attack by an Iraqi seersucker missile, Gloucester fired a salvo of sea darts to knock it from the sky in what proved to be the first validated, successful missile versus missile strike of its kind.
The ship also helped evacuate British nationals during the Israel-Lebanon conflict of 2006.
And in 2010, the ship made a £4 million drug bust by intercepting the cocaine headed on board the yacht Tortuga for the Falkland Islands.
The MV Polarbjorn, which will enter Portsmouth under the Norwegian flag, will be officially named HMS Protector on June 1 and will be commissioned into the Royal Navy fleet on June 23.
It will take on the navy’s Antarctic mission in November while the future of HMS Endurance, which suffered major flooding off Chile in 2008, is considered by the Ministry of Defence.
The ship, which was built in 2001 as an Antarctic research ship, has undergone a refit involving the repositioning of the flight deck from the bridge roof to the stern, the installation of a multi beam echo sounder survey system, an overhaul of the main engines and gearboxes and the addition of naval insignia.
The name Protector has a historic connection with Britain’s Antarctic commitment as it was the name of the ship which preceded the Endurance.
Protector will carry out all the functions of an Antarctic patrol ship involving close links with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the UK Hydrographic Office and the British Antarctic Survey.