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One of the first intake of teenage cadet-midshipmen to enter the new Royal Australian Naval College, in 1913, John Collins was early recognised as a brilliant officer with remarkable gifts. As captain of the light cruiser HMAS Sydney in the Mediterranean in 1940, Collins and his ship achieved fame, surviving 88 actions without the loss of a single man.

Appointed Commodore, Collins won further distinction in the battles to save Singapore and Java and became in 1944 the first Australian - and Australian-trained - officer to command Australia's naval forces, surviving cruel wounds from kamikase attack off the Philippines to become the first RANC officer to serve as Chief of Naval Staff (1948-55) and to reach the high rank of Vice-Admiral. He had become the Navy's indispensable man and his success continued after retirement when he served as a popular Australian high commissioner to New Zealand. Sir John Collins lived to the age of ninety after a life that has few parallels in naval history.