MARITIME STRIKE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE ROYAL NAVY TASK GROUP OFF LIBYA IN 2011

Reviewed by: DR JAMES BOSBOTINIS

The subject of this book immediately appealed to this reviewer; the campaign in Libya taking place whilst I was undertaking my doctoral research into British maritime strategy and the development of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. In Maritime Strike, Rear Admiral John Kingwell, then Commander UK Task Group (COMUKTG), and responsible for the debut deployment of the Response Force Task Group (RFTG) created after the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), provides a highly readable account of this deployment. The RFTG’s inaugural deployment, moreover, became part of Operation ELLAMY, the UK’s contribution to the 2011 campaign against Colonel Gaddafi, and in another notable first, the debut of the Apache in the maritime strike role (hence, the book’s title), operating from HMS Ocean. Maritime Strike provides much more though than simply an account of the Libya campaign, as Rear Admiral Kingwell also sets out the progression of his naval career.

Maritime Strike encompasses eight chapters, principally focused on the development and deployment of the RFTG to the Mediterranean in 2011 and subsequent operations off Libya. The first chapter provides an account of Rear Admiral Kingwell’s naval career from its start in 1984 under the heading ‘Preparation for Command’, a theme continued through the book, to provide an accessible insight into the responsibility and challenges of command. The book also features an epilogue, glossary, appendix of Royal Navy units involved in the COUGAR ‘11 deployment, a select bibliography, and a foreword by Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope. A selection of photos are also included.

Throughout the text, the reader is provided with a glimpse into what is required of a naval officer, especially one placed into a position of command, whether as Kingwell recounts, of a P2000, HMS Pursuer (his first command), through to commanding a full task group involved in operations. Kingwell also sheds light on the political and interservice dynamics – and tensions – both in joint and combined contexts, and notes the difficult period in the late 2000s and around the SDSR, in relations between the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Rear Admiral Kingwell’s account of his sacking during Operation ELLAMY, and his response provides a powerful example of his character and approach to interservice tensions.

Rear Admiral Kingwell’s account of the deployment of the RFTG to the Mediterranean in 2011, and the competing potential requirements amidst the fluid situation of the Arab Spring are very well set out, as is the account of the campaign off Libya. Many readers will be particularly interested in the Apache operations from Ocean and these are discussed in a clear and highly accessible manner, providing insights into the challenges posed by operations at sea. The embarking of Army Air Corps’ Apaches on Ocean marked the first time that attack helicopters were used in the maritime strike role, as Kingwell describes, “Attack helicopters had traditionally been used to provide close air support of land forces – to launch them on strike missions from the sea was an entirely new proposition. They had never flown operationally from ships at night…”. Kingwell provides a detailed account, covering both operational and tactical detail, in a manner that will appeal to both the lay reader and a professional or academic audience.

Maritime Strike is an excellent, highly readable account of Rear Admiral Kingwell’s naval career, his perspective as COMUKTG, and the maritime contribution to Operation ELLAMY. Whilst it will certainly appeal to the lay reader, the book will be particularly valuable to those with an academic or professional interest in the Royal Navy, especially with regard to the recent history of the navy. It should also be read by all those considering a career as a naval officer, and those who have already embarked on such a career. Rear Admiral Kingwell’s perspectives on command and leadership should be read by all junior officers, and chapter 7, ‘Lessons’, is most valuable in this regard. Maritime Strike is a most enjoyable and informative read and will greatly appeal to NR members. It is highly recommended.