Distinguished Service Order
Obverse and reverse, reign of George V
Awarded by United Kingdom and Commonwealth
TypeOrder with one degree
Established6 September 1886
EligibilityMembers of the armed forces
Awarded for"Distinguished services during active operations against the enemy."[1]
StatusCurrently awarded
SovereignCharles III
Total inductees
Next (higher)Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire[4]
Next (lower)Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order

Ribbon bar of the order

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, as well as formerly of other parts of the Commonwealth, awarded for operational gallantry for highly successful command and leadership during active operations, 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.[5] It is a level 2A decoration (order) in the British system of military decorations.


Ribbon bar for 2nd award
Major Marie-Edmond Paul Garneau, of the Royal 22e Régiment, with the DSO he received for "gallant and distinguished services in the combined attack on Dieppe" after his investiture at Buckingham Palace in October 1942[6]

Instituted on 6 September 1886 by Queen Victoria in a royal warrant published in The London Gazette on 9 November,[7] the first DSOs awarded were dated 25 November 1886.[8]

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.[9]

Whilst 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.[10]

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 whilst under enemy attack.[11]

Prior to 1943, the DSO could be awarded to only commissioned officers of the Lieutenant-Colonel rank and above, for 'meritorious or distinguished service in wartime' under conditions of actual combat. If awarded to an officer ranking below Lieutenant-Colonel, it had to be a case of 'a high degree of gallantry just short of deserving the Victoria Cross'. In either case, being 'Mentioned in Dispatches' was a pre-condition for the award of a DSO.[12]

A requirement that the order could be given only to someone mentioned in despatches was removed in 1943.[10]

Modern era

Since 1993, reflecting the review of the British honours system which recommended removing distinctions of rank in respect of operational awards, the DSO has been open to all ranks, with the award criteria redefined as "highly successful command and leadership during active operations".[5] At the same time, the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross was introduced as the second-highest award for gallantry.[13] Despite some very fierce campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the DSO has yet to be awarded to a non-commissioned rank.[citation needed]

The DSO had also been awarded by Commonwealth countries but by the 1990s most, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, were establishing their own honours systems and no longer recommended British honours.[14]


Recipients of the order are officially known as Companions of the Distinguished Service Order, and are entitled to use the post-nominal letters "DSO". All awards are announced in The London Gazette.[15]



Numbers awarded

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 figures to 1979 are laid out in the table below,[17] the dates reflecting the relevant entries in the London Gazette:

Period Crosses 1st bar 2nd bar 3rd bar
Pre World War I 1886–1913 1,732
World War I 1914–1919 9,881 768 76 7
Inter–War 1919–1939 148 16
World War II 1939–1946 4,880 947 59 8
Post–War 1947–1979 204 20 5 1
Total 1886–1979 16,845 1,751 140 16

In addition, between 1980 and 2017 approximately 90 DSOs have been earned, including awards for the Falklands and the wars in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to three second-award bars.[18] The above figures include awards to the Commonwealth.

Notable recipients

See also: Category:Companions of the Distinguished Service Order

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Distinguished Service Order" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (September 2021) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

The following received the DSO and three bars (i.e., were awarded the DSO four times):

See also


  1. ^ "Defence Internet | Fact Sheets | Guide to Honours". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
  2. ^ Abbott & Tamplin 1981, p. 124–125. Confirms 1,732 prior to World War I: 1,646 to 1902, 78 to 1910 and 8 to 1914.
  3. ^ a b Medal Yearbook 2015. Honiton, Devon: Token Publishing. 2015. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-908-828-16-3.
  4. ^ "No. 56878". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 March 2003. p. 3351.
  5. ^ a b "Distinguished Service Order". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  6. ^ "No. 35729". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 October 1942. p. 4328.
  7. ^ "No. 25641". The London Gazette. 9 November 1886. pp. 5385–5386.
  8. ^ "No. 25650". The London Gazette. 9 November 1886. pp. 5975–5976.
  9. ^ a b c d Veterans Affairs Canada – Distinguished Service Order (Retrieved 8 December 2018)
  10. ^ a b c Abbott & Tamplin 1981, p. 119–121.
  11. ^ a b "British Commonwealth Gallantry, Meritorious and Distinguished Service Awards – Companion of the Distinguished Service Order". New Zealand defence force. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  12. ^ "Distinguished Service Order (DSO) - TracesOfWar.com". www.tracesofwar.com. Retrieved 29 August 2022.
  13. ^ a b Duckers, Peter (2001). British gallantry awards: 1855-2000. Oxford: Shire Publications. pp. 18–23. ISBN 978-0-7478-0516-8.
  14. ^ Medal Yearbook 2015. Honiton, Devon: Token Publishing. 2015. pp. 90, 429, 459. ISBN 978-1-908-828-16-3.
  15. ^ a b c d e Abbott & Tamplin 1981, p. 122–124.
  16. ^ "The British (Imperial) Distinguished Service Order". Vietnam veterans association of Australia. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  17. ^ a b Abbott & Tamplin 1981, p. 124–129.
  18. ^ Post 1979 DSOs include 19 for the Falklands (London Gazette Supplement, 8 October 1982); 1 for Sierra Leone (London Gazette Supplement, 30 September 2003); 8 for Gulf War (London Gazette Supplement, 29 June 1991 Late award: 21 November 1994); 18 bars for Iraq and 43+3 second award bar for Afghanistan, plus awards for smaller conflicts.
  19. ^ "Imperial Awards". It's an Honour. Australian Government. Archived from the original on 23 June 2006. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  20. ^ a b c "No. 31583". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 October 1919. p. 12213.
  21. ^ "No. 31183". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 February 1919. p. 2363.
  22. ^ "No. 36081". The London Gazette. 2 July 1943. p. 3056.
  23. ^ "No. 36771". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 October 1944. p. 4977.
  24. ^ Bourne, John. "Edward Allan Wood". Centre for First World War Studies. Birmingham, UK: University of Birmingham. Retrieved 6 December 2018.