Victor Crutchley VC, D.S.C., R.N.

Victor Crutchley's story

Victor Alexander Charles Crutchley was born at 28 Lennox Gardens in Chelsea on 2 November, 1893. His mother had been maid of honour to Queen Victoria and he was a godchild of The Queen. He attended naval college at Osborne and at Dartmouth and joined his first ship, Indomitable, as a Midshipman in 1911. That was the beginning of a remarkable run of near-continuous sea appointments that ended with his posting to Gibraltar as Flag Officer in 1945.

He began the Great War as a recently promoted Sub-Lieutenant and then in the rank of Lieutenant from 30 September, 1915. He saw action at Jutland and impressed senior officers with his seamanship.

Victor Crutchley was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in the Zeebrugge Raids.

After the war

Victor Crutchley ended the Great War with a VC, DSC, Croix de Guerre and a mention in dispatches, all achieved within the space of three weeks. His last spell of action for 20 years came during operations against the Bolsheviks in the Black Sea during 1918 and 1919. Despite impressing senior officers during the war years he received no further promotion until 1923. His career comprised spells serving in the Royal Yacht with other sea-going appointments. He was promoted to Commander at the Royal Naval Barracks, Devonport in 1929 before embarking on a long and distinguished association with the Navies of Australia and New Zealand.

Loaned to the New Zealand division of the Royal Navy as Executive Officer of the Division’s flagship, HMS Diomede in August 1930, Crutchley spent the next three years in the South Pacific, visiting many of the islands that were to feature prominently in his Second World War service.

In March 1932, while returning to Auckland from ceremonies to mark the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Diomede was struck by a huge wave that swept one seaman to his death. Crutchley, who was almost washed overboard as well, survived only by clinging to deck fittings.

Promotions

Crutchley was promoted to Captain on 31 December 1932, he remained in command of Diomede until 1933 when his loan period ended. 

Marked out for high command, he passed the Senior Officers’ War Course the following year and, after short spells as commander of the 1st Minesweeping Flotilla and the Fishery Protection and Minesweeping Flotilla, he was given the coveted appointment of Captain of the battleship Warspite. Crutchley was in command for three years from 1937, and in the course of it took part in the second Battle of Narvik in April 1940, where eight German destroyers were sunk. He was then given a shore posting as Commodore in Charge of Devonport Naval Barracks at the height of the Plymouth Blitz. 

He was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1942 and loaned to the Royal Australian Navy and assumed command of Task Force 44 at Brisbane on 13 June 1942. Within two months, however, he had suffered a huge defeat to the Japanese at the Battle of Savo Island on 8-9 August. Crutchley was criticised by some for his part in the disaster.

Later years

After the war, until his retirement in 1947, he served as flag officer, Gibraltar. By then, his uniform was covered in medal ribbons. To his First World War decorations, he had added the Polish Order of Polonia Restituta, Third Class (1942), The US Legion of Merit, Chief Commander (1945), and, from his own country, a Companion of the Order of Bath (1945), and a knighthood (1946), all of which are now on display on loan at the Royal Navy Museum, Portsmouth. 

Sir Victor Crutchley, who had married Joan Coryton in 1930 and by whom he had two sons and a daughter, headed the naval contingent at the VC Centenary Celebrations in 1956 and enjoyed a long and active retirement in Dorset, serving as Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff. The last surviving naval recipient of the VC, he died aged 92 on 24 January 1986, at Mappercombe, near Bridport, and was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Powerstock.