The Former HMS Illustrious

The former HMS Illustrious, a light aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy and the second of three Invincible-class ships, was laid down at Swan Hunter on the River Tyne in 1976 and launched in 1978.

She ceased operational service with the Royal Navy on the 01 August 2014.


  • Displacements & Weights: Lightweight: 16000 tonnes.
  • Estimated metal weight: 10000 tonnes including machinery.
  • Current Draughts: 5.5m fwd. 6.0m mid. 6.0m aft. Ship upright.
  • Length: OA 211m. W/L 193m.
  • Beam (Moulded): Extreme 36m. Ex walkways 32m. W/L 27.53m.
  • Mainmast-Head Height: 46m (estimated, at current draught).

The former HMS Illustrious was the fifth warship and second aircraft carrier to bear the name Illustrious and was affectionately known to her crew as “Lusty”.

In 1982, as the ship neared the end of its fitting out period, the Falklands War broke out and, as a consequence, work on her was speeded up. On 28 August 1982, she joined her sister ship, the former HMS Invincible, for the conflict in the Falklands.

She returned to the United Kingdom where she was formally commissioned into the fleet on 20 March 1983. She saw no further action during the remainder of the 1980s, but continued to be a valuable asset to the Royal Navy, participating in exercises all around the world.

She was deployed on Operation Southern Watch in Iraq, Operation Deny Flight in Bosnia during the 1990s and Operation Palliser in Sierra Leone in 2000. An extensive re-fit during 2002 prevented her from involvement in the 2003 Iraq War, but she was repaired in time to assist British citizens trapped by the 2006 Lebanon War.

In 2010 the ship featured on a Channel 5 documentary ‘Warship’. The series looked at the daily routines and lives of the crew on board and filming took place during one of her deployment exercises abroad.

Following the retirement of the fixed-wing Harrier II aircraft in 2010, Illustrious operated as one of two Royal Navy helicopter carriers.

In 2013, HMS Illustrious delivered bags of food and supplies, took onboard in Singapore, to the typhoon Haiyan stricken island of the Philippines.

In September 2013 ministers expressed their preference to see the ship preserved intact as a lasting tribute to the service personnel who served on her. A written ministerial statement was published in Hansard on 15 October 2013 (official reference: Columns 48WS 49WS), announcing the launch of a competition while the ship was still in service to seek innovative reuse bids to retain the ship in the UK, with part or all of it developed for heritage.

She ceased operational service with the Royal Navy on the 01 August 2014 and, after 32 years, was formally decommissioned on 28 August 2014 – being one of the oldest ships in the Royal Navy’s active fleet.

The proposed heritage bids included a conference venue, visitor attractions, heritage museum and a privately-run heliport. From the six interested parties invited:

  • Three subsequently withdrew;
  • One failed to meet the competition criteria; and
  • The final bid to use the vessel as a heliport on the Thames was withdrawn.

The competition closed in November 2015 with no suitable bidders, consequently the sale of the vessel for recycling was advertised.

The contract for recycling of the vessel was awarded in August 2016 to LEYAL Ship Recycling, which is based in Turkey.

On 07 December 2016, the vessel transferred from MOD ownership and Naval Base Commander (Portsmouth) custody, to LEYAL Ship Recycling.

On 27 December 2016, just 20 days after leaving Portsmouth Naval Base, the former HMS Illustrious arrived safely at the recycling yard in Aliaga, Turkey, under the tow of the tug AHT ERACLEA.

The vessel was fully dismantled on 12 June 2017.

Since 2008, LEYAL Ship Recycling Ltd has won 13 recycling projects. This includes:

  • The three former aircraft carriers; HMSs Ark Royal, Invincible, and Illustrious;
  • Four RFA tankers RFAs Oakleaf, Bayleaf, Fort George, and Orangeleaf;
  • Three Type 22 frigates; HMSs Cumberland, Campbeltown and, Chatham; and
  • The icebreaker and ice control ship, HMS Endurance.

Leyal has also successfully recycled 11 Type 42s: HMSs Cardiff; Newcastle; Glasgow; Exeter; Southampton; Nottingham; Manchester; Liverpool; York; Gloucester; and Edinburgh.


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