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Crace, Sir John Gregory (Jack) (1887–1968)

by Chris Clark

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

John Gregory Crace (1887-1968), by unknown photographer

John Gregory Crace (1887-1968), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 305285

Sir John Gregory (Jack) Crace (1887-1968), naval officer, was born on 6 February 1887 at Gungahleen, New South Wales (Gungahlin, Australian Capital Territory), eighth child of Edward Kendall Crace, an English-born grazier, and his wife Kate Marion, née Mort, a Queenslander and niece of T. S. Mort. Having attended The King's School, Parramatta, Jack sailed for England in October 1899 for further private schooling. In May 1902 he joined the Royal Navy's training ship H.M.S. Britannia on a colonial cadetship.

Pursuing a career with the R.N., in 1911 Crace specialized as a torpedo officer. He returned to his native land for tours of duty in 1908-10 and 1913-14, the second while serving in H.M.A.S. Australia. On 13 April 1920 he married Carola Helen Baird with Episcopalian rites in St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow, Scotland. For the next nineteen years he served at sea and in instructional and staff duties ashore, advancing from commander (1920) to captain (1928). Promoted rear admiral in August 1939, next month Crace was appointed commander of the Australian Squadron. He arrived in Sydney and found that the government had committed most of his ships to theatres outside Australia. The few vessels remaining in home waters performed escort and counter-raider operations for the succeeding two years. Although he was appointed C.B. in July 1941, he was frustrated by the low level of local activity and by the Naval Board's interference in operational matters. He sought to be replaced and, in October, tried to resign his post.

After Japan had entered the war, in February 1942 Crace became commander of the allied naval squadron, Anzac Force. 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 reorganized and Crace's squadron was renamed Task Force 44, but, despite his seniority, he was made subordinate to the U.S.N. tactical commander.

On 1 May 1942 Crace's force was ordered from Sydney to join two U.S.N. carrier groups that were deployed to the Coral Sea in anticipation of a major Japanese move southwards. The squadron was detached on 7 May to intercept troop-ships heading for Port Moresby. Lacking air cover, it came under heavy enemy attack and the flagship, H.M.A.S. Australia, narrowly escaped being bombed. 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. The battle of the Coral Sea marked the end of Japanese expansion in South Pacific waters.

Handing over his command on 13 June 1942, Crace returned to England. As vice admiral, then admiral, on the Retired List, he superintended Chatham naval dockyard until July 1946. Appointed K.B.E. in 1947, he retired to Hampshire. Sir John died on 11 May 1968 at Liss and was cremated; his wife and three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Coulthard-Clark, Action Stations Coral Sea (Syd, 1991), and for bibliography.

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Crace, Sir John Gregory (Jack) (1887–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crace-sir-john-gregory-jack-9851/text17427, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 20 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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