The names of the Collins Class submarines commemorate the memory of six members of the Royal Australian Navy who served their country with distinction.
Vice Admiral Sir John Augustine Collins was born at Deloraine, Tasmania on 7 January 1899, entered the Royal Australian Naval College (RANC) as one of the original entry in 1913, saw service in two World Wars and was First Naval Member and Chief of Naval Staff during the Korean War.
On 19 July 1940, the then Captain Collins was in command of the cruiser HMAS Sydney (II) in the Mediterranean Sea when Sydney (II) engaged two Italian cruisers, Bartolomeo Colleoni and Giovanni Delle Bande Nere, off Cape Spada in Crete. The Colleoni was sunk and the Bande Nerre withdrew damaged. For his part in this action, Captain Collins was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB).
He was the first RANC graduate to command the Australian Squadron, hoisting his Broad Pendant as Commodore in HMAS Australia (II) in 1944. On 21 October 1944, while HMAS Australia (II) was taking part in the allied landings in the Philippines, Commodore Collins was severely wounded in a suicide attack by Japanese aircraft.
He recovered from his injuries, resumed his command and attended the Japanese surrender in 1945.
His distinguished career continued after the war. He was promoted Rear Admiral in 1947, Vice Admiral in 1950 and was knighted in 1951. He retired from the Navy in 1955 and served as Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand until 1962.
Vice Admiral Collins died on 3 September 1989.
Captain Emile Frank Verlain Dechaineux was born in Launceston, Tasmania on 3 October 1902 and entered the RANC in 1916.
At the outbreak of World War II the then Commander Dechaineux was serving at the Admiralty, having gone to England for a staff course. He commanded the destroyer HMS Vivacious during the Dunkirk evacuation, later commanded HMS Eglington before returning to Australia in 1941 with his DSC and served in Navy Office until commissioning the new destroyer, HMAS Warramunga (I), in 1942. Warramunga (I) was involved in escort duties on the Eastern Australian coast and New Guinea waters. Warramunga (I) was also engaged in shore bombardments in support of ground forces.
In 1943 he was promoted Captain and assumed command of the cruiser HMAS Australia (II), flagship of Commodore Collins, in March 1944. Under his command, the cruiser took part in bombardments and landings as the Allied forces pushed back to the Phillipines.
HMAS Australia (II) was part of the bombardment force supporting the Allied landing at Leyte in the central Phillipines. On the morning of 21 October, a Japanese dive bomber was engaged by HMAS Shropshire (I) and Australia (II) and was hit. At first appearing to fly away from the ships, it turned and dived into Australia (II), hitting the foremast and causing a large explosion and intense petrol fire. Captain Dechaineux died of wounds received in the attack. He was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit (Degree of Officer) by the United States Government.
Rear Admiral Harold Bruce Farncomb was born in Sydney on 28 February 1899, entered the RANC as one of the original entry in 1913 and saw service in both World Wars.
At the outbreak of World War II he was in command of HMAS Perth (I) and he served at sea throughout the war. He was in command of HMAS Canberra (I) when she forced two German raider supply ships to scuttle while on Indian Ocean patrol in March 1941.
In May 1944, the then Captain Farncomb was in command of the escort carrier HMS Attacker, taking part in the invasion of southern France and operations against the Germans in the Aegean Sea and Greece.
Captain Farncomb assumed temporary command of the Australian Squadron when Commodore Collins was wounded during operations in support of the invasion of the Philippines in 1944. After the war, in 1947, Commodore Farncomb succeeded Commodore Collins as Squadron Commander.
Commodore Farncomb and Commodore Collins were promoted Rear Admiral together in 1947, the first RANC graduates to attain flag rank.
After serving in several senior posts, Rear Admiral Farncomb retired in 1951 and took up the practice of law. He died on 12 February 1971.
Lieutenant Commander Robert William Rankin was born at Cobar, New South Wales on 3 June 1907 and entered the RANC in 1921 and graduated in 1925 with prizes for both engineering and mathematics.
After service in HMA Ships Brisbane (I) and Melbourne (I), Sub Lieutenant Rankin was posted to the United Kingdom for service in a number of Royal Navy Ships. He attended the Junior Officers' War Course and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1929, specialising in surveying.
When World War II broke out he was serving as a Lieutenant Commander in the minesweeper HMS Gleaner, but was posted soon after to the repair ship HMS Resource as First Lieutenant. He returned to Australia in 1941 and was appointed in command of the sloop HMAS Yarra (II) in January 1942.
On 4 March 1942, while escorting a small convoy to Australia, Yarra (II) was attacked by a Japanese force of three cruisers and two destroyers and the convoy was overwhelmed. Yarra (II) fought to the very last and Lieutenant Commander Rankin was killed by a salvo of shells which struck the bridge shortly after he had given the order to abandon ship.
Ordinary Seaman Edward Sheean was born in Barrington, Tasmania on 23 December 1923 and joined the RAN on 21 April 1941.
After serving in shore establishments he joined the new corvette HMAS Armidale (I) on her commissioning on 11 June 1942. Following a period of escort duties in Australian and New Guinea waters, Armidale (I) was ordered to Darwin in October 1942.
Late in November 1942 Armidale and her sister ship HMAS Castlemaine went to Betano in Timor to reinforce guerilla forces there and to evacuate civilians. After surviving three Japanese air attacks, Armidale (I) was attacked by nine torpedo bombers, three fighters and a float plane. Two torpedoes hit the ship and she sank within five minutes.
Ordinary Seaman Sheean was wounded twice while trying to reach the side of the ship to abandon. He returned to his gun and continued firing, shooting down enemy aircraft before he was killed.
He was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches.
Captain Hector MacDonald Laws Waller was born in Benalla, Victoria on 4 April 1900 and entered the RANC in 1914. He served in HMS Agincourt at the end of the first World War and the outbreak of World War II saw him in command of the destroyer HMAS Stuart (I) as Commander of the Australian Destroyer Flotilla, later better known as the 'scrap iron flotilla'. He played an outstanding part in Mediterranean operations, including a prominent part in the Battle of Matapan in 1941.
He was awarded a DSO and Bar and twice Mentioned in Dispatches during his Mediterranean service, and assumed command of the cruiser HMAS Perth (I) in October 1941. The ship was ordered north in February 1942 to take part in the defence of the Dutch East Indies. On 27 February, Perth (I) took part in the disastrous Battle of the Java Sea. Only Perth (I) and US heavy cruiser USS Houston survived in fighting order. On the night of 28 February / 1 March, the two cruisers encountered a Japanese force of two cruisers and eight destroyers with two heavy cruisers in support. In the ensuing battle, Perth (I) expended the contents of her magazine, being reduced to firing star and practice shells. The overwhelming force prevailed and Perth (I) was lost.
Captain Waller did not survive the loss of his ship and was posthumously awarded a third Mentioned in Dispatches. Admiral of the Fleet, Viscount Cunningham, wrote that he was 'one of the finest type of Australian Naval Officer' and described his death as 'a heavy deprivation for the young Navy of Australia'.