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V.A.C. Crutchley participated in the Battle of Jutland during the First World War and later won the Victoria Cross for his intrepidity during the blockship operation at Zeebruge. His ship, the Vindictive, was one of the blockships, and Crutchley took command of the vessel after her captain was killed and executive officer badly wounded. Crutchley took the Vindictive to its scuttling point, scuttled the vessel, and successfully evacuated the crew under heavy fire. Crutchley's physical courage was never questioned again.
Crutchley was the captain of the battleship Warspite when the European war broke out in 1939. He had a distinguished career, at one point surprising and destroying an entire German destroyer flotilla at Narvik in Norway. In June 1942 he was appointed to command the Australian cruiser squadron, and was present at Coral Sea.
His command was shot to pieces at the Battle of Savo Island while he was absent consulting with the invasion commander, Kelly Turner, on the latter's orders. Since he was absent on orders, he was exonerated by the subsequent Board of Inquiry, but the episode remains controversial. It seems clear that he did not give adequate instructions to his senior captain before leaving for the conference, which left the squadron effectively out of command during the entire engagement.
Crutchley commanded another cruiser force off Biak that tried to ambush a Japanese cruiser force escorting ground reinforcements. However, Japanese radar had improved enough by then that the Japanese spotted the Allied force, fired a spread of torpedoes that forced the Allies to turn away, and made a clean escape.
Crutchley retired as a full admiral in 1946, at which time he was knighted by the Queen.
Crutchley was a large man whose full beard covered
combat scars. Lundstrom (2006) says of him that "His careful demeanor
and meticulous approach to planning and operations deeply impressed his
Dupuy et.al. (1992)
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