FOR months they have been sharpening their war-fighting and submarine-hunting skills in the Baltic amid the looming threat of the Russian navy.
But now the men and women of HMS Westminster are relaxing with their loved ones after they returned home to Portsmouth today.
Hundreds of people lined the jetty at Portsmouth Naval Base to welcome home the ship’s company.
Clare Price, 36, of Gosport, was with her children Freyia, 13, and Zachary, eight, as she waited for her husband, Chief Petty Officer Paul Price.
She said: ‘It’s an amazing feeling. I have had butterflies for a week. It feels like you’re meeting each other again for the first time.’
Nicole Cupid was with her children Abigail, nine, and Dominc, 13, to welcome home her husband Petty Officer Desmond Cupid. The 40-year-old, of Gosport, said: ‘I’m so proud of them all.’
During Westminster’s five-month deployment the Type 23 frigate became part of the Joint Expeditionary Force, the largest Royal Navy-led task group in 15 years.
Supported by about 2,000 British military personnel and 1,000 from seven allied nations, the fleet tackled a range of war games and drills.
The action is all part of Britain’s commitment to tighten security and enforce maritime law in the region, which has been dominated by Russia.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace was full of praise for the crew of Westminster and said: ‘Nato is the bedrock of UK security and the outstanding work of HMS Westminster’s crew underlines the leading role our armed forces continue to play in the alliance.’
Westminster’s captain, Commander Will Paston, was the first man off the ship and was embraced by his wife, Louisa, and their sons Tom, six, and Alex, four.
The 43-year-old of Southsea added: ’It’s really important for the Royal Navy and the UK to be part of Nato and prove that we’re willing to stand up and do our bit, especially in the Baltic region at the moment.’
Leading Hand Herman O’Brien, 30, of Gosport, was overwhelmed to be back with his loved ones. ‘I feel elated, it’s a great feeling,’ he said before praising his fellow shipmates and adding: ‘This is probably the best ship’s company that I have had and I’ve had three so far.’
While Portsmouth lad Lieutenant Tim Clouter, 29, said: ‘To see the Pompey skyline for the first time in five months is just incredible. You know you’re home.’
Throughout the deployment, sailors worked with the other nations in the task group, with personnel exchanges with Polish, German and US vessels.
Westminster also took part in Exercise Trident Juncture and anti-submarine drill Dynamic Mongoose.
The frigate was also called to escort Chinese destroyer Xian as she sailed the English Channel.
Earlier this week, Westminster stopped in London to exercise the Freedom of the City of Westminster.