Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean and her complement of sailors, marines and soldiers have recently been conducting operations in support of the NATO mission in Libya.
Speaking to personnel on the ship’s flight deck, General Richards said:
I have a lot of history with this fine ship and so I’m really glad to have had the opportunity to visit you.
What you did in Libya and the way you have responded over the last few months have been in the best traditions of the Service; not only have you done great work operationally but you have broken new barriers professionally, particularly with the Apache.
The name of HMS Ocean is held in high regard back in the UK and you should be proud, and deservedly so, of what you have achieved.
During the operation in support of the UN Security Council Resolution, the Apache attack helicopters embarked on HMS Ocean complemented the RAF Tornado and Typhoon aircraft, delivering additional precision-strike capability.
Over the course of their deployment, the Apache crews from 656 Squadron Army Air Corps carried out highly effective missions inside Libya, hitting military vehicles, installations and communications equipment.
The Apaches were ably assisted during the operation by other helicopters embarked on HMS Ocean. These included Sea King Mk7s of 857 Naval Air Squadron conducting maritime surveillance operations, and Lynx Mk7s of 847 Naval Air Squadron providing force protection and logistic support, as well as US Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawks.
The US airmen, from the 56th Rescue Squadron based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, were on standby for personnel recovery or medical evacuation operations in the event of an incident involving any NATO aircraft or ships.
Captain Andrew Betton, HMS Ocean’s Commanding Officer, said:
I am immensely proud of all of the personnel serving in HMS Ocean. Everybody has worked tirelessly since we sailed in April to contribute to our evolving mission, so having the opportunity to brief the Chief of Defence Staff on our recent activity was an honour.
In the four months that HMS Ocean was operating off Libya, the ship spent 87 days at sea, whilst, during the same period, the Apaches were allocated some 49 missions and the Sea King Mk7s a total of 99 operational sorties.
Since sailing from the UK in late April, Ocean has sailed over 23,000 nautical miles (42,600km) and there have been in excess of 2,000 deck landings by a mix of both embarked and visiting aircraft.
HMS Ocean left the UK in April as part of the UK’s Response Force Task Group to conduct a series of pre-planned amphibious exercises in the Mediterranean, known as Cougar 11. With the escalating events in Libya, the UK Government took the opportunity in May to retask one of the most flexible ships in the Royal Navy’s inventory and ordered HMS Ocean to support the enforcement of the United Nations Security Council Resolution to protect Libyan citizens.
UK support to the NATO-led Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR officially ceased at midnight on 31 October 2011.