Distinguished Service Cross (United Kingdom)

The Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) is a third-level military decoration awarded to officers; and, since 1993, ratings and other ranks of the British Armed Forces, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the British Merchant Navy have been included. Additionally, the award was formerly awarded to members of other Commonwealth countries.

Distinguished Service Cross
Obverse of the Cross
Ribbon bar for further award
TypeMilitary decoration
Awarded forGallantry during active operations against the enemy at sea
DescriptionPlain silver cross with rounded ends, 43 mm max height and width
Presented byUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
EligibilityBritish, (formerly) Commonwealth, and allied forces
StatusCurrently awarded
Established15 June 1901 (as Conspicuous Service Cross), renamed October 1914
TotalAt least 6,658 Crosses and 603 bars

Distinguished Service Cross ribbon:
without bar, and with one and two bars
Order of Wear
Next (higher)Royal Red Cross, First Class[1]
Next (lower)Military Cross[1]
RelatedDistinguished Service Medal

The DSC is "awarded in recognition of an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy at sea."[2][3] Since 1979, it can be awarded posthumously.[2]


The award was originally created in 1901 as the Conspicuous Service Cross, for award to warrant and subordinate officers, including midshipmen, ineligible for the Distinguished Service Order. It was renamed the Distinguished Service Cross in October 1914, eligibility being extended to all naval officers (commissioned and warrant) below the rank of lieutenant commander.[4]

From March 1915, foreign officers of equivalent rank in allied navies could receive honorary awards; in August 1916, bars were introduced to reward further acts of gallantry meriting the Cross, with a silver rosette worn on the ribbon when worn alone, to denote the award of each bar.[4] During World War I, officers of the Merchant and Fishing Fleets had been awarded the DSC, and their eligibility was legally clarified by an order in council in 1931.[5]

World War II saw a number of changes. In December 1939, eligibility was extended to Naval Officers of the rank of Commander and Lieutenant-Commander.[5] In April 1940, equivalent ranks in the Royal Air Force serving with the Fleet could receive the DSC, and, from November 1942, so could those in the Army aboard defensively equipped merchant ships.[4]

Since the 1993 review of the honours system, as part of the drive to remove distinctions of rank in awards for bravery, the Distinguished Service Medal, formerly the third-level decoration for ratings, has been discontinued. The DSC now serves as the third-level award for gallantry at sea for all ranks, not to the standard required to receive the Victoria Cross or the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.[6]

The DSC had also been awarded by Commonwealth countries; however, by the 1990s, most of these—including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—were establishing their own honours systems and no longer recommended British honours.[7]

Recipients are entitled to the post-nominal "DSC".[5]


The DSC is a plain silver cross with rounded ends, with a width of 43 millimetres (1.7 in) and with the following design:[8]

  • The obverse has a circular centre containing the Royal Cypher of the reigning monarch at the time of award surmounted by a crown.
  • The reverse is plain apart from the hallmark, and the ribbon is attached via a hallmarked silver ring. From 1940, the year of issue was engraved on lower limb of cross,[9] and since 1984 it has been awarded named to the recipient.[8]
  • The ribbon has three equal stripes of dark blue, white, and dark blue.[9]
  • The ribbon bar denoting a further award is plain silver, with convex ends and a central crown.


Numbers awarded

Since 1901 at least 6,658 Crosses and 603 bars have been awarded. The dates below reflect the relevant London Gazette entries:[10]

PeriodCrosses1st bar2nd bar3rd bar
World War I1914–19201,983[11]9110
World War II1939–19464,524434441

A number of honorary awards were made to members of allied foreign forces, including 151 for World War I, and 228 (with 12 first bars and 2 second bars) for World War II. Eight honorary awards were made in 1955 to members of the US Navy for service in Korea.[10]

The above table includes awards to the Dominions:
In all, 199 DSCs have gone to those serving with Canadian forces, with 34 first bars and five second bars.[13] It was replaced in 1993 by the Medal of Military Valour.
182 were awarded to Australians, in addition to 13 first bars and three second bars. Last awarded to an Australian in 1972, it was replaced in 1991 by the Medal for Gallantry.[14]

