The event was attended by personnel from the RAF, Royal Navy and Army who have recently returned from flying or supporting missions as part of international efforts in Libya.
At its peak, the UK had 2,300 personnel, 37 aircraft and four ships committed to the operation. The UK has flown more than 3,000 sorties, more than 2,100 of which were strike sorties, successfully striking around 640 targets.
Addressing personnel gathered at RAF Waddington today, the Deputy Prime Minister said:
You have been protecting the Libyan people from the brutality of Colonel Gaddafi and his regime. Your skill, your commitment and your bravery made the difference. You have saved countless lives and have performed magnificently in testing times.
His view was echoed by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, who described the Royal Air Force’s contribution as an unqualified success and a reflection of the Service’s unique ‘will-win’ ethos:
We can feel rightly proud of the outstanding contribution of the Royal Air Force over the length of the campaign. Our efforts in support of UNSCR [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 1973 have been critical in preventing a humanitarian disaster and directly prevented large-scale bloodshed of the Libyan people.
With the end of the NATO operation declared on 31 October 2011, RAF personnel immediately began returning to their bases in the UK. Some 300 of the 4,000 personnel deployed on the campaign were present at Waddington, with examples of the aircraft types flown on the operation and support equipment.
The Deputy Prime Minister took the opportunity to meet personnel to hear first-hand about their experiences of the operation.
RAF involvement in Libya commenced with Operation DEFERENCE in February 2011, when UK and foreign civilian contractors were evacuated from Libya aboard Hercules aircraft.
Operation ELLAMY, the codename given to the UK Armed Forces contribution to NATO’s Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR, began on 19 March 2011 following the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
That night four Tornado GR4s from IX (Bomber) Squadron flew round-robin missions from their base at RAF Marham, Norfolk, striking strategic targets deep inside Libya with Storm Shadow missiles.
The Tornados then deployed to Gioia del Colle air base in southern Italy to join Typhoon FGR4 aircraft from XI Squadron which had arrived from RAF Coningsby on 20 March 2011.
Operation ELLAMY represented the combat debut for the Typhoon Force which initially conducted air superiority missions in Libyan airspace to prevent regime aircraft attacking the civilian population.
Thereafter, the focus for Typhoon switched to strike operations, the Typhoons working in tandem with Tornados to destroy ground targets. In due course II (Air Cooperation) Squadron took over Tornado operations.
The high tempo of operations by the fast jets was only possible with the support of air-refuelling tankers operating from bases in the Mediterranean. The TriStars of 216 Squadron and VC10s of 101 Squadron, both based at RAF Brize Norton, flew daily to provide fuel for NATO aircraft.
Control of the skies and co-ordination of the large number of aircraft in the skies over Libya was provided by E-3D Sentry aircraft from RAF Waddington-based 8 Squadron, whilst Sentinel R1s from 5 (Army Cooperation) Squadron provided battlefield intelligence, target imaging and tracking radar which proved crucial in detecting regime targets.
Op ELLAMY also represented the final commitment for the Nimrod R1 aircraft of 51 Squadron, the aircraft being extended in service for three months to enable its specialised capability to be used.
In addition to the aircraft involved, a significant contribution was made to the operation by support units drawn from across the RAF. These included intelligence, logistics, mechanical transport, communications, force protection, tactical imagery, catering and medical personnel.
Representing the Fleet Air Arm at the event in Waddington was an Airborne Surveillance and Control Sea King helicopter from 857 Naval Air Squadron, which returned from HMS Ocean at the end of September, and a Lynx from 815 Naval Air Squadron, whose helicopters have flown from the back of Type 22 and 23 frigates and Type 42 destroyers since the beginning of the crisis in February.
All the Services played a crucial part in the success of a campaign which brought together forces from 18 nations and culminated with the liberation of Libya by its own people.