People can watch HMS Illustrious’ final entry to Portsmouth tomorrow afternoon.
The Royal Navy’s helicopter carrier returns home for the last time at around 1.30pm as her 32-year career draws to a close.
The warship, which has clocked up 898,893 miles on operations throughout the world, is being withdrawn from service.
She is succeeded by Plymouth-based HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy’s larger helicopter carrier which has just returned to service following a £65m refit.
HMS Illustrious’ future is uncertain, but the Ministry of Defence has invited tenders from private companies, charities and trusts to put forward ideas on how to preserve the ship.
The second of the navy’s three Invincible-class aircraft carriers, Illustrious was built by Swan Hunter shipbuilders on the Tyne and launched by Princess Margaret in December 1978.
Work to complete the 22,000-tonne ship was speeded up during 1982 after the outbreak of the Falklands War.
Although the conflict ended before work was finished, Illustrious rapidly deployed and played an important role in the aftermath.
She relieved sister ship HMS Invincible in providing a ‘floating airfield’ for aircraft unable to use the islands’ damaged RAF base.
So quickly was she deployed, her commissioning ceremony took place at sea en route to the Falklands on June 20, 1982.
During the 1990s, Illustrious helped maintain the no-fly zone over Bosnia and in 1998 operated in the Gulf carrying out similar roles over southern Iraq.
She was soon called into action again in 2000, leading a task group aimed at restoring peace and stability to Sierra Leone.
The following year she played an important part in the war on terror in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks in America, 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.
She hit the television screens in 2008 as the star of Channel 5’s six-part documentary Warship which followed her deployment to the Mediterranean, Africa, the Middle East and south-east Asia for a series of exercises and diplomatic visits to 20 ports.
And she made headlines around the world last year when she was diverted to assist with disaster relief operations in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
The 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 July 4. 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.’
Illustrious’ sister ships – Invincible and Ark Royal – were decommissioned in 2005 and 2011 respectively.
Two new aircraft carriers – HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales - are under construction and at 65,000 tonnes are the biggest warships ever built for the UK.