Distinguished Service Medal (United Kingdom)

The Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) was a military decoration awarded until 1993 to personnel of the Royal Navy and members of the other services, and formerly to personnel of other Commonwealth countries, up to and including the rank of Chief Petty Officer, for bravery and resourcefulness on active service at sea.

Distinguished Service Medal
Distinguished Service Medal (UK) Obverse
Distinguished Service Medal (UK) Reverse
Obverse and reverse of the medal
Awarded by UK and Commonwealth
TypeMilitary decoration.
EligibilityRoyal and Commonwealth Naval ratings
Awarded forSet an example of bravery and resource under fire at sea
StatusDiscontinued in 1993
Established14 October 1914
First awarded1914
Total awardedCirca 11,311
Order of Wear
Next (higher)Union of South Africa Queen’s Silver Medal for Bravery (de jure)[1]
George Medal (de facto)[2]
Next (lower)Military Medal[1][2]
RelatedDistinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal UK ribbon
UK DSM w Bar ribbon

Ribbon bars. Rosette signifies award of a clasp


The medal was established on 14 October 1914 as the third level decoration for gallantry in action for ratings of the Royal Navy, not at the standard required to receive the Victoria Cross or the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.[3] The equivalent decoration for Officers and Warrant Officers was the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). The DSM ranked below the DSC in order of precedence, between the George Medal and the Military Medal after those medals were established in 1940 and 1916 respectively.[1] Awards of the DSM were announced in the London Gazette. Recipients are entitled to use the post-nominal letters "DSM".

The DSM was intended to reward bravery at sea. For example, members of the Royal Naval Division, who served alongside the Army in France in the First World War, were eligible for Army decorations, including the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal.[4]

From 1916, ribbon bars could be authorised for subsequent awards of the DSM.[5]

In 1940 the award was extended to Royal Air Force personnel serving with the Fleet and, in 1942, to members of the Merchant Navy, and Army personnel serving afloat, for example manning a merchant ship's anti-aircraft guns.[5]

In 1979 eligibility for a number of awards, including the DSM, was extended to permit posthumous awards.[6] Until that time, only the Victoria Cross and a mention in dispatches could be awarded posthumously.

The Distinguished Service Medal was discontinued in 1993, as part of the review of the British honours system which recommended removing distinctions of rank in respect of awards for bravery. Since then the Distinguished Service Cross, previously only open to Commissioned and Warrant Officers, has been awarded to all ranks.[5]

The DSM had also been awarded by Commonwealth countries but by 1990's most, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, were establishing their own honours systems and no longer recommended British honours.[7]


  • The DSM is a circular silver medal, 36 millimetres (1.4 inches) in diameter, with the following design:[3]
  • The obverse bears the effigy and titles of the reigning monarch.
  • The reverse has the inscription 'FOR DISTINGUISHED SERVICE' on three lines, within a laurel wreath surmounted by an Imperial crown.
  • The suspender is plain and straight.
  • The name, rank, service number and ship of the recipient are engraved or impressed on the rim of the medal.
  • The ribbon is 32 millimetres (1.25 inches) wide and consists of three equal stripes: dark blue, white, and dark blue, with a thin dark blue stripe down the centre of the white.
  • Ribbon bars, indicating a further award, are silver and ornamented with laurel leaves. Bars issued during the First World War were dated on the reverse, while those awarded during the Second World War were undated. When the ribbon alone is worn, a silver rosette denotes the award of each bar.

