HMS Liverpool is set to return home from the war in Libya next month, The News can reveal.
A heroes’ welcome is expected for the ship’s 200 sailors who have played a major role in the warzone since April.
News that the warship will return to Portsmouth soon comes as she marks her 150th day on patrol off the Libyan coast.
The ship’s commanding officer, Commander Colin Williams, told The News: ‘We can’t wait to get back and see our families.
‘I’m hoping we get a tremendous welcome and I’m sure we will. Stopping and talking to people around the ship, it’s the number one topic of conversation – which friends and family are going to be there; what they’re going to do the first night they’re back; what meal they are going to have. There’s a lot of excitement and expectation.’
Since leaving Portsmouth on March 29, Liverpool has been a constant presence in the war which has seen Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi lose his 42-year hold over the country.
The warship arrived off the eastern city of Benghazi as it was about to fall into the hands of anti-Gaddafi rebels, and while the city of Misrata was under siege by Gaddafi’s troops.
By August, she was just a few miles off the Libyan capital Tripoli as the rebels took power and formed the National Transitional Council of Libya (NTC).
Now Liverpool is positioned off the coast of Sirte where pro-Gaddafi forces are staging a last stand against NTC fighters.
‘It has been a long deployment but the ship’s company have risen to every challenge put in front of them,’ said Cdr Williams.
‘We’ve seen a huge amount of change since we arrived. To be part of it has been a huge privilege,’ he added.
Cdr Williams, of Havant, told of how a Libyan vessel recently contacted the warship and thanked the crew for helping to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi.
He said: ‘That was hugely satisfying. To know what we’ve been doing is appreciated by the Libyan people makes a huge difference because we can show the guys and girls on the ship what we have achieved and what we have been a part of.’
Before she can come home, Liverpool has one more patrol to do as fighting continues in Sirte.
Cdr Williams hopes to see the NTC take the town soon.
He said: ‘That will be a big moment for the ship – to say we were here from the beginning and saw it through to the end.’
Liverpool’s efforts off Libya have seen the ship fire 209 rounds with her main 4.5” gun and amass a staggering 360 hours of aircraft control while enforcing the no-fly zone over the county.
The ship has spent 81 hours at action stations on 28 separate occasions, been fired on 10 times by Gaddafi’s troops and was often forced to return fire in self defence as artillery and rockets fell within one mile of the ship.
The navy has confirmed Liverpool is due to return to Portsmouth in November. A specific date has not been disclosed.