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A Weapon in the Wrong Hands: Strategic Mismanagement and How the Royal Navy Lost the Thirteen American Colonies

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US Army School for Advanced Military Studies Fort Leavenworth United States

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As a colonial rebellion gave birth to an American revolution, independence from British control was never a foregone conclusion. By 1776, the British Empire exerted influence across the globe through its greatest instrument of national power, the Royal Navy. Victory in the Seven Years War created an environment of colonial and commercial opportunity for the British. One limit to British growth was the ability of the Royal Navy to secure its assets at home and abroad. The Royal Navy ensured the flow of trade and trade ensured the survival of the Royal Navy. Thus, it was this mandate that drove British naval operations after 1763 an enduring mission that led to a singular focus. A sort of strategic myopia that failed to anticipate the emergence of an old foe and a new threat. A revitalized France allied with American colonists in full rebellion presented the Royal Navy with an enemy unsuited to their capabilities. To confront this novel threat, the Royal Navy needed a coherent strategy that its existing leadership could not provide. The marriage of national policy with operational-level activities proved elusive during an era where British political and naval leaders were more disposed to quarreling than acquiescence. A study of the readiness and capability of the British fleet before the war, the political environment existent during this period, and how these factors interacted to provide or not an articulate naval strategy reveals how a capable force such as the Royal Navy failed in its mission to retain the thirteen American colonies. The Royal Navy, in a diminished state and lacking resources, was late to the game and mismanaged throughout the American War of Independence. As such, it came to be the agent of British defeat in the American colonies. Further analysis of this topic reveals how the environment, actions, and personalities of this period resonate in todays strategic environment.

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Technical Report,01 Jun 2015,26 May 2016



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