WORKERS at RAF Hythe are preparing to say farewell to their workplace and jobs tomorrow.

The US Army is quitting the 11-acre shipyard after 40 years and will hand back the keys to the MoD.

Two hundred skilled workers have lost their livelihood in what is a huge blow to the Waterside.

The base, which services and repairs watercraft, contributes an estimated £4.5m to the UK economy.

Forty workers have already left. Many have taken up US offers of retraining and found other jobs.

Richard Holmquest, chairman of the employee council, said: "The biggest thing we are finding is the difference in salary and benefits. It's a lot less. It's a bit of a shock to some."

Work halted last month after three partly-rebuilt tugboats were towed across the Atlantic to be completed in America and the site has now been cleared.

"It's just a shell," added Mr Holmquest.

Tom Ferguson, the US civilian boss at the base, said: "This is a very sombre and reflective time for both the UK and American personnel at the Army facility in Hythe.

"We are thankful for the dedication shown by our British workforce and grateful for their years of stalwart support."

New Forest East MP Dr Julian Lewis, New Forest District Council chairman Councillor David Scott and Southampton mayor Councillor John Slade will be among the dignitaries attending a "casing of the colours" closure ceremony on Friday.

The brigade commander for the base, Colonel Bobby Ray Pinkston, is flying in from Germany.

Despite intensive lobbying by workers, Dr Lewis and others, US militarty top brass rejected calls for a rethink or delay to the closure.

US Army spokeswoman Jennifer King said it was part of the US Defense department's "global repositioning strategy".

"The Army's goal is to move from a Cold War force structure and basing strategy to one tailored to address the asymmetrical threats of the 21st century," she said.

Workers and residents want the base retained for employment, ideally ship repair, but fear it could be sold off for housing.

The MoD is carrying out a survey of the base in Shore Road to decide its future.