Obverse variations

The medal was awarded with one of five obverse designs:[3]

NGSM 1915 GV obv

George V (1914–36)

Distinguished Service Medal (UK) George VI obverse

George VI (1st type) 'INDIAE IMP' (1938–49)

NGSM 1915 GVI obv 1949-52

George VI (2nd type) without 'INDIAE IMP' (1949–52)

Naval General Service Medal 1915 (Obverse) First Elizabeth version

Elizabeth II (1st type) 'BR OMN' (1952–57)

NGSM 1915 EBII obv

Elizabeth II (2nd type) 'DEI GRATIA' (1957–93)

Numbers of awards

Between 1914 and 1993 approximately 11,311 medals and 227 bars were awarded.[3]

Period Medals 1st bar 2nd bar 3rd bar
1914–1919 4,100[8] 67 2
1920–1938 10
1939–1945 7,132 153 4 1
1946–1993 69[9]
Total Circa 11,311 220 6 1

These figures include honorary awards made to servicemen from allied countries during both World Wars.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "No. 56878". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 March 2003. p. 3352.
  2. ^ a b "JSP 761 Honours and Awards in the Armed Forces" (PDF). p. 12A-1. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e P E Abbott & J M A Tamplin. British Gallantry Awards. pp. 113-117. Nimrod Dix & Co, London, 1981.ISBN 0-902633-74-0
  4. ^ P E Abbott & J M A Tamplin. British Gallantry Awards. p. 74. Nimrod Dix & Co, London, 1981.ISBN 0-902633-74-0
  5. ^ a b c Peter Duckers. British Gallantry Awards 1855 – 2000. pp. 42-43. Shire Publications, Oxford, 2010.ISBN 978-0-7478-0516-8.
  6. ^ P E Abbott & J M A Tamplin. British Gallantry Awards. p. xx. Nimrod Dix & Co, London, 1981.ISBN 0-902633-74-0
  7. ^ John W. Mussell. Medal Yearbook 2015. pp. 390, 429, 459. Token Publishing Ltd, Honiton, Devon.ISBN 978-1-908-828-16-3
  8. ^ Precise estimates vary. 4,100 is a rounded figure from: John W. Mussell. Medal Yearbook 2015. p. 98. Token Publishing Ltd, Honiton, Devon.ISBN 978-1-908-828-16-3
  9. ^ Abbott lists 55 DSMs from 1947-79. A further 14 were awarded before 1993: S. Georgia: 1; Falklands: 11; Gulf War :2.
Bert Hinkler

Herbert John Louis Hinkler (8 December 1892 – 7 January 1933), better known as Bert Hinkler, was a pioneer Australian aviator (dubbed "Australian Lone Eagle") and inventor. He designed and built early aircraft before being the first person to fly solo from England to Australia, and the first person to fly solo across the Southern Atlantic Ocean. He married in 1932 at the age of 39, and died less than a year later after crashing into remote countryside near Florence, Italy during a solo flight record attempt.

Bill Sparks

William Edward "Bill" Sparks DSM (5 September 1922 – 1 December 2002) was a British Royal Marine Commando in World War II. He was the last survivor of the "Cockleshell Heroes" of Operation Frankton in 1942; a team of commandos who paddled 85 miles from the Bay of Biscay up the Gironde estuary to Bordeaux in German occupied France, to plant limpet mines on merchant ships supplying the Nazi war machine.

Billy Bevis

William Ernest Bevis DSM (29 September 1918 – 22 August 1994) was an English footballer who played for Southampton as an outside right in the years either side of the Second World War.

David Divine

Arthur Durham (David) Divine, CBE, DSM, (1905–1987) was a prolific South African writer of books on a variety of subjects but will be chiefly remembered for two controversial books on defence issues, The Blunted Sword (1964) and The Broken Wing (1966). Divine had been a war correspondent and after the Second World War became the defence correspondent of the British Sunday Times, a post he held until 1975.

Distinguished Service Medal

Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) is a high award of a nation.

