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Crace file photo [8062]

John Crace

Given NameJohn
Born6 Feb 1887
Died11 May 1968


ww2dbaseFor most of the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN) history until the late thirties, senior officers, both ensconced within shore commands in Melbourne and enduring danger in sea-going commands, were appointed by the Royal Navy. This was due to the small size of the RAN's naval forces and its reliance upon British training infrastructure. By 1926, the Australian fleet was no longer befitting the name, it was referred to as a squadron. When the position of Rear Admiral Commanding Australian Squadron (known as RACAS amongst the administrative staff of the Royal Navy) was made vacant the day prior to the declaration of the Second World War when the holder of the position of RACAS at the time, Wilfred Custance, was forced to resign from the normally two year term as RACAS seven months early due to sudden onset of a fatal illness, the RAN followed established practice by looking to the British Admiralty to supply a replacement for the post. The Royal Navy sent a newly appointed flag officer, Rear Admiral J. G. Crace, aboard the passenger liner, Orontes, bound for Australia to take the post. Crace was returning to defend the land of his birth. He was not naturally intended to peform this task, yet, through a series of unrelated events, destiny urged him to assume this role.

ww2dbaseJohn Gregory Crace was born in Gunghaleen in New South Wales near the end of the nineteenth century. His family had been prominent in the Queanbeyan district, a region which would eventually became part of the Australian Capital Territory. Although his father owned three pastoral stations in the region, young Jack Crace had been raised mostly on the estate at Gunghaleen. An extended family holiday to the mother country, to provide an opportunity of a good English education to the older children, took young Jack Crace out of the only world he had known between 1890 and 1892. When he had returned to the security of Gunghaleen with his parents and two sisters, a double tragedy struck his family, they suffered crippling financial losses in the Australian banking crisis, and soon after Jack's father perished in a drowning accident. As Jack was only five at the time, his elder brother Everard, aged eighteen, was recalled from England to assist his mother with the heavily mortgaged family estate. Soon after, Jack was enrolled in The Kings School, an education institution established in Parramatta to remove the need for Australian parents to send their children to England for education purposes. After attending there for a year, he left to embark in the pursuit of a distant yet puzzling dream: a career in the Royal Navy, what made this dream puzzling is that Jack Crace could not identify his motivations for pursuing this career path, he later admitted that he was not familiar with the sight of the sea, and confessed that he knew little of the navy lifestyle. He traveled to London and attended a private school whilst under the guardianship of his uncle. In 1901, Crace enrolled in Foster's Academy in Stubbington, an institution established with the aim of providing a level of education to prepare boys to meet the requirements needed to join the Royal Navy. In May 1902, Crace gained entry into the Royal Navy's officer training establishment, the HMS Britannia, a wooden ship moored at Dartmouth. Entry examinations were competitive, but Crace, being Australian, was admitted automatically by means of what was known as a colonial cadetship. A year later, cruises in Scottish waters offered experience on the sea, then final examinations were sat. At a graduation ceremony in Keyham Barracks in Devonport during September 1903, Crace was delighted to discover that he had achieved the position of 47th in a class of 77 students. He was sent to serve as a cadet on the armoured cruiser HMS Good Hope, which was the flagship of the Cruiser Squadron in the Channel Fleet. A month after arriving on board Crace was promoted to midshipman, but the ship would be his home for three years. While on Good Hope Crace served as assistant to the captain, Vice Admiral Wilmot Fawkes, who praised Crace's diligence and hard work. Crace was promoted to sub-leiutenant by the end of 1906. By early 1907 Crace was engaged in study ashore at Portsmouth, in the latter half of that year he studied advanced theoretical subjects at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. In April 1908 Crace was again part of the crew of a ship, the protected cruiser, HMS Powerful, flagship of the British squadron operating in Australian waters. While spending eighteen months on the Australian coast, and several months aboard the small cruiser, HMS Pyramaus, Crace was promoted to lieutenant in September 1908, then returned to England. Crace's new berth in March 1910 was an armoured cruiser, HMS Inflexible, which was serving with the Home Fleet. During the first decade of his career Crace had prepared to become a torpedo officer, and in late 1910 he received his first command on a torpedo boat, T. B. 105, serving as a tender to HMS Defiance, the ship housing the Torpedo School at Devonport. In mid-1911 Crace undertook advanced training as a specialist torpedo officer aboard HMS Vernon, the Torpedo School establishment at Portsmouth. Crace was assigned duty with the Second Fleet as torpedo lieutenant in the battleship, HMS Formidable, in September 1912. Fortunately this was not a prolonged appointment and early the next year the Admiralty released him on "loan" to his country of origin. Crace joined the RAN on Australia Day, 26 January, 1913. At the time the Australian government was attempting to create a sea-going navy, so was in the process of acquiring a force of light cruisers, destroyers, and submarines capable of independent action within Australian waters, and could be incorporated in Royal Navy operations during times of war, so all Australian ships would come under Admiralty control if a state of war existed between Britain and another party. In January 1913 Crace became torpedo lieutenant aboard the Australian flagship, the heavy cruiser, HMAS Australia, while it was being constructed. He was responsible for checking the installation of the torpedo armament and electrical system. It was an indication of his dedication that Crace compiled an "Electrical Detail Book for HMAS Australia", for which he was commended and paid an allowance by the Naval Board in Melbourne. Upon the ship's arrival in Sydney Harbour, Crace served on the ship as it operated in Australian waters, continuing his hard work and initiative. In early 1914, he invented a device with the engineering officer, Alec Doyle, RAN, to control the searchlights. Estimates were made for the fitting of the invention to the ship, and the Naval Board again expressed appreciation for the "zeal and ingenuity" displayed by the two officers. London was informed, and the Admiralty judged the device, although very clever, was too elaborate and costly for service purposes, and decided against adopting it. When ashore in his home country, Crace lived on the family estate in Gunghaleen with his mother and unmarried sisters, while there he discovered that the Commonwealth government was in the process of acquiring the land surrounding his birthplace for Canberra, the new national capital. When the First World War was declared in August 1914, the Australian flagship was assigned for active service. Over the next few months, it was trying to trap two fast cruisers that were the main battle units of the German East Asia Squadron in the Pacific. After the prey was destroyed by British ships off the Falklands Islands in December, HMAS Australia was sent to serve with the Grand Fleet in British home waters. Arriving at Plymouth on 38 January 1915, it was assigned as the flagship of the Second Cruiser Squadron based at Rosyth, Scotland, the following month. With barely 24 hours notice to sail, the squadron was engaged in sweeps of the North Sea, attempting to find elements of the German High Seas Fleet. An unfortunate accident on 22 April 1916 meant that Crace and the rest of the crew of HMAS Australia did not participate in the largest naval clash of the Great War. In a collision with HMS New Zealand while zig-zagging in formation, HMAS Australia sustained damage that required it to undergo repairs in a Devonport dockyard for over a month, and the ship was on its way to rejoin the fleet when the Battle of Jutland was being fought on 31 May. To combat the tedium associated with sea duty Crace applied his industrious mind to technical solutions to problems seen around the ship. He invented a torpedo safe range indicator, around the same approximate time as an officer aboard HMS Lion invented a similar device. The Admiralty manufactured six examples of each type of device to conduct trials. Together with another officer aboard HMAS Australia, Lieutenant Hugh Vaughan-Williams, Crace developed a "Book of Questions in Torpedo", a guide for midshipmen preparing for examination for promotion to lieutenant rank. The Admiralty commended both officers for their efforts, and adopted the guide as an official publication for distribution among all Admiralty ships. Having been promoted to lieutenant-commander the previous September, Crace's stint at sea ended in early 1917, when he became an instructor at the torpedo and mining school. He was appointed as torpedo officer to HMS Hood in October 1918. In April 1920 he married Carola Helen Baird, daughter of a Glasgow lawyer.

