- Dennard, Luke, Midshipman, RAN
- Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Shropshire, HMAS Australia II, HMAS Sydney II
- December 2007 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
After World War II, Collins was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral and in 1948 became Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) continuing until 1955; Collins himself considered he was too young for the role at 49 as it would result in his retirement well before the statutory age of 60. During his time as CNS, Collins, despite considerable government reluctance, established the RAN Fleet Air Arm, whilst four Daring class destroyers and four River class frigates were ordered, and the RAN participated very effectively in the Korean War and Malayan Emergency.
Collins led by example. Rear-Admiral Guy Griffiths, then serving as a sub-lieutenant on Shropshire, highlights Collins setting high standards in uniform dress whilst being demanding on the bridge. However, he was understanding and always ready to offer praise when deserved. Delegation was routine from Collins to his Officer of the Watch (OOW), and whilst always on call, Collins exuded confidence from his success on Sydney, and all his officers and sailors respected him.
Commander Kenneth Edwards of the Royal Navy confirms Collins’ immense concentration to a single aim, being a bitter fighter and a cool-headed one. Alternatively, Grazebrook identified Collins as having ‘… very considerable skills of persuasion and could be, on occasion, very subtle, if not Machiavellian, in the politico-defence arena.’
In analysing Collins’ leadership qualities, it is hard not to compare him to his contemporaries, Farncomb and Dowling. For example, all three officers graduated from the RANC around a similar period and participated in World War II in similar roles. All three were accomplished officers, however, it is Collins who appears to be at the forefront of decision-making in the Navy; having become Commodore in charge of HMA Squadron initially and then subsequently Chief of Naval Staff demonstrates that he was a vanguard to those around him.
Leadership theory states leaders are concerned with task achievement and inter-personal relations with the leadership style reflecting the dynamics between these two factors, and are influenced by the leader, his subordinates and the organisational setting. Furthermore, leadership style falls into two areas of behaviour, the first is categorised as the type of participative behaviour and the second is the motivating behaviour.
Following on from the examples discussed in analysing Collins’ leadership and hence its connection to leadership theory, Collins’ participatory style employed a mix of collaborative and consultative behaviours. Consultative behaviour, which occurs when team members are consulted and asked to provide advice, is witnessed through Collins’ reliance and acceptance of specialist advice when Australia was hit in damage control decision-making.
As Collins was able to adjust his participative behaviour to suit the environment it enabled motivating behaviour which is concerned with persuading people to act willingly through leader influence and motivation to achieve and exceed organisational objectives. Specifically, Collins employed transforming behaviour, where leaders appear to their subordinates to radiate a sense of self-confidence, a strong sense of purpose and is distinguished by being able to bring about innovation and change, and was exemplified by Collins’ appointment to CNS, where the Navy was undergoing significant change after demobilisation.
Relationship with Seniors and Juniors
As highlighted previously, Collins expected high standards from subordinates but was always ready to offer praise when merited, thus gaining a high level of respect. One example of this was the presentation of a silver model of the Sydney by the ship’s company to the captain’s wife, a rare event, and paid for equally irrespective of rank.
Furthermore, during his command of Sydney, Collins kept meticulous Reports on Proceedings (ROP) with specific detail, observations and conclusions. The aim of which was to ensure they were read by his commanding officers, as tedious ROPs by other commanding officers tended to gain little attention, whilst serving the dual purpose of gaining attention for requirements in the Mediterranean.
Finally, Collins realised the importance of public relations by constantly emphasising Australia’s presence in the Mediterranean and at home through hosting special receptions, other official entertainment and displays of naval strength. Prior to embarkation to the Mediterranean, Collins allowed four press journalists, fifteen RAAF and 24 Army officers and the Mayor of Fremantle, to witness a 6-inch and 4-inch gun shoot. By completing such exercises, Collins provided a sense of strength to the nation and to others.
Commander Edwards highlights the sinking of the Italian destroyer Espero and the action taken by Collins in saving the survivors as a psychological decision, despite the submarine threat. Specifically, Edwards points towards the remarks of Collins about the decision on leaving the cutter: ‘When I left the cutter for the survivors of the Espero, whom I could no longer wait to collect, I found it had an excellent effect on the morale of my own ship’s company. They were, as usual, keen to stay around and save everyone – they seldom think of a torpedo until it arrives. My departure was OK by them as I had left a cutter for straggler survivors. Had I not thought of this they would have been depressed at the thought of the Sydney steaming away while there were still some men remaining in the water.’