Royal Navy, World War 1, in memory of Skipper Thomas Crisp DSC, VC RNR and the Hales Naval Family

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World War 1 at Sea - In Memory of




with thanks to Frank Hales

Skipper Thomas Crisp VC, DSC RNR (click to enlarge)  

The Victoria Cross Action

Skipper Thomas Crisp's award of a posthumous Victoria Cross in 1917, when in command of a small sailing Q-ship, is one of the most personal and poignant. As he lay dying, his side split open by shell-fire, his last words to his son were, "Tom, I'm done. Throw me overboard."


That action led to the loss of two smacks. Skipper Crisp was the only man killed on HM Q-Ship Nelson, but all were lost on HMS Q-Ship Ethel and Millie. Click for more information below.

Amongst the survivors from Nelson was the gunlayer, Leading Seaman Edward Hales. Some 90 years later, his grandson, Frank Hales sent me the following newspapers cuttings and photographs of the action and of his family, of whom at least three generations served in the Royal Navy.




Award of the Victoria Cross


15 August 1917SKIPPER THOMAS CRISP RNR, commander, HM Q-Ship Smack Nelson (61grt - below)

Born 28th April  1876, in Lowestoft Suffolk, Name on Chatham Naval Memorial. VC held by Waveney District Council



The London Gazette 2 November 1917

(Original brief account with no mention of type of operation)


from the Admiralty




The KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the following honours, decorations and medals to officers and men for services in action with enemy submarines (including):


Posthumous Award of the Victoria Cross

(right - with blue ribbon of the Royal Navy, no enlargement).


Skipper Thomas Crisp, R.N.R., 10055D.A (killed in action).








The London Gazette 20 November 1918

(Fuller account following the Armistice)


from the Admiralty


With reference to announcements of the award of the Victoria Cross to naval officers and men for services in action with enemy submarines, the following (is the account of the action for which this award was made)


Action of H.M. Armed Smack Nelson on the 15th August, 1917.


On the 15th August, 1917, the Smack Nelson was engaged in fishing when she was attacked by gunfire from an enemy submarine. The gear was let go and the submarine's fire was returned. The submarine's fourth shot went through the port bow just below the waterline, and the seventh shell struck the skipper, Thomas Crisp, partially disembowelling him, and passed through the deck and out through the side of the ship. In spite of the terrible nature of his wound Skipper Crisp retained consciousness, and his first thought was to send off a message that he was being attacked and giving his position. He continued to command his ship until the ammunition was almost exhausted and the smack was sinking. He refused to be moved into the small boat when the rest of the crew were obliged to abandon the vessel as she sank, his last request being that he might be thrown overboard.


(The posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to Skipper Thomas Crisp, D.S.C., R.N.R., 10055 D.A., was announced in London Gazette No. 30363, dated the 2nd November, 1917.)



Skipper Crisp, a fisherman before the war, with his wife and two younger children. His wife died only two weeks before his own death in action

His son, Second Hand Thomas Crisp, awarded Distinguished Service Medal


Contemporary accounts from The Pictorial (below) and the Daily Sketch (right) after details of the action were released on the 20th November 1918






Nelson's Carrier Pigeon No 498, released before the action



Poem by W Draper, believed to have been one of the crew of HM Q-ship Nelson at the time of her loss. Composed at Lowestoft in 1917 (see survivor list at end)






"Skipper Wharton DSO and bar, and Mate G Cracknell DSM, both of whom have done splendid work during the war, watching a pigeon flight." One of the newspaper cuttings, ship and source not known, but probably from the same page as Nelson's Pigeon No.498 (above right)









right - Eastern Evening News May 1st 1920,

including the number of honours awarded

to men of the Trawler Section, RNR

including two Victoria Crosses







Naval Awards in the Daily Mirror, 3rd November 1917





Skipper Thomas Crisp and family, including son Thomas (centre top) and son-in-law Harold Hart (bottom), both awarded DSM - latter action not known


Other awards




Left - Q-ship commander, Captain Gordon Campbell VC, bar to DSO; centre - Commander Max Horton, bar to DSO and famed for Battle of Atlantic in World War 2; right - Seaman William Williams, VC for Q-ship action, bar to DSM











Great Grandfather - Petty Officer 1st Class Edward John Hales Snr, pictured (left) at age 64 in the  14th May 1918 edition of the Daily Mirror.


This is the only known photograph of Edward Senior, who must have been born around 1854.



Grandfather, born 7th April 1884 - Leading Seaman Edward John Hales Jnr

Edward Snr was widowed and as he spent so much time at sea, his son - also Edward John Hales - was placed with the Gordon Boys in Bournemouth, southern England, a school for military children (left - in the Gordon Boys uniform). At some point, Edward Junior was adopted by a Mr and Mrs Arnold.


