b. 02/11/1893 Chelsea, London. d. 24/01/1986 Nettlecombe, Dorset.
Victor Alexander Charles Crutchley (1893-1986) was born on 2nd November 1893 at 28 Lennox Gardens, Chelsea, London, the only son of Percy Edward (1855–1940) and the Hon. Frederica Louisa (1864–1932), second daughter of Charles FitzRoy, 3rd Baron Southampton. His mother had been maid of honour to Queen Victoria. He was a godchild of Queen Victoria (from whom he derived his first two names).
He attended the naval colleges at Osborne and Dartmouth and joined his first ship, Indomitable, of the 1st Cruiser Squadron, as a midshipman in 1911. It was the beginning of a remarkable run of near-continuous sea appointments that would end only with his posting to Gibraltar as Flag Officer in 1945. He began the Great War as a recently promoted Sub-Lieutenant, earned promotion to Lieutenant on 30th September 1915, and during almost three and a half years in the battleship Centurion, during which he saw action at Jutland, he impressed senior officers with his seamanship.
After the battle Admiral Roger Keyes took command of Centurion and acquired a highly favorable impression of Crutchley. Keyes selected Crutchley for the Zeebrugge Raid of 22nd-23rd April 1918; he was assigned by Keyes as First Lieutenant to Commander Alfred E. Godsal, also of Centurion, on the obsolete cruiser Brilliant.
The plan was for Brilliant and Sirius were to be sunk as blockships at Ostend. The Germans had moved a navigation buoy, and so the ships were beached in the wrong place under heavy fire. But Crutchley performed well and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Crutchley volunteered for the Second Ostend Raid on 9th May, and was posted to the cruiser Vindictive, again commanded by Godsal. When Godsal was killed and the navigating officer incapacitated, Crutchley took command. When a propellor was damaged on the quay preventing the vessel fully closing the canal, Crutchley ordered its scuttling and personally oversaw the evacuation under fire.
Crutchley transferred to the damaged motor launch ML 254. When its wounded captain Lieutenant Geoffrey Drummond collapsed, Crutchley took command. Crutchley oversaw bailing operations, standing in water up to his waist, until the destroyer Warwick, carrying Admiral Keyes, came to its aid. Although the second raid also failed fully to close the Bruges Canal to submarine traffic, Crutchley, Drummond and Bourke were awarded Victoria Crosses for the action. When there were more worthy recipients than VCs to award, the men were allowed to elect those to receive a VC. Crutchley was one of the last elected VCs.
He had ended the Great War with a VC, DSC, French Croix de Guerre, and a mention in despatches, all achieved within the space of three weeks. His last spell of action for twenty years came during operations against the Bolsheviks in the Black Sea during 1918 and 1919 and, despite Keyes’s enthusiastic recommendation, he received no further promotion until 1923. By then his career had taken a familiar peace-time pattern of occasional spells in royal yacht sprinkled among sea-going appointments of roughly two years duration. He was promoted to Commander at the Royal Navy 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 so prominently in his WWII 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. Promoted Captain on 31st 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 13th June 1942. Within two months, however, he had suffered a huge defeat to the Japanese at the Battle of Savo Island on 8th-9th August. Crutchley was criticised by some for his part in the disaster.
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 WWI 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 a son 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 24th January 1986, at Mappercombe, near Bridport, and was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Powerstock.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ON LOAN AT ROYAL NAVAL MUSEUM, PORTSMOUTH.
BURIAL PLACE: ST MARY'S CHURCHYARD, POWERSTOCK, DORSET.
Crutchley's medals at the Royal Navy Museum
Courtesy of Steve Lee
MOD Building, London
Bruges Exhibition - April 2018 (Timothy Beuselinck)