THE captain of HMS Liverpool has told of the fierce gun battle his ship waged with Colonel Gaddafi’s troops – and won.
The Portsmouth-based destroyer was just six miles off the coast of Gaddafi-held territory when she came under a barrage of rockets and heavy calibre machine gunfire yesterday.
But the Libyan forces were no match for her 4.5in gun, which silenced the attack within half an hour with no casualties or damage to the ship.
Commander Colin Williams said: ‘It was a good old fashioned ding-dong. The enemy fire was coming in pretty close. It was fairly close-range stuff but we’ve trained for this and we were ready to win the fight.’
Liverpool and two other Nato warships were operating off Zlitan, a coastal town 85 miles east of the capital Tripoli when they spotted two inflatable boats suspected of laying sea mines in the area.
Cdr Williams said: ‘We had a couple of contacts moving down the coast. The other two ships went in to investigate and we sent up our helicopter in support.
‘Then they started getting fired on by the vessels and from the shore and it all got a bit hairy from there.’
As her helicopter dodged gunfire, Liverpool fired an opening salvo and manoeuvred into position to take on the shore battalion.
The captain said: ‘It took us about 20 or 30 minutes to bring it to an end. But there was no jingoism, no shouting, the atmosphere was cool as people went about their jobs.’
He revealed he was actually asleep when the attack began at 2am yesterday.
He said: ‘I was woken as we prepared and it was very humbling to see my ship’s company working so calmly and quietly. There was a calm, professional atmosphere, but understandably some concern about what was going on.’
The ship was back on patrol off Libya last night, trying to stop pro-Gaddafi forces threatening the rebel-held port of Misrata.
Cdr Williams said: ‘We’re back at work, a little bit more experienced than before, but still determined to do a good job.
‘It’s tough for my ship’s company that their families are worried for them. We want to say we miss them.’
ATTACK IS SIGN OF MORE TO COME - MP
THE attack on HMS Liverpool demonstrates an escalation of the fighting in Libya, an MP has warned.
Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock fears Colonel Gaddafi is likely to attack Nato forces more as the war continues. He said: ‘There’s clearly been an escalation in the war, which is inevitable because Gaddafi is like a wounded animal – he’s striking out wherever he can.
‘He is desperate to show his people that he’s winning and pulling something off like sinking a warship would play right into his hands.’
Last week, Gaddafi forces shelled a ship carrying tonnes of aid into Misrata.
The News understands French frigate Courbet retaliated this week by shelling Gaddafi positions near Zlitan and Misrata, which may have prompted the attack yesterday.
Liverpool, a French frigate and another Nato warship were operating just 85 miles east of Tripoli when they came under heavy fire.
The ships were enticed into dangerous waters just six miles off the coast of Gaddafi-held Zlitan by two inflatable boats suspected of trying to place sea mines in the area.
Then a hail of rockets and heavy machine gunfire came their way from the shore.
Liverpool fired a single shot from her 4.5in gun and manoeuvred quickly out of the way of incoming fire before firing several more times at targets pointed out to her gunners by her airborne Lynx helicopter. Her 190-strong crew were at action stations, dressed in anti-flash gear and had the deadly Sea Dart missile system primed and ready to fire before Gaddafi’s guns stopped.
MOST SIGNIFICANT ACTION FOR 20 YEARS, SAYS HISTORIAN
HMS Liverpool’s tangle with Libyan forces was the Royal Navy’s most-significant war action since the First Gulf War, a leading historian said.
Top naval historian Professor Andrew Lambert, of King’s College London, said: ‘In 1991, a silkworm missile was fired at a US warship and HMS Gloucester intercepted it with a Sea Dart missile. That was the last big thing until now.’
Prof Lambert argues yesterday’s attack demonstrates the increasing desperation of the Libyan regime.
He said: ‘It’s a highly unusual thing to happen. I sense Gaddafi is feeling the pressure and lashed out.
‘The role navies are playing is destroying Gaddafi’s Libya. Libya exports oil and the blockade has meant he has lost his ability to make money from the sea. This would not have been a random attack. These ships are squeezing the life out of Gaddafi’s regime and he’s fighting back.’