Little, Sir Charles James Colebrooke
Little, Sir Charles James Colebrooke (1882–1973), naval officer, was born at Shanghai on 14 June 1882, the son of Louis Stromeyer Little, surgeon, and his wife, Rosetta Annie Miller. He joined HMS Britannia in 1897 and after service in battleships as midshipman and sub-lieutenant volunteered for the infant submarine branch in 1903. In 1908 Little married Rothes Beatrix (d. 1939), daughter of Colonel Sir Charles Leslie, seventh baronet.
At the outbreak of the First World War Little commanded the Arrogant and the submarine flotilla attached to the Dover patrol, and in 1915 was selected as assistant to the commodore (submarines) at the headquarters at Gosport. He took over command of the Fearless and the submarines attached to the Grand Fleet in 1916, the flotilla consisting of the new steam-driven K-class submarines designed to operate tactically with the Grand Fleet in battle. He remained in this appointment until the end of the war, being promoted captain in 1917 and appointed CB (civil). Immediately after the war he commanded the cruiser Cleopatra in the abortive Baltic operations against the Russian communists, for which service he was appointed CB (military, 1919).
In 1920 Little went to the Admiralty as director of the trade division of the naval staff and, while holding that appointment, was a member of the British delegation to the Washington naval conference of 1921 on the limitation of naval armaments. He was captain of the fleet in the Mediterranean in 1922 and returned home in 1924 to become senior staff officer of the Royal Naval War College. He commanded the Iron Duke in 1926–7 and was then selected as director of the Royal Naval Staff College, Greenwich. On promotion to rear-admiral in 1930 he was appointed in command of the 2nd battle squadron of the Home Fleet and as second in command of the fleet. In 1931 he returned to his first naval love as rear-admiral (submarines), responsible for the well-being and efficiency of the entire submarine branch.
Little's wide experience, both afloat and at the Admiralty, had already marked him for high command and in 1932 he joined the Board of Admiralty as deputy chief of the naval staff, remaining in the appointment for the three years which saw the beginning of naval rearmament and the conclusion of the Anglo-German naval treaty, in both of which he played a considerable part. He was promoted vice-admiral in 1933 and appointed KCB in 1935. The following year he became commander-in-chief of the China station, an appointment which corresponded in time with the Japanese attack on China. Little found himself responsible for the protection of British nationals in China, particularly at Shanghai which was the centre of much of the fighting, an anxious and strenuous duty in particularly difficult circumstances which he performed with skill and complete success. His promotion to admiral came in 1937 while he was still in China.
Little returned to the Admiralty in 1938 as second sea lord, responsible for the personnel of the navy. There were few by then who thought that war with Germany could be averted and within a few weeks of taking up his appointment Little found himself responsible for the mobilization of the fleet ordered as a result of the crisis which preceded the Munich conference. Although the result of the conference averted the immediate danger of war, this mobilization provided invaluable experience for that of eleven months later when war against Germany was declared. Again the responsibility for the smooth running of the machine fell entirely on Little, and that full mobilization was achieved with speed and precision was due largely to his administrative skill. The next two years saw the huge expansion of personnel which the war demanded, again the responsibility of the second sea lord.
In 1941 Little was appointed to Washington as head of the British Admiralty delegation and it was during his tenure of that appointment that the United States entered the war. As head of the delegation, Little was the British Admiralty's representative on the joint chiefs of staff committee in Washington, a task calling for diplomacy and fortitude in his dealings with Admiral Ernest King, the American chief of naval operations and a noted Anglophobe. On his relief in 1942 by Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham he was appointed GBE.
Little returned to England from Washington to become commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, an appointment he held until the end of the war in 1945. In May 1943 he was ordered to act as the naval commander-in-chief designate for the invasion of Europe during the absence of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay who had originally been selected for the post, and as such became deeply involved with the operational planning for the forthcoming assault. This appointment lapsed on Ramsay's return after the successful invasion of Sicily and Italy, though Little still had many duties directly linked with the invasion, being responsible for the provision of training areas and the organization of exercises for the vast armada collected for the operation, as well as for accommodation for all the crews and the supply of stores, ammunition, and fuel.
At the end of the war Little was placed on the retired list after forty-eight years of continuous service and was advanced to GCB (1945). He held the bronze medal of the Royal Humane Society for life-saving and among many foreign orders he was made a grand officer of the Légion d'honneur (France) and commander of the Legion of Merit (USA) and was awarded the grand cross of the order of Orange Nassau (Netherlands) and the order of St Olaf (Norway). During his retirement he was president of the British Legion (southern area) and a vice-president of the Navy Records Society and the Royal United Services Institution. His wife died in 1939; they had a daughter, and a son who died following a motorbike accident in 1925. In 1940 he married his cousin Mary Elizabeth (Bessy), daughter of Ernest Muirhead Little FRCS. Little died on 20 June 1973 at 46 Shelley Road, Worthing, Sussex.
- IWM FVA, actuality footage
- W. Stoneman, photograph, 1935, NPG
Wealth at Death
£158,746: probate, 16 Jan 1974, CGPLA Eng. & Wales