ww2dbaseOn 29 October 1939 the Orontes pulled in Melbourne, and Crace met with his superior, Vice Admiral Ragnar Colvin. At 9.30am on 1 November, Crace hoisted his flag upon the mast of HMAS Canberra. He gave a press conference later that day, saying "To me command of the Australian squadron is an extremely interesting job, to which I look forward with unqualified pleasure, both for personal and service reasons". After travelling to RACAS operational headquarters in Sydney, Crace discovered that most of the ships of the RAN were serving far from Australian shores. Upon his arrival in Sydney, Crace sought to restore old connections. Although his mother had passed away in her Woolhara home in September 1926, Crace was reunited with his sisters. As well as becoming reacquainted with the family, Crace reestablished links with another institution he knew well in his youth, The Kings School, where he was the most successful former student that had gone on to pursue a naval career. He spoke at a dinner of the Old Boys Union, where he was reunited with old friends. Frustrated by the low priority given by the government to local defence activity and the Naval Board's interference in operational matters, Crace tried to resign in October 1941, after occupying the post of RACAS for the standard length of time of two years. After Japan entered the war he became commander of the Allied naval squadron, ANZAC Force. In 1942 Crace observed operations in New Guinea in this capacity. When Allied naval arrangements were reorganized in April, the Australian squadron was assigned a subordinate role to the tactical commander of the United States Navy (USN) in the SWPA, despite Crace's seniority. The ships of Crace's squadron were renamed Task Force 44, and departed Sydney to join two USN carrier groups in the Coral Sea in anticipation of a Japanese naval build up to pave the way for an invasion of Australia.

ww2dbaseA Japanese invasion of Australia never eventuated, but the Battle of the Coral Sea did in mid-1942. Task Group 44: consisting of the heavy cruisers, HMAS Australia and USS Chicago; the light cruiser, HMAS Hobart; and the destroyer, USS Perkins; was peripheral to the main action, involving the two American aircraft carriers, USS Lexington and USS Yorktown. Although the Japanese intended no immediate invasion of Australia, preferring a policy of strangulation, cutting Australia off from the inexhaustible source of supplies, the United States, the Battle of the Coral Sea was a strategic victory for the Allies, it represented the last Japanese naval operation in the South Pacific.

ww2dbaseCrace resigned his command in June 1942, and returned to England. He was then placed on the retired list in 1945, and became Superintendant of Chatham Naval Dockyard, a position he held until July 1946. He was appointed KBE in 1947, after which he retired to Hampshire for a much quieter life. He passed away in 1968 at Liss, and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and three sons.

ww2dbaseSources: The Australian War Memorial, C. Coulthard-Clark, Action Stations Coral Sea: The Australian Commander's Story, The Australian Dictionary of Biography, P. Thompson, Pacific Fury.

Last Major Revision: May 2009

John Crace Timeline

6 Feb 1887 John Crace was born.
11 May 1968 John Crace passed away.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. dave r says:
31 May 2009 04:58:37 AM

actually the two us carriers at coral sea where the lexington and yorktown. lexington was sunk, yorktown damaged,but waqs repaired at pearl harbor in time to fight at midway. saratoga was back on the west coast having reapirs done on torpedo damage from a japanese sub.

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Event(s) Participated:
» Battle of Coral Sea

Ship(s) Served:
» Australia

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