Collins was then an instructor at West Point (1921–1925) and at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia (1925–1931). He also served in the Philippines and was an instructor at the Army War College (1938–1941). Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Colonel Collins was named chief of staff of the Hawaiian Department and made a brigadier general. In May 1942, he was promoted to major general and took command of the 25th Division, which relieved the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal in December 1942. Collins earned the nickname "Lightning Joe" from his men for his aggressiveness on Guadalcanal.
Collins then led the 25th Division during the successful operations on New Georgia in the summer of 1943. Transferring to Europe in January 1944, he received command of VII Corps, the post he held for the remainder of the war. On D day, spearheaded by its 4th Division, VII Corps landed on Utah Beach. It seized the vital port of Cherbourg on 27 June. VII Corps is probably best remembered for Operation cobra, the breakout from the Normandy beachhead at Saint-L™ on 25 July, an operation largely planned by Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley but executed by Collins. VII Corps then repelled the German counterattack at Mortain, which led to the creation of the Falaise-Argentan pocket.
Collins led VII Corps at Aachen; at the Battle of the Bulge, where the corps held the northern shoulder of the bulge; at Cologne; in the Ruhr pocket; and, as the war ended, in the Harz Mountains. In April 1945, he was promoted to lieutenant general. One of the war's best corps commanders, Collins is remembered as an officer who led from the front and enjoyed the full confidence of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley.
Collins served as vice chief of staff of the army from 1947 to 1949. Promoted to full general, he was the U.S. Army chief of staff from 1949 to 1953 and special representative to the Republic of Vietnam between 1954 and 1955. Collins retired from the army in March 1956. He died in Washington, D.C., on 12 September 1987.
Thomas D. Veve
Collins, J. Lawton. Lightning Joe: An Autobiography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979.; Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower's Lieutenants. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.