RAF Marham crews return home from Operation Ellamy over Libya
Praise for crews for a 'job well done' as they leave Italian base of Gioia Del Colle
Crews from RAF Marham returned to the Norfolk base last night after six months of Operation Ellamy over Libya.
Six Tornado jets arrived home from the Gioia Del Colle airfield as the NATO mission comes to an end on Monday.
Defence Secretary Phil Hammond visited the Italian base on Friday and approved the immediate return of the six Marham Tornados. News of NATO's decision to end operations came through during his visit and he was able to give the go-ahead for an immediate scaling down.
He said: 'Our armed forces can be immensely proud that their hard work has assured the liberty of the Libyan people. This is a job well done and we will be sending our crews home from tonight. I have given my personal thanks today to some of the aircrew and support personnel.'
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RAF Marham's Station Commander, Group Captain Pete 'Rocky' Rochelle said: 'It was great to welcome back the first set of Tornado GR4s from Gioia Del Colle having operated over Libya in support of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
'I am hugely impressed with the discipline and judgement of my crews and the support teams in delivering such huge success.'
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Another ten Tornado GR4s, two VC10 tankers, two E-3D Sentry and one Sentinel surveillance aircraft will return to the UK over the coming days.
At the peak of operations, the UK had 2,300 personnel, 32 aircraft and four ships committed to Ellamy.
UK personnel have flown more than 3,000 sorties during the six-months of operation Ellamy, more than 2,100 of which were strike sorties, successfully striking around 640 targets.
Jets from RAF Marham were in the skies just six hours after world leaders agreed the use of force to protect Libyan civilians during the attempts to remove Col Gadaffi from power at the end of March.
The crews successfully bombed a Libyan frigate in Tripoli harbour in August and were at the forefront of air strikes throughout the campaign.
Defence Secretary Liam Fox had the news Marham was waiting to hear in the middle of Operation Ellamy when he announced the Norfolk base was safe from cuts.
But a second fight has begun to ensure Marham is the home of the Joint Strike Fighter which will replace the Tornado fleet. If the new jets are stationed in Norfolk the future of the RAF's home in the county will be secure for future generations.
SW Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss has already begun putting pressure on the Government to ensure RAF Marham will be at the forefront of defence strategy after the Torndos have been decommissioned - which could be another 15 years.