Four-time recipient

Only one person has ever been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross four times. Norman Eyre Morley served in the Royal Naval Reserve during World War I and World War II. He was awarded the DSC for the first time in 1919. He was awarded his second DSC in 1944. He was awarded the DSC a further two times in 1945. He gained an entry into the Guinness Book of Records as the most decorated reserve naval officer.[15][16]

List of three-time recipients

  • Sir Robert Atkinson, served in the Royal Navy during World War II
  • Patrick Bayly, served in the Royal Navy and rose to the rank of vice admiral
  • Richard Gatehouse, served in the Royal Navy during World War II and later during the Korean War[17]
  • George Onslow Graham, served in the Royal Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy[18]
  • Robert Peverell Hichens, served in the Royal Navy during World War II and was later recommended unsuccessfully for the Victoria Cross
  • Geoffrey John Kirkby, served in the Royal Navy during World War II. Awarded DSC in 1940, 1942 and 1944
  • Thomas Le Mesurier, served in the Royal Air Force during World War I as a flying ace credited with seven aerial victories. Awarded DSC twice in 1917 and in 1918
  • George James Macdonald, served in the Royal New Zealand Navy
  • Richard Minifie, served in the Royal Naval Air Service during World War I. Awarded DSC in twice in 1917 and in 1918
  • Stanley Orr, served in the Royal Navy during World War II. Awarded DSC in 1940, 1941, and 1944
  • Peter Piper, served in the Royal Naval Reserve during World War II. Awarded DSC in 1939 and twice in 1941
  • Jack Scatchard, served in the Royal Navy during World War II and the Cold War
  • Skule Storheill, served in the Royal Norwegian Navy and attached to the Royal Navy during World War II
  • Bob Whinney, served in the Royal Navy during World War II. Awarded DSC thrice in 1944

Collective award

In 1919, the Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to the City of Dunkirk for the gallant behaviour of its citizens during World War I, and the Cross appears in the coat of arms of the city.[19][20]

See also

Notes and references

  1. "JSP 761 Honours and Awards in the Armed Forces" (PDF). p. 12A-1. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  2. "No. 56693". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 October 2002. p. 11145.
  3. Defence FactSheet Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 28 June 2007.
  4. Abbott & Tamplin, pages 107-109.
  5. Dorling, page 40.
  6. "Distinguished Service Cross". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  7. Mussell, pages 390, 429, 459.
  8. Mussell, page 86.
  9. Duckers, pages 24-25.
  10. Abbott & Tamplin, pages 110-111.
  11. Abbott & Tamplin, page 110 gives varying figures from several sources, this being the highest figure.
  12. Abbott & Tamplin, page 111 confirms 95 DSCs for 1947-79. A further 41 awarded 1980-2016: 30 for South Atlantic (London Gazette Supplements, 3 June 1982 & 8 October 1982); 7 for Gulf War (London Gazette Supplement, 29 June 1991); 1 for Iraq War (London Gazette Supplement 31 October 2003); and 3 for smaller conflicts:(London Gazette Supplements 6 April 2001, 23 March 2012 & 18 March 2016).
  13. Veterans Affairs Canada – Distinguished Service Cross (Retrieved 7 November 2018)
  14. "Imperial Awards". It's an Honour. Australian Government. Archived from the original on 23 June 2006. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  15. "No. 37127". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 June 1945. p. 3088.
  16. "An important collection of Royal Navy items relating to Commander Norman Morley DSC". Bonhams. 2007. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
  17. "No. 40011". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 November 1953. p. 6002.
  18. "No. 39854". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 May 1953. p. 2765.
  19. "Traces of War". TracesOfWar. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  20. "La Grande Guerre (fr)". Dunkerque & vous. Retrieved 11 November 2018.


  • Current Royal Warrant for the Distinguished Service Cross, 17 September 2002. London Gazette.
  • Abbott, Peter and Tamplin, John – British Gallantry Awards, 2nd edition (1981). Nimrod Dix and Co, London. (ISBN 9780902633742)
  • Dorling, H. Taprell – Ribbons and Medals, (1956). A. H. Baldwin & Son
  • Duckers, Peter – British Gallantry Awards 1855–2000, (2011). Shire Publications, Risborough, Buckinghamshire. (ISBN 9780747805168)
  • Mussell, J (ed) – Medals Yearbook 2015, (2014). Token Publishing, Honiton, Devon. (ISBN 9781908828163)
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