Royal Navy Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan has returned to Portsmouth after six months leading a NATO task group in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea.
She returned to cheering crowds of up to 800 people eager to see their loved ones home.
Since January the 200 men and women aboard the destroyer, plus a dedicated Royal Navy-led multi-national staff, have sailed thousands of miles leading an international force of warships promoting stability and security across the region.
HMS Duncan took charge of NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, a group of frigates, destroyers and patrol ships drawn from across the Alliance’s navies.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “HMS Duncan and her crew have demonstrated why the Royal Navy is revered all over the world for its leadership, professionalism, and skill.
“In taking charge of NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2 for the second time in a year, Britain and the Royal Navy embody what we mean by Global Britain.
“NATO has been the cornerstone of our defense for 70 years and we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies, confronting the intensifying threats we all face in an increasingly unpredictable world.”
The tensest time for HMS Duncan came in April following the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, and potential international response. The ship readied for any eventuality which meant taking the ship to action and preparing her weapon systems to be fully ready to react to any escalation in the region.
“This has been a landmark deployment,” said Commanding Officer, Commander Eleanor Stack. “HMS Duncan has provided an ultra-modern and uniquely-capable platform from which the UK’s command of the NATO’s Standing Maritime Group Two has been conducted successfully.
“In deploying HMS Duncan to support NATO operations in these increasingly-contested regions, the Royal Navy has cemented our reputation as a leader of choice in NATO and underlined the UK’s unwavering commitment to the collective defence of our alliance.
“I am incredibly proud of my ship’s company in everything they have achieved over the last 12 months in conducting operations from Odessa to Haifa and Georgia to Tartus.”
As well as the destroyer’s return, 201 Flight Wildcat HMA2 from 815 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton have arrived back to their families.
Over the course of the deployment they used Wildcat as the eyes and ears of the Task Group, using its sensors to build the ships’ maritime picture and provide an overt presence in theatre.
They flew many missions to collect intelligence about the location and movement of specific units, and completed elements of tactical development – working out how best to employ Wildcat in the tactical maritime environment.
They also conducted essential sorties to collect stores, weapons, ammunition and to transport personnel around the Task Group and ashore and were involved in several casualty evacuations.
Cdr Jamieson Stride, Commanding Officer 815 Naval Air Squadron said: “I am delighted and immensely proud to welcome back 201 Flight from a complex and highly demanding deployment. A big thank you must go to their families for all their unfailing support.
During their time away HMS Duncan visited the Gallipoli peninsula and Istanbul, Sicily, Split, Israel, the Black Sea and Georgia – the first visit by a Royal Navy warship since 2001. There was also a rescue of two lost Algerian fishermen and an amphibious exercise in Portugal in June.
Able Seaman Danny Oldfield said: “I’ve been with HMS Duncan for just over a year now and on for this whole deployment. I’ve really enjoyed the whole thing and I’ve been promoted to Able Seaman 1 whilst being away.
“The highlight of the trip for me was going to Israel; I love history and I was lucky to go to Jerusalem and take in all the culture. Not many people can say they’ve been there!”
And for the medical teams one of their highlights was rescuing two Algerian fisherman who had become stranded at sea. Medical Assistant Rhiann Dilmore said: “That was a clear career highlight for me. For the rescue I was the medic in the sea boat, with the force protection Marines, an engineer and the seaman specialists.
“I had to do the medical assessment on the fisherman and they were very dehydrated when we recovered them. They were stranded in the middle of the ocean and we helped them get back to Algeria, saving their lives.
“It was incredibly rewarding.”