HMS Iron Duke has turned up the heat on Colonel Gaddafi, launching a wave of devastating attacks on his troops just hours after being called into Libya.
The Portsmouth-based frigate was on her way home after a five-month stint in the Middle East when she was diverted to blast artillery positions in Zlitan – 100 miles east of capital city Tripoli.
The frigate also fired star shells to light up the sky for strike sorties by RAF jets and Apache attack helicopters during a 96-hour round-the-clock assault.
Iron Duke was called to Libya on Monday to give the destroyer HMS Liverpool a break from operations – and her crew wasted no time in going into action, as pictured on the front page.
The ship’s captain, Commander Nick Cooke-Priest, told The News: ‘It’s been pretty full-on.
‘It was a very exciting, focused and intense feeling in the operations room as we moved into enemy territory in hostile waters within range of enemy gunfire.
‘There’s a mixture of pride and excitement to be doing such an important job and doing it so successfully.
‘It’s been a fantastic end to a five-month deployment and I couldn’t be more proud of my ship’s company.’
The attacks were close to the area where HMS Liverpool recently won a gun battle with Gaddafi troops.
The United Nations operations are in support of anti-government rebels fighting to topple Colonel Gaddafi, who declared in an audio message released yesterday that he would not talk to the opposition until what he called ‘judgement day’.
Asked whether the despotic leader is on the ropes, Cdr Cooke-Priest said: ‘This has been a very successful few days and the longer we keep up the surge, the greater chance there is of success.’
Leading military strategist Professor Eric Grove said: ‘Our operations appear to be getting heavier and more sustained. The hope is Gaddafi will be abandoned by his supporters – that enough pressure is brought to bear that the regime will fall apart.
‘The conflict was only ever meant to last a few weeks but the regime has shown great resilience.
‘I think we’ll continue to up our game, so to speak, to get this over and done with as soon as we can.’
Iron Duke was the ninth Royal Navy warship to be involved in Libya since the conflict began in February.
She was sent to temporarily relieve Portsmouth-based HMS Liverpool as the ship took time out in Italy after 113 days of action, during which she clocked up 25,000 miles, refuelled 17 times and fired her main gun 99 times.
The Duke left operations in Libya yesterday and will return home next week.
Liverpool is due to be back in action off Libya soon.