Biography

Birth date: 07 January 1899
Birth place: Australia: Tasmania, Deloraine
Death date: 03 September 1989
Death place: Australia: New South Wales, Sydney
Final rank: Vice Admiral
Conflict: 1638 - First World War, 1914-1918
Second World War, 1939-1945
Units:
  • HMS Sultan
  • Royal Australian Navy
  • HMAS Sydney (II)

John Collins was among Australia's most well-known naval officers of the Second World War. Born on 7 January 1899 at Deloraine, Tasmania, he joined the first class of cadets at the Royal Australian Naval College, Geelong, in 1913. He graduated as a midshipman in January 1917 and went on to serve with the British Grand Fleet, operating out of Scapa Flow, during the First World War. His first ship was HMS Canada and he later joined HMS Spencer as Gun Control Officer with the rank of sub-lieutenant.

Collins was attending gunnery school when the First World War ended and returned to Australia in 1921, joining HMAS Melbourne. He attended several gunnery courses in England as well as qualifying as a deep sea diver. In 1926 Collins rejoined Melbourne as Gunnery Officer. On returning to Australia after duty with the Mediterranean Fleet, he was appointed Naval Liaison Officer for the 1927 visit of the Duke and Duchess of York.

In 1928 Collins became Gunnery Officer on HMAS Australia with the rank of lieutenant commander, then returned once more to Australia where he was given command of HMAS Anzac. In June 1930 he married Phyllis MacLachlan and was promoted to commander. In 1932 he attended the Naval Staff College at Greenwich and the following year began work as a commander in the Admiralty's Plans Division. Three years as Executive Officer on HMAS Sydney followed. In 1938 Collins was appointed Liaison Officer for Sydney's 150th anniversary celebrations before becoming Assistant Naval Chief of Staff. When the Second World War began, Collins was given command of HMAS Sydney and sailed for the Mediterranean.

A skilled and respected captain, Collins was also a humane man. Having once sunk an Italian destroyer, he lingered to rescue survivors despite the submarine threat, leaving a cutter and provisions when finally forced to leave. His most conspicuous success, however, was the sinking of the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni in July 1940.

In August 1941 Collins was sent to Singapore as Assistant Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, China. Having returned to Australia following Japan's victories in Asia, Collins was made Naval Officer in Charge, West Australian Area, before being given command of HMAS Shropshire. He remained in this post, operating with the US Navy, until he transferred to HMAS Australia in 1944 as a task force commander and commodore. Collins was on Australia's bridge when, on 21 October 1944, a kamikaze attack killed the captain and other officers, wounding Collins. He returned to duty in July 1945 in time to participate in the surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay in September, and then was involved with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. In February 1946, Collins became First Naval Member and Chief of Naval Staff in Australia; and in May 1950 he was promoted to vice admiral. He retired from the Navy in 1955; in 1956 he took up the post of Australia's High Commissioner to New Zealand, retiring in 1962.

Collins died in Sydney, aged 90, on 3 September 1989. A class of submarines now bears his name.

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Rolls and Awards

  • Rank: Private
  • Date of embarkation: 17 April 1916
  • Place of embarkation: Fremantle
  • Recommended for: Order of the Bath
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: Mention in despatches
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: Dutch Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Recommended for: United States Officer of the Legion of Merit
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Order of the Bath
  • Unit: HMAS Sydney (II)
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Mention in despatches
  • Unit: HMS Sultan
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
  • Unit: RAN
  • Awarded: Dutch Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau
  • Unit: Royal Australian Navy
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945
  • Awarded: United States Officer of the Legion of Merit
  • Unit: Royal Australian Navy
  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Collection Items

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Digitised Collection

Timeline

Date of birth 1899-01-07 Deloraine, TAS.
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1912-12-31 Enlisted in the RAN.
Other 1913 Joined the first class of cadets at the Royal Australian Naval College, Geelong.
Other 1916 Graduated from Royal Australian Naval College.
Date of embarkation 1916-04-17
Other 1917 Served on HMS Canada.
Date promoted 1918 Appointed sub lieutenant.
Date promoted 1919 Appointed lieutenant.
Date returned to Australia 1921 Joined HMAS Melbourne. he then attended several gunnery courses in England.
Other 1926 Rejoined Melbourne as a gunnery officer.
Other 1927 Lieutenant commander appointed to HMAS Renown as Naval Liaison Officer for the visit of the Duke and Dutchess of York.
Other 1932 Attended the Naval Staff College at Greenwich.
Other 1933 Began work as a commander in the Admiralty's Plans Division.
Other units 1935 - 1936 Served aboard the HMAS Sydney in the Mediterranean Sea during the Abyssinian Crisis.
Date promoted 1937 Appointed captain in the Admiralty Plans Division.
Other 1938 - 1939 Appointed Assistant Naval Chief of Staff.
Other 1939-11-16 Given command of HMAS Sydney and sailed for the Mediterranean.
Other 1940-07-19 Collins was involved with the sinking if the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni. Collins recieved a Companion of the Order of the Bath for his service in this action.
Date of honour or award 1940-07-26 Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB).
Other 1941-08 Posted to Singapore as Assistant Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, China.
Other 1943-04-17 Appointed captain of the HMAS Shropshire.
Other units 1944 Transferred to HMAS Australia.
Date promoted 1944-06 Promoted commodore 1st class.
Date wounded 1944-10-21 A kamikaze attack killed the ship's captain and wounded Collins.
Other 1945-07 Returned to duties.
Date returned to Australia 1946-02
Date promoted 1947 Promoted rear admiral.
Other 1948 - 1955 Appointed Australian Chief of Naval Staff and the First Naval Member.
Date promoted 1950-05 Appointed vice admiral.
Date of honour or award 1951-01-01 Gazetted Knight Comander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE).
Date of discharge 1955 Retired from the Navy.
Other 1956 - 1962 Appointed Australia's High Commissioner to New Zealand.
Date of death 1989-09-03 Sydney, NSW.