Robert Addison Allen was born on 19 March 1904, in Lansing, Michigan, the son of the late Charles C. Allen and Mrs. Effie Elizabeth (Suylandt) Allen. He attended Lansing (Michigan) High School, before receiving his appointment to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, from his native state in 1923. Graduated and commissioned Ensign on 2 June 1927, he advanced progressively in grade to the rank of Commander to date from 30 December 1941. From 10 December 1945 to 1 January 1948, he served in the temporary grade of Captain, after which he reverted to his permanent grade of Commander. He was again promoted to Captain to date from 1 July 1949.
Following graduation from the Academy in 1927, he had consecutive sea service in the battleship Maryland and the cruiser Sacramento (on duty in Nicaraguan waters). Detached from the latter in April 1930, he had instruction until June 1930 at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola Florida, after which he was assigned to USS Saratoga. Transferring to USS Waters in April 1932, for six months duty, he thereafter joined USS Hale and upon receiving his orders proceeded to Annapolis, Maryland, in June 1935, for instruction at the Postgraduate School there. Completing the course a year later he was assigned to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida.
Again returning to sea in June 1937, he assumed command of USS Algorma and in December 1938 joined USS Chicago, attached to that cruiser when the United States declared war on the Axis Powers. He remained aboard the Chicago until October 1942, when he was ordered to the New York Shipbuilding Corporation Plant, Camden, New Jersey, for fitting out duty in USS Santa Fe. Reporting aboard as Gunnery Officer upon her commissioning on 24 November 1942, he remained in that capacity until October of the following year.
Relieved of duty in Santa Fe, he joined the staff of Commander Carrier Division ELEVEN, and for service in this assignment was entitled to the ribbons for and facsimiles of the Navy Unit Commendation awarded USS Enterprise and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded USS Lexington.
Between July 1944 and July 1946, he had duty as Commanding Officer of the Anti-Air Training Center, Point Montara, California, after which he assumed command of USS Aucillia. Transferred to command of USS Skagit in June 1947, he commanded that vessel for one year. Thereafter he returned to the States for duty as Director of Welfare and Recreation at the Naval Base, Norfolk Virginia.
In addition to the Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon (USS Lexington) and the Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon (USS Enterprise), Captain Allen had the Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal; the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the American Campaign Medal; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars; the World War II Victory Medal; the Navy Occupation Service Medal, Asia Clasp; and the China Service Medal.