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HMS Ark Royal and crew return home

PUBLISHED: 10:07 17 May 2003 | UPDATED: 13:52 03 March 2010

CROWDS of thousands are expected today to give a tumultuous welcome to HMS Ark Royal as it leads a three-strong fleet of warships back to home port after fighting in the war in Iraq.

CROWDS of thousands are expected today to give a tumultuous welcome to HMS Ark Royal as it leads a three-strong fleet of warships back to home port after fighting in the war in Iraq.

Ipswich man Captain Alan Massey will be at the helm of aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, Britain's flagship in the campaign, bringing to an end a four-month tour of duty.

Capt Massey, 50, was educated at Northgate High School in Ipswich and has been in command of the aircraft carrier since July 2002.

The 20,000-tonne ship is accompanied by her escort Type 42 Destroyer HMS York and the support ship Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Victory.

Greeting the 650 sailors and Royal Marines, was defence secretary Geoff Hoon.

HMS Ark Royal left home waters in January to head a long-planned routine deployment to the gulf and Asia Pacific regions.

But events in Iraq led to its fleet going into action against Saddam Hussein's regime.

Usually equipped with Harrier jump jets, it did not take any out to the gulf, but it's helicopters played a vital role as Royal Marines from three commando brigade made an amphibious assault on the Alfaw peninsular in southern Iraq.

Tragedy cast a pall over the ship when two of its Sea King helicopters collided at night killing seven members of 849 Squadron.

Royal Navy ships remain in the Gulf carrying out mine clearance operations logistical support and offering force protection to coalition troops still in the gulf.

HMS Ark Royal's complement of Harrier jets from 800 Navel Air Squadron have rejoined the aircraft carrier to prepare for any future contingencies.

Once back on dry land HMS Ark Royal's crew will have two weeks' leave as the ship is cleaned and repainted, before setting sail again for exercises in UK waters.

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