The Distinguished Service Order

The Distinguished Service Order

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is the second in precendence military decoration of the United Kingdom (behind only the Victoria Cross), and formerly of other parts of the Commonwealth, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat. Since 1993 it has been awarded specifically for 'highly successful command and leadership during active operations', with all ranks being eligible

Instituted on 6 September 1886 by Queen Victoria in a Royal Warrant published in The London Gazette on 9 November, the first DSOs awarded were dated 25 November 1886.

The order was established to reward individual instances of meritorious or distinguished service in war. It was a military order, until recently for officers only, and typically awarded to officers ranked major (or equivalent) or higher, with awards to ranks below this usually for a high degree of gallantry, just short of deserving the Victoria Cross. While normally given for service under fire or under conditions equivalent to service in actual combat with the enemy, a number of awards made between 1914 and 1916 were under circumstances not under fire, often to staff officers, causing resentment among front-line officers. After 1 January 1917, commanders in the field were instructed to recommend this award only for those serving under fire.

From 1916, ribbon bars could be authorised for subsequent awards of the DSO, worn on the ribbon of the original award.[10] In 1942, the award was extended to officers of the Merchant Navy who had performed acts of gallantry while under enemy attack. A requirement that the order could be given only to someone mentioned in despatches was removed in 1943.

The Distinguished Service Order is issued unnamed, but from 1938 the year of the award has been recorded on the reverse of the suspender bar.

Recipients of the Distinguished Service Order are entitled to use the post-nominal letters "DSO".


A white enameled cross with the Royal Crown in the centre surrounded by a laurel wreath.


Similar to the obverse, except that in the centre is the Royal Cypher surmounted by a crown, with a laurel wreath surrounding them.


38mm across the arms of the cross.


28mm wide, the ribbon is red with 5mm wide dark blue stripes at each edge. and white.


The suspender bar has laurel leaves on it. To this is attached an eyelet that passes through an eyelet attached to the top of the upper arm of the cross.

Royal Warrant For This Award

From 1918 to 2017, the insignia of the Distinguished Service Order has been awarded approximately 16,935 times, in addition to 1,910 bars.
The number awarded to 1979 reflects the relevant entries in the London Gazette:
  1. Pre World War I (1886–1913) - 1,732 medals awarded.
  2. World War I (1914–1919) - 9,881 medals, 768 first bars, 76 second bars, and 7 third bars.
  3. Inter–War (1919–1939) - 148 medals and 16 first bars.
  4. World War II (1939–1946 ) - 4,880 medals, 947 first bars, 59 second bars, and 8 third bars.
  5. Post–War Post–War (1947–1979) 204 medals, 20 first bars, 5 second bars, and 1 third bar.
Thus, a total of 16,845 medals, 1,751 first bars, 140 second bars, and 16 third bars were awarded between inception and 1979 alone. In addition, between 1980 and 2017 approximately 90 DSOs were earned, including awards for the Falklands and the wars in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to three second-award bars.

The first awards to New Zealanders were made during the Boer War in 1900, when five were awarded. During the First World War 141 Orders and eight first bars were awarded to members of the New Zealand Army. During the Second World War members of the New Zealand Army, or New Zealanders serving with allied forces, were awarded 113 Orders, sixteen first bars, two second bars and one third bar. Members of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, or New Zealanders serving with allied forces, were awarded seventy three Orders and four first bars, while members of the Royal New Zealand Navy were awarded nine Orders and one first bar. Four Orders were awarded to members of the New Zealand Army in Korea and one in Malaya.