Examples include:

Distinguished Service Medal (Australia) (established 1991), awarded to personnel of the Australian Defence Force for distinguished leadership in action

Indian Distinguished Service Medal (established 1907), awarded by the British Empire to Indian citizens serving in the Indian armed forces and police

Distinguished Service Medal (Ireland), a series of three decorations issued by the Irish Defence Forces

Medal of Distinguished Service (Israel) (established 1970), awarded for exemplary bravery in the line of duty

Distinguished Service Medal (Mexico), awarded to Army and Air Force personnel who demonstrate initiative and dedication throughout the course of their military career

Coast Guard Auxiliary Distinguished Service Medal, Philippines (established 1972)

Vishista Seva Vibhushanaya or Distinguished Service Decoration (Sri Lanka) (established 1981), awarded for exceptional, distinguished, and loyal service over a 25-year period

State Medal of Distinguished Service (Turkey) (established 1983), for distinguished service in contribution to the Turkish State through generous action, self-sacrifice, accomplishment or merit

Turkish Armed Forces Medal of Distinguished Service (established 1967), bestowed upon individuals whose contributions to the strengthening of the Turkish Armed Forces have been extraordinarily high

Distinguished Service Medal (United Kingdom) (1914–1993), awarded to non-commissioned officers of the Royal Navy and other Commonwealth navies for bravery and resourcefulness on active service

Edward Darby

Second Lieutenant Edward Darby (born 7 March 1888, date of death unknown) was a World War I flying ace credited with six aerial victories.

Ernest Herbert Pitcher

Ernest Herbert Pitcher (31 December 1888 – 10 February 1946) (middle name also recorded as James) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Frank William Foster

For other persons named Frank Foster, see Frank Foster (disambiguation)Wing Commander Frank William Foster DFC, DSM (10 April 1887, London — 5 March 1963, Reading). Although born in West London, he was brought up and educated in the village of Stockcross in Berkshire. He joined the Royal Navy in 1903 at the age of 16, and saw action in many theatres of World War I, including the Battle of Jutland, in which he gained the Distinguished Service Medal.

He transferred to the RAF in the latter part of the War, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for gallantry and devotion to duty. At the cessation of activities he joined the little group of pioneers who were struggling to develop an aircraft carrier deck landing technique on an old converted cruiser — HMS Argus.

In 1927, trouble flared up on the North-West Frontiers of British India, and Flying Officer Foster was drafted with a squadron of old Bristol Fighters to police the Himalayas and keep order. This involved active duty for five years. As a form of relaxation, on one of his leaves he made a trek accompanied by an Indian guide to Tibet, visiting the district of Ladakh.

Returning from India in 1933, a short spell as radio and communications instructor followed, prior to a return to the sea in the ill-fated HMS Courageous. F/O Foster was transferred to a Coastal Command at Plymouth, a comparatively short time before HMS Courageous was sunk by enemy action. Coastal Command service led to promotion to the rank of Wing Commander, involving transfer to Western Approaches Command, Derby House, Liverpool, one of a number of vital communication centres for the three services. It figured in the tracking and final annihilation of the Bismarck. For his service he was mentioned in despatches three times, on 17 March 1941, 11 June 1942 and 14 January 1944.

Wing Commander Foster's service in World War II carried him beyond the normal retiring age, but the day had to come, of course, when he had to take leave of the services, in November 1945. Not for him however was the sedentary life of retirement. In January 1946, he joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) as a Communications Officer, serving until the administration closed down in June 1948. The Ministry of Supply knew the Wing Commander next, and he became an experimental officer acting as a liaison between the Air Ministry and aircraft manufacturers. In December 1955 he had finally to retire from the active scene.

Wing Commander Foster had a wife, Edith, and two children, Harold and Betty - his home remained at Stockcross until the end of his life, when he was taken to the Battle Hospital in Reading after a long fight against Parkinson's disease. He died there on 5 March 1963, aged 75.

Hans Storhaug

Hans "Kyllingen" Storhaug, MM, DSM (23 May 1915 – 8 June 1995) was a Norwegian resistance member during World War II, especially noted for his role in the heavy water sabotage 1942–1943, and for his participation in the SOE operation Grebe and Grebe Red in Østerdalen 1943–1945.

Harry Price (Royal Navy seaman)

Harry Price DSM (1877 – June 1965) was an ordinary seaman of the Royal Navy. He became a well travelled figure, producing accounts and drawings of his travels, and publishing his account of the Royal cruise he was part of aboard the temporarily commissioned HMS Ophir in 1901. He served on a number of ships during the First World War, and later took up a number of occupations.

