RCN navigator ensures success of dangerous mission in Korea

Image Gallery

Navy News / March 25, 2021

Darkness had fallen over the mine-infested waters of the Taedong River in Korea. 

His Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Cayuga cautiously inched its way forward, leading five other destroyers, including HMC Ships Athabaskan and Sioux

It was December 5, 1950, and the warships had been sent to assist in the evacuation of troops from Chinnampo, the port of Pyongyang, where they were in danger from advancing enemy soldiers.

It was a hazardous undertaking. The channel was narrow and shallow, and the North Koreans had seeded it with mines. Two ships ran aground and were forced to turn back for repairs. The remaining four destroyers, under the lead of Cayuga, proceeded slowly and cautiously up the channel in a nerve-wracking journey. 

Lieutenant (Lt) Andrew Collier, a member of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Cayuga’s navigation officer, was responsible for ensuring the safe passage of the ship. 

Lt Collier made 132 fixes that night, most of them by radar, showing the position of the ship in relation to the channel marker buoys and nearby landmarks, and the accuracy of his navigation undoubtedly played a large part in ensuring the success of the entire operation.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his work that night.

When the troops were safely evacuated the destroyers carried out a bombardment of the port to destroy railway lines, dock installations and huge stocks of strategic materials which had to be left behind. By the next day, all ships were clear of the channel and the mission successfully completed.

Lt Collier was a long way from home. Born in Kamloops, B.C., in 1924, he joined the RCN at the height of the Second World War, just 18 years old. He would go on to serve for another 38 years, two of those as Commander Maritime Command (head of the RCN) from 1977-79.

He held several command postings, both at sea and ashore. 

He became Commanding Officer of the destroyer HMCS Skeena in 1960, Captain Sea Training on the staff of the Flag Officer Atlantic Coast in 1962, and Director Naval Plans at National Defence Headquarters in 1964. He went on to be Director International Plans in 1965, Commander Seventh Canadian Escort Squadron in 1966 and Deputy Chief of Staff Maritime Training in 1967.

After that he became Deputy Chief of Staff (Combat Readiness) in 1970, Commander Canadian Flotilla (Atlantic) in 1972 and Senior Liaison Officer (Navy) on the Defence Liaison Staff in Washington, D.C. in 1973. His last appointments were as Chief of Maritime Operations in 1974, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific in 1975 and Commander Maritime Command in 1977, when he was recognized as a Commander in the Order of Military Merit.

One of his last steps as head of the RCN was to argue for more ships. He was a staunch advocate of a strong Canadian naval fleet to counteract the Warsaw Pact buildup during the Cold War.

He retired in 1979 at the rank of Vice-Admiral.

After his service in the RCN he went on to act as the commissioner for the Canadian Coast Guard and President of the British Columbia Ferry Corporation.

VAdm (ret’d) Collier died in 1987 in Victoria at the age of 62.