‘Lusty’s first mission was so successful people wanted to take her apart to find out why’

The former HMS Illustrious leaving Portsmouth for the final time on a voyage to be scrapped in Turkey.''Picture: Sarah Standing (161622-4609) PPP-160712-113530001
The former HMS Illustrious leaving Portsmouth for the final time on a voyage to be scrapped in Turkey.''Picture: Sarah Standing (161622-4609) PPP-160712-113530001
HMS Queen Elizabeth. Picture: BAE Systems

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  • Ship’s first captain reflects on his time leading the now-scrapped aircraft carrier into her first conflict 35 years ago
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BAFFLED experts wanted to take apart HMS Illustrious just days after returning from her first successful mission in the Falklands, the ship’s first captain has said.

Admiral Sir Jock Slater has recounted his time on the now-scrapped aircraft carrier as she was rushed into service during the 1982 conflict.

Admiral Sir Jock Slater, the former First Sea Lord and first seagoing captain of Illustrious

Admiral Sir Jock Slater, the former First Sea Lord and first seagoing captain of Illustrious

The retired First Sea Lord said getting the warship – affectionately known as Lusty – battle-ready had been a ‘remarkable achievement’.

He said: ‘The ship was brought forward by three months. We sailed from the Tyne on 20th June 1982 and within 70 days and 70 nights of leaving we were operational in the south Atlantic, relieving HMS Invincible.

‘It was a remarkable achievement. We got back just before Christmas and people wanted to take us to bits to wonder why she worked so well.

‘It was a classic example of what could be done when everyone pulled together.’

Illustrious left Portsmouth in December last year bound for a Turkish breakers yard where she was scrapped.

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WATCH: Lusty’s final farewell to Portsmouth

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Her career spanned more than 32 years in which she traveled about 900,000 nautical miles.

She was built by Swan Hunter shipbuilders on the Tyne and launched by Princess Margaret in December 1978.

However, work to complete the 22,000-tonne ship into service was speeded up during 1982 after the outbreak of the Falklands War.

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.

She made headlines around the world in 2013 last year when she was diverted to assist with disaster relief operations in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

Illustrious was decommissioned in 2014.