Colin Campbell was born at Pittsburg, Kansas, on November 23, 1895, son of Mrs. Helen Goff Campbell and the late Philip Pitt Campbell. He attended Western High School, Washington, DC, before entering the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, in 1913. Graduated with distinction and commissioned Ensign on March 29, 1917, he advanced through the various grades to the rank of Captain to date from June 14, 1942. Transferred to the Retired List of the Navy, effective July 1, 1949, he was advanced to Rear Admiral on the basis of combat awards.
Following his graduation in 1917, he was assigned duty as Watch and Division, and Assistant Engineer officer aboard the USS North Dakota, operating with the Atlantic Fleet. Detached from that battleship in May, 1919, he reported to the William Cramp & Sons shipyard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for duty in connection with fitting out the USs Chandler, destroyer, and served as Engineer officer, alter as Executive Officer, following her commissioning on September 5, 1919. The Chandler was on duty in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean at the time of the evacuation of General Wrangel’s army and Russian refugees, in 1920.
In December, 1921, he was assigned to the Asiatic Station, and a month later he assumed command of the USS Avocet and served until she was placed out of commission the following April. He then transferred to the USS Southard at Olongapo, Philippine Islands, to serve as her Executive Officer until she was decommissioned in February, 1923. In March he reported to the Bureau of Engineering, Navy Department, Washington, DC, for a two year tour of duty, editing the Bureau of Engineering Manual. Upon completion of that assignment he joined the USS Sharkey, operating in the Atlantic, and was Executive Officer from April 1925 to June, 1928, having cruised the year June 1926-1927 in European waters.
Returning to the Navy Department in July, 1928, he reported to the Office of the Judge Advocate General, and under the supervision of that Office attended the School of Law at George Washington University, Washington, DC. Graduating with distinction in June, 1931, he received the Bachelor of Laws degree from that university and was then admitted to the bar of the District of Columbia. Two years later he was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.
From July, 1931 to June, 1934, he served as Aide and Flag Secretary on the staff of Commander Destroyers, Scouting Force, USS Raleigh flagship. He again reported for duty in the Navy Department on June 30, 1934, for a two year tour as Aide to the Judge Advocate General of the Navy. From June, 1936 to June, 1937, he served as Navigator aboard the USS New Mexico, operating in Pacific waters as flagship of Battleship Division 3, Battle Force, and following detachment from that duty, he commanded the USS Hannibal for one year. That vessel was on a surveying expedition of the mouth of the Orinoco River, basing at Port of Spain, Trinidad. In July, 1938 he was assigned to the Twelfth Naval District Headquarters, San Francisco, California, as Legal and Personnel Officer, and served there until December, 1940.
He joined the USS Tennessee for duty as Executive Officer. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, he directed for 36 hours, the fighting of fires caused by burning oil from the Arizona, sunk a few feet astern of Tennessee. For his services at that time he received a Letter of Commendation with authorization to wear the Commendation Ribbon from the Commander in Chief, US Pacific Fleet.
Returning to Puget Sound Navy Yard late in December, 1941 for repairs to the Tennessee, he was subsequently detached, and in June, 1941 he assumed command of the USS Whitney, based at Tongatabu in the South Pacific, and acted as Senior Officer present Afloat at that port. The Whitney served the ships preparing to land on Guadalcanal, and was later based at Noumea, repairing the battle damage to ships of the South Pacific Force. He returned to San Francisco, California, in October, 1942, for further assignment, and immediately upon arrival was ordered to command the USS St. Louis, then undergoing overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard.
Departing for the South Pacific, the St. Louis reported to that command in December, 1942, and took part in the campaigns for the consolidation of Guadalcanal, the Southern Solomons, and New Georgia. Participating in the bombardments of Munda and Kolombangara, the night surface battles of Kula Gulf and Kolombangara, the St. Louis received a torpedo hit in the bow on July 13, 1943, and although there were on fatalities among the personnel, the ship was sent back to Mare Island for repairs. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star Medal, and the Bronze Star Medal, and also has the ribbon for and a facsimile of the Navy Unit Commendation awarded to the USS St. Louis for the period of this service. The citations states in part:
Navy Cross: “For extraordinary heroism as Commanding Officer of the USS St. Louis in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands on July 5 and 6, 1943. As part of a task force in close support of the landing of United States troops at Rice Anchorage of New Georgia Island, (he) skillfully maneuvered his ship through restricted submarine-infested waters and effectively bombarded enemy shore batteries and installations in the face of intense Japanese gun and torpedo fire. Twenty-four hours later, the St. Louis, leading the cruiser formation during one phase of the action, participated in an engagement with a numerically superior Japanese naval force and, through (his) brilliant direction of her accurate gunfire, assisted materially in the sinking of serve damaging of all the hostile vessels...”
Silver Star Medal: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as Commanding Officer of the USS St. Louis during the engagement with enemy Japanese naval forces off Kolombangara Island, Solomon Islands, in the early morning of July 13, 1943. Leading the cruiser line of battle in the second phase of this action against six hostile vessels, (he) directed the highly sustained and accurate fire upon the opposing formation, contributing in large measure to the complete destruction of at least four and probably all of the Japanese ships…Captain Campbell’s inspiring leadership and the gallant devotion to duty of his command reflect great credit upon the United States Naval Service.”
Bronze Star Medal: “… operating as a Unit of a Task Force during combined minelaying expeditions and bombardment missions in the enemy Japanese-held Kolombangara and New Georgia Areas, Solomon Islands, the nights of May 7 and 13, 1943. Skillfully maneuvering through poorly charted waters under cover of darkness, Captain Campbell carried out his assigned duties courageously and with unwavering determination…”
Navy Unit Commendation—USS St. Louis
“… A resolute and sturdy veteran, complemented by skilled and aggressive officers and men, the St. Louis rendered distinctive service, sustaining and enhancing the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
In November, 1943, he reported for duty in the Plans Division under the Commander in Chief, US Fleet and the Chief of Naval Operations, Navy Department, and was Chief of the Atlantic Section at the time the landings in Normandy and Southern France were being planned and executed. In December, 1944, he was detailed as a member of the Joint Staff Planners under the Joint Chiefs of Staff. From December, 1946 until March, 1947, he was a member of the Ship Organization Board, which recommended revising organization in the light of war experiences.
Following detachment from the Navy Department, he reported in April, 1947, as Commanding Officer of the US Naval Station, Tongue Point, Astoria, Oregon, and in September, 1947 he assumed command of the Columbia River Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet, based at that Station. He served in that assignment until his retirement became effective on July 1, 1949.
In addition to the Navy Cross, the Silver Star Medal, the Bronze Star Medal, the Commendation Ribbon, and the Navy Unit Commendation (USS St. Louis), Rear Admiral Campbell has the World War I Victory Medal with Clasp; the American Defense Service Medal; the American Campaign Medal; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four engagement stars; and World War II Victory Medal.