Hugo Munthe-Kaas

Hugo Conrad Munthe-Kaas DSM (3 February 1922 – 19 March 2012) was a Norwegian intelligence agent and resistance fighter during World War II. He received seventeen decorations for his war service. From the 1970s he was active in the Progress Party, where he was a city council member in Oslo and deputy MP. He was an honorary party member.

John H. Lang

John Henry Lang (1899–1970) was an American who served with the Canadian Army in World War I and then with the United States Navy through World War II and the end of his career. He earned military awards and honors for heroic service from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan in the first half of the twentieth century.

John Leake (NAAFI manager)

John Steven Leake DSM (26 October 1949 – 13 February 2000) was an English recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal whilst working for the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI), one of only twelve to be issued to the British forces during the Falklands War. Prior to working for the NAAFI, he worked in private security and was a soldier in the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment of the British Army.

Jonathan Rogers (GC)

Jonathan Rogers, (16 September 1920 – 10 February 1964) was a Welsh-born sailor and an Australian recipient of the George Cross, awarded for the heroism he displayed on the night of 10 February 1964 during the sinking of HMAS Voyager.

Leif Larsen

Leif Andreas Larsen DSO, DSC, CGM, DSM and Bar (9 January 1906 – 12 October 1990), popularly known as "Shetlands Larsen", was a highly decorated Norwegian sailor. He was arguably the most famous of the men who operated the Shetland bus escape route during the war.

He participated as a volunteer on the Finnish side during the Winter War and was a soldier in the defence of Norway following the German invasion at Kongsvinger Fortress. He had excellent leadership skills; one of the British officers at the Shetland base, David Howarth, described him as "one of the most remarkable personalities of the entire Second World War". Larsen preferred to downplay his own role and instead named his crew as the reason for his achievements.

Ronald Bassett

Ronald Leslie Bassett DSM (10 April 1924 – March 1996) was a British writer and novelist. He wrote numerous works of historical fiction, sometimes under the pseudonym of "William Clive". He received many awards for his medical and pharmaceutical writing.

Russ Conway

Russ Conway, DSM (born Trevor Herbert Stanford, 2 September 1925 – 16 November 2000) was an English popular music pianist. Conway had 20 piano instrumentals in the UK Singles Chart between 1957 and 1963, including two number one hits.

Thomas Joseph Simpson

Thomas Joseph Simpson (November 6, 1921 – January 28, 2017) was one of only 114 Canadians to receive the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) for World War II service.

William Williams (VC)

William Williams VC, DSM & Bar (5 October 1890 – 22 October 1965), was a Welsh recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to a member of the British and Commonwealth armed forces.

He was from Amlwch on Anglesey and at age 26 was serving as a seaman in the Royal Naval Reserve during the First World War when the following deed took place:

On 7 June 1917, HMS Pargust (a Q ship) was out in the Atlantic Ocean when her engine room was damaged by a torpedo fired from the U-boat SM UC-29. The explosion loosened the gun covers and Seaman Williams, with great presence of mind, took the whole weight on himself and physically prevented the covers from falling and betraying the ship to the enemy.The Pargust's 'panic party', the decoy crew carried on every Q ship for the purpose of leaving it apparently abandoned when attacked, took to the lifeboats and the U-boat then surfaced, believing the Pargust to be a crewless and defenceless merchant vessel. When the U-boat was about 50 yards (46 m) away, the captain of HMS Pargust gave the order to fire and the submarine was blown up and sank.

In the case of a gallant and daring act in which all men are deemed equally brave and deserving of the Victoria Cross a secret ballot is drawn. The crew of HMS Pargust selected William Williams to be the recipient of the award due to a rating in the action.

Royal family
Orders of chivalry
Civil bravery
Nursing service
Meritorious service
South Africa
until 6 April 1952






we Sizwe

Azanian People's
Liberation Army
South Africa
From 1994


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.