A FAMOUS warship which was built on the Tyne is to sail into its home port for the final time today ahead of it being retired next month.
Following 32 years of service, helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious is returning to Portsmouth Naval Base, with a decommissioning ceremony to be held later in the year.
The Swan Hunter-built carrier, which was rushed into service for the Falklands War, will be replaced by HMS Ocean, which has just received a £65m refit until the next generation of aircraft carriers come into service.
Vice Admiral Sir Philip Jones, the navy’s fleet commander, 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.”
‘Lusty’, as she is known, is the last of the Invincible class of aircraft carriers, which included the Ark Royal and Invincible, which were introduced into the navy in the 1980s.
While its sister ships were sold for scrap after they were retired, the Government has indicated that Illustrious could be turned into a floating museum as a tribute to the decommissioned class of warship.
Her entry into service was brought forward so it could assist in the Falklands War effort in 1982, and it was not formally commissioned until after it returned to the UK.
It then went on to serve in the Bosnian and Sierra Leone conflicts and helped evacuate Britons during the Lebanon war in 2006.
Following the retirement of the Harrier aircraft in 2010, Illustrious went on to serve as one of the navy’s two helicopter carriers, the other being Plymouth-based HMS Ocean.
Its role will be replaced by the first of the new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is set to be commissioned in 2016.