Admiral Sir John Gregory Crace

Crace, Sir John Gregory

John ‘Jack’ Gregory Crace was born on 6 February 1887 at Gungahleen, New South Wales (Gungahlin, Australian Capital Territory) the eighth child of Edward Kendall Crace, an English-born grazier, and his Queensland born wife Kate Marion (née Mort).  After attending The King's School at Parramatta, Jack sailed for England in October 1899 for further private schooling. In May 1902 he joined the Royal Navy's training ship HMS Britannia on a colonial cadetship.

Accepting a career with the Royal Navy he served in various ships and was promoted lieutenant in September 1908.  Crace served in Australia with the Royal Navy Squadron, based on the Australia Station, during 1908-1910 and after returning to the United Kingdom he commanded HM Torpedo Boat 105 (October 1910 – July 1911) before specialising as a torpedo officer in 1911.  He had an active mind and invented a torpedo change of bearing instrument and the Crace enemy torpedo calculator.

In January 1913, he was loaned to the fledgling Royal Australian Navy for service in the battle-cruiser HMAS Australia which was commissioned on 21 June 1913.  Crace was to serve in her for the next four years including war-time operations including the capture of German New Guinea in September 1914, the hunt for the German East Asia Squadron in the Pacific Ocean later that year and operations in the North Sea from 1915 onwards.

Crace was promoted lieutenant commander in September 1916 and reverted to Royal Navy service in March 1917.  He was then appointed to the torpedo school, at HMS Vernon, as an instructor where he served until appointed to the new battle cruiser HMS Hood as her torpedo officer in October 1918.

On 13 April 1920 Jack Crace married Carola Helen Baird, with Episcopalian rites, in St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow, Scotland.  He was promoted to commander in December 1920 and in early 1921 was appointed to the Directorate of Torpedos and Mining in the Admiralty.  During his service here it was noted he invented a protractor to help analyse tactical plotting.

He served as the commanding officer of the anti-submarine training establishment (HMS Osprey) at Portland during 1924-26 followed by service as the Fleet Torpedo Officer, in the Home Fleet during 1927 followed by a year as the Fleet Torpedo Officer in the Mediterranean Fleet.  Crace was promoted captain in June 1928 and commanded the V class destroyer HMS Valhalla during April 1929 – April 1930.  He then returned to Osprey as the Captain Anti- Submarine Warfare.

During June 1934 – January 1937 he commanded the light cruiser HMS Emerald; part of the 4th Cruiser Squadron based in Singapore.   On completion of this command he became the Naval Assistant to the 2nd Sea Lord in the Admiralty who was responsible for personnel and shore establishments.  Promoted rear admiral on 1 August 1939, he was appointed Rear Admiral Commanding the Australian Squadron (RACAS) in mid-September and soon after sailed for Australia in RMS Orontes.

After arriving in Australia, in late October 1939, he found that the government had committed most of his ships to theatres outside Australia. The few vessels remaining in home waters performed convoy escort and counter-raider operations for the next two years. Although Crace was appointed as a Commander of the Order of the Bath (CB) in July 1941, he was frustrated by the low level of activity, on the Australia Station, and by the Naval Board's frequent interference in operational matters. He sought to be replaced and in October 1941 tried to resign from his position as RACAS.  This was soon to change with the action involving the light cruiser HMAS Sydney with the German raider Kormoran off the western Australian coast on 19/20 November 1941 in which both ships were sunk; with Sydney lost with her entire crew of 645 men.

Following the Japanese entry into the war, Crace became commander of the Allied naval squadron, Anzac Force, in February 1942. During operations in New Guinea waters with a carrier task force of the United States Navy, he was dissatisfied with the minor supporting role given to his ships. In April command arrangements in the Pacific were reorganised and Crace's squadron was renamed Task Force 44, but, despite his seniority, he was made subordinate to the US Navy tactical commander.

On 1 May 1942 Crace's force sailed from Sydney to join two US Navy carrier groups that were deployed to the Coral Sea in anticipation of a major Japanese move southwards. His force consisting of the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (II), in which Crace was embarked, the heavy cruiser USS Chicago, the light cruiser HMAS Hobart and three US destroyers. His force was  detached on 7 May to intercept enemy troop ships heading for Port Moresby. Lacking air cover, it came under heavy enemy attack and Australia narrowly escaped being hit on several occasions.

Crace received no further orders and knew little of the crucial carrier battle which was fought next day, east of his position. He withdrew on 10 May when fuel was running low and it was obvious that the enemy's advance had been checked and the Port Moresby invasion force had turned back. The battle of the Coral Sea marked the end of Japanese expansion in South Pacific waters.

After handing over his command, on 13 June 1942, to Rear Admiral Sir Victor Crutchley, VC, RN, Crace returned to England. He was placed on the Retired List and promoted to vice admiral on 29 October 1942 and then appointed as the Superintendent of Chatham Naval Dockyard.  Crace was promoted to admiral 25 September 1945 and finally retired in July 1946. Crace was appointed as a Knight of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1947 and resided in Hampshire.

Admiral Sir John Crace, KBE, CB, RN died on 11 May 1968 at Liss, East Hampshire and was cremated.  He was survived by his wife and three sons.