Originally instituted as the Conspicuous Service Cross in June 1901 for award to Warrant and subordinate officers of the Royal Navy whe were ineligible for the DSO.
It was renamed in October 1914 and opened to all naval officers below the rank of Lieutenant Commander. The bar to signify a second award was authorised in 1916 and a rosette is worn on the ribbon when ribbons alone are worn to denote the bar.
In 1919 the DSC was conferred upon the port of Dunkirk.
In 1931 the award was opened to officers of the Merchant Navy and in 1940 Army and RAF officers serving on board naval vessels also became eligible. Since 1945 fewer than 100 DSC's have been awarded. In 1993 the award was made eligible to all ranks following the honours system review and the abolishing of the DSM.
From 1940 onwards the date of award was engraved on the reverse and from 1983 the recipients details have also been officially engraved.