On Air Now
Early Breakfast with Jenni Falconer 4am - 6am
The Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has congratulated the Royal Navy for its ''momentous'' role in helping defeat Gaddafi's troops in Libya as he sailed home on a Type 42 destroyer.
Mr Hammond flew onboard HMS Liverpool as it returned to its base of Portsmouth on Monday November the 7th.
HMS Liverpool has spent seven months on deployment to support Operation Unified Protector - the Nato mission to enforce UN resolutions to protect Libyan civilians which formally ended on October 31.
This involved the warship enforcing the no-fly zone and conducting embargo operations to prevent arms reaching pro-Gaddafi forces by sea.
About 1,300 family and friends waited on the jetty to welcome back their loved ones and members of the public lined the seawalls of Portsmouth to wave home the ship and its crew of 250 sailors.
As Liverpool sailed into the harbour, it fired a 15-gun salute and the ship's Lynx helicopter did a flypast.
Family members waved flags and banners and cheered.
Speaking to the crew assembled in the ship's hangar, Mr Hammond said:
''I know the separation and time away has been tough and you will be looking forward to getting back tonight.
''You have played a vital role in this operation.
''You came under fire, you responded with cool professionalism.
''You should be proud of the part you played in creating a space where a country could rid itself of a tyrant and end a dictatorship which lasted for 40 years.
''Your bravery and professionalism is an inspiration to us.
''The discipline and self-sacrifice of this ship and the other armed forces have been an inspiration to the people of this country.
''We are grateful and proud of you.''
''There's something very symbolic about a warship homecoming, it's a very emotional moment.
''It's my first visit to the Royal Navy since I became Secretary of State and it's been a huge privilege to be here to come home with the crew who have been on this momentous tour which has involved the first naval engagement return of fire since the Falklands.
''She is a very old ship but she has performed incredibly well - it's a huge statement of the dedication and self-discipline of a tour of this length.
''It tells us something that the public's approval rating of our armed forces is at a very high level.
''It's not just families and friends, but the public have been following very closely the Libyan operation.''
A used artillery shellcase was presented to Mr Hammond as a token to represent the ship's role in the conflict.
Speaking on board, First Sea Lord Mark Stanhope said:
''Professionally I am very, very proud and proud of the manner in which the Navy did its business.
''Much of what the Navy does is below the horizon of our general view.
''This Libyan operation has raised the horizon and shown what the Navy has been doing in support of the mission.''
When asked whether the operation would have benefited from having aircraft carriers available, he said: ''If we had aircraft carriers we probably would have used them.
''The Government has recognised this and that's why they are building two new aircraft carriers.
''In recognition, we wouldn't have been able to achieve the precision with the Tornados but we had the fly-over rights and bases in Italy so we have been able to use ground-based aircraft.''
Commander Colin Williams, commanding officer of HMS Liverpool, said: ''I am immensely proud of my ship's company and the way in which they have risen to their challenge and reacted to the very real threat posed by pro-Gaddafi forces.
''For the past seven months HMS Liverpool has been at the sharp end of Royal Navy operations, spending 360 hours controlling aircraft, firing hundreds of rounds and spending long periods at action stations.
''We became the first ship to be fired upon in 30 years and my ship's company responded by putting their training into action, returning fire in self-defence and destroying enemy positions ashore.
''In their efforts to protect the Libyan people and enforce the will of the United Nations, the ship's company have proved their grit and determination.
''I know that our families and well-wishers will be as proud of them as I am and we arrive home as a ship at the top of her game.''
Engineering Technician Jonathan Sterling Roman flew home half-way through the mission when his baby daughter was born.
The 22-year-old from Croydon returned from Taranto, Italy, to be with his partner Maria Fletcher, 18, for the birth of Maliyah who was born on June 10 and later rejoined the ship.
''It was tough, heart-breaking to leave her.
''I have missed five months I am not going to get back but you have to do your duty.
''But it's all been worthwhile as we have been doing something for a good reason, this is what you join up to do.''
Ableseaman (AB) Siobhan Harrison, from Wirral, got engaged to AB John-Paul Hunter, 23, from Nottingham, who serves on HMS Illustrious, during a break in Malta.
''He got down on one knee and proposed, it was a real surprise.''
The 24-year-old joined the ship only one day before it deployed to Libya.
''It's been hard work, tiring but a good experience.
''We have done something good, glad we have done it but would I want to do it again, no thank you.''
Leading chef Nicola Stirzkaker, 28, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, said:
''It's been a long year because we didn't know when we were coming home.
''But it's been a good year, we have done something to be proud of.''
A Royal Navy spokesman said:
''Since taking on her high-tempo mission to protect the Libyan citizens, HMS Liverpool's ship's company has spent 81 hours at Action Stations on 28 separate occasions, been fired at and returned fire 10 times, and launched 211 rounds of illumination and high explosive shells from her 4.5 inch gun.
''These illumination or star shells were fired to light up pro-Gaddafi positions for Nato aircraft to identify and destroy.
''The ship's company has witnessed the siege of Misratah and the fall of Tripoli, Zlitan, Al Khums and Sirte to the rebels and while enforcing the no-fly zone, Liverpool's Fighter Controllers spent 360 hours controlling 14 different types of aircraft from a number of Nato countries.''
HMS Liverpool also provided protection for other Royal Navy vessels during the deployment including minehunters HMS Brocklesby and HMS Bangor.
It also acted as an air defence platform for assault ship HMS Ocean which contributed its Apache helicopters to the operation.
The naval vessels were supported by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Fort Rosalie with HMS Liverpool alone conducting 40 supply and fuel replenishments at sea.
The commanding officer was met by his wife, Sarah, and daughters, Isabella, 13, and Hermione, 11, who burst into tears of joy as they leapt into his arms.
Mrs Williams from Havant said:
''I am absolutely delighted and thrilled to have him home safely and extremely proud.''
Hermione said: ''I am really, really pleased, very proud and excited.''
ET Sterling Roman said when he met up with baby daughter Maliyah on the jetty:
''It's amazing to be back. She's changed so much since July when I last saw her.''
Miss Fletcher said:
''I am so happy he's back, I'm thrilled. It feels like it's been forever.''
Lieutenant Gregg Seaman, 32, of Portsmouth, was met by his daughter, Eliza, two, and wife Katy, 33.
Mrs Seaman said: ''I am delighted to have him back, it's been emotional.
''I am so looking forward to seeing him playing together with Eliza and having conversations. She wasn't really talking when he left and now she's talking away.''
Lt Seaman said: ''I am elated, thrilled, excited.
''It's been a long seven-and-a-half months - I haven't seen Eliza since she was really small.
''Altogether, not just this tour, I have been away for half her life.''
Leading Hand Anthony Barnes, 37, from Liverpool, was met by his daughters, Sophie, 14 months, and Lauren, three, both wearing T-shirts with the slogan: ''Welcome home Daddy my hero.''
He said: ''I'm made up, particularly to see the little ones - the hardest part of the job is being away from them.''
Petty Officer Stuart Davidson, 42, originally from Wigan but now living in Gosport, was met by daughter Alice, 20, months, and wife Lisa, 34.
He said: ''It's very good to be back. I'm happy to be with my family - I haven't seen my little one for a long time.''
Mrs Davidson said: ''It's amazing and I'm very proud of him and all the ship's company.''