Fifty Australians - Sir John Collins

A senior commander involved in some of the navy’s most famous battles of the Second World War, Collins fulfilled all the promise that he had shown as a young cadet midshipman.

Vice Admiral Sir John Augustine Collins, KBE, CB (1899–1989)

In 1913, aged 14, Collins joined the first intake to the RAN College; he became a midshipman in January 1917, in time to see war service while attached to the Royal Navy. His career advanced between the wars, and he was Assistant Chief of Naval Staff and Director of Military Intelligence at the beginning of the Second World War.

In the early war years Collins commanded HMAS Sydney in the Mediterranean. Australians celebrated a great naval victory when the Sydney sunk the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni in July 1940. When they came home, the city of Sydney gave the ship’s captain and crew a huge public reception. Collins left Sydney before it was tragically sunk, with the loss of all 645 men on board, by a German raider off the Western Australian coast in November 1941.

In 1943 Collins commanded HMAS Shropshire and took part in operations at Bougainville, Cape Gloucester, the Admiralties, and Hollandia. He was later Commodore Commanding the Australian Naval Squadron, with HMAS Australia as his flagship.

Badly wounded by a Japanese suicide attack at Leyte Gulf in October 1944, he did not resume his command until July 1945. When the war ended Collins was the RAN’s representative at the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay.

Collins was appointed Chief of Naval Staff (1948–55), a period that included the deployment of ships to the Korean War. During this time he also oversaw many changes and administrative reforms in the navy, and was involved in closer Australian–American naval co-operation. He later served as Australia’s High Commissioner to New Zealand (1956–62). The latest class of Australian submarines bears his name; the first of these, HMAS Collins, was launched by his widow in 1993.

Captain John Collins in HMAS Shropshire

Captain Collins calls for three cheers for the King in HMAS Shropshire, Britain, 1943.

Captain Collins with Major General Gordon Bennett in Malaya a few months before the Japanese invasion.

Captain John Collins, on the bridge of HMAS Shropshire during operations in New Guinea waters.