The British military was considered the strongest in the world at the outreach of fighting between England and the American colonies in 1775. Britain had just defeated France and the Indians in the Seven Years War and had attained its prominence as a world’s superpower. Yet despite Britain’s overpowering military dominance, the British found themselves unable to subdue General Washington and the American colonies. The American’s success in achieving independence during the American Revolution was not due to General Washington’s strategic skill but by numerous British blunders. The British mistakes during the Revolutionary war are: they never had an overall strategy; they failed to identify the Center of Gravity, shifting from offensive strategy to a defensive strategy and diverting the war to the Southern colonies.
The British never had an overall strategy for winning the Revolutionary War. They acted vigilantly at points when authoritative and serious attacks could have undermined the Continental army. The British assumed that American rebellion would disintegrate when British troops lands on American shores. They believed that the Continental Army was amateurish and unable to fight a interminable war against an organized British military force. Not until after the Battle of Bunker did the British even begin to consider in terms of war rather than simply rebellion. Britain certainly not intended for a lengthy war and constantly expected for the one pivotal victory. The Continental Army was fighting a domestic war while the British had to ship their troops from across the Atlantic. Fighting against their own countrymen was also both a psychological and emotional handicap for the British soldiers.
The British military regularly made mistakes, especially General Howe. His indolence to take action at the start of the war made it probable for General Washington and the Continental Army to survive. Occurrences of poor communication and collaboration between British commanders resulted in squandered occasions as well in Saratoga and Yorktown. The component of period unceasingly handicapped British maneuvers. Communications both across the Atlantic and within the colonies were dawdling and useless. Some commanders took matters into their own hands and followed strategies that they felt best suited their immediate goals. The indecision surrounding responses frequently led to unwarranted caution, unnecessary delays, or unforeseeable prospects in strategic situations, which eventually demonstrated to be costly. Because of the length of time it took for communications, field conditions continually changed.
Failure to identify the Center of Gravity
The Americans had no discernable central government and the British could not determine a truly decisive Center of the Gravity (COG). The COG is the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends (Clausewitz, pp. 595-596). There was no COG that Britain could seize and end the war. There was no one that the British military could defeat that would quickly bring about the abandonment of the entire colonist opposition. Throughout the campaign, General Howe continued to allow the Continental Army to withdraw from the field without entirely destroying them. General Howe’s unwillingness to conduct a forceful pursuit and destroy General Washington’s Continental Army saved the Americans from a defeat that could have possibly ended the American Revolution. General Howe did not take into account that the Continental Army was the life of the rebellion and should have been considered as the COG.
The British dissipated an opportunity to inflict a destructive defeat on the Continental army at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775. Although they strained the insurgents from the elevated field, the British army missed their chance to deal the rebellion a possibly disastrous blow from the start. Another chance of destruction of the Continental Army came in August 1776. General Washington and the Continental Army had been routed in the Battle of Long Island and withdrew to the defenses of Brooklyn Heights, which left them confined between Hessian and British troops and the East River. General Washington was able to keep the revolution alive by maintaining the Continental Army in the field.
Shifting from offensive strategy to a defensive strategy
Without French assistance, it is uncertain that the American colonies could have been a match over Britain’s sizeable and well-equipped military. France clandestinely provided the American colonies with supplies and money, and upon formally declaring war on England in June 1778, also committed soldiers and naval fleets. With the French joining the naval war, Britain switched from an offensive strategy to a defensive strategy since their naval superiority is contested. Operations in America became secondary to defense of the British Isles and larger economic interests in the Caribbean.
The ministry decided to defend and strike the French in West Indies, which was regarded as more valuable than the American colonies. The British militaries had to be dispersed in several theaters and spread so thin across the Atlantic and no longer concentrated on the colonies, which consequently lost the war in America (Middlekauff, p. 438). Britain’s failure to identify key locations to concentrate her Navy led to not able to secure their most strategically located territories and did not have enough military resources to continue the war in America. “With the defense thus concentrated, England’s great weapon, the Navy, should have been vigorously used on the offensive” (Mahan, p. 394).
Diverting the war to the southern colonies
During the initial years of the American Revolutionary War, the initial military battles were in the north. The British changed their strategy to focus on the southern colonies as the leadership felt that the south was home to many loyalists where they could enlist their support and assistance. England felt loyalists in the South were oppressed by the revolutionary government and would flock to them in support (Mahan, p. 516). Britain constantly pursued and hoped for Loyalist support but was never received.
Moreover, Britain also definitely did not do what was needed to gain and sustain the Loyalists’ support because they inclined to disregard the help that the Loyalists contributed. In addition, the British Parliament assumed that loyalists would be a more intimidating force and play a more effective position in the war. The British was successful in most conventional battles fought in that region, but American generals in the south turned to irregular and hit-and-run combat that ultimately thwarted the British military. The British should have focused most of their forces on the Continental Army in the north instead of taking the south.
Some argue American independence might not have won without the leadership of General George Washington. He was honest, brave, and sure that the America and its Continental Army can win. He certainly not gave up faith that he would reach that object. His first military victory resulted in the British evacuating Boston in March 1776. General Washington reevaluated the wisdom of the tactical defensive and thereafter avoided confrontations with large concentrations of enemy forces after unsuccessful defense of New York and next Philadelphia. General Washington came to realization that it was far more critical for him to maintain the army as an entity than it was to win any particular battle or campaign (Weigley, p.12).
Instead of trying to defeat the British in one decisive action, General Washington instinctively realized that the revolution would survive as long as the Continental army survived. Washington had to remain not only on the strategic defensive, but frequently on the tactical defensive, as well. He correctly understood that, by keeping his army intact, he could keep the revolution alive. If he could maintain the war long enough, Britain would exhaust her resources and struggle across the Atlantic and independence would be gained. Although General Washington lacked major victories in the Revolutionary war, his noted two tactical successes, at Trenton and Princeton, were conducted against smaller concentrations of an enemy force. But, General Washington made a number of excellent decisions at crucial times throughout the conflict.
Britain had an enormous military advantage at the beginning of the American Revolution with vastly superior naval power and a professional military with far greater financial resources. The British fought a much weaker enemy yet failed to accomplish its military and political objectives. General Washington recognized that the Continental Army was the backbone of the revolution, the Center of Gravity, where the British failed to identify. Another reason was the assistance the Americans received from the French. The British military were remarkably unmatched and clearly the superior army, and had the French not provided aid, it seems unlikely that General Washington and the Continental Army could have defeated the British. They pulled together and were able to capitalize on the British’s blunders.
1. Clausewitz, C. On War. Michael Howard and Peter Paret, eds. and trans. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989 2. Mahan, A. T. The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. New York: Dover, 1987. 3. Middlekauff, R. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 4. Weigley, R. F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977.
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