The last of the Invincible class carriers, HMS Illustrious, will make her final entry into Portsmouth on Tuesday 22 July. After a career spanning 32 years, the Royal Navy’s helicopter and command platform is being withdrawn from service.
Illustrious is succeeded by HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy’s larger, younger and more capable helicopter carrier, which has just returned to service following a £65 million refit.
Built by Swan Hunter shipbuilders on the Tyne, Illustrious was the second of the Royal Navy’s three Invincible class carriers.
Work to complete the 22,000-tonne ship was speeded up during 1982 after the outbreak of the Falklands War.
As a result she was commissioned on 20 June 1982, at sea enroute to Portsmouth to collect extra stores and crew before travelling on to the Falklands.
During the 1990s Illustrious helped maintain the no-fly zone over Bosnia and in 1998 operated in the Gulf carrying out a similar role over southern Iraq.
In 2000, she saw action again in Sierra Leone, leading a task group aimed at restoring peace and stability in the country.
The following year she played an important part in the war on terror in Afghanistan following the 11 September attacks in the USA, staying in the region for several months.
In 2006, along with Type 42 destroyer HMS Gloucester, Illustrious helped in the evacuation of British citizens from Beirut caught up in the Israel-Lebanon crisis.
And last year she was deployed to the Philippines to provide a disaster relief and humanitarian assistance role after parts of the country were hit by a devastating typhoon.
The Royal Navy’s Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Sir Philip Jones said: “HMS Illustrious has a long and proud history with the Royal Navy. During her 32 years of service she has protected our nation’s interests in the Falklands, Bosnia, Iraq, Sierra Leone and most recently the Philippines.”
“The decision to replace her in service with HMS Ocean will ensure that the Royal Navy has her most advanced and capable ships working to protect the nation.
“It was only fitting therefore that HMS Illustrious’ final high profile public role was to support the naming by Her Majesty of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on 4 July.
“Poignantly the ceremony allowed us to celebrate the Navy we have known so well for so long with the Navy of the future, side by side.”
“The Royal Navy will of course mark the departure of HMS Illustrious with all the pride she deserves and is supportive of plans to retain her intact in the UK to preserve the legacy of the Invincible Class and all those who served in them.”
The Ministry of Defence has invited tenders from private companies, charities and trusts to secure her future.