DAWN is breaking on a new chapter in naval history as Britain’s last working aircraft carrier set off on her lonely trip to a Turkish scrapyard.
Hundreds of people lined both sides of Portsmouth Harbour to bid farewell to the former HMS Illustrious – lovingly nicknamed Lusty – as she left the city for the last time.
Now, all eyes are on the navy’s next generation of aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth class – the first of which is due to arrive in Portsmouth next year.
Captain Jerry Kyd is the first commanding officer of the navy’s new breed of leviathans, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Speaking of his new ship, the former commanding officer of Illustrious said she would ensure Britain remained a naval powerhouse for generations to come.
‘This ship is a different scale,’ he said. ‘She’s truly a strategic asset for the country and is the nation’s flagship.
‘As a Portsmouth man myself I can’t wait to bring my new ship here.
‘It’s going to be very special indeed and special for the city. It will put us even further on the map than we already are.’
He added: ‘Lusty provided a world-class service to the Royal Navy and we bid her goodbye with fond memories.’
Former sailors, from admirals to ratings, saluted side by side, giving three cheers as Lusty passed the Round Tower yesterday morning.
A shadow of her former glory with paint peeling and engines ripped out, the 22,000-tonne ship was pulled by a tug from her home at Portsmouth Naval Base out into the Solent.
Illustrious was formally decommissioned in August 2014 after 32 years of service and has been sold to the Turkish company Leyal Ship Recycling Ltd for about £2m.
The sale came despite efforts to turn the carrier into a floating hotel, museum conference centre or even a UK centre for powerboats.
Following the retirement of the Harrier aircraft in 2010, Illustrious went on to serve as one of the navy’s two helicopter carriers.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: ‘Over three decades Illustrious set the highest standards for service that the Royal Navy will continue with HMS Queen Elizabeth when she arrives into Portsmouth next year.
‘Backed by a rising defence budget, our new aircraft carriers will lead a growing Royal Navy as Britain steps up to defend our country and our interests.’
Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, former First Sea Lord and CO of Illustrious, said: ‘It’s a sad day but it’s better to describe it as a day of reflection and to think about your time on the ship concerned and I was lucky enough to command her for two years.’
Illustrious is the last of the Invincible-class aircraft carrier which included the Ark Royal and Invincible.
She was rushed into service in 1982 to assist in the Falklands War effort.
The warship’s deployment was so rushed that its commissioning ceremony took place at sea en route to the Falklands on June 20, 1982, while she was formally commissioned on its return.
During the conflict, she relieved sister ship HMS Invincible in providing a floating airfield for aircraft unable to use the islands’ damaged RAF base.
Illustrious then went on to support the forces in Afghanistan and served in the Bosnian and Sierra Leone conflicts and also helped evacuate Britons during the Lebanon war in 2006.
She was also involved in effort to distribute disaster relief in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan which devastated the Philippines in 2013.