His naval training took place on board HMS Boscawen (below), believed to have been moored off Portland


right - about HMS Boscawen

His Service Record (click to enlarge)

Photographed in 1914

Announcement of the award  of the Italian Medal for Valour in Bronze to Edward Jnr in a Bournemouth newspaper. Probably still at war, but date not known - possibly 1918 after service in the Mediterranean. Because of the nature of Q-ship warfare, his service in HM Smack Nelson would not have been made public




Father, born 4th November 1931, died 30th June 2002 - Godfrey Maurice Hales RN service No JX835797 believed in training at HMS St Vincent, Gosport. He was not in the Navy very long and there are few details






An Account of the Action

Wednesday 15 August 1917

North Sea

Admiralty hired smacks Nelson, also Ethel and Millie operating as Q-ships, sunk in action with U.63, leading to the award of a posthumous VC to Nelson's skipper:

G. & E., also known as Bird, Extirpator, Foam Crest, I’ll Try, Ledger No.929, Nelson, S.3 (H - listed as Nelson), operating as Nelson, special service/submarine decoy/Q-ship, fishing smack, c61/1905, Lowestoft-reg LT649, taken up 8/8-9/15 and again 22/1/16, probably only armed with 1-3pdr at this time, auxiliary engined by 8/17, Skipper T Crisp RNR, on patrol, fishing on Jim Howe Bank with trawl shot. Submarine sighted at 1445, 3 or 4 miles away, opened fire and although Nelson was hopelessly outranged, she replied. Started to receive hits and take in water, seventh shell went through the skipper's left side, mortally wounding him, Second Hand Tom Crisp, his son, took over command. Nelson continued firing until nearly out of ammunition, crew abandoned ship, tried to lift the skipper into the boat but his only response was "Tom, I'm done, throw me overboard". They left him on board, Nelson was shelled until she sank off Mabelthorpe, Lincs; only the skipper was lost, Ethel & Millie beckoned the survivors on board but they continued rowing west, next day they sighted minesweeper Dryad and other sweepers, but were not seen, then on the Friday made fast to the Jim Howe Bank buoy and in the afternoon finally rescued by Dryad. Skipper Thomas Crisp RNR was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, Second Hand Thomas Crisp the DSM

ETHEL & MILLIE, also known as Boy Alfred, Ledger No.929, S.3, possibly Ethel and Emily, special service/submarine decoy/Q-ship, fishing smack, 58/1908, Lowestoft-reg LT200, taken up 1/2/17, 1-6pdr, 7 crew, Skipper William “Johnsey” Manning. After Nelson was sunk, UC.63 turned its attention to Ethel & Millie which was soon hit and stopped, then probably sunk by bomb; 1 officer, 6 ratings lost. According to the younger Thomas Crisp, the crew were picked up by the submarine, and last seen lined up on the foredeck. No survivors were found, only a pigeon message picked up saying she was being attacked by a U-boat. It is suggested they were drowned when the U-boat submerged.

Casualties   Survivors


 CRISP, Thomas, Ty/Skipper, RNR


Ethel and Millie

 BARRETT, Edwin J, Able Seaman, 239776

 GIBSON, Spencer T, 2nd Hand, RNR, DA 7781

 LEWIS, John L, Deck Hand, RNR, DA 15058

 MANNING, Charles W, Ty/Skipper, RNR

 PREECE, Alfred, Able Seaman, 201483

 SOAMES, Arthur, Deck Hand, RNR, DA 11241

 THOMPSON, Hugh, Deck Hand, RNR, SD 1054



 COX, George, Private, Royal Marine Light Infantry

 CRISP, Thomas W, Second Hand

 DRAPER, W (uncertain)

 HALES, Edward, Leading Seaman, Gunlayer

 ROSS, Percival, Leading Seaman, Gunner




Additional research by Frank Hales


The two smacks were sunk by UC.63 (Commander Oberleutenant Karsten von Heydebreck) on Wednesday, August 15th 1917 over Jim Howe Bank some time after 2.45pm.


UC.63 (Oberleutenant Karsten von Heydebreck) - sunk by Her Majesty’s Submarine E.52 (Albert P Addison, Captain) November 1st 1917, 26 hands lost, one survivor Petty Officer 2nd class Fritz Marshal. Last known position Latitude N51 23.000 Longitude E2 00.000 Goodwin Sands.

UC.63  - Type UC11, Shipyard A G Weser, Breen (Werk 261), ordered 12/01/16, laid down 03/04/16, launched 06/01/17, commissioned 30/01/17.

9 patrols between 27/04/17 and 01/11/17, served with Flandern Flotilla, 36 ships sunk for a total of 36,404 tons.

E.52 - E-class, displacement, surfaced 662 tons, submerged 807 tons, length 181ft/54.86m, beam 15ft/6.86m, draught 12ft/3.81m. Propulsion - 2 shafts, 8 cyl Vickers diesels/2 electric motors, 1600hp/840hp, speed surfaced 15.25 knots, submerged 9.75 knots, range 3,000nm surfaced at 10kts, 24 days endurance, complement 3 officers, 28 ratings, armament 5x18 inch torpedo tubes (2 bow, 2 beam, 1 stern), 10 torpedoes, 1x12 pounder deck gun.

Scrapped January 1921.




Information & Images kindly supplied by Frank Hales,

I am grateful to Frank for this material and only too sorry it took so long for him to see it online - Gordon Smith.


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revised  31/7/11